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Native voices, accurate history forge deeper, better understanding of American Indians in nation’s schools

By Amelia Fogarty


Students access Native Knowledge 360° on-line learning materials during a classroom lesson.

Edwin Schupman’s been chipping away at misconceptions of Native Americans since he started working as an educator some 30 years ago. Only after he started at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian did he have the resources and support to address the issue on a national scale.

Now, Schupman is spearheading Native Knowledge 360°, the museum’s long-term initiative to integrate the Native American experience into social studies, language arts and other curriculums in kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms across the country. The museum is working with Native communities and educators nationally to achieve these goals.

“It’s an audacious project because really, our end goal is to change the narrative of the Native American in America’s schools,” explains Schupman (Muscogee), who is the museum’s manager of national education.

Most Americans have only been exposed to part of the Native American story, as told from a limited perspective in popular media and textbooks, Schupman says. NK360° provides educational materials that incorporate Native narratives, comprehensive histories, and accurate information.


From Native Knowledge 360° teaching materials: Opothleyaholo (left) and Menewa were Muscogee leaders who opposed removal of their people from Native lands and fought in a war against the United States to try to keep their homelands. (Opothleyaholo, 1834, lithograph by Childs & Inman Lithography Company after a painting by Charles Bird King. Menawa, 1837, lithograph by Alfred M. Hoffy after a painting by Charles Bird King. (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery)

Its curriculum replaces common misperceptions about Native peoples with facts and Native perspectives on cultures, roles in U.S. and world history, as well as contributions to the arts, sciences, and literature.

Teacher materials on “American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving,” one subject covered, look beyond the mythological story that is part of the American holiday tradition. They explore giving thanks as a way of American Indian life through the themes of environment, community, encounters, and innovations.

“We’re actually better off as citizens if we really understand the truth, the good and bad, about our country. … I don’t think there’s anything threatening in knowing and understanding the nuance of history and complexity that’s involved,” Schupman says.

To tackle the problem of Native American portrayal in schools, the Native Knowledge 360° team started from the ground up. Their first step was to dissect and examine social studies curriculums across the country.

“We took a careful look at the most commonly used textbooks and analyzed their Native American content. The stories about American Indians in those textbooks are limited and often they don’t tell the full history or include Native voices.

basket makers

Basketmaking is an important traditional art form that has been practiced in Akwesasne for generations. At the turn of the last century, women and some men made and sold baskets to help support their families. Today, elders still teach children how to harvest black ash and make baskets. c. 1900. This image is from Native Knowledge 360 section on “American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges.”

“When social studies classes teach about the removal of Native Americans from their homelands, for example, it is mainly explained through the context of Jacksonian policies and politics,” Schupman continues. “Almost always, the story focuses on the Cherokee Nation and Trail of Tears. While this is a very important part of the story, there is much more to it.”

Schupman explains that the Indian Removal Act of 1830 affected many tribes, and it wasn’t an event isolated in time.

“The Cherokee Nation was but one of many tribes east of the Mississippi forced off their lands,” he says. “The Muscogee Nation removal lasted 10 years and there were 15 different removal groups.”

Determining what was missing was half the battle; creating useful, robust content followed.


Teachers explore new resources on American Indian removal at the Native Knowledge 360° 2017 summer Educator Institute.

“We’re really trying to provide something that can be used in the classroom. We’ve worked hard to test it. We used focus groups with educators, and really tried to listen to the needs of teachers…. if we don’t provide something that helps them do what they’re required to do, they’re not likely to use it.”

Online curriculum materials, on the Native Knowledge 360° website, like those for “American Indian Removal,” are extensive. Histories, traditions, and contemporary initiatives, as communicated by Native peoples themselves, are featured and complemented by objects from the museum and other primary resources. This provides exciting and educational classroom activities for students and new professional development opportunities for teachers.

Textbooks take years to develop and edit, but by supplying most of their materials and resources online, Native Knowledge 360° is able to get into classrooms quickly, easily, and in a way that is imminently teachable.


These two dolls by Inupiaq dollmaker Kathleen Westlake of Alaska are among the many dolls featured in a Native Knowledge 360° Teacher’s Guide on Native American dolls.

To anchor this work, the museum is creating a web-based platform for new resources featuring multi-media classroom materials and online educational programs to support interactions with teachers, students, Native leaders and educators, and the Smithsonian.

Materials are developed for different grade levels, depending on the content’s alignment with learning standards and school curricula. The “American Indian Removal” lesson is aimed at middle school students and is packaged with sleek graphics and American Indian voices. It features children’s voices to give age-appropriate context to a dark historical event.

Native Knowledge 360° has another goal: to build a nationwide network of teachers, trainers, and advocates for improved teaching and learning about American Indians.


Teaching materials exploring American Indian perspectives on Thanksgiving.

The team is creating online and in-person platforms for professional development with a series of training institutes as the centerpiece, where teachers can interact with NMAI educators, scholars, collections and exhibitions along with experts from Native communities. Webinars, online courses, social media, teaching demonstrations and, eventually, opportunities to share favorite lessons with other teachers are also being blended in.

To maintain regular communication, the museum will soon launch a new teacher page with important information, teaching resources, and professional development opportunities.


Graphic from a Native Knowledge 360 teaching poster Q’eswachaka: A Living Legacy of Inka Engineering

Schupman and the Native Knowledge 360° team have laid the groundwork for changing the scope of social studies curriculums in the U.S. and they show no signs of slowing down.

By introducing Native voices back into America’s history, they are helping to create a better understanding for a new generation of Americans and Native Knowledge 360° is on the list of key priorities for the museum’s strategic five-year plan.

“I learn something all the time. It’s eye-opening. I love it,” Schupman says.




  • Lee Fogarty

    I’m glad to see someone finally doing something to correct falsehoods taught but I also have concerns.
    In your first sentence, you referred to the Indigenous people of this country as “Native American”, yet we are not. That is a label given after this land was “discovered”. We are the First People (of Turtle Island), the Indigenous people.
    I’d also like to know what you will be teaching about Thanksgiving, besides how Indigenous people give thanks. What about the actual history behind it?
    Mass buffalo slaughters designed to starve our ancestors, residential schools, the government’s plan to eliminate all Indigenous peoples, etc… The actual history of our people needs to be exposed and I do appreciate your efforts, but as you can see, I have questions. Teachers in the education system are not the only teachers/educators. Many of us speak to crowds of people, to educate them as to the real history.
    Will you also include the continued theft of Indigenous children which, to this day, is a continuance of the stolen children in regard to the residential schools?
    Will you be teaching about the missing and murdered Indigenous women (and teenagers) throughout history?
    These last two issues have gone on throughout history and still effect us today and should also be taught.
    I am curious to see how this all plays out. I wish this program well but I also hope it will be one that offers truth, no matter how some may object. History isn’t “pretty” but that does not make it any less real.

  • Paul R. Jones

    Leslie Jones: Suggest you add this Constitution-based information to your students curriculum…as you add this Constitution-based information posted below beginning with the Unites States Constitution makes for no provisions:, a reminder the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 made them all U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” entitled to no more and no less than every other non-Indian U.S./State citizen.
    The United States Constitution makes for no provisions for:
    1. Indian sovereign nations. None of the asserted tribes possess any of the attributes of being a ‘sovereign nation:’ a. No U.S. Constitution recognition b. No international recognition c. No fixed borders d. No military e. No currency f. No postal system g. No passports h. et al
    2. Treaties with its own constituency
    3. Indian reservations whereby a select group of U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” reside exclusively and to the exclusion of all others, on land-with rare exception-that is owned by the People of the United States according to a federal document readily available on-line that notes rights of renters as ‘occupancy and use’ by these distinguished U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” only with the land owned by the People of the United States.
    4. Recognition of ‘Indian citizenship’ asserted by various tribes. There is no international/U.S. Constitution recognition of “Indian citizenship” as there is no ‘nation-state’ from which citizenship is derived.

  • Leslie Jones

    I teach at Oklahoma City Community College and am a member of the Muscogee tribe. In my classes, I strive to teach the REAL story, not the white-washed version. My students must give presentations on topics assigned and they must provide the human experience. This week’s topics were: Sand Creek Massacre and Silas Soule, Indian Boarding Schools, Dawes and Curtis Acts, Oklahoma Land Run, Wounded Knee, Mount Rushmore.
    What you are doing has excited me, and I am so glad to learn that I am not the only voice crying out in a wilderness of history told only from the European perspective.
    Thank you!

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