Best Free Indigenous Peoples Day Lessons and Activities

American flag next to teepee
(Image credit: Pixabay/Marianne Flückiger)

First celebrated in the U.S. in 1992 in Berkeley, California, Indigenous Peoples Day is now observed by many U.S. cities and several states. The day celebrates the hundreds of thriving Indigenous nations present in pre-Columbian America and their cultures. Most importantly, Indigenous nations and cultures are not only part of America’s past, but also a burgeoning population in America’s present and future. 

These free lessons and activities are an excellent way to incorporate Indigenous history and culture into your curriculum for Indigenous Peoples Day (October 11 this year), Native American Heritage Month (November)—or anytime at all.

Best Indigenous Peoples Day Lessons and Activities

Alaska Native Heritage Center Cultural Knowledge
Examine dozens of fascinating and engaging videos covering Alaskan Indigenous history, language, storytelling, and much more. How-to videos demonstrate Native games and how to craft the traditional cutting tool known as a Uluaq

Celebrating Indigenous Languages project
Did you know there are more than 4,000 Indigenous languages worldwide? Have your students learn more about these endangered languages by listening to greetings and songs and watching videos recorded by 84 Indigenous language speakers. While listening, kids can traverse the planet virtually with the interactive globe. Informative and fun. 

Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day Lesson Plan 
A critical thinking and writing lesson for high school students, through which they research Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples Day, and the current controversy over celebration of either holiday. Addresses the Common Core standards of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Indigenous Peoples Day Resources  
Employing a “people’s history” approach, the Zinn Education Project seeks to remedy the omissions and distortions of traditional history education and go beyond memorizing dates and events. Explore the lessons, articles, books, films, and podcasts that treat the history of Indigenous peoples as worthy subjects to study and learn from.

Life on a Native American Reservation
Most non-indigenous Americans have no idea—or have the wrong idea—about living on one of the 318 Indian reservations in the U.S. This eye-opening article from the young journalist Shandiin Vandervere not only chronicles her own experience growing up on a Navajo Nation reservation, but also details the difficulties in accessing basic services across reservations nationwide. 

National Museum of the American Indian Native Knowledge 360 Education Initiative 
Learn about cross-curricular approaches to teaching Indigenous history. Questions such as “Did Native People Really Sell Manhattan?” “What Does It Mean to Remove a People?” and “Why Do the Foods We Eat Matter?” serve to launch standards-aligned lessons that go far beyond the traditional Eurocentric classroom view of Native peoples in the Americas. 

National Museum of the American Indian Professional Development
Want to learn more about Indigenous history in the Americas to inform your classroom instruction? Two upcoming professional development webinars focus on land stewardship and rethinking the traditional historic narratives about Indigenous peoples. 

Native American Heritage Month Resources For Teachers  
A rich resource for primary Indigenous teaching materials, this site is a collaboration of the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Start with Teacher's Guide: American Indian History and Heritage, then explore a wealth of topics for K-12 students from “Learning the Lakota Language” to “Native Innovation in Video Games.” 

Native Land 
This super cool and easy-to-use interactive map displays Indigenous territories, languages, and treaties worldwide. Enter an address or zip code and start investigating. Each search result is accompanied by links to learn more about the territory, language, or treaty. Great for research projects. 

PBS All-Stars Lessons: Amplifying Indigenous Experiences 
A complete standards-aligned lesson based on the 5E instructional model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson features Indigenous women whose boldness would have been considered “unladylike” in their time but are now recognized as courageous leaders. 

Selecting and using Children’s Books about Indigenous peoples 
From the National Council of Teachers of English, this article tackles old assumptions and stereotypes and explains simple steps teachers can take to add meaning, depth, and relevance to their classroom instruction about Indigenouse peoples.     

Share My Lesson: Indigenous Peoples Lesson Plans And Resources 
Dozens of lessons about Indigenous culture are labeled by topic, grade level, and standard, and feature ratings and a brief summary. Click on those that look interesting to learn more and access the full free lesson, which includes the specific standards, downloadable documents, and links to free webinars offering PD credits. A free account allows teachers to view, download, save, share, and rate all lessons. 

Teachrock Suggested Lesson Plans 
The standards-aligned arts curriculum website Teachrock offers five lesson plans celebrating Indigenous culture and activism. Perfect for history, music, or social-emotional learning education. 

Tribal Nations and the United States: An Introduction
Even educators well-versed in the overall American political structure may know little about how Indigenous tribes govern. This guide from the National Congress of American Indians explains the structure of tribal governance and its integration into the larger American system.

WhoseLand Lesson Plans  
The Whose Land interactive map allows users to explore the original Indigenous territories across the Americas, Greenland, and Australia. Their lesson plans, sorted by three grade levels, start with big ideas about connections to land and place and move on to researching Indigenous peoples and the lands they historically occupied. Be sure to check out the PD materials in preparation for these lessons. 

Why More People are Celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day 
You may be surprised to learn that the official celebration of Columbus Day is fairly recent, dating to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1934 decree. Still, it’s a familiar and beloved holiday for many Americans, and long taught in schools, albeit in a simplified form with many crucial details omitted. In this recent article by Lumbee Tribe member and historian Malinda Maynor Lowery, learn why the movement to recognize Indigenous people’s Day as an alternative to Columbus Day has gained traction since the 1980s. A perfect entrée into the topic for middle and high school discussions. 

Best Indigenous Peoples Day Videos For Education 

Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
From Chicago Tonight comes a thoughtful examination of both sides of the debate over the traditional Columbus Day celebration vs the current trend toward recognizing the contributions and sacrifices of Indigenous peoples. 

Coyote Story
A beautifully illustrated Chippewa story, spoken in the Ojibwe tradition, this enchanting video is accompanied by a haunting score that will entice kids and teachers alike to investigate more such animated tales. 

The Jerry Cans - Mamaqtuq (English Lyrics)
This rollicking folk song from The Jerry Cans is sung in Inuktitut, the indigenous language of the Inuit people, and will have listeners tapping their feet and dancing with the music. Listen without the subtitles and try to guess the lyrics from the visuals. Then turn on the captions and be surprised. Great fun. 

Molly of Denali: Grandpa’s Drum 
From the Peabody award-winning PBS animated television series Molly of Denali, this standards-aligned lesson follows along as Molly and her friend Tooey learn about the importance of cultural heritage. Includes lesson support materials for both teachers and students. 

Why the U.S. celebrates Columbus Day
How did a man who never set foot in the territory that became the United States end up with a national holiday and an entrenched position in American mythology? Why were American children for so long not taught the full truth of the brutal treatment endured by Indigenous peoples at the hands of Columbus and his men? In less than six minutes, this video report from Vox answers these and other key questions about one of our most revered national myths. Ideal lesson prompt for high school students. 

The Word Indigenous Explained
A great short video for helping younger kids understand the diversity and importance of Canadian Indigenous peoples.  

Diana Restifo