People have lived on the land that is now the U.S. for thousands of years, many of them Native Americans belonging to over 600 different tribes. Over time, the Native population has drastically decreased and endured significant hardship. However, Native Americans continue to persevere and remain an integral part of the American population today. It is important to learn about people who lived on the continent before Columbus arrived, their history on North American land, and how they have fought for the survival and prosperity of their culture. This audio story collection features a sampling of stories focused on Native American identity, culture, and experience, past and present.
America looked different before Columbus arrived in 1492. Historian Charles Mann paints a vivid picture of pre-Columbian America. It was a world of glittering cities, advanced technology, monumental architecture, and powerful empires. Listen to learn what happened to it all and how it could have been destroyed by European might or a natural disaster.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the story of Arnold Spirit, a young Native American who leaves the reservation to get a better education. In this semi-autobiographical book, author Sherman Alexie discusses big issues including choosing your identity, figuring out where you belong and the hardships American Indians face living on reservations.
As part of Native American History month, listen to this story with students to hear one man's story about keeping alive his Native American language.
The massacre of more than 150 Sioux Native Americans in 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota was the last major confrontation between the U.S. Army and Native Americans. A book was written about this in 1970 titled Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and a movie was recently made. They tell the story of the efforts of the United States government to assimilate Native Americans into American life, which nearly destroyed the culture, religion, and way of life of Native American peoples. Listen to hear more about how this history of mistreatment is portrayed in the movie about these events.
The federal government now recognizes the Pamunkey tribe from Virginia. Tribe members waited a long time to achieve this acknowledgment, fighting a long legal battle and facing opposition from various groups. Pamunkey’s new status as a recognized tribe gives them access to certain rights and privileges they did not have before. This tribe played a crucial role in early American history, and now they can look forward to a brighter future. Listen to hear more about what federal recognition means for this Native American tribe.
When people think of the history of “Indian Removal” in American history, the most familiar story is that of the 1838 “Trail of Tears,” during which 15,000 Cherokees, 4,000 of whom died, were forcibly relocated from land in the east to federally-owned land in Oklahoma. A lesser known story is the story of Polly Parker, who staged a daring escape from captivity in 1858 at the end of the Third Seminole War. Parker, along with other Seminoles, were being forcibly relocated west. Listen to learn about one woman's act of resistance and how it affected the future of the Seminole tribe.
Author and teacher Annette Bird Saunooke Clapsaddle is the first published author from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Her mystery novel, Even As We Breathe, is set during World War II in the region of North Carolina where she spent her childhood, and it was written with her students in mind. Listen to hear how Clapsaddle’s experiences growing up and learning from her Cherokee ancestors helped her write a novel that high school students, especially those who are of Native American descent, could relate to.
The Smithsonian has selected a design for its National Native American Veterans Memorial to be built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The artist is Harvey Pratt, a Native American veteran from Oklahoma, and his design is called “Warriors’ Circle of Honor.” It aims to engage all Americans in appreciating and learning about the tradition of Native American service. Listen to hear the artist’s reflections on the meaning of his design, how he hopes people will experience it, and why honoring veterans is an important part of his heritage.
Note: Since this story aired, the National Native American Veterans Memorial has opened.
A Native American tribe in California took an unusual step to protect a river central to its way of life – it gave the river the same rights as a person. The move allows the tribe to take legal action against anyone who harms the river. Listen to hear a tribal member explain the special role of the river in tribal life and why the group decided to take such bold action.
Wildfires are burning out of control in California and other western states. Recently, officials have turned to traditional Native American practices to help combat them. For thousands of years before being removed from the land, Native people applied controlled fire to a variety of plants. The technique boosts new growth and helps clear away dead matter that could fuel uncontrolled wildfires. Listen to learn how cultural burning was suppressed in America and why officials believe that bringing it back could help reduce or prevent future blazes.
One of the best lacrosse teams in the world was left off the invitation list to the 2022 World Games. The Iroquois Nationals are considered the third best team worldwide. The Native American members of the team come from a generations-long tradition of playing lacrosse, a sport that originated with the Haudenosaunee people. When another team heard how the Nationals were snubbed, they took decisive action. Listen to learn why the Iroquois Nationals were excluded from play and how others responded to what they saw as an injustice.
After 100 years of searching, scientists in Washington state have detected gravitational waves, vibrations in space caused by the collision of black holes. The historic news was translated into dozens of languages so people around the world could share in the celebration, including Blackfoot, an endangered language spoken by a local indigenous tribe. Listen to learn why scientists decided to announce their discovery in a native language, hear how it sounds, and learn why the gesture held special meaning for the Blackfoot community.
President Biden has nominated New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland to head the U.S. Department of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland would become the first Native American to hold a Cabinet-level position in the government. The Interior Department oversees public land such as national parks. In the past, the U.S. government removed indigenous people from much of their land, and some say Haaland’s Native American background gives her a unique perspective on issues of land use and rights. Listen to hear more about Deb Haaland and reactions to her nomination, and learn what she hopes to accomplish as Interior secretary.
Update: Since this story aired, Deb Haaland has been confirmed by Congress as U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation has prioritized those who speak the Cherokee language to receive the coronavirus vaccine. The language declined hundreds of years ago, when native populations were forced off their land, and today there are very few Cherokee speakers left. Mastery of the language is highly valued because it preserves native culture, and those who speak it can pass their knowledge to the next generation. Listen to hear a Cherokee sing a hymn in her native tongue, and learn why she changed her mind about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
The U.S. National Park System includes over 84 million acres of land that is open to the public. Much of that land once belonged to Native American tribes. A writer and member of the Ojibwe tribe is suggesting a return of control of national park land to Native American people. He says the move would give our country a chance to make amends for long-standing injustices. Questions remain about how the parks would be controlled by the hundreds of tribes in the U.S., and how to ensure that the land would be protected. Listen to a tribal member’s proposal and then debate: Should national parks be controlled by Native Americans?
The Declaration of Independence is one of America’s sacred texts. Yet a closer examination of it reveals contradictory ideas about whose liberty and equality the Declaration of Independence was championing when it was written. For many Native Americans, the Declaration’s contradictions are glaring. It asserts the idea that people are born equal, but it also calls Native Americans “merciless...savages.” It justified a revolution to free colonists from British rule, but the war was also fought to determine who could colonize Indian land in the west. Listen to learn how the Declaration of Independence reflects both the promise of America’s founding and its conflicted history.
The discovery of mass graves at former residential schools for Indigenous children in Canada has prompted a reckoning in places in the U.S. where similar schools were located. In Carlisle, Pennsylvania, one such school operated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the graves of hundreds of children were discovered there, uncovering the tragic legacy of a time when Native American children were removed from their homes, pressured to assimilate, and often abused. Listen to hear the story of this school and how the U.S. government is trying to return the remains of the children to their Native tribes for proper burial.
President Biden has declared Indigenous Peoples’ Day a federal holiday. The day is designated as a time to celebrate the contributions of Native Americans, past and present, and to remember the violence and displacement they have suffered. The newly established federal holiday shares the second Monday in October with Columbus Day, an arrangement that acknowledges the complexity of America’s past. Listen to hear an Indigenous professor explain what the holiday means to her and how she hopes it will influence how Native Americans are perceived.
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