Exploring Native American Heritage
November marks National Native American Heritage Month, also known as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. This month offers an opportunity to explore the history and culture of Indigenous peoples with ties to the land now occupied by the United States. The Princeton Public Library aims to integrate topics related to Indigenous peoples into programming throughout the year, and this heritage month serves a chance to focus our efforts.
Indigenous peoples—specifically, the Lenape (also called the Leni Lenape, Lenni Lenape, or Delaware)—resided on the land now known as New Jersey long before Europeans arrived. Three state-recognized tribes continue to live in New Jersey: the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, Powhatan Renape Nation, and Ramapough Lenape Nation. In addition, many people in New Jersey identify as inter-tribal or members of other Indigenous nations. As of 2020, more than 53,000 people in New Jersey identify as American Indian or Alaska Native. There are also several federally recognized tribes, displaced and now based elsewhere in North America, for whom present-day New Jersey is an ancestral homeland. These include the Delaware Nation, Delaware Tribe of Indians, and Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians.
A note on terminology: While both “Native American” and “American Indian” are widely accepted terms, it is generally preferred to use the specific tribal nation when referring to Indigenous people. To learn more, see the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian’s statement on terminology from their FAQ page.
Learn about Indigenous History and Culture
See below for a list of nonfiction resources about Native American history and culture. You’ll find scholarship, memoirs, and reference books.
Below is a list of fiction geared toward adults, including novels and poetry, related to Native American history and culture.
And for teens and younger readers, you’ll find lists of books that highlight Native American history, culture and experiences.
You can also view films that highlight Indigenous perspectives, voices, and themes via Kanopy, which provides access to a video streaming service which offers a broad selection of quality documentaries, feature films and training videos. Library cardholders can use Kanopy for free.
There are also a number of online sources related to Native American heritage. These include:
- Recommended books from the First Nations Development Institute
- “All My Relations,” a podcast that explores varied issues “facing Native peoples today, bringing in guests from all over Indian Country to offer perspectives and stories”
- Online exhibitions from the National Museum of the American Indian
- Recorded sessions from the National Council on Public History (descriptions here)
- Primary sources, online exhibitions, articles and more from the National Archives and Records Administration
- Documentaries, recipes and other resources from PBS
- Background on the history of National Native American Heritage Month from federal cultural agencies
Programs at the Library and Beyond
Princeton Public Library will host a virtual author talk on Nov. 10 featuring Margaret D. Jacobs and Jimmy Sweet. Jacobs will discuss her book, “After One Hundred Winters: In Search of Reconciliation on America’s Stolen Land,” which confronts the harsh truth that the United States was founded on the violent dispossession of Indigenous people and asks what reconciliation might mean in light of this haunted history. Jacobs is professor of history and director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Sweet (Lakota/Dakota), assistant professor at Rutgers University, specializes in Native American and Indigenous studies with a concentration on interactions between American Indians and Euro-Americans. Click here to register.
On Nov. 4, Rev. Dr. J. R. Norwood Jr., historian for his tribe, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, will offer a virtual presentation on the history and current work of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape, the largest American Indian tribe in New Jersey. Registration is required.
The annual conference of the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the New Jersey Department of State, is “We’re Still Here: Indigenous History and Persistence in New Jersey.” The conference will explore the history, cultural heritage and contemporary issues facing diverse Native American communities through the lens of New Jersey studies. Click here for the preliminary program. The conference will take place from Nov. 12–13.
Resources for Educators
See the materials below for potential starting points for engaging learners. You’ll find lesson plans, digital tools, maps, guides on best practices and terminology and more.
- Teaching and learning FAQs from the National Museum of the American Indian
- Native Knowledge 360° Education Initiative, a project of the National Museum of the American Indian
- Lesson plans and other resources from the National Museum of the American Indian
- Lessons, books and films from the Zinn Education Project
- “10 Tips to Decolonize Your Classroom” from Teaching Native Histories, a project of the University of Massachusetts Amherst
- Teacher’s guide from the National Endowment for the Humanities
- Educator resources from federal cultural agencies
- “Lessons Learned in Teaching Native American History” from Edutopia
- “Invasion of America” map showing the seizure of Indigenous land created by eHistory.org, a project of the University of Georgia
- “Native Land Digital,” an Indigenous-led nonprofit organization hosting an interactive map showing past and present Indigenous territories and other resources
- “Best Practice When Teaching about Native People” from the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library
- “Tips for Teaching about Native Peoples” by the Burke Museum
Content made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.