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Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story

“Yes, we are FINALLY going to read this book, I have been DYING for you  to read it,” exclaimed one of my fourth graders as he saw me pull Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story, from my basket.  Shouts of “Oh, me too” and “I can’t wait for this,” could also be heard.  Before reading, we acknowledged that our school is built on Wampanoag land, that Native people were here first on this continent and that European settlers came many years after the Native people.  Then, we all took turns touching the cover and discussing the illustration and artwork by Garry Meeches Sr, Anishinaabe.  The children loved the cover and were excited to see what the illustrations on the inside would be like.  When I explained that Weeâchumun means “corn” in Wôpanâak, the language of of the Wampanoag people, one student said, “Then this means we are going to learn a new perspective on the Thanksgiving story that we know, I can’t wait to learn about it from the Wampanoags point of view.”  I knew immediately, from the comments, questions and looks on their faces that this was going to be a very special lesson.

Keepunumuk:  Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer, citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation, Anthony Perry, a Chicksaw citizen and Alexis Bunten, Yu’pik and Unangan, is the story of the first Thanksgiving from a Native American perspective.  The story begins in present day with Maple and Quill, Mashpee Wampanoag children who are spending the afternoon with N8hkkumuhs (their grandmother).  The children ask for a story and N8hkkumuhs tells them about the time Weeâchumun (Corn) asked the Wampanoag ancestors to help the Pilgrims. She then tells them the story of Keepunumuk, the time of the harvest and what really happened.  The children listen intently to the story and have a different perspective on the traditional Thanksgiving story than the one they have heard in school.  It is masterfully and beautifully told and brings the reader back to the present day at the end, reminding the reader that Native People are  still here.  The authors have a “Before You Begin,” and “Important Words to Know,” at the beginning of the story and important information about the Wampanoag Tribes at the end.  These pages and this information is as important as the story itself as it helps students to build schema and increase their knowledge about Native People that they live nearby.  

What the students had to say:

  • I am glad that we finally read about the first Thanksgiving from the Native American perspective.
  • I loved this book!
  • I learned some new things about the Native people who lived here when the Pilgrims came and who still live here now!
  • I loved that corn, beans, squash,  the seeds, and the animals could talk.  
  • It was cool that the three sisters were telling the story.
  • I was surprised by how different both sides of the story are!
  • I am glad that the three sisters are still alive.
  • I really loved the illustrations, they are BEAUTIFUL!
  • Maple and Quill are cool!

As we continue to make our way through this beautiful fall here in New England, and are looking for books to share with students about Thanksgiving, take time to look for books by Native authors, like Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, and Alexis Bunten.  We have a responsibility to share books and perspectives that are different from the traditional story.   One of my favorite book stores is Birchbark Books and Native Arts in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  They have an extensive inventory and are always willing to help and answer questions, plus the deliveries are quick!  At the very least, get a copy of Keepunumuk; Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story, it will certainly become a quick favorite!

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