November is Native American Heritage Month! Also known as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, this is a time to recognize the history, culture, and contributions of Indigenous people.
The first time National Native American Heritage Month was recognized federally in the United States was in 1990, but the celebration traces its roots back much further. In fact, much of its legacy can be traced back to New York state! In May 1916, New York became the first state to recognize “American Indian Day,” and one of the major proponents for a federal recognition day was Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian who led advocacy efforts from Rochester, New York throughout the early 1900s.
Part of Native American Heritage Month involves reckoning with the past. In the 17th century, the Dutch arrived to what we now call New York City, an area that was then called Lenapehoking, named for the Lenape people who lived there. It is often said that Manhattan was “sold” by the Lenape to the newly-arrived Europeans – there are even memorials in the City commemorating a sale – but it is unlikely that Native people saw their agreement in the same way that the Dutch did, as they did not view land as something you could own. As a result, they, like many Indigenous people, were forcefully removed from their homeland.
Much of the land that was taken from the Indigenous people still bear their names, or else their names come from words in various Native American languages. In this way, all across New York City their legacy remains ever-present. “Canarsee,” for example, was the name for the tribe that resided in parts of present-day Brooklyn that became today’s neighborhood of Canarsie. Other now-familiar place names, like Gowanus, Mosholu,and maybe even Coney Island are also thought to have evolved from various Native American names and words. Manhattan itself, in fact, was once called "Manna-hata" by the Lenape people who lived there and believed to have possibly referred to a “place where we gather timber for bows and arrows,” though there are several differing theories on what exactly the word meant.
However, November is not only a time to remember the past; it is also important to celebrate the Indigenous people and cultures who are continuing to impact in our world today, like Marine Colonel Nicole Mann, the first female Native American to travel to space, who made her journey with NASA in October 2022, or Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who became the first Indigenous Cabinet member in U.S. history in 2021, among many others.
Learn more about the many ways you can celebrate Native American Heritage Month this year by checking out the resources, including reading lists, lesson plans, and upcoming virtual and in-person events, below.
Events, Exhibitions, and Places to Visit
This month, celebrate Indigenous history all across New York City! All November long, there are events, exhibitions, and other places to visit where families, students, and educators can learn about and engage with Native American culture.
- New York City is home to one of the branches of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. You can attend an event, visit the museum, or check out any of their virtual exhibits if you’re unable to make it in person.
- Looking for more online opportunities? Check out the NY State Museum’s virtual exhibition, “REPRESENT: Contemporary Native American Art.”
- Learn more about Native American ceremonies and traditions through the Smithsonian’s online exhibition, “American Indian Powwows: Multiplicity and Authenticity.”
- Attend an event hosted by the Redhawk Council, a non-profit organization founded and maintained by Indigenous American artists, performers, and educators residing in New York and New Jersey.
- Various branches of the New York Public Library will be hosting events for all ages throughout the month, from a “Virtual Comics Chat,” to movie and crafts nights, and more.
- From Bowling Green to Van Cortlandt Park, learn more about the many historically significant locations throughout New York City that connect back to Native American history.
- On November 5, visit the Staten Island Children’s Museum to see the Red Storm Drum and Dance Troupe perform in celebration of Native American Heritage Month!
- Join the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers at the Queens Farm Museum on November 13 at 2 pm for an Autumn Dance Celebration in appreciation of the summer harvest.
There are many great Indigenous stories and storytellers that people of all ages can engage with this month. From fantasy novels to biographies and memories, we’ve assembled a book list that covers a wide range of cultural backgrounds and unique perspectives that we hope parents, students, and educators can enjoy and learn from throughout November and the year.
Early Readers (Grades 3K-2)
- 47,000 Beads, by Koja and Angel Adeyoha; illustrated by Holly McGillis
- Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer, by Traci Sorell; illustrated by Natasha Donovan
- Fry Bread, by Kevin Noble Maillard; illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
- Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes, by Wab Kinew; illustrated by Joe Morse
- Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story, by Donald Uluadluak; illustrated by Qin Leng
- Rabbit’s Snow Dance, by Joseph and James Bruchac; illustrated by Jeff Newman
- Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina, by Maria Tallchief and Rosemary Wells; illustrated by Gary Kelley
- Thunder Boy Jr., by Sherman Alexie; illustrated by Yuyi Morales
- We Are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom; illustrated by Michaela Goade
- When I Was Eight, by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton; illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Elementary (Grades 3-5)
- A Native American Thought of It: Amazing Inventions and Innovations, by Rocky Landon and David MacDonald
- Eagle Song, by Joseph Bruchac; illustrated by Dan Andreasen
- Healer of the Water Monster, by Brian Young
- I Can Make This Promise, by Christine Day
- JoJo Makoons, by Dawn Quigley; illustrated by Tara Audibert
- Sees Behind Trees, by Michael Dorris
- Sisters of the Neversea, by Cynthia Leitich Smith
- The Birchbark House, by Louise Erdrich
- We Are Still Here: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know, by Traci Sorell; illustrated by Frané Lessac
- Wilma’s Way Home: The Life of Wilma Mankiller, by Doreen Rappaport; illustrated by Linda Kukuk
Middle Grade (Grades 6-8)
- Apple in the Middle, by Dawn Quigley
- Borders, by Thomas King; illustrated by Natasha Donovan
- Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition), by Anton Treuer
- How I Became a Ghost, by Tim Tingle
- In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, by Joseph Marshall III
- My Name is Not Easy, by Debby Dahl Edwardson
- Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers: Volume I, edited by Arigon Starr
- The Barren Grounds, by David Robertson
- The Case of Windy Lake, by Michael Hutchinson
- The Sea in Winter, by Christine Day
Young Adult (Grades 9-12)
- A Girl Called Echo: Pemmican Wars Vol. I, by Katherena Vermette; illustrated by Donovan Yaciuk and Scott B. Henderson
- An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, written by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and adapted by Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza
- Elatsoe, by Darcie Little Badger
- Fire Song, by Adam Garnet Jones
- Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley
- Give Me Some Truth, by Eric Gansworth
- House of Purple Cedar, by Tim Tingle
- The Marrow Thieves, by Cherie Dimaline
- The Night Wanderer, by Drew Hayden Taylor
- Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, by Steve Sheinkin
Many of these books are readily available via New York’s public libraries, as well as through the Citywide Digital Library available on Sora for our students. Sora also has a Native American Heritage Month collection that features even more great titles for all ages to enjoy. For even more book recommendations, visit the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog.
