Learning about the original caretakers of the great land we now call America has traditionally been relegated to Thanksgiving, but the rich history of Indigenous (Native) Americans invite great projects and fun activities that can (and should) be discussed year-round!
Paper Plate Dream Catchers:
Dream Catchers are believed to catch negative energy and spirits in the webbing and allow positive dreams and energy to flow down and protect you while you sleep It’s easy to make your own and learn about Native American culture!
- Cut a circle out of the center of the paper plate. You can use the center part that you remove to cut out hearts, stars and moons to decorate your dream catcher.
- Cut even holes into the rim of your paper plate.
- Knot a piece of yarn to one hole and lace it through the holes, varying your direction. Pro tip: wrap yarn around the paper plate to hide the plate and add even more decoration.
- Thread beads onto the yarn as you go (pro tip: wrap the end with scotch tape to make it easier to work through the holes).
- Use the hearts, stars and moons in the center of your paper plate and wrap the thread around as you go to create a centerpiece.
- Once you have the center netting perfect add additional pieces of yarn to the bottom.
- String beads and the feathers through the ends to finish off your masterpiece! If you can’t find feathers, make them from felt!
Basket weaving was an important part of Native American culture and you can find thousands of beautiful pieces to use to introduce the idea. The perfect introduction to basket weaving (which can parlay into a new tradition of homemade gifts)! Bowls can be made to hold keys, toys, jewelry…anything! Using different colored yarn and different sized bowls, you can make one for every holiday or special celebration.
- Cut a slit form the rim of the bowl to the flat base – don’t go too deep into the bowl, just to where the flat part starts.
- Make slits about 2″ apart. For a 6″ diameter bowl, that’s about six slits. You’ll want to make sure there are an odd number of flaps.
- Cut a 3′ piece of yarn and tie it at the base of one of the flaps – it doesn’t matter where you start.
- Weave the yarn in and out of the slits of the bowl until the yarn runs out.
- Tie a 2′ piece of yarn in another color to the end of the first piece and continue weaving the yarn in and out of the slits.
- Continue this process, adding different colors as you go and experimenting with different lengths.
- When the whole bowl is covered, tie off the end and admire your work!
Native Americans have been making coil pots for cooking, storage or preserving seeds for more than 1,000 years. We’re guessing you kids know their way around a jar of play dough, which will make this project a snap! You only need one thing: air-dry clay and there are a ton of color choices!
- How easy is this project? Basically, anything you can make with play dough, you can make with air-dry clay and create your own clay pot! Combine different designs and build until your heart’s content! So that your pot will serve to actually hold things, make sure to start with a base and build from there!
- Make sure to follow the directions on the package for drying time. You can expect to have to let your kid’s creations sit for about a week before they are fully dry and ready to be used. So if you use this one to make homemade gifts, be sure to plan ahead!
It’s easier than you think for your kids to make their own Medicine Bags! Medicine bags were used for exactly what it sounds like…medicine! Hundreds of years ago, medicine was made from various plants that were used by either eating, being steeped as a drink or they could be muddled, made into pastes or rubs. These bags held the various remedies so they were easily accessible.
- You’ll need:
- A piece of fabric (thicker fabric works best and felt is a great option). The bigger the piece, the bigger your bag. A 12″ diameter piece will make a bag that stands about 4″-5″ tall.
- A piece of cord: you can use a shoestring, yarn, or a leather cord. The cord needs to be about 6″-8″ longer than the diameter of your fabric.
- Cut the fabric into a circle
- Mark holes around the edge of the fabric, about 1/2″ from the edge. They should be about 2″ apart.
- Use a hole punch to create the holes
- Tie a knot into one end of the cord and start weaving the cord in and out of the holes. When you get back to where you started, add some beads to the ends (beads can also be used to slide up and down the cords and keep the bag shut. tie the two ends together,
- Pull on the cord to cinch the bag closed and you’re done!
Have fun creating and learning with your kids! Here are just a few tidbits you can use in conversation while you’re having fun:
Values of Native Americans:
There are 5 themes that are found across all tribes that are life lessons we can all learn from and are perfect for the kiddos, incorporate them into your projects!
