Engaging with students on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Regular, one-on-one conversations, like those between teachers and students in Along, can often lead to topics that are inspiring and thought-provoking. And many times the perfect opportunity to engage in such meaningful dialogue can be pegged to an upcoming holiday or event. For example, as we approach Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 11, it’s an opportunity to talk to students about how we understand and identify with the past and the present. 

Starting in 1977, there’s been a movement across the United States to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In 1990, South Dakota became the first state to rename the holiday. Since then, more states, cities, and counties have done the same, honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of or in addition to Columbus Day.

This change is of particular importance to educators and what is taught in the classroom. It touches directly on what history (and whose backgrounds) get the spotlight. This Smithsonian Magazine article does an excellent job explaining the importance of this day in schools: “[Indigenous Peoples Day is] part of a larger movement to see a more complete and accurate history of the United States taught in our schools and public spaces. Given research showing that the majority of state and local curriculum standards end their study of Native American history before 1900, the importance of celebrating the survival and contemporary experience of Native peoples has never been clearer.”

So how can educators engage with students while recognizing this day? Like so many things, it begins with having an open conversation.

Start in the classroom. 

When it comes to introducing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it’s helpful to give context to the holiday and let students know that they’re part of a changing narrative. We found this We Are Teachers article helpful in outlining ways to honor the day in the classroom. Here are three of our favorite suggestions:

Continue the conversation

Since the history of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is vast and complex, it’s a good subject to revisit in your routine check-ins with students. You can create your own reflection question to ask students what they thought of the day. What did they find interesting or inspiring? You can also ask if thinking about the day gave them insight into how histories are passed down and how that relates to personal histories, backgrounds, and identities. It’s the type of topic that is bound to lead to thoughtful responses and a conversation that can be continued in the future.

Along also has reflection questions that are ready to go that touch on identity. Log in to Along and view our Content Library to explore more.