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Teaching School Children About American Indian History and Culture

Updated on September 17, 2015
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.

An Important Part of American History

An important section of American history is all but over-looked in many classrooms is that of the original inhabitants of American, the American Indians. Many schools have programs and activities during the month of November, National American Indian Heritage Month, in which students study and learn about the history and culture of American Indians. That’s a short time and some teachers say finding the resources to teach their students is hard.

I am always humbled and happy to visit elementary schools as a visiting author. I am not Indian but I enjoy sharing with students my books Pale as the Moon and Bear Song, and what things I learned about the Indians who lived near North Carolina’s coast when the English explorers and colonists first came to the New World.


Pale as the Moon

Pale as the Moon is a fictional story, set in the historical setting of the first attempt by the English to colonize the New World. It tells of how a stranded wild colt and a young Native American girl develop a bond as they try to survive in the harsh conditions of Coastal Carolina in the sixteenth century.  Gray Squirrel is forewarned, through a series of dreams, of the arrival of a strange people with skin as pale as the moon.  Empowered by the speed and stamina of the horse, the girl plays a major role in the protection of an abandoned English colony.  Shrouded in mystery to this day, the demise of John White’s Lost Colony remains the secret of Heita Hoonoch and Gray Squirrel.

Bear Song, Sequel to Pale as the Moon

Activities to help Learn

Pale as the Moon includes a teacher’s guide in the back matter of the book. It includes some fun activities your class can do while they are learning about Native American culture.

1. Make a model of an Algonquian Village – You can find pictures painted by John White in The American Indian in North Carolina by Douglas L. Rights or at this website

2. Sit in a circle and take turns telling some stories that have been passed down in your family from your grandparents. The Native Americans used a talking feather that was passed around, whoever held the feather was the only one who could speak. Everyone else had to be silent and listen. When the speaker was finished he/she passed the feather to the next person.

3. Name some foods we enjoy that were gifts from the Native American people. Cornbread, sunflower seeds, prunes and raisins, potatoes, squash, beans, and jerky are a few. Serve some of these foods to the class, or have students bring items to class to share.

4. Visit a museum with Native American displays. Notice how baskets were made, how tightly they were woven. What else did you learn about Native American life before the white people came to America? How did they travel, hunt, grow food, and dress?

5. Have your students found artifacts like arrowheads or pieces of pottery? Invite them to bring them to class for “show and tell”. Ask your librarian if you can make a display in the school library. Label the artifacts and put them where they cannot be touched, a glass display case or shadow boxes, which can be purchased at arts and craft stores, or the students can make one with help from a parent handy with tools.

6. How is a wickiup different from a teepee? Do some research and make models of each, or as a class project make a real wickiup. Here is a website to help learn how.


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    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      Donna, it is always interesting to learn about these old cultures. Each country has ancient cultures that were vastly different from what they are today and learning about them is surely interesting and useful.

      Voted up.

    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      9 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Thank you, raisingme. I remember Buffy St Marie's music.

      Here is the link to her Cradleboard Teaching Project website

    • raisingme profile image


      9 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

      I could go on about this article for hours! Living in B.C. not far from the US Border we get a lot of US TV and Radio and I have often wonder about the lack of Native content in the US media. It is quite different here. As a child I poured over Native literature as it contains so many truths and I felt, and still do feel that we have much to learn from Native peoples. My daughter is a teacher and I know that it is a big focus in her classroom. Buffy Ste Marie is a Canadian Native now living in Hawaii and she is working hard to educate Native children. She is a singer/songwriter who has written such songs as Universal Soldier and Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong. Her recordings are sensational. I know of hundreds of kitchen tables across North America that would benefit from the use of "the feather". An absolutely fantastic hub on a topic that deserves to be given a voice. THANK YOU!!!!

    • bhaskar_c profile image


      9 years ago from Bangalore

      really too good

    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      9 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Thank you all for your kind comments. When I wrote Pale as the Moon it never occurred to me that it would find its way into classrooms. When my publisher asked me to write a teachers guide I had to do some scrambling to find out what a teachers guide was! Since then I have visited dozens of schools and had some very amazing times with the teachers and students.

    • profile image

      Eddy Browning 

      9 years ago

      Donna, A very interesting article. Well written too. I thought your teaching ideas from Pale as the Moon were superlative. Any teacher using these ideas would have the class completely interested and enjoying learning. They would be totally "tuned in"! Blessings to you!!!

    • MadCowWritings profile image


      9 years ago from South of Eureka

      It pays not to overlook and to learn our history well as those who can't remember the past are usually doomed to repeat it.

    • JDove-Miller profile image


      9 years ago from YOUNGSVILLE

      Interesting concept here.


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