Teaching The Truth About Native Americans

Nov 30, 2022

November is Native American Heritage Month with the goal of celebrating the rich and diverse cultures and traditions of indigenous people. November is also the perfect time to correctly educate our students and school communities on the full histories, important contributions, and the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways indigenous people have worked to conquer these challenges.

It’s time to have some “real talk” about the misinformation that continues to be taught in too many of our schools, effectively reducing the contributions of Native Americans to Thanksgiving and implementing a comprehensive approach on teaching the truth about Native Americans year round.

In this episode you will learn:

  • How to create an Indigenous Land Acknowledgment statement.
  • Additional resources to help you expand your understanding of Native American experiences.  
  • How to become an ally of indigenous people.  

Quick story…My hubby and I have been looking for a new car and had to order one with the shortages in supply chains etc..  We placed our new car order with the dealership in March of 2022.  During the Thanksgiving holiday, we stopped by the dealership for an update and discovered the car being delivered in the coming week was not the same color or car package we had ordered.  Our sales person is a super nice guy and said he would switch out another car that was coming that was similar to what we had originally ordered. I told him not to do that because the family that ordered that car probably had been waiting just as long as we had been and that would be unfair to them especially because they would not be asked their opinion for such a switch.  

Now you might be wondering what my car buying story has to do with teaching the truth about Native Americans.  Well, let me close this particular loop. 

Recently, I have been engaged in discussions about accountability and reparations particularly for Black Americans with a segment of my professional learning community.  During these conversations, someone expressed the failed promise after the end of the Civil War that was made to newly freed slaves by the US federal government of 40 acres (and somewhere along the line ‘a mule’ was added) as reparations.  Let me be clear, the trajectory of my ancestors would have been greatly impacted had that promise been kept; however, during the course of this particular conversation, I challenged the group to think about who those “40 acres” actually belonged to.  

Indigenous people in the United States have lost nearly 99% of the land they historically occupied before they were violently and systematically forced into less-valuable areas, which excluded them from key sectors of the U.S. economy.  

Broken promises from the US government is certainly a trend throughout our country’s history particularly promises made to Black, brown and Indigenous peoples. 

This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to take some time to teach and celebrate the past and present lives of Native Americans who are the original people of the United States, and that should never be forgotten.  Teaching the truth about the trauma and resilience of our country’s indigenous people should be embedded in our lessons year round.  

The Thanksgiving holiday was just celebrated here in the US and I wonder how you and/or your family processed the origin story of the holiday.  What stories or land acknowledgments did you or your family express to honor the land your home sits on particularly on a day our country is supposed to stop, reflect and acknowledge our gratefulness? How did you ensure your own children and/or family understood the truth about Thanksgiving and the unique challenges many of our country’s Native people have experienced and still navigate today?


3 Strategies to Teach the Truth About Native Americans

Make time to explore these 3 simple strategies to equip yourself to teach the truth about Native Americans beyond November.

  1. Create an Indigenous Land Acknowledgment Statement - Research whose land you are actually on and create a statement honoring and thanking the Native people who came first.  Acknowledgement is a simple, powerful way of showing respect and a step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase Indigenous people’s history and culture and toward inviting and honoring the truth. According to the US Department of Arts & Culture, a land acknowledgement should be done at the beginning of any gathering such as meetings, webinars, convocation, training sessions, sporting events and special events.  At its simplest, an acknowledgment could look like this:  “We acknowledge that we are on the traditional land of the ______ People.”  Additional land acknowledgement examples and full guide may be found on the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF).    
  2. Expand Your Understanding of Native Experiences - The teaching of U.S. history, in schools, museums, and the media, has left out the voices of the minority people including original indigenous nations and peoples resulting in efforts to endure colonial efforts to erase their existence, cultures, religions, languages and connections to ancestral territories. Continue to build your knowledge base on Native Americans and their experiences by intentionally learning about oppression, privilege, the land you live and work on, and the history of colonization of Native American peoples and cultures. There are many books, blogs, podcasts, documentaries, tribal nation websites, plays, and songs by Native people and allies that are great places to start learning. One of my personal favorite resources is the Native Land website that offers an online platform where users can interact with maps of Indigenous lands, treaties and languages. There are also several podcast episodes I listened to this month linked in the show notes that also give great information or interviews with Native American educators or advocates.   
  3. Become an Ally - Allyship is a continuous process and not a label one can give one’s self.  You have to earn being an ally from your actions and commitment to standing in solidarity with Native people.  Land acknowledgments are only the first step.  Moving beyond land acknowledgments means asking difficult questions including how you can be in a balanced relationship with Native Americans.  Being a good ally does not mean you have to identify as Native American or any other marginalized group you consider yourself to be an ally for.  Intentionally identifying as a Native American without any connection is not appreciated or recommended.  An example of poor allyship is speaking over Native people by taking credit and receiving recognition for arguments and or accomplishments that Native people have been making for their entire lives. Allies must continually engage in self-reflection and should consistently work at being an ally through learning, acting in a de-colonial manner, and sustaining relationships with indigenous people.

So how will you teach the truth about Native Americans for the remainder of the school year? Will you create a lesson with your class to develop a land acknowledgement and use it to start your school day? Tag us on social media at @edugladiators with your next steps! Also, be sure to subscribe to the Real Talk Education podcast and never miss a new episode. 



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