Thursday, October 22, 2009

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving

Available in a pdf from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving. Ten pages in length, it begins with:

Each November educators across the country teach their students about the First Thanksgiving, a quintessentially American holiday. They try to give students an accurate picture of what happened in Plymouth in 1621 and explain how that event fits into American history. Unfortunately, many teaching materials give an incomplete, if not inaccurate, portrayal of the first Thanksgiving, particularly of the event's Native American participants.

Most texts and supplementary materials portray Native Americans at the gathering as supporting players. They are depicted as nameless, faceless, generic "Indians" who merely shared a meal with the intrepid Pilgrims.

The pamphlet is designed for use in 4th through 8th grade classrooms. It is divided in sections:
  • Environment: Understanding the Natural World
  • Community: Group Identity in Culture
  • Encounters: Effects on Cultures
  • Sharing: New Perspectives Year-Round

Each section includes several photographs as well as "Ideas for the Classroom." As I read through it, I was struck by the verb tense.

"Native peoples were and continue to be..."
"The Inupiaq people of Alaska are..."
"The whalers are..."
The Yakama continue to celebrate..."

Download American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving and study it as you prepare for the upcoming month (November).

DO spend time at the Education pages of NMAI. The NMAI staff is working hard at developing materials for teachers.

And, order and use these children's books, too! Here's some:

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, by Margaret M. Bruchac (Abenaki) and Catherine Grace O'Neill. 
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, by Jake Swamp (Mohawk).
    And, read books to your students that portray American Indian children of the present day. There's some terrific picture books you can use. Among my favorites are:

    The Good Luck Cat, by Joy Harjo 
    Less than Half, More than Whole, by Michael and Kathleen Lacapa
    Muskrat Will be Swimming, by Cheryl Savageau 
    Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith 
    What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses, by Richard Van Camp

    Last year, School Library Journal published a list of 30 recommended books: "Native Voices." I introduced and link to the article here.

    And if you want to see other things I've written about Thanksgiving, look to the left of this page, scroll down to the section called POSTS ABOUT THANKSGIVING.


    Sara said...

    I read 1621 to my kids last year, when I was homeschooling my daughter through kindergarten, and liked it a lot for that age group.

    Older students (middle school age and up; I think it's too violent for elementary students) might also find the first episode of PBS's We Shall Remain series informative -- I know I did. It does a lot to contextualize the "Thanksgiving story."

    Adelaide Dupont said...

    That is so fantastic that the pamphlet uses the present tense. (Probably present continuous). It makes everything so alive and true.

    Unknown said...

    Your blog and this material has been very valuable to me in my research for constructing my unit plan. Thank you! I am preparing a unit teaching Native American history and the tools for identifying inaccurate portrayals of Native Americans with a bigger focus on why people (in this case European settlers and exploiters, excuse me explorers) make efforts to alienate other cultures than their own and where stereotypes come from, and how to identify them. I am currently an undergraduate student and will be doing a great deal more research before I actually teach in a classroom, and I'm very grateful for the materials you have provided! I'm sure you are very busy but any constructive criticism would be very welcome.

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you so much for all the thoughtful comment and super-helpful resource ideas. I have just ordered some of the recommended children's books; my son is now 5 (almost 6) and beginning to understand that holidays have meanings beyond just getting together with family, eating, and (sometimes) opening presents. I am eager for him to understand Thanksgiving accurately.
    --Diane Foote