Once a year

Non-native people in the United States think about indigenous peoples.  At Thanksgiving.  When we hear the whole lovely story about how the Pilgrims invited the “Indians” to have a feast with them.  Then they all held hands and sang “kumbaya.”

In the past couple years, I am given hope by school districts who are changing history.  They teach a more realistic version of that “first Thanksgiving.”  And they teach their kids it is not appropriate to dress up like indigenous people.  Because it is not appropriate to use somebody’s identity like a costume.

But if your school district is still a bit behind the times, here are some links:

Deconstructing the Myths of the “First Thanksgiving”

Rethinking Thanksgiving

Teaching Kids the Wonderful Diversity of American Indians

Teaching About Native American Issues

The information is starting to reach the mainstream; the Scholastic site specifically warns “Don’t have children dress up as ‘Indians,’ with paperbag ‘costumes’ or paper-feather ‘headdresses.’ Don’t sing ‘Ten Little Indians.’ Don’t let children do ‘war whoops.’  Don’t let children play with artifacts borrowed from a library or museum. Don’t have them make ‘Indian crafts’ unless you know authentic methods and have authentic materials.”

But the message from the minority to the majority takes a long time to filter up.  It swims upstream.  And it could use a little help.

9 thoughts on “Once a year

  1. NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2009 as National Native American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to celebrate November 27, 2009, as Native American Heritage Day.


  2. I’d disagree that all non-native people in the U.S. think about indigenous people once a year. For those of us who live in areas where indigenous people still reside in any significant numbers, it can be an everyday occurrence to meet, come into contact with, notice, work for, work with, care for, be friends with, be neighbors with, be reminded of the historical issues about, (etc etc in so many ways) indigenous peoples and their culture. But I strongly agree that MANY people in the U.S. don’t have any exposure and definitely need the message about deconstructing and rethinking the Thanksgiving myth (just to get them STARTED). And so many people have COMPLETELY missed the message that it is not appropriate to dress up like someone else’s identity…blech!!

  3. This whole argument goes far and beyond a slice of turkey dipped in a bit of gravy, and a little sweet potato on the side. Many do not just think of Natives that one day a year. Unfortunately, they also think of us during other s”special” events throughout the year. Monday night football, baseball games, hockey games, many college games, high school games, etc. How many school and professional teams still feel it is ok to use caricature depictions, inappropriate names, and the cheers that go along with them, to represent their teams? The Atlanta Braves (remember the tomahawk chop?) the Redskins, Blackhawks, the Indians..the list goes on and on. Many in dominant society argue this is a compliment. News flash, it is not a compliment, just ask any Native (I am and I just said it is not). Why is it ok to still let this practice go on, but it is seen as racist if we do it to another culture? As for Thanksgiving, I am still waiting to find out what we should be thankful for. Is it the Residential Schools? Is it the genocide? Is it smallpox? I know some will say that is the past, stop living there. Well, so is Thanksgiving, please stop living there!

  4. We recently approached our school about this issue and the response was… interesting? The principal was surprised. She had never considered these issues before and thanked us for giving her information and bringing it to her attention. The preschool teacher (planning a Thanksgiving program complete with “pilgrim and Indian” costumes) was kind and tried to “accommodate” us, but totally didn’t get it. She did strike the paperbag costumes and headdresses, having the kids who would have been “Indians” wear turkey hats instead. Half of the class still wore pilgrim hats. She pointed out that she’d been doing it her way for twenty years (hello! That’s the problem) but she didn’t want us to be offended. She asked me to make a list of what would be appropriate. I verbalized some specifics and asked her to read the information I’d brought for further information. She didn’t bother.
    One song they sang was awful, staring with “One little, two little…”
    Otherwise, things were ok. I know she made an effort, but not enough. I’m planing a follow-up box of books and printed articles with the hopes that next year (when my next little one) will be in that class it will continue too improve. We’ll see.
    Now to work on getting the “Warriors” logo changed from an Indian head.

  5. Usually making an effort is seemed as “enough” to those who attempt to make the effort. But is it really enough to make an effort? To me, making an effort that is not enough can sometimes do more harm than good. The message that it sends is “you know, I tried, and its just not worth it to change” Very damaging not just to the kids, but the adults around as well

  6. I think that sometimes when people make these changes because somebody else brought it to their attention, they don’t really have an understanding of the issues. Nor do they want to believe that they were wrong for twenty years. (Can you say “institutionalized racism”?) So they have an attitude of “Well, I did this, what more do you want?” as if they were doing something charitable to placate people rather than doing something because it is right.

  7. Just thanking you for providing a succinct and reasonable sentence or two, useful for quoting (and framing) in the many emails I’ve sent to our school’s principal this week. Now, on to the many reasons why little girls should not dress in qípáo for Halloween … or ever.

  8. I is for Indian came home from school, today. It will go back, undone, stapled to some explanations you have linked. Thank you so much for your time which helps me be a better parent.

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