Here at Cread, we are adamant about remixing our calendars and expanding our repertoire of classroom resources. With that in mind, we want you find a way to genuinely celebrate Native American Heritage Month for November.
Now hold on, we’re not saying you must reject Thanksgiving or ruin your family dinner. Now, me, when it’s time to go around and give thanks, I always acknowledge the lives massacred by European invaders. I always remind my family and friends that when we celebrate, we are celebrating genocide. But, no one is saying you have to do that. What we are saying, is that in order to decolonize education, we need to face some of these hard truths about our history. November is not just about Turkey and football.
When I retrace my own NYC public school education, the indigenous are “discussed” three times; The Thanksgiving Feast, Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark and the Trail of Tears. I knew they were killed and land taken away and that every black person I knew with “good” hair would quip, “I have Indian in my family.”
Most of us, would roll our eyes and ask which kind? To which the answer would be, “Cherokee!” Lol. Yall, know I’m right!
But seriously, recently, I met a “real” Black Indian. She goes to high school out in Long Island. When you look at her, she looks like a typical black girl. When you talk with her, meet her family, listen to her experiences of going to the reservation monthly to visit her grandparents and cousins, when she talks about the abject poverty and how conflicted she feels about going to an elite private school while her cousins go to schools that are severely underfunded on the reservations. She is often conflicted with both of her identities.
She talks about being teased for talking like a white girl on the reservation and at school white students tell her “she’s so lucky because she will get into every school and receive tons of financial aid because she’s black and indian.” With every visit and every talk she provides my only real connection to the indigenous of this country.
A few weeks ago, I purchased Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s book, “An indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” after doing so much research for HHM. Looking at the ways that Africans, Europeans and the Indigenous mixed together to create “Hispanic,” I began to realize how much I didn’t know about the indigenous of this country. And you know, with Amazon, when you buy one book, they entice you with other books. So, I clicked on William Lowen Katz, “Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage” because as I researched Black Wall Street, I found that there was a very close connection between former enslaved Blacks and the Indigenous of Oklahoma. These two books have begun to help me decolonize my understanding of the history of America. Definitely put them on your wish list.
But, what can you do for the month of November to celebrate the indigenous of this country? Check out the First Nations Development Institute, the National Congress of American Indians, and The American Indian College Fund websites. But listen to me; you can discover ways to celebrate with your students. You don’t have to know everything in order to “teach” this. Let this be a learning opportunity for you and your students. Take them on a trip to the National Museum of the American Indian right here in New York or if you’re an OG, take them to the Museum of the same name at the Smithsonian in DC. Just do something to bring awareness to those hearts and minds in your classroom. And one word of advice; don’t let this celebration be all about genocide, murder and destruction. After all, we did call it a celebration!
To my Elementary School teachers, as you think about the little projects your going to ask the students to create before their 4 day break, all we will say is, keep the project honest.Use Teaching Tolerance as a guide. For my Secondary School teachers, you could engage your students with the political and economic movement of NOT spending money on Black Friday to bring light to police brutality and black economic wealth.
If you’ve never celebrated Native American Heritage Month, start now. We gave you 7 whole days to prepare. Teachers can make miracles happen with that much time.
Oh, and I heard all of you roll your eyes when I said take them on a trip. Yes, I said, I heard you roll your eyes. Lol! You’re saying a trip takes too long, requires too much and it’s too short notice. All of those things MAY be true. So let me get you focused right now. The next 4 months are very trip worthy, Native American Heritage Month, Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, Black History and Women’s History month. Get your students out of the classroom and into the world. Experience is the best teacher so we need to do our due diligence in providing those experiences.
Deep thinkers only!