Ironically, some school guides devote more time to teaching about the origin of the Wampanoag traditions of thanksgiving than they do the Puritans'. Several guides mentioned the importance these Native Americans attached to giving thanks to the Creator for the crops they grew in each season. Apparently it is permissible to teach about the Indians' belief in a Divine Being, just not a Judeo-Christian one. In one online teachers' guide, I found references to Kiehtan, the Wampanoag name for the Creator, as well as lesson plans that encouraged students to thank "Mother Earth" for her bounty. Indeed, many of the study guides and teachers' resources available online placed greater emphasis on the role Indians played in the first Thanksgiving than that of the Pilgrims. While most of the guides depicted the Indians giving thanks to the Creator, the Pilgrims were largely confined to giving thanks to the Wampanoag for saving them from the ravages of the harsh Massachusetts winter.
No one is suggesting children should be forced to pray as part of their public school Thanksgiving celebrations, but they should not be denied learning an important lesson in American history. The founders of this nation were a deeply religious people, and Americans remain among the most religious people in the world. Religious faith has guided the development of our democracy and imbues our leaders still with a belief in the worth of every man, woman and child. When we sit down to our Thanksgiving feasts, we should remember and thank God for that.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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