Integrating Native Americans
into the Curriculum
Cultural Sensitivity Issues and Advice to
Native Americans in Classroom
Textbooks: A Very Negative History
Into the 1950s: Native Americans are depicted as "ignorant
savages," "Indian varmints" and "vanishing peoples."
1970s: Indians “are infested with problems,” obstacles, noncontributors, savages who resorted to questionable tactics
against settlers and as reservation Indians—remnants of a
once proud people. “Child-like" or "spiritual" or "stoic".
1990s-2000s: More neglect than stereotype, which promotes
the idea that Indians are gone.
Native Americans in U. S. History Textbooks:
Jesus Garcia
Journal of American Indian Education
Volume 17 Number 2 January 1978
Examples: Stereotypes and Neglect
A history textbook called America, America (Grade 10): "A tribe is
a group that is united by a common history, follows the same
customs, and is ruled by the same chief or group of Elders. The
people of each tribe speak the same language, and have the same
People, Places and Change (Grade 7) devotes only one page to
American Indians, of which an illustration of a Pueblo takes up half
the page.
The American Nation (Grade 13) Just four of 972 pages are
dedicated to the history of Indians during the late 1800s. Students
learn only that Indians went to war over losing their land.
What’s wrong with these?
Every spring the Plains Indians held a Sun Dance to call the buffalo herds back to their summer
feeding grounds…Their house were teepees made of buffalo skins. The Plains Indians were a
strong, hardy, people who could move from place to place quickly. Because the soil and climate
were not favorable for crops, they were not farmers, nor did they live in permanent villages.
As they conquered the Indians, the Spaniards forced them to work in mines that had once
belonged to them or to dig new ones. Historians believe that the Spaniards probably mined
more gold in fifty years than the Indians had in a thousand years.
The men were tall and erect with skin of bronze and brown hue. Their cheekbones were high,
eyes piercing and dark, and like most primitive people, their foreheads were inclined to slope
backwards. The young women were slender, comely….and vivacious, but like all primitive races,
they lost the grace and freshness and beauty of youth at an early age. They married young and
performed their daily rounds of drudgery without complaint…They lived their simple lives
without dreams of a wider field of usefulness..Of all primitive peoples, the North American
Indians were the ideal children of nature.
Yet this book is made of realities, not romance. Primitive Man, never having learned to enjoy his
emotions, had no sentimental feelings for the past and his wildest stories wer to him matter of
What are the differences in the two images on the page?
An accurate evaluation of fictional literature about
Native Americans for the elementary classroom:
1. Does the author use imaginative and artistic language to convey
the Native American experience as well as the human
2. Does the author write from the Native American cultural
standpoint rather than the Anglo-American dominant viewpoint,
without being patronizing or sensational?
3. Is the Native American character in children’s fiction fully
developed and presented without generalized statements about
dress, mannerisms or personality?
4. Are the descriptive passages and specific adjectives used in
fictional literature about the Native American free from
stereotypes and bias?
5. In a story about Native Americans of the past, is the Native
American presented as an integral and contributing part of the
history of America?
6. In a book about Native Americans of the past, is the culture of
the Native American described in such a way as to preclude
improper comparisons between past and present-day cultural
standards? (Specifically, words like "primitive" or "stone-age"
should be avoided, as these words imply, incorrectly and
inaccurately, that Native American society of the past had little or
no technology.)
7. Is the culture of the contemporary Native American described as
a dynamic process rather than a static one? (see Note 4)
8. Does the book adequately and accurately describe the life and
present situation of the Native American in the world of today? (see
Note 5)
The Native American in Juvenile Fiction:
Maria Falkenhagen and Inga K. Kelly
Journal of American Indian Education
Volume 13 Number 2 May 1974
Don’t assume because you read a book, saw a
TV documentary, or visited the “rez” that you
know anything about Indians
Don’t speak of Indians as if they were all alike.
350 languages in 1492 with 200
surviving, more than 2000 dialects
563 Federally Recognized Tribes
At least that many are only state
recognized or are unrecognized
Cultures ranged from egalitarian foragers to
socially stratified, urban, agriculturalists. Religions
varied from animists to theistic. Shelters from
brush windbreaks to five-story apartments.
Don’t assume because someone is Indian that they
know anything about Indians.
Don’t ask Indian students : “What is the Indian view of _____?”
Indians are now, not just back then!
Don’t speak of Indians in the past tense.
Don’t worry too much about what to call Indians.
Or is it Native Americans, or is it Indigenous Americans or is it First
Peoples, or is it _____?
Realize that words do have power.
Why offend someone when you don’t have to?
Political correctness is there for a reason.
Sensitivity is not just about “identity politics.”
Think carefully about adopting “Indian ways.”
Present realistic images of Indians, not
Common examples: ecological Indians, tipis and
feathered warbonnets, mascots, scalping, Indian
Indians are not just another ethnic minority.
In fact, they were only granted US citizenship in 1924.
They are “super citizens.”
Because their ancestors signed treaties.
The United States government
made more than 350 with
Native American tribes
All of the treaties were broken.
Not one was broken by Indians
until after the government
broke it.
There your white brothers will not
trouble you; they will have no claim to
the land, and you can live upon it you
and all your children, as long as the
grass grows or the water runs, in peace
and plenty. It will be yours forever.
...which for the Lakota with the Ft.
Laramie of 1868 was four years!
Not one was ever rescinded by
All of them technically are still
in effect and have the same
power as the U.S. Constitution.
Indians were badly treated, but have been
among the most patriotic of Americans.
45,000 American Indians, including the
famous Code Talkers, volunteered for
service in WWII, by percentage, the largest
number of any group in the US.
Lori Ann Piestewa, Hopi,
Killed in Action,
Nasiriyah, Iraq on 23
March 2003
Recognize that there are other perspectives…
…some of them from an Indian point of view!
And some of them, pretty darned funny!
Don’t emphasize only the
problems in modern Indian life.
Lots of good things are happening
in Indian Country.
Recognize that some key “Indian” values are
also “human” values
“Doing what’s in your heart.”
Cultural sensitivity means recognizing
people for their intrinsic humanity.
Yes, there are Indians in Indiana!
39,000 in the last census
14,000 enrolled members from about 60 nations
5,500 Miami live in Indiana
And one more thing…
Please get past
Thanksgiving as an
important time to talk about
Some Good Sources for Educators
American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities
Author: Devon A. Mihesuah ISBN: 0-932-86322-1
Publisher: Clarity Press
Native North America
Authors: Larry J. Zimmerman, Brian Molyneaux ISBN:
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas
Transformed the World
Author: Jack Weatherford ISBN: 0449904962
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Indians in Unexpected Places
Author: Philip Deloria ISBN: 0-700-61344-7
Publisher: University Press of Kansas

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