I came across the resource called “Deconstructing the Myths of “The First Thanksgiving” by Judy Dow (Abenaki) (my printable version and resources are down below) and it has been so helpful for talking honestly about this holiday. It was posted on oyate.org which states:
Oyate is a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed with honesty and integrity, and that all people know that our stories belong to us. For Indian children growing up in the 21st century, it is as important as ever for them to know who they are and learn about the histories that they come from.
This article certainly fits with that mission and moreover, it serves as a vehicle to discuss what our non-native students easily accept as truth because their parents and grandparents were all taught the same lessons about the “nice” dinner between “pilgrims” and “indians.”
Here is the gist of my approach with the article, followed by how I don’t “ruin” the holiday as a student told me, but instead focus on being thankful, which is not new for native people. The article is probably suitable for use with grades 3-6, but you know your students best and what they need. I do it whole group, but it could easily be a jigsaw or tough text for independent time. I like to have them sketch as a way of them interpreting and making their own meaning from it, then have them share the sketches/captions with others.
- Bring students to meeting space.
- Explain the “pocket” facts guide. This is a piece of printer paper folded into 6 parts. On the first one they put a title, could be the same as the article or it could be something else. The other boxes are or their response to the myths. You could make suggestions–like each box divided into two–one side is the myth and the other is the truth. Or just for them to write the truths or for them to respond to certain prompts you create for each one.
- Read the introduction and either discuss here or move on to the first one.
- I project the myths and the truths so they can follow along rather than print a copy for each kiddo. After each one, I pause giving time for sketches. I might think aloud ideas for what they might sketch or even walk around supporting students who look either confused or unsure. Of course, they can always just jot too.
- At the end, I show them how to fold it up and make it pocket-sized.
- Finally, we rehearse what we might say to our family members (or even other adults around the school) when faced with misinformation about the holiday. They love how I dramatically whip out my pocket guide from my pocket to tell them.
Other resources and ideas:
- I like to read Giving Thanks, which is a great entry into what we have to be thankful for and again, that Native people have been giving thanks for as long as they have existed. They don’t focus it on one day, instead all year long.
- One that has recently gained popularity is We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga which also has a similar message of thanks.
- Squanto’s Journey is a newer resource for me, but it tells his story from his perspective, much like the book Encounter tells the story of Columbus from the Native people who met him first.
- After we’ve spent time discussing, reading and talking about the holiday, I invite them to make a banner, if they’d like to, I don’t force it. The banner has a place for things they are thankful for, myths, their idea of thanksgiving, and an open-ended “did you know” section. They cut it out and can use string or paper to attach it and make it a banner. One kiddo last year made it a center piece by gluing the top edges together to make an empty square between them.
Whatever you do, just be sure to acknowledge that Native people are still living, sometimes grieving during this holiday, and that as Americans, we certainly have a lot to be thankful for, but it does not mean we don’t have truths to share and tell!