Native American Literature in Your Classroom
Native Americans are represented in a wide variety of ways in children's literature. Regardless of intention, these depictions often reinforce inaccuracies and stereotypes and fail to include the diversity of Native peoples who have lived on this continent for millennia. Too often, particularly with older books, Native Americans are presented in the past tense as a generic group of people rather than as thriving communities with sovereign political status, self-governance, histories, languages, and stories. American Indian cultures have always been dynamic and changing. As educators, we should select books and other materials that feature accurate and tribally specific portrayals of Native people, both past and present.
To help educators and parents choose high-quality materials, NMAI developed a rubric that outlines five criteria groups (Authority, Accurate Representation, Tribal Specificity, Language, and Contemporary Life) to consider when selecting texts. The goal of this rubric is to promote deeper and more critical thinking about Native American literature. The rubric is structured with questions that fall under each criteria group. Some questions have a clear answer, while others are more difficult to determine. You and your students may need to do further research on questions you were unable to answer. Tribal websites and our suggested resources are a good starting point. If too many boxes are left blank or elicit a 'no' answer, you may decide not to use the book at all, or you may want to use it for conversations about stereotypes and misrepresentation. The Dialogue Toolkit, provided under suggested books and resources, can support you in these discussions.
To counteract the belief that Native Americans are only historical, use books set in the present day. As you and your students analyze texts, keep in mind the power of visual representation. Look for Native American characters engaged in everyday activities, like playing videogames or lacrosse, or spending time with grandparents and pets. There are many Native authors that speak to the diversity and breadth of Native life, so check out our suggested books and resources, and bring new books into your classroom or library!