Each November, Native American Heritage is celebrated to honor the rich traditions, histories, and cultures of the first Americans. It’s also a way to highlight contemporary Native American issues and promote a greater understanding of indigenous peoples. For Girl Scouts on a mission to change their world, this is a great time to open the door to learning about cultures that may be different from our own.
Looking for ideas to celebrate this month with your troop? Here are seven ways that you can share Native American heritage with your girls:
1. What’s in a name?
It’s easy to start close to home here in Minnesota and Wisconsin to find connections to Native American heritage—it’s all over our place names! Minnesota (Mni-sota or “sky blue waters” in the Dakota language) and Wisconsin (Meskonsing, or “it lies red” from an Algonquian language) are just two of the 26 states with Native American name origins.
The names of many of our lakes, rivers, cities, and streets also come from Native American origins. Have you ever wondered how the Mississippi River got its name? Mississippi comes from the Anishinaabe word Misi-ziibi or “father of waters.” Take a closer look at the place names around you and do some research to learn their original meanings!
2. Psst! Pass it on!
Recently, I attended the Native American Family Day celebration at the Minnesota History Center with Girl Scout Juniors. We learned some animal names in the Dakota language, and then split into teams and tried to match the correct animal photo with the Dakota name faster than the other team. (So much fun!)
The take-away message from this activity was: Share the language. Many Native American languages are dying out; there are approximately 15,000 people who speak Dakota today, but only 5 of them are native speakers (meaning that Dakota was their first language), and they are all over the age of 55. Our teacher at the museum, Vanessa Goodthunder, asked the Girl Scouts in my troop to pass it on and teach others what they learned. Even just sharing the Dakota word for dog (sunka, “shoon-kuh”) or bear (mato, “mah-toe”) can help to keep the language alive!
See more animal names in the Lakota language with audio pronunciation. (Lakota and Dakota are different dialects from the same language family.)
3. Get cookin’ with wild rice
Did you know that wild rice is really a tall aquatic grass with an edible seed? And though it can be cultivated and commercially harvested, it is wild. Native Americans have been harvesting wild rice by hand for centuries, and it is a major part of many tribal cuisines. It’s also delicious! Try your hand at making a new dish with wild rice:
4. Tell stories on a cold night
There is a rich tradition of storytelling among indigenous people, and you can celebrate Native American Heritage Month by continuing this custom. Many of the tales were reserved for only the winter months when some animals hibernated. How about a troop storytelling night? Check out this “Indigenous Reads” by indigenous writers list to get your stories flowing. Watch out for the trickster, who appears in many Native American tales across tribes!
5. Visit a museum or event
Discover the history of the fur trade, sit inside a tipi, and find out how Native Americans used every part of the bison at the Minnesota History Center’s Then Now Wow exhibit. Learn about Dakota and Ojibwe traditions—old and new—at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Native American Exhibit. Is there a Native American center in your community you could visit? Does your community calendar have powwows or other public events you can attend? How about finding a contemporary Native American art exhibit close by?
6. Honor the Earth
Native Americans are the original environmentalists with deep connections to the land, sea, sky, and animals. Celebrate Native American Heritage Month by giving back to the earth. We all know the drill—reduce, reuse, recycle! Even small changes can make a big difference in changing our world. Don’t forget the animals: Providing food, water, and shelter for winged and furry creatures as the temperatures drop honors the earth, too!
7. Discover amazing Native American G.I.R.L.s
Native American women have been forging the G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ path for centuries, and they have some amazing stories to tell. Share the inspirational stories from this great post from GSUSA about Native American G.I.R.L.s with your G.I.R.L.s!
More resources to explore:
Catherine Mandle – Catherine is a Volunteer Resource Specialist at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She was a Girl Scout as a child, has been a Girl Scout troop leader, and now mentors her daughter on her Girl Scout Juliette path. She has dual bachelor’s degrees from the University of Minnesota in anthropology and American Indian studies. Catherine has two children with special needs, including autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and food allergies. She loves to knit, and camps and hikes with her family as often as possible.