Native American Heritage Month, Thanksgiving, and Year-Round Resources for Educators

graphic of native american heritage month with a woven blanket around the borderNovember is Native American, or American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. While we should honor, recognize, and celebrate Indigenous Peoples year-round, November is a month to dedicate more time to our individual and respective learning journeys about Indigenous Peoples’ history, culture, knowledge, perspectives, and leadership.

You can find some Native American Heritage Month online events here, including a conversation with U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, and the National Archives hosts many online resources as well.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Project Learning Tree (PLT) are committed to continuing our own education and establishing mutually respectful relationships with Indigenous Peoples (also known as reconciliation) through our work. We’re passionate about providing resources to create a better understanding of the importance of forests and the many communities that rely on forests for the spiritual, cultural, environmental, and economic benefits they bring.

We’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of resources for educators to help you get started or continue your personal and your students’ learning journeys.

The best resources are those developed by Indigenous peoples, themselves. Other representations of Indigenous Peoples and/or the language used can be imperfect, so we encourage you to consider those a starting point to be researched and reflected upon.

Bookmark this page and let us know in the comments if you have other suggested resources to add, as well as how you plan to integrate some of these resources into your work with students!

 

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  • General resources

    We cannot move towards a more equitable future for all if we don’t acknowledge the past, present, and future challenges and opportunities Indigenous Peoples face. And as an environmental educator teaching on traditional territories, you have a responsibility to inform our future environmental leaders about the land’s original forest and conservation stewards. Consider your opportunities to teach about the social, economic, legal, and governmental influences that have had (and continue to have) an impact on Indigenous Peoples, their communities, and their relationship with their traditional territories.

    Here are a few resources to start your education. Again, this list is not all-encompassing, and we encourage you to continue your research.

        • Native American Heritage Month: Congress passed, and President George Bush signed into law a joint resolution designating November 1990 as the first National American Indian Heritage Month, also known as Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

     

        • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP): Adopted in 2007, the UNDRIP establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous Peoples. While not legally binding, the U.S. has agreed to support the declaration. Learn more about Indigenous Peoples’ universally recognized rights.

     

     

        • Canada’s Day for Truth and Reconciliation: In 2008, Canada launched the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to inform the public about residential schools (sometimes referred to as boarding schools) and what happened to survivors, families, and communities after years of advocacy from Indigenous communities. For many years, September 30 has been known as Orange Shirt Day, a day to raise awareness of residential schools and spread the message that “every child matters.” After years of advocacy, in 2021, Canada recognized September 30 as the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, honoring Indigenous Peoples and their lived experiences. Explore more resources on Truth and Reconciliation here.

     

        • Colonization: 23,000 year old human footprints were recently found in New Mexico, confirming Indigenous oral histories about how long Native people have called these lands home. It’s estimated that 5–15 million Indigenous people lived in what is now known as North America before 1492. But in the 19th century, there were fewer than 238,000 Indigenous people. This article from HISTORY details a few of the battles fought and atrocities committed by settlers in their desire to take more land. Learn about Westward Expansion and how “Manifest Destiny” was used by settlers to validate stealing land from Indigenous Peoples; you can also read the UN’s post on how the “Doctrine of Discovery” was used to justify land theft. 

     

        • Reservations: As part of Westward Expansion and settlers violently taking Indigenous lands, the federal government created the Indian reservation system. Learn about how the government forced many Indigenous people onto much smaller plots of land (many miles or states away) to gain more control of land and natural resources, and to try to assimilate Native people. Native American Aid has more information on the lasting effects this still has and the living conditions on reservations.

     

     

        • Boarding schools: Indian boarding schools (also known as residential schools), on- and off-reservations, were in operation from 1860 to 1978 in the United States. Located both on- and off-reservations, the goal of the schools was to “civilize” Indigenous children, by stripping them of their language and culture, and limiting their connections to their family and community. Children also suffered physical, mental, emotional, sexual, and verbal abuse at these schools. More than 350 government-funded boarding schools for Indigenous youth existed in the States.

          The Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania was the first government-run, off-reservation boarding school for Indigenous people in the U.S. The school opened in 1879 and in its 39 years of operation, almost 8,000 Indigenous youth attended. At the former grounds, there are 180 marked gravesites for Indigenous students, and some marked as “unknown.” In June 2021, it was announced that the remains of 10 former students would be returned home, some as far away as Alaska. As the remains of thousands of Indigenous children were confirmed at former residential schools in Canada, the U.S. has launched a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to review the legacy of and intergenerational trauma caused by Native American boarding schools. 

