7 Books To Rethink Thanksgiving From a Native Perspective

From adult to children’s books, we should all know the truth about Thanksgiving from the Native American perspective. Here are 7 books to get you started!

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When I was in elementary school, Thanksgiving was all about making paper turkeys and learning about the pilgrims. But that has never been the true history of Thanksgiving. Up until a few years ago, the only way we’ve learned about his holiday was through a White lens. That must change. The best way to be informed about the reality of Thanksgiving is by listening to Native American voices.

Especially during Native American Heritage Month, it’s our responsibility to inform ourselves of the Native experience, down to their origins. This country’s history has never been pretty. However, in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past, we must learn about these uncomfortable truths. If you want to educate yourself or others in your life, here are 7 books that’ll make you rethink Thanksgiving celebrations

1. This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving by David J. Silverman

7 books to rethink Thanksgiving from a Native perspective. This Land is Their Land book cover with corn stalks.

The origin of Thanksgiving has been shrouded in myths since its conception. Author David J. Silverman details the numerous lies and bestows truth in his novel, This Land Is Their Land. Perfect for high school and college students, Silverman highlights the actual events of the interactions between the Native people and the White colonizers. 

With remarkable prose and startling revelations, Silverman expands on why many Native Nations hold a day of mourning during Thanksgiving. This book is a must-read for anyone trying to become a better ally to the Native American community. By having the focus be on the Wampanoag people, we can better understand the strife and struggles that they still deal with today due to our normalization of Thanksgiving.

2. When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry, edited by Joy Harjo

7 books to rethink Thanksgiving from a Native perspective. When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through book cover with abstract art.

There is no poetry without the voices of Native people. As the first poets, Native poetry can teach us more about the world and environmentalism than most science classes. This can certainly be said for the anthology When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, edited by Joy Harjo. This in-depth anthology includes Native poets from different geographical locations to encompass the wide variety of First Nations storytelling.

Spanning from early oral stories to more contemporary literature, Harjo made sure to speak to the joy, heartbreak, hope, and truth behind the Native experience. Reading from numerous Native authors will only help in our understanding of Thanksgiving. It will make us realize that the first people to build a thriving community on this land weren’t the settlers, it was the Native Nations. It’s about time we celebrate their traditions and stories, rather than a made-up holiday.

3. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp

7 books to rethink Thanksgiving from a Native perspective. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message book cover with images of a deer, trees, and a family.

Does your middle schooler want to learn more about Native traditions and respecting the Earth? Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp is the perfect read for them! While we normally associate Thanksgiving with food and family, the Native Nations give thanks every day, just not in the way we’ve been told. Rather than focusing on gathering for meals, this book centers around the idea to give thanks to our planet. Without the valuable resources that Earth brings, we’d never be able to celebrate Thanksgiving in the first place. 

Adapted just for younger audiences, Chief Jake Swamp ensures that the traditions and values of the Iroquois people are front and center. Each day, to honor Mother Earth, the Iroquois people give thanks with a “good morning message.” They thank everything that the Earth has given us, and for the prosperity and unity of the world. It’s about time we begin listening to Native voices about preserving our land. What’s a better way to give thanks than by helping our planet?

4. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer

7 books to rethink Thanksgiving from a Native perspective. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid book cover.

It’s okay to have questions about different lifestyles than yours. Knowledge breeds compassion and empathy. But sometimes, finding the right wording or questions can be hard. Luckily, there’s a book that’ll answer all your questions about the Native experience. In his novel Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, author Anton Treuer is open to all forms of discussion and questions about Native life. 

Made for all audiences, Treuer goes in-depth on important topics that influence the lives of Native people. From examining the real events of Thanksgiving to discussions of living on reservations, Treuer doesn’t stray away from the tough questions. This book is a must-have for anyone wanting to inform themselves on the history of Native Nations, and how we got to where we are now.

5. Thanksgiving: A Native Perspective, edited by Doris Seale

While this book was originally created as a teaching guide, it still remains an excellent source of information on the origins of Thanksgiving. Edited by Doris Seale, Thanksgiving: A Native Perspective is everything you could want when relearning about the fall holiday. Filled with essays, speeches, short stories, poetry, and activities, this is a vital resource for all students and teachers wanting a truthful telling of Thanksgiving. 

Seale makes it clear, our Americanized holiday only perpetuates stereotypes and myths of the Native people. Thanksgiving has been a celebration well before the colonizers set foot in the Americas. Native Nations have been honoring harvests and the Earth well before the English could figure out how to bathe properly. So, if you’re wanting a perfect guide on how to teach the truth behind Thanksgiving, this compilation of history is exactly what you’re looking for.

6. Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer

7 books to rethink Thanksgiving from a Native perspective. Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun's Thanksgiving Story book cover with three women around corn stalks and a fox.

Is your little one becoming more interested in learning about Thanksgiving? Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story, is the best child-friendly book to read with them before the holiday. Created by Danielle Greendeer, she centers this adorable picture book around the Wampanoag people. She makes her point clear, without the Wampanoag Nation, the pilgrims wouldn’t have survived very long. 

With important messages and colorful illustrations, this book will captivate your child while showing them the reality of the first Thanksgiving. Teaching younger generations about serious topics can be hard sometimes. You don’t want to go too in-depth, but you still want them to know as much information as they can. Danielle Greendeer made sure that this book has everything that your child needs to learn about Thanksgiving in an age-appropriate and truthful manner.

7. The People Shall Continue by Simon J. Ortiz

7 books to rethink Thanksgiving from a Native perspective. The People Shall Continue book cover with a group of people

In his only book for younger readers, Simon J. Ortiz made sure to put his heart and soul into his picture book, The People Shall Continue. Told through Native oral verse, this is a beautiful retelling of the history and experiences of Native people. By focusing on Native Nations all over the country, kids learn about the customs, language, and struggles the Native people faced. 

From the founding of the Native people all the way to modern conflicts, this interactive book encourages children to keep asking questions and furthers their learning of Native cultures. Even against all forces to stop Native life and pride, the Native people persisted and fought for their rights to the land that was once their home. We shouldn’t be hiding these important messages from our children. Instead, we should be supporting them to rethink the lessons that schools teach during Thanksgiving.  

If we truly want to support Native people during Thanksgiving, it’s our responsibility to stay informed. Keep listening to Native voices. Not just during Thanksgiving, but all year round. So, when you’re gathered around the table eating your delicious Thanksgiving dinners, just remember that this holiday’s origins are more complex than what school makes it out to be. 

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