Friday, October 12, 2007


Are you a teacher wondering if all Indians live in tipis? If so, order a copy of the book Do All Indians Live in Tipis?: Questions and Answers from the National Museum of the American Indian. It isn't a children's book, per se, but its content is certainly accessible to upper elementary readers, and, it will prove useful to teachers developing lesson plans about American Indians.

In the foreword, founding director Rick West (Southern Cheyenne and member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma) writes:

Before I became the founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian, I was a practicing attorney, and sometimes, when I hear the odd--and even offensive--questions that almost every Indian must bear, I want to rise up and shout, "I object!"

The introduction is by Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee). She writes:

In 1963 President John F. Kennedy said, "for a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians are the least understood and the most misunderstood of us all." Regrettably, this statement is as true today as it was more than forty years ago. Many negative stereotypes persist.

She goes on to say that summer visitors to the Cherokee Nation include tourists who wanted to know "Where are all the Indians?" To which she'd reply "They are probably at Wal-Mart!"

West and Mankiller's words set the state quite nicely for a volume consisting of about 100 questions, grouped into these categories:

  • Identity
  • Origins and Histories
  • Popular Myths
  • Clothing, Housing, Food, and Health
  • Ceremony and Ritual
  • Sovereignty
  • Animals and Land
  • Language and Education
  • Love and Marriage
  • Art, Music, Dance, and Sports

Here's a sample of the questions:

  • Why was the Navajo language chosen for military code in World War II? Were all Indian "code talkers" Navajo?
  • Did all tribes have totem poles? Does anyone still carve them?
  • How many Indians lived in the Western Hemisphere when Columbus arrived?
  • Why is the word Eskimo sometimes offensive?

Published by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and HarperCollins, I paid $14.95 for the book at Pages for All Ages, our local independent bookstore. With "Native American Month" approaching in November, you will find it a useful volume.

And, as always, consider moving your lesson plans about American Indians OUT of November; teaching about American Indians only during that month contributes to the mistaken idea that we are only a people of the past, long vanished. That is not the case. We are still here.

Get your copy at the National Museum of the American Indian giftshop, or, from Louise Erdrich's independent bookstore, Birchbark Books.

1 comment:

Saints and Spinners said...

There's another book I'd like to find, and I wonder if it's been written (or if it's covered in this book): the subject of "Native American spirituality." I haven't done much research into the matter, but my educated guess is that there is no one kind of "Native American spirituality." I'd like to find a source to recommend to people in a gentle, thought-provoking way rather than sounding like a judgemental smarty-pants when the subject comes up. Full disclosure: In college, someone gave me a dreamcatcher, and I hung it above my bunk without any thought to the Ojibwa nation from where its model originated. :(