Celebrating Native American Heritage

When I was growing up, November was a month filled with images of ‘pilgrims’ and ‘Indians’ sharing a traditional meal of turkey, corn, and pumpkin pie. Everyone was smiling and my teachers would talk about how nice the ‘Indians’ were, sharing their food and land with the newcomers. It was a simplistic lesson, heavy on folklore and light on genuine historical and cultural details.

Now, November is Native American Heritage Month and the perfect opportunity for parents and caregivers to help children learn more about indigenous peoples in Alaska, Hawaii, and the lower 48 states. At the very least, it’s a chance to address problematic aspects of the traditional Thanksgiving narrative, which typically casts Native Americans as generic and supportive characters in a benevolent colonialist tale. Instead, they are diverse peoples with rich cultures and significant achievements, as well as survivors of colonial abuse and ongoing racism.

As your family settles in to enjoy your favorite dishes and a long weekend, include one or more of these activities and celebrate the heritage of those who first built communities in what we now call the United States of America.

Research whose land you live on. Do you know which Native tribe once lived on the land your family now occupies? Type your address into Native-Land.ca and the website pops up information about the local nations whose historic territories you now share. Your kids can then use the tribal names to search for additional information.

Watch an informational video. YouTube has several short videos that trace the creation of this national month of recognition, feature young people talking about their Native heritage, or explore Native issues and stories. Watch one together while you’re waiting for the turkey or stuffed squash to roast. Talk about what surprises you and what you wish could be different.

Visit an exhibit. If you have a local museum or cultural center, plan a family outing over the holiday weekend. You can also visit the Smithsonian’s Online Exhibitions | National Museum of the American Indian or the Online Exhibitions | Museum of Indian Arts & Culture | Santa Fe, New Mexico without leaving your home.

Read a book.  Social Justice Books has a book list (American Indians / Indigenous Peoples / Native Nations – Social Justice Books)  sorted by age group, including a collection of board books for infants and toddlers. Your public library may also have options. Hold a family read-aloud session after your Thanksgiving meal or gift each child with an age appropriate story. Some even teach children to count or say colors in a Native language.

Listen to music. From drumming and dancing to Inuit soul, Native music can help the whole family work off the big meal or just relax. Check out the Smithonian’s online recordings of Native Hawaiian music (Na Leo Hawai’i: Musics of Hawai’i | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) or this video about an Alaskan Inuit band: Meet Pamyua, Alaska’s most famous Inuit band | INDIE ALASKA

Serve a new dish. Scroll through Recipes | First Nations Development Institute or Native American Recipes: 25 of Our All-Time Favorites – PowWows.com and pick out a recipe to make together. These collections include side dishes that could be part of your main feast  – you may even know some of them already – and hearty stews that could begin with some of your leftovers. For families who enjoy a non-traditional Thanksgiving challenge, consider building an entire meal around Native favorites.



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