Holding the Past, Present and Future All At Once
November in this midwest white woman’s home has historically been punctuated by ideas around thankfulness, feasts, shopping, extended family, football, women separated in the kitchen while men are in the TV room with children bouncing in between. At work, in the early childhood field, older iterations include dressing children up in layers of construction paper into teams of female and male pilgrims to come together in peace with songs and being on a stage. Perhaps in an effort to take the focus away from this sketchy stretch of truth, other teachers focus on the centerpiece-the turkey. Dressing children up as turkeys, in more construction paper and singing songs about his stature.
You too? I fully recognize that while I've felt uncomfortable with the popular narrative for years, the past four years of introspection and study have only scratched the surface. It has been uncomfortable accepting the label of colonist. Leaning into discomfort is a muscle that is hard earned.
As I began to flip my thinking and pedagogy to a more nature-based one, I came back to my relationship with the land. This shift, as well as a lifelong interest in history and ancestry, inevitably resulted in coming to terms with how both my own family and how the settlers in Ohio interacted with and committed violence on multiple tribes in Ohio’s history. Coming to understand that White settlers did not come to a wild and untended land, but instead forests and fields that had been tended and well populated prior to the arrival of Europeans on the shores of this land. In 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles Mann describes in detail how full, active, and vibrant the Americas were prior to the arrival of outsiders. (Mann)
In fact, “When the pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, the sachem (chief) Ousamequin offered the new arrivals an entente, primarily as a way to protect the Wampanoags against their rivals, the Narragansetts. For 50 years, the alliance was tested by colonial land expansion, the spread of disease, and the exploitation of resources on Wampanoag land. Then, tensions ignited into war. Known as King Philip’s War (or the Great Narragansett War), the conflict devastated the Wampanoags and forever shifted the balance of power in favor of European arrivals. Wampanoags today remember the Pilgrims’ entry to their homeland as a day of deep mourning, rather than a moment of giving thanks.” (Bugos)
As educators, we need to recognize these truths both in ourselves and our family traditions. We need to disrupt unhelpful narratives in conversations, in our rituals, and in our classrooms. Instead of celebrating a false story on the last Thursday of November, can we look at things differently?
Can we first recognize the true history and brutality of encounters between Indigenous tribes and European colonists and settlers? We need to acknowledge that taking land and using tribes and groups against each other was intentional and cruel. No, we did not personally take part in this action hundreds of years ago, but those of us who are descended from these perpetrators cannot sweep it under the rug and pass this false narrative forward.
Next, we must follow the lead of contemporary groups both in our immediate communities and also nationally and globally. Learning from American Indians and striving toward allyship with our time and thinking. When we investigate and read, it is important to make sure that we are not relying on White voices for our information. Investigating the writer and considering the motivations of writing, posts, and ‘celebration.’
What can early childhood educators do?
Include gratitude into our practice regularly throughout the year.
Consider harvest celebrations surrounding food that we or a local farm we visit regularly grows at the end of the season without using the false story of pilgrims and Native Americans gathered peacefully forever more around a table. What would it be like if you did not have a feast or program?
Celebrate Indigenous People's Day instead of Columbus Day.
Include learning of American Indians throughout the year and especially in connection to working in nature. Here is a list of resources for educators.
Accept the challenge to use November, Native American Heritage Month, as an opportunity to learn and teach about past and contemporary American Indian and Alaska Native lives and contributions. This would mirror how we treat Black History month in February and Women’s History month in March.
Include indigenous voices in your social media threads and reading lists.
Re-examine how we will continue to hold this time with our own families. Can we trade the feast we buy to one we or our farmer neighbors have grown? Can we watch a film in between football games?
Let’s push back on how we hold this time in our consciousness, decenter ourselves and think about how we, as colonists, can be helpful to Native Americans today and in the future.
Bugos, Claire. “The Myths of the Thanksgiving Story and the Lasting Damage They Imbue.” Smithsonian Magazine, 26 November 2019, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/thanksgiving-myth-and-what-we-should-be-teaching-kids-180973655/. Accessed 14 November 2022.
Mann, Charles C. 1491. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2006.