Stop me if you have heard this before: Schools need to do a better job of teaching the history and contributions of a marginalized group. This time we are talking about Native Americans, the Indigenous populations of the Americas.
Many people are under the impression that we already do this, but we don’t. Right now, many standards and curricula in use start talking about Native American culture around 1600 AD AKA after the arrival of Europeans. Furthermore, most of the time when we do talk about them, we talk about them only in relation to settlers and colonists. This is not the appropriate way to teach or honor a culture.
This is one of the reasons for National Native American Heritage Month. Like other commemorative months, it arose from the need to make sure we were doing right by marginalized peoples. In 1990 President Bush designated the month of November as “National American Indian Month,” but there was a long journey to that point. In the 1900s several prominent Native peoples started the push for recognition. There was Dr. Arthur C. Parker (Seneca) who persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to adopt a day for the “first Americans.” Then there was Rev. Sherman Coolidge (Arapahoe) who declared that the second Saturday of May would be formally known as “American Indian Day.” Both of those events took place in 1915.
While individual states recognized the need for such days at varying times, the fact that the country as a whole didn’t get on board until the 90s highlights the need for such a month. The month itself is almost over and if you are thinking in your head that that means your chance to teach about Native Americans is almost over then you may have missed the point of the month.
It is also important to note that although Native Americans have a rich history, they also have a rich present. Indigenous people are still making huge contributions to the world in spite of the obstacles they face. For example, if you haven’t already you should include the Water Protectors of Standing Rock in your curriculum. There is also a wide variety of Native individuals and role models both past and present to point out to your students. From politicians, to athletes and even rappers.
Native populations face a wide variety of obstacles today. The marginalization of their history and culture is one that you can start to fix in your classroom.
Make sure you are teaching Pre-Columbian contact history.
Make sure you are not teaching Native history exclusively in relation to colonial and settler history.
Make sure you are teaching about indigenous people in the present.
See resources here.