November is Native American Heritage Month and a great time to incorporate studies of Native American and Indigenous culture into your homeschool learning.
(However, you don’t need to wait until November and Native American Heritage Month! Add these great lessons and activities throughout the year!)
What Is Native American Heritage Month?
According to the National Congress of American Indians:
Native American Heritage Month celebrates “rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time 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.”
Native American History
Before you begin your studies with traditional (or popular) crafts and information, review these ways to stay authentic and help dispel Native (Indigenous People) myths and stereotypes.
Be aware that some of the depictions that we grew up with as parents may really be disrespectful to the culture.
This is good to keep in mind when we’re making crafts. For example, a headdress may seem like a fun thing to make for kids, but they are traditionally pieces of honor.
(NOTE: We will refer to Indigenous People as “Native American” during this post to stay consistent with the designation for the month.)
7 Ways to Celebrate Native American Heritage Month
Teaching Native American History and Heritage Month Activities
1. Discuss the REAL Thanksgiving.
Although there is nothing wrong with the fun activities during your Thanksgiving learning, it’s really important that we teach our children the real story of Thanksgiving.
When I was growing up, we were taught a very watered down version of the first Thanksgiving, including how the Native American Indians and the Pilgrims were all friends and shared the land and everything was awesome.
As we know, that was not exactly the case.
What happened looked very little like the stereotypical “Indian” and Pilgrim figures we see in books and movies.
This can be a tough topic (especially for little ones), so use your own discretion about how much to reveal and when.
Search out videos and books on the real stories of the first Thanksgiving. We read Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving each year.
Also, refer to The Real Story of Thanksgiving, written by a teacher and Native American, to give you guidance.
If you’re struggling with what is an age appropriate discussion, check this out.
2. Teach Native American studies the right way.
Debbie Reese, a Native American and an educator, recommends the following ways to teach Native American studies:
• Cover contemporary Native Americans doing every day tasks, not just historical figures.
• Make unit studies on different tribes and don’t just study Native Americans as a broad-sweeping generalization.
• Be clear about how different tribes dressed, lived, ate, and what tools they used.
• Critique an image that shows a stereotypical version of a Native American to spark discussion.
• Don’t make your studies just about the first Thanksgiving.
Use this site to direct you on some authentic Native American information.
ALSO CHECK OUT : WHAT SHOULD HOMESCHOOLERS LEARN ABOUT COLUMBUS?
3. Understand the importance of Native American storytelling.
Storytelling is an important part of the Native culture and is often misrepresented in our society.
According to Reese:
“Many mainstream retellings of Native traditional stories are distorted to fit mainstream ideas of what those stories should be. They are turned into Disney-like stories. But traditional Native stories are told for a reason — just like bible stories. An author would not retell Genesis, changing it to suit his or her idea for a plot. Yet that is exactly what happens to our stories.”
Native American storytelling is a really fun way to celebrate and honor Native American Heritage month (or any time you are studying the culture)!
Here’s a video of a Native American retelling of a legend that has been passed down through generations:
You can check out more Native American legends here.
Native American Totems
Totems are in some Native Americans regions, especially in the Pacific Northwest like Washington state and Alaska.
Totems often tell stories.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE : NATIVE AMERICAN ACTIVITIES | TOTEM POLE PROJECT
4. Tackle Native American stereotypes.
Many of the images we present to our children (books, movies, and other media) are of historical Native Americans in feathered headdresses. However, this is a stereotype that isn’t quite factual.
The Native Americans across the country dress and live as differently (and, sometimes very similar) as everyone else all across the country.
5. Don’t just focus on historical Native Americans.
Provide some information on contemporary Native Americans to balance the picture.
The books Pueblo Storyteller, Pueblo Boy: Growing Up in Two Worlds, and Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters (We Are Still Here) have all been recommended by Native American educators.
6. Sample some authentic Native American food.
(The fowl was probably more like duck or goose.)
No pumpkin pie either . . .
Go beyond what you think you know about Native American food from Thanksgiving and check out some authentic Native American food.
You’ll have fun making recipes and cooking with the kids!
Just be sure that the foods you are pairing with your studies are authentic to the tribe or region you’re studying!
7. Have fun, but be clear about your crafts and projects.
It’s OK to make crafts and have fun with your Native American studies, but do so in a way that makes sense and honors the culture.
“AVOID PRESENTING SACRED ACTIVITIES IN TRIVIAL WAYS. In early childhood classrooms, for example, a popular activity involves children in making headbands with feathers, even though feathers are highly religious articles for some tribes. By way of example, consider how a devout Catholic might feel about children making a chalice out of paper cups and glitter.”
(Just please don’t do the over-crafted feathered headdress.)
BOOKS ABOUT NATIVE AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE