Thanksgiving Or Thanksgiving

The following is some useful info to consider for the upcoming national holiday of Thanksgiving. The images of Indians and stories of the first Thanksgiving that proliferate around the holiday are mostly constructions of rumor, lie, and fairy tale. For those who teach, please read the following before sending students home with construction paper war bonnets. Your intent might be a tribute, but what you are doing is reinforcing stereotypes that have nothing to do with Indians at all. There is often a tremendous gulf between real Indians and the images of Indians. Would you like to have people think of Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny when they think of your cultural or racial group? That is how disparate the distance between image and human in Indian country.

My first singing performance in school for in kindergarten when we had to perform for our parents. Because I was Indian I had to sing a Pueblo corn grinding song and pretend to grind corn on my knees. The Pueblos weren't anywhere near the Pilgrims. I still remember that song.

My thanks to Gary Hopkins,writer and Andre Cramblit (fellow Mvskoke, and Karuk) for the following:

Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2007 17:08:43 +0000
From: andre cramblit
Subject: The First Feast (holidaze)

The first feast was held in 1621 to which Massasoit and 90 Indians came
with food (see first two links below), however the last link is about
the proclamation of 1676 which includes: "The Holy God having by a long
and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the
present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, ... It certainly
bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure
disappointed or destroyed..."


Are You Teaching the Real Story of the "First Thanksgiving"?
Are you teaching the true Thanksgiving story or is the version you're
passing on to your students a blend of fact and myth? Ready to set the
record straight?

"I propose that there may be a good deal that many of us do not know
about our Thanksgiving holiday and also about the 'First Thanksgiving'
story," says Chuck Larsen in the introduction to Teaching About
Thanksgiving. "I also propose that what most of us have learned about
the Pilgrims and the Indians who were at the first Thanksgiving at
Plymouth Plantation is only part of the truth."

"When you build a lesson on only half of the information, then you are
not teaching the whole truth," Larsen adds.

Larsen seems to know of what he speaks. As a public school teacher, a
historian, and an American of Indian heritage, Larsen has always had a
difficult time teaching about the Thanksgiving holiday.

"Every year I have been faced with the professional and moral dilemma of
just how to be honest and informative with my children at Thanksgiving
without passing on historical distortions, and racial and cultural
stereotypes," Larsen says in his introduction.

"The problem is that part of what you and I learned in our childhood
about the 'Pilgrims' and 'Squanto' and the 'First Thanksgiving' is a
mixture of both history and myth," Larsen continues. "But the theme of
Thanksgiving has truth and integrity far above and beyond what we and
our forebearers have made of it. Thanksgiving is a bigger concept than
just the story of the founding of Plymouth Plantation."

Larsen goes on to try to sort out the myth from the true history in his
introduction to "Teaching About Thanksgiving," a project of The Fourth
World Documentation Project of The Center for World Indigenous Studies.
The project includes an accurate telling of "The Plymouth Thanksgiving
Story" along with study and discussion questions, ideas for enrichment,
art projects, and authentic recipes -- all intended to enable teachers
to accurately portray the events surrounding the first Thanksgiving.

In closing his introduction, Larsen provokes with a question: "What
started as an inspirational bit of New England folklore soon grew into
the full-fledged American Thanksgiving we now know... But was [that
'First Thanksgiving'] really our first Thanksgiving?"

"There really was a true Thanksgiving story of Plymouth Plantation,"
Larsen says. "But I strongly suggest that there has always been a
Thanksgiving story of some kind or other for as long as there have been
human beings. There was also a 'First' Thanksgiving in America, but it
was celebrated thirty thousand years ago
Every last Thursday in November
we now partake in one of the oldest and most universal of human
celebrations, and there are many Thanksgiving stories to tell."

"Teaching About Thanksgiving" offers a handful of the "old stereotypes"
that are often reinforced in classrooms across the United States.
According to the article, "If you enact the story of the first
thanksgiving as a pageant or drama in your classroom, here are some
things to consider:

"Indians should wear appropriate clothing. NO WARBONNETS! A blanket
draped over one shoulder is accurate for a simple outfit.

"Squanto and Samoset spoke excellent English. Other Indians would have
said things in the Algonkian language.

"These people were noted for their formal speaking style.

"Indians in the Woodlands area did not have tipis or horses, so these
should not be part of any scenery or backdrop.

