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Library News: A Decolonizing Reading For Thanksgiving

Some of the ISD library picture books celebrate a mythologized relationship between indigenous populations and colonizing Europeans.  One such book that ISD has specifically set aside for the Thanksgiving season includes Turkeys, Pilgrims and Indian Corn by Edna Barth.  

Here is a picture of the first Indigenous person to supposedly establish a relationship with the pilgrims. His name is Samoset. I assume this accompanying image is an idealization of the actual man, but many websites use this exact same photo to illustrate Samoset.Turkeys, Pilgrims, and Indian Corn claims that Samoset’s first words to the pilgrims were “Welcome, Englishmen” while holding out his right hand (62).   

I literally laughed out loud when I read this page. I can’t help but ask myself, who documented this first interaction?  Was Samoset literate? Did he write his narrative of his first encounter with Pilgrims?  Did he really feel like the pilgrims should be welcomed? As a librarian, I have my work cut out for me.  My challenge to myself is to find primary sources that either support or debunk this initial interaction that Barth presents in her Thanksgiving book.

Barth, the writer of this version of American history goes on to describe the Indians (Squanto and Hobomok) as men who “spread rumors” (64), “could set the pilgrims against the Indians” (65), in other words they were mischief makers, and had to be “paid bribes to keep [them] friendly” (65). The author refers to the Indians as “sly”, “hostile”, a “threat”, and “spying”. Yet after all the bribes that Squanto had to take in order to “be friendly”, this same man, on his deathbed decided that he’d leave all of his worldly goods to the very same Plymouth folks who had to bribe him to be friendly in the first place.

There seems to be an inconsistency in the telling of Squanto’s life within Barth’s pages. As an adult reader, I know which questions to ask. I’m also aware that when I was a nine year old child, I didn’t ask such questions. I simply made my pilgrim hat, or my Indian headdress, and then, (because my family is Mexican), ate some yummy tamales.  We also had turkey and stuffing too. But the point is, I never asked about the authenticity of the indigenous stories I was told throughout elementary school.

Somewhere along the line of my education, an educator introduced me to more plausible facts about American history. By the time I hit high school, I began to question why we celebrated colonizers and the subjugation of indigenous people. At dinner tables, I was promptly shushed. And I have to admit, the pull of a well made tamale postponed my budding curiosity.   

If ISD families seek to engage a child’s budding curiosity about the indigenous populations of the Americas, I encourage you to take a look at the non-fiction section. We have a lovely collection of illustrations for you and your children. Come visit the library, and we can help you find resources on the first peoples of the Americas.

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