5 Picture Books to Recognize America’s Indigenous Peoples on Thanksgiving

I’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving a lot for the past few weeks. It’s my son’s first Thanksgiving, and obviously, it looks different this year due to the pandemic. But I’ve been thinking about how to teach my son about Thanksgiving, while also being honest about our country’s history of colonization and genocide.

I want him to know that the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes lived on the land in Alabama, the state we call home, long before he ever existed. I need him to know that our ancestors took this land, and in the process, brought illnesses that wiped out countless Indigenous Peoples. I need him to know the “pilgrims and Indians” didn’t sit around a picnic table and hold hands and talk about corn.

I plan to begin a tradition of honesty this year. So, like I always have, I will turn to books. I plan to read books and discuss the whole truth behind our country’s heritage every year for Thanksgiving. I have been reading lots of books by and about Indigenous Peoples in America to prepare, and I wanted to share some of my favorites with you.

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Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Fry Bread is a precious picture book all about the Native American food, fry bread. Thought to be originally made by the Navajo, fry bread was created using flour, sugar, and lard – the supplies provided to Reservations by the United States Government after they forced tribes to relocate to lands where their crops could not grow. In this book, we learn of the importance of fry bread to the Native American peoples through one family. This is a great book to begin discussion about the diversity of Native peoples.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell, Illustrated by Frane Lessac

We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is a picture book inspired by the Cherokee Nation that’s all about gratitude, which seems perfect for Thanksgiving. This book begins in Fall (when the Cherokee New Year occurs) and moves through each season, discussing the many things the people of the Cherokee Nation are grateful for throughout the year. There are Cherokee words included (with phonetic pronunciation for those of us who do not speak Cherokee) on each spread, as well as fantastic illustrations by Frane Lessac.

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, Illustrated by Michaela Goade

We Are Water Protectors is a beautiful picture book about the dangers of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the water protectors who continue to fight against the pollution of the water on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. This is a beautifully illustrated book that touches on the sacredness of water, and the importance it has to our world. It is also a great tool for introducing conversations about the injustices Indigenous Peoples still face in our nation.

Hiawatha and The Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson, Illustrated by David Shannon

In Hiawatha and The Peacemaker, we are introduced to Hiawatha, a member of the Mohawk Nation who has just suffered a great loss. His village has been burned down by the Onondaga tribe, and his family has been killed. He sits with his anger and grief until one day, he meets The Peacemaker, who wants to speak through him to bring peace to the Iroquois Peoples. Together they they bring this message of unity and peace to the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, Oneida, and even the Onondaga clan that burned Hiawatha’s village down. This is a great story of peace and forgiveness, and a reminder that the way the Iroquois Peoples governed themselves would later be used to define democracy in the United States Constitution.

In My Anaana’s Amautik by Nadia Sammurtok, Illustrated by Lenny Lishchenko

In My Anaana’s Amautik is a precious picture book told from a baby’s perspective as he is carried in a pouch inside his mother’s parka (called an amautik). The vivid descriptions of the baby’s soft, warm home are paired with illustrations that perfectly capture the security of the amautik, creating one of the coziest books I’ve ever read. This book would be perfect for bedtime stories any day of the year.

These are just a few of my picks to get started with this year. I hope some of them help your family have open conversations about our country’s history on this holiday and throughout the year.

Does your family have a similar Thanksgiving tradition? What books are you sharing with your little ones today? Be sure to share in the comments below!

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