The last Thanksgiving

Call me insensitive. But I don’t care if a first grade Thanksgiving pageant fails to represent the full spectrum of indigenous cultures. At a Skokie, Illinois elementary school, Indian and Pilgrim costumes were banned from the Thanksgiving celebration because of one parent’s complaint. The Chicago Tribune reports:

After a parent complained that the costumes the children had made might be offensive, the principal told the kids to leave their construction-paper headdresses on the classroom shelves.

Those who had opted to be pilgrims fared no better. Their paper black hats and bonnets also were banned, and for the first time in more than two decades, the 1st graders at Madison School commemorated the events of October 1621 in their school clothes.

Principal Pete Davis consulted the American Indian Center, which has become a consultant for schools on how to celebrate Thanksgiving. Center officials say dressing up promotes stereotyping.

“The things schools are doing is they are representing Native Americans as one group of people, not a diverse community,” (David) Spencer said. “It’s incredible how many Chicago public school teachers don’t know anything about indigenous culture.”

Instead of the re-enacting the first Thanksgiving in costume, Madison School’s first graders listened to Leonard Malatare talk about Lakota Sioux culture. Which has nothing to do with the Wampanoags — part of the Eastern Algonquin confederation — who celebrated the first Thanksgiving.

Malatare taught the pupils a few words in the Oglala Lakota language and led them in a traditional blessing.

And no parent was offended by the blessing?

Captain Yips found links suggesting that Massasoit’s tribe — the ones who actually participated in the original Thanksgiving feast — did wear feathers. In fact, they wore droopy feathers, which heightens the resemblance to the typical first-grader-designed head dress.

My first dramatic role came as Goodwife Bradford in the fourth grade Thanksgiving pageant at Ravinia School. I still remember my line. “The common house needs cleaning.” Every girl got a line — mostly filling in feast back story — while we cleaned. Then the boys took over for the denoument.

About Joanne


  1. Princess Corsair I did the whole kindergarten-indian-dance around in a circle thing with paper hats and construction paper outfits. No one took offense at any of that. What did get “PCed” was the peace pipe which, we were informed by the kindergarten teacher, Indians used to actually smoke because they didn’t know anything about lung disease. Since we know about such things, we were treated to the kids handing the offending pipe from one to the next.

    No lungs were polluted that day, I must say!

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I suspect that the average Siberian American [Indian] would, given a choice, prefer the stereotype image to the real image that has been developed by recent studies. Any more of this PC crap and I vote to kill the myths and expose the “Noble” savage for what he was.

  3. Siberian American [Indian]

    I never thought of that! You’re right!

  4. Ken Summers says:

    Corsair, surely you know that tobacco did not cause cancer until it was co-opted by the evil white tobacco conglomerates, who raped the land and caused lung disease and slavery.

    Besides, this is one Cherokee who doesn’t like PC crap, or being called “Native-American”*, or bending over for lefty activists who have nothing better to do with their time than think of novel ways to be offended.

    *It’s Indian, Thank You Very Much. “Siberian-American” sucks and Walter needs a peace pipe upside the head for inventing it.**

    **Just kidding about the peace pipe, Walter. But “Siberian-American” still sucks.

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I was born in Mountain Grove, Missouri, and I am as native American as you can get.

    Frankly, I see no reason not to refer to Cherokees as Cherokees when germaine. Or should I say relevant, since Germaine is – well, not the kind of girl you would bring home. Not when Daddy was home, anyway.

  6. “If you can see ’em, they ain’t Apaches.”

  7. Might a better way of dealing with have been to bring in someone from a local tribe to explain what they, the local tribe, would have worn at that point in history. Then compare it with what the Americans (at that point they were the only actual Americans) may have worn as they had a meal of Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims.

  8. Ken,
    Thanks for the chuckle, it is not every day I see footnotes footnoted!


  9. There were Pigrams present, and there were Indians present: Period. The EEOC was not present! And, while we’re on the subject, I believe the Pilgrams could reasonably claim to be an oppressed minority, while the indians were an oppressive majority.

