Bad Seeds

“Look mommy, I drew an Indian,” Little Sister announced delightedly, thrusting a picture of a feather adorned girl in braids toward me.

“What makes that an Indian?” I asked, blood pressure rising.

A list of stereotypical characteristics ensued, all described in the past tense, clearly indicating that whatever her school prescribed vision of an “Indian” was, it was a thing of the past.

“You know Indians are people who live now,” I shared.

“Really!?” She responded eyes aglow as I’m sure images of Disney’s Pocahontas and war painted warriors began dancing in her head.

"You don't look like an Indian," 1995 John Branch

“You don’t look like an Indian,” 1995 John Branch. Used with permission.

This week preceding Thanksgiving at school has been full of the fantastic storybook renditions of a beautiful tale of peace and harmony complete with cartoonish depictions of groups of people. Little sister enthusiastically described the making of feathered headdresses for the Indians that I’m sure now decorate the school walls.

Big sister who has been raised on truth and tolerance and spared public school propaganda was privy to this conversation and quipped,

“Yeah, maybe you can draw Black People next.”

So I gathered my little people round and called up Google images of modern Native People.

The first was a young hip mom with a single pink strand in her dark hair and a nose piercing holding her baby.

The light left Little Sister’s eyes.

“That’s an Indian?” She asked through curled lips.

More images followed of a group of older women gathered round a table laughing, children playing in the park, father and son getting into a truck, and so on–you, know, people doing people stuff.

“They just look like normal people,” Little Sister said not disguising her disappointment.

Bingo.

I must admit, I’m pretty disgusted that nothing has changed in 40 years. I have memories of this very same feathered headdress project when I was their age. This project is a multi-layered tragedy that confuses children. It plants a pervasive image of a simple and single definition of “Indian” as lacking depth and life, disrespects the sacred significance, and for many Native People it’s simply inaccurate–not all Native People wore them.

The headdress project is just part of the greater myth presented as fact full of insulting stereotypes and flagrant omissions of brutal massacres that continues to predominate the classroom.

I won’t go off on all the inaccuracies because plenty of people far more knowledgeable than me have already done that, and this is what makes the continuance of this practice so inexcusable. A five second Internet search yields dozens of reputable sources for the true story, cultural sensitive lesson plans that include studying Native American history and culture beyond a single fantasized meal, and historical facts. It’s just lazy not to use them.

But this shouldn’t surprise me. Texas touts a “pro-american” history curriculum that brushes over the existence of any people on this continent prior to the European settlers and waters down or completely ignores the atrocities they committed after they got here.

With the goal of instilling patriotism, the state board of education recently voted to teach a state-defined curriculum for the Advanced Placement American History Exam rather than using the federally-defined curriculum on which the exam is based in order to avoid teaching the more negative aspects of American History.

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Circumventing federal standards is not a problem for me as I’m a big fan of independent thinking; the problem is that it also circumvents the truth. The end result, aside from the obvious perpetuation of lies, is that Texas kids will wind up in college classrooms looking like dumbasses. Yeah, that sounds like a great plan.

As I watched my children’s fantasies slip away, I tried to ascertain what exactly they had been told about Thanksgiving so I’d know where to begin the damage control. But after sharing confusing stories of videos of pilgrim girls with talking pet turkeys, adventures on the Mayflower, tepees and feathers, they shrugged their shoulders admitting that they had no idea.

For that I’m grateful. The seeds, though planted, have not taken root and it should be easy enough to unearth them. I’m not even going to talk about the colossal waste of resources that has only served to confuse my children…not now anyway. In the spirit of the holiday that for our family has always been about thankfulness and nothing to do with pilgrims and Indians, I’m going to incorporate gratitude for this reminder that I must never rely on the state to educate my children and get busy with some gardening of my own.

2 thoughts on “Bad Seeds

  1. We have “Texas history” courses in our schools, which I have always found very odd. Why doesn’t someone develop a course in history of indigenous Americans? There are so very many different tribes, with different languages, customs, and cultures, that it would be a fascinating study. And then maybe to focus on some of the Indians who do actually live in our country today, many in appalling circumstances. THAT would be good history teaching.

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