The month of November is coming up and normally this month is associated with Thanksgiving and Native Americans. In fact, the month of November is Native American Heritage Month. You may not be aware, but all our children (Jakob, Jaxon, Lily, and Mya) are Native American. Dusty their father is Navajo and myself, their mother, am Navajo & Sioux-Assiniboine.
I know lesson plans for November are probably in the works. I would ask that those lesson plans do not include any of the following: faux Native American clothing (paper bags, headdresses, feathers, etc...); any caricatures of Native Americans that must be colored or dressed up; or any attempts in the school year at Native American themed songs or dances.
Native American clothing is not a costume. The use of feathers or certain types of clothing has significant meaning. Some clothing and Native regalia has deep religious value. Native songs and dance can be social in nature, but many hold religious, even ceremonial value and meaning. Most Native American “costume” or made up dress is not an accurate representation of Native culture in the past or Native culture today. We do not want non-Native children to develop inaccurate understandings of Native peoples. We also do not want school programs to cause embarrassment to current Native students.
Our family would love to come to your classroom or school and talk about our Native American culture and share some dances and songs. Our students love to teach others about their culture and it also helps them gain a positive self-image. If you are interested in us coming to either your classroom or school in November, please let us know so we can make the necessary arrangements.
To be sure this letter is taken in all seriousness, we offer the following example of why this is important. We know it would be inappropriate to have students dress up as slaves or as slave masters to represent pre-civil war American history; we know that we would not have students dress as Jews in the holocaust; but, for some reason, schools are okay with dressing students up in generic, stereotypical “Native American or American Indian” garb and think it is ok. Let me assure you, it is not ok.
Thank you for all you do for our children in school. We are grateful for the life lessons and education that elementary schools provide to our children. We offer this letter in hopes that it will help you continue to provide excellent educational programs in your school.
If you are concerned about whether your current Native American lesson plans/activities are appropriate, we suggest you contact Eileen Quintana, at Larsen Elementary School. Ms. Quintana is the Coordinator for the Title VI Native American Education Program. She can be contacted at eileen.quintana [at] nebo.edu
Chauma & Dustin Jansen