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Thanksgiving Costumes -- Cute or Racist?

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One school's annual Thanksgiving celebration has its share of Native American costumes. And some parents are pissed. 

Two boys wearing costumes

It's a tradition that's been going on for 40 years. Every November, Claremont, California kindergartners dress up like pilgrims and Native Americans for their annual Thanksgiving celebration.

But not this year. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Claremont School Board has decided to ban costumes that depict Native Americans at Condit Elementary School and Moutain View Elementary. 

That means when kids show up for turkey and songs for their annual "Turkey Day" feast, they won't be wearing the standard fringed vests or pilgrim-style black hats with the giant buckles reenacting the (not entirely accurate) story of both groups sitting down for a feast.

Michelle Raheja, the parent who initiated the ban, is a member of the Seneca tribe. She complained the costumes are "demeaning" and no different than allowing children to dress up like "Nazis." "There is nothing to be served by dressing up as a racist stereotype," she said.

Letting children dress up as Native American Indians is not the problem, Jacqueline Johnson Pata of the Tlingit Tribe of Alaska and spokesperson for the National Congress of American Indians told momlogic. "What's needed is an academic curriculum that more correctly depicts an honest history around Native Americans."

"Thanksgiving is the one time of the year that people think about Native Americans," laments Pata. That's why she and other Native Americans are lobbying to make "Native American Awareness Day" a national holiday. "It would occur the day after Thanksgiving."

But that might be a long way off. Today kindergartners in Claremont had to leave their costumes at home -- although one mom says she won't stand up to the ban.

"They're not going to tell us what we can and cannot wear," said Dena Murphy, mother of a five-year-old kindergatner. "We're tired of [district officials] cowing down to people. It's not right."

What do you think? Has political correctness gone too far?

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30 comments so far | Post a comment now
mariah November 25, 2008, 3:56 PM

yes, way too far!

momof3 November 25, 2008, 4:00 PM

It’s Thanksgiving - Indians, Pilgrims, turkeys - that’s what it’s about. When did we all start having to be so PC?

gemma November 25, 2008, 4:02 PM

blimey i think all this political correctness is getting a bit out of hand, theyre only kids what better way to learn than through dress up and play

andrew November 25, 2008, 4:46 PM

What’s next? They can’t wear a pirate costume at halloween because it might offend the pirates!!!!???

Mom of five angels November 25, 2008, 5:09 PM

Wow!!! I’m all for being sensitive to people and their heritage but this is silly. Thanksgiving is a part of this countries history and the history of American Indians. It was a time of mutual cooperation which we should celebrate because we know of the tragedies that followed.

Maybe the Local Indian Tribe should come to the school as volunteers and share their heritage with the children as part of the Thanksgiving celebration. I can’t imagine the school would have a problem with that.

Stefan November 25, 2008, 5:54 PM

This lady is a joke. Her comment about dressing up as Nazi’s doesn’t make sence and there is no comparison at all. She as a teacher gets paid on Thanksgiving and the day after. She also gets paid for Columbus day and we know what they did to the indians. Thanksgiving was a peacefull meal between them. She needs to get a life and work on the holidays she doesn’t believe in.

Leah  November 25, 2008, 8:05 PM

I agree.
The Natives were SLAUGHTERED and we commemorate the arrival of the Europeans that did it.
Great they had a few days of feasting, before disease slavery and genocide wiped them out! Lets eat~
Thanksgiving is a cruel joke as well as Columbus day!

Pam November 25, 2008, 9:41 PM

This so stupid, what a crock! Every time someone gets a hair up their a$$ and can’t get their way they throw the race card. I feel sorry for kids now days for having the parents they do that are trying to be politically correct all the time, always causing trouble and half the time don’t even know what the he!! their talking about. This reminds me of when my kids were in grade school I was on the PTA and had to fight all the PC goody two shoes women over every thing we did or anytime money was to be spent. “THEY” (the goody goody’s) thought that Halloween was for devil worshipers and the kids shouldn’t be allowed to call theri Halloween Party “Halloween” and made the school change it to a “Fall Party”. Kids today are not the problem, their crazy overbearing, insecure parents are. Just like I am sick of “Political Correctness.” I know a lot of black people, and not a single one of them was born in Africa; so how can they be “African-Americans”? Besides, Africa is a continent. I don’t go around saying I am a European-American because my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather was from Europe. I am proud to be from America and nowhere else! AND…..Shame on her for even putting American Indians and Nazi’s in the same sentence! What a nut job!

Skipper November 26, 2008, 12:41 AM

Now the Politically-Correct Grinch is trying to steal Thanksgiving!
Fox had an interview with a Native American Mom whose son is a student who was denied wearing his costume for that school program, She said he had been PROUD of the necklace he had made for the event and was sad he could not wear his outfit. The mom was also angered that some group had pushed their own political agenda upon these young children and ruined their school event!

