Seeing Native People As Diverse and Present

Celebrating Native Voices: Seeing Native People As Diverse & Present

Thanksgiving is a tricky holiday. While it provides us much needed time to focus on themes of family and gratitude and it also surfaces many problematic narratives related to our history and particularly our treatment of Native American/American Indian people. Much of the dialog and storytelling positions Native people as extinct and historical. Many of the crafts and images offer a very narrow and often stereotypical depiction. And most of the stories reposition “pilgrims” as co-originators/planners of the “original” Thanksgiving feast. Rarely are accurate stories told. Rarely are diverse and multiple portrayals of Native people shared. And rarely is the story of Thanksgiving connected to the present, and in particular, to present day people.

This poses a significant challenge. How can we, in a meaningful way, re-orient the Pilgrim/Indian construction paper pageantry without getting overwhelmed by despair at the depth of our country's fraught history or current challenges?

A lot of research and reading has led us to believe that the most damaging myth we can perpetuate is that Native Americans are all “dead and buried.” So with that in mind we have chosen to push against this myth by highlighting stories and resources that feature Native American children and families set in the present day.


Consider With Your Children:
Our invitation to you is to first, open up a conversation about what your children know about Native people and second, enhance their current knowledge in ways that help reinforce that Native Americans are PRESENT and DIVERSE. There are many resources below to help support this and the books for this month were selected with this in mind. (Books are listed at the bottom)

Consider for Yourself:
We also invite you to take a deeper dive yourself and consider the questions below. The resources we’ve included with help you.

  • What tribe lived where you do now? Where did they move/get moved?

  • What do you know about the origins of Thanksgiving? What’s fact? What’s fiction?

  • What do you know about the current resistance effort in North Dakota #noDAPL?

  • How do Native families feel about Thanksgiving?



Recognizing diversity within Native people
1. BROWSE together these beautiful photos of members of the 562 recognized tribes

2. REFLECT on this map of what our country looked like before the European invasion and colonization

We Are Still Here
1. VIEW attention span depending, We Are Still Here – an 8 minute documentary short featuring three Native American college students in Minnesota

2. LEARN together about the Defender of Water School at the site of the #noDAPL protests. Consider making a donation or having your child make a picture and send it to the students there. There are lots of videos of the kids at the school on the site now.

3. READ: All Indians Are Dead

4. WATCH Rebel Music’s Documentary: Native America. 30 mins

Recasting Thanksgiving
For Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a celebration of “continued existence.”  Some of the resource below will help you (and help you help them) peel back the myths so often embraced as well as recast Thanksgiving in ways that are more truthful.

1. READ: Teaching Kids Alternate Versions of the First Thanksgiving Story

2. WATCH: one word associations: thanksgiving  (consider sharing with older children) (also one word: language  one word: Christopher Columbus )

3. WATCH & LAUGH: MTV Video: Everything you know about Thanksgiving is wrong



Welcome Song For Baby, Richard Van Camp

My Heart Fills With Happiness, Monique Gray Smith

Thunder Boy Jr., Sherman Alexie  

The Girl Who Helped Thunder and Other Native American Folktales, James Bruchac            

Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey From Darkness Into Light, Tim Tingle  

Jingle Dancer, Cynthia Smith


This month's curriculum is particularly close to our hearts as it was developed with the support of a gift from Eugene and Debra Horwitz to honor the memory of Zelma Horwitz (August 2, 1925 - July 16, 2016), the grandmother to one of the organization's founders and a lifelong supporter of arts, literature and culture.  Zelma held a particular fondness for Native American arts and multicultural literature, and introduced these topics to her grandchildren.  She was a docent at the Detroit Institute of Art and volunteer at the Heard Museum of American Indian Art and History in Phoenix, Arizona for many years.