     

        • Indian Citizenship Act: In 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, which granted citizenship to Native Americans born in the U.S. However, the right to vote was still often restricted. Before the Act, citizenship was restricted to Indigenous people of “one-half or less Indian blood,” some “friendly tribes,” most women who married US citizens, and World War I veterans. 

     

        • The Right to Vote: In 1965, Indigenous Peoples in the United States were given the right to vote under the Voting Rights Act, but barriers are still in place that prevent Indigenous Peoples from participating in American elections, including lack of polling sites and translation support. 

     

        • Indian Civil Rights Act: In 1968, the Indian Civil Rights Act was signed “to ensure that the American Indian is afforded the broad constitutional rights secured to other Americans.” The Act is controversial, however, as it allows the federal government to interfere with internal disputes.

     

        • Present Day: It’s essential to remember that it’s not just historical injustices that Indigenous communities face; there are many present-day issues as well. These include the missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) epidemic, water access and quality, and oil and pipeline projects. Watch this Ted Talk from Tara Houska about the Standing Rock Resistance, or this interview with Nick Estes about Indigenous resistance. Assign students to investigate how environmental justice issues disproportionately impact Indigenous communities around the world and research environmental issues and their impact on the communities near you.

     

    women stand in protest holding signs saying my mom sisters aunts and grandmas are sacred

     

    Land acknowledgments

    As educators, we have a responsibility to acknowledge the history of the Indigenous Peoples whose culture, language, and close relationship with the environment has changed (and in many instances, was broken) and encourage students to do the same.

    It’s important to understand that many Indigenous communities were forcibly removed and relocated from their territories, where we now live and work. One way to recognize the Indigenous people whose territories we now occupy, is with a land or territory acknowledgement. A territory acknowledgement is a statement of recognition, identifying the Indigenous Peoples and their homelands (or territories) on which we live and work. It’s an expression of respect and gratitude, acknowledging that we are sharing the land. And it’s a reflection of our understanding of the history of the land we are on today, as well as our present relationships with both Indigenous Peoples and the land.

    As an example, this is the acknowledgement our staff use for meetings and events:

    The Sustainable Foresty Initiative and Project Learning Tree’s diverse team of staff and consultants live and work on the ancestral territories of many Indigenous nations, including from our offices on the traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin people in what is now Ottawa, ON, and of the Nacotchtank and Piscataway Peoples in present day Washington D.C. We recognize the enduring leadership of Indigenous Peoples with respect to sustainable forest management and are committed to building and promoting forest-focused collaborations rooted in recognition and respect for Indigenous Peoples’ rights, traditional knowledge, relationships with the land, and responsibilities to future generations.

    The purpose of a land or territory acknowledgement is to:

        • Remind us that the land we live on was not empty or unused before European settlement. It was—and still is—home to Indigenous Peoples who hold meaningful relationships with that territory.

     

        • Help us recognize that the land and waters are still central to the livelihoods, health, culture, economy, and overall wellbeing of many Indigenous Peoples today.

     

        • Summon us to uphold the obligations and responsibilities we all hold as people sharing the land, especially those of us living in treaty territory.

     

        • Invite us to collaborate with the original stewards of the lands in which we work, so that we can come to better understand the values and practices that have enabled its sustainable management for millennia. 

     

    You can also read this short article on why we acknowledge territory and some tips. In general, a meaningful territory acknowledgment will include three elements: territory, people, and intent.

        • Territory: Identify Indigenous communities or nations who assert their rights, historical, or contemporary presence within the area of interest. Use a tool like Native-Land or the Tribal Leaders Directory. Identify any relevant treaties within the territory, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments. Learn more about treaties here.

     

        • People: It’s important to properly recognize the people you identify, even if a particular nation no longer lives there. Try to determine how the people or communities refer to themselves. Learn how to properly pronounce the names of the people you identify and think about how you can build a meaningful relationship with those communities. Consider reaching out to staff in the community to find information they feel you should consider when crafting your acknowledgment.

