Photo: Labor Day Pow Wow outside of Black River in Wisconsin (Courtesy of David J. O’Connor and Paul Rykken)
As social studies and history educators, we are charged with providing emerging citizens with authentic, accurate, and practical information in the reconstruction of the past, empowering them to navigate their day-to-day reality and future interactions. To respond to the charge given to us as educators, all students must see themselves within the larger story of history within the United States of America. In the context of this writing, we will be using U.S. history rather than the conventional or most used phrase of American history. The U.S. is one of 35 countries across North and South America, including Central America, resulting in no singular American identity or ownership of this term. Taken further, there is no single Native American story, history, culture, etc. This fact makes context, environment, and place immensely important in understanding how to examine or interpret parallel and competing narratives. In Wisconsin, for example, there are 11 federally recognized Tribal Nations and one that is not federally recognized. While we may draw some general parallels, each Nation has a unique story.
If we begin with the premise that conventional versions of history frequently neglect the stories of traditionally marginalized communities or, at best, offer superficial narratives of those communities, then our challenge is to change our conversations with the past among ourselves and with our students. How do we reframe our pedagogy to incorporate multiple narratives within our classrooms, so our future alumni reflect on what they learn in their education? Let us start with three building blocks: reading, content integration, and scaffolding of information.
Reading and Engaging with Authentic Native American Voices
First, the ability to unpack what you know is a critical part of integrating multiple narratives into your teaching and learning. Before you can move forward in incorporating multiple narratives, the unpacking of what you already know and understand is a crucial building block in the process. After unpacking, which is continual throughout the building block process, you must strengthen the depth of your content. One way to achieve this end is to read, read, and read some more (alternatively, you can listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, or find other ways to engage with authentic Native American voices). The opportunity to bring in multiple voices from various sides is crucial in helping you frame and reframe what you know moving forward. This process of always reading also helps you become an ongoing learner, not just an educator. This point is when you start to teach culturally versus only teaching about cultures.
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