Thoughts Surrounding Thanksgiving and Native Americans

What do you call them? How should they be represented in materials given to our students?

When I got up this morning, I had no thought of discussing this topic in my blog but two things happened before 9:15 AM that made me decide to talk about this today.

I want to start by saying that I spent 20 years on the Navajo Reservation as a school teacher and that my three children will all born during that time. So, I am conscious of how some can be offended by terms used. I also need to say that my daughter teaches at the school where I serve as librarian.

Incorrect Rep of Indian ThanksgivingBefore I left the house this morning, I received a text from my daughter which included this picture. “Do people not know what the eastern Native Americans look like?” She had found this paper in the front office in the unclaimed copies bin. Apparently someone had printed it out for their students to color as part of a Thanksgiving unit and left their original in the copy machine.

The second incident happened during my story time with our youngest students. I was reading a story about the first Thanksgiving which referred to the “Indians.” One of the students said, “Mrs. M they don’t like to be called Indians you have to call them Native Americans.” I explained that some prefer Indians and some prefer Native Americans. But it got me thinking. I haven’t researched the topic recently, have thoughts on this changed since I was living on the Navajo Reservation?

I think both of these discussions are ones we as school librarians need to be involved in. People, both students and teachers, look to us as the keepers of knowledge. We are expected to know things on a variety of topics or know where to find the answers.

I did a quick search for Thanksgiving coloring pages and did come up with a couple of pages that could be used. I think the key here is knowing how the Wampanoag dressed and what kind of homes they lived in. One resource for finding those answers is the Plimoth Plantation web site. There is a link on this page to the Image result for samuel eaton's dayWampanoag homesite as well as an FAQ page with helpful information. There are also three books published by Scholastic, Inc. which use information and photographs from Plimoth Plantation Samuel Eaton’s Day, Sarah Morton’s Day, and Tapenum’s Day all by Kate Waters. A short Image result for Tapenum's Daytime researching and you will find out what is wrong in the picture Image result for sarah morton's dayabove. The Wampanoag did not live in teepees, they lived in long houses. The girl’s clothing is also not consistent with what is known about the Wampanoag. In fact, the “Indian” portion of the coloring page seems to be more Plains Indians than Northeastern.

The second question is a bit trickier to answer. What is the correct term for the people living in the New World when Columbus or the Pilgrims arrived? The answer is, “It depends.” When I researched this topic this morning I looked mainly at web sites run by Native Americans or American Indians. I wanted to see what Native Americans themselves said on the topic; not what some white man said.

The best answer seems to be to use the name of the tribe – Navajo, Apache, Wampanoag, Ojibwa, Lakota Sioux, etc. Yet it seems that you can talk to a number of different people and get a number of different answers. If you are referring to a broader group it appears you could use Native American, American Indian, or Indigenous People. It also appears that no matter which of those you use, you risk offending someone. It also seems as though preferences depended upon geographic location and age of the person asked. All the sites I looked at did agree on one thing – NEVER use derogatory names like savages, squaws, or redskins when referring to Native Americans.

When dealing with younger students, particularly, it may be easiest to use one of the broader terms.  But best thing to do if you have Native American clients is to discuss with them their preferences and then use them. In your book choices, you will need to research the preferences of the tribe being referred to in the text.

It all comes down to doing what librarians are known for – RESEARCHING!

Links to my research – Native American News
Native Sun News
Indian Country Today
American Indian Quarterly – journal article available through JSTOR

Amazon Affiliate Links – your purchase helps support this blog

Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy
Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl (Scholastic Bookshelf)
Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy In Pilgrim Times