11.27.2013

An age-appropriate guide to using Thanksgiving to talk about Native American history
Photo by Mark Mrwizard, used under Creative Commons license.
Between ages six and eleven, I wore the same Halloween costume every year. It was a pure suede, fringed "Indian Princess" dress with matching leather moccasins. I wore my dark brown hair braided in pigtails, and my family painted my face with my mom's brown eye shadow. A few weeks later, my elementary school would hold its Thanksgiving celebration, where the kids were invited to dress as Pilgrims or Native Americans. There was no way I was going to put on a paper-bag Pilgrim hat when I had my beloved hide dress at home.
When I see pictures of those celebrations now, I have several reactions. The first is "Holy cow, I was a Southern white girl in brown face: these photos must be destroyed." The second thought is this overwhelming nostalgia for a time when wearing a brown suede dress transformed me into something magical, something about which I only knew beautiful things. Finally, I wonder how I can now balance that childhood romanticism with the complex history surrounding the Thanksgiving story, as I explain Thanksgiving traditions to my children.