     

        • Intent: Relate the acknowledgement to your professional role, your personal interests, or the activity for which you are crafting it. Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ stewardship of the territory’s lands and waters which you now enjoy and benefit from, both personally and professionally. Reflect upon the spirit, intent and meaning of the treaties you’ve identified. Express your commitment to respectful relationship building, including the efforts you intend to make to be a respectful neighbor or partner. Once you have some promising leads, visit the Tribe or community’s website, which often have maps of their traditional territories, or call them directly.

     

     

    PLT resources

    Project Learning Tree is dedicated to ensuring that our education materials contribute to authentic and meaningful learning environments that represent all voices. PLT’s flexible and hands-on instructional resources enable adaptation to diverse and localized contexts, and our model of delivery through regional partners ensures that instruction and content strategies can be modified to meet the needs of all leaners.

    We encourage educators to add Indigenous content and traditional knowledge to their curriculum.

    Looking for a little inspiration? We hope that these stories of collaboration from two PLT state programs will inspire others to work with Indigenous Elders and educators to tailor PLT activities to honor the experiences and leadership of Indigenous Peoples.

 

  • Yakama Nation in Washington State

    Supported by an SFI grant, Yakama Nation Tribal Forestry is collaborating with Washington PLT state sponsor PEI: the Pacific Education Institute to provide the Yakama Nation’s natural resources staff and educators with PLT workshops and forest tours. The project also offers opportunities for youth to investigate green career pathways that could help them stay in their community and become natural resources leaders.

     

  • Ojibwe and Dakota Tribes in Minnesota

    graphic detailing the names of the 7 adapted lessons: Respecting Mother Earth, Who Cares for This Forest, A Forest of Balance, The Forest Provides, 400-Acre Wood, and the Star in the Cottonwood Tree

    Also supported by an SFI Community Grant, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (the state sponsor of Minnesota PLT) worked with educator and Onondaga community member Larissa Harris-Juip to modify seven PLT activities to include Ojibwe and Dakota history and culture.

    Bookmark and explore all seven adapted PLT lessons and read about some things to keep in mind when collaborating with Indigenous communities in the article “Connecting Students, Indigenous Knowledge, and Minnesota Forests.”

     

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  • Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in the Pacific Northwest

    Download these Student Pages to help grades 6-8 students learn about how communities are addressing environmental justice issues. Using the first Community Case Study: Salmon People, and The Rest of the Story… student pages, learn how the 12 bands of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation joined with the State of Washington to sue a Canadian company for polluting the Columbia River and threatening the livelihood of Tribe members. Have student teams compare their ideas for solutions to the issue with what the community did.

    These resources support PLT’s new activity Environmental Justice for All, found in PLT’s Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide. Be sure to check out the full activity!

     

    More resources for the classroom

    Here are more resources to consider when looking to add more Indigenous content and knowledge to your curriculum:

        • Illuminative: This article features resources for K-12 teachers to amplify the voices of Indigenous Peoples in classrooms, including lesson plans for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

     

        • Native Knowledge 360: Thanksgiving is a popular holiday, but Indigenous people are often left out of the conversation. This resource offers lesson plans focused around the “First Thanksgiving” with a more accurate representation of the holiday and features Indigenous perspectives.

     

        • The Status of Tribes and Climate Change Report: Help students learn about Native American cultures and understand the ways that climate change is impacting Indigenous communities, as well as the solutions being implemented with this resource developed by the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals.

     

        • American Indian Education: Here is an expansive list of resources for Indigenous education, including curriculum sites, organizations, projects and programs, and reports from Indigenous youth.

     

        • University of Massachusetts: The university compiled a list of Indigenous history lesson plans around topics such as the Tecumseh War, genocide and reclamation, decolonization, and Thanksgiving for students of all ages.

     

        • Minnesota Department of Education: The Minnesota Department of Education has compiled a list of resources to enhance classroom lessons about Indigenous Peoples, including Indigenous Peoples Day resources, lessons about land, Indigenous governance, and treaty education.

     

        • University of Georgia: Explore the seizure of Indigenous Peoples’ lands and growth of settler colonies with the free ArcGIS time-lapse mapping tool Invasion of America, created by Professor Claudio Saunt of the University of Georgia.

     

        • National Education Association: Activities for educators and students related to Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month can be found here. Lesson plans include “Native Americans Today” and “Alaska Native Stories,” and there are also tips for educators to amplify the voices of Indigenous Peoples in the classroom.

