For some folx, Thanksgiving is synonymous with family, food and friends. It is a time to break bread, spend time together and to be thankful. The reason why people celebrate this Holiday is because the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims and they were joyfully invited to share a friendly feast, right? WRONG! This oversimplification of a historical event is problematic as it doesn’t tell the full story of what actually took place. So why do we teach our children to reinforce this false narrative?
The colonization, displacement, and extermination of Indigenous peoples is not something to be thankful for. Native Americans have often expressed their disapproval of Thanksgiving as it ignores the genocide and the suffering they have faced at the hands of Europeans and Anglo-Americans. In protest of this Holiday, many Native Americans have gathered annually since 1970 for a “Day of Mourning.” The purpose of the protest being to educate the public about the truth, to honor the dead, and to remind people of the genocide, the continued suffering and the oppression of Native American peoples.
So what are we to do?
Do we continue to engage in “celebrations” that oppress and harm our Native American brothers and sisters for the sake of tradition? Or do we break from these destructive, colonial and capitalist Holidays altogether? Now, some folx might think that celebrating Thanksgiving without discussing or honoring the Pilgrims and Native Americans is harmless as long as you make it about family. The problem is, well there are several problems with this but let’s start with one, that you’re still celebrating it…on a day called Thanksgiving, which you know is meant to commemorate that awesome feast between the Pilgrims and the Indians (cue eye roll). Also, if you’re not talking about the truth behind Thanksgiving with your kids, then chances are they’re going to be taught the false story and they will actually believe it’s okay, when we know it’s NOT.
So if you’re a parent or an educator who’s grappling with the “to celebrate Thanksgiving or not to celebrate” conundrum, let me help you out. Instead of reinforcing false, inaccurate and dangerous narratives about Thanksgiving and Native American folx, I have created a resource that shifts the focus away from that Holiday altogether and emphasizes Gratitude. Gratitude is a character trait we want our kids to embody everyday – not just during a Holiday or a month. My “Focusing on Gratitude” Activity pack includes 10 engaging activities that will have students reflecting on, exploring, discussing & sharing gratitude in many forms. I’m also currently working on two resources for students that highlight A Day of Mourning and Indigenous Resistance as well as breaks down colonization and its deadly and harmful impacts. Follow my Teacher’s Pay Teacher’s Store to get updated on when those resources will be posted!
As for me, I’m going to take this time to continue learning about Native American History and Resistance, to work on making Native American folx and their struggles more visible to the public as well as take time being thankful and showing gratitude for the people in my life who fuel my passion for social justice, liberation and education. How will you celebrate or not?
For More Resources on Native Americans, Thanksgiving and Anti-Celebrations:
- National Congress of American Indians
- Article: Do You Prefer ‘Native American’ or ‘American Indian’?
- Images of the First Thanksgiving
- Activity on the First Thanksgiving
- “The Problem with Cute History”
- “The Lie I REFUSE to Teach” by Tamara Russell
- “Beyond the So-Called First Thanksgiving: 5 Children’s Books That Set the Record Straight” from Indian Country Today
- “Let’s All Tell the True Story About Thanksgiving” by Yatibaey Evans, Op-Ed in the New York Times
Kathy Lebron is a former Social Action Teacher and School Culture Coach with a Master’s in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from the Hunter College School of Education. She is a lover of education, social liberation and travel. She developed a social justice and culturally responsive curriculum for elementary students and her goal is to help educators, families and students use education as a vehicle to produce transformational social change for all people.