The Best Children’s Books for the Whole Family to Learn About the Termination Policy

If you haven’t read my post “How To Approach Thanksgiving Without the False Narrative”, it may help establish more of a stage for this. Plus, it is packed with links to great resources.

Basically though, Native Americans were never respected and continue to experience pains inflicted by a government that has taken their lands and relocated so many of them. To allow the “Thanksgiving story” to plant an idea that all was well after feasting with the pilgrims and making truces is harmful to future relationships between the government and indigenous people.

What is the Termination Policy?

From 1953-1964 109 tribes were terminated and federal responsibility and jurisdiction were turned over to state governments. Approximately 2,500,000 acres of trust land was removed from protected status and 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal affiliation. The lands were sold to non-Indians the tribes lost official recognition by the U.S. government.


No amount of statistics or historical text can make you understand what any of that means though. I don’t claim to get it. But if you want to really feel what that termination policy did to people, you’ll have to turn to children’s books.

Where can I find a list of reliable book sources?

Dr Deb Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) gives great recommendations from her personal (she is tribally enrolled at Nambe Owingeh) and professional (with a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction she has reviewed and written many educational books) perspective. Here are a few of them. The first of which, she co-wrote:

And remember to always consider who the author is, and how they are representing the characters. Is the author a Native American or a Caucasian writing about this policy? Are the characters themselves mostly Native American or Caucasian, and why is their perspective important? How might the character’s perspective be skewed (is this character meeting the situation with anger, understanding, resentment, naiveness, etc)?

Is it really so offensive to play “Pilgrims and Indians”?

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I remember sitting in a social studies class in eighth grade. The teacher also happened to be my basketball coach, and was just a super likable guy.

Each student was assigned a portion of US history to report on and presentation days had come for better or worse, depending on how well prepared we all were. I remember so many useless details about that class, and can imagine still things like where my friend Holly sat.

It came time for someone to present about the Mormon Trail, or maybe the Gold Rush, or just general moving West. We’ll call the presenter Darryl. When Darryl got up with his presentation board, and I saw the Salt Lake Temple, images of polygamy, and the term “Mormons”, I remember wanting to just take it away before he even got started. I mean, how could he possibly present that all in a good light when he didn’t even use the name of the church? And if he had tried to research and understand it, he definitely would have asked me or Holly. I was good enough friends with him after all.

It was also the first time in my life when I hated the word “Mormon” being used to label me. It sounded awful in that context with false information being (intentionally or not) spewed, and I realized that’s precisely how the name came about in the first place – it wasn’t exactly meant as a compliment or just an easy nickname originally.

But this story gets better. Because when Darryl seemed about to jump headfirst into discussing polygamy (which in no way could have really been a part of the public school’s curriculum, right?) our teacher thankfully cut him off.

And turned it over to me. Asking if I’d like to clarify anything.

It’s a moment so awkward and embarrassing I can’t even remember what I said. I just felt like everyone was going to take away his side of the presentation and not mine. But it was my history more than anyone else’s in the room that he was sharing. And he was butchering it, if not also mocking it! He was literally telling the story and experiences of my great-great-however many great- grandparents! My family still gets together and tells those stories from journals. Because it’s our inheritance to have that history. And at 13 years old, I had my very first, and one of very few experiences in my whole life where I felt the need to directly correct someone trying to tell me my own story. I’m blessed not to have my calendar annually marked with a day when I know I will have to decide how to face that.

So do I think presenting groups of people with historical accuracy is important?

Absolutely, I do!

There are so many problems that come from rationalizing why we still share something as U.S. history that has questionable truth to it at best.

I want to share a question that came to my mind this week that hit me hard:

If the story were reversed and the pilgrims had been killed and dying at the hands of Native Americans, would we sugarcoat the story for our kids and tell them a fluffy story about the singular time when the Wampanoag partied with us? Or would we tell them the age-appropriate version of “our ancestors were murdered and exposed to a lot of really bad diseases they had no medicine for. But the Native Americans didn’t listen to us or respect us, because they were just thinking about getting land for themselves. So now we live in this area they’ve assigned us if we want to keep a few of our own rules and practices. Or we can go live with them and follow their rules.”

