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Socially Responsible Teaching: Thanksgiving

It’s that time of year… Pilgrims and Native American images and activities pop up during history lessons, or writing units, or even art projects.

But did you know that we as educators have an obligation to accurately reflect the histories that we teach our young impressionable minds in our classes. This entry will focus on Thanksgiving, the day many know as the day to celebrate with loved ones and reflect what we are thankful for. But for many of our Native students and families brings up historical trauma and pain.

However many activities and projects in schools, especially in elementary focus on dressing kids up or portraying Indigenous people in a specific light. Dressing up as a Native American is cultural appropriation, not appreciation. It turns real humans and their customs into costumes for a few days. That’s not what we should be instilling in our youth. Many lessons only highlight the “good” that the Pilgrims brought to the Americas and mention nothing about the Indigenous perspective and how colonialism affected them. Therefore, we skip over the deep-seated ancestral trauma due to genocide and enslavement that many of our Indigenous students still experience and show our students that their history is not important or worth discussing. Which further perpetuates the trauma.

Instead we should be reevaluating our current practices and seeing if we are accurately teaching information or if we are inadvertently upholding traditions that sustain harmful stereotypes about Indigenous peoples.

So what can we do?

  • Share multiple perspectives of the history (there are always 3 sides of a story… your side, my side, and the observer’s side… Find them and use them)

  • Use the present verb tense when teaching about Native Nations (showcase the connection between the past and the present, Natives are still alive and thriving in our communities)

  • Choose books by Native writers (There are so many great stories that highlight Native culture for all ages, see the booklist below)

  • Choose books specific to the tribes in your region (in the Rainier area the Tribes include Coast Salish, Duwamish, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, and the Muckleshoot Tribal Nation)

  • Use these books year round (just like other stories of BIPOC, use Native stories not simply on holidays)

What will you unlearn and relearn in order to teach our future generations?

Further reading/watching

Grade 3-5 Lesson Plan: Native Americans Today

Middle School and High School Lesson: Thanksgiving Mourning

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