City Kids has started a new year of World Cultures & Geography, and we are beginning with Indigenous people in North America. This week, we began with a lesson about the importance of horses to the various plains tribes in the U.S. The history of the horse in these cultures is a beautiful one that teaches us how the horse changed the way these cultures lived, worked, traveled, hunted, went to war, and even played. The horse is a worker, a companion, a friend, a teacher, and a protector; our children loved learning about how significant horses are to various Native American tribes. Below, you can see some of the footage we watched of different people explaining how horses are interwoven into their identities and their heritage:
There are countless approaches to teaching our children about the diversity and richness in the culture and history of Indigenous people in North America. But so often, children are only taught the false narrative of Indigenous people, which includes the story of a mutually beneficial and cheerful meeting between European colonizers and Native people. And they ate turkey somewhere along the way. The lies that children are taught are deeply disturbing, as are the omissions. Children are rarely taught about the incredibly varied cultures, languages, traditions, and stories of Indigenous people. This pedagogical approach is problematic for two reasons:
It privileges the Europeans as the center of the history of Native Americans—as if the only important thing to learn about Native Americans is that they happened to be here when the Europeans came.
It fabricates a false narrative about what happened during those first and lasting encounters, the brutal truth of which is thievery, rape, murder, kidnapping, and slavery.
There were Indigenous people in North America around twelve thousand years ago (scholars disagree on the exact amount of time). That’s thousands of years before anyone sailed a boat from Europe, thousands of years of history, of culture, of language, and of stories of how the world came into existence. And after the Europeans arrived, these cultures, under constant, brutal pressures to wipe out their ways of life, persevered and tried to maintain who they were. When we learn about Native Americans, we can show respect for these cultures by learning something about what makes their cultures unique, not just about their encounters with colonizers. There are almost six hundred tribes in North America, all with their own cultures, languages, traditions, and stories; we have a lot to learn.
I want my son to grow up understanding that all people have a rich history, and all people deserve to be known how they would like to be known. In our family, we approach teaching about Indigenous cultures in three main ways:
Indigenous people have cultures, languages, and traditions that are important to learn about. We respect other cultures enough to learn about their way of life, and we do not just study the encounters they have with outsiders. Indigenous people are important because of who they are, not just because of an historical conflict.
When our son is old enough to understand and process the true history of the conflict between Europeans and Native Americans, we will tell him these brutal truths, even if they are difficult to hear. We will not lie or leave out details—it is grossly disrespectful to other cultures to lie about their history, and it is culturally problematic, for many reasons, to mis-educate our children.
We will seek out information and history recorded by the people we are learning about, so that it is their voices that educate us about who they are. Their narratives are their truths, and we should respect their truths.
Unfortunately, most kids in this country will not grow up knowing anything about Native American diversity. They will also not understand (or be concerned with) the significant struggles that Native American communities still face; the Dakota Access Pipeline has been in the news lately, and it is just one of many issues that Indigenous people face in their struggle to maintain their cultures, their languages, and their lands. We cannot understand who we are as a nation unless we connect with and respect the Indigenous people of this nation. And some day, our kids will grow up to vote for politicians who support (or do not support) Native American sovereignty. Or they might grow up to be those politicians. And that is why, in our co-op, we are beginning our World Cultures & Geography curriculum with Indigenous people. Below are some pictures of our kids enjoying their lesson.
We are on the move with an oral Blackfeet story about the origins of horses. Our story included going up a mountain and down to a lake. Luckily, the park we were in had LOTS of stairs.
After talking about the significance of horse masks, and looking at some beautiful pictures, the kids made their own.
Our kids are playing Hoop and Spear, a traditional game played by Native American kids who grew up in the plains states.
*If your child is learning about Indigenous cultures at home or in school, please share those experiences with us. City Kids would love to hear about them!