I feel like its an honest excuse that comes to mind so easily – that’s too violent to explain to my child. But what about WWII? If a book or movie about WWII were picked up by my kids of any age, I would not hesitate for a second to explain that Hitler was a very charismatic man, and a lot of people believed that he was making a better country for them, but he was really doing terrible things that killed tons of people. One moral of the story is to always choose a leader who doesn’t hurt people.

The same should be done here. We shouldn’t hesitate to say that the pilgrims believed that they deserved the new land, but they didn’t stop to think about the people who had taken care of that land first, which resulted in a lot of blood on their hands and the loss of so many great cultures, languages and people. One moral of this story is to recognize that we can’t take back all the wrong things we’ve done by doing one thing right.

Do either of those sound so hard to say to a child? How else might you say it? Submit a comment with how you will describe Native American and U.S. relations to a child more accurately this Thanksgiving, and I’d love to hear how they receive it!

Do Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, or what do they think of it?

I’m glad you asked, because CUT has your answer! If you haven’t read “How to Approach Thanksgiving Without a False Narrative“, then check it out by clicking the yellow image below and watch this video for a better understanding of how different people might feel towards Thanksgiving, and how we can keep it from being a day of celebrating misinformation.

How To Approach Thanksgiving Without a False Narrative

I’ve been seeing a ton of these adorable little activities popping up right on schedule for this time of year. Pilgrims and Indians and all kinds of versions of “Little House on the Prairie” are up for sale by different creators.

And for the first time ever, I’m cringing every time I see it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving. I’m just not buying that pilgrim story any more. And it’s not really a story I want to teach my kids.

Photo by Rob Fallows from FreeImages

I love eating huge amounts of everything drenched in cranberry sauce and green bean casserole. And cranberry sauce with my green bean casserole. And my green bean casserole with the turkey. It’s just a lawless mess of fine cuisine on my Thanksgiving plate.

I am filled with purpose, spending the month making sure I’ve told people why I’m grateful for them. I adore hearing children list things they are grateful for (big trucks, Wal-Mart, and our dog are at the top of my two year old’s list).

And we can’t forget pumpkin and cinnamon flavored everything. (Currently, we are burning an apple- pumpkin scent in our kitchen that is my new favorite. It’s heavenly.)

So, what’s so cringeworthy about Thanksgiving?

I don’t think anyone has a real reason to be upset about the things listed just above. And for most people, that’s all they think about at Thanksgiving – fooood, glorious food! Alone, the Hallmarkization of Thanksgiving is lovely.

But the problem, of course, is the origins of the holiday and the fact that some people STILL are telling their children that we celebrate Thanksgiving to remember how the pilgrims and Native Americans came together on that day so long ago to feast and live happily ever after together.

Sean Sherman says in a New York Times article:

 The first official mention of a “Thanksgiving” celebration occurs in 1637, after the colonists brutally massacre an entire Pequot village, then subsequently celebrate their barbaric victory. 

The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday
Photo by bromundt from FreeImages

And you know, I read that article a while ago, but as soon as I copied that into this post I thought but wait, wasn’t the whole Thanksgiving story that they hunted and feasted TOGETHER, and the pilgrims survived because of Squanto (and others’) help? What massacre is he talking about? I mean, I know they had a dark history, which is a problem, but how closely did these two events happen? So I spent the past 40 minutes on the internet trying to search for an explanation. gives us a nice three paragraphs, confirming that a massacre of “some 500 Indian women, men, and children” did happen just a few months before that first Thanksgiving story, followed by more such massacres. The Peqout Wars were a huge stain in American history I’d never even heard of, and it doesn’t seem to be especially well recorded. And they were going on right alongside this particular harvest and Thanksgiving, like Sherman said.

But, of course, the tribe being massacred was not the same tribe at the thanksgiving feast. The tribe at the feast was the Wampanoag, and they may have been there in an attempt at politics having seen what other tribes were experiencing.

