Thursday, January 16, 2014


I've been mulling on this for some time now, since sometime in December, and now it's time for writing it out.

Once upon a time in kindergarten land, my kid made a variety of artwork for Thanksgiving. She painted half a turkey in watercolor (only got to half because she has one speed setting and it is painstakingly slow), made a little book with different coloring pages about the first Thanksgiving (which lied and said the pilgrims invited the Native Americans to dinner, what a laughable idea), and then there were hats. She apparently brought more than one home originally but she got out the Pilgrim hat first and wore it around playing Pilgrim for a few days. I figured it wasn't a big deal. I sat her down and explained that her book was wrong, that the Pilgrims were starving and the Native Americans invited them over for dinner because the Pilgrims didn't know how to grow food here in a different place yet. She went back to playing various things, nothing super involving that hat after the first two days.

And then the other hat turned up, with some whooping so I looked over to see what the kid was up to in the dining room. She  had another paper hat on, this one with red construction paper feathers and drawings of horses around the band.

Then I resisted the temptation to go rip the thing off of her head and stomp into her classroom to have a very heated discussion with her teacher. It was highly disturbing to me. Highly. Why? I mean, I'm a white chick after all. I know my heritage presumably includes Native American folk because I'm a good chunk French Canadian with my ancestors arriving here in the 16th century but I don't have a direct cultural link and I didn't grow up in any such culture.

My complaint is with the desecration of the sacred and letting kids make light of something that is supremely sacred to Native American cultures. I had the privilege to visit with a Native American family once and hear about how they mesh their traditional beliefs with modern life. It included hearing from a young dad about how he had a vision of dancing in a certain ceremony a few years before that visit and he is now gathering the sacred feathers for his headband, a process that takes years because they need to be a special type of eagle feather. It's worn for the most sacred healing ceremonies and after the years of preparing the attire there's years of initiation to be spiritually ready as well. This is big deal sacred stuff we're talking about.

The thing that most struck me about getting to see this head dress in progress and hear about its sacred purpose in these ceremonies was actually watching his 3 year old son interact with it. If my kid as a 3 year old had seen a feather, she would have grabbed and whined to touch it and been really excited about it. This little guy, who had been very boisterous the whole visit and had been tossing toys around, he stopped moving and stood close but not too close and just stared in awe, silently. He knew at age 3 just how significant and important that head dress was, he had awe for the sacred. All kids are capable of awe in the presence of something amazing but when it's a sacred something that amazes them, that's worth seeing.

So to see that sacred object taken so lightly just hurts my heart. Public schools are meant to be secular, are meant to stay out of the realms of anything sacred to any faith. While I appreciate the effort to be inclusive and acknowledge that there were folks besides the Pilgrims who mattered in the Thanksgiving story, it feels so wrong to me to appropriate the sacred like that and strip it down to cartoon level depictions of who Native Americans were then and are today. I spent some time considering how to describe this particular insult in ways that a (visibly at least) white teacher who has no background in educating in a diverse and inclusive way (that I can tell from what gets brought home. This Thanksgiving stuff was all of social studies in October and November) how rude these hats really seem. The two closest things I've come up with are having kids make paper communion wafers to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day (because he was a minister!) and maybe adding some paper cleric's collars too, or the idea of making pope hats in December to celebrate Christmas. As someone raised a Christian both of those just rub me the wrong way in much the same way that I just felt insulted and wrong about seeing that cardboard hat and hearing those whoops from my kid.

I feel like our specific location in the world matters too, but I'm not telling you where I live. Silly! Let's just say it's not a reservation or anything. Despite our pretty diverse town, I wouldn't be surprised if the number of Native American kids isn't statistically significant and that makes me all the more concerned. There's nobody whose heritage is being made into a cartoon around to complain, or if they are here, they are hiding in plain sight because it's too contentious to get into and the risk is high.

Pretty soon we have parent teacher conferences and the teacher will get a piece of my mind. Based on her answers, I may have further things to say to the school board about their rude and racist curriculum or I may not.

What's your take? Am I overreacting? What is reasonable? I mean, it is kindergarten, and yet I worry that we're building foundations of knowledge here and that knowledge shouldn't make one group out to be the saviors and another out to need saving. I want no savages in my kid's mind, just people who look a little bit different and have different cultures.


  1. Oh hey I am with you! I live in massachusetts and pretty much they don't get it right (at least in the district we live). I have found that over the years my daughter's school tends to avoid or tiptoe around such things as race,class,gender identity, and HOMOPHOBIA(!!!!)....just my opinion. Good luck to you.

  2. Really interesting and good for you for planning to bring it up at parent teacher day. Honestly, I don't think you are overreacting as you make all valid points.. but I don't know a lot about this.. which is kind of odd because I did grow up around a lot of native american families, but I guess we didn't really talk about it in school that I remember. I don't know what the schools SHOULD be doing but I do agree that this doesn't seem quite right. Good luck with the teacher/school and let us know what they have to say!