66 § Lessons from Turtle Island
When schools call the family of a Native American child to come to school for
a conference, they should not be surprised if an uncle, aunt, or grandparent also
comes. That is their role. If the school tries to exclude this important family mem-
ber, it can create a barrier between the school and the family. Schools should let
families decide who needs to be at the conference and thus foster cooperation
and support between home and school.
Educators should also realize that not all Native American families are part of
traditional, extended families. Many have assimilated into mainstream society and
have family structures and roles that are similar to the dominant culture. Schools
cannot make assumptions about any child’s family structure. That is why it is so
important for teachers to get to know the families of the children they teach.
§ § §
The dramatic play area of our classroom had been transformed into a dance area,
complete with dance attire and multicultural shoes. Children could watch themselves in
a large mirror as they danced to an international selection of music. In order to help
children draw the connection between dance and its representation in diverse cultures,
pictures of dancers from around the world were also displayed in the area. Donte
entered the dance center and looked at all of the pictures. He examined photos of
dancers from Africa, Cambodia, and Hawaii without commenting. Then he saw a
poster of two Native American dancers, in colorful regalia, leaping into the air. “Those
men are bad!” Donte exclaimed. “Indians are bad. They’ll kill you. They’ll scalp you.”
Momentarily at a loss for words, I recovered and reassured Donte that they were
dancers. I had met them during a festival, and I remarked that they were very pleasant
people, and also quite talented. Donte remained unconvinced, and I realized that he
had already formed frightening impressions of American Indian people. In order to
counter those ideas, I invited a Diné (Navajo) friend to visit the classroom. I asked him
to come and just “hang out” so the children could get to know him.
Joseph arrived with his two-year-old son as the children were engaged in free-choice
activities. He wore jeans and a shirt, lizard boots, and a beautiful turquoise necklace.
With his long black hair and dark complexion, the children immediately identified him
as Native American. As I went to greet Joseph, Donte hid behind my dress, clinging to