Thanksgiving and Genocide

Happy Thanksgiving.

As my children came home from school with paper pilgrims’ hats and “Indian” headbands with feathers, I winced, I groaned, and I kept silent. They are 4 and 6. It’s not time yet.

But here’s a serious question, asking as both historian and parent, in lieu of a longer post on this busy day:

Can you talk about the origins of Thanksgiving, to children, without discussing genocide?  What about the religious bigotry of the early Protestant settlers?

I’m not so sure.

4 Replies to “Thanksgiving and Genocide”

  1. Victor Raymond says:

    As a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, I've wondered this myself. At one Thanksgiving a few years ago, I asked my Cherokee mom why we celebrated Thanksgiving. She looked at me carefully and then said, "well,we're still here after 500 years. That's something to be thankful for, I think." Take the holiday and re-purpose it.

    1. David Perry says:

      Right, Victor. I'm not asking whether you can make a holiday about something else – you can and we do. I'm asking specifically whether it is appropriate to talk about pilgrims and "Indians" and the history without discussing genocide and religious bigotry.

  2. Laura says:

    Honestly I like our preschools position that they do nothing around holidays in their curriculum and the discussions about holidays are initiated by the children and guided by the teachers. I know elementary will not likely be this way. I get that this holiday is covered under the guise of history. I guess it depends on what they are telling your children and what questions, thoughts and ideas your children have about this historical holiday. For now I'd probably focus on your own family traditions and save the history for later or keep it really simple. I would ask the school what they are teaching the kids about it that might also help frame your discussion. But developmentally kids this age are not ready to understand the complexities of genocide and religious bigotry. They do have a a pretty good understanding of right and wrong and fair through a very black and white lens though so you could talk a bit about a piece of the history in those terms and tell them there is a lot more to the story and let them know you will learn a little more each year.

    1. David Perry says:

      Yeah. The thing is that my daughter and son come home with pilgrim hats and Indian headdresses, hence they are receiving the history. So we're not in control, we can just add or not. I'm obviously not actually going to tell my kids about genocide this year, but I'm thinking about the myth-making and I don't like it.

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