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LCE fifth-graders carve costumes out of Thanksgiving tradition

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La Cañada Elementary School fifth-grader Miles Worster dressed up not in costume but in a jacket and tie for the school’s annual Fifth-Grade Feast. Students and parents used to dress as pilgrims and Native Americans, but the tradition was changed after the school received complaints about perceived cultural insensitivity.
(Raul Roa/La Cañada Valley Sun)

La Cañada Elementary School fifth-graders gathered with classmates and family members Friday to celebrate the last day of school before the Thanksgiving break and a longstanding holiday tradition — the Fifth-Grade Feast — with one noticeable difference.

For decades student diners, along with many parent volunteers who dished up the food, dressed in costumes intended to pay homage to the European settlers and Wampanoag tribe members whose historic 1621 harvest celebration underpins America’s modern Thanksgiving celebration.

But this year, instead of broad-brimmed hats with buckled bands or replica deerskin cloth and moccasins, students wore dresses, slacks, suit jackets and ties.

The change-up was intentional, said LCE Principal Emily Blaney, who in a Nov. 7 email to school families asked participants in this year’s feast to consider the inappropriateness of celebrating in attire with special significance or sacred meaning to other groups.

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Students wrote messages on paper leaves for their annual Thanksgiving feast at La Canada Elementary School, in La Canada Flintridge on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

“We also realize it would be insensitive for us to place the focus of our celebratory feast on historical events that many indigenous people view as points of trauma,” the letter read. “By not dressing like Wampanoag Indians or pilgrims, the event will better reflect the climate of care that we are trying to establish in our district.”

Blaney penned the letter with help from Christina Hale-Elliott, La Cañada Unified School District’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer, after the pair had talked broadly about diversity goals on campus. Some parents and citizens had expressed concerns with the costumed tradition in years past, the principal said.

And so this year, updated materials were shared with the fifth-grade teaching staff, tasked with teaching early American history in accordance with state learning standards, and the costume tradition dropped.

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“It’s all about cultural sensitivity and just being more aware,” Blaney said. “I was really pleased with how the teachers went with it.”

Feasters still enjoyed Friday’s event, singing songs of gratitude and sharing what they’re thankful for this year on construction paper foliage — family, friends, baseball and the video game Pokemon Shield.

Students Alyssa Dahya and Kylee Fridborg, who wore dresses despite a clear preference for pants or shorts, had their costumed wardrobes all planned out before Blaney’s letter but seemed sympathetic to the change.

“I understand why they did that, said Fridborg. “It’s to be fair to everyone.”

“We learned in history how the pilgrims weren’t all that great to the Indians, and that they were mean in some places,” Dahya added.

La Cañada Unified Supt. Wendy Sinnette, who attended the feast alongside Board President Brent Kuszyk, said while the decision was site-based, she supported the move.

“It’s hard to break with tradition,” she said. “[But] they felt this was culturally sensitive and still had, at its root, the same tradition that has always been behind Thanksgiving — gathering together to celebrate friendship and community.”

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