The Thanksgiving tale is just that: a dollop of folklore told to children as a historical truth that catapulted the holiday we graciously adorn with cornucopias, burlap, and infamous turkey fixings. This horn of plenty story is not the fullest and truest depiction or dialogue of what occurred around this day in 17th century America.
We, meaning the population responsible for educating from a revisionist lens, have participated in the retelling of the Plymouth colonists who feasted with the Wampanoag Indians in 1621, noting November 26th, a whole two hundred years later, as the celebratory date for which two culturally distinct entities communed during a time when America was yet the United States we are living as today.
We have taught and have been taught that members of the Plymouth community, most commonly known as the ‘Pilgrims’, were a religious body seeking a means to freely practice their faith without the confines of English rule. They were driven by the promise of a new life filled with prosperity and ownership of new land. The New World, for them, was to be a life undergirded by their own values, religious practices, and truths. This is not falsified information.
After life threatening travel, that lasted at least two months, they ‘landed’ in Cape Cod. A brutal winter eventually met them in their supposed place of promise and severed the onset hope they held for a life matched with newness. They were not prepared for this type of shift. Following an outbreak of disease and severe loss, at the cusp of the spring season, a member of the Abenaki and Pawtuxet groups introduced themselves to the colonists remaining. The latter of the two leaders brought about the cultivation, fishing, and botany experience the colonists gained. The alliance between the colonists and the Wampanoag natives was brought about through these individuals. These groups helped the colonists avoid future deprivation and malnutrition. This is one of the fewest and glorious occasions between Native Americans and English settlers ever told. This is also a true, but often misshapen account of what occurred in comparison to the larger, disenchanting relationship between Native Americans and European colonists overall.
The Thanksgiving controversy does not merely exist because of the romanticized version we transcribe for populations of students, beginning in elementary school. It exists because we omit the ongoing feud and bloodshed that consisted between Native American groups and English settlers before the glorified Thanksgiving holiday was set as a national recognition. For years, droves of lives were selfishly taken and the main premise that comes of the Thanksgiving conversation is that the ‘Pilgrims’ and ‘Indians’ broke bread together. This is one of the leading reasons why Native Americans frown upon how Americas view and celebrate Thanksgiving, often noting it as a day of mourning instead. What becomes of our ability to educate in great proportions when we revise the truth?
We also often fail to disclose that the encounter between members of the Plymouth community and the Wampanoag natives was not the first time Native Americans and settlers were introduced to one another. In the early 16th Century, a certain Menendez de Avile met members of the Timucua sect for dinner after hosting a religious mass for the survival of his own ship members.
The omission of what appears to be a minuscule truth marks yet another schism the American education system has failed to fix: the constant habit of only providing half truths about history that has masked the real impact our decisions have had on people of color. This is a cultural competence issue that we, meaning American educators, administrators, writers, parents, and humans, must alter.
Our education system needs to begin adopting a stance the world has taken about speaking truths. We are responsible for what our school-aged children are learning. We are responsible for how much of our story is masked and the reasons we have become satisfied with which mask we used to govern its disclosure. We are ultimately responsible for what the misinformation does to those who were and are still impacted by our re-imagined story.
Cultural competence does not equate a perpetuation of ignorance. It is supposed to build awareness and efficacy for people of all cultural types, while honing in on how much our various systems, including the educational sector, are controlled by working systems of privilege, oppression, and power that people of color are negatively impacted by.
Malcolm X once stated that education is the passport to our future. The remaining question is where have we really traveled, what has benefited our travelers, and where exactly are we headed to next if our American education system continues to allow the revisionist story to be the cover story for which our children are learning from. We still have more work to do.
Jovan A. Brown is an elementary educator and cultural competence facilitator based in Philadelphia. She is the mother of one and aspires to publish children’s literature that encourages self-acceptance. (www.dear-beautiful.com)