Let's Talk About Thanksgiving
Disclaimer: I might be wrong.
I spent most of my life pretty unaware of how some the major narratives around Thanksgiving can be harmful to people, particularly Native Americans. This wasn't intentional on anyone's part, it was simply a lack of both information and not knowing anyone with a different point of view. To be honest, we didn't put much thought into the matter. Thanksgiving was more about taking the time to be with family, taking inventory of the many blessings we had, and getting a few days off of school. Being intentional about listening to different perspectives has helped me to develop empathy and encouraged me work to help right the wrongs of those that came before us (I'm speaking particularly of white folks). Doing this has been one of the greatest catalysts for growth in my life.
With this in mind, I always struggle when Rhodes comes home from school with his projects that depict "Pilgrims" and "Indians" during the Thanksgiving season. My sweet boy proudly holds up his drawings of the Mayflower and peaceful meal that supposedly brought two worlds together. I understand that his teacher is well-meaning, but I also want my kids to understand that these narratives are actually harmful and, in most cases, an inaccurate portrayal of history.
Was there a meal? Yes - sort of. But there's more to the story. There are other perspectives that have been ignored over time because (and let's be honest) they just don't sell. Native tribes were driven from their land by the colonists - if not wiped out completely. Many were made slaves or died from diseases bright over by the Europeans. The narrative we were taught in school, along with the plays, games, and celebrations can actually be a really harmful reminder to our Native American neighbors of how there ancestors were nearly extinguished. To this day we continue to inflict incredible harm on these communities, and it's on us to stop this vicious cycle.
So what do I do?
Remove my kids from all activities involving anything with the phrase "Indian?"
Have conversation with their teachers about their view on this subject?
I'm genuinely asking.
Last year we were invited to the school (which is actually an in-home preschool) and the teacher had all the kids dressed up as pilgrims and native people. It was tough to watch. I truly wrestle with these topics during the holidays. I wish my education would have offered me more perspectives and I'm committed to not robbing my kids of that opportunity. But every time I think about removing him from a certain environment, I also think about the implications this has on them personally, socially, and I don't want to isolate them.
How to I help him navigate these stories while not being a complete asshole?
How much detail do I go into with a four year-old about evil, genocide, and cultural appropriation?
What is going to be helpful at his stage of development?
If you are asking similar questions, I have a few simple first steps that we've *tried to integrate into our conversations at home. Perhaps they might help you too?
1. Encourage children to not use the word "Indian." It's actually offensive. Replace it with "Native People" or "Native Americans."
2. Don't be afraid to talk to kids (using age appropriate language) about the unfair treatment of Native Americans and that every story has multiple perspectives. By asking questions like "How do you think that made ____ feel?" - we can help them look through the eyes of others, even if only a little.
3. If you are a teacher, avoid the costumes, plays, and depictions of Native Americans unless they are historically accurate and tell the story from the true perspectives of Native Americans as well as the European immigrants.
What about you? How to help combat false and harmful narratives around the Thanksgiving holiday with your kids?