The Press

Thanks­giv­ing lessons in truth

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‘‘A lot of the kids think we live in a long­house or a teepee or what­ever. Stereo­types like those are very hard to de­feat.’’ An­na­won Wee­den, per­form­ing artist and mem­ber of the Mash­pee Wam­panoag Tribe

A friendly feast shared by the plucky Pil­grims and their na­tive neigh­bours? That’s yes­ter­day’s Thanks­giv­ing story.

Chil­dren in many US schools are now learn­ing a more com­plex les­son that in­cludes con­flict, in­jus­tice, and a new fo­cus on the peo­ple who lived on the land for hun­dreds of years be­fore Euro­pean set­tlers ar­rived and named it New Eng­land.

In­spired by the na­tion’s reck­on­ing with sys­temic racism, schools are scrap­ping and rewrit­ing lessons that treated Na­tive Amer­i­cans as a foot­note in a story about white set­tlers.

In­stead of mak­ing Pil­grim hats, pupils still learn about the 1621 feast, but many are also learn­ing that peace be­tween the Pil­grims and Na­tive Amer­i­cans was al­ways un­easy and later splin­tered into years of con­flict.

On Cape Cod, lan­guage arts teacher Su­san­nah Remil­lard long found that her sixth grade charges had been taught far more about the Pil­grims than the Wam­panoag peo­ple, the Na­tive Amer­i­cans who at­tended the feast. She asks the chil­dren to re­write the Thanks­giv­ing story us­ing his­tor­i­cal records, and then to write a poem from the per­spec­tive of a per­son from that time.

‘‘We carry this colo­nial view of how we teach, and now we have a mo­ment to step out­side that and think about whether that is harm­ful for kids, and if there isn’t a bet­ter way,’’ said Remil­lard, who teaches at Cape Cod Light­house Charter School in East Har­wich, Mas­sachusetts. ‘‘I think we are at a point where peo­ple are now ready to lis­ten.’’

In Ar­ling­ton Pub­lic Schools near Bos­ton, chil­dren used to dress up in colo­nial at­tire for Thanks­giv­ing. The cos­tumes were abol­ished in 2018, and the dis­trict is work­ing to ex­pand and cor­rect class­room teach­ings on Na­tive Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing

de­bunk­ing Thanks­giv­ing myths.

Chil­dren as young as kinder­garten age are now be­ing taught that har­vest feasts have been part of Wam­panoag life since long be­fore 1621, and that thanks­giv­ing is a daily part of life for many tribes. They are also taught that the Pil­grims and Wam­panoag were not friends, and that it is im­por­tant to ‘‘un­learn’’ false no­tions around the feast.

‘‘We don’t want the colour­ing books of the Pil­grims and the Na­tive Amer­i­cans,’’ said Crys­tal Power, a so­cial stud­ies coach. ‘‘We want stu­dents to en­gage with what re­ally hap­pened, with who lived here first, and to un­der­stand that there was no such thing as the New World. It was only new from one side’s per­spec­tive.’’

Ad­vo­cates for indige­nous ed­u­ca­tion cau­tion that there’s still much to im­prove. Change has been slow and spotty, they say, and many schools cling to in­sen­si­tive tra­di­tions, in­clud­ing cos­tume dra­mas and pa­per head­dresses.

‘‘Progress seems to be gain­ing mo­men­tum, but there’s still a lot of work to do,’’ said Ed Schup­man, man­ager of Na­tive Knowl­edge 360, the na­tional ed­u­ca­tion ini­tia­tive at the Na­tional Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian, and a cit­i­zen of the Musco­gee (Creek) Na­tion of Ok­la­homa.

Schup­man and the mu­seum have worked with states as they cre­ate new teach­ing stan­dards on indige­nous cul­tures. Montana, in 1999, was among the first to re­quire schools to teach tribal

his­to­ries. It has since been joined by Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon and oth­ers.

Al­though schools say par­ents have mostly em­braced the changes, they ac­knowl­edge that it can be po­lar­is­ing. Prominent law­mak­ers have also re­sisted ef­forts to re­think Thanks­giv­ing, in­clud­ing Sen­a­tor Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas, a Repub­li­can who last week blasted ‘‘re­vi­sion­ist char­la­tans of the rad­i­cal left’’.

School of­fi­cials say they aren’t chang­ing his­tory, but adding parts that have been left out.

Stan­dard so­cial stud­ies text­books have in­cluded lit­tle about Na­tive Amer­i­cans, and al­ter­na­tives were long elu­sive. Teach­ers say that’s chang­ing, thanks to na­tive schol­ars who have writ­ten chil­dren’s books, les­son plans and other ma­te­ri­als.

In Mas­sachusetts this year, ev­ery pub­lic school is get­ting copies of a new state his­tory book cowrit­ten by a Wam­panoag au­thor and his­to­rian. The book was pub­lished to co­in­cide with the 400th an­niver­sary of the Mayflower’s ar­rival, but it no­tably be­gins thou­sands of years ear­lier, with the his­tory of the Wam­panoag peo­ple.

Many schools are also adding lessons on na­tive cul­tures through the year, in­clud­ing around Columbus Day, which some dis­tricts now mark as Indige­nous Peo­ples Day. More are also look­ing for ways to bring indige­nous voices di­rectly into the class­room.

Schools around Bos­ton have hosted an­nual vis­its from An­na­won Wee­den, a per­form­ing artist and mem­ber of the Mash­pee Wam­panoag Tribe. He makes a point of ar­riv­ing in modern clothes to dis­pel faulty no­tions about indige­nous peo­ple. Only af­ter tak­ing ques­tions and de­bunk­ing myths does he change into tra­di­tional re­galia and demon­strate tribal dances.

‘‘A lot of the kids think we’re only in the past. A lot of the kids think we live in a long­house or a teepee or what­ever,’’ Wee­den said. ‘‘Stereo­types like those are very hard to de­feat.’’

 ?? AP ?? Mas­sachusetts teacher Su­san­nah Remil­lard works with one of her pupils on a new type of Thanks­giv­ing his­tory les­son, which gives greater promi­nence to Na­tive Amer­i­cans af­ter decades of lessons that fo­cused on the English ‘‘Pil­grim’’ set­tlers who ar­rived in North Amer­ica in 1620.
AP Mas­sachusetts teacher Su­san­nah Remil­lard works with one of her pupils on a new type of Thanks­giv­ing his­tory les­son, which gives greater promi­nence to Na­tive Amer­i­cans af­ter decades of lessons that fo­cused on the English ‘‘Pil­grim’’ set­tlers who ar­rived in North Amer­ica in 1620.

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