Teaching Thanksgiving from a Native American Perspective

With Thanksgiving around the corner, this is an excellent time to provide some accurate resources about the lived experiences of Native Americans. Thanksgiving is often portrayed as the time that the Pilgrims and the Native Americans got together to celebrate and give ‘thanks’. As with other aspects of history presented to students, this narrative is filled with inaccuracies and cultural stereotypes that are continually perpetuated; a narrative which fails to take the Native American perspective on Thanksgiving itself.

The story of the pilgrims is a version of history that largely ignores the historical aspects of the Puritans (the pilgrims) and the Indigenous people they met when arriving on the North American continent. Culturally responsive classrooms ask us to provide the whole picture, to give students facts that they may not have heard before, and allow them time to learn and discover more about the indigenous people of the United States and not a myth of a happy Thanksgiving dinner.

Below are some resources for you to use with your advisories in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Why I’m Not Thankful for Thanksgiving | Michael Dorris
A Rethinking Schools article written by a Native American parent that challenges stereotypes in classroom curriculum about the Thanksgiving Holiday

The Suppressed Speech Of Wamsutta (frank B.) James, Wampanoag
To have been delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1970
This is an a primary document that students can study to understand from a Native perspective what celebrating Thanksgiving represents to the Wampanoag of the Northeastern United States

How to Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective | Kelly Hayes, Truthout
This article covers the current Native American struggle at Standing Rock in North Dakota: This is an opinion piece recently written about the historic fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

New York Stands With Standing Rock: A Syllabus
An impressive resource that not only offers lesson plans about the current Standing Rock struggle, but offers key concepts, terms, and legislation from contact to present.

This Gorgeous Short Film Takes Us to the Heart of the Dakota Access Pipeline Standoff
A short (8min) that captures the spirit of the resistance at Standing Rock.

The Big Picture Learning network is an amazing place for students to learn and grow. Take some time to celebrate the successes of the year so far, acknowledge the accomplishments of students and adults, and give thanks for the amazing network that allows us to support learning and growth - one student at a time!

Want to learn more about indigenous cultures or the Big Picture Learning Native American Student Initiative? Email [email protected]