Many U.S. teachers discuss Native American history and culture, especially at Thanksgiving time. Unfortunately, the portrayal of Native Americans is often stereotypical, inaccurate, or outdated. This list offers several tips on how to teach more effectively about Native Americans.

Do not equate Natives with "things." For example, if alphabet cards say, "A is for apple, B is for ball, .... I is for Indian," pick a different word so that Native people are not presented as objects.

Do not speak of Native Americans exclusively in past tense. There are millions of Native people in the U.S. today, yet many books and videos still have titles such as How the Indians Lived.

Do not perpetuate the myth that a few Europeans defeated thousands of Indians in battle. Historians say the number killed in battle was relatively small; what really defeated Native Americans were European diseases from which they had no immunity.

Do not let children to imitate Indians with stereotypes such as one-word sentences ("Ugh," "How"), Hollywood-style grammar ("Me heep big hungry"), or gestures (e.g., war whoops and tomahawk chops).

Do not encourage children to dress up as Indians for Halloween. Even when well-intentioned, costumes involving imitation feathers, face paint, headdresses, and buckskin are disrespectful of traditional Native dress (which many Indians consider honorable or even sacred).

Do not divide Indians and non-Indians into "us" and "them." Instead, explain that Indians were the first Americans and that today Indians are American citizens with the same rights as all Americans.

Do highlight the Native American philosophy of respect for every form of life and for living in harmony with nature.

Do discuss a variety of Native nations, such as Hopi, Lakota, and Navajo...(562 federally recognized Indian tribes), rather than lumping all Native Americans together. Explain that each nation has its own name, language, and culture.

Do challenge TV and movie stereotypes of Native Americans. Discuss the meaning of stereotypes and help children understand that Native Americans were no more savage than others who fought to defend their homes and community.

Do understand that Native American children are not always aware of their heritage. Native children sometimes know more about "TV Indians" than about their own heritage, and they should not be singled out to provide a Native perspective or asked to recount Native history.

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Responses to "Elder's Dos and Don'ts checklist About Native American Issues and stereotypes."

  1. Patty Kay says:

    Most excellent! Thank you!

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