Columbus Day, Thanksgiving -- Unbiassing Social Studies

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In 1992, there was a great deal of hooraw and foofaw about the 500th anniversary of the start of the invasion of both continents of the western hemisphere, which has been crassly described as "discovery" ever since, by dominant society historians (and everyone except indigenous peoples and their survivors). During this Quincentennial period there was an outpouring of educational materials, mostly more of the same biassed and stereotyped history. This has now died down a bit.

Columbus Day is not as big a school holiday as (in the U.S.) Thanksgiving. But the Quincentennial occasion also gave rise to some self-scrutiny, and some that was prompted by Native groups, activists, historians, and educators. From one of the best sources comes an explanation for teachers -- certainly in Native schools if any are doing conventional mainstream social studies, but primarily for educators of non-Indian students -- as to why (and how) to revise what they teach. This page will select from materials reviewed and present links-to reviews of books (and occasional AV materials) especially well-suited for incorporation into standard social studies, de-mystifying and de-mythologising what most U.S. children are still taught. It will also present relevant modern documents -- statements by Native groups or leaders. Below -- from one of the best sources -- is the philosophy of this page:

    "Why rethink Columbus? Because the Columbus myth is basic to children's beliefs about society. For many youngsters, the tale of Columbus introduces them to a history of this country, eeven to history itself. The 'discovery of America' is children's first curricular exposure to the encounter between two cultures and two races. As such, the study of Columbus is really a study about us -- how we think about each other, our country, and our relations with people all over the world.

    "The Columbus myth teaches children what voices to listen for as they go out into the world -- and whose to ignore....Thus children begin a scholastic journey that encourages them to disregard the perspectives, the very humanity, of people of color.

    "What passes for discovery in the traditional Columbus myth was really an invasion. It deserves no celebration. However, the study of Columbus and the native peoples of America offers numerous opportunitis for genuine discovery. Western economies hae failed utterly to protect the earth. We can encourage students to discover from Native Americans new ways of understanding relationships between society and nature....Through critiquing textbook and other traditional accounts, students can begin to discover the excitement that comes from asserting onesself morally and intellectually -- refusing to be passive consumers of 'official' stories. And this is as true for 4th graders as for juniors in high school. They can continue to renew and deepen this personal awakening as they seek out other curricular silences and sources of knowledge." -- from Introduction to Rethinking Columbus

That's the philosophy which guides this setion's selection of resources. However, it is limited by my own experiences as a U.S. citizen and familiarity with U.S. schools. I don't know whether Canadian schools make such a big deal of Columbus (my impression is not), and I'm sure they make no holiday of "the Pilgrim Fathers and Thanksgiving" because those are specifically U.S. history-daddies. For the Brits, it's bound to be different. But it's also bound to be there, too, in the conventional approach to history taught unthinkingly in most schools. So I need input from Canadian teachers explaining what the standard social studies and history course of study is from elementary through high school graduation, and from Canadian Native educators and activists are needed inputs similar to those who have -- in the U.S. -- developed critical approaches and content, suggested in the philosophy quoted above, and materials reviewed below.


British Columbia Ministry of Aboriginal Education--Education about First Nations to a well-defined standard is now mandatory as a graduation requirement for all BC students. Here begins the outline of a carefully-planned curriculum (by Native tachers and developers employed by the BC Ministry of Aboriginal Education) with many options. Planning -- carried out by many Native educators -- includes schools getting in touch with Native resource people. The plan should be studied carefully by all who are concerned with Native education. It's the Outcomes (assessment criteria) that lay out the structure. While this is quite advanced over anything widescale going on the the U.S., there is no explicit challenge of stereotypes, no concept of teaching students to think critically, not passively accepting official stories. Curriculum outline does not consist of books, but rather outlines of outcomes - assessments, and teaching strategies. This then provides a structure for a number of different themes treated with increasing depth for higher grade levels around which teachers -- U.S. and Canada --can orgaize their own materials.

