Chapter 4: Families—The Importance of Relatives § 79
2. Asking children to make up stories about a fictitious Indian family
Children cannot make up stories about families from cultures they don’t
know. None of us can. When we urge non-Native children to create ficti-
tious Indian families, we force them to rely on inaccuracies and stereotypes,
thereby reinforcing the very misconceptions we hope to counter. In a class-
room recently visited by Guy, children were given just such an assignment.
They were asked to “describe your Indian and what it wears.” Needless to
say, terminology such as this, coupled with the nature of the assignment,
demeans and objectifies American Indian peoples. Instead, teachers can ask
children to write about their own families. They can also read stories to the
class about Native families written by Native authors.
3. Asking children to invent “Indian myths”
In the book Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails, author Michael Arvaarluk
Kusugak shares a traditional spiritual belief of his people. In school and in
the dominant culture, we tend to label the deeply held beliefs and stories of
other peoples as myths. While books about more dominant religions, such
as Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim, appear under a religionscategory
in the school library, the religious beliefs of indigenous people, notably
American Indians, are categorized as myths. This denigrates both their
religion and them as people. Worse yet is an activity that asks children to
make up Indian myths, which Guy and Sally noticed in a literacy activity
book, Art and Writing throughout the Year(Walrows and Tekerean 1989), for
sale at the 2000 NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young
Children) national conference. Teachers must remember that a culture’s
traditional stories have been handed down for timeless generations. They
are not made up by contemporary people. In addition, traditional stories
often have deep spiritual meaning and are no different from Bible stories to
Christian or Jewish children, or stories from the Koran to Muslim children.
We would never ask children to make up their own Bible stories, and we
should never ask them to make up “myths” from other cultures.