October 11 is Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Many states and cities have moved towards recognition of this day and even choose to observe it over Columbus Day. This is a day to learn, to observe, to reflect, to create, and to connect through story and creation. It’s also a day to move beyond recognition and towards action and accountability.
The history of Indigenous People in the U.S. is thorny and vast. There is the horrific legacy of entire cultures being violently and systematically eradicated. And then there are stories of survival, fortitude, and deep connection to the environment and other people. Of course, Indigenous history doesn’t begin or end with either of these stories.
As educators, figuring out where to start unwinding this huge tapestry can be overwhelming. Every step towards action and accountability starts with inquiry and research. This post will share resources that can help you explore the past and the present lives of Indigenous Peoples. There are also a few activities that you can do with your students to bring these notions to life.
First, should Columbus Day still play a role in the classroom?
Columbus Day was established to honor the “discovery” of America and serves as an opportunity to recognize the contributions of Italian Americans. The goal of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not to erase and replace Italian American contributions. But it cannot be the only narrative. We now have a chance to examine cultural genocide, the institution of slavery, and the concept of discovery and how these narratives are constructed and at what cost.
Remember, vocabulary matters.
Indigenous Peoples refers to populations that are the original inhabitants of any given geographic region in the world. Native American and American Indian are widely used, but remember that the term Indian exists because Columbus believed he had reached the Indian Ocean. The best option is to refer to specific tribal names.
Websites for learning more about Indigenous Peoples
Books to read
Here are some reading materials that can help everyone learn more about Indigenous Peoples. Each of these lists includes books by Indigenous authors that tell the stories of specific Indigenous tribes.
Activities to try
Lastly, there are many enriching activities you can do with your students to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Month (November), and to bring a broader understanding of Thanksgiving, American history, and environmental activism to your classroom.