November 14: Teaching Native American Studies

When I taught colonial North American history, as well as survey courses in Canadian and American history, I always sought to provide some instruction/insight into the cultures, traditions and experiences of first nations/indigenous peoples using a variety of sources: film; documentaries; novels; primary source documents; first person accounts; artifacts/archeology; crafts and historic recreations/animators/reenactments.

Initially, I was going to create a list of resources for teaching native american studies, and perspectives on teaching/integrating this into the curriculum.

However, after visiting National Museum of the American Indian/Smithsonian: Native Knowledge 360° education initiative: transforming teaching and learning about Native Americans, I decided to limit the scope of this post to the concept of Thanksgiving (as we are approaching this holiday).

On the Native Knowledge 360 site are resources to . . . “teach more accurately and think more broadly about the Thanksgiving story. Additional educational resources from NK360°, and check out the museum’s Thanksgiving online resources.”

These resources, aimed at the elhi learning cohort, include:

A webinar: Giving Thanks: Telling More Complete Narratives About Thanksgiving/ Tuesday, November 17, 2020; 7–8 PM ET

“Learn about the food traditions practiced by different Native communities, as well as why some communities give thanks throughout the year. Teachers will then engage with suggested resources and discuss appropriate strategies they can use in their classrooms. Recommended for teachers grades K–8.”

Registration information here.

NMAI: Thanksgiving

“NK360° Helpful Handouts: Guidance on Common Questions provide brief introductions for teachers to important topics regarding Native American life, cultures, and communities. Rethinking Thanksgiving Celebrations provides Indigenous perspectives on Thanksgiving. Use this guide to help address incomplete narratives surrounding Thanksgiving. Culturally sensitive activities and resources related to Thanksgiving are included.”

Suggestions: Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address Greetings to the Natural World


Opening: The People

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. Now our minds are one.

. . . .

Closing Words

We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way. Now our minds are one.

Harvest Ceremony: Beyond the Thanksgiving Myth, a study guide


Summary: Native American people who first encountered the “pilgrims” at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts play a major role in the imagination of American people today. Contemporary celebrations of the Thanksgiving holiday focus on the idea that the “first Thanksgiving” was a friendly gathering of two disparate groups—or even neighbors—who shared a meal and lived harmoniously. In actuality, the assembly of these people had much more to do with political alliances, diplomacy, and an effort at rarely achieved, temporary peaceful coexistence. Although Native American people have always given thanks for the world around them, the Thanksgiving celebrated today is more a combination of Puritan religious practices and the European festival called Harvest Home, which then grew to encompass Native foods.

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving

Selection of quotes:

“We are thankful for the clouds, rain, and snow that feed the springs, rivers, and our people.” —John Garcia (Santa Clara Pueblo), 2002

“With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans, and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them, too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.” —Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

“. . . fundamental concepts about Native cultures, which have too often been obscured by stereotypes and misconceptions. We have found it helpful to keep the following ideas at the forefront of any discussion of Native topics.

  1. American Indians are still here, living modern lives. Even as contemporary people, many American Indians still retain strong connections to their specific traditions.
  2. American Indian cultures and languages are intimately tied to the land.
  3. Worldviews and perspectives of American Indians may be very different from those of non-Indian students. American Indians’ traditional worldviews are often grounded in a recognition of the interrelationship among humans, animals, plants, water, winds, sky, and earth.
  4. Indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere are diverse in their languages, cultures, values, and beliefs. There is no such thing as one, single Native American culture.
  5. American Indian cultures have always been dynamic— adapting and changing.
  6. Many traditional Native values and practices are relevant to issues of worldwide importance today, such as care of the earth.

The Invention of Thanksgiving

Native Knowledge 360 also highlight other virtual/on-line sources for providing students with a more nuanced and accurate understanding of Thanksgiving from the perspectives of native American tribes.

“See the website for the Plimoth Patuxet for actives about what really happened at the famous 1621 celebration.”

“. . . the Abbe Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate museum of Wabanaki history, art and culture, also has helpful resources, including a lesson plan on Thanksgiving.”

“ this activity from Teaching Tolerance: ‘Thanksgiving Mourning’ has students read and analyze two texts about Thanksgiving written by Native authors.”

While these resources from Native Knowledge 360/NMAI, which include activities, pamphlets, posters, and handouts, are aimed towards the elhi learning cohort, the information, discussions and activities can be “scaled up” for high school, community college and university students, and adult learners – such as myself.