What most may recognize as another “holiday”, the second Monday in October serves as a reminder and celebration of Indigenous history and culture. From Indigenous ancestors to those alive today, we are so excited to not only recognize you but celebrate alongside you. Many cities and states have moved towards recognition of this day, with some choosing to observe it over Columbus Day. However, it is not observed as a federal holiday, yet.
As was the case with Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History, LGBT Awareness, Women’s History, and Asian American & Pacific Islanders … and so many more, it is important to understand why we observe and why we strive to connect with these cultures. As was the case regarding these mentioned months, it is even more important to continue discussions and awareness of just this one day. To be a truly equitable classroom, we need to continue using these resources and others all year long.
Below you will find materials, videos, books, and other educational resources for both you and your students. These resources were chosen to help guide your lessons and provide opportunities for dialogue and conversations.
What about Columbus Day?
The United States has been recognizing “Columbus Day” as a federal holiday since 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Columbus Day “commemorates” the arrival of Christopher Columbus in Hispaniola in 1492. However, major controversies surround this so-called celebration.
History indicates how the native population of Hispaniola was treated poorly during colonization as well as some historians arguing that this was the setting stage for the institutionalized slave trade.
It wasn’t until 1989, that the South Dakota legislature passed a law proclaiming 1990 as the “Year of Reconciliation”, which began to pave the way of replacing “Columbus Day” with Native Americans’ Day! In 1992, native groups agreed to celebrate native culture, as a counter-celebration on the second Monday in October (or what is known as Columbus Day to many).
I believe the goal of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not to erase or replace the contributions of the voyage that day in 1492. However, it cannot be the ONLY narrative. Our goals are the same, to work together for a better and brighter future for everyone. This can only be done through difficult conversations, facing how these narratives are constructed, and breaking down multiple barriers for our students.
How Educators Can Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day
I have to be honest and say that I knew that “celebrating” what is formally known to me as “Columbus Day” didn’t feel right. However, I didn’t know any better. In the past, I read a story, talked about Christopher Columbus, painted him in this “hero-like” picture for my students… I mean come on he “discovered” America!
Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Also, I couldn’t take back this picture for so many students and families to whom I presented this information over the years. Learning from this mistake I came to a realization. I was unprepared. So like most educators do when we are unprepared and unsure… we ignore or do nothing. Most teachers would rather do nothing than do something potentially incorrect in front of their students, coworkers, and families.
So how do I currently address this day with my students you may be asking? No, I do not ignore Christopher Columbus. Since I teach primary students I obviously don’t go into the arguments or in-depth events of colonization. I indicate to my students that he is recognized as the individual that discovered America, however, we are going to be talking about the people who were already living here! Then allow students to start brainstorming what they think those people were like? How did they live? (Although, my students have a hard time believing I didn’t grow up with TikTok or Snapchat.)
By teaching students about Indigenous Peoples’ Day, educators are providing their students the opportunity to not only learn about Native American History but more importantly form their own opinions. I believe the best educators are ones that provide facts to their students and allow them to foster their own opinions, likes, and dislikes, not teach what they like to talk about.
It is our goal to provide a plethora of activities and resources for you to assist in your dialogue of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day!
Indigenous Peoples’ Picture Books and Read Alouds
- We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers by Julie Flett
- At the Mountains Base by Traci Sorrell
- Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
- A Day with Yayah by Nicola I. Campbel
- Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
- Encounter by Brittany Luby
- We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom
- Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock by A.& K. Tudor & J. Eaglespeaker
- (This would be a great non-fiction pairing with We Are Water Protectors)
- I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
- Awasis and the World-Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt
- When We Were Alone by David Alexander Robertson
- My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith
- Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk
- Zoe and the Fawn by Catherine Jameson
- When We Are Kind / Niha’adaahwiinit’iigo (English and Navajo Edition)
- Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie
- Stolen Words/kimotinâniwiw itwêwina by Melanie Florence (English and Cree Editions)
- We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell
- We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell
- The Land Is Our Storybook by Julie-Ann Andre and Mindy Willett
- When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
- Not My Girl (sequel to When I Was Eight) by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
- Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way by S.D. Nelson
- Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith
- Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes by Wab Kinew
Books for Ages 9+
- The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
- Fatty Legs: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
Biographies (for Kids)
- Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman by Sharice Davids and Nancy K. Mays
- Wilma’s Way Home: The Life of Wilma Mankiller by Doreen Rappaport
- Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army by Art Coulson
- Native Women of Courage by Kelly Fournel
- Who Was Maria Tallchief by Catherine Gourley
Indigenous Peoples’ Books for Young Adults and Adults to Learn More
- An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese)
- An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit by Marie Battiste
- Everything You Know About Indians is Wrong by Paul Chaat Smith
- The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer
- As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance by Leanne Betdasamosake Simpson
- As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker
Indigenous Peoples’ Activities for Your Classroom
- Native Knowledge 360° is run by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Check out featured resources for Honoring Original Indigenous Inhabitants and Unlearning Columbus Day Myths.
