Can you recommend some "Do's" and "Don'ts" for teaching about Native Americans?


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Mark Finchum

Here are my recommended "Do's" and "Don'ts."

Do

  1. Consider the language of your lectures and the resources to be used. Look for "loaded" words such as "frontier," "settler," and "explorer." Discuss with your students how those terms may sound to an American Indian.
  2. Look at the illustrations used in the resource materials. Reject them if they portray American Indians in stereotypical ways.
  3. Be tribally specific. There were and still are hundreds of groups of Native peoples across the hemisphere and each group has its own culture, religion, traditions, government, etc. This would also include using the name the group prefers for itself.
  4. Remember that Native peoples exist in the modern, contemporary American society. Lessons should at least reference that fact. Too many people think of American Indians as being associated only with the past.

Don'ts

  1. If you have American Indian students in your classroom, don't automatically expect them to be experts on their tribal history and culture. Speak with them privately to see if they or members of their family would be interested in sharing with the class. Don't put them on the spot.
  2. There is much more to Native culture than stories, crafts, and dancing. Although activities involving those aspects might be included in a study of a Native people, dig deeper than just "food and festival" lessons. Instead, consider lessons that include aspects of a Native worldview that could be of interest and benefit the class.
  3. Children should not be asked to "dress like Indians," for a class project or lesson. It is too easy for cultural mistakes to be made and very possible that sacrilegious overtones could occur. Dressing as an American Indian is NOT the same as dressing like a cowboy, which is an occupation not a cultural group.
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