Long After Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month officially ends today, but that doesn’t mean you should pack away Native American Heritage until next November. Like other recognition months (Women’s History, Black History, Hispanic Heritage, etc.), the purpose of Native American Heritage Month is to encourage you to pay attention to other cultures, races, or genders. To understand and appreciate the many cultures that make up the United States. And to correct some misconceptions along the way. Perhaps that’s never been as important as it is now.

There are so many misconceptions about Native American people. Where to start?

  • Native Americans are history. Native people live in contemporary society just like everyone else. They live in cities, rural areas, and yes, on reservations. Today’s Native Americans work in government, the arts, STEM fields, and more. If you don’t see many Native Americans, it could be due to hundreds of years of annihilation by Anglos. It could also mean you need to widen your circle of acquaintances.
  • All Native Americans are alike. Seriously? There are 567 federally recognized Indian nations in the United States. That means hundreds of different cultures, histories, ethnicity, and languages. Lakota, Muscogee, Ute, Chumash, Diné. These nations and the people who belong to them should all be treated as distinct cultures and when possible, referred to by tribal affiliation. The only shared aspect is that they are all indigenous to this land.
  • Native Americans get a free ride from the government. Not so. Native Americans pay federal taxes. They have bills to pay. Free health care? Indian Health Services (IHS) is woefully understaffed. It often takes a very long time to receive medical care when IHS is your sole healthcare provider.
  • Native American sports mascots aren’t a big deal. They are a big deal. These caricatures are harmful and limit the way young people see themselves. They are also racist as are terms like “redskins.” The American Psychological Association recommended retiring these racist symbols in 2005.
  • America was discovered by Columbus or if you prefer, Vikings. The definition to “discover” is being the first to find or observe. When the first Europeans arrived in the “New World,” it had already been inhabited for many thousands of years. It was neither a “new world” nor “discovered.”

But let’s end on a positive note. Do you know how many things that we enjoy today were contributed by American Indigenous peoples? Here are just a few:

  • Foods. It’s probably no surprise that jerky – yes, these portable sticks of dried meat—came from nomadic Native hunters. Hundreds of millions of Americans snack on jerky today. Then there’s pumpkins, squash, beans, melons, and more. Avocados were domesticated by indigenous people in the Valley of Mexico more than 4,000 years ago. Guacamole came from the Aztecs about 500 years ago. Another food rightfully credited to Indigenous people is corn. But did you know they also came up with popcorn? And although it may not technically be a food, chewing gum originated from Native people who chewed the milky chicle from the sapodilla tree to freshen breath.
  • Sports. Hockey comes from a game called “shinny,” once played by Sauk, Fox, and Assinboine peoples. A curved stick was used to knock a ball into the other team’s goal. In winter, shinny was played on ice. Lacrosse, now popular in the Ivy League, was first played by Iroquoian nations several hundred years ago. Canoeing, relay races, tug-of-war, tobogganing, and ball games were all played by Indigenous people in the Americas long before the arrival of Europeans.
  • Medicine. Native people knew the importance of protecting the skin. Items like sunflower oil were used as sunscreen and other substances were used as insect repellent. Burns were cared for with help from the aloe plant. Native people used thousands of plants for medicinal uses to combat colds, aid heart ailments, take care of pain, sedate, and to prevent pregnancy. In pre-Columbian times, South American Indigenous used syringes to clean wounds and inject medicine.
  • Oil. Oil from oil pits in the ground was used to caulk and as fuel for fires. Some used it as an effective barrier against insects as well.
  • Bunkbeds. Iroquois built beds on top of one another for use in longhouses.
  • Democracy. The idea for the government of the United States came from the Iroquoian League of Nations or Confederacy. The six member nations practiced a participatory/representative democracy that the founding fathers adopted.

Native American Heritage Month may be over, but Indigenous people and their cultures live on.

