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A Gentle Introduction to Native America

This Autumn we are learning about the continent of North America. We started at the beginning of September with a focus on Canada, which you can read more about in my September newsletter here.

Why Gentle?

We have now moved on to a gentle introduction to Native America. I say gentle, because my daughter is just 9, and not yet ready to learn in great detail about the horrors of North America's past. I'm only just getting to grips with the extent of the loss at age 40, and it's really hard reading. Our ancestors have much to be ashamed of, not just for the persecution of indigenous communities in North America, but also the destruction of the natural world.

My objective for this part of our project is for my daughter to understand that there were indigenous communities living and thriving in North America before the arrival of European settlers. My hope is that she'll get a flavour for their rich cultures and traditions through story, and a sense of how they lived in harmony with, and with a deep respect for, the natural world.

Indians, Tribes and the Impact of Words

Our project has been a bit 'stop and start' over the past few weeks. I share a lot of what we are doing at home in my Instagram stories, and now that I have an audience of over 4K followers, I feel that I need to take some responsibility for the 'influence' I have. I haven't found it easy to navigate the appropriate language to use with Bean when discussing Native American heritage. I've had ideas for arts and crafts, but have been feeling unsure and worried about cultural appropriation. Sometimes, the fear of getting it wrong and offending someone, has meant that I have simply avoided it.

If you feel unsure too, and would like to learn more (or if you don't believe the language we use is an issue, and need to educate yourself) then this resource from the National Museum of the American Indian is a great place to start.

Bean then became quite unwell with Covid symptoms (we self-isolated, did a home test and have had a negative test result back - she's all better now) which meant that everything grounded to a halt for the best part of a week while she rested and recovered. We plan to finish reading our remaining books over the next few days, before shifting our focus to learning a bit about the first European settlers and the beginning of colonization, again through story.

Book Reviews and Recommendations

So, in short, books have been the focus of our learning about Native America, and these are the books we have read...

Please note: You may need to change some of the wording in these books to honour the indigenous communities represented. Most were published in the 1970's/80's and include some language that is now recognised to be harmful.

Paddle to the Sea

This is the only book that I bought new for this part of our project, and it is an absolute gem. Incidentally, it made the perfect story for a smooth transition from learning about Canada to Native America. Paddle to the Sea is the story of a little wooden canoe, hand carved by an indigenous Canadian boy, and the journey it makes from Lake Nipigon in Canada, through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. Each chapter is just one page, with an illustration to accompany it. It's short enough to be read in it's entirety in one sitting, or stretched out over a few days, or read over twenty seven sessions, with activities on offer for each chapter (see resource guide suggestion below). The story and illustrations provide such a valuable geographical and historical picture of the region.

One of my followers on Instagram suggested this resource guide to accompany the book. This isn't something that we have used and can recommend, but I've had a quick look and from what I can see it looks like a valuable resource, and worthy of sharing. It's free and includes activity suggestions and links to videos for each chapter of the book.

Grandfather Four Winds and Rising Moon

This book was bought for me by my parents when I was a little girl. Grandfather Four Winds and Rising Moon is a gentle story with evocative illustrations. A drought has come to the land that is home to Grandfather Four Winds and his young grandson, Rising Moon. Grandfather Four Winds reassures his grandson, through story, of the interconnectedness of humanity and the natural world. The story he tells is of a resilient apple tree, who shows great strength through the seasons of the year and of her lifetime. A gentle reminder of the power of courage, gratitude, generosity and faith - values found at the heart of Native American traditions.

Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message From Chief Seattle

I found this book recommended in Give Your Child the World (which you can read a full review of in this blog post). Brother Eagle, Sister Sky is one of those books that lingers in your mind long after you have read it. The great Chief Seattle spoke these words over a hundred and fifty years ago, as he relinquished the last of the land of his people to the government. It's incredibly moving, and heartbreaking, to read such a poignant and relevant message of love and respect for the earth and every creature on it, knowing as we do what has happened in these lands since. The stirring pen-and-colour drawings bring to life a wide array of Native Americans while capturing the importance and splendour of nature and the land. Highly recommended.

The Garden

This book was recommended to me by one of my social media followers, and has made such a sweet addition to our reading. The Garden tells the tale of a little girl who finds an old flint in her garden. Her mother suggests that it might be an old arrowhead left behind from the days when indigenous people lived on the land. At bedtime, Jenny camps out in her garden and dreams of what it might have been like to live on these lands all those years ago. A sweet introduction to Native America for young children.

These two books were kindly gifted to us from a friend on Instagram. Thank you Stephanie!

They Dance in the Sky

We haven't had a chance to read all of the stories in this book yet, but They Dance in the Sky is a collection of stories introducing Native American skylore. There are eight stories included, from a variety of indigenous communities across the continent. This would be a lovely book to weave into a project on the night sky or constellations.

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses

We only just read this book this morning. Like the other books listed here, the storytelling and art so beautifully express the harmony with and love of nature which characterize Native American culture. The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses tells the tale of an indigenous girl devoted to the care of her people's horses.

If you are interested in Native American history and stories, or are planning a Native American project, I hope you find this blog post interesting and useful. Do let me know what you think of the books reviewed here.

With love,

Rowan x

This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.

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