Native American Heritage Month: Learning Links & Teaching Tips

Native American celebration | © dlewisnash / Pixabay

November has more than one National Commemorative Observance to honor. November is Native American Heritage Month. This month has been designated by the President of the United States each year since 1990 as a time to honor Native Americans alongside the observance of Thanksgiving. As home educators, this is a great time to explore ways we can teach and learn alongside our children, and continue honoring the history of Indigenous peoples throughout the whole year.

What are the correct terms to use when referring to Native Americans

There has been an ongoing discussion over the last several years about the correct terms to use when referring to Indigenous peoples - and not all Indigenous peoples agree. A definition used by several reputable university departments of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (such as UCLA's) is to only use the term Native Americans when referring to peoples living within what is now the United States prior to European contact. Indigenous is the most inclusive term, as there are Indigenous peoples living on every continent throughout the world. The consensus among Indigenous peoples seems to be that whenever possible, they prefer to be called by their specific tribal name. Native Americans is a broad umbrella term still used widely but it has some controversy since the United States Government came up with the term (not Indigenous peoples themselves). It was intended to give primacy to the Indigenous peoples' residency in the nation, but since many Indigenous peoples don't identify this land as America in their tribe's history and culture, then the term Native Americans is not helpful to use. I use the term Native American when referring to the United States official commemorative month and when referencing homeschooling information, since that may the best topic title to search by in order to find books, curriculum, and resources to help you homeschool your children. And I use the term Native American when a particular Indigenous author or artist I link to uses the term Native American - I defer to that author's preferred usage. I use Indigenous people throughout this blog post as often as possible when referring to Native, tribal peoples living now.


Thanksgiving's history is inexorably tied to the history of the settlers of the Plymouth Colony, and their interactions with Native Americans. As a young child I was instructed in public school each year to color, draw, paint, make oodles of crafts about, and memorize and recite a fantasy version of the First Thanksgiving. I was taught it was a story of unity and courage. I was taught to view this moment as the beginning of a long-lasting positive alliance between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. However, as I grew up and out of public school, I began to unravel the myth. This alliance was very short-lived. The whole and true history of our country's treatment of Native Americans across this vast continent is often sidelined or simplified because it is a difficult part of our history to address with children. Public schools are still struggling with this issue. But as homeschoolers, we have the freedom to teach our children in truly personalized ways and dig deep and do better in our approach to the history of Indigenous people and how it's tied to the history of Thanksgiving.

How do we teach our children about the hard truths of Native American history without traumatizing them or making them resistant to learning more?

For starters, we should avoid oversimplified reenactments of the violent, trau