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Indigenous Peoples’ Day: True History, Real Learning for Kids

October 12 2020

Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes that Native people were the original inhabitants of the New World, including the United States, and reclaims the day honoring Christopher Columbus to instead celebrate them as the first Americans, rather than his “discovery” of the Americas. In doing this, we reconsider what we’ve been taught and the impact that has had on our view of history. It also compels us to make sure that our approach to education is inclusive, and that we are mindful of whose stories are being told, and who is given the voice to tell them.  

All Children and Society Benefit 
Teaching about past—and present—injustices suffered by Native people helps ensure that they’re not repeated in the future. For Indigenous children, it’s vital to receive education that affirms and reflects their identities, histories, and experiences. For non-Indigenous children, an accurate sense of history is foundational in developing empathy, perspective, and an anti-racist worldview.  

Talking Indigenous Peoples’ Day with Kids 
Conquest, colonization, genocide, etc., are tough-enough facts to reconcile as adults, never mind addressing them with your kids. The most important thing to remember is that Indigenous people are more than the tragedy they’ve experienced. They reflect the richness of thousands of cultures, languages, and histories across the globe. We owe it to Indigenous people—and ourselves—to learn about Indigenous people, from Indigenous people, whenever possible. 

Age-Appropriate Approach 
For your youngest ones, look for books, music, and media about Indigenous people, by Indigenous people. Instead of teaching your kindergartener “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” learn with your child about the Natives in your area who originally inhabited the very land you live on.  

• What were their Tribe names?  
• What language did they speak?  
• What types of homes did they live in?  
• Do they still have a presence in your community?  
• If not, how can you honor them, and if so, how can you support them?
As your children get older, you can begin sharing the more complex truths of our country’s past. Start with the basics, answer any follow up questions that your child has honestly, but don’t feel like you need to offer details your child hasn’t asked about yet. They’ll process what you tell them and come back over time with questions as they arise. Conversations won’t be easy, but they will be powerful.  

Remember, History Lives Today 
Don’t relegate Indigenous people to the past; acknowledge them in the here-and-now. Support their businesses, celebrate their achievements, and stand alongside them as they continue to advocate for justice. If you’re an Indigenous family, be assured that the entire world benefits when your children inherit your ancestral traditions, maintaining—and sharing—connections to your culture and community. If you’re not Indigenous, become familiar with issues impacting them and explore solutions that you and your kids can enact. Bad things that happened long ago continue to have big impact. It’s always appropriate to advocate for equity and justice for all.  

Act on This Transformative Moment 
This is how your child will learn to see our human connections and appreciate that which makes us unique. In order to raise the next generation of anti-racist people, we must take it upon ourselves to look inward, do better, and do more. By talking and learning about our different cultures, religions, abilities, and family structures in our daily lives—not just on specially set-aside holidays — we provide our children with an inclusive world view that extends beyond their own lived experiences. Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is one small step in creating a society that recognizes, values, and celebrates us all. 

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