Everyday Native American Voices

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Movements nationwide are growing in intensity and volume as they demand that marginalized voices be heard and represented in our schools, neighborhoods, workplaces and government. It’s long overdue.

What began decades ago as an acknowledgment and acceptance of diversity as multiculturalism has contributed to the “other” mentality, growing stereotypes which solidify these differences. The antiracist cry heard today is causing us to examine systems maintained by long-held beliefs which damage our democracy and limit our growth as a nation. Putting people in categories as a path to understanding can, in reality, lead us to deeper division by promoting hierarchical thinking and power structures of racism. As author and antiracist leader Ibrahim Kendi reminds us: To be anti-racist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right – inferior or superior – with any of the racial groups.

It is encouraging to see Native Americans increasingly becoming a significant voice in this conversation. Many Natives are writing, sharing, and drawing attention to their culture, history, contributions and other seldom-seen aspects of their lives, to build bridges and shed light on our shared humanity. Through this process, historical injustices also are becoming increasingly apparent. While sharing authentic literature with students, including the many Native Voices lists from School Library Journal and others, we can encourage inquiry through research to start building bridges between cultures.

Bridging Gap of Understanding

A useful website I’ve visited recently is Everyday Native. Created and updated by a team of non-Native and Native educators and artists led by photographer Sue Reynolds, it brings accurate understanding of Native Americans’ lives now and their history from their own viewpoint to non-Native teachers and students. It’s free with easy registration.

Reynolds gathered a cross-cultural team after being questioned by a radio host about whether her Native Celebrations photographs might possibly be contributing to popular stereotypes of Native Americans. Reflecting on her mission, which is the exact opposite, she decided to help heal racism against Native Americans — and other marginalized peoples — by educating accurately from Native perspectives.

The result is an educator’s resource based on primary sources that highlights Native youth and families’ stories. Through video interviews, Reynolds’ photographs, and Salish poet-educator Victor Charlo’s poems, non-Natives develop awareness, understanding, and acceptance of American Indians.

Most Americans know very little about reservation life and rely on stereotypes, which are narrow and dividing. Working collaboratively with families living on reservations in Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas, the Everyday Native team shares these Native experiences. We benefit, learning and growing by gaining direct insights about Natives’ everyday lives.

Video, Poetry, Photos & More 

One of the many strengths of Everyday Native is the series of first-person videos, Walking Between Two Worlds. Note: to watch them and see content at the other links below, register at Everyday Native. These videos feature emotionally real, authentic, and highly relatable Native voices of youth who speak clearly and can stand alone in a study of Native Americans, or they also can be included as part of a larger focus of diversity across groups and people.

The videos follow Native teenagers, Tiyapo and Patricia in everyday activities and experiences such as playing sports, enjoying music, participating in hunting and fishing, and a love of electronics. They also share dreams for the future, the importance of family and ancestors, and through real and raw conversations, talk about dealing with the death of a loved one and the issue of suicide on the reservation. Valuable insights include their spiritual ceremonies and religion, oral tradition, and the racism they experience when they leave the reservation. These topics for discussion and inquiry are relatable on many levels to all students’ lives and finding one’s place in the world through loss, purpose and pride.

Alive with Reynolds’ photography, Charlo’s poetry and first-person narrative videos, stories, and a wealth of other primary sources, Everyday Native is infused with ways to enhance the teaching of Native life and history to our students while looking through a different lens. The main topics center around Reservation Life, Mother Earth, and Reclaiming Culture, each containing video, poetry, and historical contexts and including inquiry based learning ideas along with some comprehension questions from which to start.

It all adds up to a new perspective for non-Natives, fostering respect and understanding of tribal specifics.   Another, equally important goal stated by the authors is to help to create a sense of belonging among Native students, thereby helping to decrease racial bullying and boosting Native academic achievement.

Not to be missed, Everyday Native has an expansive list of external sites, readings and videos that is continuously being updated and revised for student inquiry and research. Each chapter’s focus is enhanced with materials from a growing library of resources, the majority being primary source documents including interviews, documentaries, territorial maps, historical controversies, and current events including links to native news online. The possibilities for inquiry are endless.

Grounded in Relationships 

At the heart of this work are relationships between non-Native and Native people, listening and working collaboratively.  Everyday Native includes a Class, School and Community Projects link encouraging students and educators to become involved in intercultural connections with ideas for collecting oral histories, creating documentary photographs and interacting with Native youth and elders today. These ideas can be the starting point for project-based learning and further exploration and inquiry.

Everyday Native was created to “build bridges and respect between non-Natives and Native Americans, to give voice and vision to vital parts of Native American life.”  Peter Coyote, narrator for “Walking Between Two Worlds” (and many PBS documentaries).

I encourage you to check it out!

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Author: Mary Joanne Loecher

Mary Joanne Loecher is the Teacher Librarian at Gale Ranch Middle School in San Ramon, California. She has served on the SRVUSD Equity Committee and has a passion for literacy and social justice. Jo has been on the faculty of Holy Names University in Oakland, CA, and has been a teacher ambassador to China and Ukraine through a Fulbright-Hays Group Project fellowship and the IREX Teachers for Global Classrooms program respectively. She continues to seek opportunities to build bridges between cultures.



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