November is here, and many are unaware that it is National Native American Heritage Month. As the daughter of a Blackfoot Indian, this month is extremely meaningful to me. Unfortunately, not much is taught in schools (or in general) regarding Native American culture or history other than stories about Sacagawea or the First Thanksgiving. However, Native American culture is rich and breathtaking, and deserves more attention than that surrounding the Thanksgiving story.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources available to you as a parent that can assist you in teaching your children about the Native Americans. Here are a few easy ways to teach your children about Native Americans:
- Please recognize that Native Americans are not one specific people group. While this term is used to broadly recognize the native people of our country, each tribe is unique in culture, language, and belief systems. As you teach your children about Native Americans, please teach them about the unique tribes specifically. So, rather than saying, “Today we are going to read a book about Native Americans,” say instead, “Today we will read a story about the Iroquois Indians.”
- Teach your children about local tribes. The tribes that currently live in Louisiana are the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana (Charenton), Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana (Elton), Jena Band of Choctaw Indians (Jena), Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe of Louisiana (Marksville), and the Houma Indian Tribe (Golden Meadow). Many of these tribes welcome visitors, which is a great way for children to see how modern Native Americans live. Children struggle with understanding that Native Americans live among us today because they often only learn about them in an historical context.
- Read! There are a WEALTH of stories about Native Americans, but you must choose wisely when deciding which books to read with your children. Many, many stories that are about Native Americans reinforce harmful stereotypes that portray them only as brutal savages. Here are a few books that I highly recommend:
Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom by Tim Tingle
This is a beautiful story of an unexpected friendship between two cultures that are separated by the river Bok Chitto. Martha Tom breaks her family’s rules about not crossing the river, and when she gets to the other side, she meets and becomes friends with the slaves who live there. When she hears that the family’s mother is about to be sold, she helps the family escape to freedom.
The First Strawberries: a Cherokee Story by Joseph Bruchac (I honestly just had to pick my favorite Joseph Bruchac book. Any of his books are amazing and would make a great choice). In this story, the Sun uses a gift of strawberries to help a husband and wife heal their relationship problems. In the end, the strawberries remain as a reminder to the Cherokee people to always be kind to one another.
These are just a few recommendations. I hope that these help you to celebrate Native Americans this month and throughout the rest of the year!