November is Native American Heritage Month. This month was first commemorated in 1990 to recognize the achievements, culture, and traditions of Native Americans. The stories and contributions of Native Americans are essential to learn in order for their rich history to continue to be passed through the generations. Native American Heritage Month, which also encapsulates Alaskan and Hawaiian Native Americans, provides an excellent opportunity to learn about the beautiful tapestry of indigenous cultures and histories that have shaped America.
A Guide for Educators
Teachers are privileged to educate and impact students by adding Native American books, activities, and learning opportunities to their curriculum. Teachers can promote cultural understanding, celebrate contributions, counter stereotypes, and provide historical perspective through the exploration and celebration of Native American Heritage Month. Let’s dive into various books, activities, and virtual field trips that will greatly enrich your lessons not only for this month but throughout the school year to build a better bridge of understanding and knowledge of indigenous America.
Native American Books
By adding Native American literature, students can learn about various Native Americans, their achievements, and their unique stories.
We love the following picture books to incorporate Native American culture into your classroom.
Keepunumuk Weeachumun’s Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer
The Thanksgiving story that most Americans know celebrates the Pilgrims. But without members of the Wampanoag tribe who already lived on the land where the Pilgrims settled, the Pilgrims would never have made it through their first winter. And without Weeâchumun (corn), the Native people wouldn’t have helped. An important picture book honoring both the history and tradition that surrounds the story of the first Thanksgiving.
Finding My Dance by Ria Thundercloud, Illustrated by Kalila J. Fuller
At four years old, Ria Thundercloud was brought into the powwow circle, ready to dance in the special jingle dress her mother made for her. As she grew up, she danced with her brothers all over Indian country. Then Ria learned more styles–tap, jazz, ballet–but still loved the expressiveness of Indigenous dance. And despite feeling different as one of the only Native American kids in her school, she always knew she could turn to dance to cheer herself up.
Follow along as Ria shares her dance journey–from dreaming of her future to performing as a professional–accompanied by striking illustrations that depict it while bringing her graceful movements to life.
Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child, Illustrated by Jonathan Thunder
When Uncle and Windy Girl and Itchy Boy attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers in their jingle dresses and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. Now Uncle’s stories inspire other visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. In these magical scenes, Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, and a visiting drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, and jingle-dress dancers–all with telltale ears and paws and tails. All celebrating in song and dance. All attesting to the wonder of the powwow.
Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
The story of the beautiful relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather how to say something in his language – Cree – he admits that his language was stolen from him when he was a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandfather find his language again. This sensitive and warmly illustrated picture book explores the intergenerational impact of the residential school system that separated young Indigenous children from their families. The story recognizes the pain of those whose culture and language were taken from them, how that pain is passed down, and how healing can also be shared.
If you would like to read more about this awesome book, hop over to our blog post, Picture Books: The Importance of the Written Word.
Native American Heritage Month Activities
Projects are a wonderful way to incorporate student autonomy in the learning process. In this project, students read a Who Was? biography or any age-appropriate biography of a Native American who has made a significant impact. Students complete a biography report on index cards that fit inside a chip or coffee can. Additionally, students decorate the outside of the can to look like the person they’re learning and reading all about.
Are you searching for an easy way to engage your students while leading them through a fun and exciting Biography Research Project? Do your students love the Who Is?, Who Was? and I am series? If so, we definitely have what you need.
Grab your Biography Research Project from our TPT store today. Our product guides your students through Biography Research with ease.
We recommend the following Who Was? and Who Were? books about important Native Americans and their amazing accomplishments.
Who Was Sitting Bull? By Stephanie Spinner
No one knew the boy they called “Jumping Badger” would grow to become a great leader. Born on the banks of the Yellowstone River, Sitting Bull, as he was later called, was tribal chief and holy man of the Lakota Sioux tribe in a time of fierce conflict with the United States. As the government seized Native American lands, Sitting Bull relied on his military cunning and strong spirituality to drive forces out of his territory and ensure a future homeland for his people.
