My daughter came home in a beautiful headpiece and vest today. Her preschool is very focused on art and learning through doing, so she threaded the beads and created a colorful pattern herself. She chose symbols of Native American life for her vest (she picked tipis, feathers, a turtle, patterns), and she learned that “the Indians teached the Pilgrims how to hunt and how to grow food.”
I have no problem with any of this. Would I prefer that they learned about the Lenape, who live(d) in our area of New Jersey? Sure! Would I like that they learned about the actual foods (not turkeys!) eaten at the first Thanksgiving meal? Sure! But in the end, I’m glad that she is curious to learn more, and that she loves to create art and crafts with her hands. And I’m happy that she is learning about helping others by teaching them skills, not just doing it for them.
At four and five years old, I don’t need her to know about the politics involved in the first Thanksgiving meeting, and I don’t need her to learn about the horrors of how a great People were treated later. Not yet. Not now.
For now, I want her to develop a love and appreciation of people different and alike. And even though the Lenape lived in wigwams and longhouses, I’m OK with my daughter thinking that tipis will look pretty cool on her feather-decorated vest.
You, however, are old enough to know what’s what. Start with this read: The history of the First Thanksgiving. This essay on HuffPo, which compares the treatment of the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving to how we should treat “the other” in our own lives, is food for thought as well. And if you want to give your kids some supplemental information about Thanksgiving history, the Plimoth Plantation site is a good start. This guide to age-appropriate approaches to the uglier parts of Thanksgiving history is solid and matter-of-fact. It’s also easily adjusted to a parent’s own comfort level.