Changing Perceptions about Native Americans and Pilgrims: First Thanksgiving Coloring Book Prompts Much Discussion in a Children’s Class

How can a coloring book called “The Story of Squanto,” written and illustrated by an American Indian and a descendent of pilgrim colonists, enrich Bahá’í children’s and youth classes and prompt searching questions and discussions about virtues and social justice? Here is what Ginny Staubach, the teacher of a Bahá’ٕí children’s class in Lyle, Washington, explained how she used the Thanksgiving coloring book, which you can access at http://www.manyhoops.com/squanto.html:

“Today our children’s class in Lyle, Washington, read “The Story of Squanto” together. The kids loved it! Especially the older ones (8+). It was a bit long for the attention span of some of the little ones (7 under). Ours is a very mixed-age class: 5 years to 12 years old.

“We spread out pages of one unbound copy of the coloring book on a long table. Then each child chose a picture page they liked and wanted to color. While the teachers took turns reading the story, the children colored their page.

“At the end, we put them all the colored pages back together into a class copy that we will keep to read again and maybe dramatize. We did not have enough time during the class, but some of the children wanted to act out the story.

“The story generated a lot of rich discussion. Children wanted to talk about how it would feel to come home and find only bones (which was what Squanto experienced after being kidnapped, sold into slavery, and being away from his home for more than ten years) and what they would do if strangers came and took over and treated everyone badly. Would they be willing to get to know some of these people and even help them? Or would they be too mad and hurt?

“As we read Squanto’s story, there were discussions and questions (What are Catholic monks? Why did Europeans make Squanto a slave? Which diseases killed thousands? Which vegetables did Squanto teach the Pilgrims to plant? Did they plant pumpkins? Did they hunt turkey, or did turkey at Thanksgiving come later?). It was wonderful how engaged the children became. But going through the entire story did take a long time!

“We found that reading the story and the Bahá’í quotations took quite a long time and that our younger students were having trouble being patient. Hence, to get through the story (everyone wanted to hear the end!), we read only the story itself. If I had it to do over, I would plan ahead and perhaps break the story into two lesson plans, and do half each in the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.

“My fellow teachers and I think that the story about Squanto and the first Thanksgiving in the New World is very well-suited for the junior-youth group (ages 11 to 15 years old) in Lyle because there are so many social-justice issues and examples of virtues, which the junior youth love to discuss.

“Many thanks to Paula [Bidwell] and Lea [Gerlach] for this rich, exciting, noble story. It made an impression, and I am sure we will continue to refer to it and use it for other projects.”

For background about how the Squanto coloring book came into being, you will want to read the story “Rethinking Thanksgiving—And How You Can Reframe Your Celebration,” published in the Wilmette Institute’s November 2013 issue. The site also contains a wealth of other materials to help you reframe your own Thanksgiving:

The Wampanoag
The Pilgrims
Thanksgiving: The Real Story and More
American Indians on Thanksgiving
Recipes & Food: Pilgrim and Wampanoag
Arts & Crafts: Thanksgiving
Coloring Pages: Thanksgiving
Games and Activities: Thanksgiving
Native American Prayers: for Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving for Teachers and Parents
Musical Instruments: Wampanoag and Pilgrim
About Lea & Paula
Resources

In the article you will also learn how Paula Bidwell, the Native American, and Lea Gerlach, a descendent of white colonists, met and began to collaborate and how that sharing has changed both of them.

When I researched and wrote the November 2013 article, I found myself changed as well, for it had never occurred to me that Native Americans consider Thanksgiving a Day of Mourning that marks the beginning of genocide. Last year I asked a Navajo who lives in my neighborhood what he planned to do on Thanksgiving, adding that I understood that many Native Americans consider the holiday a Day of Mourning. He told me that no one had ever said that to him before. That was the beginning of a thaw in his reserve and has allowed us to discuss freely a number of topics throughout the year.

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