Rethinking Thanksgiving: How to speak to young children about historical and racialized trauma

Nov 17, 2021

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Rethinking Thanksgiving: How to speak to young children about historical and racialized trauma
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Vanessa Goodthunder
Vanessa Goodthunder
Beth Theresa Photography

The Thanksgiving “pilgrim and Indian” stories that many of us were taught as children perpetuate harmful stereotypes and whitewash a painful history of violence and colonization that continues to impact Indigenous communities today. How can we have a more honest conversation with our children about this history? On this episode of Early Risers, host Dianne Haulcy speaks with early childhood educator and Dakota language activist Vanessa Goodthunder. She is the director of C̣aƞṡayapi Waḳaƞyeża Owayawa Oṭi, which is Dakota for “Lower Sioux Children Are Sacred School,” an early childhood program in the Lower Sioux Indian community in southwestern Minnesota where children learn Dakota history and language as their birthright. Goodthunder explains why every day is Indigenous People’s Day and how she uses language as a tool to heal from historical trauma.

Download the Discussion Guide

Episode Resources:

Goodthunder and her colleagues have created an online repository of Dakota language resources for young children and their families. The repository includes links to videos featuring Dakota language children’s songs and activities, as well as children’s books such as “Goodnight Moon” being read aloud in Dakota.

For guidance on teaching young children about Thanksgiving in a socially responsible way:

Think Small has a free ParentPowered texting program where parents can receive weekly texts with facts, tips and hands-on activities parents can use to help prepare children ages 0-5 for kindergarten.

Goodthunder discusses examples of historical and generational trauma, including the forced sterilization of Native women in the 1960s and 70s, and the abuse and neglect of Indigenous children at North American boarding schools, which were established by the U.S. government in the early 19th century to suppress Indigenous culture and enforce assimilation.

In June 2021, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formally announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, with the mission to document the painful history of U.S. federal boarding school policies with a focus on cemeteries and possible burial sites with the remains of Indigenous children. 

The acknowledgment by the U.S. government regarding forced sterilization from the National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health

Understanding the history of forced sterilization

Understanding the generational impact of child sexual abuse on Native children