Who Were the Navajo Code Talkers? By James Buckley, Jr.
By the time the United States joined the Second World War in 1941, the fight against Nazi and Axis powers had already been under way for two years. In order to win the war and protect its soldiers, the US Marines recruited twenty-nine Navajo men to create a secret code that could be used to send military messages quickly and safely across battlefields. In this new book within the #1 New York Times bestselling series, author James Buckley Jr. explains how these brave and intelligent men developed their amazing code, recounts some of their riskiest missions, and discusses how the country treated them before, during, and after the war.
Who Was Sacajawea? By Judith Bloom Fradin
Sacagawea was only sixteen when she made one of the most remarkable journeys in American history, traveling 4500 miles by foot, canoe, and horse-all while carrying a baby on her back! Without her, the Lewis and Clark expedition might have failed. Through this engaging book, kids will understand the reasons that today, 200 years later, she is still remembered and immortalized on a golden dollar coin.
Who Was Maria Tallchief? By Catherine Gourley
Born in 1925, Maria Tallchief spent part of her childhood on an Osage reservation in Oklahoma. With the support of her family and world-renowned choreographer George Balanchine, she rose to the top of her art form to become America’s first prima ballerina. Black-and-white illustrations provide visual sidebars to the history of ballet while taking readers through the life of this amazing dancer.
Who Was Jim Thorpe? by James Buckley, Jr.
While most athletes excel in just one sport, Jim Thorpe was different. Born in Oklahoma in 1887, he played both professional football and baseball, and ran track and field. Jim was not only a sports icon but also a trailblazer. Raised as part of the Sac and Fox tribal nation, he was the first Native American person to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States. And although his personal life was not always as successful as his career, Jim remains one of the greatest athletes in American history.
Scholastic’s FREE Activity:
We are big fans of Scholastic’s free activities. Here is a wonderful resource that contains a story, nonfiction article companion, lesson plan, activity, and video. “Students will follow how Rory, the main character, changes as he learns how to fancy dance. They will analyze how the experience has affected him, giving him confidence and connecting him to his Cree culture.” (From website.)
Virtual Field Trips
National Museum of the American Indian
The National Museum of the American Indian has a plethora of online exhibits to browse with your students. From Native American authentic clothing to food, from the reliance on horses in Native American culture to Thanksgiving, this website has many interesting and unique topics, lessons, videos, and online exhibits to peruse.
PBS Virtual Field Trips
Specifically, explore the Cherokee Nation through this PBS Virtual Field Trip. “The Cherokee Nation virtual field trip affords an in-depth look at the lives of the Cherokee Indians, from their first encounters with Europeans to events, such as the Gold Rush and the signing of the Indian Removal Act by Andrew Jackson, that led to their forced relocation to Indian Territory in 1838.” (From website.)
Native American Mounds
PBS also has a fascinating field trip all about Native American mounds such as Ocmulgee National Monument, Kolomoki Mounds State Park, and Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site. This specific field trip shows unique Native American pottery, ancient technology used for hunting and fishing, and various uses for mounds ranging from homes to ceremonies.
I had the opportunity to visit Penn Museum, located in Philadelphia. Penn Museum houses amazing Native American exhibits, but you can also visit them even if you don’t live in Pennsylvania. Penn Museum’s exhibits focus on how ancient artifacts tell the stories of the Northeastern Native American people. “The tour covers six themes, from the enduring presence of local Native peoples to some of the oldest stone tools ever recovered in North America.” (From website.)
Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity for teachers to celebrate and educate their students about the diverse and often overlooked histories and cultures of indigenous peoples in North America. Incorporate these books, activities, and virtual field trips into your lessons. Not only will this promote cultural understanding but it will also provide students with a complete picture of American history. As educators, let’s not just relegate Native American history to November, however. Let’s always strive to integrate their history throughout the year, fostering a deeper appreciation for the contributions and resilience of Native American people and communities.