Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Teaching about Indians, Part I

I often get private emails from teachers asking about best practice in terms of teaching about American Indians.

Over a series of blog posts, I'll answer some of the more common questions.

Question: Is it ok to dress up in Indian costumes and dance to teach about Indians?

Answer: No. Let's break the question down a bit and look at its parts:

"Costume." The clothing that we wear when we dance is not a costume. It is traditional clothing that isn't worn everyday.

"Dance." We dance---not as performance or entertainment---but as a form of worship. It is best to think of Native dance as prayer in motion. There are exceptions to this, of course. There are social dances, too, and there are performances of Native dance, but even with them, there is a lot of significance that distinguishes them from things like hip-hop or square dancing.

"Dressing up (like Indians)." We don't "dress up" for our dances. We get dressed. I put on my traditional clothes to take part in a traditional dance.

" Indians." As a society, we've been dressing up like Indians for such a long time (birthday parties, scouting, Halloween) that we rarely (if ever) pause to think about that activity. If you consider dressing up like a different group, perhaps you can see why this is not a good idea. Would it be appropriate to dress up like Japanese? Africans? Latinos? And do a dance that you think is Japanese, or African, or Latino?


Anonymous said...

As a librarian, what titles would be appropriate to have in my library so students will get a better understanding of the complexity and diversity of the Native People of North America?

Debbie Reese said...

See the list of recommended books I link to underneath my profile.

Also, get a copy of Seale and Slapin's A BROKEN FLUTE.