As many of you may already know, November is Native American Heritage Month, or as it is commonly referred to, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.
The month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also a perfect opportunity to educate our the Children and Families of Otter Learning about tribes, to raise general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.
As a part of the Otter Learning Organization, we believe in maintaining Native American culture by teaching our babies, toddlers and preschoolers and their families about their history in order to preserve the culture and identity. It’s an idea that was championed after the United Nations named 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Here are a few ways to learn more:
Learn About Native American History: Native American Heritage Month can be an opportunity to learn the history of the American Indian. Consider using this month to familiarize children with how Native Americans have influenced America, and foster connections to a different culture. Help your kids enhance their appreciation for history by talking about the different Indian tribes, their geographical locations, and languages.
Visit a museum: Whether you and your kids check out a museum in person or virtually, the artifacts and exhibits of Native American tribes are at your fingertips. Consider helping your kids learn about the stories embedded in Native American art, through artifacts like jewelry, greetings, and cultural beliefs. You could talk about which tribe’s artifacts are your favorite, and take note of the different colors, textures, and traits for each one.
Travel virtually to other cultures: With your kids you can watch videos on native cultural festivals. For example, watching the Living Earth Festival or the Living Aloha Hawaii Festival provides an opportunity to see Native traditions in action. See if your kids are interested in learning about indigenous cultures throughout North and South America, and if they would like to play some traditional games.
Share some stories: Reading exciting stories and poems about Navajo legends, Cherokee tales, and Inuit journeys, for example, could help foster cultural connections for your kids. Story telling was a prominent part of Native culture; ask you kids if they’d like to tell a story to the family about what happened in school or on the playground recently.
Interact with nature: Tell your kids that connecting with nature was an important aspect of Native American culture. Take the family outside for a walk to become more aware of the surrounding environmental features present in your locale. Or, if possible, visit a national park.
Get inspired by the arts: Hands-on activities, like making a dream catcher, may help spark curiosity about the Native American way of life. See if your kids would like to learn more about Native American music, and the prominent role it has played in this culture. Help your kids find out more about native dances, like a Hoop Dance. Listen to some Native songs and talk about the meaning of them thereafter.
Early childhood is the optimal period for natural language acquisition and development of the first language. It is a time when the natural environment and conditions are that the child is immersed in a language-rich environment provided by significant caretakers that may include extended family members—such as grandmothers who have been central in traditional childrearing practices.
In order to develop language and crucial pre-literacy skills, children need to hear words often, from a variety of caregivers and in a context that is meaningful. In addition, young children who have a strong foundation and are literate in their first language (the language of their family or community) are more successful in acquiring a second language.
Research shows that culturally-based early learning programs with strong native language programs positively influence a young child’s academic, social and cultural development, including self-identity.
American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to make immeasurable contributions to our Nation. We honor the sacrifices many tribal citizens have made in defense of our great Nation while also recognizing that our culture is more vibrant because of the special relationship between the United States and Indian tribes. During National Native American Heritage Month, it is important to recognize the commitment to work with tribal communities to address serious issues affecting them and to help protect their rich and diverse heritage.
According to the National Congress of American Indians, more than 30% of the Native population is under the age of 18, compared to only 24% of the total population who are under the age of 18. This sizable young population represents a critical opportunity to ensure all youth and families are engaged, supported and provided tools and resources they need to thrive.
A few interesting statistics
American Indians are the most rural population of the United States.
American Indians experience higher disease rates, lower life expectancy rates, higher dropout rates and higher poverty rates than any other racial or ethnic group in the country.
More than one-third of the American Indian population is under the age of 18.
There are approximately 644,000 American Indian students in the U.S. K-12 system, with 90% of students attending public schools.
Academic achievement and educational attainment among American Indian students lags far behind that of their peers. On average, less than 50% of American Indian students graduate from high school each year, and even fewer enroll in and graduate from college.
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