Video and Audio Resources
There are lots of great resources out there for those looking to learn more about Native American culture in the past and present. TED Talks, for example, are a great resource for learning about a wide range of topics from Indigenous experts, whether they’re conservationists, linguists, or chefs. The Native America Calling podcast, produced by Koahnic Broadcast Corporation, a Native-operated media center in Anchorage, Alaska, is a great listen, too, covering culture, politics, and more.
There’s something for everyone to enjoy — check out the videos, podcasts, and more for more helpful resources:
- The “Unsung History” podcast has a collection of episodes centered around Native American History that will make for informative listening all month long.
- Learn more about the legendary history of the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II from Roy Hawthorne, who served in the role from 1943-1945.
- The PBS documentary “Medicine Woman” tells the story of Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native American woman to receive a medical degree back in 1889, before women had a right to vote, or Native people were allowed to be U.S. citizens.
- Also from PBS, watch “30 Stories for 30 Days” of Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month, a collection of videos that tell Indigenous stories from past and present, including a profile of rock guitarist Link Wray, the connection between the Seneca people and the Women’s suffrage movement, how the Cherokee language got written down, and many more.
- Learn more about what “two spirit” means and hear about gender roles in Indigenous communities in an episode of the InQueery series, which explores LGBTQ+ culture.
- Listen to the “Land of the Lenape” episode of the Bowery Boys podcast, which tells the story of the Indigenous people who lived in what we call New York City before the Europeans arrived, and their gradual, forced removal from their homeland.
- In addition to Native American Heritage Month, it’s also football season! Learn more about the Supreme Court case Blackhorse et al. vs. Pro-Football Inc. and the movement against the use of Native American imagery as sports mascots in an interview with Navajo activist Amanda Blackhorse, who contributed to the re-naming of the team now known as the Washington Commanders. For more on this topic, check out the documentary “More Than a Word,” available to stream on Kanopy.
- Learn more about America’s first prima ballerina, a Native American woman named Maria Tallchief who performed with the New York City Ballet for much of her career.
- Rebecca Nagle’s “This Land” is a true crime podcast telling Native stories with two seasons out now. The first season focuses on a recent Supreme Court case, the outcome of which affects nearly half of the land in Oklahoma.
- Learn more about Native American cooking as host Andi Murphy discovers more about her Navajo culinary roots in her podcast “Toasted Sister.”
- Earlier this year, we watched Nicole Mann become the first Native American woman to travel to space. Revisit her groundbreaking journey, and learn more about John Bennett Herrington, the first Native astronaut to make the trip in 2002.
Resources for Educators
- WeTeachNYC has many lessons and activities available in their American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Heritage Month Collection – useful for both curriculum and professional development resources.
- The DOE’s Hidden Voices Curriculum provides a framework for students to learn the stories of traditionally under-represented communities. This month in particular, relevant lessons include the story of Canarsie leader Penhawitz and, through the “LGBTQ+ Stories” lessons, students can learn what it means to be a Two Spirit person.
- The National Education Association’s Native American Heritage Month page has a number of lesson plans, classroom activities, and other resources that can be used to learn about Indigenous history in culture that are suitable for multiple grade levels.
- The Museum of the American Indian has many classroom resources available, including one lesson plan that’s specifically focused on “Native New York” and the history of Native peoples in our state, and which ties into an ongoing exhibit at the museum.
- The Brooklyn Public Library’s “Brooklyn Connections” primary source packet teaches the history of Native Americans in the borough through various firsthand accounts and documents, and contains learning activities for students.
- Interested in more borough-by-borough history? Check out the Staten Island Historian’s page on the first Natives who lived there.
- “Teaching About the Native American Fight for Representation, Repatriation and Recognition” is a resource available from the New York Times that includes lessons on the representation of Native American culture in museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and on television, in shows like Reservation Dogs.
- Learn more about Native New Yorkers with the Lenape Center.
- The New York Public Library provides access to extensive databases and primary sources that tell the history of Native peoples across the United States.
- For music classes, check out the Smithsonian’s lesson plan, “Singing in the Harvest: Music from the Zuni,” or learn about the Indigenous flute tradition.
- Check out the Zinn Education Project’s page on Indigenous history which features lessons and resources that can be used in the classroom.
- Use the Lenape Talking Dictionary to learn more about the languages that were spoken by New York City’s first inhabitants.
- The National Park Service lessons and resource guides on Indigenous Heritage are a helpful resource for learning more about many Indigenous tribes throughout history.