Courtesy Mahnomen Elementary Principal Jacob Melby
Mahnomen Public School District National Honor Society students go into the elementary classrooms to read with the primary students as a community service project.

10 Things Teachers Should Never Do When Teaching Native Kids

Christina Rose

Each year, teachers with no background or understanding of Native history, culture, or current affairs, offer mainstream and Native students damaging, stereotypical curriculum. As summer winds down and kids get ready to go back to school, let's discuss some things teachers shouldn't do and ways parents can help.

Don’t Ask Native Students to Speak for Their Race

Teachers often ask Native students about anything that comes up about Native Americans. Tell your child’s teachers that every tribe is different as are opinions among Indigenous Peoples, and your child cannot speak for everyone. Recommend books like 500 Nations by Alvin M. Josephy.

Don’t Have Students Make Indian Names or Animal Totems

Many teachers try to teach about Native peoples through crafts projects or assignments like letting students choose Indian names for themselves. Consider it a teaching moment and print out this letter from Wisconsin Activist Richie Plass.


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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Although it's not necessarily pertinent to high school students there is a wealth of information here. I am fortunate to work in a very progressive school that respects the ethnicity of each of our students, but there are sometimes teachers who push their own political agenda. One such teacher was badmouthing SOCIALISM (I'll give you ONE guess what political party he embraced), but I later told several of his students about NDN socialism and why we as a people would NEVER complain about our "hard-earned money helping elders or the ill. I cited the book "Native American Testimony" by Peter Nabokov wherein one White settler was surprised that his wallet (full of cash) was left untouched by NDNs when it was returned to him after having lost it. He uttered astonishment that thievery was unheard of as the members of a group shared everything and no one was left wanting.

ReneeH's picture
Submitted by ReneeH on
I really want to print this out and hand it to my kid's teacher but I don't think that would go off very well.

Flower's picture
Submitted by Flower on
I would like to add if a Native student smells like smoke do not assume the worst. They may come from households in which a morning ceremony was performed or they were near a wood stove or outdoor ceremonial fire. Another would be, do not ask Native students to bring cooked traditional foods to feed a large groups. This takes place every year at a HS near my reservation and the Native club is asked to feed all the teacher a traditional meal, but alot of these kids come from low income households and can be a hardship. When there are multiple students in the household being asked to bring certain food it's difficult on some families.

cassadylynch's picture
Submitted by cassadylynch on
I wish I had enough money to photocopy this and plaster it all over the schools around here. I just wrote a long blog post on representation which included that terrible book, Sign of the Beaver. I had to read that as a kid and it led my classmates to tell me that I couldn't be Indian because my last name wasn't Running Bear or Thundercloud and I didn't act enough like the characters in the book. Thanks for writing this! As someone who is working her butt off to obtain a PhD to teach at the university level, multicultural understanding is something very important to me.

hesutu's picture
Submitted by hesutu on
I was surprised when as an adult I started reading better scholarship and original sources to find that my "race" wasn't actually ignorant, barbaric, illiterate stone age primitives who had no concept of land ownership as I was taught in white schools by white textbooks and well educated, professional and competent white teachers. The books these days are somewhat better. Now, instead of a mythology of cave living while wearing animal skins, modern progressive books focus extensively on three nations that practiced human sacrifice, which they mention repeatedly, including amazing estimates of the numbers of those killed. Supposedly a certain nation sacrificed over 100,000 people each year to their snake god in a brutal blood ritual! An amazing achievement given the same books claim there were only 10 million indians at most in a mostly undeveloped wasteland at time of columbian contact. So this is what students are now being taught instead of the stone age caveman angle. Both of these pictures are complete nonsense. The 500 Nations book recommended in the article is very good and would be a far better US History powdered wigs to Vietnam books that are what is taught now. There's also a problem with museum trips. Students are taken to study the accomplishments of humanity at the Museum of Art, the Museum of Technology, the Museum of Aviation, the Museum of Computers, the Museum of Trains and Automobiles, etc, all focusing strictly on white technology. Where is the indian culture? Ah, it's with the rocks and plants and animal bones in the "Natural History Museum". The museum where they keep NON-human things.

Julia Pugh
Submitted by Julia Pugh on
I grew up on a Indian Reservation in SD and being white that was hard, but my best friend is Indian and most of my closest friends and some of my family are well. I have a different feeling cause it was hard to sit in class and hear how the white man who them and it really needs to be fair for all sides. I get it both side lost people, both sides were hurt. One day we all have to try and move past the past and look to the future. I want my kids to grow up in a good world not world wear we all hate each other. I was home awhile ago and a maybe year old girl saw me and said what she is here for she is white, this world needs to chance for the generations to come so all our children and live in peace and not live in the past.

Angel May
Submitted by Angel May on
Although I'm white, I feel a strong connection with Native Americans. I cannot explain this. It's just there. I have a charity to which I donate. It's called "" where teachers can request supplies for their classes and children that they would not otherwise have. I have specified schools with large Native American student bodies. There are many schools to which I could contribute, but, somehow, these seem right for me.

toso mustaj
Submitted by toso mustaj on
About time this was shared with teachers. The number of incidents involving this issue is mind-numbing.

toso mustaj
Submitted by toso mustaj on
About time this was shared with teachers. The number of incidents involving this issue is mind-numbing.

toso mustaj
Submitted by toso mustaj on
About time this was shared with teachers. The number of incidents involving this issue is mind-numbing.

rockymissouri's picture
Submitted by rockymissouri on