As a child, I was raised in a white, middle-class household. We did not live in a diverse area of central Wisconsin. In fact, I had never seen a non-white person in the city until I was a teenager. As a child, I had watched Westerns on TV, and often played Cowboys and Indians outside with my neighbors. It was common for my friends and I to get upset when we had to be the Indians.
When I attended elementary school, we did not really talk about Native Americans until Thanksgiving approached. I was taught by my teachers that the Pilgrims and Indians had this big feast together and that is why we celebrate Thanksgiving. I was under the impression that the Pilgrims shared their food with the Indians to be nice. I also made the assumption that because of the way the Indians dressed, as seen in drawings about the feast, they did not have a lot.
It was not until when I became an elementary school teacher, did I take the time to educate myself about the struggles of Native Americans and the atrocities they went through during the formation of the United States. As an educator, my primary purpose in teaching social studies to my students, is so they can learn from the mistakes of the past, especially when it came to the treatment of the non-white groups living in the United States.
When teaching about Native Americans, I always ask my students the question, “What do you know about Native Americans?” I tell the students that I record all responses, whether they are right or not. It is amazing to see many misconceptions that still exist. I then share with them the below document and we discuss.
After the discussion, I show them a youtube video about the stereotypes of Native Americans in the movies. You can find the link here. I use the think-pair-share strategy to have the students talk about what they saw, and how it made them feel about how Native Americans were portrayed on the big screen.
I then begin teaching my unit on the Native American tribes before European settlers came. I make sure my students know that there were thousands of unique tribes in America, but we study four different regions were there were certain commonalities. In the unit, the eight strands of social studies are covered. There are over 50 pages of resources and activities. Take a look below at some samples from the Native American Cultures Unit.
Then, of course, comes the discussion of Thanksgiving. After wondering about what actually happened before, during, and after the feast, I began to research this holiday that has become a day to give thanks nationwide. I uncovered a strained relation between the Pilgrims, new settlers, and Wampanoag after the gathering. I have created an informational text activity that takes a look at both the Pilgrims and Wampanoag’s viewpoints
If we are to learn from history, we have to uncover the truth and share it with our students. We have to move away from the eurocentric view of the world, to a view through all peoples’ lenses.