     

        • NPR: This article discusses how educators may be excluding Indigenous Peoples from their Thanksgiving lessons and offers tips on how to teach students what really happened.

     

     

     
     
     
     
     
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    A post shared by Inuit Circumpolar Council (@icc_canada)

     

     

    Supporting and amplifying Indigenous voices

    A great way to learn more is to listen, watch, and read content created by Indigenous people. Begin decolonizing your curriculum by encouraging young people to learn about modern Indigenous artists, politicians, scientists, natural resource professionals, and other leaders.

     

        • Support Indigenous creators and stories: In addition to consuming news from Indigenous media, read, watch, and listen to content created by Indigenous authors and artists to expose yourself to more diverse perspectives and stories. 

     

    Some books, podcasts, TV shows, and artists to check out:

    Early childhood and elementary:

     

  • Middle school, young and mature adult:

     

     

    Language best practices

    Use thoughtful, intentional language when teaching. Your words carry great power to developing minds, so understand your responsibility as an educator and commit yourself to learning about the weight of these words.

  • Here are a few tips, as well as common terms and definitions used in the article above:

      • When referencing a group of people, consider including the word “people,” and where possible, use person-first language and take your cues from how the people you are referring to describe themselves. When in doubt, respectfully ask people how they would prefer to be referred to.
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      • Indigenous: referring to, or relating to, the people who originally lived in a place, rather than people who moved there from somewhere else. In the United States you may see terms like Native American or American Indian; and in Canada, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis. Tribes and Tribal may be used to describe Native Peoples in America, but be mindful of who you may be excluding when referencing a group of people (not all Native American people are members of federally recognized Tribes and others may consider the term Nation as a more respectful acknowledgement of sovereignty). Note that there may be one official name for the Tribe, but community members may refer to the groups of people within the Tribe by another name — use the Tribe name, and ideally the name of the community that members use for themselves. Watch this video for more details and suggestions.
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      • Indigenous lands: all lands and waters. Some use the term “Indigenous lands” as shorthand to note lands that are owned and/or actively managed by Indigenous Peoples, but many would contend that all lands in North America are Indigenous lands, and may interpret “Indigenous lands” as implying that some lands are not.
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      • Assimilation: the process of becoming a part, or making someone become a part, of a group, country, society, etc.
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      • Colonization: the establishing of a colony, and subjugation of a people and/or area.
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      • Decolonization: freeing a people from colonial status, to relinquish control of a subjugated people or area. As we refer to the term, especially as it relates to Indigenous Peoples and environmental justice, decolonization is the act of creating opportunities for “cultural, psychological, and economic freedom” for Indigenous people.
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      • Settler Colonialism: Settler colonialism is an ongoing system of power that perpetuates the genocide and repression of Indigenous Peoples and cultures.
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      • Settlers: a person who arrives, especially from another country, in a new place in order to live there and use the land. This term is often used to describe colonial-era colonizers, but may also be used to describe current people. It’s important to remember that the students you work with will have a variety of relationships with the land they live on, whether descended from Indigenous or settler communities. 
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      • Ownership: the right or state of owning something or taking responsibility for a problem. Take care to avoid words that connote ownership of Indigenous communities, (ex: Not “America’s Indigenous Peoples” but rather “Indigenous Peoples in the US”; do not place “our” in front of references to Indigenous communities, businesses, etc.
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      • Truth (and) Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC): From 2008 to 2015, the TRC was active in Canada, providing an opportunity for anyone directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools (sometimes referred to as boarding schools) system to share their stories and experiences.
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      • A note about capitalization: According to the Elements of Indigenous Style, “[Using capitalization] is a deliberate decision that redresses mainstream society’s history of regarding Indigenous peoples as having no legitimate national identities; governmental, social, spiritual, or religious institutions; or collective rights.” We at SFI and PLT work to capitalize all identities as a sign of respect and are intentional in our capitalization of terms like Indigenous, Native, Native American, Tribe, Tribal, etc. We encourage you to learn more best grammar and language practices by reviewing The Native Governance Center’s How to Talk About Native Nations Guide.

 

Jennifer Byerly

Jennifer Byerly

Jennifer Byerly is PLT's Communications and Marketing Manager. She focuses on digital communications and community-building; please feel free to email her and share your PLT story!