This article was updated for October 2023 Indigenous Peoples Day.
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 9th this year), Native American Heritage Month (November)—or anytime at all.
Best Indigenous Peoples Day Lessons and Activities
Native American mascot controversy
A highly informative article about an ongoing news story -- the widespread use of Native American-related names for sports teams and mascots. While some high-profile teams, such as the Washington Commanders, have changed their names, others have not—and maintain that the moniker is a sign of respect. Learn all about the latest thinking on this issue, which carries a lot of symbolic weight.
Native Wisdom: Growing Techniques of Indigenous Peoples
From the nonprofit educational organization KidsGardening, this downloadable PDF explores sustainable Native American gardening techniques, many of which have become popular in the larger American culture again. You may have heard of terracing and no-till gardening, but what about flood-cropping and Chinampas? Use this document as a foundation for a lesson in history, science, or sociology.
National Museum of the American Indian Online Exhibits
Drawn from the museum exhibits, this virtual tour de force provides a wealth of resources for teaching and learning about Native American culture and history. Want to learn about horses, or dance or photography or treaties? It’s all here, and more.
Museum of Native American History Lesson Plans
A complete set of highly detailed, downloadable free lesson plans that include images, text, digital primary sources, slides, and rubrics for grading. These plans can serve as professional development as well as lessons for students in high school and beyond.
Lessons of Our Land
A preK-12 curriculum that allows educators to integrate Native American stories, lessons, and games into classroom teaching. Aligned with state standards, these five free lessons cover themes of land stewardship, wild rice, and cultural clashes as well as the effects of European settlement on Native American life. Be sure to check out the award winning gameplay of When Rivers Were Trails, as seen in this playthrough video: When Rivers Were Trails - Playthrough Part 1 (educational 2D adventure game)
Native American Cultures Across the U.S. Lesson Plan
This wide-ranging, complete lesson plan for grades 6-8 explores how Native Americans are viewed in today’s society, the diversity within Native American cultures, and the reality of cultural practices as compared to the myths. Prompts, standards, and activities are all part of the package.
Indigenous Rights and Controversy over Hawaii’s Maunakea Telescope Minilesson
Why are Native Hawaiians protesting against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a multinational collaboration that, if built, will be the second-largest telescope worldwide? The telescope’s site, Mauna Kea, has a rare combination of characteristics that make it ideal for an observatory, yet it’s also sacred ground to Native Hawaiians. This mini-lesson investigates the centuries-long clash of cultures and priorities exemplified in this issue.
IllumiNative Math Lesson
Did you know traditional Native American games include not only athletic pursuits, but also games of logic and chance? Aimed at kids in grades 6-8, this math lesson is in the form of Picaria, a Zuni Pueblo math game. Complete instructions for preparation and gameplay are provided. Watch the how-to video for a quick and easy lesson in playing Picaria.
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.
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 Peoples 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Best Indigenous Peoples Day Videos For Education
The Complete History Of Indigenous America Before Colonialism
Serving as a video curriculum, this three-hour long history of pre-Columbian Native American life is easily navigated via chapter timestamps as well as the transcript, which follows the video as you watch it. Explore creation stories, stone tools, languages, burial traditions, DNA, and much more.
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.
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 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.