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Celebrating Words and Works from Native American Communities

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Image of a woman (Frances Desnsmore) recording a Native American Chief (Mountain Chief) using a gramaphone
Frances Densmore and Mountain Chief. 1915

To celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, we are highlighting some of the works and words in the Library’s online collections that were created by artists or other individuals from Native American communities. What have these works’ creators said about their lives? Issues affecting their communities? Their beliefs? Here are some places where you might explore their words and ideas.

Former Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s signature project during her term was Living Nations, Living Words. She worked to highlight the works of Native American poets using audio and video recordings and a story map documenting where some of the poets are located and their connections to the lands where they are from.  There is also an educator guide with suggestions on how to use the resources with students.

When she was inaugurated as Laureate, Ms. Harjo, both a poet and an award-winning musician, read from her repertoire of poems and performed with bassist Howard Cloud, keyboardist Robert Muller, and guitarist Larry Mitchell. Of special interest is an interview with Ms. Harjo and the Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who is the first person of Native American descent appointed to serve as a cabinet secretary.

In addition to exploring the works of Ms. Harjo, teachers can also explore the words of other Native American poets in recordings from the National Book Festival.

The Veterans History Project has worked to document the experiences of Native Americans who have fought for our country. You can search the complete list of recordings or look at some of the features on the Native American community which include some oral histories of those who were part of the Navajo code talkers during World War II.

The historic newspapers in Chronicling America include a large collection of newspapers published by and for Native American communities. Encourage students to see what stories were considered important enough to include in these newspapers and compare them to newspapers published for other audiences. How did different newspapers respond to the same topics?

Many Native American tribal nations have constitutions that direct the operations of their government. You and your students can explore some of these constitutions and compare them to one another and the United States Constitution. How do they address conflicts or elect leaders?

The American Folklife Center has a large variety of recordings featuring songs and stories from Native American communities. Share recordings of traditional Inuit/Yup’ik drumsongs, performances and traditions from the Omaha Native American community, storytelling and flute performances from Mary Louise Defender Wilson and Keith Bear, as well as oral histories of the Narragansett people.

If you have students who are visually impaired or have difficulty with print, staff from the National Library Services for the Blind and Print Disabled have published a blog post listing digital talking books, Braille scores, and other resources relating to Native American music that may be of interest.

How will you incorporate the words and works of Native Americans into your classroom activities? Share your ideas and activities in the comments.

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