COLONIALISM ON TRIAL: INDIGENOUS LAND RIGHTS AND THE GITKSAN AND WT'SUWET'EN SOVEREIGNTY CASE, Don Monet and Skanu'u (Ardythe Wilson); 1992. Injustice -- as manifested in long and important legal proceedings, that are increasingly critical to Native national survival, is rarely accessible except to adult readers willing to deal with heavy, complex books. This one, because of its unique artistic approach, is accessible from about Grade 8 up, and is highly rcommended for American, as well as Canadian schools because of its content, historical background, and accessibility. See Review.

RETHINKING COLUMBUS: TEACHING ABOUT THE 500TH ANNIVERSARY OF COLUMBUS'S ARRIVAL IN AMERICA, Edited by Bill Bigelow et al.; Rethinking Schools Magazine Speecial issue, 1992. This is really about rethinking history, using the Quincentennial hooraw as a hook and a focal point. See review.

Josť Barreiro, A Note on Tainos: Whither Progress? -- Berriro is author of a rent novel on Tanio people in pr-Columbian times

Pre-Columbian Hispaniola - Arawak/Taino Indians -- Some hgenuine historical rconstruction of an extinguished people

King Ferdinand's letter to the Taino/Arawak Indians -- Greetings, you lucky fellows....

-- So they say, whover they are.

THANKSGIVING: A NATIVE PERSPECTIVE, Doris Seale; Oyate, 1996. A book of poems, stories, articles, articles, activities, worksheets, student research projects and source documents designed for school use in unbiassing presentation of history surrounding this holiday in schools.

Cathy East Dubowski , Middle ,THE STORY OF SQUANTO, FIRST FRIEND TO THE PILGRIMS, received a favorable review from American Indian Library Association reviewers. See review.


 --------- "RE: Pugeesukq Thanksgiving" ---------
 Date: Tue, 21 Nov 1995 13:02:51 -0500

 Subj: Pugeesukq Thanksgiving
 Mailing List: NATIVE-L(
 Saygo and Happy Thanksgiving:
      I know that you will be sitting down to a feast this week, to
 give thanks for your ancestors deliverance from starvation in a new
 land.  On the Paugeesukq reserve tribal members will likewise give
 thanks and many who live off the reservation will come together on
 the reservation, bringing food to give thanks. It was very hard for
 the ancestors of the first New Englanders and it is unlikely that
 they would have survived if not for the help an Algonquin Indian,
 Squanto, gave to them. Today, it is hard for the Paugeesukqs.
 Though they are a tenacious people and would not say that survival
 is threatened, without the help of the descendants of the first New
 Englanders, this nation of first people, of Algonquins like
 Squanto, will have a very hard time.

      Squanto was greatly wronged by English people. He was
 kidnapped from his land to be sold into slavery. He was taken to
 Europe for this purpose, but was delivered out of slavery by
 Christian friars.  After many years he returned to the land of his
 people to find that they were all dead. When living among a
 neighboring tribe, he discovered a group of English pilgrims,
 barely alive, at the site of his people's village. He took pity on
 them and showed them how to find and grow the foods of his land.
 The first Thanksgiving on these shores was a three day feast of
 celebration to honor that harvest which would not have happened,
 but for the decency of that Algonquin, Squanto.

      Some time after that, Paugeesukqs had their first encounter
 with New Englanders. Under the leadership of a man named Mason,
 Paugeesukq villages were burned and the men, women and even the
 children were killed.  The Paugeesukqs were killed, not because
 they had made war on the new people, they did not. They were killed
 because they were Algonquin Indians. This was America's ethnic
 cleansing. Mason's followers did not give much thought to the
 kindness of Indians like Squanto who had welcomed them into the new

      Though most of the Paugeesukqs were slaughtered or sold into
 slavery in the sugar plantations of the West Indies, some remained.
 In spite of constant theft of the little land they still had, they
 remained and like Squanto were good neighbors in spite of the
 wrongs done to them. Contemporary records show that Paugeesukqs,
 like William Sherman, in the 1830's, were good neighbors to the
 non-Indian community which still was in the process of taking
 Paugeesukq land.