"Any food served should be authentic. The following would be
appropriate: corn soup, succotash, white fish, red meat, various fowl
(turkey, partridge, duck), berries (including whole cranberries), maple
sugar candies, corn starch candy (believe it or not, candy corn is
almost authentic except for the colored dyes), watercress, any kind of
bean (red, black, green, pinto), squash."

Larsen has detractors...

Caleb Johnson, creator of the MayflowerHistory.com Web pages, claims
that Larsen's "Teaching About Thanksgiving" contains many factual
errors. (See A Factual Rebuttal to a Popular Thanksgiving Lesson Plan.)
Among the facts above disputed by Johnson is the idea that "Squanto and
Samoset spoke excellent English." They spoke broken English at best,
Johnson writes.

In Thanksgiving on the Net: Roast Bull with Cranberry Sauce, Jeremy
Bangs makes an effort to sift through the "more than two hundred
websites that 'correct' our assumptions about Thanksgiving" and set the
record straight. "Setting people straight about Thanksgiving myths has
become as much a part of the annual holiday as turkey, cranberry sauce,
and pumpkin pie," he writes.

"Young children's conceptions of Native Americans often develop out of
media portrayals and classroom role playing of the events of the First
Thanksgiving. That conception of Native Americans gained from such early
exposure is both inaccurate and potentially damaging to others," says
Debbie Reese in "Teaching Young Children About Native Americans," an
ERIC Digest (May 1996).

For example, a visitor to a child care center heard a four-year-old
saying, "Indians aren't people. They're all dead." "This child," Reese
says, "had already acquired an inaccurate view of Native Americans, even
though her classmates were children of many cultures, including a Native
American child."

"By failing to challenge existing biases we allow children to adopt
attitudes based on inaccuracies," Reese continues.

"Most of the commercially prepared teaching materials available present
a generalized image of Native American people with little or no regard
for differences that exist from tribe to tribe," Reese adds. "Many
popular children's authors unwittingly perpetuate stereotypes. Richard
Scarry's books frequently contain illustrations of animals dressed in
buckskin and feathers, while Mercer Mayer's alphabet book includes an
alligator dressed as an Indian."

A number of positive strategies can be used in classrooms, writes Reese.

• "Provide knowledge about contemporary Native Americans to balance
historical information. Teaching about Native Americans exclusively from
a historical perspective may perpetuate the idea that they exist only in
the past.
• "Prepare units about specific tribes rather than units about "Native
Americans." For example, develop a unit about the people of Nambe
Pueblo, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, the Potawotami. Ideally, choose a
tribe with a historical or contemporary role in the local community.
Such a unit will provide children with culturally specific knowledge
(pertaining to a single group) rather than overgeneralized stereotypes.
• "Locate and use books that show contemporary children of all colors
engaged in their usual, daily activities (for example, playing
basketball or riding bicycles) as well as traditional activities. Make
the books easily accessible to children throughout the school year.
Three excellent titles on the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico are Pueblo
Storyteller by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith; Pueblo Boy: Growing Up In Two
Worlds by Marcia Keegan; and Children of Clay by Rina Swentzell.
• "Cook ethnic foods but be careful not to imply that all members of a
particular group eat a specific food.
• "Be specific about which tribes use particular items, when discussing
cultural artifacts (such as clothing or housing) and traditional foods.
The Plains tribes use feathered headdresses, for example, but not all
other tribes use them.
• "Critique a Thanksgiving poster depicting the tradtitional,
stereotyped Pilgrim and Indian figures, especially when teaching older
elementary school children. Take care to select a picture that most
children are familiar with, such as those shown on grocery bags or
holiday greeting cards. Critically analyze the poster, noting the many
tribes the artist has combined into one general image that fails to
provide accurate information about any single tribe.
• "At Thanksgiving, shift the focus away from reenacting the 'First
Thanksgiving.' Instead, focus on items children can be thankful for in
their own lives, and on their families' celebrations of Thanksgiving at

"Besides using these strategies in their classrooms, teachers need to
educate themselves," Reese continues. "Stereotyping is not always
obvious to people surrounded by mainstream culture. Numerous guidelines
have been prepared to aid in the selection of materials that work
against stereotypes."

