Learning Resources

Changing the Narrative

How we teach and learn about American Indians

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Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)

Standard 1. Content and Pedagogical Knowledge The provider ensures that candidates develop a deep understanding of the critical concepts and principles of their discipline and, by completion, are able to use discipline-specific practices flexibly to advance the learning of all students toward attainment of college-and career-readiness standards. Candidate Knowledge, Skills, and Professional Dispositions 

1.1 Candidates demonstrate an understanding of the 10 InTASC standards at the appropriate progression level(s) in the following categories: the learner and learning; content; instructional practice; and professional responsibility.

Teacher Tip: The resources provided here help create an open and honest dialogue amongst pre-service teachers, college university faculty, and K12 educators. They may be used in whole or as part of an online or face to face professional learning community (PLC) module. It may help if participants create Group Norms before using these learning resources.

  • Suggested Audience: Pre-service Educators/K-16 Educators & PLCs
  • Suggested Timeframe: Two 90 minute sessions, or four 45 minute sessions.
  • Suggested Materials:  Internet access via laptop, tablet or mobile device; chart paper/markers for group discussions

Key Vocabulary

  • Colonialism - the power of a dominant nation or culture controlling another for economic or political gain
  • Cultural appropriation - the use or traditions and cultural artifacts of marginalized communities by dominant communities without permission 
  • Historiography - the study of the writing of history and methods of historians in developing history as an academic discipline
  • Narrative - a spoken or written account created by oral tradition, the media, pop culture, education, public art, and policies; often reinforcing stereotypes and the status quo while allowing oppressive systems and norms to stay in place.
  • Dominant narrative - when history is told from the perspective of the people who are in power within a culture. 

Read for Understanding

Teacher Tip: We welcome your comments, as well as suggestions for additional resources or ideas which we might include to further this discussion.  Please feel free to add your thoughts and contributions to this and all of our Learning Resources using our feedback links at the end of each resource.


How have we traditionally learned and taught about American Indians?

Think back to your own elementary school experience.  How and when did you learn about the first people who lived here in North America? Chances are your earliest recollections involve some sort of lesson on Pocahontas saving Captain John Smith, or the First Thanksgiving. Take a few minutes to view this video, produced by the Reclaiming Native Truth Project.

Once all participants have had an opportunity to view the video, conduct a discussion considering the following:

  • Reflecting back now to your own K12 learning experiences, how does the video challenge the narrative you learned about American Indians as a child? 
  • How does the media, including television, film and social media, influence the way we think about American Indians in modern culture? 
  • After viewing the video, what are your thoughts on schools or professional sports teams using mascots including “Indians,” “Braves,” “Redskins,” “Warriors,” “Chiefs,” or “Tribe?”
  • What ideas or insights from the video do you agree or disagree with the most? 
  • How might these insights alter the way you teach about or refer to indigenous people in the future, both in and out of the classroom?

You may wish to structure the face to face discussion using strategies such as a Socratic Seminar/ Circles, Paideia, or Inner / Outer Circles. Other options include the use a reflective journal or digital discussion forum (Backchannel) if not meeting in a smaller face-to-face PLC, or with a larger class or in-service professional learning setting or online module, to ensure equity of voice.


 In what ways can educators support American Indians in challenging negative stereotypes about America’s indigenous people?

This episode of BackStory tackled this issue and may help start a dialogue amongst pre-service and K-16 educators, school leaders, and community members. Ask participants to listen to the podcast prior to the pre-service educator lesson or K-12 PLC meeting.

Listen to BackStory episode

"Imagined Nations"

Once all participants have had an opportunity to listen to the Backstory episode, ”Imagined Nation,” conduct an in-person small group discussion using a variation of the TQE Method. (If pre-service teachers are enrolled in an online course, this could be scheduled via a videoconferencing platform such as Google Meet or Zoom).

Spend 15 minutes sharing your Thoughts, lingering Questions, and Epiphanies (TQE) about the topics discussed in the podcast.

Consider providing some sentence stems to guide the discussion, moving from simple to more complex questions based on the size of the group of how comfortable they are sharing with classmates or colleagues. 

  • What are your thoughts about the overall discussions in the podcast?
  • If you were able to speak to the hosts or guests, what questions might you ask them as a follow-up? 
  • Which segment, or idea, gave you an epiphany or “Aha!” moment?
  • Were there examples of cultural appropriation discussed in the podcast which you can connect to your own personal classroom experience as a student or educator? 
  • How might some of the these topic or ideas change your thinking on how you teach or think about American Indians in your classroom or community?

