2017-11-21

by Jackie Letizia, City Year Providence AmeriCorps Member proudly serving on the National Grid team at Gilbert Stuart Middle School

As November draws to a close, we begin to see the not-so-subtle transition from Halloween to winter holidays. Orange and black is traded for red, green, blue, and white, and as temperatures continue to drop, some are wishing for the leaves to fall and the snow to come.  

As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s important to teach our students the truth about this holiday. Traditionally, Thanksgiving is celebrated as the anniversary of when English colonizers feasted with Native Americans. When they arrived in 1620, the English faces an unfamiliar and unforgiving climate, as well as starvation. Squanto, a Native American from the Pawtuxet tribe, taught the English how to harvest crops and gather natural resources. This partnership was celebrated with the first Thanksgiving dinner.

For most of American history, this first three-day-long celebration in 1621 was characterized as a celebration of peace, gratitude, and kindness. However, this vision of the English colonizers and Native Americans sitting together, smiling and sharing food, that is drilled into students’ heads across the country does not accurately represent what happened. Now, Thanksgiving, like many other holidays, has been glorified into a commercial holiday centered around food, football, parades, and inaccurate history.

By teaching students this rose-colored version of the relationship between colonists and Native Americans, we cover up the fact that colonists seized Native American land and incited genocide. We also dismiss the consequent issues of American colonization that would eventually lead to egregious events like the Trail of Tears and persists in the United States even today.

Our students deserve to be taught a historically accurate account of Thanksgiving and its modern commercialization. By teaching about the colonists and Native Americans, as well as emphasizing an accurate historical account, we can maintain some of the joys of the holiday while still addressing major issues. Students should have the opportunity to learn about Native American culture and the harmful stereotypes of Native Americans in media so we can differentiate between truths and myths. By focusing Thanksgiving education on historical accuracy and being thankful for the opportunity to learn, we can help transition Thanksgiving to focus on appreciation and gratitude, while also being informed.

For more resources regarding the truths and myths of Thanksgiving, as well as how to teach about it, please see these links:

Are you teaching the real story of the first Thanksgiving?

History of Thanksgiving

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving

Teaching kids about Columbus or Thanksgiving? They deserve to know the truth.

Lesson plan: Thanksgiving through the lens of Native Americans today

Teaching Thanksgiving in a Socially Responsible Way

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