Vincent Schilling
Carole Ross, a Mohawk language instructor for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, teaches at the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Center in Akwesasne, New York. Educators may not be able to teach their students a Native language, but they can take some of these easy tips to become more informed about Native Americans.

5 Alternative Lessons for Teachers During Heritage Month

Vincent Schilling
11/6/13

Last month, I was honored to be a guest on Native America Calling, a nationally syndicated Native American radio program hosted by Tara Gatewood. I contributed to their “Teach This” episode on October 22. I was joined on the program by University of Arizona American Indian studies professor K. Tsianina Lomawaima, Creek, and Indian Education Specialist Mike Jetty, Spirit Lake Dakota, who works for the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

At the beginning of the program, Gatewood asked me five alternative ways educators could approach teaching kids. As a speaker that often shares my experiences at schools, I compiled a list of teaching points that I have always found to make the greatest impact on students, teachers and school officials. Here is that list:

Conduct a Google Search of the Tribes in Your Region or State

Not all American Indian tribes had headdresses, lived in teepees or hunted buffalo. So often, teachers—and through no fault of their own, it has just been portrayed this way in the media for decades—choose to focus on the Plains Indians seen in Westerns. Though the Plains culture is rich and beautiful, there is a lot to be learned when studying the tribes from your own region. In this light, take some time to study the specific history in your region or state and compare that history to Native American tribes in other regions. A good place to start may be the National Conference of State Legislators, which has a website listing all federal and state recognized tribes. Just keep in mind those listed may not be the only tribes in your area, many are still fighting for recognition.

Contact a Local Tribe—Do They Have a Tribal Historian or a Tribal Museum?

Several tribes have a tribal historian or knowledgeable elder who can share their specific tribe’s history or could even visit your school to share information about their tribe. Some tribes have a museum and can allow for field trips or bring historically relevant items to your class. This way you can hear directly from Native American tribal members as opposed to simply reading it from a book.

The Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma is a historical society and museum that strives to preserve the language and culture of the Cherokee people. This is a representation of a 17th century village. (Wikimedia Commons)

Teach Current Native American News

Teachers often teach students about events affecting Native Americans in history, while contemporary issues are left neglected. One suggestion is to ask students to do reports on current Native American events using such publications or resources as Indian Country Today Media Network, the Native American Journalists Association, Native Peoples Magazine or listen to an episode of Native America Calling.

Do a Project on Native Stereotypes or the Meaning of Cultural Appropriation

In my presentations to schools, I make it fun to talk about the stereotypes placed on Native Americans. I have found that being lighthearted about stereotypes can bring genuine truth to a serious matter. Examples: we don’t run around going “woo woo woo,” we don’t still live in teepees or longhouses, always wear moccasins or ride a horse to work.

Chief Wansum Tail and Pocahottie costumes.

Check Out Active Native American Social Media Groups Online

A simple search of Google+, Twitter and Facebook can reveal huge communities of Native people interacting and talking about today’s issues. For example, the Native American community I started on Google+ a few months ago already has more than 2,600 members and is growing. In these social media streams you can find what Native people are doing today, the news affecting Natives and even a good bit of humor.

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
The ONLY way to abolish ignorance is education. Unfortunately, too many teachers are ignorant of too many things when it comes to Native culture. Here in New Mexico there are quite a few Native teachers AND we're the first state to acquire texts in a Native langugage (Navajo). Still, ALL American children SHOULD KNOW what happened at Wounded Knee I & II, Sand Creek, on the Trail of Tears, who Chief Joseph was and why we should emulate his politics. We will never improve as a country if we continue to foster the notion that America is the "greatest country" that ever existed.
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