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Talking About Thanksgiving with your Student

Thanksgiving is a holiday whose meaning is different for everyone depending on your culture, background, and heritage. We each have our own ways of showing gratitude and thankfulness, for our many blessings during this season.

Thanksgiving is also a holiday that has been traditionally centered on the misrepresentation of Indigenous people in the United States. Much of this harm has been perpetuated in settings where stories of the "First Thanksgiving" are shared or performed and sacred clothing and practices are used as props or toys.

This upcoming week is an opportunity for caregivers to share accurate information and lived experiences of Native Americans (both past and present). Thanksgiving is often portrayed as the time the Pilgrims and Native Americans came together to celebrate and give 'thanks'. This popular story is often told as a 'single story' that leaves out many important facts and points of view.

We challenge everyone in our community to take a critical look at how we discuss and celebrate Thanksgiving with our families this year. Popular images surrounding Thanksgiving found on cards and decorations are very harmful to the Indigenous community. These images are often based on a stereotypical view of Native Americans rather than highlighting the accurate and diverse traditions. As a consequence of this 'single story' Thanksgiving imagery serves to teach and reinforce children's misinformation about Native Americans which lays a foundation for future prejudice.

As a school community that is dedicated to inclusion and diversity, we want to make sure that our students and their caregivers have the tools to counter misleading portrayals of Indigenous Americans that may appear in children's books, television shows, movies, and games. We want to empower you all to give your students the facts they may not have heard before, and allow them time to listen and explore the vibrant heritage and culture of Indigenous peoples of the United States. We don't advocate for the elimination of Thanksgiving from our homes but instead, strive to help children understand that Thanksgiving means different things to different people (in our country and all around the world).

Below are some resources for your to use when planning to speak to your student about the upcoming holiday. We hope these resources can help you start and open dialogue about the heritage and culture of Native Americans both past and present.

Resources for Families

Rethinking Thanksgiving: Myths and Misgivings by Vera L. Stenhouse

Deconstructing the Myths of "The First Thanksgiving" by Judy Dow (Abenaki)

10 Ways to Make Your Thanksgiving About Social and Environmental Justice By Eve Bratman

Beyond the So-Called First Thanksgiving: 5 Children’s Books That Set the Record Straight By Indian Country Today

For Many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a Day of Mourning By The Boston Globe

Do American Indians celebrate Thanksgiving? By The National Museum of the American Indian