Do's and Don'ts of Teaching About Native Americans
Do’s and Don'ts of Teaching About Native Americans
Teaching about Native Americans, their past and current roles in American history is important. However, it can be tricky to know exactly what to do or not to do. Please use this list as a helpful guide.
Do Teach about Native Americans!
Oftentimes the role of Native Americans in American society, both past and present, is overlooked or ignored. Make sure to include Native Americans in your teaching. Native American Heritage Month in November is a great time to discuss Native Americans but also teach about them year-round.
Do Talk about Native Americans as modern people.
Native Americans are often talked about only in the past and many people think they no longer exist. However, there are roughly 2 million Native people in the United States today. Many remain connected to their cultures and history while living in a modern world. A great question to ask students is if they think Native kids eat pizza and play video games. The answer is absolutely!
Do Talk about Native Americans as people.
Native peoples are often stereotyped in both positive and negative ways. Remind students that their own culture is no better or worse than Native culture; they are simply different cultures.
Do Talk about Native Americans as a diverse people.
Native Americans are incredibly diverse. There are over 560 federally recognized tribes in the United States with their own languages, traditions, cultures, and histories. Whenever possible speak about specific groups like the Seminoles, Miccosukees, Choctaw, Cherokee, etc., and avoid speaking about Native Americans as one group of people.
Do use multiple perspectives when talking about Native Americans.
Many resources about Native Americans reflect only European American perspectives. Whenever possible find sources that showcase Native American perspectives and voices.
Do be careful with your word choice.
Avoid using offensive terms like “squaw” or “redskin”. Eliminate loaded terms such as “savage”, “primitive”, or “superstitious” when talking about Native peoples as those words have negative connotations. If you are using primary sources or other resources with these terms talk to your students about them and share with them how they should be critical of the text.
Do represent Native peoples carefully.
Native history is often misrepresented. Teach students that Native Americans were devastated by diseases from Europeans, not that a few colonists fought and won against thousands of Native Americans. Understand that Native Americans are not like other minority groups. They were here first, made treaties with the US Government as sovereign nations, and maintain sovereignty today.
Don’t use stereotypes about Native Americans.
When people think about Native Americans they often think of someone wearing feathers and buckskin who lives in a tipi. However Native Americans are incredibly diverse. These stereotypes are generally inaccurate and promote the idea that all Native are the same.
Don’t have students to pretend to be Natives.
Do not have students pretend to be Natives by dressing up as Native people, creating “Indian” names, or saying things like “ugh” and “how”. These portrayals are generally inaccurate and don’t reflect specific tribes, feed stereotypes, and are insensitive. For example, students often wear feather headdresses, but these headdresses are sacred and holy to Tribal Members.
Don’t talk about Native Americans as things.
Kids’ books or alphabet cards often say “A is for apple...I is for Indian.” Choose a different word so that Native peoples are not portrayed as things.
Don’t use Native students to represent all Native peoples.
Avoid singling out Native students by asking them questions about all Native peoples. They may be able to answer questions about their own group, but cannot represent all Native Americans. Furthermore, they may have information that would not be culturally appropriate to share.
- “Mihtoseenionki: Teacher Resource Guide” published by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art