Native Americans are an integral part of American history and cultural heritage. November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate Indigenous people in the United States and their rich cultures, diverse traditions, and important histories. November is also a month to learn about the specific challenges that Native peoples have faced, how they have worked to overcome those challenges, and how Native people contribute to our culture today. To help you respectfully observe this important month, we rounded up a list of more than 30 Native American Heritage Month activities that celebrate Native American culture and achievements in ways that are both historically accurate and culturally sensitive.
- What is Native American Heritage Month?
- Why we celebrate Native American Heritage Month
- Native American Heritage Month Activities for Lower Elementary
- Native American Heritage Month Activities for Upper Elementary
- Native American Heritage Month Activities for Middle and High School
What is Native American Heritage Month?
Native American Heritage Month started as a weeklong celebration in 1986, when the week of November 23-30 was dedicated American Indian Week. Starting in 1995, the entire month of November became a time to recognize the historical, cultural, societal, and educational contributions of Native Americans.
Read more: National Congress of American Indians
Read more: Partnership With Native Americans
Why do we celebrate Native American Heritage Month?
Today, there are more than 5 million Native American and Alaskan Natives living in the United States. Their history and contributions are vitally important, and understanding Native American history is pivotal to understanding the United States.
This month is also a time to bring to light parts of history that have at best been overlooked, at worst ignored or misconstrued. It’s also a month to help correct misconceptions and ignorance that has surrounded (and continues to surround) Native peoples and their culture. In school, November is a great time to start a conversation with students about Native culture and traditions, as well as how historical trauma (such as the Trail of Tears and colonization) impact Native Americans.
Read more: Native American Heritage Month
Activities To Celebrate Native American Heritage Month With Lower Elementary Students
Students in grades K-2 are eager to learn more and curious about different cultures. You may be reluctant to bring historical events like colonization or the Trail of Tears into the discussion, but you can teach about the diverse tribes that live in the United States and spark interest in understanding what makes Native American cultures unique.
Study historical photos
Lead students through the experience of analyzing a primary historical document with this lesson from DocsTeach from the National Archives. Students look at the photo and describe what they see and what it shows them about Native Americans. Also encourage students to talk about what the photo makes them wonder and ask.
Make (and eat) fry bread
Watch an explanation of how to make fry bread, an important food for many Native Americans. Then, try to make your own. Plus get more Native American recipes at FirstNations.org.
Read Native American stories
Read the book Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard. Plus check out our full list of Books About Native Americans.
Buy it: Fry Bread at Amazon
Learn about Cree drumming
Drums are an important instrument for many Native Americans. Watch a video of northern Cree people drumming, and talk about what you see. Notice how they are working together to drum, and how they change their tempo and singing. If you have access to drums, have students share the experience of drumming together.
Research a Native American tribe
Have students choose a tribe to research and present what they learned. Help students shape their questions and curate a Google search list for them to use to find accurate and up-to-date information.
Learn about pictographs
Review the pictographs at Painted Rock Canyon near the Rio Grande and act like historians to try to interpret the pictures and learn about the people who created them.
Get the lesson: Texas Beyond History
Spark curiosity with this workbook
The Native American Heritage Activity Book celebrates Native Americans and is produced by the Northern Cheyenne and Crow children at St. Labre Indian School in southeastern Montana. The goal of the activity book is to spark interest and curiosity, so use it as a starting point to ask questions and learn more about specific tribes.
Get the activity book: Native American Heritage Activity Book from St. Labre Indian School
Grow native plants
Use the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder to investigate which plants around your school are native, and plant more native plants to add to the ecosystem.
Make a craft from the National Museum of the American Indian
Check out these wonderful crafts from NMAI: a sunflower bracelet, a decorative paper strawberry, and a corn-husk dragonfly.
Learn more: National Museum of the American Indian
Activities To Celebrate Native American Heritage Month With Upper Elementary Students
Kids in grades 4-6 are ready to learn more about Native American history and start to build an understanding of how they can support and appreciate Native American history and people.
Get an overview of Native American history
Watch this video about Native American history, then ask students what the video confirmed for them and what they wonder about. Use it as a starting point to research topics that your students are interested in.
Learn what Native land you live on
The Canadian nonprofit Native Land has an interactive map that you can use to learn what Native land your school, neighborhood, and students’ homes sit on. Once you know what Native land you live on, learn more about the tribe indigenous to that land and its culture and history.
