I find it's easy for humans to ignore social issues when we don't come face to face with them. Maybe we hear snippets of things about this or that, but because we don't see it in daily life, we are not too concerned. Honestly, that's how I felt about racism until the shocking day I witnessed it first hand. The family photo you see (from last Thanksgiving), represents another moment in time that altered my awareness - the day (or days, rather) that my nephews and niece became part of our family. I never thought very critically about the story of Thanksgiving until I realized these precious Native American children are (and will be) hearing this story in classrooms throughout their upbringing. Classrooms that are predominantly white, where the story of Thanksgiving we all learned growing up, and often continue to teach, is typically presented from a white worldview that isn't entirely accurate.
Things I have learned about Thanksgiving in my adult life range from silly facts (the Pilgrims did not actually have buckles on their hats and shoes) to ones that have more impact - such as the complex truth around the so-called "friendship" between the Indians and the Pilgrims. While we do not need to teach our youngest children the whole painful history of Thanksgiving, we also do not need to teach them misconceptions that will need to be unlearned later. I will be the first to admit my Kindergarten class wore headdresses and pilgrim hats with buckles and sat around the table in celebration of friendship at Thanksgiving. But when you know better, you do better. I now know there are tough truths within this story that result in Thanksgiving representing a day of mourning for many Native Americans.
In our family of mixed heritage, we will celebrate Thanksgiving by focusing on gratitude. Gratitude to God for the bounty of food, and gratitude for the Native Americans who taught the settlers so much about agriculture before that first Thanksgiving. We will show our children "the beauty and generosity of [the Native] people.." as stated by a Native American mother in an article I share below. We will teach about the Native Americans in a way that honors their heritage and ensures respect for sacred traditions (such as feathered headdresses), and do away with the stereotypical, and often inaccurate, presentations of their culture (the Wampanoag tribe did not actually live in tepees). We will focus on the beauty of Native American culture, such as a deep appreciation for, and understanding of, the land. We will also be careful to present the Natives as modern day humans instead of relegating them to the past - considering we'll have several at our table!
Do not be mistaken, this is not an attack on Thanksgiving. It is not a political statement or a religious statement. It is not a shaming of turkeys or traditions. It is a call to critical thinking, perspective taking, education and empathy. We can enjoy and celebrate Thanksgiving while also demonstrating compassion. I absolutely love Thanksgiving, and cannot wait to celebrate it with my precious niece and nephews this year!
If you're experiencing some cognitive dissonance or are simply interested in learning more, here are a few articles I encourage you to read:
I wish all of you a family-filled, gratitude-filled Thanksgiving!