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Celebrating Native American Month in the Classroom

Posted on November 07 2021

Celebrating Native American Month in the Classroom

Dear Educator,

November is Native American Month. Also called the First Peoples, groups of indigenous people lived in the Americas—including North America—before the Europeans arrived and discovered the land for themselves. The Europeans were intent on settling the land and did not understand the cultures of the people who already lived there. Because the indigenous people did not have a culture like the Europeans, many of these foreigners did not recognize the native culture as culture. The Europeans were quick to describe the Native Americans as “savages” because of a lack of understanding.

Unsurprisingly, many native groups fought for their land. As they posed a serious threat to the newcomers, their characterization as “savage” was reinforced. Eventually, the Europeans won the Indian Wars, and native people were forced to relocate to less-valuable land on reservations—land "reserved" for them. Native people had been living on land that was well-suited to agriculture, especially in the southern region. White Europeans wanted to make their fortunes through harvesting and selling crops they found lucrative—cotton, in particular. The Indian Removal Act of 1830, known as the Trail of Tears, under President Andrew Jackson, forcibly removed the native populations of Creeks, Cherokee, and others out of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. These peoples walked 1,200 miles to land that today is Oklahoma. Tens of thousands of native people were driven off their land onto reservations to the west. Many died along the way from whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera, and starvation. 

Today, as of the 2020 U.S. census, Native Americans make up only 2.9 percent of the U.S. population. However, this is an increase from the 2010 census. Then, only 5.2 million people self-identified as Native American and Alaska Native. In the recent census, that number climbed to 9.7 million. This month, encourage students to explore more about Native Americans. The following resources in Maps101 are available with your subscription.


Field Trip Library

Field Trips are exclusive to Maps101. They take students on a tour of the content topic, with images and text that are related to a map.  This Field Trip helps students explore the peoples who inhabited the land in North America before the arrival of the Europeans and how these Native American people lived.


This being Maps101, we leave you this week with our extremely popular map of the indigenous people in North America and Central America around the time of Columbus’s arrival. While a map of the entire North American continent cannot include every group, this map has far more detail than typically provided on a map of this scale.


The prior map looked at original group locations in the United States as a whole. This map examines the lands designated by the government for Native Americans in California, as well as some lands they lost.

Geography News Network

This article describes a youth project to help Lakota teens attain Wowachinyepi. This term is Lakota for “one who the people can depend on.” This program is intended to prepare younger people with the skills to become leaders within the Lakota Nation.

Geography News Network

Unfortunately, Native Americans are still fighting for their rights. Bears Ears is located in Utah. The area is significant to native people in the area. Over time, people have stolen artifacts from the land and damaged it. This article explains the road to making this area a national monument so that it can be preserved.


Each of the GNN articles includes critical-thinking skills questions at the end, to engage students in classroom discussion. 

Creating and Answering Questions
You can also have students come up with their own questions for GNN articles. Pair students and hand out notecards. On one side, a student writes a question. The other side is for the answer. Have the members of the pairing exchange cards so they each have the opportunity to write and answer a question.


Demonstrating Understanding
Explain to students that a map of the entire U.S. that shows Native American group locations is limited by the space on the map from including EVERY group. Thus, a map of a specific state at a larger scale can be more granular—show more information. In order to make a map of the U.S., the cartographer must identify main groups. Type your state into the search bar. Use the filters on the left to choose maps and then outline maps as the map type. You can use this blank outline map as the basis for students to fill in more details about the native groups in your state. 


SEL Activity
Have students write a diary entry as if they were on the Trail of Tears. What do students imagine it would have been like? Encourage them to practice empathy and understanding through this exercise. Encourage Gifted and Talented students to conduct further research on the Trail of Tears and present their findings to the class.

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