As Thanksgiving recedes in the rearview, families replete with turkey and football fan out through the malls to kick off their holiday shopping on what is popularly known as Black Friday.
In fact, shopping is considered tradition in many U.S. families. What few people know is that the day also celebrates traditions that go much, much further back. Today is Native American Heritage Day, thanks in large part to the efforts of one Archie Buttram, of Cherokee heritage, according to the Ozark County Times.
Native American Heritage Day is part of Native American Heritage Month, which is winding down. But there is still ample opportunity, given the continued attention on indigenous heritage in this country, to counteract the watered-down, sanitized version of the Thanksgiving story.
Just before Thanksgiving the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed piece addressing just that, suggesting ways that grown-ups could talk to and teach their children about American Indian heritage. The article stressed that while the notion of the feast and the communality may be “historically accurate,” it stops short of telling the real story.
“What happens next to these 17th century Native Americans and their descendants is usually left out of the classroom,” wrote Susan Rohwer in the November 26 opinion piece. “Too often, Native Americans are reduced to mascots or caricatures, and even many well-intentioned efforts at including Native Americans in children’s books fall flat.”
She outlined a number of resources, including references to stories on Indian Country Today Media Network, “that could be helpful in countering this unsavory American tradition of ignoring Native American cultures and history during Thanksgiving.”
She also mentions Debbie Reese and her American Indians in Children’s Literature website, as well as the age-appropriate guide for talking about Thanksgiving on the website Offbeat Families. Such education is essential, Rohwer asserted.
“When we avoid talking about difficult or ugly moments in our history, we are preserving a culture that sees Native Americans as invisible,” Rohwer wrote. “When we expose our children to only racist and simplistic depictions of Native Americans, we are perpetuating the idea that they don’t matter as a population with diverse cultures and contributions. We are also underestimating our children’s intelligence and capacity for thoughtful compassion.”
Read How to Talk to Your Children About Thanksgiving's Ugly History in the Los Angeles Times.