Did you miss our October 2021 educator webinar on Teaching About Indigenous Peoples? Including multiple perspectives in your lessons is a core tenet of Outschool’s class content policy. If you teach classes on any peoples’ histories, cultures, arts, or current events, Native viewpoints should likely be a part of your inclusive curriculum. Read on for the top highlights from this learning session led by Outschool educator and Native American histories expert Kelly Tudor. (Or – watch the full webinar recording here.)
Note: While this webinar focuses mainly on North American Native nations and histories, the information below can be applied to teaching or talking about Indigenous peoples across the globe – both in and out of the classroom.
Be intentional about terminology
While Native peoples often have personal preferences about which terms they use to describe their identities and backgrounds, there are several terms historically used to describe Native nations and individuals that are inaccurate or even harmful racial slurs. Before teaching about a Native nation, research sources created by that nation to learn their preferred terminology or descriptions to avoid.
Appropriate terms for Native peoples include:
- Specific names of nations (Haida, Chiricahua Apache, Onondaga, etc.)
- Indigenous peoples of the Americas
- Native American
- American Indian
- First Nations or FNIM (First Nations, Inuit, Métis – used widely in Canada)
Inappropriate terms include:
- Groups (nation or tribe would be the correct alternative)
Watch as Kelly explains these distinctions and provides a more comprehensive list of common terms to avoid and what to say instead.
Properly acknowledge Native nations
“The Native Americans” is an incredibly non-specific way to refer to Native peoples, and the phrase does not give our class approvals team or your learners a clear picture of to which people you’re referring. If you’re teaching about “Native Americans,” you should specify which Native Americans you’re talking about! There are over 600 Native nations in the United States alone, and each has its own unique culture and history. When teaching about a historical event, cultural practice, or current event, it’s important to identify which nation or nations will be featured in your lesson.
For example: Instead of referring to an image as depicting “Native American clothing,” specify that you are showing a picture of “Tlingit winter clothing” or “Traditional Lakota clothing.” Additionally, if you are referring to a region that includes many nations, be sure to pluralize things like “histories” and “arts.” For example: Arts of Pacific Northwest Native Nations. Read more on language and terminology here.
A stereotype is any depiction or representation of a Native nation that is not correct to the person, place, or time to which it belongs. Stereotypes of Native peoples are pervasive in many educational or pop culture resources. As an educator, it is your responsibility to help your learners gain an accurate understanding of Native histories and peoples. A few places where stereotypes often arise are images and descriptions of Native histories, cultures, arts, clothing, and behavior. This may look like:
- A cartoon of Native peoples dressed in Onondaga clothing sitting in a Comanche tipi. This depiction ignores the fact that different nations have different traditions and perpetuates the view of Native Americans as a monolith.
- Images of Native peoples wearing generic or non-specific clothing that do not match up to any nation’s traditions.
- Historically inaccurate depictions of real people – such as Sacagawea represented wearing the ceremonial dress of another nation instead of the traveling cloth she would have worn in her time.
- Patronizing or simplified language. This may include referring to Native peoples as “friendly” or “hostile,” referring to massacres of Native people as “battles” or “attacks” from Native nations, and defining sophisticated Native culture and technological developments as “primitive.”
We dive deeper into the concept of bias and appropriation when discussing Indigenous peoples in this article, or we recommend checking out the webinar recording for several excellent examples (including images) of common stereotypes to avoid.
Analyze your teaching for Eurocentric bias
90% of content taught about Native nations is not created by Native peoples. Many of the sources you may come across when building your curriculum will contain inaccuracies and Eurocentric biases that perpetuate a negative and stereotypical view of Native peoples. Additionally, the information you (or your learners) learned in school may have glorified European peoples and histories over Native ones, including the traditional stories associated with many North American holidays.
Whenever possible, use sources created by Native authors and artists from the specific nation you will be teaching about. If you decide to use resources from non-Native creators, watch out for Eurocentric language and attitudes, such as:
- Europeans “discovered” America/Native peoples. Better terms would be traveled to, came upon, found out about, or learned about.
- Europeans were “explorers.” Better terms would be colonizers, travelers, settlers, or conquerors.
- The “New World. ” This is a strictly European perspective. Native peoples had inhabited the Americas for thousands of years, and the continent was only “new” to Europeans.
- “Pilgrims.” Better terms would be colonists, separatists, or puritans.
- Descriptions that paint Europeans as more advanced or sophisticated than Native peoples. For example, look for the differences between the following statements: “The [European] Celts were highly skilled metalworkers. They used iron to make strong weapons and tools, and created beautiful objects…” vs. “[Native] craftworkers in Teotihuacan shaped pots and figures from clay…”
- Neglecting to include Native perspectives and experiences in modern life. Native peoples are not a feature of the past; they are as active in every aspect of recent and current history as European people.
Check out the list at the end of this blog for more resources that can help you learn how to spot Eurocentric biases.
Educator questions & answers
During our Q&A, educators received answers from Kelly to questions like:
- “How do I handle hard questions from kids who may have learned inaccuracies about Native peoples?”
- “What do I do when my assigned curriculum in a brick-and-mortar school is incorrect or offensive?”
- “How do I learn how to spot biases, stereotypes, and incorrect language in my sources?”
To get the answer to these questions and more, check out the full webinar recording!
Following the guidelines and considerations presented by Kelly in this session can help you remain compliant with Outschool’s policy on including multiple perspectives in your lessons and make your listing more likely to be approved. More importantly, we hope this information can help you better understand and communicate Indigenous perspectives in your classroom and beyond.