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Thanksgiving from a Native American's Perspective

Every year my son and I go on a "Dad & Son Adventure", picking some place we both think would be interesting, would have fun things to do, and be experiential. When he was younger we'd rent a cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior, but as he's aged we've branched out to New York, Chicago, Arizona, California and, in a bit of a twist in 2005, Rapid City, South Dakota over spring break when he was eleven.

I know what you're probably thinking, "Why Rapid City, SD and why there in April?" along with, "...and what does this have to do with Accelerating Change and education?" Let me explain.

Turns out he was jealous of his older sister who was heading to Peru on a school trip with her Spanish class, and so I wanted to take him somewhere on an airplane and Rapid City was going to have temperatures in the 60's, would be inexpensive (we flew out using frequent flyer miles) and my hidden agenda is that it would be educational for him.

Unbeknownst to me I'd be the one to get the education and blogging about the experience upon our return would connect me to people whom I'd never expected to interact with at any point, and widen the circle of people who were touched by my learning.

My son and I were most excited to see Mount Rushmore, which we did the first day early in the morning. Because it was April, there were roughly twenty other people at the monument, so we were able to spend significant amounts of time with the interpreters and my son asked his usual "bazillion" questions and I was delighted he was so engaged.

After several hours at Mt. Rushmore, we drove down to the Crazy Horse monument. Knowing we were in a place (the Black Hills) sacred to native Americans -- and having some previous knowledge about the unfinished memorial to a revered native leader -- I was unprepared for the feeling of reverence that washed over me and how massive was the monument, along with a feeling of sadness that it has taken so long to finish.

After spending a couple of hours there, we wandered in to the site bookstore. The sheer number of volumes on the Wounded Knee massacre, the writings about the decimation of native food supplies was disconcerting as were books on our national holidays (like Thanksgiving) and how most native Americans didn't "celebrate" them.

Bison, which at one point were estimated to be 60-100 million strong in North America (sharpshooters, for example, were hired by the railroads to lay atop railcars and indiscriminately kill as many bison as possible), were a primary food supply for plains tribes and books discussing the native way of life before Europeans arrived were numerous. Paging through many of them (and buying two for later reading) was more sobering than I'd ever imagined possible and I couldn't help but think, "Where was this perspective when I was learning American history?".

Here's a short video of a teachable moment that occurred with some bison and after this we stopped so I could tell him what I'd just learned about how many bison once roamed this area and much of the middle part of this continent. My little guy encouraged me to drive down a road in Custer State Park since the sign at the fork in the road indicated we might see wildlife. Coming over the crest of a hill, we spotted a herd of bison. I quickly shifted in to neutral, shut off the engine, and we sloooowly coasted to a stop right in the midst of them and caught this video with our snapshot cameras:

You should've seen his face! I can't describe what an impact this experience made, and how it gave him a realistic context for every discussion we had about bison, native Americans, the Black Hills, and so on.

As a suburban Minneapolis kid, with European ancestry, I grew up with a worldview that included a perspective that "Indians were bad", that I should marvel at what "we" wrought when we "tamed" the American landscape, and was always the cowboy when my little pals and I would play "cowboys and Indians." History, as it's said, is written by the victor.

As someone fascinated by history and how things happen, I'd long ago left behind these childish perspectives but had not invested time in building a deeper understanding of what had occurred. This trip changed everything for me and the discussions my young son and I had were unexpectedly profound.

As a consequence of this trip and the contemplation in subsequent months, I wrote a lengthy blog post about this experience and  on my personal blog, including photos and some links like these:

  • A strong native America point of view here
  • There is an interesting perspective from a native American who celebrates Thanksgiving here
The result of that post -- and here is the tie-in for Accelerating Change and education -- are the numbers of students who emailed me because of it. Zero comments were left (unusual back then for a potentially controversial post) but I ended up in more than two dozen email dialogues about the post, my perspectives, what my son thought, and questions from students researching native Americans, their view on Thanksgiving, and one question was asked that I never could answer to my satisfaction, "So what should we do now?

A teacher in our local district (whom I know personally) asked if I'd come to talk to her class. Unfortunately I could not due to my work demands at the time, but I recorded a video and posted it just for her class on a password protected post (and encouraged them to comment underneath with only their first name and last initial). They watched it and the comments were quite fun to read, and I realized that this entire adventure of ours impacted both my son and I along with a classroom of students who were studying this portion of American history at the moment.

The connection with so many people, being able to virtually deliver myself in to a classroom setting with opportunities for dialogue, and enjoying the teachable moments with my son and other students which surrounded this experience, are just a few of the reasons that the internet, web, collaboration and learning online have become such a passion for me and why I've focused on trying to help you feel that excitement and enthusiasm here at Accelerating Change.

Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Accelerating Change are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.