One extremely unfortunate Thanksgiving tradition in the United States is the re-enactment of the ‘Thanksgiving Story.’ This invariably involves someone (usually children) dressing up as an ‘Indian’ who arrives with food to help the pilgrims who are on the brink of starvation.
A few basic facts that must be considered before putting on the traditional pageant:
- ‘Indian’ is considered by many people to be a racial slur. It can create a negative experience for the Native American children in the classroom. While there is debate over correct terminology, this issue must be carefully considered, particularly given it’s combination with point 2.
- Non-native people dressing up in a native costume (complete with face paint) is exactly the same as performing in black-face. Don’t. Do. It.
- The Thanksgiving Myth is not only (at best) an historic oversimplification, the reason the holiday exists has more to do with the Civil War (Revolutionary war, etc.) and the need for unification of people in any possible form. It also has a strong feminist connection – even though it would not have been called feminism at that time.
- During a holiday that is intended to bring people together, any and all performances and activities that divide people and cultures are best avoided.
Native American Heritage Month
November is Native American Heritage month. This is the perfect time to invite artists, speakers and performers to your school, church or civic organization. This is particularly effective for those who are attempting to change a long-held-tradition of less-than-politically-correct thanksgiving performances.
If you are a school teacher, consider using the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Thanksgiving Mourning classroom resources. This is also an excellent time to take a good hard look at Engaging Native American Students and the representation of Native Americans in the classroom year-round.
Wars, Unification and Veterans
In addition the the very direct connection between Thanksgiving and times of war, Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11. Creating activities and pageants that focus on 1) the historic and present connection between those who serve, 2) the need to come together as a community and 3) the fact that expressing thanks for everything we have can make for a powerful and very appropriate Thanksgiving holiday event.
Costume and Pageant Alternatives
Here are some costumes that can be used to create a pageant focused on the American civil war, veterans and the creation of the Thanksgiving Holiday as a time to come together, show respect for others and heal rifts between communities. This is just a start and an example. If a community can come together and focus on creating events and performances that feature and explore the ideas of community and gratitude, the overall pageants will naturally transform and a larger variety of costumes will result.