Mashantucket Pequot Museum Library and Archives Blog

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Giving Thanks: Thoughts on Native Thanksgivings from the Children’s Library

November…Native Americans…Thanksgiving Day…Why do these terms seem to go together? Native people and their stories should not be relegated to the fall season-whether in curriculum, text books or storytimes. Not only do the original inhabitants of this land give thanks many times throughout the year, they and others have created a growing body of children’s literature which can and should be read throughout the year and across the curriculum.

“It is our view that, with the possible exception of classroom visits by American Indian people, excellent children’s literature is the most effective way to counter deeply held stereotypes and help children focus on similarities among people as well as cultural differences. The literature serves as a catalyst to extend related activities into other areas of the curriculum.”

Lessons from Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms, by Guy W. Jones (Hunkpapa Lakota) and Sally Moomaw, published by Redleaf Press, 2002, p.xii.

To assist people in finding “excellent literature,” the Children’s Library has lists of many books written by American Indians, about themselves and their lives. These materials are important as they provide teachers, parents and children with more accurate information about the cultures, values and beliefs of many tribal nations and people. The books and videos present information not only about the importance of celebrations to Native communities today, but also about the depth and significance of traditional Native gatherings.

Powwows and socials are among the Native American gatherings held throughout the United States and Canada when people come together to celebrate their common heritages and unique cultures. Whether large or small, indoors or outside, powwows are celebrations with dancing, food, crafts, contests, family and friends. Summertime gatherings such as Strawberry Thanksgiving and the Green Corn Festival draw Native people together after having been separated by a long winter. Fall brings harvest celebrations and winter is a time for storytelling. Native American seasonal celebrations play an important role in the reaffirmation of cultures, traditions and communities both in the past and today. We recommend using books on our online bibliographies, including Selected Materials about Native American Thanksgivings, to expand knowledge and understanding of Native cultures.

Teachers, here are some books which will help you update your lesson plans about thanksgiving celebrations and encourage use of Native American materials every month of the year.

Many Thanksgivings: Teaching Thanksgiving-Including the Wampanoag Perspective. The Boston Children’s Museum, 2002.

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac (Abenaki). National Geographic Society, 2001.

Thanksgiving: A Native Perspective, by Doris Seale (Santee/Cree), Beverly Slapin and Carolyn Silverman (Cherokee/Blackfeet). Oyate, 1995.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

That Bloody Question

The Research Library reference desk gets its fair share of unusual requests, as I'm sure any other library does. One of our strangest questions is also a recurring one. Within the past eight months I have been asked three times, "Can I get my blood tested at the library?" They mean a test for DNA analysis in order to prove Native American ancestry. The notion that you could get your blood tested at a library seems slightly less incredible when you consider the high frequency with which we receive questions related to personal genealogical research. Still, I am so taken aback each time I am asked, that I felt pressed to research the issue, if only to arm myself with some knowledge the next time I get the question.

Local genealogy resources

First, to address the issue of our genealogy resources, while the MPMRC library collections have not been developed to support this type of research, we do have a small collection of materials that could help a beginner get started: You may download our bibliography here. Visitors researching family histories from the vicinity of New London County are welcome to use our microfilm collections of census, vital, and land records from this locale. Please contact the library for more details about these records. Most often, we refer patrons with serious genealogical inquiries to the Connecticut State Library or Mystic, Connecticut's Indian & Colonial Research Center, where they have more resources and trained genealogists on staff to help.

Genetic genealogy

Back to the blood test question, genetic genealogy has been a rapidly developing field since breakthroughs in the late 1990's. It was popularized with the publication of Bryan Sykes' The Seven Daughters of Eve in 2001, and since then a number of commercial enterprises have sprung up offering services by which individuals can genetically verify their ancestral origins. Family Tree DNA, self-described as the first and largest, claims to have "the largest DNA databases in the field of Genetic Genealogy with 216831 records", but there is also, GeneTree, and DNA Heritage, among others. Prices for most of these tests appear to range from $100-$200.

No blood required

According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, "Commercial DNA testing companies utilize saliva/buccal cell sampling via swabs and various other collection containers." A typical DNA kit contains a Q-Tip type cotton swab, some instructions, and a return envelope.

What can the test tell you?

These companies get their results from matching your DNA structure against those of other samples in their database. Again from ISOGG, "If there are any matches in the database of the testing company, it will show the people you match. Depending upon the company you test with, other information may be made available to you, like your ethnic origin, [including] Native American ancestry." Test results also typically include certificates, charts, graphs, migration maps of ancestors, and in the case of Native Americans, a map of tribal origins.

For more information see:

International Society of Genetic Genealogy's FAQ:

Jobling, Mark; Chris Tyler-Smith (Aug, 2003). "The human Y chromosome: an evolutionary marker comes of age" . Nature Reviews Genetics 4: 599–612. Nature Publishing Group.

Shriver, Mark D. & Rick A. Kittles "Genetic Ancestry and the Search for Personalized Genetic Histories." Nature Reviews. Genetics (2004) 5:8: 611-18.

Genetic Genealogy on Wikipedia:

Update 5/29/2005: We continue to find interesting articles on this topic online. Please see our bookmarks at