Creating Positive Cultural Images: Thoughts for Teaching about American Indians
Haukoos, Gerry D., Beauvais, Archie B., Childhood Education
Most children enjoy stories and school lessons about American Indians. They often find something inspirational about the lives of Chief Joseph, Crazy Horse, Geronimo and other great American Indian leaders. Although it is important to learn about these great American leaders, it is even more important for children to construct positive images of present-day Native people to prevent racial or cultural stereotypes from becoming part of their beliefs.
American Indian people are among the many different peoples and cultures that live on the American continent. While we all are much more alike than different, it is the differences that too often compel us to erect barriers of misunderstanding. Consequently, we must learn more about each other. Educators especially require knowledge of other cultures, races and ethnicities. Otherwise, they may unknowingly spread their misunderstandings as stereotypes to students.
Two decades ago, Heinrich (1977) addressed Native and non-Native interracial issues when she published a list of "what not to teach about American Indians." Its purpose was to help elementary school teachers correct common errors. Although the Indian Nations at Risk Task Force (1994) found significant change in Native education since the mid-1970s, many of Heinrich's recommendations are as relevant today as when she first proposed them. This paper will revisit those suggestions, and then encourage teachers to rethink how they portray American Indian people. The authors hope to advance classroom teachers' understanding by providing current explanations and viewpoints from the Native community.
Restructuring the Knowledge Base
* Teach children that American Indian people prefer to be identified by their nation name.
The name "Indian" was a white man's invention and still remains largely a white image, if not a stereotype. It was first used by members of Christopher Columbus's party when, upon landing in the Americas, they erroneously believed they had landed in India. Most Europeans, however, called Indian peoples "Americans" until immigrants from Europe appropriated that name (Sando, 1972). The term "Native American" also was derived from non-Natives, originally used by the United States Government to designate all Native peoples of the continent. Today, by most accounts, it includes American Indians, Alaska Natives and all Native peoples from the United States's territories and possessions - American Samoa, Baker Island, Howland Island, Guam, Jarvis Island, Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, Johnston Atoll, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Wake Island.
These appellations, however, do not distinguish Apache from Inuit or Samoans from Mohawks. As a result, federal dollars typically budgeted for American Indians and Alaska Natives have now been reallocated to all peoples who declare themselves to be Native American. This interpretation increased competition for federal dollars and, in some cases, reduced treatied funds for those peoples originally identified as Native Americans.
Most American Indian and Alaska Native groups have therefore moved away from calling themselves Native Americans, and instead use the names of their original nations (e.g., Navajo Nation, Menominee Nation, Seneca Nation). Most electronic databases and publications edited by Native scholars now use the term American Indian (e.g., Journal of American Indian Education, American Indian Quarterly, American Indian Culture and Research Journal) when referring to Native peoples as a collective group. Although use of "American Indian" may suggest a return to the old image, those who choose American Indian terminology believe it more clearly identifies Native people 'of America as uniquely indigenous to the continent.
* Teach children that American Indian people do not live in tribes.
Although the United States Government has used the term "tribe" as an official designation for identifying different populations of American Indian people, most Native people prefer to be recognized as belonging to a particular nation of people rather than a tribe. …