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What is Instructional Design

I wear many hats, but out of all of them, the one that seems to cause the most perplexed looks is that of “instructional designer.” Wikipedia defines instructional design as “the practice of systematically designing, developing and delivering instructional products and experiences, both digital and physical, in a consistent and reliable fashion towards an efficient, effective, appealing, engaging and inspiring acquisition of knowledge. The process consists broadly of determining the state and needs of the learner, defining the end goal of instruction, and creating some “intervention” to assist in the transition. The outcome of this instruction may be directly observable and scientifically measured or completely hidden and assumed.”1

Clear as mud, right? On its most basic level, instructional design is about learning. It’s meeting the learning needs of the student and the teaching needs of the educator/trainer (K-12, university, vocational, industry). Anyone who works in education will realize that there are as many ways to meet learning needs as there are instructional designers. Probably more.

For example, in my regular job, I may create crosswalks, align standards, develop and organize online course pages, build curriculum and interactive content to match learning objectives, evaluate whether content meets learning objectives, and assist with instructional technology.

I also do contract or freelance work with education and industry. I have analyzed instructional needs, created crosswalks, developed curriculum content to meet standards, revised existing content to be current and clear, and generated assessments and teacher guides. While I don’t get to do as much with digital curriculum as I would like with contract work, every job or assignment is a new challenge that I enjoy.

Have you heard of any of these terms? Instructional technology. EdTech. Instructional Systems Design. Curriculum design. LX (learning experience) design. According to Instructional Design Central, these terms are often used interchangeably with “instructional design,” supporting my theory that the responsibilities of instructional designers can range far and wide.

Some people question the need for instructional designers. Teachers teach and students learn, right? Technically, that is correct. However, if we’ve learned anything about education in the past hundred years or so, it’s that people learn in different ways. And memorization may get a student through a test, but will he or she retain anything?

We also now live in the digital age. Information is received and processed differently than it was 50 years ago. Even the structure and delivery of the content can be different. This has led to Common Core Standards in education and left industry struggling to find the best ways to train employees.

Whether the learner is a fourth grader, college student, vocational student, employee, or lifelong learner, it’s necessary to pay attention to the design and delivery of learning content so that everyone can benefit. Isn’t that what learning is all about?

1Wikipedia contributors, “Instructional design,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Instructional_design&oldid=868723953 (accessed November 17, 2018).

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Veteran’s Day is approaching. And it’s a special one. World War I ended 100 years ago on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. First celebrated as Armistice Day to recognize the “war to end all wars,” the holiday became known as Veteran’s Day after World War II.

Did you know that Choctaw soldiers played an important part in the end of WWI and therefore Veteran’s Day? Since November is also Native American Heritage Month, it’s a good time to tell this story.

In Forest Ferme, France in October, 1918, Private Mitchell Bobb delivered a message via field telephone to Ben Carterby at battalion headquarters. The Germans were listening. Furthermore, the Americans knew they were listening because the Germans had broken every code the Americans had used so far. This time was different. The Germans were baffled to hear a language they had never heard before. They couldn’t break this code because American soldiers of the Choctaw Nation were transmitting important information in the Choctaw language.

Within 24 hours, the Americans began launching successful surprise attacks. The Germans retreated within 72 hours. Americans won several key battles in the Mousse-Argonne campaign, resulting in the end of war within the month.

The Choctaw people, originally from the southeastern United States, had been forced to relocate to Indian Territory in the 1830s. Indian Territory later became the state of Oklahoma. In World War I, Choctaw soldiers from southeastern Oklahoma were among 12,000 Native American soldiers who wouldn’t even be recognized as U.S. citizens until 1924.

The use of Choctaw marked the first time an American Indian language was used by U.S. armed forces as a code. World War I Choctaw soldiers were the first code talkers.  Ironically, at home the government was trying to destroy the very language that made all this possible.

Indian boarding schools were established soon after the Civil War to assimilate native youth into American (white) culture. Or to paraphrase the founder of the Carlisle School, Brigadier General Richard Pratt, boarding schools would “kill the Indian…save the man.”

Large numbers of Native American children were forcibly removed from their families to attend these schools, where among other things, they were forbidden to speak their native language. Some children returned home not knowing how to communicate with their families. Imagine what might have happened had Ben Carterby, Mitchell Bobb, and the other Choctaw code talkers not been able to speak Choctaw?

The success of the code talkers in World War I led the U.S. military to expand the program in World War II–Choctaw, Comanche, Cherokee, Hopi, and other indigenous languages. The Marines had great success with Diné or Navajo code talkers.