  10. PJ/Maryland says:

    I think we’re missing the point here. It’s really the turkeys who are being oppressed at Thanksgiving, but apparently the principal didn’t even try to get in touch with a Turkey Rights organization. (Or maybe the pumpkins: The 1st graders seemed unfazed, screeching out songs, giggling and gobbling up squares of pumpkin cake.)

    Mention of Thanksgiving pageants reminds me of the Addams Family Values movie, which has a great Thanksgiving Pageant At Summer Camp scene.

    “The things schools are doing is they are representing Native Americans as one group of people, not a diverse community,” [director of development at the American Indian Center David] Spencer said.

    We know this is true because members of the diverse community would get into wars with other members. (You can’t get more diverse than that!) I don’t know about Massasoit’s tribe, but I know the Iroquois were really into torture. Was there time to explain this to the first graders? (“Torture and ritual cannibalism were some of the ugly traits of the Iroquois, but these were shared with several other tribes east of the Mississippi.” from

    Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving all.

  11. “death to turkeys AND pumpkins”

  12. Ken Summers says:

    “and cranberries!”

    PJ, for goodness sakes, don’t bring up the Aztecs!

  13. C. S. Froning says:

    “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”

  14. Everytime something like this happens, it always seems like it’s a Lakota trying to present their culture as the one true Indian culture in North America. At the time of the first Thanksgiving they were still fishing by rivers, waiting to adopt stray Spanish horse so that they could steal the Crows’ land.

  15. David Jacobs says:

    If anybody is planning on celebrating any kind of Jewish holiday, don’t you dare bring any bagles or anything like that. We wouldn’t want to stereotype Jewish people.

    It’s going to get to the point where we are so afraid of offending someone everyone will have to stay in their homes and not say a word.

    When did we get to oversensative? And since when did schools start calling consultants about anything! Hey John, before you go to the bathroom, let me check with the potty consultant. OH MY F**KING GOD! The world really is comming to and end.

  16. The world is not coming to an end. People have been complaining about “political correctness” for at least 15 or so years (I’m dating it at the publication of _Illiberal Education_, but I’m sure it predates that book by years), and here we are, still alive and kicking, and complaining that the world is coming to an end. Get a grip.

    I will note that I was concerned that I had to actually convince my daughter that all Indians do not run around half naked whooping, hunting buffalo, and living in teepees. ‘Cept maybe Ken.

  17. Ken Summers says:

    I don’t live in a teepee.

  18. Whoop, Whoop

  19. ‘Noble savage’, horsehockey!

    Yes, there were admirable things about the societies of the so-called ‘Native Americans’. These include the Cherokee Confederation, which was a model for the government of the United States, including a balance of ‘federal’ vs ‘states’ rights. Many of the ‘wars’ between tribes would stop if someone was killed; the point was to show bravery, steal the enemy’s women or horses, and satisfy the male concept of ‘honor’.

    But ‘noble savage’? Spare me. The largest share of time was spent in just surviving. Tribes moved around a lot because they depleted local resources, both hunted game and scavenged fruits, nuts, and plants. And they left awful piles of trash and discarded materials (ever hear of ‘midden’ heaps? Just a fancy word for great honkin’ trash piles.) There were lots of battles between tribes for precious resources, including territory, women, horses, dogs (good eating, especially the young yearling pups!), and don’t forget that old standby, ‘honor’ (also known as male ego).

    They were just people, trying to get by and survive as best they could, just like the rest of the world, and just like people do now. They weren’t romantic, they weren’t ‘noble’. Just people.

    By the by, I am Osage and Cherokee (they were traditionally bitter enemies, so don’t ask me how that happened), and also my Welsh-German great-grandfather spent 4 years as a slave after he was kidnapped by the Sabinal tribe out in West Texas, before he escaped – I’ve got photos and his autobiography of his day-to-day life.

    It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t ‘noble’. It was just putting one foot in front of the other to survive day by day. And women and children taken as slaves, or ‘spoils of war’, were a necessary method for a tribe to keep the genetic diversity it needed for survival.

    I think there’s nothing wrong with recreating past historical events by letting kids dress up for Thanksgiving as Pilgrims or Indians. I’m not offended, and in fact, I encourage it. Let our children learn about our history. Hopefully it will minimize their chances of repeating the worst parts.