Addressing Native American Stereotypes

Please review “Erasing Native American Stereotypes” from the Smithsonian Institution’s Anthropology Outreach Office, available at:

Basic Do’s and Don’ts

-Do highlight the Native American philosophy of respect for every form of life and for living in harmony with nature.

-Do discuss a variety of Indian nations, such as Hopi, Lakota, Navajo, and Seminole, rather than lumping all Native Americans together. Explain that each nation has its own name, language, and culture.

-Do challenge TV and movie stereotypes of Native Americans. Discuss the meaning of stereotypes and help children understand that Native Americans were no more savage than others who fought to defend their homes and community.

-Do understand that Native American children are not always aware of their heritage. Native children sometimes know more about “TV Indians” than about their own heritage, and they should not be singled out to provide a Native perspective or asked to recount Native history.

-Do not speak of Native American exclusively in past tense or as if they are not modernized. There are nearly one million Native people in the U.S. today, yet many books and videos still have titles such as How the Indians Lived.

- Do not let children imitate Indians with stereotypes such as one-word sentences (“ugh,” “how”), Hollywood-style grammar (“Me heep big hungry”), or gestures (e.g., war whoops and tomahawk chops).

-Do not divide Indians and non-Indians into “us” and “them.” Instead explain that Indians were the first Americans and that today Indians are American citizens with the same rights as all Americans.

*This is a guide and is not intended be exhaustive.

**Selected from