Humane Educator's Toolbox: Unlearning Indian Stereotypes

Unlearning Indian Stereotypes by Council on Interracial Books for Children. Enhanced by Rethinking Schools. 2008.

“…books and movies tell lies about Native people.”

A group of children from several different Indian nations talks about their experiences as American Indians and expresses their anger, sadness and frustration about the stereotypes and misperceptions that abound regarding their cultures and traditions. Unlearning Indian Stereotypes is a DVD that has taken a filmstrip first created by the Council on Interracial Books for Children in 1977 and digitized it, updating some of the images (such as maps). The DVD now features a 12-minute slideshow in which the children talk about common stereotypes regarding Native dress, housing and other aspects of their culture – especially those found in children’s books. We also gain insight into Native history through the eyes of these children, including as they discuss issues such as the many treaties that have been broken and mention why they don’t celebrate observances such as Thanksgiving or Columbus Day.

In addition to the slideshow, the DVD offers a complete transcript, sample articles about teaching American Indian issues and literature in the classroom, and other suggested resources. It has also separated out the images from the slideshow into separate files for classroom use.

Since most of the images are from 1977, they feel a bit outdated, and there are a couple minor visual flaws (such as one child having a second set of eyes in one frame), but the real strength of this piece is in hearing the powerful voices of Native children themselves telling us how they feel about the stereotypes and bias they’re exposed to today, as well as the history of what has happened to their peoples.

While this is an important and relevant tool for teaching students of all ages about racism and the history of indigenous peoples of the U.S. – and for helping students think critically -- it’s disheartening that something more recent hasn’t been created to supersede this important work. Still, Rethinking Schools has provided an essential teaching tool useful for anyone interested in helping create a just world.

~ Marsha

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