We acknowledge that this land where we live is traditionally the land of Pawtucket, Pennacook, and Abenaki, and is the historic lands of the Wabanaki Confederacy. We use this acknowledgement to express our deep sorrow for the painful history of forced removal from this land, and to express our sincere gratitude for use of this space.
As a part of our anti-bias curriculum, we are taking a careful look at how we discuss and celebrate Thanksgiving with students. As you may know, many Native American images found on Thanksgiving cards, decorations, and school materials are very stereotypic. They are often based on a "composite" view of Native Americans rather than on accurate and diverse Native American lifestyles and traditions. As a consequence, Thanksgiving imagery serves to teach and reinforce children's misinformation and stereotypic thinking about Native Americans, laying a foundation for later prejudice.
Moreover, the story of Thanksgiving is usually told from only one side -- that of the European pilgrims who came to America. Rarely is it told from the perspective of the people who were already here. As a result, the role played by Native Americans in helping the pilgrims to survive is often downplayed or ignored. To many Native Americans today, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning because it is a reminder that in return for their help, they were repaid with the loss of their land and destruction of their people.
What, then, do we propose to do? We do not advocate the elimination of Thanksgiving from our curriculum or from your family traditions. Instead, we strive to help children understand that Thanksgiving means different things to different people. We explain that some families celebrate Thanksgiving while others do not. More specifically, we honor individual family tradition of gathering with family and friends to eat certain foods, while also learning about and acknowledging important history.
What we teach about Thanksgiving is part of a larger effort to help students learn accurate information about Native Americans of the past and present. Our goal is to counter misleading portrayals in children's books, television shows, and movies (e.g., Westerns), so that students do not acquire stereotypes that promote racism later in life. Furthermore, we want to make sure students understand that being an Indian is not a role, but part of a person's identity.
As we give thanks this season, we hope you will find ways within your family to reinforce these lessons and help instill in our children an appreciation and accurate understanding of all cultures.
The letter above is adapted from pages 99-100 of Derman-Sparks, L. (1989). Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Resources for Families
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp
The Circle of Thanks: Native American Poems and Songs of Thanksgiving by J. Bruchac
History Smashers: The Mayflower by Kate Messner
If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving by Chris Newell
We are Still Here by Traci Sorell
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O'Neill Grace
Native Voices: New England Tribal Families-Boston Children's Museum