First Nations’ Celebrations

Merry Christmas in Ojibwe, Aleut, Cree, Seneca, and Lakota sign for a library display.

With over 500 federally recognized First Nations in the United States alone, I can honestly say that trying to create a respectful Native American holiday storytime was intimidating. By far, this post required the most research of all the holidays – and even now, I feel incredible pressure to get this “right.” And as I researched, I was keenly aware of my European American ignorance on so many Indigenous Peoples’ traditions, beliefs, and feelings.

I finally hit a point where I realized that my fear of “getting it wrong” was keeping me from moving forward on a post. So I reached out to the wonderful Debbie Reese for help. She pointed me towards several resources, and the one that helped me the greatest was this book: Lessons from Turtle Island by Guy W Jones and Sally Moomaw.

I bought the ebook and read it in a few hours. I’ve had no formal diversity training whether it involves programming or collection development, and I consider this book to be my first class on the topic. One of the biggest lessons that I took away from it is that we must show our children that the First Nation people are incredibly diverse and a part of our current society.

Partnerships

What I believe is the best way to include Indigenous Peoples in your holiday programming is to reach out to a nearby tribe to request help. Having a tribally enrolled representative come dressed as they normally would (i.e. no regalia) and share their stories? That would have a powerfully positive impact on the kids (and parents) in attendance. After all, they may have only seen stereotypes of Native Americans in books, tv, and movies. Let’s give them a real experience.

Books

Also, be sure to add as many accurate First Nations picture books as possible to both your holiday and regular book displays. You can find great ideas for storytimes and books at both Debbie Reese’s American Indians in Children’s Literature site and books, lesson plans, and another fantastic resource for First Nations’ literature: Strong Nations. [Don’t miss the links within this paragraph – there’s 6 of them!]

Displays

Many Native Americans celebrate Winter Solstice and/or Christmas, so be sure to include them in those displays and/or programs. That is why I created the Merry Christmas sign at the top of this post (feel free to download and use it). Update: I found these translations at a site called Native Village which no longer exists, therefore I cannot link you to it. That said, here’s Native Friends, another site with holiday information and links to other resources. This sign also helps reinforce the fact that the First Nations’ people are diverse and shouldn’t be lumped together in a vague, inaccurate manner.

Music

If you do music in your storytime, then look for traditional carols sung in First Nation languages such as Jana Mashonee’s Winter Wonderland sung in Ojibwe. Again, this reinforces to your attendees that Native Americans exist in today’s society.

There are tons of wonderful Youtube videos if you do a search for Native American Christmas. I mean, Santa Hoop Dancing? I’m in!

James Jones (NotoriousCree) is a wildly talented dancer – you should check more of his videos out.

I truly hope that I have given you some ideas for incorporating the First Nations into your holiday programming. If you have any further resources, ideas that you’d like to share, or if you want to point out something(s) that I got wrong, then please feel free to comment on this post or email me at [email protected]

And if you’re a storytime blogger, then please consider creating and sharing some ideas for representing your local First Nations into your storytimes throughout the year – there definitely is a void on the internet when it comes to this. Let’s fix that.

Wait a sec. I thought you were anti-holiday programming?

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