Today is Indigenous People’s Day, the holiday also known as Columbus Day. While many of us were taught in elementary school that “Columbus discovered America” in 1492, we now know that Christopher Columbus never set foot on what we know as the United States. Moreover, when he and his Spanish army got to the Caribbean islands in 1492 they found settlers already there– indigenous people from the American mainland– so there was no discovery involved. Columbus and his men plundered the islands and murdered or enslaved the inhabitants. In recognition of the people who truly discovered the Americas, 14 states and the District of Columbia observe “Indigenous Peoples Day” instead of or in addition to Columbus Day.
So on IP Day, we honor Native American histories and cultures, and shut down the myth that America was discovered by Columbus. Our children need to learn our true histories: the nation’s and our own! In the GCP Podcast Season 1 Rewind, I noted that one of the themes that came out of the season was the importance of making sure our children know their history. Summarizing the advice given by several guests, including Tonya Lewis Lee, Deval Patrick, Suzanne Kay and Susan Fales-Hill, I encouraged parents to:
Tell our children our history early and often. Our family’s history. Our people’s history. Our nation’s history. Help them understand and be proud of their roots and of the experiences of their ancestors. It will help them stay grounded and build their confidence to face challenges as their forebearers did.
Here are some tips on how to talk with our children about history:
SHARING FAMILY HISTORY:
Tell Them Your Story: Pull out some old photo albums and walk your kids through your family tree. Tell them stories from your childhood, including the political landscape: who was President, who were the state and local officials, what important political events you remember as a child. Your children are sure to ask questions, and their questions will prompt more stories.
Create a Family Tree Together: Ancestry.com can help you build a family tree. I spent 10 minutes in the “Trees” section of their website, and with the insertion of a few details I found a census form that confirmed information about one of my grandfathers that I thought was just family folklore! The initial search is free, but if you want to do a deeper dive and gain access to their many resource materials there is a monthly or 6 months (discounted) fee.
Call Older Family Members for Stories: Let your relatives know your plan to call so they can be ready with their recollections of their lives growing up. Encourage your children to ask them to describe their schooling, their jobs, what they did for fun, the modes of transportation they used, what they recall about their parents, grandparents and other family members. As you get these details you can help your children do some research to put them into the context of Black American life at that time. For example, hearing that Great Uncle Sam was a porter on the railroad provides a great opportunity to dive with your kids into the world of the Pullman Porters. Details like these will make history come alive for your children. They will have a greater appreciation for the achievements of your family and our people.
LEARNING AMERICAN HISTORY:
Gilder Lehrman: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has a great site with lots of resources for students, teachers and families. Of special note is the Online History School, a series of free courses offered this fall for elementary, middle, and high school students. Master Teachers present lessons anchored in primary source documents, many from the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s collection of American history artifacts. The goal, as they note on their website, ” is to engage students and excite them about history so that they leave each lesson more knowledgeable about a new idea, theme, document, or pivotal moment in history.”
Reverse the Classroom: If your child is studying American History on line as part of their remote schooling, ask them to teach you their favorite history lesson of the week. Limit the time for this lesson (so it isn’t burdensome for either of you), but encourage them to teach you what they know, and then give you a test!
If today is a holiday for you and your children have the day off, hope you’ll find some time to enjoy sharing history on IP Day. But if you don’t have time today, make it a plan for one day soon!