It would take over 50 years after the end of World War II for Native American code talkers to receive recognition and medals of honor from the U.S. government (the first 23 years was because the program was still classified by the military).

This Veteran’s Day, let’s thank ALL veterans for their service, but let’s particularly remember the Choctaw code talkers who a century ago were instrumental in the end of World War I. Yakoke. Thank you.


Native American History for Kids



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Autumnal Face

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.– John Donne


Autumn is my favorite season of the year. I’m not alone in this. Surveys show that autumn and spring always run a tight race for favorite season. Yougov.com says that autumn is the winner, while Gallup says the honor belongs to spring. Both agree that your age has a lot to do with what you prefer. The under 35 crowd prefer summer, while the over 65 prefer spring. Autumn tends to be the favorite for people like me in the middle. It’s perhaps the one time that I don’t mind being like everyone else.

My guess is that our reasons for an autumn preference vary. I know many who equate fall with football season. Others mark it as the end of mowing season! Lots of people like the relief that autumn brings from the heat of summer. Others look forward to autumn produce—apples and pumpkins—oh, my.

And what is with this pumpkin fetish people have? I mean, have you seen the number of things flavored with pumpkin these days? However, if you live near a pick-your-own-farm, you have to do this. If there’s not one close, it’s worth a drive. Really.

These are all great reasons to love autumn, but they aren’t mine. I’ve thought long and hard about this, and one thing I’ve discovered is that I need color. Lots of it. And autumn provides that.

During the past couple of years, I’ve been undergoing a major transition in my life. It awakened a need to bring color into my life. Although I am perhaps the world’s worst wall painter, I painted walls. I ignored home re-sale advice and moved beyond white. What is white but an absence of color?

A teal accent wall space now highlights treasured photographs. Door frames and doors received a splash of color. I reclaimed my bedroom with seamist green. And discovered that color opens our eyes and our souls.

While the array of autumn colors is probably reason enough to prefer fall, it’s not my only reason. To me, autumn signifies change and a new chapter more than any calendar changing to a new year does. I agree with Nora Ephron, who wrote this about fall: “It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”

When we’re young, autumn is the beginning of a school year, always brimming with new wonders and possibilities. Later when you’re a parent and taking those back-to-school pictures, you revel in the wonder of watching your children developing into the unique human beings they are meant to be.

The things I have to do and the things I want to do could easily fill two lifetimes, but in the autumn of my life, I’m trying to make a point to occasionally take time to be still and be grateful for everything in my world. I’m listening to another writer, Elizabeth Lawrence, who tells me that “everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.”

Happy first day of autumn. May you find plenty of opportunities to “watch the leaves turn.”

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Mom Memories

On a recent hike I noticed a family on the trail. A young mother was carrying a sleeping infant on her back. One of her hands held the hand of her pre-school age son. The other hand was pushing an empty stroller. I’m assuming it was the father walking behind them. He was loaded down with a small day pack and water bottle.

Irritation flared inside me. I understand that young children go through stages where they want Mom, but couldn’t he at least have pushed the empty stroller?

I said nothing, of course, and passed them. But I did question my intense desire to berate the father. I finally realized it was because I identified with the mother. Therapists call it transference.

When my three sons were young, I was the one juggling kids and everything that comes with them. And I was tired most of the time. Often too tired to ask for help from their dad. And yes, resentful that I even had to.

But as so often happens, time has provided me with perspective. And I wouldn’t trade juggling kids, diaper bags, and strollers down sidewalks or hiking trails for anything. Because those are some of the my most precious memories. Being a mother.

Although I’m still a mom and still making mom memories, my sons can pretty much take care of themselves now. So I hold tight to mom memories from their early childhood. Reading books, kissing ouches and applying magic bandages, listening, answering endless questions, throwing baseballs, staying up all night when they were sick, the many first days of school, and yes, hiking while attached to multiple children. Today, any memories of lack of sleep or time to myself have all but disappeared. I only remember the joy of being a mother.

Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of great dads carry the load, both physically and emotionally. I believe my own sons will be those kinds of dads when they reach that stage of life. But now as I think again about that family on the trail, I feel sorry for the dad. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. I wouldn’t trade my mom memories for anything.

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