First Kids 1st – Native American Heritage Month 2016

By National Indian Education Association (NIEA)

November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to pay tribute and acknowledge the many contributions that Native people have made to America. The first inhabitants of these lands contributed to modern day society through foods, medicine, literature, arts, common names of states and counties, and our modern day governmental structure. However, Native American’s most common connection to many is Thanksgiving. A story that most American’s hear only from one perspective and may not realize the tribe in attendance – the Wampanoag – is still a flourishing sovereign tribal nation.

When colonist arrived, the Wampanoag people provided them with the knowledge and skills they needed to survive, enabling them to produce the harvest they celebrated with at the first Thanksgiving feast. The Pilgrims had their first successful harvest in September/October 1621, so they sent Pilgrim men out hunting for fowl to complete the feast. According to tribal historical accounts, the Wampanoag warriors went to the Pilgrim’s village when continual gun fire was heard out of fear the tribe was being attacked. When the Wampanoag warriors arrived, they were invited to join the feast. However there was not enough food to feed the chief and warriors so the Wampanoag warriors were sent out to hunt; returning with deer which they presented to the English leader. This act of gift giving created the ceremonial process of giving thanks during the modern Thanksgiving holiday.

Today, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe continues to preserve their traditional ways of life through language restoration programs. Mukayuhsak Weekuw: The Children’s House, is a language nest preschool and Kindergarten. Founded in 1993, the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project serves four tribal governments of the Wampanoag Nation (Mashpee, Aquinnah, Assonet & Herring Pond), and provides free community language-based instruction and teacher training for tribal household members throughout the Cape and Islands region in Massachusetts.

As educators’ plan for Native American Heritage Month activities and sharing of the Thanksgiving story, the National Indian Education Association and our partners in the First Kids 1st Initiative urge you to celebrate not only the rich history of Native peoples but also the vibrant futures of our tribes and Native communities. Through telling the Thanksgiving narrative from the Wampanoag’s perspective, by introducing Native foods, language, and song, this time of year allows us all the opportunity to celebrate our shared history and futures.

Included are suggested educational resources to help support our educators across the Country as they help to shape the lives of all our young people.

The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving

Click here to read story.

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving

A resource for educators to use to begin the conversation around Thanksgiving from an American Indian perspective. The document provides ideas for classroom discussions and activities for 4th – 8th grades. Click here.

Our Mother Tongues

A website that offers an introduction to 14 Native American language programs across the U.S. This site provides a glimpse of tribal languages, histories, and cultures from their perspective. Click here.

Reading is Fundamental: Celebrating Native American Heritage

Webpage providing titles and descriptions of informative books sharing the rich stories and traditions of many Native American tribes. Click here.

Native American Children’s Literature Recommended Reading List

Recommended reading list and resources for Head Start/Preschool through 12th grade learning. Click here.


The First Kids 1st national initiative is led by four Native American organizations, focused on creating conditions in which Native American children can thrive. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), and the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) are working to cultivate and nurture strategies and policies that build and strengthen support for Native children in their communities. To learn more about the initiative, visit