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Native History is American History


What's wrong with this picture?


Image: Painting titled "American Progress" by George A. Crofutt,  c.1873. From the Library of Congress.

This image of a white female spirit of "American Progress" embodies a Eurocentric view of American history. Notice the devastation that this "progress" is causing the Native American peoples depicted on the left side of the painting. What about the animals, the buffalo and bear, driven out of the frame? The violence and land dispossession represented here is a part of our national history. However, what comment is the painting's author making about "Westward Expansion?" The title of the painting suggests a singularly positive view of what it depicts. Note the way the female white spirit is bringing light with her (as well as a telegraph wire), dispersing the shadow that hovers over the Native Americans. And who is "American" in this view of "American Progress?"

This same Eurocentric story is what we often find in American History textbooks at the secondary-school level: Native peoples are forced to the periphery, not presented as central to the "American story." The Native Histories Project's goal is to help teachers disrupt that distorted view. We assert that Native History is American History and should be integral to what we teach in our secondary schools. 


Beginning the Native Histories Project

We began this project in 2016 at Grinnell College, a small liberal arts undergraduate school in central Iowa. The idea for the website grew out of teacher education work that the project lead, Prof. Deborah Michaels, did with social studies teachers in Iowa, in particular with Leah Slick-Driscoll, a Native American teacher at the Meskwaki Settlement School who has been a key consultant and inspiration for this project.


As a social studies teacher educator, Deborah works with Grinnell College students interested in teaching and history to develop these units based on the principles of Backward Design (see Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe. 2005. Understanding by design.). The project is collaborative, emerging from the contributions of students, librarians, and Digital Humanities staff at Grinnell. Learn more about our team here.

The curriculum is evolving, we welcome constructive feedback and suggestions for future units and lessons [Link to Contribute]. We are especially eager to collaborate with Native American teachers, scholars, and students.