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Uncategorized   |   Nov 24, 2008

I is not for Indian

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

I is not for Indian

By Angela Watson


“Why does the average American see nothing wrong with purchasing that mask and dressing up her child as AN INDIAN…but would never think to masquerade as another ethnic group?” (from “I” is not for “Indian”)

These tips are from Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Teaching Respect for Native Peoples (visit the site for many more):

  • Don’t use ABC books that have “I is for Indian” or “E is for Eskimo.”
  • Don’t use counting books that count “Indians.”
  • Do avoid arts and crafts and activities that trivialize Native dress, dance, or ceremony.
  • Don’t use books that show Native people as savages, primitive craftspeople, or simple tribal people, now extinct.
  • Don’t have children dress us as “Indians,” with paper-bag “costumes” or paper-feather “headdresses.”
  • Don’t sing “Ten Little Indians.”
  • Don’t use materials which present as heroes only those Native people who aided Europeans.
  • Do use materials which present Native heroes who fought to defend their own people.
  • Do discuss the relationship between Native peoples and the colonists and what went wrong with it.
  • Don’t speak as though “the Indians” were here only for the benefit of the colonists.
  • Don’t have them make “Indian crafts” unless you know authentic methods and have authentic materials.
  • Do make sure you know the history of Native peoples, past and present, before you attempt to teach it.

Below are two wonderful PDF resources from the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. Both provide guidelines for teaching about Thanksgiving and Native Americans in general, and provide some alternative ways to celebrate with your class.

Thanksgiving and Teaching About Native Americans
Rethinking Thanksgiving

Other resources:

Ed World’s “Are You Teaching the REAL Story of the First Thanksgiving?”
Native Child (for early childhood teachers)
UNC’s Teaching About Thanksgiving (for upper elementary through high school)

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. Thanks for the post and links. I’ve never really taught anything about Thanksgiving at the secondary level. We do look into contemporary Native American issues related to culture and environment, so I think carrying on by debunking misconceptions about their culture and their history would be good direction.

    When I picked my children up from school last week, I saw several students with headbands and feathers made out of paper. I thought to myself, “Really?!”

    I get the feeling debunking some misconceptions might be a great unit at the secondary level…

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