Thanksgiving, Native Americans, and Immigration

By Mark Palacio

As we approach this very “American” holiday of Thanksgiving, I realize that there are many connections to our ongoing exploration of the complexities of migration. Currently, as we keep working to move our wagon trains west, we are also asking students to research and share what they have learned about the indigenous people of the prairie and plains. We have said a number of times that we are asking them to hold two different perspectives in mind — one based on the hopes, needs, and fears of the settlers heading west, and one based on the impact that that migration had (and continues to have) on the people who were already there. As one student said today, “It’s like having someone walk into your house.”

There’s never enough time to take advantage of all that is out there for us to deepen this study. So I’m asking you to try to find some time in the next week or two to explore some very thought-provoking resources with your own child, perhaps in a family conversation or series of them. We will be using some of these resources at school, too, but it will only be beneficial if a child has seen and thought about them more than once, and we just don’t have time to do all that we would like to do. You may have time to preview them first and decide which ones would be most interesting to and meaningful for your family.

One that I recommend highly comes from the New York Times. It’s a collection of interviews and text about 15 different experiences with Thanksgiving. The link to that is here: “The American Thanksgiving.” It uses food to highlight the complex relationship between the desire to adapt, blend, and belong to the new place and the equally strong desire to stay in touch with the culture and traditions from which they or their ancestors came. And there are a lot of wonderful-sounding recipes there, too.

Another is a series of links to explore which challenge the traditional myths about the first Thanksgiving, its aftermath, and the things that are often done in schools (with perhaps the best of intentions) that create misunderstanding and promote damaging stereotypes. This is from Teaching Tolerance and — while aimed primarily at schools and teachers — has much to offer families as well.

In the midst of investigating these challenging articles and websites — and while keeping in mind how much devastating turmoil there is in the world today at home and abroad — I hope you will all take time to enjoy and talk with your child about the things for which you are thankful. It’s something we all should do more than once a year.

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