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Gratitude and Thanksgiving Misgivings


Dear Families,

As we head into Thanksgiving break together, I want to personally wish each and every one of you a safe and healthy break. I am so thankful for our community and the work we do together. This week, we spent time talking with students about the idea that “happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it”. Our school community is focusing on our values of connection, inspiration, potential, and equity. Within that, it is important to stop, look around, and share our gratitude with one another. THANK YOU for all the love and support you give to our staff each day- we could not be growing and improving the way that we are if it was not for each of you also giving of yourselves to this community. For that, I am deeply thankful.

Being thankful is not complicated, but the holiday of Thanksgiving is complicated. When reflecting on our equity core value, I am called to consider the historical context of this upcoming holiday. I was doing some reading on this website and reminded that, “Thanksgiving is a tricky holiday. While it provides us much needed time to focus on themes of family and gratitude, it also surfaces many problematic narratives related to our history and particularly our treatment of Native American/American Indian people”. Please take some time to talk with your children about the rich and important history regarding this national holiday. Our children are so capable of thinking critically about our nation’s history while also enjoying current traditions with friends and family. Have a look at this resource from NPR or this one from Teaching Tolerance.

As adults, we are often concerned that our children can’t “handle” the true stories of our nation (and world’s) history. Based on my 20 years working with children of all ages, nothing can be further from the truth. The children in our school community attend a diverse school and interact with people of different racial, ethnic, religious, and ideological backgrounds everyday. They already know through their relationships with one another and their learning that inequity exists. Understanding how this came to be, historically and understanding their role in changing this for the future allows students to live into their full potential as whole humans. On that note, make sure that your children know that Native American/American Indian people are STILL HERE, and live and work in our community today. Understanding this and how to connect with and respect the history and traditions of our Native friends and community members is essential to changing the narrative for the future.

Finally, I am struck and challenged by the words of educator Vera Stenhouse, from her article “Rethinking Thanksgiving: Myths and Misgivings”. Ms. Stenhouse writes, “We still have the enduring uncritical portrayal of the first Thanksgiving. I believe a connection exists between the unwillingness to “give up” the beneficent 1621 Thanksgiving story and the ongoing appropriation of the imagery, spirituality, ceremonies, sovereign rights, and identity of this country’s Indigenous peoples. Students from all racial and cultural backgrounds learn early that it is OK to play Indian. They learn that Indians wear “costumes,” feathers define cultural features for all Indians, and sacred cultural artifacts are crafts to be made from brown paper bags, paper towel rolls, paper plates, and construction paper. And after Thanksgiving, crafts and all, the “Natives” disappear back onto the shelf.
Confronting racism, injustice, prejudice, and stereotypes through a consciousness-raising education is a far cry from the fun-filled, feel-good activities characteristic of how schools approach holidays. With respect to Indigenous peoples, I want my students to acknowledge the diverse and unique traditions among Native American cultures and to explore the historic and contemporary legacy of colonial intrusion, brutality, and cultural ignorance…I want my students to recognize that the histories of Indigenous peoples have been subverted, silenced, and misrepresented in the curriculum. Equally important: I want my students to recognize that we can do something about it
.” And, for the future I know our students will write for us, as result of their education based on relationships, with their families and their teachers, I feel truly thankful

With gratitude,
Lisa Heyne