Marty November 26, 2008, 5:18 AM

Too bad…i think both sides missed a great opportunity to teach some history. As a Navajo descendent, I know my ancestors never wore feathers or leather fringe and weren’t anywhere near the first Thanksgiving, but learning about who those first people were and why they were so generous may have been more insprirational.

Anonymous November 26, 2008, 11:46 AM

i am SO sick of the race card!!! come on! it’s thanksgiving! is there a mexican, chinese, japanese, korean, mixed race, german, swedish, (i could go on and on and on…) awareness day? get over it and yourself!

amanda November 26, 2008, 12:24 PM

Are you freakin’ serious??? That is getting to be too much!! It is how I country started.

Faye November 26, 2008, 1:26 PM

The fictional story of the first thanksgiving and all the misinformation about Native culture is the point of all this. As a Native Educator, I have been trying to undo all the misconceptions about Native Peoples for over 30 years. There is no North American bird that has large orange, green, red feathers, turkeys have brown and black feathers. Americans need to stop saying Indians. We are over 500 different Nations. If kids are to learn about Natives during November, there should be accurate information. Sovereignty, women’s rights, democracy are all Haudenosaunee legacies to this country. (AKA Iroquois, which is not a tribe, it is a confederacy of six Nations) There is so much that Americans don’t know about Native Peoples which is why it is okay to have racist mascots, diminished languaging (tribes vs. Nations) and constantly reduced legal rights. We did not lose the war, we just didn’t have good lawyers…until now.

chris November 26, 2008, 1:40 PM

Most teachers usually do work on holidays. It gives them time to finally catch up with grading and planning. I wonder what you do for a living? Teachers and many other professionals cannot successfully do their job if they only work during normal business hours. Teachers are not baby sitters that show up when the kids do, leave when they do, and do nothing else. So, I’m sure that teacher does work on holidays. Especially since she has the courage to stand up to racial bigotry (intended or unintended) so that the children can learn what it truely means to respect and understand one another. “They’re only kids” is what ignorant people say. Children are sponges and learn quickly. It’s the best time to teach them. What are you teaching your children? Do what you want and don’t worry about what others want. Sounds selfish and I’m sure you also learned those values from someone when you were a child. Let’s break the cycle now.

A proud Canadian November 26, 2008, 2:29 PM

As a Canadian following this story, I am incredulous at how much the average American despises those who are well-educated and who have enough courage and selflessness to question meaningless, factually inaccurate and often offensive traditions. This mother who started the protest had nothing to gain. She simply didn’t like the fact that young children are being taught to perpetuate (with public tax dollars) an inaccurate, silly myth. Thanksgiving can easily be celebrated without the moronic stereotypes.
Mr. Obama forgot one thing:…Americans cling to their guns and religion AND TRADITION!

Sarah November 26, 2008, 4:02 PM

So if I have this correct, people on this board are criticizing Raheja for being education and concerned about the stereotypes being taught to her child. If you ask me, this makes her a great parent. We ask our parents to be involved, and yet when she discusses this issue with the school board, she is attacked?

I also have issue with the quoting in this story. She did NOT compare Native Americans to Nazi’s; instead she offered a few correlative events in history to prove the point that it is insensitive to dress our children in costumes that represent the oppressed and the oppressor (slaves and slave masters, Jews and Nazi’s).

These examples are obvious to the average person—we would not ask our children to dress up in these types of costumes, celebrate stereotypes, and celebrate the horrible treatment of one group of people. And, yet, our traditions have made it acceptable to do so with the Native Americans. I ask, Why?

Anonymous November 26, 2008, 4:08 PM

This is ridiculous! Why don’t we just stop ALL holidays so we won’t offend ANYONE?

Cathy November 26, 2008, 4:40 PM

exactly anonymous 4:08pm!! no more christmas, valentines day, halloween?? why not 4th of july or mlk jr day (i’m sure there is SOMEONE somewhere that those offend?!?! oh wait, memorial day and veterans day! i’m sure those really offend people too! LETS GET RID OF THEM ALL! (sorry for the sarcasim).

Karen November 26, 2008, 5:18 PM

It seems to me if you are hoping to engage teachers and other parents in helpful dialogue about how to celebrate Thanksgiving in a respectful way, your opening salvo should NOT be to compare someone’s beloved tradition to a Nazi gathering or KKK rally. That kind of rhetoric shuts down discussion before it has a chance to begin. Do you really think others will want to sit down and have a “forum” with someone who just compared them to Hitler?

Anonymous November 26, 2008, 6:16 PM

When my daughter has been comming home from school every day i asked her what she learned and when she talks about Indians I explain to her that Indians are over in INDA what her teacher probley means is native americans!! She is 5 years old and I explain to her what happen to many other native americans tribes I also explain to her what the meaning of thanksgiving is today of gathering of friends and family I Do spare the some of the not so nice details.. I like my daughter to be educated not fed propaganda Its not being politcal correct, its about giving us and The rest of the native americans from all of the Tribes the respect they deserve….

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