As we celebrate a major American holiday this week, I want to share some thoughts from a perspective of social justice. Alison Merz serves on the Green Branch Board of Directors, and is a 4th and 5th grade teacher at Oxford Elementary School in Berkeley, CA. She highlights the importance of looking at Thanksgiving with fresh eyes, and points us in the direction of resources we can share with our children.
Thanksgiving can be a time of giving thanks, expressing gratitude, and sharing with friends and family. It is also a U.S. holiday rife with myths, stereotypes, spectacle, racism, and propaganda. Talking honestly to children about the fraught history of this holiday is very important, but can be overwhelming because of the multitude of misinformation and myths surrounding this holiday’s history. It is essential to have excellent resources that come from a range of often unheard Native perspectives, as well as an anti-racist, social justice framework. The following is a list of resources that I have used in my 4th/5th grade classroom.
Oyate is a Native American/American Indian advocacy and education organization that “reviews children’s literature and advocates for Native Americans/American Indians to be portrayed with historical accuracy, cultural appropriateness and without anti-Indian bias and stereotypes” (http://oyate.org). On the Oyate website, there is a tab called “Thanksgiving” that directs you to a page with a list of recommended books on the topic of Thanksgiving. One of the members of the Oyate Board of Directors has also co-authored an excellent lesson entitled “Deconstructing the Myths of ‘The First Thanksgiving.’” This lesson involves debunking the myths of Thanksgiving, finding these myths in actual children’s books, supporting students to recognize bias, and to critically analyze different tellings of history. You can find that lesson here.
In the book Beyond Heroes and Holidays, edited by Enid Lee, Deborah Menkart, and Margo Okazawa-Rey, there is an article called “A Native Perspective on Thanksgiving,” written by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. This is a great resource because it teaches students about the often untold histories of the interactions between the European “Pilgrims” and the Wampanoag people. This can be read with upper grade students.
In the book Rethinking Columbus, published by Rethinking Schools, there is a section called “Rethinking Thanksgiving.” There is an article entitled, “Why I’m Not Thankful for Thanksgiving” by Michael Dorris, and an article entitled “Plagues and Pilgrims: The Truth about the First Thanksgiving” by James W. Loewen. Also of interest is an excerpt from the afterword of Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children about showing thanks and gratitude for the natural world upon which humankind depends. Additionally, this section includes a very useful and engaging list of suggested activities to be done in educational settings.