Updated: Sep 26, 2022
Tips for integrating Native perspective into your lessons
Written by: Trelasa Baratta, Curriculum Developer
Indigenous curriculum doesn’t need only be taught on Indigenous People’s Day or throughout Native American Heritage Month. In fact, integrating Indigenous Knowledges into your lessons should take place throughout the entire school year. Whilst it is important to take time out of the year to honor Native American history and our modern accomplishments, it is equally important to make your students feel seen every day. To actively decolonize education, it must become a primary goal to include Indigenous perspective in your lessons.
There are many Native-made resources to help you attain that goal. Here are some tips on how to get started!
1. Start with Native geography
It’s important to ground students in the local geography, culture and history of the places they live in order to increase a sense of responsibility and democratic participation. Here’s the thing: We all live on Indigenous land. In the first decades of contact between Europeans and California Indians, many Tribes were open to trade with the foreigners and were welcoming hosts to their guests. Along the way, “explorers” turned into colonizers, stole the land and its precious resources for capital gain, and nearly exterminated the original stewards of the land in order to gain access to these resources and create permanent homes for themselves. So, place-based education starts with understanding Indigenous places. You can reference our Native geography lesson for inspiration on how to reorient your students’ perspective from a colonizer’s eye to an Indigenous point of view.
2. Create a collaborative Land Acknowledgement
Once due diligence has been given to the study of Indigenous place, you can guide your students through a formal Land Acknowledgement. A respectful Land Acknowledgement asks students not only to learn about the traditional territories in which they live and learn, but to also learn how to build relationships with land and our plant and animal relatives, about the violent history of the local Indigenous tribes and how that history is connected to land stewardship. A Land Acknowledgement is best concluded with a promise to action; while learning these histories is indeed empowering, it also creates great responsibility to use that knowledge for positive change. Our new unit Native Perspectives - Everyday Lessons aims to give students the tools they need to create their own Land Acknowledgements! For more guidance on writing Land Acknowledgements, visit Native-Land.ca’s Resources page.
"For all of us, becoming Indigenous to a place means living as if your children's future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it." – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
3. Have open conversations about the genocide of American Indians
Despite a call for frank and honest classroom conversations about genocide, up until very recently the California State Board of Education has denied the American genocide of the first peoples of this place, and history textbooks have completely left it out of their content. Steps have already been taken to remedy this massive failure, including Governor Newsom’s formal apology to Tribal peoples for their attempted extermination in early Statehood, as well as an establishment of a Truth and Healing Council. Now is the time to incorporate these tough conversations into your lessons. There are plenty of free resources to guide you, including this Pomo Genocide video from the Autry Museum.
*Be sure to follow up conversations on destruction with conversations on resilience and the ability to survive and rebuild!
4. Create an environment of respect and reciprocity
A growing number of Western scientific studies are revealing the importance of Social and Emotional Learning in the classroom. The idea that this needs to be proven by science in order to be legitimized in curricula might seem silly to many Native parents. Everything we do is centered around mindfulness, not only mindfulness of the present moment, but being mindful of how what we do in the present moment affects future generations. What does student academic success look like without the important foundational values of respect, reciprocity and positive relationships? These values can be easily forgotten under the pressures of Western academic standards. To Indigenize education means to make these values foundational to every lesson. Start with our introduction to the 3 R’s in this elementary lesson, easily adaptable to any grade.
5. Incorporate the outdoors
It can be challenging to build relationships with the land from the confinements of a classroom. A vital part of Indigenizing curriculum is giving students more opportunities to interact with the outdoor classroom. No matter what subject you teach, there are lessons to be learned even from the schoolyard. There is history in the rocks, science in the water, art in the plants, music in the vibrations of sound, math in the natural landscapes - see an example of an outdoor assignment in the Final Project of the Native Perspectives - Everyday Lessons.
Bringing together Indigenous and Western knowledges creates a more harmonious educational experience for all youth.
It is possible to teach the standards while still making your Native students feel seen. Stay tuned for more tips for educators in the future!