|The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by Jennie A. Brownscombe (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)|
This image represents how Thanksgiving began. At least, that's the legend. The Pilgrims, in celebration of their survival through their first long winter in the New World, held a ceremony of thanksgiving like the harvest festivals they had participated in back in Europe. Joined by the local Indians who had helped them during that winter, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for bringing them through.
Since that first Thanksgiving in 1621, much of what this painting represents has been called into question. Were relations between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans so friendly? Was this even the first Thanksgiving? And does this matter when Thanksgiving in the United States is now seen as being about food and football, not to mention the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season.
November is often a time to discuss Indians, due to their role in the first Thanksgiving. While acknowledging that books about Native Americans have come a long way, author Cynthia Leitich Smith notes:
However, stereotyped depictions persist. Contemporary settings are in short supply (and almost exclusively targeted at picture book readers). Certain well-known Nations like the Navajo (Diné) and Cherokee are highlighted while others don't appear to exist. Groups like Urban Indians are almost ignored. Few biographies focus on Native people known for their service to their own communities.How can you find high-quality portrayals of Native Americans, to share with teens in your schools and libraries? Look to resources like the following
--Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature
--Resources from Cynthia Leitich Smith on Native American themes
--The National Museum of the American Indian, particularly in the Education section
Have a very happy Thanksgiving!