My mom is the smartest person I know. She was my first teacher. I’m not just talking about tying my shoe or how to cook. I’m talking about real education.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday before it became a holiday. We knew who really reached the North Pole first. She even corrected us when we said Pilgrims and Indians. Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America. It didn’t stop there.
Thanksgiving was not a potluck dinner between newcomers and Natives in America. Learning about the experience of Native Americans in our household included reading about the Trail of Tears, Sitting Bull, and how the rightful inhabitants of this land were slaughtered. We learned that Pocahontas and Sacagawea didn’t find their happily ever afters with Europeans or White men.
So we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving by re-enacting a feast of enemies who became friends and survived together. We celebrate love of family and friends, giving to those in need, survival, and appreciate all of our blessings of needs being taken care and provided for.
Recently an educator in Wake County sent out the following tweet: “Teachers repeat after me: I will not have students make ‘Indian feathers and clothes. I will not culturally appropriate an entire people for cute activities. I will tell students the truth about this country’s relationship with Indigenous people.’”
And she is absolutely correct. Wake County School Board agreed. A spokesperson of the board said, “This week teachers are focusing on the spirit of Thanksgiving emphasizing gratitude, generosity, family, and food — not necessarily props.”
I am inspired when my students with Native American heritage speak up for accurate representation of their family. Last year a student of mine wore this shirt. I couldn’t agree more. The true Americans should be honored by the rest of us speaking their truth…from the past to what even continues to this day.
NaShonda Cooke is a 17 plus-year veteran of North Carolina public school system and was recently featured in Time Magazine. She continues to be active in several roles of standing for public education, speaking on several topics that affect the women and children of North Carolina. She lives in Durham with her two daughters, Victoria and Na’Via.