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Thanksgiving Costumes -- Cute or Racist?

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Last year, one school's annual Thanksgiving celebration had its share of Native American costumes. And some parents were 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.

Last year, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Claremont School Board decided to ban costumes that depict Native Americans at Condit Elementary School and Mountain 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 that 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 Americans 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."

Pata points out, "Thanksgiving is the one time of the year that people think about Native Americans." 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 kindergartner. "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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28 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous November 23, 2009, 7:45 AM

The pilgrims didn’t actually have buckles anyway.

Anon November 23, 2009, 8:33 AM

I’m going to eat my turkey and NOT think about the native americans. Like I do every year.

chris November 23, 2009, 9:49 AM

So stupid…everyone is soooo p.c. these days!!! Look where that got our men and women at FT.Hood. Thanksgiving was shared between pilgrams and native indians and thats the way it should be shown. Would Mrs Raheja prefer that people just rewrote history and left the native indians out all together? I really don’t understand all this stupidness.

dwindle November 23, 2009, 9:54 AM

How pitiful. I’m tired of people throwing around words like racism with no context. No one is implying Native Americans are an inferior race by dressing up as them, and it’s childish and cheap to pretend they are. All you’re doing is taking harmless fun from children because of your own self pity.

Six November 23, 2009, 10:13 AM

Considering that first Thanksgiving was to celebrate the killing of 700 Pequot men, women and children I can see how and why the Native Americans would find this offense.
The U.S. has over 564 tribes within its borders that have varying languages, regalia, customs and traditions I can completely understand why the indigenous folks of the U.S. would be offended by non-Natives thinking all Natives wear feathers, loin clothes and moccasins. It’s insulting and demeaning.

madshaff November 23, 2009, 10:20 AM

did she seriously compare native americans to nazis? haha stupid.

the spirit of the bear says you should shut up.

Josh November 23, 2009, 10:21 AM

There are a lot of misconceptions around thanksgiving, as one comment pointed out the Pilgrims didn’t wear those hats. As for Natives and Colonialist sitting down for a dinner, there is an oral tradition of this happening that has been passed down and recorded but there are no records from the time ever stating any occurrence of a thanksgiving dinner. According to Modern Historians it’s a fabricated myth that masks a history of cruelty and deceit. That being said some of these bans are ridiculous, as a Native American scholar myself I find if frustrating when advocacy groups such as this one mask modern agendas behind the cause of correcting an inaccurate history. The fabrication of mythology isn’t always a bad thing, it’s well prevalent in modern day religion so why not allow these kinds of favorable misconceptions that may hide an ugly past but would hopefully lead to a more understanding amicable future of acceptance and comradery.

Mike November 23, 2009, 10:22 AM

That’s really stupid. Honestly, who cares? Everyone dresses up like that, it’s fun for the kids. One mother ruins the fun for all the other kids because she feels that she is being attacked and offended by something that is harmless.

Lissalou November 23, 2009, 11:51 AM

The word, “offened” should be removed from the english language.

Ben November 23, 2009, 12:06 PM

She’s just mad because her people lost.

Megan November 23, 2009, 12:37 PM

They should take away halloween too. What if someone dresses up as a native american then? Someone could be “offended”.

Cocerned Parent... November 23, 2009, 3:37 PM

I am Native American, and although the stories are not relayed properly, which is true with most nationalities… There is no harm in acknowleging the heritage especially when its meant to be flattering… Mimicry is the greatest form of flattery. And if yur upset about the information being incorrectly relayed, then maybe your focus should be placed on informing people of the true history. Unless you would like to be forgot altogether..! Besides what is wrong with someone wanting to be an Indian..?

Cocerned Parent... November 23, 2009, 3:41 PM

I am Native American, and although the stories are not relayed properly, which is true with most nationalities… There is no harm in acknowleging the heritage especially when its meant to be flattering… Mimicry is the greatest form of flattery. And if yur upset about the information being incorrectly relayed, then maybe your focus should be placed on informing people of the true history. Unless you would like to be forgot altogether..! Besides what is wrong with someone wanting to be an Indian..?

becky November 23, 2009, 11:41 PM

the indians should be proud of their generosity towards the pilgrims.

they should be honored when people dress up like them in this regard. not upset. copying is one of the highest forms of a complement. people need to just get over themselves sometimes.

Jennifer Miller November 24, 2009, 5:31 AM

I am all for investigating the truth behind history, and not continuing to do something just because “that’s how it’s always been done.” If something is truly wrong, I’m all for making a change… but, I just don’t see how things like this are racist or wrong. Yes, there were terrible atrocities committed against the Native Americans by the emigrating Europeans. However, this is one positive story (that, by all accounts, did seem to happen at least in form or another in 1621), where two peoples, who were polar opposites of each other, were able to come together in celebration. How is that a bad thing to teach children? And the costumes… the pilgrim costumes are just as inaccurate and stereotype-inducing as the “indian” ones… but, whatever :-p They’re just costumes. There are times when everyone needs to lighten up… especially when it comes to children (and teaching them valuable life lessons, like acceptance of those who are different from yourself).

KRAE November 24, 2009, 9:41 AM

IF THATS THE CASE, THEN QUIT CELEBRATING THANKSGIVING THEN! IF THE KIDS CANT HAVE FUN AND LEARN ABOUT OUR HISTORY THEN DONT BUY A TURKEY, DONT EAT THE TURKEY AND WORK THAT DAY AND DONT GET PAID FOR IT YOU HIPOCRITES!

Milly November 28, 2009, 1:48 AM

Jennifer Miller: Sure, if you think it’s positive and joining when the indians save the starving Pilgrims (no, the pilgrims didn’t share), and are slaughtered within 50 years by the very pilgrims they saved.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that was celebrated by the colonists in the United States first to thank for a massacre of 700 native americans. It’s mocking a traditional native american festival - during which these natives were slaughtered and burned in their homes.


What would you say if, in Germany, there was a holiday mimicing a jewish holiday, celebrating the day the jews were gassed, giving germans houses and furniture that had until then be used by the jews?
The germans could call it thanksgiving too - giving thanks for the jews dying, making way for them.

Would you like such a holiday? Thanksgiving in the US is exactly that holiday. Thanksgiving is celebrating the mass murder of the natives, whose land, food, and other items were then stolen by the colonists.


That is why people are offended. You’re celebrating mass murder and theft that later got dressed up as something else so you don’t have to feel that bad about it.
If Germany were doing the same, you’d be frothing from your mouths in indignation. And rightfully so.
It’s not suddenly okay just because the ones slaughtered are native americans instead of jews.

Okie Indian November 29, 2009, 8:07 PM

Yes, wrongs have been committed against Native Americans, no doubt about that. Don’t whitewash it or lie about it. But PC can be taken too far. I live on Indian trust land in Oklahoma and it doesn’t bother me if 5 year olds dress up for Thanksgiving. The lesson SHOULD be that while wrongs have been committed in the past, we MUST all move forward and LIVE IN PEACE together. Don’t lose the message of Thanksgiving. After all, we are all children of the same Creator.

Anonymous May 11, 2010, 8:30 PM

Too bad half of the people dress up like Plains Indians which isn’t even slightly correct because Thanksgiving happened on the east coast.

Of course it’s racist. I don’t go out during Black History month in Black Face, so why should people be alound to poke fun at Native culture?

jazzy February 5, 2011, 4:55 PM

For crying out loud it is only racist if you feel you are superior to natives. If you respect the native and dress up like them, how can that be racist?


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