Are we limiting their view?

 From guest author Shana White. DEN Community Member, Lower School Physical Education Teacher, and Coach at Wesleyan School, Peachtree Corners, GA

With Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, and American Indian Heritage History Month quickly approaching, we encourage educators to include cultural and historical information about the native peoples of the Americas in their lessons. Unfortunately, because curriculum and textbooks in the United States are often written from an Eurocentric perspective, our students often get a limited view of Indigenous people. As teachers, we must strive to include diverse voices and perspectives in our lessons and discussions so students can develop an understanding of the rich and complex history of their world.

Thanksgiving Day and Columbus Day lessons are often presented outside of historically accurate contexts. These holidays may typically be celebrated with construction paper representations of cultural symbols, but it is equally important to — at an age-appropriate level — include the moral, cultural, and historical significance of the holidays. It may not be appropriate to teach kindergartners about genocide, but neither should we have a student wear a native headdress as their only context for the experience of native peoples.

Instead of falling back into stereotypical Thanksgiving and Columbus Day routines, try some of these culturally responsive lessons, resources, and activities this year.

Activity/Lesson Idea 1:

Have students examine, research, and explore Indigenous cultures native to their current city/state. Learn the about the customs, rituals, historical contributions, and culture of the people. Consider Skyping with an expert on Native American culture in your region.

Data.gov Tribal Nations Maps

First Nations Map Canada

Tribal Nations Maps

Activity/Lesson Idea 2:

Have students analyze Discovery Education resources and other media related to native people. Using Multiple Perspectives and/or Step Inside, from the SOS collection, have students examine the media critically, from the perspective of a native person. Have students create their own videos to provide a more accurate and informative piece about Indigenous culture, history, or events.

Activity/Lesson Idea 3:

Have Socratic seminars on the cultural appropriation of native people on Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, and at other times. Provide students with several texts about the meaning of cultural appropriation as well as historical contexts for Christopher Columbus and Thanksgiving. Use the group discussion format to encourage informed dialogue about the history taught regarding Christopher Columbus and Thanksgiving, as well as how cultural appropriation (i.e. dressing like Pocahontas for Halloween) may be offensive to native people or may contribute to bigotry and perpetuate bias.

ZinnEd Project Thanksgiving Day Resources

Rethinking Schools Columbus Day Resources

Vox News Article about Native American Appropriation

ZinnEd Project Rethinking Columbus Day

Activity/Lesson Idea 4:

Have students investigate and study the nuances of using the terms native, American Indian, First Nations, and Native American. Students can also research the vocabulary and terminology commonly used by colonizers to describe native people and/or their culture (i.e., “savages”). Have students think about and write how the use of specific terms could shape one’s biases and views about native people.

UNC School of Education American Indians Terminology

Prominent Voices Respond to Native American or American Indian descriptors

Here are some additional links to lessons and resources to include cultural and historical material as you teach about indigenous people.

Teaching Tolerance Native American Influences Lessons

ZinnEd Project Native American Activism

ZinnEd Project Manifesting Destiny

Facing History Indigenous Resources

USA Today History of Native American Team Names


Shana is a veteran educator of twelve years serving in both public and private school during her career. Shana is a passionate educator who believes in purposeful disruption of status quo, is passionate about safe and inclusive schools for all students, and works as an advocate for marginalized groups in education. 

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