Parenting as Social Justice: Telling the Truth about Thanksgiving

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It’s Fall ya’ll. The chill has sunk into the air and the apples are ripe. In my house, we find ourselves making plans for my all-time favorite holiday – Thanksgiving. Turkey Day is sacred in my family. We hike on Thanksgiving morning, ice skate on black Friday, and bask in the warmth and coziness that the long weekend provides. I love folding my babies into those traditions every November. However, there’s another side to Thanksgiving that we need to explore more. 

Just as I did on Columbus Day, I’m contemplating ways to re-frame and broaden the narrative around Thanksgiving for my kids. My son is 3.5 and my daughter is almost 1.5. Regardless of their young age, I feel a strong responsibility to contextualize dominant cultural paradigms for them. 

Thanksgiving is a concept long ingrained in many Native American cultures and people. What we often think of as the first Thanksgiving does not beget cozy feelings for many Native Americans. Instead it’s a reminder and representation of betrayal. For the Puritan settlers, the First Thanksgiving was a gift for which we owe an enormous debt. I want to be clear with my kids – that debt was never repaid. After taking over villages, white settlers gave thanks for their good fortune and for the extermination of Native populations. The systematic slaughter of Native Americans over the course of decades following the Mayflower’s landing is the real legacy of Thanksgiving’s origins. 

So the question I want to explore with my children is two fold. First, How can we honor the history of Native cultures through Thanksgiving? And more broadly, how are we challenging privilege and power in society to amplify marginalized voices? It’s not by making construction paper headdresses and buckle hats, I can tell you that for sure. It’s not by painting Native Americans as a monolithic group and distilling their culture into ours.

So in the spirit of opening up these conversations, here are some #ownvoices books for November. 

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp – A wonderful story based on the Thanksgiving address of the Iroquois Nations. This book reminds us to honor and cherish one another, and give thanks for our natural resources.

 

Good Morning World by Paul Windsor – First Nations artist Paul Windsor takes us through a beautifully illustrated nature story. 

Squanto’s Journey by Joseph Bruchac – Told from the viewpoint of a pivotal historical figure, Squanto’s Journey sheds the sugar-coating so often applied to first Thanksgiving stories. This should be required reading for every elementary student. I read it with my three year old by summarizing each page and illustration and discussing how Squanto felt during each phase of his journey. 

The Water Walker by Joanne Robinson – A true, modern tale highlighting the importance and relevance of Native American values. This is a great story for the budding environmentalist.

When the Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger and Susan Katz- Narrated by a young Lanape girl, this story of the seasons pays homage to traditional Native American culture.

The Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith- A fun story about the Creek tradition of jingle dancing. 

Other good stories for Thanksgiving:

  • The Thank You Book by Mo Willems – An awesome Gerald and Piggy story about being grateful. 
  • Duck for Turkey Day by Jaqueline Jules – I love how this story depicts and celebrates the diversity in family traditions.  
  • Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey by Joy Cowley – This story has some Spanish words sprinkled throughout the text. My son loves to learn new words in other languages, so he enjoyed this fun story. 
  • Brother Eagle, Sister Sky adapted by Susan Jeffers – This recounting of a great historical speech by Chief Seattle is adapted and illustrated by a local woman from Croton who consulted Souix tribal members as part of her creative process. 

What other stories do you love to read at Thanksgiving? Share them with us!

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Amy is a Hudson Valley native and educator working in New York City schools. She has two little kids and one little dog. Before moving to her current home in Ossining, Amy attended college on Long Island and then spent most of her 20s in Brooklyn and Queens. New York is truly home for her, and she’s thrilled to be living closer to her hometown of Garrison and her extended family. As a mom, Amy believes in empowered parenting, and she’s passionate about raising her kids to be partners in the fight for social justice. When she’s not working or trying to figure out nap time, Amy loves hiking, yoga, swimming, and relaxing with her family.