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.
National Native American Heritage Month was recognized federally for the first time in the United States in 1990. However, the creation of Native American Heritage Month traces its roots back to New York State at the turn of the twentieth century, and specifically to the Seneca archaeologist, Dr. Arthur C. Parker. As the director of the Rochester Museum and Science Center, Parker fought for a federal recognition day for Native Americans throughout the early 1900s. In no small part due to his advocacy, New York became the first state to recognize “American Indian Day” in May 1916—a first step on the path to the month-long recognition we have today.
Today, Native American Heritage Month provides an opportunity to reckon with our past and to reflect on the treatment of Indigenous people throughout American history. In what we now know as New York City, the people who lived in the region prior to the 17th century arrival of the Europeans were known as the Lenape. The Dutch “purchased” their land—the island of Manhattan—from them in 1626. Despite memorials that commemorate this “sale,” historians doubt that the Lenape and the Dutch both would have viewed their agreement in the same way. Because of differing cultural views on land ownership, it is instead more likely that the Lenape believed it would not be permanent, or that they would share the land with the Dutch.
Violence between Native Americans and the Dutch colonists—and later, the English, too, as “New Amsterdam” became “New York”—would increase throughout the 1600s. These conflicts eventually resulted in forced removal of the Lenape who were not killed by warfare or disease. Having been forced out of New York, today, most of their descendants live either in Oklahoma or Ontario, Canada.
However, their legacy is ever-present in the names of the neighborhoods now situated on the land that was taken from them. Historical records show that Manhattan itself was once called "Manna-hata"–a word from the Lenape language, Munsee. The Canarsie neighborhood is named for the tribe that once resided in present-day Brooklyn. Other now-familiar names—like Gowanus, Jamaica, and Mosholu, for example—are also thought to have evolved from various Native American words.
During Native American Heritage Month, it is important not just to celebrate the legacy that Indigenous history makers have left, but also to celebrate those who continue to shape our society, lead their communities, and impact our culture today. This month, and all year long, we celebrate these barrier-breaking Native Americans, like Marine Colonel Nicole Mann, the first female Native American to travel to space in October 2022, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who became the first Indigenous Cabinet member in U.S. history in 2021, among countless others.
Learn more about the many ways you can join us in celebrating Native American Heritage Month this year by checking out the resources below—including reading lists, lesson plans, and upcoming virtual and in-person events for the whole family to enjoy.
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, 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 book clubs to movie nights, arts and crafts, 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.
- Join the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers at the Queens Farm Museum on November 12 for the Harvest 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 memoirs, we've assembled a booklist 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
- Bowwow Powwow, by Brenda J. Child; illustrated by Jonathan Thunder
- 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
- Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story, by Donald Uluadluak; illustrated by Qin Leng
- On the Trapline, by David Alexander Robertson; illustrated by Julie Flett
- Rock Your Mocs, by Laurel Goodluck; illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight
- Shaped by Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez, by Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales; illustrated by Aphelandra
- Still This Love Goes On, by Buffy Sainte-Marie; illustrated by Julie Flett
- Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina, by Maria Tallchief and Rosemary Wells; illustrated by Gary Kelley
- 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 School (Grades 3–5)
- The Birchbark House, by Louise Erdrich
- Eagle Song, by Joseph Bruchac; illustrated by Dan Andreasen
- Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes, by Wab Kinew; illustrated by Joe Morse
- Healer of the Water Monster, by Brian Young
- I Can Make This Promise, by Christine Day
- Indian No More, by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell
- JoJo Makoons: The Used-To-Be Best Friend, by Dawn Quigley; illustrated by Tara Audibert
- The Rough-Face Girl, by Rafe Martin; illustrated by David Shannon
- Sees Behind Trees, by Michael Dorris
- Sisters of the Neversea, by Cynthia Leitich Smith
- 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 School (Grades 6–8)
- Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith
- The Barren Grounds, by David Alexander Robertson
- 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
- Mascot, by Charles Waters and Traci Sorell
- A Native American Thought of It: Amazing Inventions and Innovations, by Rocky Landon and David MacDonald
- The Sea in Winter, by Christine Day
- The Star That Always Stays, by Anna Rose Johnson
- Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers: Volume One, edited by Arigon Starr
- Two Tribes, by Emily Bowen Cohen
Young Adult (Grades 9–12)
- Elatsoe, by Darcie Little Badger; illustrated by Rovina Cai
- Fire Song, by Adam Garnet Jones
- Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley
- Give Me Some Truth, by Eric Gansworth
- An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, written by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and adapted by Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza
- House of Purple Cedar, by Tim Tingle
- The Marrow Thieves, by Cherie Dimaline
- The Night Wanderer, by Drew Hayden Taylor
- Rez Ball, by Byron Graves
- Saints of the Household, by Ari Tison
- Those Pink Mountain Nights, by Jen Ferguson
- 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. For videos, podcasts, and more, check out some of our favorites:
- TED Talks 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.
- 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.
- Hear more about 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—in a video from PBS about “The First American Indian Doctor.”
- 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 throughout history—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.
- In an episode of “For the Ages,” a podcast from the New-York Historical Society, learn more about Native American history from historian Philip Deloria.
- Learn more about Native American cooking as host Andi Murphy discovers more about her Navajo culinary roots in her podcast “Toasted Sister.”
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 in United States History ” 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, which has a New York City location, also has many digital resources available through their NK360° platform.
- “Native New York” is a lesson plan from the museum that might be of particular interest for NYC public school teachers, as it explores 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" page features primary source packets that teach about the borough’s history. With their Native Americans in Brooklyn packet, students can learn the history of Native Americans in the borough through various firsthand accounts and documents, and contains learning activities for students.
- Check out the Staten Island Historian’s page to learn more about the first Native people 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 resources from 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's resource guides and lesson plans about Indigenous heritage are a helpful resource for learning more about many Indigenous tribes throughout history.
Hidden Voices began as a collaboration with the Museum of the City of New York that was initiated to help City students learn about the countless individuals who are often "hidden" from traditional historical records. Each of the people highlighted in the series has made a positive impact on their communities while serving as outstanding examples of leadership, advocacy, and community service.
During Native American Heritage Month, check out our profiles on:
- Mary Golda Ross, one of NASA’s famous “Hidden Figures,” and the first Native American woman to become an aerospace engineer.
- Indigenous Heroes, including Penhawitz, Charles Eastman, Wilma Mankiller, Michael Thornton, Louise Erdrich, and Deb Haaland.
You can find more of our profiles throughout the year on our Hidden Voices webpage.