Friday, October 17, 2014

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month (Without Being A Racist)



 It's November! November for me has always meant Native American Heritage Month, when attention is put on doing things celebrating Native Americans. Something I do all year round because being Indian is awesome :) But it is good that some -- any -- positive attention is given to Native Americans, especially with the awful statistics out there and the many controversies (whose initials are W and R) that distract from the real issues. So many people have negative stereotypes in their heads about Indians that can be battled during the month of November. I wish it was done all year round, but hey, I'll take it where I can get it.

 This blog post is really devoted to people out there that want to use Native American Heritage Month as an educational tool for children. School teachers, homeschoolers, parents who do things with their kids: I'm talking to you. Many people who fit in those categories like to do artsy-craftsy projects with children during Native American Heritage Month. And, I GET it. The Native American culture is very artistic and beautiful and children really connect to that.

 There's just a right and wrong way to do it.

 This is wrong. (paper bag Native American clothes)

 This is horrible. ("Native American" pictographs)

 This is awful. (Thanksgiving teepees)

 Please, never do this. (paper headresses)

 EEK! You're whiteness is showing! (making only the girls learn about Indians and boys learn about Pilgrims)

 Now, there are many reasons why these crafts are racist. The regalia worn by Native Americans are often considered sacred to them, not something you should make out of a Kroger bag. I have no idea what tribe the pictographs are coming from, but there is no such thing as "general Native American pictographs," so that's just misinformation. Eastern Woodlands Indians, who were the ones who met the "Pilgrims," did not live in teepees, so teepees have no place at a Thanksgiving meal. Headdresses are also considered sacred and not to be made out of construction paper. If you can't figure out why feminizing the Indians by only assigning the girls in your class to learn about them is a problem, you shouldn't be teaching children.

 (Of course, other Native people may vehemently disagree with what I am saying in this entire article and that's okay. Native people are not the Borg; we have different opinions on things. But this is my opinion, as a Native American (and maybe an educator), so... if you don't want my opinion, click that big X on the top right hand side of your screen.)

 So, you're probably sitting there now saying, "Jeez, Lisa. I'm trying to teach my little white children about Native Americans so they don't get all of their information from Johnny Depp. What have you left me with?"

 Not every Native American craft is racist. Let me share what I will be doing with my little white children this Native American Heritage Month.

 I did this craft with elementary children at a Native American summer camp and they LOVED it. Even the boys. I love this craft because Eastern Woodlands Indian children have always made corn husk dolls. These are actually Native toys! You can buy the corn husks at Crazy Crow.

2. Clay Pots
 I also did made clay pots with the camp children and they loved that, too. There are a few different ways to make clay pots and you can try them all if your kid has enough patience. You can also wait for the pots to dry then paint designs on them. And then give them to your mom, who will treasure them forever.

3. Dreamcatchers
 Dreamcatchers are the ultimate pan-Indian craft. You can make beautiful dreamcatchers, like my sister does, or you can make horribly ugly dreamcatchers, like I do. Either way, it is a great craft to do with kids because it teachers motor skills AND you can use it to decorate your room. I'm not sure I will be doing this craft with my toddlers, but maybe next year.

4. Mini-Drum
 I go back and forth with this one. To the tribes that make up the Eastern Woodland Indians, the drum is very, very sacred. Great respect is given to the drum at any occasion and the men who drum are also greatly respected, especially as they are actually drumming. You don't manhandle a drum. At the same time, I don't see anything wrong with making a mini-drum out of a coffee can, brown material, and string. To me, drumming this drum has the same spiritual meaning as if my toddlers drummed the bottom of a pot with a wooden spoon. Instead of the pot-spoon drumming, though, I'm able to teach them about the importance of the drum in our culture. Of course, my toddlers are way too little for that sort of conversation, so I will probably just play some powwow music and see if they can recognize the sounds of the drum beats.

5. Beaded jewelry
 Beading is one of my favorite Native American crafts. I have already had my boys help me making necklaces out of beads, which they love and is GREAT for motor control. I think I am going to try to make these "wampum belts" with the boys. (I have no idea why these are being called wampum belts. Wampum is a certain kind of purple-white sea shell that is often made into beads and pendants, which are then also made into belts... Sigh, white people. I like her examples though.) I'm actually going to buy some faux, clay wampum from Crazy Crow, so these will actually be wampum belts, which are culturally important to Eastern Woodlands Indians.

 I hope that gives y'all some ideas on how to celebrate Natiev American Heritage Month without being a racist. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to comment below! If you are going to tell me how your paper headdress isn't actually racist, just... don't.

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