Teaching American Indian Heritage and History: Resources

It’s National Native American Heritage Month!

November is National Native American Heritage Month, or as it is commonly known, National American Indian and Native Alaskan Heritage Month.
“National American Indian Heritage Month” had its origins in 1986 when Congress authorized and requested that the President proclaim the week of November 23-30, 1986 as “American Indian Week.”  As directed by Congress, President Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 5577 in November 1986 proclaiming the first American Indian Week. Similar congressional acts and presidential proclamations were made in the next four years. Both law and proclamation recognized the American Indians as the first inhabitants of the lands that now constitute the United States as well as making mention of their contributions to American society:
Many of the foods we eat and the medicines and remedies we use were introduced by Indians and more than one highway follows an Indian trail.  Indians make contributions in every area of endeavor and American life, and our literature and all our arts draw upon Indian themes and wisdom.  Countless American Indians have served in our Armed Forces and have fought valiantly for our country.
In 1990 Congress authorized and requested that the President issue a proclamation designating the month of November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.”  Congress chose the month of the November to recognize the American Indians as this month concluded the traditional harvest season and was generally a time of thanksgiving and celebration for the American Indians. 
Since 1995 Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump have issued annual proclamations which designate November as National American Indian Heritage Month, or since 2009 as National Native American Heritage Month. These proclamations celebrate the contributions of the American Indians and urge the peoples of the United States to learn more about the American Indian cultures.

We are here to help you do just that! We have compiled a list of resources you can check out to teach about the native people who lived on the land that we now call the Unites States – both from the past and the present. 


Our Go-To Favorite Resources:

Native Knowledge 360°
Native Knowledge 360° is the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian’s online education portal. They are currently highlighting some of their resources around American Indians and Thanksgiving, but you can also check out their vast collection of other lessons and resources. One of our favorite lessons is on American Indian Removal. This online lesson provides perspectives from Native American community members, documents, maps, images, and activities to help students and teachers understand an important and difficult chapter in the history both of Native Nations and the United States. Scroll to begin an exploration of the vast scope and effects of American Indian removal.
DocsTeach: American Indians Collection
DocsTeach, an interactive tool to create and present primary source-based lesson plans and activities, has collected several American Indian history activities for various grade levels. I highly recommend the Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii and the Assimilation of American Indians activities.

Teaching with Primary Sources: Lesson Plans


EDSITEment! Language of Place: Hopi Place Names, Poetry, Traditional Dance and Song
Grades K-5
This English Language Arts unit has students delve into the “language of place.” Through a careful study of various literary forms—place names, poetry, song and traditional dance—students can explore the landscape and culture of the Hopi Tribe from the southwestern United States. Through these forms of expression, student will have the opportunity to “read” the products of Hopi culture and engage in their rich cultural heritage through one of the Hopi’s most fundamental natural resources—corn!
Rising Voices/Hót?a?i?pi Documentary
Grades 4-12
Part of The Language Conservancy’s ongoing effort to preserve and revitalize languages in North America, the documentary Rising Voices/Hót?a?i?pi is a portrait of a culture, an unflinching look at the language loss and a probing analysis of the revitalization efforts that have brought hope to the Native speakers on the Lakota reservations of North and South Dakota. Watch the full film here. Check out the comprehensive Teacher Guide to help use the film in your classroom.
Native American Newspapers: Studying the History through the Eyes of the Community
Grades 6-12
Check out this blog post from the “Teaching with the Library of Congress” crew for a suggestion on how to use Native American newspapers with your students.


Navajo and Apache Moccasin Game Songs
Grades 3-5
Students will learn the cultural significance, key traits, and pure joys of playing Moccasin Game songs through an exciting process of listening, singing, and playing.
Singing in the Harves: Music from the Zuni
Grades 3-5
This lesson plan explores the life and music of the Pueblo people of the Zuni in the New Mexico region of North America. Colorful and rich in artistic skills, the Zuni bring joyous communal and personal music-making to life.


Trail of Tears: Music of the American Indian Diaspora
Grades 5-8
The segments of this unit offer an investigation of the impact of circumstance on the music of a people through examination of several musical selections from the Five Nations heritage (Choctaw and Cherokee in particular) during and following the Trail of Tears of 1831 and 1838 respectively.
Reservation Controversies
Grades 6-12
This activity from the Library of Congress covers historic issues dealing with American Indian Reservations in the 1870s through problem-based learning.
Exploring the Stories behind Native American Boarding Schools
Grades 6-12
Through primary source documents, students explore the experiences and perspectives of individuals involved in Native American boarding schools that were created in the late 1800s in an attempt to erase traditions and customs of Native Americans.

On Native American Diversity and Different Cultures

EDSITEment! Native American Cultures Across the U.S.
Grades 6-8
Children’s literature, movies, and other media often perpetuate generalized stereotypes, whether positive or negative, in their representations of Native American peoples. Teaching children about the First Americans in an accurate historical context while emphasizing their continuing presence and influence within the United States is important for developing a national and individual respect for the diverse American Indian peoples, and is necessary to understanding the history of this country.
EDSITEment! Not “Indians”, Many Tribes: Native American Diversity
Grades 6-12
In this unit, students will heighten their awareness of Native American diversity as they learn about three vastly different Native groups in a game-like activity using archival documents such as vintage photographs, traditional stories, photos of artifacts, and recipes.

Teaching with Historic Places

Iolani Palace: A Hawaiian Place of History, Power, and Prestige
King Kalakaua and then his sister, Queen Liliuokalani, we not able to fight off the push for American “Manifest Destiny,” but their protest became an inspiration for civic activism and their Palace — a lavish mix of indigenous and European architecture — became a powerful symbol of Hawaiian heritage and history.

Other American Indian History Topics

EDSITEment! Native Americans and the American Revolution: Choosing Sides
In this lesson, students will analyze maps, treaties, congressional records, firsthand accounts, and correspondence to determine the different roles assumed by Native Americans in the American Revolution and understand why the various groups formed the alliances they did.

Other Things to Explore

In Ojibwemowin (the language of the Anishinaabe or Ojibwe people), Gibagadinamaagoom means “to bring to life, to sanction, and to give permission.” The mission of this educational website, therefore, is to sanction the authority of chi-ayy ya agg (Ojibwe wisdom-keepers), who give permission to share their wisdom and to bring to life the digital objects in this site through the powers of their storytelling.
Experiencing War – Willing to Serve: American Indians
This special project from the Veterans History Project is a collection of oral histories collected from American Indians who valiantly served in the United States armed forces.
Smithsonian Folk Ways
Smithsonian Folk Ways has a large collection of both traditional tribal music and original works from American Indian artists.

Invasion of America
This is an interactive time-lapse map that allows viewers to explore the growth of the United States in terms of the seizure of Native lands.

When Rivers Were Trails
Winner of the Adaptation Award at IndieCade 2019, When Rivers Were Trails is a point-and-click adventure game about the impact of colonization on Indigenous communities in the 1890s. If you like Oregon Trail, this is right up your alley!


Historical information in this post adapted from https://www.loc.gov/law/help/commemorative-observations/american-indian.php

Posted November 6, 2020
Topics: The ArtsAmerican Indian HistoryHistoric PreservationDaily Life

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