Learn more: Native Land
Learn about Cherokee arts and crafts
Check out the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual Co-op to learn about Cherokee arts and crafts and the artists who make them. Have students choose one craft (beadwork, baskets, carvings, textiles, and more) and research how it’s made, and any symbolism or significance that’s incorporated into the art.
Learn more: Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual Co-op
Watch an origin story
Watch an origin story, like this one from the Clatsop-Nehalem Tillamook tribe in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington. Talk about what the origin stories show us about a tribe and why they are important to share.
Learn about a modern powwow
Watch a video about the significance of powwow dancing.
Introduce kids to the American bison
Bison are important for many Native American tribes. Learn about how the animal became endangered and is being brought back from the brink of extinction.
Play a game of Cherokee marbles
The game of marbles goes back centuries. Learn how the Cherokee play the game, then head outside with a set of small balls and play it.
Dive deep into a research project
Older elementary schoolers are ready for larger-scale research projects. Encourage students to choose a tribe to focus on and dig into their history, as well as current accomplishments and the culture of the tribe.
Watch a Native American performance
The Smithsonian has a variety of Native performances that students can watch and discuss.
Watch videos: Performance videos at SI.edu
Activities To Celebrate Native American Heritage Month With Middle and High School Students
Middle and high schoolers are ready to discuss the scope of Native American history, including how Native Americans have been represented in the media and how and why that’s changing.
Complete a unit: Not “Indians,” Many Tribes: Native American Diversity
In this unit from the National Endowment for the Humanities, students learn about the diversity of Native American tribes through a game-like activity that uses vintage photos, traditional stories, artifacts, and recipes. Students will stretch their understanding of what “Native American” means and what it looks like across the country.
Get the lesson: Native American Diversity Lesson from EdSitement
Learn more: NEH Edsitement! American History and Heritage
Listen to origin stories
PBS Learning Media has videos of various Native American origin stories, including A Gift of Corn to the Choctaw and A Hopi Origin Story. Watch the videos, analyze each story, and learn more about the cultures of the tribes through their stories.
Learn about Native powwows
Bree Black Horse, a member of the Seminole Nation in Oklahoma, explains modern powwow dancing and what it means to her (above). Then, watch Bree Black Horse dance the traditional straight dance (below).
Learn about the Apache rite of passage into womanhood
Watch this video about a Sunrise ceremony, and talk about how teens are involved in Native culture and how ceremonies like this are important for maintaining Native American cultures.
Watch a craft-making session
Watch a craft tutorial from Powwows.com about how moccasins, bustle backboards, or drum sticks are made. If students are inspired, the tutorials include step-by-step instructions so they can try to make their own.
Get tutorial: Baby Moccasins from Powwows.com
Explore the Denver Art Museum’s Indigenous Art collection
The Denver Art Museum was one of the first museums to start collecting Indigenous art, and now they have an extensive, fascinating collection with more than 18,000 pieces by 250 artists.
Explore the collection: Google Arts & Culture digital experience
Listen to an album in the Cherokee language
Around the world, an Indigenous language is lost every two weeks. Now, people are working to preserve and elevate Indigenous languages. One example is this album of music performed entirely in the Cherokee language (released by Horton Records).
Learn more: Cherokee Language Music Album from Good Good Good
Watch We Shall Remain
We Shall Remain, an American Experience documentary on PBS, includes five episodes that take viewers from the first Thanksgiving through the 1970s with a focus on Native Americans’ efforts to preserve life on their original land.
Watch it: We Shall Remain at PBS.org
Read poetry by Native poets
Kaitlin B. Curtice is a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation and an award-winning poet.
Read it: Native American Poetry from KaitlinCurtice.com
Tour the Circle of Dance exhibit
The National Museum of the American Indian has an online exhibit that showcases various types of dance and the history and significance of each.
See it: Circle of Dance Exhibit from the National Museum of the American Indian
Tour the “A Song for the Horse Nation” exhibit
The online exhibit “A Song for the Horse Nation” tells the story of horses and Native Americans through artifacts and stories.
See it: A Song for the Horse Nation from the National Museum of the American Indian
See Thanksgiving from another perspective
Use this National Geographic lesson plan to learn about the National Day of Mourning, an event held on Thanksgiving to remember and honor the Native people who were killed during or because of colonization. The lesson has students analyze primary sources to discuss the different perspectives on the first Thanksgiving.
Get the lesson: Native American Perspective on Thanksgiving from National Geographic
Meet Indigenous activists
Part of Native American Heritage Month is exploring and celebrating how Native Americans are contributing and making a difference today. Start with this list of Indigenous activists.
Read more: DoSomething.org