- Feed Strangers
- When the colonists arrived from Europe, most of them died from diseases and starvation. The surrounding tribes saw this and donated some of their harvest to the hungry colonists.
- Native Americans also taught the colonists how to plant and hunt in the new land.
- The Great Law of Peace written by the Iroquois tribes of New England in the 18th century advocated that a proper chief would never let his people go without food.
- Among present day Native Americans, extra food is usually expected to be taken home after an event so nobody goes hungry.
- Everyone is Equal
- Native American culture during the colonial eras saw everyone as equal to them. There was no segregation or separation. The Great Law of Peace reads “The Great Creator has made us of one blood and of the same soil…only different tongues constitute different nations.” The Iroquois nation’s Great Law of Peace was later a source of influence for the US Constitution.
- Though they were gender roles in tribes, no gender was superior to the other. In fact, among Iroquois tribes, the chief was always male, but the chief was always selected by a council of women.
- Homosexuals in tribes were often called “two-spirited” and accepted for their sexuality.
- Children were also welcomed with open arms as contributing members of the community and given large amounts of affection.
- Be Kind to Your New Neighbors
- Native Americans were actually quite fond of the colonists before all the historical disputes occurred. Many tribal leaders wanted to have trading agreements with their new neighbors and sought alliances between them.
- Tribes were also hospitable to the newcomers and supplied them with food and shelter as the colonists got back on their feet. Some colonists chose to join a tribe and were adopted as official members.
- Those who joined a tribe were allowed equal rights and privileges.
- The Creek council wrote to the English colonists in 1759, “The English are our friends and we love them dearly.”
- Education is the Key to Success
- Before the Europeans set foot in the New World, the Native Americans already had education for young children. Boys were taught how to hunt and fight while girls were taught how to cook and keep up a household, but also learned how to fight if the tribe ran short on male warriors.
- Each person in the tribe was expected to educate the children in some way. A Native proverb says “Children must be taught or they will not know anything; if they do not know anything; they will have no sense; if they have no sense, they will not know how to act.”
- Never Say Goodbye
- Our favorite of the major themes of Native American culture….never say goodbye since you will always see the person you’re parting with on a later date…either in this life, the next life or the afterlife.
- Most native languages don’t even have a word for “goodbye”. Instead, they say “toksa”, meaning “see you later”.
- There are 6.79 million Indigenous Americans living in the US in 2020.
- Why do we say Native Americans or Indigenous Americans instead of Indians? When Christopher Columbus landed in America, he thought he had sailed to India. The GPS and the internet weren’t exactly a thing back then. He called the tribes he encountered Indians and the name stuck, but as we know now, that label couldn’t be further from accurate.. The term “Indigenous” means original and is a synonym to “native”. It is being used more and more and your kids will hear it…introduce both Native and Indigenous to make sure they’re in the know.
- Native Americans lived in groups called tribes Cherokee, Apache, Sioux & Navajo are all some you’ve probably heard of. But what about Chickasaw, Winnebago (it’s more than just a tent on wheels), Kahnawake or Wappo? Each tribe created their own traditions and cultures and while there are several similarities there are also several differences.
- It’s easy to compare the different tribes to the differences between Italian, Irish, Puerto Rican, Japanese or Haitian. Or even a little closer to home…southern, Californian, New Englander, Texan or Midwesterner!
- Choose a tribe and dive in to what makes them unique.
- Pro-tip: Use the exploration of different tribes and how they generally lived peacefully together, but separate, to teach your kids about how we can be different and still accepting of other’s thoughts and values.
- There are more than 570 federally recognized tribes.
- Only about 30% of Native Americans still live on reservations.
- Art supplies:
- Books for kids:
- I am Sacagawea: introduce kids to this literal trailblazer and the ideas of courage and determination
- The Princess Pocahontas: the historically accurate story of Pocahontas, her playful, intelligent nature and desire for peace
- Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Sa: the story of Native American author, musician and activist, Gertrude Simmons, aka Zitkala-Sa
- Who is Maria Tallchief?: the fantastic story about America’s first major prima ballerina
- Thunder Boy Jr: Learn about father/son relationships, independence and self-identity
- Hungry Johnny: Learn about gratitude, patience and respect