November is Native American Heritage Month
As a Native American educator, I feel it is deeply important to teach children about Native American history and culture throughout the year.
Congress declared November as National American Indian Heritage Month back in 1990, to encourage all people “to learn about the contributions and cultures of the Indigenous peoples of the North American continent.”
Are we fulfilling our role as teachers in teaching children about Native American culture and history? One way to integrate Native American Heritage is through storytelling. Not only is storytelling a culturally-relevant teaching practice, but it is also the best methodology to instruct all students in the way they will remember the most.
Throughout my years of teaching, I have found it is crucial to build a foundation on the values of the local culture. Values is an element of deep culture that help us to understand what essential and unique about a people; the warp that holds culture together. Cultural values, enduring through the centuries, to bind people together; they are the celestial stars that guide people through the hard times.
I have developed lessons that are based on Native American legends and include story maps and suggestions for books that teach Indigenous values. In the Anishinabe culture, we teach children about our culture’s values by addressing the teachings of the Seven Grandfather. Each grandfather is a teacher of a core value which are: 1) Bravery 2) Honesty 3) Humility 4) Wisdom 5) Respect 6) Love and 7) Truth.
The teachings in the Anishinabe culture have been traditionally passed down from generation to generation orally through stories and ceremonies. Historically, this has been done by the elders that carry the stories and traditions through the generations.
Today, the oral traditions are shared by those who carry the knowledge: Elders, grandparents and storytellers. In my own tradition, we know them as“raconteurs,” the French word for storyteller. To learn more about Indigenous methodology of storytelling, you can teach children through this PowerPoint resource.
Children’s Books Depicting Native Legends
If you do not know of a Native American storyteller who you can invite into your classroom, you can integrate quality children’s books that tell traditional stories. Here is a resource I created for my students that you may also find helpful. These stories illustrate the values of the Seven Grandfathers of the Anishinabe culture.
Here are some other ways to integrate meaningful activities into Native American Heritage month. Ask yourself some questions and do research:
What are the Native American tribes in your area?
What is the history of the tribes? Were they forced to leave the area or do they still live there?
What are their values? How can you incorporate these Indigenous values into your teaching?
Another important resource are the students in your classroom. Invite them to share their stories. Think about people in your community. Are there any people you can bring into your classroom who are knowledgeable about the local Indigenous culture?
You may want to look at Native Ways of Knowing and Native world views. I have created these story maps to help teachers incorporate Indigenous world views into their teaching. Please let me know if you are interested in any more resources that can help you during Native American Heritage month and throughout the year. Miigwetch!