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Critical Literacy with Texts by and About American Indians

with Dorothea Susag

retired language arts and Heritage Project teacher, author

Using videos, oral recordings, books, treaties and poems, this presentation engages students in comparing and contrasting non-Native and Native American works to determine perspectives and the impact of meaning on past and present audiences. Examples include Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie with Joe Medicine Crow’s Counting Coup, where both address a similar situation, or Disney films with characters from the dominant culture in America and any of several minority cultures or ethnic groups, including American Indians. For high school students, a portion of an 1888 "Sweetgrass Hills Agreement" with the Assiniboine could be paired with film clips from In the Land of the Assiniboine and Montana Mosaic, and poems from Birthright—Born to Poetry: a Collection of Montana Indian Poetry. Students consider the impact of word choice and perspective on meaning, particularly with what we learn about Indians. Students discuss what a text says, what it might mean, and why the meaning matters. The ultimate purpose of this program is to help students learn to understand possible implicit meanings in whatever they read. This is critical literacy.