No matter who you are and where you’re from, there’s likely an indigenous population that was displaced by colonialism wherever you live, or you yourself might have this heritage. While each situation varies widely based on exactly where you’re from, it’s still important to discuss indigenous history with your children. Allow them to ask questions to truly understand the scope of their experience through education.
Indigenous history education is important for kids of all backgrounds—even those who aren’t indigenous. Some may even argue that it’s especially important for kids who aren’t indigenous.
Indigenous history is an integral part of the history of any nation with a history of colonialism. And although parts of it may be uncomfortable, it’s important to learn about it in order to become better citizens in the present day. Indigenous populations are filled with many rich cultures and populations of people still being affected today by the events of history—and current events taking place right now.
No matter where you are or when you’re getting started, here are a few effective tips for how to talk to your kids about indigenous history and issues.
Don’t Rely on Stereotypes
Much of what we have to go off of in our common culture in terms of indigenous stories and representation are actually based on stereotypes and narratives perpetuated by colonizers. Sometimes it can be difficult to wade through a sea of stereotypes and unreliable sources, but in order to find legitimate information about sensitive topics, you may need to look for better sources — likely sources that come directly from indigenous people, records, and organizations.
Even academic history textbooks are often filled with lies and constructed narratives. From the stories of the first Thanksgiving to Disney movies featuring native characters, common cultural narratives of indigenous people are often much less than accurate.
Be Honest With Them
It can sometimes be difficult to talk to kids about sensitive topics, especially when those topics inherently contain discussions of wrongdoing and injustice. However, that makes it even more important to be honest about the events that have taken place.
Of course, it’s always important to talk about things in an age-appropriate manner, especially with kids who are sensitive to graphic information. But age-appropriate doesn’t mean bending the truth. It means telling the truth in ways they can understand and process.
Talk About Both Past and Present
Especially for those not as in touch with the indigenous community, indigenous history can feel just like how it sounds at first glance—history that lives completely in the past.
On the contrary. Indigenous populations are as alive as ever, from reservations to bigger cities. Indigenous people face unique issues that they didn’t in previous generations, and it’s important to recognize indigenous people as more than a history—they are a community of people.
When it comes to how to talk to kids about indigenous issues, one of the biggest things to remember is that current events are a large part of that narrative.
Listen to Actual Indigenous Voices
As previously discussed, much of the common cultural narrative—including educational materials—are filled with stereotypes and manufactured histories from the perspective of European colonizers. No matter what, the best way to get an accurate view of indigenous history and issues is to seek out accounts and sources from actual indigenous people, tribes, and organizations.
When trying to learn about any subject, it’s always best to head right to primary sources. So check out the tribes in your area and learn directly about them. Plus, check out books, speeches, and resources from indigenous authors and scholars.
Be an Active Force for Positive Change
Again, it’s important to disrupt the “people of the past” narrative, which means actively participating in positive change as a part of the learning experience. Donate money to indigenous organizations, go to events that feature and give back to the indigenous community in your area, and sign petitions for current events as a part of your conversation.
It’s important both to make reparations and to create a participatory learning experience when talking to kids, and there are plenty of ways to do that.
Discuss Non-Colonialist Culture and History
One of the big missteps—even with well-intentioned educators—is centering the conversation of indigenous history around colonialism. By starting the conversation with the colonizers showing up and stealing land, you participate further in a euro-centric worldview and miss so much valuable information that indigenous history and culture have to offer.
Instead, learn about indigenous culture, tradition, spirituality, and history outside of the colonial narrative. While it may feel like a no-brainer to some, many don’t realize what they miss out on.
Encourage Them to Ask Questions
Just like any topic you’re teaching kids, they will likely have questions and curiosities about indigenous peoples and experiences. Questions are a good thing, especially if the subject is new to you, too.
Encourage your kids to ask questions throughout the conversation or lesson. And if you have answers, you can lead them to those answers. However, if you don’t know the answers, you can take it as a learning opportunity to discover something new together.
Keep the Conversation Going
One of the primary ways to create a well-rounded education on indigenous history and issues for anybody of any age is to keep the conversation active. Just like any history lesson, you don’t just talk about it once and drop it afterward—you keep the conversation going with new lessons and topics of discussion.
At the end of the day, indigenous culture is rich and diverse—much too much for you to tackle it all in just one sitting.
Talking to Your Kids About Indigenous History
There are so many ways to discuss indigenous issues and culture, and exploring them with your kids is an amazing opportunity to educate them (as well as yourself) to be better citizens of the community and world. Indigenous history is inherently a part of the history of your country, which means it’s imperative that you bring it into the educational conversations you’re having.