Teaching Racial Tolerance, Understanding, and Appreciation
adapted by Vicki Lockard from many sources
Editor's Note: When we began publishing our newsletters, we did a lot of research and web surfing to come up
with ideas and sites to share with you. One site, in particular, disturbed us so much, that trying to combat its
message became the basis for Canku Ota. This site, an educational page done by a middle school teacher, in West
Virginia, was talking about the Hopi People. The information was about Kachinas and all of the verbage was past
tense. For example..."the Hopi USED to"...this teacher went on to have her class make Kachinas as a project.
It became painfully clear to us that even in the year 2000, people still believe, and teach, that our cultures
and traditions are no longer living or deserving of respect.
With the new school year about to begin, we would like to share with you some ways that you can help to "Celebrate Native America...it's Traditions and Cultures." Teaching tolerance and appreciation can enrich and expand all of our lives. A few simple do's and don'ts can help.
In this article, I use the term Native to refer to Native peoples of the U.S, Canada and Mexico. Not all Native North Americans are American Indians. The Inuit peoples of the far north have cultures very different from those North American Indians who live on this continent. In the U.S., Native American and American Indian are often used. In Canada, First Nations, Native Indian, Metis, and Aboriginal are often used. Regardless, whenever possible, it's best to refer to the person with regard to their individual nation, for example, "Choctaw," "Dakota, " "Cree," etc...
Don't say "dress like Indians." This is offensive
to Native peoples, just as putting dark makeup on for Martin Luther King Day would be to African Americans. Costumes
prompt children to make war cries and to do other things that mock Native peoples.
Do study and try to understand the unique and valuable customs
of Native peoples and learn from them while maintaining the context of your own culture, habits and dress. Explain
that, like many other people who live in North America, many Native people are of mixed ancestry and there is no
way to tell if someone is Native simply by looking at him or her.
Don't refer to Native's with words like "savages," "war-loving," and "primitive." This reinforces
the idea that Native cultures are backward, warlike and less civilized than people of European or other ancestry.
Do discuss the language and customs of local Native people and
those in the stories. Help the children understand that these people have unique cultures.
Don't teach the children to "sit Indian style," "walk
Indian file" or to stop acting like a "bunch of wild Indians." Keep from having the children use
words like "squaw" and "brave." These words are offensive to Native peoples, and they imply
that all Native languages and cultures use the same types of speech. Many words are totally misunderstood. To be
called a "squaw" has become an insult and implies that women are beasts of burden and public property.
Do use simple, direct language like "walk single file,"
"sit on your bottoms and cross your legs," and refer to "boys" and "girls."
Don't speak of Native cultures as if they only existed in the
past. They have a history and are here among us TODAY. Contemporary Native poeples often dress and look much like
the general population in which they live. They do not wear loin cloths, headdresses and other Native attire execpt
at museums, during ceremonial occasions, and at pow wows.
Do discuss that Natives live in the modern world. They work
at jobs, go to school, play sports, drive cars and have family lives in the modern world. Some follow the traditional
ways, more closely, and some are more immersed in modern culture.
Don't speak as if Natives are of one large culture. Not every
Native traditionally lived in tipis and rode around on horses hunting buffalo as many of the plains peoples did.
There are over 550 distinct nations in Native North America, each with its own language, customs, beliefs and ways
of living in the world.
Do refer to each Native person by his or her tribal name. Discuss
the language, beliefs and customs of each culture as distinct, unique people that they are, closely connected to
their local environment.
Don't belittle sacred ceremonies and beliefs by trying to imitate
them or adapt them to an activity. Stay away from this entirely. These are the heart and soul of Native cultures
and are easily trivialized by misunderstood mimicry. They are meant to be conducted by members of particular cultures
only. Would you, for the fun of it, conduct part of a Catholic communion service or a Buddhist meditation rite
around a fire with the children?
Do invite local Native people to visit with the children to
discuss their beliefs and ceremonies. Study Native ways objectively and as a lesson to be understood without being
copied and practiced.
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Canku Ota is a copyright of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.