How Native Americans are Presented in Thanksgiving Lessons

Discussion in 'General Education Archives' started by TeacherShelly, Nov 13, 2006.

  1. TeacherShelly

    TeacherShelly Aficionado

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    Nov 13, 2006

    I teach children's religious education (Sunday School) at my Unitarian Universalist church. We taught this week about Thanksgiving and the Wampanoag Indian tribe. The story from my childhood was about the Indians saving the Pilgrims by teaching them how to grow corn instead of wheat, and everyone celebrating the act of friendship with the First Thanksgiving.

    That's a lovely legend about helping others and sharing together in life's bounty. Unfortunately, it misrepresents the Native tribe's traditions and ignores the systematic destruction of the Wampanoag's culture by the Pilgrims as time went on.

    The Wampanoag Indians have had Thanksgiving rituals every single morning since, well, forever, and still do. They celebrated harvests four to six times per year with week long Thanksgiving Feasts. And, Americans didn't celebrate a yearly Thanksgiving holiday until 200 years after the year the Wampanoag's helped them learn to grow food.

    I'm curious if the Thanksgiving story of my childhood is still being taught with pageants and so forth showing the Indians and Pilgrims sharing the First Thanksgiving. What are you doing in your class to education your kids about the wonderful tradition of giving thanks - and the injustice done to the Native people of America (and what grade do you teach?) For my Kinder-1st graders I focused on giving thanks every day, like the Wampanoags do, and left the injustice part for the later grades.

    See http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=340 for a concise article about this.
     
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  3. becky

    becky Enthusiast

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    Nov 13, 2006

    Changeofcareer, you might not know I h.s. my 6 yr old firstgrader. We're doing Native Americans the next few weeks, and this subject came up in one of the books I got from the library. I had to find a way to explain it to her on her level, and it wasn't easy. I'm anxious to read that article.
     
  4. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Nov 17, 2006

    I teach 2nd- I teach a lot about Native American culture as well as the story of Samoset, Squanto and the Pilgrim's first Thanksgiving. I do not explore the 'destruction of the Indian lifestyle' any further...although I do discuss natives in San Salvador with the Columbus story- how they were quite happy, had their own culture until Columbus and other explorers came and claimed the land for their faraway nations....it's a lot for young kids to wrap their heads around. Also I have a little trouble viewing history through a modern lens- it was the acceptable norm in the 1400's, 1600's to explore, claim land, impose your culture...In many ways we do so now in other nations. It was quite acceptable and economically smart to use slaves in the 1700 and 1800's- doesn't mean it was right, doesn't mean it was moral- It was however the 'norm'....(and there is still slave trade in the world today....) Bottom line, we can never rreally say, that's the way it was, we need to realize the world has gotten 'smaller', we can't necessarily impose 21st century standards to historical events yet we can explore how our current thinking and actions may differ (or not differ) from those of the past. And if you are going to talk about "thanksgiving traditions"- well those roots date back to biblical times.... Consider what is developmentally appropriate as well as accurate when planning lessons.....

    The website listed in the first post states:
    "Even the phrase the "First Thanksgiving" is a misnomer. The Wampanoag Indians who lived in Plymouth Colony before the arrival of the Pilgrims considered all of nature to be a sacred gift from the Creator. They had been holding ceremonies to give thanks for plentiful harvests or other good fortune from time immemorial. The English settlers were also accustomed to setting aside a day of prayerful thanksgiving for divine providences; indeed, the English proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving for their safe arrival at Jamestown years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. The celebration that took place at Plymouth in the fall of 1621 was a traditional harvest celebration. Thanksgiving Day as we now know it would not develop for another 200 years.
    After an abundant harvest in the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims decided to celebrate by holding a three-day feast with games and gun-firing. One of the colonists reported, "[M]any of the Indians [came] amongst us [including Massasoit and 90 men] whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation." Food historians say that the menu probably featured duck, geese, turkey, pumpkin, squash, corn, and fresh and dried fruits, and berries (but no pies, since there was not enough flour or butter for crusts). The Indians would have understood this as the sort of gift-giving and celebration that they were accustomed to sharing with friends and allies."

    This is pretty much the 'traditional story' of Thanksgiving so I'm not sure what the big problem is here. We all know the sad story of what happened LATER but why does that have to bleed over into the thanksgiving story and what is taught about it to YOUNG students?
     
  5. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    Nov 17, 2006

    I teach my kids (5th graders) about the 'invasion' of the Europeans and every lesson makes note of the fact that injustices were committed over and over again. I read them Morning Girl and Sign of the Beaver. Both portrayed Native Americans as three dimensional human beings and white man as unaware. Morning Girl, especially, showed the ignorance of the Europeans.

    We have a Native American teacher at our school and every year she invites several Native American guests to present to the kids; one is a drummer/storyteller from the southwest, the other is a storyteller from Mexico. She has helped me become more aware and I'm grateful.
     
  6. TeacherShelly

    TeacherShelly Aficionado

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    Nov 17, 2006

    Upsadaisy, you and your classes are lucky to have a Native American teacher there. I am going to look into those books you mentioned, thanks.

    Csacza, I think teaching young children about some of the realities of human history, including wars, colonization, slavery, and the like is difficult because we want to protect them. And many of us want to give them a sense of loyalty and pride in their country. The story of the First Thanksgiving seems to me to have been sugar-coated. For my Sunday School class (5-6 year-olds) I focused on giving them a name for the Indian tribe: Wampanoag; and on giving thanks every day, like the Wampanoag's do and like many people have since, certainly, before Biblical times.

    I know that as they grow up, they'll get more and more information on the social aspects of the First Thanksgiving. Of course, one of the top focuses of my church is social justice, so for sure they'll get that slant from their Sunday School classes. They will not be indoctrinated in patriotic duty, but will learn a balanced view of humanity instead. I think it is important that they know that slavery made financial/competitive sense and was not viewed by the slave-owners as morally objectionable - and - it was morally wrong and unthinkably unjust to the slaves.

    A little bit older kids can grasp how injustice affects society as a whole, and ripples into the future.
     
  7. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    Nov 17, 2006

    I agree with you.
     

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