Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Telling all of our stories on Thanksgiving

Tuesday Slice of Life is at Two Writing Teachers
John Two-Hawks is an awarding winning Lakota flute player.  He says:
"I cannot tell you the dreamy Indian story of your imagination simply because I am not imaginary -and my story is no dream...."
      Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  I am grateful for this community that helps me be a better teacher.  Thank you for your support this year and your kind comments.  I am grateful!
As Thanksgiving is upon us in a couple of days, I am reminded of my time in the classroom and the importance of sharing important truths with my students.  It’s a lovely thing to say thanks for our blessings, and I do.  I feel I have many and am forever grateful.  In my years in the classroom I developed a number of traditions to help students both to celebrate and to learn about the real history of Thanksgiving.  Although we are often proud of those we call pilgrims, in the spirit of the learning all the stories of our American history, I also wanted my students to understand that Native Americans, most especially the Wampanoag, the Native Americans who helped the early colonists through that first hard winter, are still here, still living in the United States, and living their lives as they have for 350 years.  I experienced the story firsthand with my students when we visited the Plimoth Plantation a few years ago.  It’s a wonderful place to experience history as ‘first-hand’ as one can get without the availability of time travel.  There is where we met the Wampanoag, spoke with them about their journey in history, and began to understand that for them, our Thanksgiving is not a day of celebration.
Plimoth woman
There is a new documentary out, which details a recent venture of saving the Wampanoag language.  It is titled “We Still Live Here – Âs Nutayuneânby” and tells the story of Jessie Little Doe Baird, a Wampanoag Indian who began to search for pieces of the language that hadn’t been spoken for 100 years.  You can find an article about it and a brief film clip here.  Her daughter is the first native speaker in seven generations to speak the language!  I share this story, in addition to sharing an article by Susan Bates, called “The Real Story of Thanksgiving” and one by a teacher, Chuck Larsen, titled “Introduction for Teachers”.  Both are here.  It is important to me that students learn the stories that have often been omitted, and to question and explore history instead of accepting every story as the only one.     
Wampanoag exterior
Because my school does acknowledge and celebrate Thanksgiving as part of our heritage, I also held other activities with students.  One year we created special thank you proclamations (art and words), and presented them to the special someone at the Thanksgiving table.  Another time we wrote and shared the exercise of answering this question:  If you could invite five people to your Thanksgiving table, whom would you invite, who would be the guest of honor, and at that dinner, what words would you say to them?  Various people were among the invited, like grandparents who had died before the students had met them, favorite cartoon characters, best friends who had moved away, along with famous people like Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, Neil Armstrong, and on.  After completing the exercise, we shared our writing on the day before the Thanksgiving break.  And beautiful, serious, along with tongue-in-cheek words were written.  Often on that day we have visitors, because many relatives visit at this time, so we share with them and ask them to share one person they might invite.  It is a rich experience to hear the array of people chosen, and even more exciting to hear the words chosen to say to the invitees.
Last, during the days before the holiday, we created a thank you wall, on which we posted notes of thanks to people in the school, and notes of gratitude for both people and things in our lives.  It was good to see the enthusiasm for this in the class and from our viewers. 
I know that we cannot review parts of the past as responsible researchers without some regret, but we can use this lesson that any study of past times is a way to research for truth from all the relevant viewpoints.   We can teach our students to write stories from their research in order to imagine standing in others’ shoes.   Instead of ignoring that wrongs were done in the past, we can look for those things done right, and be thankful for that.  As well, we can continue to give thanks that people all over the world are trying to learn how to live together in peace.
When my students celebrate Thanksgiving with their families, my hope is that they are richer for their knowledge.

wild turkeys

ready for pies?


  1. What an in-depth approach to presenting Thanksgiving. I just remember drawing pumpkins :)
    Have a wonderful holiday and so good to be slicing with you Linda,

  2. I LOVE your idea of sharing "all the stories". Native American culture has been a hobby of mine ever since I was a little girl, and your inclusion of the Wampanoag point of view was wonderful to hear! Your students are lucky to have a teacher who gives them such a wide window to the world!

  3. I am grateful that you are part of the SOL Community! What a blessing it is to have you as such an active writer and commenter.

    Happy Thanksgiving Linda,

  4. What I love about your posts, is that you really think through the meaning of things...I always learn to value something new, to listen and look for something new. Thank you for that, Linda...and Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Linda your posts are always so interesting. I have learned so much from you. Thank you for sharing and your comments on my blog. My wish is for a blessed Thanksgiving for you.

  6. "I also wanted my students to understand that Native Americans, most especially the Wampanoag, the Native Americans who helped the early colonists through that first hard winter, are still here, still living in the United States, and living their lives as they have for 350 years." This is so important. I am so glad you have given ME this reminder. My husband and I have deep appreciation for Native American culture and your words remind me of this. The truth you share with your students gives me hope that there will be a future filled with thoughtful citizens!


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