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What Kids In Portland Public Schools Learn About Thanksgiving: ‘War Crimes’ And Racism


Pity the poor child in Portland, Oregon, schools. While many still think of Thanksgiving as a time to come together with family and friends to celebrate our multicultural heritage over a festive meal, eighth-graders in the Antifa epicenter have the notion drummed into them that Thanksgiving really is a celebration of the genocide of the Indians by greedy capitalist Europeans.

The district’s celebration of Native American Heritage Month in November is intended to, in the words of the National Congress of American Indians, “celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people,” as well as to “educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.”

One would expect a positive curriculum that delves into the diversity of the more than 570 federally recognized tribes, especially those in Oregon. As a second-grader in Rochester, New York, I remember eagerly learning about the Seneca Indians, a people who had lived in the very same place where I walked to school, with numerous families living in one “long house.” My instruction gave me an appreciation for the region’s history and for a people who lived there long before I did.

Today, in Portland, all eighth-graders are assigned Marxist Howard Zinn’s “A Young People’s History of the United States,” the simplified version of his phenomenally influential “A People’s History of the United States.”

Rebecca Stefoff adapted Zinn’s book from the original version, with sentences, in my opinion, at the third-grade level. It makes a cartoonish presentation of myriad people groups from the Bahamas and South America to New Mexico and New England. They are falsely oversimplified as universally peace-loving, Mother Earth-respecting, generous, and welcoming. All Indian tribes are lumped together as a mass of childlike people oppressed by the greedy capitalist explorers and settlers.

Stereotyping Everybody Involved

The stereotyping begins with the presentation of the “Arawak” Indians that Columbus encounters in the Bahamas. The same material is in the young people’s version, along with Zinn’s plagiarism and misleading selective quotations, which I document in my book, “Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America.” It uses material plagiarized from a short paperback screed written for high school students by Zinn’s radical anti-Vietnam War comrade and novelist Hans Koning.

Through Stefoff, Zinn describes the Arawaks as being “like the Indians on the American mainland”; all “believed in hospitality and sharing.” But Columbus was “hungry for money,” so “as soon as he arrived in the islands, he seized some Arawaks by force so that he could get information from them,” namely, the answer to “Where is the gold?” As a result, the Europeans enslaved, tortured, and executed the Arawaks to extinction.

Columbus’s landing was “the start of the history of the Europeans in the Americas. It was a history of conquest, slavery, and death.” As he does in the original version, Zinn speaks directly to the young reader, informing him of his position as a historian who will present the hidden ugly side of American history, telling “the story of the discovery of America from the point of view of the Arawaks” and of the Constitution “from the point of view of the slaves,” and on. Columbus is not the heroic explorer earlier historian Samuel Eliot Morison presented him as, but a genocidaire.

Deleting Columbus’s Pro-Native Statements

In the young people’s version, the same things are left out in Zinn’s transposition of Koning’s text that make up the first five pages, including critical passages from Columbus’s diary that indicate he warned his men to “take nothing from the people without giving something in exchange” and (in a set of ellipses for two pages of deleted material) his view of the Indians as “a people who can be made free and converted to our Holy Faith more by love than by force.”

Eighth-graders read, “The tragedy of Columbus and the Arawaks happened over and over again. Spanish conquerors Herman Cortés and Francisco Pizarro destroyed the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of South America. When English settlers reached Virginia and Massachusetts, they did the same thing to the Indians they met.”

The Aztecs and Incas serve to implicate the English settlers as part of the capitalist European imperialist pattern. What is left out is the fact that Cortés was welcomed as a liberator by the tribes, especially the Tlaxcalans, who had been persecuted by the Aztecs for more than 100 years. Cortés could not have defeated the Aztecs without the help of the 50,000 Indians who joined him.

The Pequot War is attributed to the colonists “wanting the land” of southern Connecticut and Rhode Island. While admitting “massacres took place on both sides,” Zinn and Stefoff write, “The English used a form of warfare that Cortés had used in Mexico. To fill the enemy with terror, they attacked civilians, people who were not warriors. They set fire to wigwams, and as the Indians ran out to escape the flames, the English cut them to bits with their swords.”

Of course, the use of fire as “a form of warfare” was practiced by Indians long before Europeans came. It was used by the Tuscaroras and their allies against colonists in 1711, and in other attacks. The name Pequot, from pekawatawog, means “the destroyers,” a trait they displayed in the Pequot War. As I also point out, American Indians served in both World Wars, with deserved pride in their fighting abilities.

Indigenous Peoples Can Do No Wrong

In the “Young People’s History,” the Indians are described as superior human beings in every respect, down to treating their children better than did the Europeans because they shunned corporal punishment and imbued children “with independence and courage.”

The Iroquois, “the most powerful of the northeastern tribes,” shared land and food, and “the work of farming and hunting. . . . Women were important and respected . . . , and the sexes shared power. Children were taught to be independent. Not only the Iroquois but other Indian tribes behaved in similar ways.” Overall, the Indians “lived in greater equality than people in Europe did.”

Actually, Iroquois was the name of a confederacy of five tribes: Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca. The confederacy was established between 1450 and 1500 to “unite and pacify the infighting Iroquois and to gain strength in numbers in order to resist the opposition of Huron- and Algonquian-speaking neighbors.”

To add to the year-long immersion in Zinn are lessons from the Zinn Education Project, recommended for students as young as fifth-graders, on Columbus and the Cherokee Removal. ZEP even offers lessons for first- and second-graders, for example, on red-lining in Portland.

Never Talk about Any Native-Settler Cooperation

The school district provides other resources on its Native American Heritage Month website, including no-no’s in teaching about Thanksgiving. In a provided video, a Native American teacher instructs educators to never ever tell students that Pilgrims and Native Americans “helped each other.”

Making headdresses and headbands, or dressing up, is “cultural appropriation.” Creating Native American names and spirit animals is not “culturally sensitive.” Even coloring bows and arrows is forbidden, as is singing “Ten Little Indian Boys.” One of the resources she recommends is the notorious Southern Poverty Law Center’s curriculum, “Teaching Tolerance.”

Another recommended resource is a video produced by Teen Vogue featuring six girls somberly seated behind a table laden with a traditional Thanksgiving feast. They discuss “the real history of Thanksgiving” as a celebration of deaths of entire villages and “war crimes” as dramatic music plays. They describe what they are “thankful” for—their “culture” and being born “indigenous.” As the music comes to a doomsday crescendo, the six angrily overturn the table and declare, “Happy Thanksgiving, America.”

So when grandma asks the 13-year-old grandchild what she has been learning in school during “Native Heritage Month” she will likely hear a lecture about Columbus’s genocide, the Pilgrims’ “war crimes,” and the “cultural appropriation” of the squash casserole. Let us hope this teen will not overturn the Thanksgiving table.