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Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgivng’

wampanoag_nation_singers_and_dancers

Photo: Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers
Many indigenous people refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving. Others use it as a chance to raise consciousness about American mythologies or just to be with extended family and give thanks.

The other day, I was asking my British neighbors if they celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, the traditional story of the First Thanksgiving is about being grateful for freedom from Britain. Why would they? They said they love the holiday and always invite a lot of expat Brits living in the area to eat turkey with them.

Just as language evolves and individuals use words in their own ways, so do customs. At Smithsonian magazine I recently learned that among indigenous Americans there are as many attitudes toward Thanksgiving as there are unique individuals.

Read Dennis Zotigh’s great piece “Do American Indians celebrate Thanksgiving?”

“In thinking about my earliest memories of elementary school, I remember being asked to bring a brown paper sack to class so that it could be decorated and worn as part of the Indian costume used to celebrate Thanksgiving. I was also instructed to make a less-than-authentic headband with Indian designs and feathers to complete this outfit. Looking back, I now know this was wrong.

“The Thanksgiving Indian costume that all the other children and I made in my elementary classroom trivialized and degraded the descendants of the proud Wampanoags, whose ancestors attended the first Thanksgiving popularized in American culture. The costumes we wore bore no resemblance to Wampanoag clothing of that time period. Among the Wampanoag, and other American Indians, the wearing of feathers has significance. The feathers we wore were simply mockery, an educator’s interpretation of what an American Indian is supposed to look like. …

“When children are young, they are often exposed to antiquated images of American Indians through cartoons, books, and movies. But Thanksgiving re-enactments may be their most active personal encounter with Indian America, however poorly imagined, and many American children associate Thanksgiving actions and images with Indian culture for the rest of their lives. … While I agree that elementary-school children who celebrate the first Thanksgiving in their classrooms are too young to hear the truth, educators need to share Thanksgiving facts in all American schools sometime before high school graduation.”

Here, for adult readers, Zotigh goes into the tragedy, which I hope you’ll make time to read. Next, he quotes an array of opinions of actual Native Americans, noting, for example, that “the United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole’s Hill for a Day of Mourning. …

“I turn to the Internet to find out what Native people think of Thanksgiving. A few of the responses I have received over the years, beginning with the most recent: …

“Exeter, California: ‘Being the only Native American classroom teacher at a public school, raised mostly in an urban setting steeped heavy in traditional American holidays, and around many other native people on weekends while traveling to dance, this has always been a challenging question for me that I cannot claim to know the answer for. I see many other teachers I work with who are not native struggle with knowing how to address the issue comfortably. I have to say, I have fear that if we avoid the issue altogether, Native people will be forgotten about.

” ‘I have seen some teachers decide to stop teaching about Native Americans for fear of offending. I personally get sad when I see that happen. I know Thanksgiving is a controversial subject, and there are so many viewpoints. I share the modern theme of Thanksgiving, which I think has good intentions — family and community. I have also chosen to teach about Native American culture, even more heavily in November because of Thanksgiving, even though it is no longer a part of the curriculum. I have found ways to integrate it while teaching something that I think is important. I do an assembly for the students in which we dance, and I emphasize how it is not possible to teach everything there is to know about Native Americans in just one assembly. I emphasize the diversity among native people.’

“Sevierville, Tennessee: ‘Regardless of all the political views of Thanksgiving, we can all find something to be thankful for!’

“San Antonio, Texas: ‘Except for the last four years, the twenty years before that I spent 95 percent of my Thanksgivings at the table of my brother-in-law. Our gatherings were about giving thanks for what we had. As for Native American history being left out of teaching, it is an outrage. Educate our fellow educators on how to teach it. …

“Edmonton, Alberta: ‘We have family members with addiction issues. The kids get to eat, which my mom loves. And we are thankful not only to survive colonization, but also grateful to feed family.

Norman, Oklahoma: ‘We celebrate and give thanks for our loved ones’ being able to be together again. But when my daughter was young and the realization hit, as it does all young American Indians, she said to me , “Do you think we should have helped them?” There will be extra prayers for Standing Rock at our table.

“Hydro, Oklahoma: ‘Could we just start over and go forward? We can’t change the past, but we can work for peace and unity in the future. History needs to be taught correctly in our schools—that is what needs to happen. My daughter had to write a paper about Big Tree, Satank, and Satanta. She interviewed Satanta’s great-grandson, who was in his 90s, and told the story as he told it to her, including their transport from Fort Sill and how the feather was turned into a knife as they passed the giant tree, causing the soldiers to shoot and kill Satank. She got an AAA+ from her teacher.’ …

“Santa Fe, New Mexico: ‘My family and I celebrate Thanksgiving, not so much in the way that the “Pilgrims” may have done with the Indians. We give pause, and acknowledge all of the blessings that we received in the past year. We think of family and friends; of the homeless; of those away from family in hospitals, elders in nursing homes, those incarcerated, the soldier men and women overseas, around the world, standing watch and guarding our freedom. We think of those in mourning, whose family have gone ahead of them. We also think of those in school, no matter what age. And, finally, we pray for traveling mercies said for folks traveling home. We are thankful each day for Creator’s gifts but on Thanksgiving, it seems we focus and are concentrated in our thoughts about these blessings.’ …

“For more on Thanksgiving, see the 2017 post Everyone’s history matters. The Wampanoag Indian Thanksgiving story deserves to be known.”

Read more of the fascinating comments at Smithsonian, here. It’s a real lesson in not painting any community with one brush. When we say, “Native Americans think [fill in the blank],” we need to remind ourselves that any group of people is full of unique individuals with individual thoughts.

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