After 15 minutes, each small group should select 2 examples of questions and answers shared in the small group to become part of a larger class discussion.  These may be written on large chart paper or via a shared document online. Once each small group has submitted their two questions, the instructor may conduct a larger group discussion or host an online chat via Twitter or using videoconferencing equipment. Each group shares their top 2 questions and answers, then other groups may ask clarifying questions.  Participants may combine and rewrite questions which are similar in content. The discussion concludes when all questions have been shared and discussed. 

You may wish to use a reflective journal or digital discussion forum (Backchannel) if not meeting in a smaller face-to-face PLC, or with a larger class or in-service professional learning setting or online module, to ensure equity of voice.


What strategies best help educators change the narrative about Native Americans in a culturally responsive classroom?

As modern historians have rewritten much of the historiography of indigenous populations in North American over the years, many educators still struggle to dispel decades of culturally insensitive teaching practices and misconceptions in the classroom.  This excerpt from Bunk introduces new resources from the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian and shares connected stories to help increase awareness and build background knowledge for school staff and students.

View this learning resource on Bunk

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Read the excerpt on Bunk to learn more about the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and their efforts to improve the way Native American history and culture are taught in schools.  As you read, think about the stereotypes and misunderstanding discussed after viewing the video, “Reclaiming Native Truth,” and listening to the BackStory podcast, “Imagined Nations.” Once you have finished, select one of the following activities to further build your background knowledge.

You may choose to read the article in its entirety by selecting the “View on Smithsonian” button at the bottom of the excerpt, or you may save it to a collection to read and annotate later. ( For more information about saving Bunk content to a collection, read here: https://www.bunkhistory.org/collections)

You may also choose to view other content connected to this topic by selecting one of the connection icons (such as the light bulb) and the View Connections button on the right side of the screen. 

Turn and talk to a partner (or participate in an online chat or forum if you are a pre-service educator enrolled in an online course. )

  • Identify 3 new facts you learned about Native Americans from the readings
  •  Discuss 2 ideas you found interesting from the reading
  • Share 1 question you still have about teaching the history and culture of American Indians

You may find it helpful to use this graphic organizer to structure the conversation.  t.ly/LZZqG

You may wish to use a reflective journal or digital discussion forum (Backchannel) if not meeting in a smaller face-to-face PLC, or with a larger class or in-service professional learning setting or online module, to ensure equity of voice.

Access NK360° Teaching Resources here

Share this link with students.


How does your school curriculum compare with the best practices suggested by the Native Knowledge 360° Essential Understandings?

Working in grade-level content teams or PLCs, use the NK360° Teaching Resources to compare and contrast these best practices with the way your school, school division or state curriculum presents information to be taught about American Indians. 

Select one of the ten essential understandings to further explore a topic of interest in more depth. Find a partner to discuss how you might implement one or more strategies or learning resources in your class to realign your curriculum in support of the NK 360° materials. 

  • Discuss potential barriers to implementing elements of the NK360° Teaching Resources into your curriculum.
  • What support from division curriculum leaders, administrators or the community would help remove these barriers?
  • What would success look like in a classroom within a month of implementation? Within a year? Long term?

You may wish to use a reflective journal or digital discussion (Backchannel) forum if not meeting in a smaller face-to-face PLC, or with a larger class or in-service professional learning setting or online module, to ensure equity of voice.

Download or copy this learning resource in Google Docs


“Backstoryradio.org.” Backstoryradio.org (blog). Virginia Humanities, November  22, 2014. https://www.backstoryradio.org/shows/imagined-nations

Bunk History. (2019). Inside a New Effort to Change What Schools Teach About Native American History. (online) Available at: https://www.bunkhistory.org/resources/4946.

“Changing the Narrative about Native Americans: A Guide for Allies.” Reclaiming Native Truth. First Nations Development Institute, 2018. https://www.firstnations.org/publications/changing-the-narrative-about-native-americans-a-guide-for-allies/.

“Reclaiming Native Truth Intro.” Reclaiming Native Truth Intro. First Nations Development Institute, January 22, 2018. https://www.firstnations.org/videos/reclaiming-native-truth-intro/.

Zotigh, Dennis. “Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, November 26, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian/2019/11/27/do-american-indians-celebrate-thanksgiving/.

This work by New American History is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at newamericanhistory.org.

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