"Much remains to be done to counter stereotypes of Native Americans
learned by young children in our society," writes Reese in the
conclusion to her ERIC Digest. "Teachers must provide accurate
instruction not only about history but also about the contemporary lives
of Native Americans."

For activities and a long list of Web sites related to the Pilgrims,
Native Americans, and the "First Thanksgiving" be sure to see this
week's Education World LESSON PLANNING articles:

Classroom Activities for Exploring Native Americans?Blast stereotypes
with across the curriculum activities for students of all ages.

The "First Thanksgiving" -- A Feast of Activities?Looking to cook up a
feast of across-the-curriculum fun? The table is set with a plentiful
selection of ideas. Dig in!

It's Turkey Time! "Gobble, gobble, gobble...."?Increase your students'
knowledge and skills when you use TURKEYS as a teaching theme.

Article by Gary Hopkins?Education World ® Editor-in-Chief?Copyright © 2006 Education World
Originally published 11/24/1997
Last updated 10/04/2006


Jacqueline Keeler said...

Great resources. I just reposted my Thanksgiving piece "Thanksgiving, Hope and the Hidden Heart of Evil" on my long-neglected blog TiyospayeNow!

Here's the link: http://tiyospayenow.blogspot.com/

BTW, it was great seeing you read in Portland the other weekend! Very inspirational.

katherine dobay said...

on this day of mourning, also for the departure of Larry Mitchell on the Holy Road...Dear Ms. Harjo, i sent you a paper c/o your Morning Star Institute and was wondering if you ever received it or read it. it was a proposal that dealt with the idea of a traditional, Native-contolled program of emigration of non-Natives to Indian Country...i sent it anonymously because the ideas are what counted, and the ideas cannot, like Earth, be "owned" by anyone. but now i am wondering if you ever recieved it. i have not found any other email contact for you. i will post here on your blog as there is no other way for me to get a reply from you. thank you for all you are and for all the ways you give of yourself. what i am wondering is, does a non-Native who embraces traditional indigenous values have any chance of joining the Native community in a productive way, but a way that is "off the grid" of previous venues? thank you. i want to "cross over" the line, to leave a culture of death and embrace a culture of life, and do so with respect and gratitude and offering everything it is humanly possible to offer...i am not the only one out there ready to change...is there any way?

Joy said...

Katherine Dobay: You are asking the wrong Harjo--Suzan Harjo has the Morning Star Institute.

katherine dobay said...

Dear Joy Harjo, please excuse me. i saw your blog at Indian Country Today and i know that Suzan is often a guest columnist there. what do YOU think? is there a way to build more bridges between the Native community and non-Natives who embrace a culture of connectedness to all living creatures? many others out there are looking for a way to do more. thank you for your reply. there is a reason for everything that happens, and so there is a reason for this mix-up too. thank you.

Larry McNeil in Larryland said...

Hi Joy,

I found your site while chasing blackbirds around the net tonight. Or maybe were they chasing me, I forget. Your post on Thanksgiving is really good. It reminded me that the first peoples of this continent didn't need a special holiday to be thankful for the gifts from the creator. I always thought it was ironic that the people who were the most downtrodden were always the most hopeful and never gave up hope for a better day regardless of the horrors they encountered from white man.

I was talking to my sister the other night and she mentioned that my dad (whom is a Nisga'a elder from the Nass River in Canada) didn't want turkey for thanksgiveng, but wanted roasted king salmon instead. She was laughing as she said it and mentioned that everyone really liked it, and could have turkey some other time.

Here are a couple of links to a piece I made a few years ago about a thanksgivng story titled, "Dog Head Stew (for 50 people):

I made my piece at the start of the Iraqi war and it bothered me that there wasn't much discussion about going to war so easily, so I made the piece titled, "Home Sweet Home." It has blackbirds in it, so I've gone full circle tonight. Of course a raven is just a coyote with wings. Or maybe a coyote is a raven with paws. Man it's getting a bit late here, so I guess I'd better sign off.

Thank you for your site, it's really a treat to read it.

Take care,

Larry McNeil
(Teeharbor Jackson)

katherine dobay said...

Dear Joy Harjo, i'm very sorry about not knowing you, but your blog is very beautiful. i tried to post earlier to apologize, but i had trouble getting through. please forgive me. the questions i am asking are really directed to all who value traditional and Indigenous teachings. thank you again.