Published on March 11, 2014 by Amy
Teaching American Indian culture in the classroom is an important counterpoint to the way native culture is portrayed in storybooks and Hollywood movies. Children often form opinions about traditional native culture from watching old Westerns on television or listening to often repeated, outdated stereotypes. Information based on historical and contemporary facts can be effectively brought into the classroom in a number of ways.
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Introduce the class to the concept that the many American Indian nations should not be lumped together. Explain the differences between the Eastern tribes, Plains tribes, Northwest coastal and Southwestern tribal peoples. Discuss the prehistoric cultures and how they developed into the early historical tribal communities. Teach the class about the approximately one million American Indians living in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century. Learn about the reservation system and modern native cultural practices. Examine maps showing American Indian geographical distribution and past migration patterns.
Studying and making American Indian arts and crafts in the classroom illustrates traditional art forms and styles. Younger students can construct models of teepees and wigwams and make simple corn husk and kachina dolls. Authentic face-painting and hair styles of different tribes demonstrate cultural variety. Studying Navajo sand-painting and carpet designs along with decorated Pueblo pottery and jewelry instills a sense of native sensibility and style. Crafting gourds or making small birch-bark canoes and dream catchers are popular class projects.
Gathering pupils in a circle and telling stories recreates a common native cultural practice. Oral traditions are a way of passing myths, legends and tribal histories from one generation to another. Adjust indigenous storytelling to fit the age group. Young children relate to stories about talking animals explaining the natural world, such as why rabbits have long ears. Older students can explore creation stories, prophecies and ancestral spiritual belief histories, as well as tales of great leaders and battles between tribes.
Dancing is an important aspect of native culture. Show videos or films to the class depicting the different types of tribal dance, including potlatches, powwows, harvest festivals and spirit dancing. Studying native dances teaches about totems, or guardian spirits represented as animals or ghosts. Elaborate costumes and masks are a colorful part of the varied dance repertoire. Explore the historical significance of the Lakota ghost dance and the Hopi snake dance. Expose the class to dance music such as Inuit drumming and Plains tribal peyote chants.