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A New Narrative: Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Esther (they/them/theirs) is a graduate intern with the Diverse BookFinder and a MSLS student at UNC-Chapel Hill, with a focus on youth services. They live on the unceded traditional territory of the Shakori-Eno people.

According to a 2015 study by Shear, Knowles, Soden, and Castro, approximately 87% of K-12 state U.S. history standards do not mention Native Americans after the year 1900. Further, many state-level standards do not mention Indigenous peoples at all. This means that K-12 students may only learn about Indigenous people as they existed long ago:

[...] the standards largely depicted Indigenous Peoples as existing in the distant past and are thereby marginalized from the American present.

Shear et al., "Manifesting Destiny: Re/presentations of Indigenous Peoples in K-12 U.S. History Standards"

Beyond K-12 education, media representation overall erases Indigenous peoples from more recent history and from the present. Reclaiming Native Truth, a public opinion research project conducted by and about Native Americans, found that many Americans "do not think about Native American issues" (p. 8) and do not personally know any Indigenous people.

When education, media, and other sources do represent Native Americans in the present, the narratives often rely on and perpetuate harmful (and untrue) stereotypes and misconceptions.

Without contemporary, authentic portrayals readily available, non-Natives rely on stereotypes and inaccurate history to judge Native communities.

IllumiNative, "Change the Story, Change the Future: Insights and Action Guide"

The erasure of Native peoples also allows other ongoing harms. Drawing on stereotypes means we cannot understand or recognize the real, lived experiences of Native peoples and their communities. These stereotypes are also often used to construct deficit narratives about Indigenous peoples, or narratives that portray Indigenous people as the problem rather than highlighting the strength of Indigenous survival and the impact of systemic racism.

To boost visibility and be better allies in the fight for equity and sovereignty for Indigenous peoples, IllumiNative suggests that we disrupt these deficit narratives - and re-frame conversations about Native people.

“Narrative change requires a coordinated, long-term commitment by Indian Country and allies to combat the dominant conversation about Native communities by replacing it with a positive, contemporary, and authentic narrative — a new story.”

IllumiNative, "Change the Story, Change the future: Insights and Action Guide"

IllumiNative outlines the elements and impact of utilizing their Narrative Framework, which all of us can draw on to help create a new narrative that highlights the strengths, achievements, and actual needs of Indigenous people and communities.

Other ways to challenge deficit narratives and the erasure of Native people include educating ourselves and others about Indigenous people. We have to share Native voices and stories with the children in our lives - whether we are caregivers, educators, librarians, or other roles. We can turn, in part, to picture books by Native authors and illustrators as a starting point for conversations or lessons about Native people. Doing so will help us and children better understand how to support and amplify Indigenous people.

Below are some picture books, either already in our collection or coming soon, that highlight Indigenous people in the recent past and in our present, as well as further resources for learning and teaching about Native people.

We are Water Protectors


by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade

Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, We Are Water Protectors issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguard the Earth's water from harm and corruption -- a bold and lyrical picture book written by Carole Lindstrom and vibrantly illustrated by Michaela Goade. Water is the first medicine. It affects and connects us all. When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth and poison her people's water, one young water protector takes a stand to defend Earth's most sacred resource. - Publisher

Beautiful Life Oppression & Resilience

We are grateful: Otsaliheliga


by Traci Sorell and Frané Lessac

"The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) means “we are grateful” in the Cherokee language. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences. Written by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, this look at one group of Native Americans is appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah."

Beautiful Life

Coming Soon:

We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know

by Traci Sorrell, illustrated by Frane Lessac

Twelve Native American kids present historical and contemporary laws, policies, struggles, and victories in Native life, each with a powerful refrain: We are still here! Too often, Native American history is treated as a finished chapter instead of relevant and ongoing. This companion book to the award-winning We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga offers readers everything they never learned in school about Native American people's past, present, and future. Precise, lyrical writing presents topics including: forced assimilation (such as boarding schools), land allotment and Native tribal reorganization, termination (the US government not recognizing tribes as nations), Native urban relocation (from reservations), self-determination (tribal self-empowerment), Native civil rights, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), religious freedom, economic development (including casino development), Native language revival efforts, cultural persistence, and nationhood.

We All Play

by Julie Flett

Animals and kids love to play! This wonderful bookcelebrates diversity and the interconnectedness of nature through an Indigenous perspective, complete with a glossary of Cree words for wild animals at the back of the book, and children repeating a Cree phrase throughout the book. Readers will encounter birds who chase and chirp, bears who wiggle and wobble, whales who swim and squirt, owls who peek and peep, and a diverse group of kids who love to do the same, shouting:
We play too! / kimêtawânaw mîna
A beautiful ode to the animals and humans we share our world with, We All Play belongs on every bookshelf.

We Dream Medicine Dreams

by Lisa Boivin

From Dene artist and bioethicist Lisa Boivin comes this healing story of hope, dreams, and the special bond between grandfather and granddaughter.
When a little girl dreams about a bear, her grandfather explains how we connect with the knowledge of our ancestors through dreams. Bear, Hawk, Caribou, and Wolf all have teachings to share to help us live a good life. But when Grampa gets sick and falls into a coma, the little girl must lean on his teachings as she learns to say goodbye.
Masterful prose and stunning collage weave a gentle story about animal teachings, the power of dreams, and the death of a loved one.

Sources and Further Reading

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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