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Stereotype of the Month Entry

From the Daily Pilot:

Thanksgiving with the first Americans

Harbor View students learn about various American Indian tribes by learning what their daily routines were like.


It was an all-American Indian Thanksgiving at Harbor View Elementary School on Tuesday morning, with nary a pilgrim in sight.

Clad in tall headdresses decorated with bright construction paper feathers twice the height of their heads, paper bag vests, macaroni necklaces and painted faces, the kindergartners making up the tribes of Harbor View celebrated in style.

Each little Indian was assigned to a specific tribe. So while the Sioux were grinding corn on a rock with a wooden peg, the Navajo were making their very own clay pots and the warriors and squaws of the Hopi tribe were hunting a buffalo with their spears.

Every time an Indian managed to hit the big buffalo pinata with one of the long, blunt spears, they were allowed to tie a bright piece of yarn around one of the spears, as a warrior would, to mark their "kill."

"I'm going to hit the head, because the teacher said it falls off," said 6-year-old Kristopher Picarelli, getting into the spirit of the event. "Bye bye buffalo."

Meanwhile, members of the Crow tribe were inside drawing a story that would be told entirely with pictures. And the Chumash were making cornhusk dolls. It was a very busy morning for the tribes, as there were more activities than there were Indians.

The children experienced firsthand the daily routines of the tribes. They fished for colorful paper fish with wooden poles in a huge tub of water. They put on war paint and weaved fat strands of brightly colored yarn. And near where students were making their clay pots, teachers displayed real Indian artifacts for them to examine.

"Wow, check out this clay piece," said an impressed Austin Swenson, 5. "These are all clay. Dad, check out this cool piece."

As Austin's father admired the relic, he asked his son how old he thought it might be.

Austin promptly replied, "Like 20 years old."


Feedback to: dailypilot@latimes.com

Copyright 2000 Times Community News

Rob's comment
Where to begin with this "teaching" program? To the best of my knowledge, the Sioux generally didn't grind corn, the Navajo generally didn't make pottery, and the Hopi generally didn't hunt buffalo. Most Indians consider the word "squaw" offensive. Wearing war paint, headdresses, or feathers of any kind is stereotypical and disrespectful.

Indeed, the whole idea of dressing up as Indians teaches that "being Indian" is an occupation rather than an ethnic identity. Couldn't students learn Indian cultures without dressing up in faux costumes? As someone said, this "Aren't they cute?" attitude doesn't do much to teach.

Related links
The trouble with face-painting
The big chief
Indian wannabes and imitators

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