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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

National American Indian Heritage Month

By Cheryl Maguire

November is National American Indian Heritage Month. During this time national parks, libraries, and schools celebrate the culture and history of indigenous peoples. There are currently 109 federally recognized Tribal Nations in California, including those of the Pomo, Miwok, and Wappo tribes spread throughout Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino Counties. Here are some ways you can help your child celebrate, learn, and pay tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans.

Read a Book 

“The best way to learn more about Indigenous people and their culture is to read works written by Indigenous authors,” says Laura Arnhold, the library director of Upper Merion Public Library in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. “Teaching children about land acknowledgment is a great first step in understanding the history of the place we live. These are only a few of the many titles written by Indigenous authors that are available to readers,” says Arnhold. She especially recommends the following books for young readers:

My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child

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

The Sonoma County Library system has relevant book reading lists broken down by age group as well as in Spanish. Find them here. A Sonoma County Library Card also grants you access to both the Lake County Native American Collection and the Mendocino First American Collection

Watch a TV Show or a Movie

Spirit Rangers: Native American siblings Kodi, Summer, and Eddy are secret Spirit Rangers who help protect the national park they call home. Find it on Netflix.

Brother Bear: This Disney musical follows an Alaskan Inuit boy named Kenai. After killing a bear, Kenai is turned into a bear himself as punishment by the Spirits. In order to be human again, Kenai must travel to a mountain where the Northern lights touch the earth. Find it on Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and others.

Molly of Denali: Join Molly, an Alaska Native girl on her adventures in epically beautiful Alaska, in this animated show designed for kids age 4 to 8. Along the way, Molly’s life is enhanced, kept on track, and flat-out saved by maps, guide books, websites, weather reports, and more. Find it on PBS.

Access Online Resources

Lindsay Hamlin, education coordinator of the Chester County History Center in West Chester, Pennsylvania suggests that students explore the world around them. “Indigenous culture is heavily influenced by the natural world and a lot of the geographical names that we may see, like the Susquehanna River, have origins of indigenous language,” she says. She also recommends learning more about Native languages. “One resource I always love to highlight is the Lenape Talking Dictionary. Students can hear the pronunciation of each word. It’s a great way for students to experience part of the culture, especially since most of their history has been passed down through spoken word,” she says.

Find more excellent online resources through the Native American Heritage Month website as well as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian website.

Visit a Museum

“Having students be able to connect the natural land back to the indigenous peoples and cultures that once resided here creates a lifelong connection, not just through history, but also through people and sense of place,” says Hamlin.

Traditional Native American art makes up the greatest portion of the collection at the SRJC Multicultural Museum on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus, including ceramics, basketry, beadwork, sculpture, textiles, and jewelry.

The Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah showcases Pomo basket masterpieces and explains the steps taken in cultivating, harvesting, and processing materials for basket making. In addition, the museum’s Wild Gardens features native plants and exhibitions that teach about how Pomo Indian people managed the landscape and local regional ecosystems with environmental sustainability and cultural traditions.

In Lake County both the Historic Courthouse Museum and the Lower Lake Schoolhouse Museum showcase permanent exhibitions of Native artifacts and Pomo baskets. 

Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and is the mother of twins and a daughter. You can find her on Twitter @CherylMaguire05