Last Thursday, my sons’ school cafeteria served a special Thanksgiving feast. I always send a lunch from home, but our boys really wanted to eat school lunch so they could eat what their friends were eating during the feast. My husband and I allowed them to buy school lunch this one time.
When I picked up my boys from school, I saw quite a few Pilgrim hats. Once we arrived home, I decided to find out what they learned about Thanksgiving at school. They shared that everyone made a Pilgrim hat to wear to the cafeteria during lunch for the Thanksgiving feast. Of course, I inquired if anyone was wearing a headband with feathers, but they told me no one was. Although I was relieved to hear that, I was disappointed about what they learned about Thanksgiving and the fact they wore a Pilgrim hat.
They told me they learned the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower, but some Pilgrims died on the trip. Once they arrived, they needed help and the Native Americans helped them and showed them how to survive in a new land. The Pilgrims had a Thanksgiving feast with the Native Americans.
Historians typically refer to the 1621 fall feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag as the first Thanksgiving. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving as a national holiday that would take place on the fourth Thursday in November. The romanticized version of Thanksgiving taught in schools today offends Native people. For them, this 1621 feast marked the beginning of the end for many Native tribes. The simplistic story told in school makes children view Native Americans as one collective group; they don’t understand there are many tribes. Many children don’t even learn which tribe participated in the 1621 feast.
After hearing my children recount what they learned, I asked them a question. “Why did the Pilgrims come here?” One of my sons said, “They were looking for a new place to live.” I later explained how the English colonists killed the Native Americans and took their land. I also told them how many Native Americans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November, but instead gather for a National Day of Mourning. Finally, I wanted them to know there are Native Americans alive today. I fear that some children believe Native Americans are people who existed in the past, and I wanted my children to understand that even though English settlers committed genocide against Native Americans, there are still Native Americans alive today.