As an Outschool educator, you should empower your learners to seek out and understand multiple perspectives. By including Indigenous peoples’ histories, experiences, arts, and academic resources in your classroom, you help ensure that every person’s story is told. As we are a global community, you may even have Native learners present in your classes, and you can help them feel represented by including viewpoints from their nation or other Indigenous nations in your lessons.
We’ve put together a few guidelines for teaching Indigenous perspectives in collaboration with an expert Indigenous & Native American Histories educator. The tips below may be especially helpful for any educator who is not from an Indigenous background themselves but strives to embody the EPIC teaching principles of intentionality and connection by prioritizing accurate representation of Indigenous peoples.
1. Evaluate your resources
When designing your curriculum, be very intentional about which resources you use to gain knowledge and insights into the cultures or communities you are teaching about. Whenever possible, use resources written by Native authors and creators or that are put forth by legitimate Native nations and organizations. If using additional resources, evaluate the information and ideas being presented by cross-referencing them with Native sources.
2. Be intentional with your language
The words you use to describe a person, tradition, or group are powerful. Take the time to learn and make note of which terms are accurate and appropriate to describe the Indigenous peoples referenced in your lesson. Some key points to remember to create an inclusive classroom are:
- Use specific language to refer to Native nations by name when describing an event or tradition, such as Wampanoag or Seneca peoples instead of just “Native Americans.” Native communities are distinct from one another, and you can best represent their viewpoints by specifying exactly whom you are talking about.
- Check your lessons for Western/Eurocentric words and biases, such as “primitive,” “hostile,” - or even “friendly.” Terms like this are often simplified observations from colonizers’ perspectives, and not truthful Native characteristics. Do your research using the sources listed at the end of this guide or other resources from Native creators, and ensure that you aren’t inadvertently using an incorrect or inappropriate term for an Indigenous person or cultural practice.
- Always capitalize the words “Native” and “Indigenous” when referring to people.
3. Include multiple Native perspectives
Indigenous peoples are not a monolith, and there is no such thing as one “Native American” perspective. It’s important to recognize and teach the differences between unique nations and cultures among Indigenous communities, just as you would among other groups of people. This may include differing viewpoints, traditions, histories, arts, appearances, and more.
In this respect, you should also pluralize words like “culture,” “history,” and “art” to acknowledge these varying Native characteristics. You can also use nation-specific terms, such as “Tlingit clothing” or “Lakota music.” For example, if you were talking about all of the art done by all Native nations, it would be the plural “Native arts.” If you were talking about a specific nation’s art, it would be the singular “Lenape art.”
Remember to teach historical events from multiple perspectives, even if the existence of those viewpoints was not always acknowledged by your educational experience. By intentionally researching and including all perspectives in your lessons, you give your classroom the opportunity to gain a full understanding of the events, emotions, and ideas of our shared histories. This also includes evaluating how you present several holidays or history months.
4. Accurately represent Indigenous cultures
If you will be showing an image of a Native person, check the source of the image and avoid representations that reinforce stereotypes instead of presenting truthful information. When doing crafts or activities inspired by Native traditions, focus on respectfully teaching about a community’s culture or art.
The alternative to this would be appropriation, where a person takes part in or represents an Indigenous tradition without acknowledging its cultural significance, communicating its original meaning, referencing the source of information, or removing stereotypes. An example of appropriation would be making “dream catchers” with your learners as an arts and crafts activity. Dream catchers are Ojibwe and have significant religious and cultural meaning. Creating imitations of them in your class would not acknowledge their cultural significance. Instead, design a lesson centered on other openly shared Native traditions, like: talking about snowshoes and how they’re made, learning how to cook with wild rice, or making a painting featuring Ojibwe words for the four seasons.
Lastly, one common pitfall for educators is to present Indigenous histories only from a negative, painful, or harmful viewpoint. This creates a biased and inaccurate picture of Native peoples’ experiences over time, and also tends to result in learners only walking away with an understanding of Indigenous peoples as they exist in relation to settlers or colonizers. You should always be truthful about hard topics and painful history, but recognize that those events do not solely define Native nations. Including positive imagery and representations of Native peoples helps learners understand the many aspects of these communities’ traditions and histories.
For example: If you are teaching a United States history lesson on the Trail of Tears, you should include all factual details of the pain and sadness inflicted upon those Native nations. Additionally, help your learners understand more about the cultures of those people, what their lives were like before the forced displacement, and how their communities have rebuilt in the years since.
5. Include Indigenous peoples in discussions on modern culture
Native peoples and communities still exist today - both in the United States and around the world. Make sure you incorporate modern Indigenous viewpoints into classes on current events or recent history. Additionally, Native perspectives are present in more areas than just history and politics; as a diverse group of people active in present-day life, they should be included and featured in discussions on things like social life, sports, technological development, cultural advancements, pop culture, etc.
We hope this guide will help you intentionally design curriculum that is inclusive of Indigenous cultures and helps foster a better educational experience for your learners. To continue your learning, take a look at our blog on teaching about holidays from Indigenous perspectives or explore more resources below.
Suggested Reading for Educators
- Native Knowledge 360 - Using Native American Literature in Your Classroom from the National Museum of the American Indian
- An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- Atlas of Indian Nations by Anton Treuer
- American Indians: Stereotypes and Realities by Devon Mihesuah
- All the Real Indians Died Off: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but Were Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer
- #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women by Lisa Charleyboy and Beth Leatherdale
- A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin
- Teaching about Native Americans in Preschool and Kindergarten: Do's and Don'ts by Rebekah Gienapp
- Native American Curriculum Review: Do's and Don'ts When Teaching about Native Americans
- Stereotyping Native Americans from The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University
- How to Tell the Difference from oyate
- Additional Criteria from oyate
- Thanksgiving from an Indigenous Perspective from oyate
- Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson