November 23, 2009

Why Thanksgiving pageants are wrong

No Playing Indian at Thanksgiving

By Nicki HeskinYoung children take school lessons as truth. If kids make a construction paper vest and headdress and are told they are dressing as Native Americans, they believe us. If kids are told that relations between Native Americans and colonists were friendly and cooperative (without the rest of the story), they believe us. While we as adults may understand these costumes or stories are incomplete or representative, kids do not. I'm not saying we should be creating authentic clothing or re-enacting bloody wars. My point is that since we can't and don't, then we shouldn't continue teaching the myth as truth.

As a result of all this, in my opinion, dressing as and "playing Indian" in school, certainly as a school sanctioned (taught!) activity is inappropriate. Not only is there no *one* native culture that can be emulated, but there is simply no other curriculum that allows or permits this sort of behavior. Would we ever send Kindergartners to school dressed as black field hands to learn about slavery? And if we did, would we do it with construction paper hats and clothing? Would we ever dress kids up as German Nazis (in lederhosen?) and Jews (in prayer shawls and curls?) to learn about the Holocaust? And if we did, would we call parents who objected "oversensitive?" Would we then stage a dinner party with these kids dressed as Germans and Jews set before World War II as an example of how these two groups once ate and lived together so nicely, and ignoring what happened next? It's absurd to even suggest it.
Heskin's conclusion:I'm not sure I'm ready for my Kindergartner to learn about genocide in school, and the story is somewhat disingenuous and incomplete without it, so my vote is to wait a bit. Instead early education should and focus on the *current* meanings and cultural celebration of Thanksgiving--family, community, giving and gratitude--with the historical aspect removed.Comment:  As you may recall, there was a big controversy over a Thanksgiving pageant in Claremont, California, last year. Check it out to see the anti-Indian scorn and hatred behind these pageants.

Don't think an innocuous Thanksgiving pageant involves scorn and hatred? Here's what a lot of Americans are thinking about Indians:We know our people conquered your people. We weakened them with disease and alcohol, broke the treaties we signed with them, and forced them into barren lands little better than concentration camps. When they tried to fight back, we hunted and killed them like animals.

But we don't like to think about that. We prefer a guilt-free version of history in which the Europeans and Indians were friends. You invited us into your homes and made us feel welcome. We worked together to found this country of ours and celebrated it with a great feast.

That's our story now and we don't want to hear any other. Don't you dare contradict our national myth or we'll get angry. We let you live in our country and gave you casinos, but don't put on airs and think you're equal to us. This is a white Christian nation now and you're still heathen savages.
If you don't believe it, try protesting a myth-making Thanksgiving pageant as Michelle Raheja did. Let us know what happens. I'm guessing you'll experience the same scorn and hatred she did.

For more on the subject, see Kids Reenact First Thanksgiving.

No comments: