We're a kids clothing company. Here's why we aren't releasing a Thanksgiving shirt.

October 13, 2019

We're a kids clothing company. Here's why we aren't releasing a Thanksgiving shirt.

 Drew lives on the land of the Lenape and Canarsie tribal nations.
Whose tribal land do you live on?

Last October my first grader came home from school one day and asked, "Mom, did you know Christopher Columbus killed people?!"

As I paused, reflecting on what little I learned about Christopher Columbus in school, he went on to passionately explain that Christopher Columbus and his friends did all kinds of other awful things to indigenous people -- just so they could take all their stuff. One of my son's classmates had brought it up in class on Indigenous Peoples' Day (you may know it as Columbus Day, but many cities celebrate Indigenous People's Day), and his teacher skillfully facilitated a discussion on the matter.

That, friends, was some intense but very real talk -- and it stands in stark contrast to the fairy tales of pilgrims and Indians, popcorn and turkey dinners, that a lot of us learned in school. By the time we reach adulthood most of us know better, but this experience with my son left me wondering: why don't most kids hear the real story of our nation's history when they're younger? Why do we sell them a myth when they're young and leave them to discover the truth all by themselves as they grow up?

That's what led to the design of our new land acknowledgment shirt. It's part graphic tee, part positive message, and part lesson plan. It comes with a blank space on it so families can work together to research whose tribal land they live on, then write it onto their shirt to complete their own land acknowledgment statements. Like this:

This child lives on the land of the Suquamish tribal nation - and now she knows it!

Wait, what is "land acknowledgment"?

The land most of us live on today is only "ours" because our government signed treaties with the tribal nations who lived here before us that guaranteed them certain rights and protections, and in turn gave us the right to live, work and govern on their native lands. Land acknowledgment is a way to bring awareness to that fact in everyday life.

Why is this important for kids to learn about? 

I'm going to throw this question to Se-ah-dom Edmo, Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Perce, and Yakama, Executive Director of the MRG Foundation, and, ahem, one of my middle school besties. :)

"Every family, across the country and continent, lives on someone's traditional lands," Se-ah-dom explains. "When kids begin to learn real history (not the Thanksgiving myth), they will undo stereotypes that Indians only live in the past, or that we no longer exist. 

"Our kids are our future civic leaders and it's an important skill to know who the tribal nations in their area are."

That goes for us grownups, too. So here's how to do it!

Step one: Research whose tribal land you live on

Luckily for us all, Native Land has overseen some impressive crowd-sourced research on this subject and has an amazing web site where you can find out whose tribal land you live on.

Head to the Native Land web site, and start typing your city name into the search box at the top left. The map will zoom in and show your location along with the name of your local tribal nation(s). There may be more than one.

Step two: Learn more about the tribe(s)

Once you know whose traditional land you live on, do some research on the tribe(s) so you can learn more. Google will yield all kinds of interesting information! Try searching "history of the [tribe name] tribe." You may find that the tribal nation from your area has an information center, ongoing events, and all kinds of awesome opportunities for further learning. 

Step Three: Fill in your shirts!

Now for the fun part -- writing your local tribal nation(s) names on your family's shirts! We have printed a special area white on this shirt that will hold permanent pen, so plan carefully because you won't be able to erase it. We recommend having kids practice on paper first.

Any permanent marker will do - we recommend your basic Sharpie. If your kids can't confidently write on their own yet, we recommend writing the tribe name(s) - in large letters - onto the shirt in pencil first and letting them trace over it. If they're just not ready, that's okay, parents can do the writing. The research and learning is the most important part, and at this stage you've already done that.

Side note: I highly recommend monitoring Sharpie use extremely closely with littler kids! Take it from me, a mom whose basement walls were lovingly and copiously decorated with Sharpie in a shockingly short time.

Step Four: Wear your shirts proudly and educate people

Now you know what land acknowledgement is, why it's important, and whose land you're walking around on. People will ask you and your kids about your shirts, and you can tell share that information. Spread the word!

Umm, are you saying we need to stop celebrating Thanksgiving?

We are 100% not asking you to cancel Thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving can be a wonderful opportunity to teach kids lessons about gratitude and celebrate our good fortune. But please also be aware that for many native families Thanksgiving is a day of mourning, and the story about happy settlers and Indians sitting down and eating popcorn and turkey together is a fairy tale. Out of respect for those whose ancestors were slaughtered and enslaved, please don't sell that myth to your kids.

Take some time on Thanksgiving to acknowledge the land you live on and the indigenous people who lived there before and still live there now. In addition to saying what you're thankful for, have an age-appropriate discussion with your kids about the real history of Christopher Columbus and his crew. For younger kids that may just mean explaining that before European settlers got here, there were already people living on this land -- and some of those people are still here today. With older kids, you can gradually share the truth: that early settlers were violent and brutal to the indigenous people who were here first, and to pretend otherwise does everyone a disservice.

I want to get this right but I don't totally understand how the land is theirs but also ours and I'm kind of confused.

It's not a simple concept, but it's okay - you do not have to be a master of all the nuance or be able to perfectly explain it. Just opening the door to this idea that there were people here before us, and some of those people are still here now, is a really good start. It's awesome to learn with our kids, and remember: when you model working hard to obtain knowledge and understanding, that's a really positive thing in and of itself!

Are you donating some of the money from sales of this design?

Absolutely. We will be donating 25% of the proceeds from this design to the Center for Native American Youth, a national advocacy organization working to improve the health, safety, and overall well-being of Native American youth ages 24 and under.

I'm a teacher. Are there any great resources or lesson plans to help me educate my students about these topics?

Yes! We recommend the Native Land Teacher's Guide, the IllumiNatives Lesson Plans and Ally Resources, and Washington State's Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State lesson plans.

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