SILER CITY — At Chatham Middle School, some educators are finding ways to celebrate Native American Heritage Month by teaching students the history of the Americas’ first inhabitants through colorful displays and activities.
Commemorated in November, Native American Heritage Month is meant to celebrate cultures, traditions and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. It’s also, according to the National Congress of American Indians, an “opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a 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.”
Social studies and science teacher Kevin Bishop created an activity quiz for his students on Google Forms, spanning the establishment of the first Indian Reservation, the number of Indigenous people estimated to have lived in North America before Christopher Columbus arrived and notable Indigenous historical figures. The activity accompanied a large classroom display made by fellow Chatham Middle teachers, Judit Dorado-Zimo and Angela Boone.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to get students into groups, get out of their seats and walk down the hall to the display to interact with the display,” Bishop said of the display.
“The assignment itself was nothing special. I really just wanted the students to take the time to read what was on the display, possibly discuss it, and bring that information back to class,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what was going to come of it, but it was successful enough that I plan on using future displays in the same way.”
The display itself features information on Indigenous societies, medicine men, chiefs and religion along with prominent Indigenous people, maps with historical territories and key events regarding European and colonist violence toward Native people.
Dorado-Zimo said the idea for the display came last year, when she and Boone were discussing displays they created for Black History Month.
“... She said she would like to have a display on Native Americans. I thought it was a great idea,” Dorado-Zimo said. “We checked when the heritage month was and we put our brains and resources together and this is what we ended up creating.”
Many Indigenous activists and leaders have called on non-Native people to support Indigenous leadership, Native-led organizations and Native communities in meaningful ways during this month and beyond. Part of that call includes educating oneself and others on the history of Native peoples as well as their contemporary life.
In Chatham, which occupies historical Skaruhreh/Tuscarora and Lumbee lands, about 1.2% of the population is Native American, according to 2019 Census estimates, with more than 10,000 American Indians residing in the Triangle.
There are eight state-recognized tribes located in North Carolina: the Coharie, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Haliwa-Saponi, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the Meherrin, the Sappony, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and the Waccamaw Siouan.
Bishop said the activity and display are meant to teach students about potentially unfamiliar cultures, to see that Indigenous peoples aren’t monolithic and to “allow that to become yet another perspective as we strive for viewpoint diversity.” This year, students were especially interested in learning about the Navajo Code of World War II — an unbreakable code used across the Pacific and developed by 29 Navajo men who joined the U.S. Marines — Dorado-Zimo said, along with questions about the map on Indigenous Nations of Mexico.
The display also teaches about the oppression of Native Americans, through genocidal events such as the Trail of Tears, and the Indian boarding school era — of which there has been recent renewed awareness due to discovery of the remains of 215 children in a mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
“Native American History is such a big part of American history,” Dorado-Zimo said. “The most important thing is that getting to know other cultures is central in our understanding of the world and of others.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.
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