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.