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Journalists can help educate people about Thanksgiving and Native history.

Thanksgiving Mythbusters: 6 Tips on How to Tell the Real Story

ICTMN Staff
11/27/13

Thanksgiving is upon us, and the inevitable stories are floating around about cooperation between American Indians and the settlers. There are many stories to be told that can set the record straight and shed light on the lives of modern-day American Indians. Below are six suggestions for coverage from the Native American Journalists Association

1. Give Guidance on Classroom No-Nos

School schedules this time of year are crammed with pageants and whatnot, NAJA points out.

“Run a story on how educators should take caution when passing out fake headdresses and war paint to students,” NAJA says. “A strong story could include input from a tribal scholar or cultural leader in the region.”

Bonus: Use this holiday as a jumping-off point for a discussion about traditional American Indian clothing and art, NAJA suggests.

Never, never do this in the classroom, or anywhere. Journalists can help educate teachers and other grownups with smart Thanksgiving stories, NAJA says. (Photo: Awkwardfamilyphotos.com)

2. Highlight Indigenous Recipes

Since history curricula teach about the ways that Native Americans helped the English settlers who alighted at Plymouth Rock, this is a great time for stories about what the foods were and where they came from.

“Write about indigenous food sources for Native Americans in your respective coverage areas,” NAJA suggests. Throw in some recipes while you’re at it. Those foods are still around, as are the original people who made them.

RELATED: Native Recipes

NAJA also recommends that all journalists read Al Jazeera America’s “comprehensive look at traditional diets of Native peoples and issues surrounding health and food in Indian Country,” “Eating Indigenously Changes Diets and Lives of Native Americans.”

3. Ask an Indian

“Cover the tribes in their respective areas by asking them how they celebrate the holiday, or if they choose not to celebrate it at all,” NAJA suggests. Attitudes vary greatly.

RELATED: Why I Am Thankful: Survival, Fashion, Language and Family

4. Don’t Use Past Tense

The First Peoples are still here, after all.

“When referencing Native Americans in Thanksgiving coverage, do not refer to us as ‘figures from the past,’ ” NAJA says, citing the “unfortunate case” earlier this year in The Reporter newspaper out of Landsdale, Pennsylvania, with the headline, "Walton Farms Fifth Graders Bring Native American Tribes to Life."

No need for CPR just yet.

“Tribes have living cultures that are vibrant and evolving today,” NAJA notes.

5. Don’t Lose Native American Heritage in the Thanksgiving/Black Friday Shuffle

“Remember that November is Native American Heritage Month and the day after Thanksgiving [this year Friday, November 29] is national Native American Heritage Day,” NAJA says. “Both provide opportunities for coverage of the many achievements and contributions of Native Americans.”

Native American Heritage Month poster by Bristol Eastwood

RELATED: Video: Man on the Street—Ever Heard of Native American Heritage Month?

The association points journalists toward President Barack Obama’s official declaration of Native American Heritage Month on Indian Country Today Media Network.

RELATED: President Obama’s National Native American Heritage Month Proclamation

More on Native American Heritage Month

6. Trumpet the Real Thanksgiving Story

“Produce stories that are void of the mistruths that have formed and flourished over the years in stories about the ‘first Thanksgiving,’ ” NAJA says. The journalists’ association points us in the direction of the California educational and cultural organization Oyate and its refutation of many of the myths leading to stereotypes in “Deconstructing the Myths of ‘The First Thanksgiving.' ”

RELATED: What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving? The Wampanoag Side of the Tale

The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

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