SUGGESTIONS FOR TEACHING ABOUT NATIVE AMERICANS
1. Do make the point that indigenous people are alive and well today. Do stress the fact that many indigenous people are able to combine contemporary life-styles with traditional values, tradtions, and spirituality. Don't use the past tense unless discussing historical events.
2. Don't use dehumanizing materials that depict indigenous people as objects or animals rather than as human beings. Avoid using books, songs and alphabet cards that say, “I is for Indian", "E is for Eskimo,” or “One little, two little, three little Indians…” These examples dehumanize and belittle an entire ethnic group.
3. Do discuss the trivializing effects of school or team mascots and logos such as the “Redskins.”
4. Don't lump all indigenous people together. Each nation or tribe has its own customs, history, language, spirituality and treaties. It is as inaccurate to discuss totem poles and teepees when discussing the arrival of the Pilgrims in the Northeast as using Swedish cultural examples when discussing Italy.
5. Do use the real names for each nation or tribe. For example, the Mohawk are the Kanienkehaka and the Sioux are the Lakota, Nakota or Dakota.
6. Do discuss, evaluate and challenge stereotypical representations of indigenous people as portrayed in books, cartoons, movies, advertisements and colloquialisms. It is important to stress that indigenous people differ in appearance and do not all look the way Hollywood has made the public think they should look. Do point out that each person has their own unique look and personality. Terms such as "stoic," "noble," war-like," "savage," "primitive,” and “blood-thirsty" should not be used to describe an entire racial group.
7. Do avoid using derogatory or stereotypical figures of speech, such as “sitting Indian style," “acting like a bunch of wild Indians," and “going on the warpath." Do refer to indigenous children as children, men as men, and women as women. Terms such as squaw, brave, warrior and papoose have been misused and misunderstood. "Squaw” in some languages can be an insulting term. "Warrior” and "papoose" carry other meanings within some groups.
8. Don't display illustrations that mislead or demean. Animals dressed in "Indian" attire and holding sacred objects, children wearing adult headdresses, caricatures of Native Americans painted with red skin, and drawings of Indians who all look alike or who are depicted as "sneaky" are demeaning. Do point out and discuss how such depictions are inappropriate and insulting. Do write to publishers of such materials to voice your concerns.
9. Do refer to the three-day feast that was enjoyed by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag as 'the first giving of thanks that the Pilgrims and Wampanoag shared together. It wasn't "The First Thanksgiving," since many people around the world were already giving thanks for successful harvests long before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. Do discuss how the Wampanoag saved the lives of the Pilgrims.
10. Don't act out sacred dances and ceremonies or play games like "cowboys and Indians.” Being a cowboy is a chosen vocation. Being Indian is being born with a particular racial identity. Many Native Americans today are also cowboys. Don't role-play a racial group. Do role-play specific historic and contemporary situations in order to analyze problems, solutions and reactions. Indigenous religious rites should be treated as respectfully as the religious rites of other groups. Sacred stories should be referred to as such and not as myths.
11. Do refer to Columbus' "arrival in," "visit to," "voyage to,” or "invasion of America.” Columbus did not discover America. People who were obviously aware of its existence already inhabited the Americas. There were other Europeans who sailed to America before 1492. Columbus was greeted hospitably but reciprocated by committing atrocities and imposing slavery.
12. Don't emphasize violence and warfare. Indigenous nations did engage in warfare at various times in their history, as did many European nations. However, more time and effort was devoted to survival and cultural activities. Do spend time discussing the reasons for conflict. Do view and discuss art, crafts, tools, clothing, and shelter in addition to tomahawks, bows and arrows.
13. Don’t refer to traditional regalia or outfits as “costumes.” Costumes are what people wear when they are pretending to be something or someone other than themselves. Today, most Native Americans wear clothing just like everyone else. However, traditional clothing might be worn on special occasions like ceremonies, powwows, festivals, and to show pride in their culture and heritage.