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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 1, 2001 - Issue 50


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Cherokee Nation Uses Thanksgiving Holiday to Teach Cherokee Culture

Seqouyah's Dream by Bob Annesley

Seqouyah's Dream by Bob AnnesleyTAHLEQUAH, Okla. – It’s a simple enough idea, but one that hasn’t been seen before, American Indians using Thanksgiving to teach their rich traditions and culture to public school children.

The Cherokee Nation sent out a short video to 100 public schools in Oklahoma. Featuring Cherokee children, it compares what they have been taught in school about Thanksgiving to the everyday Thanksgiving that is part of the Cherokee tradition, as explained by their grandfather.

The mission was to not only teach non-Cherokee students about the nation’s traditions, but to instruct young members of the tribe as well. The nation has no elementary schools of its own, so it targeted public schools with large numbers of Cherokee students. An information packet was sent as well to help educate students about the Cherokee traditions depicted.

"It’s kind of a Cherokee Thanksgiving curriculum," nation spokesman Mike Miller said. "It’s from a Cherokee perspective. It is a curriculum for elementary and maybe middle school age kids. We distributed it to 100 elementary schools across northeastern Oklahoma."

The video shows two young Cherokee students who come home wearing a Pilgrim hat and the "traditional" one feather and vest, often associated with Thanksgiving.

"The video is an interactive part in which the kids learn about the Cherokee," Miller said. "The video starts out with the two Indian kids coming home from school and they come in and talk to their mom. They are goofing around and their mom asks them what they learned about Thanksgiving. They tell her about the second-hand version of the traditional Thanksgiving story and comment that all they do now is sit around and watch football and eat. The mother tells them to go talk to the grandpa and he will tell them how Cherokees celebrate Thanksgiving."

The grandfather opens up a whole new history and meaning to the words Thanksgiving.

"It tells them how Cherokees give thanks every day … How they are always thankful for what they have and how they’re not always asking for more. Just some basic Cherokee philosophies."

Miller said the video takes concepts children understand like Thanksgiving Day parades and parallels them with traditions the Cherokee practice. The grandfather explains that like the parade, stomp dancers go in a circle and are watched by others. Similar explanations enable young viewers to understand how traditions like parades may have started and give them a new view on history and how it pertains to everyday life within the Cherokee Nation.

"We don’t have football," Miller said. "We have stick ball. It’s a short 10-minute video that touches on a lot of points. It uses Thanksgiving as a hook to get kids interested and it is pretty effective."

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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