Friday, January 25, 2013

Teaching Young Children About Native Americans

Squamish Nation
In classrooms across the United States, many educators are striving to present accurate information to their students about American Indians. A very popular choice has been the use of a book called "Brother Eagle, Sister Sky," (with words of Chief Seattle of the Squamish Nation), and which on the surface presents a fairly acurrate image of native culture. Although there is a lesson to be learned in this book, it may not be the one you wanted to teach.

Unfortunately, the illustrated children's book, "Brother Eagle, Sister Sky," has a major problem that not all educators may spot and which can result in continuing the stereotypical image of American Indians. Promoting stereotypes is not what education should be about.

The book uses words by Chief Seattle, who was a member of the Squamish tribe that lived in the the coastal areas of the Northwest, in what is now British Columbia. The illustrations, although wonderfully drawn, show the attire of Plains Indians and the tipis used by Plains tribes rather than the homes and clothing of the Squamish.

While the premise and purpose of the book is positive, a lack of knowledge on the part of the illustrator and publishers has allowed the sterotypical image of American Indians to be perpetuated. Not all American Indians wore fringed buckskin. Not all American Indians lived in tipis, or grass huts. The arts, culture and living conditions of the Squamish and other northwestern tribes is as different from the Plains tribes as the Plains tribes differ from the Southeastern Woodland tribes. If you have this book in your classroom or home, I don't suggest you throw it out; but, be sure the child that reads it is aware of what is wrong with the illustrations, even if it means gluing a small informational notice inside the front cover.

For more information on the web regarding teaching children about Native Americans, I suggest a 1996 ERIC Digest by Debbie Reese. A Pueblo Indian, Reese specializes in early childhood education and provides some very useful tools for educators, whether those educators are teachers in public schools or parents in the home. Visit Teaching Young Children About Native Americans for more information.

The Squamish Nation

The people describe themselves thus: "The Squamish Nation is comprised of Salish peoples who are descendants of the aboriginal peoples who lived in the present day Greater Vancouver area; Gibson's landing and Squamish River watershed. The Squamish Nation have occupied and governed their territory since beyond recorded history." A visit to the "About Us" page will lead you to information on the Coast Salish, the importance of the Longhouse in Salish culture and some Squamish history. Be sure to check out the photograph of the traditional Squamish Longhouse.

The Squamish Nation, (once called the Squamish Band), is made up of 16 Squamish/Salish-speaking tribes from several different Indian Reserves in Canada:

  •     Ustlawn I.R. #1 (Mission)
  •     Ch'ch'Elxwikw I.R. #1 (Seymour)
  •     Homulchsen I.R. #5 (Capilano)
  •     Senakw I.R. #6 (Kitsilano)
  •     Skowishin I.R. #7
  •     Poyam I.R. #9
  •     Cheakamus I.R. #11
  •     Yookwitz I.R. #12
  •     Poquiosin I.R. #13
  •     Waiwakum I.R. #14 (Brackendale)
  •     Seaichem I.R. #16
  •     Kowtain I.R #17
  •     Stawamus I.R. #24
  •     Chekwelp I.R. #26
  •     Sxaaltxw I.R. #27 (Shelter Island)
  •     K'ik'elxen I.R. #28 (Port Mellon)

The image of the Thunderbird that accompanies this article was created by Stan Joseph Jr. The Squamish Nation has used this as their logo since 1981. Like much native art, there is symbolism in every part of the design. See the Squamish Nation website for more information on their logo.