Do you find yourself a bit anxious when it comes to approaching certain holidays in the classroom? It might be tough to know exactly how to navigate discussions in a culturally responsive way, specifically when it comes to Thanksgiving. In this post, we’ll talk about the importance of not shying away from these discussions or simply just going along with old “traditional” ways. Instead, you’ll learn how to celebrate an educational, meaningful, and respectful Thanksgiving.
A Culturally Responsive Approach
What does it even mean to be culturally responsive? According to the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCREST), “cultural responsiveness is the ability to learn from and relate respectfully with people of your own culture as well as those from other cultures.” To teach about Thanksgiving, while being culturally responsive, we must recognize, expose, and learn from Indigenous cultures that were at the forefront of this holiday.
Why This Matters
Many people may believe that going this “deep” into Thanksgiving isn’t necessary or that students are too young for the conversations. The fact of the matter is, these topics ARE that deep and students ARE not too young, as long as we handle discussions in the right manner. Children of various cultures simply don’t have the privilege of not talking about tough subjects because it directly impacts them, so we should do our due diligence and join the discussion.
I’m not saying we need to unleash all the super harsh truths on our primary aged children, but there are ways to talk to them honestly and it is our job to help them navigate through their emotions, thoughts, and feelings about the information. You can teach vocabulary such as oppression, mourning, and protest. We can highlight Indigenous stories, told from indigenous people and learn together. We can openly discuss how things make us feel, talk about events that were right and wrong, and come up with solutions on how society can be better. Kids can have these conversations and oftentimes we’re blown away with what they come up with to just be better. We as educators have a responsibility to help foster a future generation that is more inclusive, kind, and creative with their problem solving skills. Creating culturally responsive lessons around tough topics is a big step towards helping create that environment. So let’s talk about how to do it.
Resources from the Source
The first thing we should do when teaching the history of Thanksgiving is to acknowledge the Indigenous tribes. Read books to learn about the Wampanoag Tribe, the original tribe that helped settlers when they came to America. Hold a moment of silence for those people who lost their lives for helping others. Students will build empathy and feel more connected to the meaning of this holiday, connected to the land and animals, and understand truly why its core is gratitude and thankfulness.
Here are some books to check out.
Another way you can celebrate Thanksgiving in a culturally responsive way is by introducing Indigenous food. What better way to immerse yourself in a culture than by eating the food? And since we’re already familiar with the land here, much of what the Wampanoag tribe ate is probably things you already eat frequently. They grew crops they referred to as the “Three Sisters” which were corn, squash, and beans. Easy enough to prepare, you could have your own class thanksgiving meal while talking about the things you’re grateful for and discuss the things you learned about this holiday. Do research with your students about your school’s location and what Indigenous people were settled, and may still be, on the land. You can even find your own town on this Native Land Map and give thanks to those first tribes that harvested and took care of the land that you currently live on.
Lastly, I’d highly recommend giving these posts a read to learn more about Indigenous culture. Not only will you get a different point of view, you can better plan how to speak to your students based on your newly acquired information.
I really hope you enjoyed learning all about celebrating a culturally responsive Thanksgiving in your classroom. Be sure to check me out on Instagram @princefamilytravel.
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