Long before the English explored and settled on what we know today as the United States of America, there lived a group of incredibly brave, wise, and resourceful people. These people are referred to as Native Americans, and they still exist with tribes scattered throughout the country.
Native American history is without a doubt worth teaching our children about – especially since they significantly helped advance our hunting, trading, and agriculture methods. With it being Native American Heritage Month, you can spend the entire month of November teaching your children about their culture and history!
In this article, we’ll briefly explore the history of Native Americans and cover what hands-on resources we have to help you teach about important Native American culture, people, events, and traditions.
The History of Native Americans
European settlers arrived in North America around the 15th century. As they began to explore the vast land, they soon discovered Native American civilizations. There were various tribes spread throughout the area, each with their own unique culture and way of life.
English explorers arrived shortly after Columbus, establishing the first English settlement called Jamestown. This colony faced many hardships – from their failure to build up enough food and shelter to their volatile relationship with the Natives.
The colonists’ first encounter with the Native Americans started on a friendly note. However, misunderstandings and fights would follow, ending with the Natives desperately fighting to take back the land that was once theirs. This would tragically end in Andrew Jackon’s Indian Removal Act, where Native Americans were forcefully relocated from their territories.
By the 19th century, the Native American population significantly diminished in size, with some tribes being renamed, others combined or dispersed, and some completely eliminated.
Despite their suffering throughout history, many Native American communities still exist and continue to grow. There are countless landmarks dedicated to Native American heroes and their accomplishments.
Let’s take a look at the history behind Native American History Month and how it can help you celebrate the Native American heritage and culture in your homeschool classroom!
What and When Is Native American Heritage Month?
Native American Heritage Month, which takes place during the month of November, is dedicated to honoring and exploring the Native American people. These original settlers of the U.S. are full of fascinating heritage, history, and traditions worth learning about.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a Seneca Native American named Arthur C. Parker, who was also the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y., partnered with the Boy Scouts of America to devote a day of the year to the “first Americans.”
The group continued this tradition for three years until, in 1915, the Congress of the American Indian Association approved every second Saturday of May as “American Indian Day.” To make this happen, a Blackfoot Native American named Red Fox James rode state to state on horseback, asking government officials to dedicate a day honoring the Natives. He presented his endorsements to the White House on December 14, 1915.
In May of 1916, the first American Indian Day was celebrated in New York. Many other states followed suit but never celebrated during the same week or month. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan issued the Presidential Proclamation 5577 proclaiming the first American Indian Week, which stated:
“Many of the foods we eat and the medicines and remedies we use were introduced by Indians, and more than one highway follows an Indian trail. Indians make contributions in every area of endeavor and American life, and our literature and all our arts draw upon Indian themes and wisdom. Countless American Indians have served in our Armed Forces and have fought valiantly for our country.”
By 1990, President George W. Bush approved November as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Since then, presidents like Obama and Trump have continued issuing Native American Heritage Month proclamations designating November as a time to celebrate their diversity and pivotal contributions to our country.
How to Celebrate Native American Heritage Month
Native American Heritage Month activities can easily be included in your history studies during November. While you take some time to learn about the history behind Thanksgiving (which you can learn more about in our History of Holidays Activity Study), you can continue learning more about Native American culture.
There are so many exciting hands-on ways to learn about the Native American heritage. Take, for example, dress-up! There are countless Native heroes your child can dress up as and learn about. Head over to our YouTube channel and watch our Kids Dress-Up Clothes on a Shoestring Budget for more ideas on how you can make an authentic Native American costume.
You can even dig a little deeper and explore the tribes local to your area. You can study their heritage, traditions, legends, and so much more. For a map of various tribes, check out our Native American Tribes project in our New World Explorers study that can help with that, along with plenty more information on Native Americans scattered throughout our Time Travelers series.
We also have a “Native Story Bag” that helps introduce kids to the most famous Native American figures and events throughout history, from Sacagawea to the Trail of Tears.
How about making some crafty keepsakes like moccasins or beaded necklaces? One of our favorite Native American crafts to make is corn husk dolls, which you can learn more about in our blog post, The History of Corn Husk Dolls.
There’s also plenty of delicious Native American recipes out there you can make with your kids. Introducing recipes in your history studies is a great way to help teach your kids necessary skills like cooking and touch on other subjects like math and science. We include historical recipes in practically all of our studies. Our Maple Sugar Candy Recipe, found in our Early 19th Century Time Traveler study, is the perfect sweet treat to include in your research on Native Americans!
Learn, Remember, and Have Fun!
Native Americans have played a fundamental role in the early years of American history, which is why celebrating and learning about their heritage and history is so important! We hope you take some time to learn about Native Americans during the month of November and share this article with your homeschool friends and family who might want to do the same!