Friday, November 9, 2012
By Julie Saylor



November is designated as National Native American Heritage Month.  President Barack Obama recently issued a proclamation stating:  “This month, we celebrate and honor the many ways American Indians and Alaska Natives have enriched our Nation, and we renew our commitment to respecting each tribe’s identity while ensuring equal opportunity to pursue the American dream.”


In Montana, many educators work to include American Indian content throughout the entire year.   In particular, the month of November and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday provide us with an excellent and relevant opportunity for teachers and students to examine historical and contemporary events from American Indian perspectives.


More than any other celebration, more even than such overly patriotic holidays such as Independence Day and Memorial Day, Thanksgiving celebrates our ethnocentrism.” (James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, 1995)


Loewen also states…

“Correctly taught, the issues of the era of the first Thanksgiving could help Americans grow more thoughtful and more tolerant, rather than more ethnocentric.”


The following suggested resources support an accurate and inclusive understanding of the historical events that surround the popular myth of the first Thanksgiving.


RESOURCES – All Grade Levels


·         PBS Celebrates Native American Heritage Month

Throughout each year PBS offers programming that explores the rich history and cultural contributions of Native Americans. To honor Native American Heritage Month 2012, PBS will offer a selection of programs in November that celebrates Native American culture.


·         Article and Video link on Thanksgiving from -


·         Interactive website that allows students to tour a re-enacted village that actually exists in Massachusetts.  The history is accurate and the Wampanoag and colonists are well portrayed.  


·         "Deconstructing the Myths of the First Thanksgiving“and more - Wampanoag tribe information.


·         “Rethinking Thanksgiving: Myths and Misgivings" from Rethinking Schools, Fall 2009, Vol. 24, Number 1. The article has some excellent background information and links to other resources.


·         Memoriam in honor of Chief Jake Swamp, a member of the Wolf Clan whose Mohawk name “Tekaronhianeken” means “where two skies come together” and sub-chief of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) confederacy, passed away Oct. 15, 2010 in Massena, N.Y. He was 68. Swamp was a diplomat, author, teacher, chief, husband, father, grandparent, great-grandparent and friend to many.  These words of thanks are taken from his book Giving Thanks A Native American Good Morning Message:


To be a human being is an honor, and we offer thanksgiving for all the gifts of life. Mother Earth, we thank you for giving us everything we need.

Thank you, good foods from Mother Earth, our life sustainers, for making us happy when we are hungry. Fruits and berries, we thank you for your color and sweetness.

Lesson idea for primary grades:

·         Have students ask their families or research harvest festivals, considering: Where does our food come from? How are we similar to our neighbors?

Model lessons for middle grades:

·         Model Lesson for Language Arts/Social Studies, Grades 5-8 (adaptable for both younger and older) Based on the book 1621 A New Look At Thanksgiving by Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac, With Plimoth Plantation. Thanksgiving


·         Model lesson for Social Studies, Middle School - Colonization and American Indian Perspectives

             Lesson includes these questions….

o   What have you learned about the first Thanksgiving?

o   Why is it important to look at issues from multiple perspectives?

o   What are some of the reasons American Indians might have a different view regarding how Thanksgiving has been traditionally taught and celebrated in our schools?

Model lesson for high school:

·         Model Lesson for Social Studies, High School -  The Colonization Era – An Interview with Dr. James Loewen



 Thoughts from Debbie Reese, noted reviewer of books with American Indian content.


Too many people think that American Indians died off, due to warfare and disease. When the emphasis in library displays is American Indians of the past, you inadvertently contribute to that idea. Librarians are a powerful group of people. You can help Americans be less-ignorant about American Indians.

Research studies show that American Indian students drop out at exceedingly high rates. Scholars attribute this, in part, to their experience with curricular materials in school. Materials set in the past, materials that stereotype American Indians, and materials that are factually incorrect or highly biased against American Indians, cause Native students to disengage from school. Libraries can interrupt that disengagement, or, they can contribute to it...

As human beings, we love to see reflections of ourselves and our hometowns. They can a source of pride or a boost to the self-esteem. But---that is only true if they are accurate. Native people want that, too, but American society has a long way to go to get there. Libraries can get us there, but we'll need your help year-round, not just in November. …



·         Creating a Library Atmosphere that Welcomes American Indians:


·         In these posts, you'll find recommended books about American Indians, by age group:

Top Board Books for the Youngest Readers

Top Ten Books for Elementary School

Top Ten Books for Middle School

Top Ten Books for High School

·         If you want some guidance on how to help students do research on American Indians, using encyclopedias and websites, see Resources for Projects on American Indians -


·         If you're looking for books and materials about boarding schools for
American Indians -
Boarding Schools for American Indians


·         And, if you want to develop your understandings of the ways that American Indians are not "multicultural" or "people of color", see
We Are Not "People of Color."


·         If you're looking for a Question/Answer book about American Indians, this one by the National Museum of the American Indian is outstanding:
Do All Indians Live In Tipis?
(A hard copy of this book has been sent to all school libraries.)


·         Did you know that "papoose" is not “the” American Indian word for baby?


Did you order Louise Erdrich's newest book in the Birchbark House series? If not, do it today! Chickadee is terrific!
Louise Erdrich's  Chickadee

Back to Indian Education Home Page