- PBS’s Native American Heritage Collection takes a look at Indigenous art, history, and culture as told by historians, artists, students, and scientists.
- The Zinn Education Project believes in taking a more engaging and more honest look at the past. Take a look at their resources on Native American topics.
- What Is Indigenous Peoples’ Day? FREEBIE from Naomi O’Brien and LaNesha Tabb
- Play the game (you’ll need to download first) – Growing Up Ojibwe
- Illuminatives.org – This site is phenomenal. Just check it out. Native Education for All tab is going to rock your world. All of this is available there – and SO MUCH MORE! These lessons are SO well done.
- Discuss Native American school or team mascots. Debate the topic. Write persuasive letters regarding this topic to school boards, legislators, government officials, and more. You can use this toolkit to help you get started!
- Teach Dr. Debbie Reese’s 3rd-5th grade lesson on ReadWriteThink: Native Americans Today
- The Word Indigenous – explained – CBC Kids News
- Indigenous Peoples Day Song For Kids (ASL Sign Language Lesson Included)
- How To Powwow Dance for Kids
- What does being Indigenous mean?
- Sesame Street: Cripple Creek
- One World (We Are One) – IllumiNative
- PBS Learning Media – Indigenous Peoples’ Day | All About the Holidays (for K-5)
- Unlearning Indian Stereotypes – Rethinking Schools
- Wisconsin First Nations: American Indian Studies in Wisconsin – search by grade level, tribe, and resource type! Many resources have accompanying lesson plans as well.
- The Ways: Stories on Culture and Language from Native Communities Around the Central Great Lakes (series for 6th-12th grade and adults to learn more!)
Podcasts for Adults to Learn More About Indigenous People
Ever since I started Education to the Core’s Podcast, “Where the Primary Things Are“, I have been Podcast obsessed! These podcasts are great in general, but here are some highlighted episodes! For this particular topic on Indigenous People, these are a few must listen to.
- Teaching Hard History: Teaching Slavery through Children’s Literature, Part 2 – w/ Debbie Reese
- All My Relations: Teach Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Not Columbus
- Word Up: Speaking Truth: Looking at Equity in Education
Things Educators want to DO:
- Learn about the history of the land you now inhabit – whose land are you on? (you can start with this website – https://native-land.ca/ )
- Learn more about the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the people who inhabited this land prior to you.
- Contact and invite local tribal members to teach about the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of their peoples.
- Remind students that Indigenous peoples are still around today!
- Educate yourself first – work through the ideas yourself – so that when you have discussions with your students, you’re ready and not processing your thoughts and feelings at that moment.
Things Educators DON’T want to do:
- Use the word ‘Indian.’ There are over 550 federally recognized tribes. Refer to the specific tribes or use Indigenous (original inhabitants of an area) or Native American (people indigenous to the United States). Your best option if you’re speaking to or about a specific person? Ask them what they prefer! For more information on why words/terminology matter, read here.
- Dress up like/have students dress like an Indigenous person
- Have students write ‘creation stories’ or other such pieces
- Refer to people as a tribe unless they are actually tribal members (this term has become popular over the past few years – think ‘bride tribe’ and more)
- Refer to something being your ‘spirit ___ (fill in the blank)’
- Generalize – each tribe has its own beliefs, language, symbols, culture.
- Only teach about the trauma caused – also celebrate Indigenous culture and joy!
We hope you find these resources helpful. As an organization, ETTC will continue to share information and resources that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. These resources should not just be used for one month, but all year round.
In addition, if you have resources to share with us, be sure to put them in the comments below! Together, we will work towards the goal of inclusion of everyone. We are looking forward to hearing from you. I would love to leave you with a lyric from Mr. Harold’s Music Class ~ “So many tribes, so many stories, so many lives… One Earth, One People, One Love.”
Written by – Christopher Olson and Kristin Halverson, NBCT
At Education to the Core, we exist to help our teachers build a stronger classroom as they connect with our community to find trusted, state-of-the-art resources designed by teachers for teachers. We aspire to be the world’s leading & most trusted community for educational resources for teachers. We improve the lives of every teacher and learner with the most comprehensive, reliable, and inclusive educational resources.
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