Native American Cultures Today: Primary Sources Documenting Music, Law, and Everyday Life

Children at a Native American march, Washington, D.C., 2003

Children at a Native American march, Washington, D.C., 2003

November is Native American Heritage Month, dedicated to exploring and paying tribute to the rich history and traditions of Native Americans. For a collection of posts exploring the Library’s resources related to Native American experiences and contributions, see this post.

Native American cultures are alive and well today, thriving and evolving within cities, rural communities, tribes, and nations across the United States.

Rodeo competitors, Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation

Rodeo at Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation, 1981


The online collections of the Library of Congress contain a variety of primary sources that document daily life and creative works in diverse Native American communities from the late twentieth century to the present day.

Primary sources can play a powerful role in supporting students as they explore contemporary Native American communities and cultures as they grow and change. Primary sources can also help counter or complicate portrayals of Native American culture as a vanished relic of the distant past, or attempts to define Native American communities solely in terms of historic struggles with U.S. government or other authorities.

Students can analyze these items using the Library’s primary source analysis tool, paying particular attention to reflections about the objects’ intended audience and the point of view of the objects’ creators. (Printable versions of the primary source analysis tool and teacher’s guides are available here.)

Students might search the Library’s online collections to find earlier artifacts to compare with present-day primary sources and explore the points of similarity and difference. You might also ask students to search for present-day depictions of Native American individuals and cultural artifacts in popular culture and note their reflections about these objects’ intended audience and creators. If needed, they may use the prompts on the analysis tool to deepen and focus their reflections.



Frederick Douglass: Activist and Autobiographer

Last November, we published a post addressing the controversies associated with Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. A recent comment pointed out that Huck’s views on slavery are those of the dominant society of the time. Because the post featured a letter from Frederick Douglass as a supplement to the novel, the commenter wondered “why not present the experiences and views of the oppressed rather than the oppressor?” That struck me as an intriguing question, so here are a few places to start exploring those views and experiences with your students.

See You at NCTE: Resources for English Teachers from the Library of Congress

This year’s NCTE conference: Story as the Landscape of Knowing will take place November 20-23 in our hometown, Washington, DC. You will find us at Booth numbers 236 and 238 in the exhibit hall Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The Teachers Page from the Library of Congress offers ideas and resources for English educators. We have rounded up a few of our favorites.

Tangible and Intangible Legacies

As our fourth and final blog post this fall related to the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, it seems appropriate that its theme focus on the concept of legacy. What a singer-songwriter leaves behind, from recordings, to manuscripts, to lyrics, can be thought of as their tangible legacies. The impact of his or her work, the connections listeners and concert goers make to the music, and the emotions the music inspires–these are some of the intangible legacies.

Storytelling and Songwriting: Making Connections through Primary Sources

In July 2014, when Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced that Billy Joel would receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, he described Joel as being, “a storyteller of the highest order.”

Talented songwriters can be great storytellers! Not only do their songs often include elements of a short story, but they do so in ways that listeners can easily imagine and relate to.

The Gershwin Prize: Celebrating Song as a Vehicle of Musical Expression and Cultural Understanding

This post is by Lee Ann Potter, Director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress. This November, Billy Joel, one of the most popular recording artists and respected entertainers in the world, will receive The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The Gershwin Prize celebrates the work of an artist whose career […]

November in History with the Library of Congress

This post comes courtesy of Uhuru Flemming of the Library of Congress. Many teachers like to include mini-lessons or bell-ringers about “this day in history.” The Library of Congress offers two resources that recount what happened on a particular day using the Library’s collections of digitized primary sources: Jump Back in Time (introductory) and Today […]