First, there’s the challenge of, let’s call it, the fireworks effect of designating any “heritage month.” Lots of sparks all at once, but without necessarily integrating substantive content or new awareness into daily, weekly, monthly life. Despite the best of intentions, an hour or two of heritage month celebration can end up comprising the bulk of annual attention on the subject. In Maine, this can be discouraging for the work groups that have labored for years to forge a Wabanaki Studies curriculum that would integrate, rather than tack on, inquiry into Wabanaki peoples into overarching curriculum structures.
Here’s the second reason November gets a thumbs down: it’s time for those “traditional” pageants of construction-paper-feathered headdresses and stereotype-ridden picture books about Thanksgiving (like these images from "Best Thanksgiving Book" by Troll Associates, 1985). You’re thinking, come on, we’re forty years past the Red Power Movement, haven’t we gotten beyond that knee-jerking Thanksgiving Myth? Nope. Until three years ago, the kindergarten class that my daughter attended (in Washington state) glued together paper headdresses, fringed vests, and buckled hats to "reenact" the “First Thanksgiving” feast. The teacher who sustained this annually finally retired. Does it still happen elsewhere? Absolutely.
I’ve been in and out of Portland Public Schools a lot this month, from first grade classes to fifth grade classes. The selection of Thanksgiving themed books being read to children, or provided to them for independent reading, have scarcely improved. Anne Rockwell's "Thanksgiving Day" was one of these. Among other things, these books continue depicting children “dressing up” as a generic Indian as though the identity could be donned like a Halloween costume. They also contain inaccuracies that foster the Thanksgiving Myth that the Plimoth Plantation and the Wampanoag Nation have worked so hard to disassemble. Check out Debbie Reese's fantastic collection of reviews on American Indians in Children's Literature. If you scroll down far enough, you'll see an entire section devoted to the challenge and opportunity Thanksgiving presents.