Skip to main content

Teacher Tips for Native American Heritage Month

Ambassador's Corner yellow banner.

Teacher Tips for Native American Heritage Month

I am Director of the Indian Education Program for the Public Schools of Robeson County, and also an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and 1st Vice President for the National Indian Education Association Board of Directors. 

November is Native American Heritage Month, a month where we recognize the contributions of American Indians and Alaska Natives, educate non-Natives about the rich history of Indigenous Peoples, and celebrate the culture and traditions of the First Americans. Sadly, many people believe that American Indians no longer exist and are extinct, but let me assure everyone, we are still here. 

During Native American Heritage Month, some educators have asked their students to dress as an Indian or select an Indian name without realizing the harm that is associated with these ideas. I would like for educators across North Carolina to take time and educate themselves about the eight state-recognized tribes that reside in our state. They are the Coharie, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Haliwa-Saponi, Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, Meherrin, Sappony, Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, and the Waccamaw Siouan with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians having full federal recognition and the Lumbee with partial federal recognition due to the Lumbee Act of 1956. 

Facts to Share with Students

Here are some facts educators can share with their students during Native American Heritage Month and throughout the school year. 

  1. Indians of the Southwest were the first to use the sap of the American aloe to treat chapped lips and skin rashes, and today American aloe is grown commercially to produce aloe vera.
  2. American Indians first played lacrosse throughout North America, later adopted by the French colonists.
  3. Hockey owes its existence to the Indians of the Great Plains, Plateau, Southwest and Northeast cultures.
  4. Northeastern tribes collected sap from sugar maple trees and made it into syrup by dropping red hot rocks into bark containers filled with sap.
  5. North American Indians chewed sweet gum and licorice root and taught New England colonist to chew spruce sap, becoming the first chewing gum sold commercially in the United States.
  6. American Indians used fish to fertilizer their crops, which they planted in hills rather than in rows as Europeans did.  The Inca transported bird droppings from islands off their coastline to enrich their fields.
  7. In addition to planting fields with food crops, American Indians planted gardens filled with medicinal plants. By domesticating these herbs, they made these sources of medicine available when needed.
  8. Indians were the first people to discover oil in what is now Pennsylvania.  (They did so long before William Drake, often credited with digging the first U.S. oil well.)  Indian people dug 15 to 20-foot-deep pits to use the oil for skin lotion and fuel ceremonial fires.
  9. Indians throughout the Americas used plants containing saponins, chemicals that lift soil from a surface for easier rinsing away. Natives of the Southwest used roasted yucca roots as a laundry detergent, shampoo, and body wash.
  10. Charles Curtis (January 25, 1860 – February 8, 1936) was a Representative and a Senator from Kansas and the thirty-first Vice President of the United States. Most of his maternal ancestry was Native American, and he spent years of childhood living with his maternal grandparents on their Kaw reservation.


Taking time to learn about the rich history of the First Americans can equip educators with the tools to share the culture of American Indians with their students and eliminate those fill-in activities such as dressing as an Indian or making a headdress. Often these things are done without malice, but these activities do not embrace American Indian culture. Indigenous people view them as culturally insensitive and inappropriate. In closing, many Americans Indians have made great contributions to America, and I encourage you learn more about American Indians because we are still here! 

American Indian Books 

  • Whoz Ya People? (Written by Brittany D. Hunt and Bea Brayboy)
  • It’s Lumbee Homecoming Y’all! (Written by Leslie Locklear, Christina Pacheco and Illustrated by Raven Dial-Stanley, Evynn Richardson)
  • Fry Bread (Written by Kevin Noble Maillard and Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal)
  • Our Smallest Warriors. Our Strongest Medicine (Written by Joshuaa Allison-Burbank, Emily E. Haroz, Allison Ingalls, Crystal Kee, Lisa Martin, Kristen Masten, Tara Maudrie, and Victoria O’Keefe and Illustrated by Joelle Joyner)
  • Tricky Treats (Written by Georgia Perez and Illustrated by Patrick Rolo and Lisa A. Fifield)
  • Plate Full of Color (Written by Georgia Perez and Illustrated by Patrick Rolo and Lisa A. Fifield)
  • Knees Lifted High (Written by Georgia Perez and Illustrated by Patrick Rolo and Lisa A. Fifield)
  • Through the Eyes of The Eagle (Written by Georgia Perez and Illustrated by Patrick Rolo and Lisa A. Fifield)
  • The People Shall Continue (Written by Simon J. Ortiz and Illustrated by Sharol Graves)

About the Author

Dr. Connie Locklear

Dr. Connie Locklear, Robeson County

Dr. Connie Locklear is a member of our inaugural group of Rootle Ambassadors and is the Director of the Title VI Indian Education Program for the Public Schools of Robeson County, North Carolina. Dr. Locklear has a spent her entire professional career in education. She has taught middle school, high school and college level mathematics. 

Dr. Locklear has served in many capacities; she has worked as a school based curriculum specialist and a district wide curriculum supervisor in the areas of mathematics and science. Dr. Locklear also spent many years working with the North Carolina Teacher Academy where she provided professional development opportunities to teachers across the state. She has provided professional development at the local, regional, state, national, and at the international level where she had the honor to present at the World’s Indigenous Peoples Conference in 2014. 

Dr. Locklear holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics education as well as an Educational Specialist and Doctor of Education Degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

Need ideas for educational (and fun!) activities for kids ages 0-8 years old? Subscribe to our monthly Rootle newsletter.