The Smithsonian Magazine paints another short (a whole 8 paragraphs) picture of the Wampanoag situation leading up to the thanksgiving:

Long before the arrival of the Pilgrims, the Wampanoag held frequent Thanksgiving-like celebrations, giving thanks in the form of feasts and ceremonial games…

For a moment of history, the interests of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag aligned. When the Pilgrims landed in New England, after failing to make their way to the milder mouth of the Hudson, they had little food and no knowledge of the new land. The Wampanoag suggested a mutually beneficial relationship, in which the Pilgrims would exchange European weaponry for Wampanoag for food.

Everyone’s history matters: The Wampanoag Indian Thanksgiving story deserves to be known

So this Thanksgiving may not have really been as big of a deal as we make it. In fact, it certainly wasn’t. really comes in next with the Thanksgiving fun gun, breaking down the facts of what we actually have evidence of from the “first Thanksgiving”, like:

Photo by Jonathan Kendrick from FreeImages
  • As mentioned above, “thanksgivings” were common practice, and we don’t have any clue why this one is remembered as “THE first Thanksgiving”
  • We can’t actually prove that the Wampanoag people were invited at all. It may have been unplanned for the Native Americans to join in the festivities.
  • Was there Turkey? There’s no written record of it.
  • It’s possible that New Englanders were just trying to make themselves look good after the fact by talking up this feast.

But this wasn’t the beginning of a fluffy new friendship. It was again “just a moment in history.” Even when the settlers and Native Americans weren’t at war, the diseases brought from Europe were still wiping out whole peoples.

When Europeans started trekking through Indian towns, they brought sickness with them. Indians died at an alarming rate, making it substantially easier for colonists to overpower entire villages—well, what was left of them. 

The Pilgrims already believed they were part of God’s plan. Finding empty villages as 90 percent—yes, 90 percent—of America’s Indians perished in front of them only furthered Europeans’ sense of their destiny, influencing them to continue the colonization westward.

Everyone’s history matters: The Wampanoag Indian Thanksgiving story deserves to be known

And with continued colonization came continued wars and conflicts. The conflicts evolved in nature with time, but still they persisted. Through the Civil War when many tribes took sides to fight, and the life-saving Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, clear until 1953, Native Americans struggled to protect land, resources and culture. But a survey in 1943 led to a decision by the U.S. government to terminate a huge number of Native American tribes, expecting them to relinquish their tribal lands and affiliation. For many, this meant being removed from the land and put into “boarding schools”.

According to a Partnership With Native Americans:

From 1953-1964 109 tribes were terminated and federal responsibility and jurisdiction were turned over to state governments. Approximately 2,500,000 acres of trust land was removed from protected status and 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal affiliation. The lands were sold to non-Indians the tribes lost official recognition by the U.S. government.


How do we change the narrative when the history of a holiday…well, sucks?

I’m gonna go back to Sean Sherman for this one, and recommend you find and read his whole article, really. He says:

The thing is, we do not need the poisonous “pilgrims and Indians” narrative. We do not need that illusion of past unity to actually unite people today. Instead, we can focus simply on values that apply to everybody: togetherness, generosity and gratitude. And we can make the day about what everybody wants to talk and think about anyway: the food.

People may not realize it, but what every person in this country shares, and the very history of this nation, has been in front of us the whole time. Most of our Thanksgiving recipes are made with indigenous foods: turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, maple, wild rice and the like. We should embrace this.

The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday

That, Sean Sherman, I can do. I can embrace the food.

For example, succotash. If I say “succotash” what’s the first thing you think of?

Sylvester, right?

Image result for succotash meme

I just learned that it is actually a Native American dish made of corn, lima beans, and a variety of any other vegetables laying around! And I can totally get on board with that kind of recipe. So maybe instead of painting false pictures of peaceful historical relations, we can instead bond with our children in the kitchen making succotash. Talk about how maize is grown and what it must have been like to live off the land. Educate them (and yourself) about rain dances and drought and how these things made Native Americans into more prayerful, thankful, and resourceful people. Talk about protecting people’s homes and rights and not letting history repeat itself. There’s no place like a feast to get in a big, long conversation like that anyway!

Click below for one succotash recipe from All Recipes with a more modern twist, and let me know if you try it!