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 as 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.
Read 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, younger readers, and little kids, you’ll find lists of books that highlight Native American history, culture and experiences.
You can view more than two dozens films that highlight Indigenous perspectives, voices, and themes via the library’s subscription to Kanopy, which provides access to a video streaming service that offers a broad selection of quality documentaries, feature films and training videos. Library cardholders can use Kanopy for free.
Additionally, Access Video on Demand (also available to library cardholders for free) has several videos particularly of interest, including Untold Art that Changed America: Indigenous North American Tattoos; Southwest American Indian Art: World Indigenous Art; Columbus in America ; and Songcatchers: The Gathering.
Younger viewers and their caregivers should join us in the Virtual Story Room as we celebrate and share books created by Native American authors and illustrators in a series of nine Storytime Shorts that can be viewed on the library’s YouTube channel.
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
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.