      Over the centuries New Englanders have celebrated Thanksgiving
 by remembering the pilgrims' deliverance.  The part of Squanto in
 that remembrance is not a major aspect of the celebration.  Could
 it be that New Englanders seldom remember the good works of
 Indians?  For example, Senator Dodd and Connecticut neighbors of
 the Paugeesukq oppose Federal recognition of the Paugeesukqs.  They
 do not acknowledge that when a Paugeesukq chief, acting alone and
 without the necessary direction of the Tribal Council, attempted to
 tie up their homes in litigation for ancient land claims, it was
 the Paugeesukq Tribal Council that went to court and had these land
 claims withdrawn. The Chief was removed from office. There were no
 letters of thanks from the homeowners whose land was defended by
 Paugeesukq Indians. Rather, a committee was formed, the Connecticut
 Homeowners Held Hostage, whose purpose was to complete the ethnic
 cleansing begun so long age. The  purpose was to erase the
 Paugeesukq nation from existence with letters instead of a sword.

      This Thanksgiving, is it too much to ask that you honor
 Squanto's memory. Senator Dodd, please end your endorsement of
 ethnic cleansing, and sisters and brothers in New England, please
 write to Senator Dodd and ask that he become a friend to the
 Indians of Connecticut.

  Truly in Thanks and Fellowship

    Lawrence Otway
    Tribal Court Judge
    Golden Hill Paugeesukq
    Tribal Nation

Paula Giese Note: The Paugeesukq (often se spelled Paugusset) were a subdivision of the Wappinger Confederacy. an Algonquian group whose tribes and bands lived in New York and Connecticut. Golden Hill is a state (but not federally) recognized tribe, whose reservation is located in Fairfield County, with the tribal headquarters at Trumbull, CT. The residents are officially described as Pequot and Mohegan tribes.

The following Penobscot viewpoint on Thanksgiving was distributed by Gary Night Owl on his weekly email Indian newspaper, in the fall of 1995:

O'siyo Brothers and Sisters!

It is two weeks before Thanksgiving is celebrated. Throughout the United States, schools perpetuate a lie about the origins of this holiday that tells of a happy gathering between grateful Europeans and their "Indian" benefactors. Many reading this newsletter will even be asked to appear before civic or school groups to tell this happy story.

The following, researched by William B. Newell (Penobscot Tribe) Former Chairman of the University of Connecticut Anthropology Department, may be of interest. Source: Documents of Holland, 13 Volume Colonial Documentary History, letters and reports form colonial officials to their superiors and the King in England and the private papers of Sir William Johnson, British Indian agent for the New York colony for 30 years.

The year was 1637.....700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe, gathered for their "Annual Green Corn Dance" in the area that is now known as Groton, Conn.

While they were gathered in this place of meeting, they were surrounded and attacked by mercenaries of the English and Dutch. The Indians were ordered from the building and as they came forth, they were shot down. The rest were burned alive in the building. The next day, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared : "A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children. For the next 100 years, every "Thanksgiving Day" ordained by a Governor or President was to honor that victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Peace! Gary Night Owl


Although the Native-centered "thanksgiving" materials suggest thanks for corn is more traditional than turkey, cornhusk and wooden sacred masks -- real or imitations -- should not be used as toys or classroom displays; nor should you have the children make real or imitation ones. Below is a statement of policy issued by the Haudenosee (League of 6 Nations -- Iroquois) traditional council. The statement was circulated recently on Internet because the writer had become upset by a Canadian Broadcasting TV show about Iruquois False Face Society masks.

Subject: Sacred masks
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 1996 06:51:24 -0400
From: (Allen Gabriel)


The Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee, The Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, issues the following policy statement regarding all medicine masks of the Haudenosaunee:

Medicine Societies

Within the Haudenosaunee there are various medicine societies that have the sacred duty to maintain the use and strength of special medicines, both for individual and community welfare. A medicine society is comprised of Haudenosaunee who have partaken of the medicine and are thereby bound to the protection and perpetuation of tile special medicines. Such medicines are essential to the spiritual and emotional well-being of the Haudenosaunee communities. The medicine societies are a united group of individuals who must uphold and preserve the rituals that guard and protect the people, and the future generations.

