Decolonizing Education

Studying Indigenous Tribes:
Seminole, Navajo and Aleut


Last Thanksgiving, we chose to study various indigenous tribes in the Americas, basing our research on historical facts and accuracy. Our goal was to honor the history and lives of Native Americans while also gaining an understanding of how each tribe has a different culture, rather than a collective identity that is often stereotypically portrayed in educational settings.

Throughout their research, the children focused on three tribes: the Seminole, the Navajo and the Aleut. We began with the Seminole tribe since they reside in our state of Florida. First, we discussed their clothing: women wore a wraparound skirt, usually woven from palmetto while men wore a simple cut off shirt with prints (patterns that mean fire, smoke, snowflakes, etc.) Today, Seminole women continue to make their unique patchwork. We also learned how a baby Seminole gets their first strand of beads at birth and additional strands every year thereafter.

The Navajo tribe are located in the states of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Navajo women wore a two-piece apron while men wore breechcloths made from animal skins. They lived in hogans, framed houses that were covered in mud, dirt or another type of sod for insulation.

The Aleut tribe is located in Alaska. Their diet was supplemented by meat obtained from sea animals such as sea lions, whales and a variety of shellfish. Their houses, barabaras, were made by digging an underground chamber, raising a frame of wood and whale bones over the hold and then covering the frame with grass mats. 

During their morning meetings, the children discussed the differences they noticed between the tribes and what they had learned:

I.: “There are some that wear, like, big coats for the winter.” (referring to the Aleut tribe)

A.: “The Seminole have drawings on their clothes.” (referring to the patterns)

L.: “Their houses are different.”

J.: “All of them hunt for food.”

Av.: “They look almost the same.”

H.: “They’re different families.”

An.: “They hunt.”

The children were also presented with several activities that enabled them to represent their observations and understandings of their research. In one activity, they were encouraged to practice Seminole inspired beading using various elements such as beads, twigs, feathers, and buttons. In another invitation, they were invited to engage in storytelling and dramatic play about the different tribes, where the children were also observed creating the various homes of the tribes using blocks and loose parts. 

We plan to study more tribes as we continue to honor the indigenous people of the Americas.

Contributing Educators: Yesica Reyes, Luisa Simmons, and Chelsie Braun

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