Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Some thoughts about thanksgiving

I’m buried in work here this week, but I wanted to take a moment to make a comment about American Thanksgiving.

Many people ask me around here if we celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada, in part because of the dominance of the myth that “Thanksgiving” originates with the Pilgrims and that such an occasion wouldn’t have come to be without them. The story of the Pilgrims and the “first Thanksgiving” is a myth that has been constructed over generations. Even though we have ample historical evidence that is trotted out each and every year by journalists and by teachers like me to show how so much of this story is grounded in fiction and not fact, we still see schoolchildren dressing up as Pilgrims and Indians and parroting the same old received ideas, as I witnessed last week at my own kids’ school.

That said, there are signs that this may be changing. My daughter’s class, perhaps because by the third grade they have learned enough about Pilgrims, has spent a great deal of time this fall learning about the Indigenous peoples of our region. I was also pleased to discover this story about a young girl being asked to change out of the “Indian costume” she had worn to the Plimoth Plantation (her friend was dressed as a Pilgrim). I hope this girl was not unduly traumatized, but they did the right thing and explained the reasons for this request very well. “Native people find it offensive when they see a non-native person dressed up and playing Indian. It’s perceived as us being made fun of,” explained Linda Coombs, associate director of the Wampanoag Indigenous Program. It seems, then, that the Plantation works to dispel rather than perpetuate these myths and stereotypes. I hope to get there sometime in the new year to see it for myself.

One of the differences between our Thanksgivings (ours, too, used to be in November but was moved to October in 1957 to separate it from Remembrance Day) is that it’s a much bigger production here in the US. Instead of a long weekend, my kids’ school and UVM now give students an entire week off, even though for my students the final day of classes is now only about ten days away. I like the idea of Thanksgiving as a holiday, as it is in Canada, that is about celebrating the blessings we’ve been so fortunate to receive over the previous year. I’m all for spending a few days with friends and family to do just that. It is also a good opportunity for all of us, whether we’re in Canada or the US, to take a hard, thoughtful look at some of the myths and stereotypes we perpetuate about the first peoples of this land.

This page on the Blue Corn Comics website is a good starting point if you want to learn more about the myths surrounding the US Thanksgiving holiday. Blue Corn publisher Rob Schmidt has a terrific blog, Newspaper Rock, that I read regularly.


1 Rob Schmidt { 11.30.08 at 2:11 pm }

Thanks for the mention, friend. I trust you saw this followup to the Plimouth story:

2 Dennis { 12.01.08 at 4:41 pm }

A very interesting perspective.