Among these medicine societies are those that utilize the wooden masks and corn husk masks, which represent the shared power of the original medicine beings. Although there are variations of their images, all the masks have power and an intended purpose that is solely for the members of the respective medicine societies. Interference with the sacred duties of the societies and/or their masks is a violation of the freedom of the Haudenosaunee and does great harm to the welfare of the Haudenosaunee communities.

Status of Masks

All wooden and corn husk masks of the Haudenosaunee are sacred, regardless of size or age. By their very nature, masks are empowered the moment they are made. The image of the mask is sacred and is only to be used for its intended purpose. Masks do not have to he put through any ceremony or have tobacco attached to them in order to become useful or powerful. Masks should not be made unless they are to he used by members of the medicine society, according to established tradition.

Sales of Masks

No masks can be made for commercial purposes. Individuals who make masks for sale or sell masks to non-Indians violate the intended use of the masks, and such individuals must cease these activities as they do great harm to the Haudenosaunee. The commercialization of medicine masks is an exploitation of Haudenosaunee culture.

Authority over Medicine Masks

Each Haudenosaunee reservation has a medicine mask society that has authority over the use of masks for individual and community needs. Each society is charged with the protection of their sacred masks and the assurance of their proper use. The Grand Council of Chiefs has authority over all medicine societies and shall appoint individual leaders or medicine societies as necessary. However, no individual can speak or make decisions for medicine societies or the displacement of medicine masks. No institution has the authority over medicine masks, as they are the sole responsibility of the medicine societies and the Grand Council of Chiefs.

Exhibition of Medicine Masks

The public exhibition of all medicine masks is forbidden. Medicine masks are not intended for everyone to see and such exhibition does not recognize the sacred duties and special functions of the masks.

The exhibition of masks by museums does not serve to enlighten the public regarding the culture of the Haudenosaunee as such an exhibition violates the intended purpose of the mask and contributes to the desecration of the sacred image. In addition, information regarding medicine societies is not meant for general distribution. The non-Indian public does not have the right to examine, interpret, or present the beliefs, functions, and duties of the secret medicine societies of die Haudenosaunee. The sovereign responsibility of the Haudenosaunee over their spiritual duties must be respected by the removal of all medicine masks from exhibition and from access to non-Indians.

Reproductions, castings, photographs, or illustrations of medicine masks should not he used in exhibitions, as the image of the medicine masks should not be used in these fashions. To subject tile image of the medicine masks to ridicule or misrepresentation is a violation of the sacred functions of the masks.

The Council of Chiefs find that there is no proper way to explain, interpret, or present the significance of the medicine masks and therefore, ask that no attempt be made by museums to do so other than to explain the wishes of the Haudenosaunee in this matter.

Return of Medicine Masks

All Haudenosaunee medicine masks currently possessed by non-Indians, including Museums, Art Galleries, Historical Societies, Universities, Commercial Enterprises, Foreign Governments, and Individuals should be returned to the Grand Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee, who will ensure their proper use and protection for the future generations.

There is no legal, moral, or ethical way in which a medicine mask can be obtained or possessed by a non-Indian individual or institution, as in order for a medicine mask to be removed from the society it would require the sanction of the Grand Council of Chiefs. This sanction has never been given. We ask all people to cooperate in the restoration of masks and other sacred objects to the proper caretakers among the Haudenosaunee. It is only through these actions that the traditional culture will remain strong and peace will be restored to our communities.

Chief Leon Shenandoah, Tadadaho
Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee

-- Reprinted with permission

Kanatiio (Allen Gabriel)

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996. Corn mask (artistic rendition) is by Rokwaho, Wolf Clan Mohawk; it illustrated a 1975 Akwesasne Notes article about the racist character of Thanksgiving celebrations -- the mask shows Rokwaho's own spirit appalled by this. (Traced and colored from 1975 Akwesasne Notes) The duck-skybow is a traditional design, traced from a forgotten source (think it was a book of old pottery designs) years ago, rasterized and colored for this page. Other birds can be a nicer fall celebration dinner, as fat, farm-fed turkeys; around heere we get ducks and Canada geese.

Last Updated: Friday, June 07, 1996 - 4:06:17 PM