Check Your Curriculum: Are Native Americans in the Past Tense?

For Native American Heritage Month, we highly recommend the article “‘All Indians Are Dead?’ At Least That’s What Most Schools Teach Children,” based on a study called “Manifesting Destiny: Re/presentations of Indigenous Peoples in K–12 U.S. History Standards” by Sarah B. Shear, et al. (“Manifesting Destiny” is made available here with permission from Theory and Research in Social Education.)

The article can inspire an examination of the curriculum and books in our schools. How often are Native Americans described in the present tense? What do our students learn, if anything, about Native peoples today? Which image below of Native Americans is most typical in the books in your school?

Jude Schimmel, 2013, author of Dreamcatcher.

Children’s picture book.

Following the article, we list lessons, books, and films from the Zinn Education Project website to fill the gap. We also recommend the If We Knew Our History column by Deborah Miranda, “Lying to Children About the California Missions and the Indians.”

We’d love to hear if the article leads to fruitful discussions and changes at your school. Email

‘All Indians Are Dead?’ At Least That’s What Most Schools Teach Children

By Alysa Landry, Indian Country Today

It’s time to break out the construction paper and synthetic feathers.

Students in schools across the country this month will learn about the first Thanksgiving, perpetuating a fairy tale about struggling pilgrims and the friendly Indians who shared a harvest banquet. This usually follows Columbus Day instruction that is similarly celebratory.

But for the vast majority of elementary and secondary students, lessons like these may be the only time they learn about American Indians at all. A staggering 87 percent of references to American Indians in all 50 states’ academic standards portray them in a pre-1900 context.

That means students are graduating from high school without even basic knowledge of contemporary Native challenges or culture, said Sarah Shear, associate professor of social studies education at Pennsylvania State University in Altoona. Shear, who this year earned a PhD in learning, teaching and curriculum from the University of Missouri, spent two years examining state-mandated U.S. history standards, coding each state six times in an effort to understand what students are learning about Natives.

Continue reading the full article at Indian Country Today.

1 comments on “Check Your Curriculum: Are Native Americans in the Past Tense?

  1. Lynne on

    It’s not just in the United States that it seems that all people know of Native Americans is in their past and I have talked to people from Great Britain, to Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, and Russia that believe that the US killed all of the American Indians. Not one person knows of AIM, or even all of the things that are happening now and the fights and the battles, and the struggle today. I just thought I would mention that it is not just the US, and that they are taught only group that was evil to American Indians in the continent was the US. They ignore Great Britain, France, Spain’s roles in what happened to the continent with disease, exploitation, racism. And they believe they are all dead. Completely wiped out.

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