Thursday, November 1, 2012

National Native American Heritage Month

I am feeling a little, no, a lot of conflict inside as I read through some of the books about Thanksgiving that we read to our children. There are so many that romanticize the original Thanksgiving story and make it a "feel good" experience. The only problem is that most of the materials we use to teach about and celebrate this holiday do not include the perspective of some major players. Books like those above that I read this afternoon, gloss over the experience of the indigenous people.

Today, a Presidential proclamation was released from The White House regarding National Native American Heritage Month. I learned of this through Debbie Reese's site American Indians in Children's Literature. One line stood out to me in relation to how we teach, As we work together to forge a brighter future, we cannot shy away from the difficult aspects of our past." As a teacher, I am compelled not only to educate students about our past, but teach them to read critically and question the stories that have been passed down for so many years that we accept them as the only truth and the only perspective.

Fortunately, there are also books like Thanksgiving a Native Perspective and 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, that don't simply share the myth of the First Thanksgiving, but provide a whole other perspective. The facts have always been available, but since they didn't fit within the context of our myth, they haven't always been taught.

If you are interested in learning more about Thanksgiving beyond the feast of the Pilgrims, please read 1621, or stop by Debbie Reese's blog. She has addressed this topic several times over the years: Good Books About Thanksgiving and Native Americans and Thanksgiving. Oyate also has a fantastic online resource Deconstructing the Myths of The First Thanksgiving. It is hard to change lessons and the materials that we use, but we owe it to our students to go beyond the same old history we have been teaching. The Common Core requires students to read critically. We can be models in our classes and ask such questions as: Whose perspective is represented in this resource? Does the work accurately reflect the culture of those included? Are those voiced heard? Who benefits from this telling of the story? 

As we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, I hope to evaluate materials carefully and as the proclamation encourages, "celebrate and honor the many ways American Indians and Alaska Natives have enriched our Nation."

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