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Crafts, Books, and Recipes to Celebrate Native American Heritage Month

Celebrate the indigenous peoples of America with food, crafts, and books that honor the beauty and variety of Native American cultures and traditions.

Margo Gothelf · 27 days ago

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Heeral Chhibber

There's a lot to celebrate in November, including Native American Heritage Month. The indigenous peoples of this country have a long history filled with traditions and stories that deserve to be widely known! This November, bring your family together to celebrate the wide range of cultures, arts, and traditions of Native America, with delicious recipes, beautiful crafts, and memorable books. 

Mi'kmaq Quillwork Craft

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Multicultural Kid

Update your usual crafting routine of drawing and painting and add some quillwork in the mix. New to quillwork? Not to worry! The traditional artwork, made out of porcupine quills, was first developed by the indigenous people of North America, specifically those of Canada and New England. The Mi’kmaq were particularly known for their quillwork, so much so that they were known as "the porcupine people" thanks to the outstanding creations they made with porcupine quills. Give it a try for yourself and sub in toothpicks for the porcupine quills. Not sure what to make? Go with the traditional Mi’kmaq eight-pointed star that represents the sun, or freestyle your creation and design your own geometrical pattern. 

Feather Necklaces

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Early Learning Ideas

In many Native American cultures, feathers hold a strong meaning. The simple feather represents power, wisdom, strength, freedom, and trust in many tribal nations' traditions. Not only do the feathers have many meanings, but different feathers from specific animals have different purposes. Eagle feathers signify bravery, while owl feathers show wisdom, and bluebirds represent happiness. Feathers are used in many cultures as decorative items, especially when it comes to jewelry. Share your feathers and turn them into necklaces to show off your preferred trait.

Paper Plate Dream Catchers

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Red Ted Art

Want to get a good night of sleep and say goodbye to all your scary dreams at the same time? Hang up a dream catcher in your room. Dream catchers are common symbols of protection in many western Native American cultures including the Ojibwe. According to Ojibwe tradition, while both good and bad dreams fill the air at night, only good dreams reach you as you sleep if a dreamcatcher is hung over the bed. How does this work exactly? The intricately crafted structures act as a web to filter out the bad dreams while letting the good ones pass through.

Mini Loom Weaving

Ever make a potholder on a loom? What about a bracelet? If the answer is yes, you were probably crafting using a traditional Native American technique of weaving without even knowing it. Weaving is an important art in the Navajo culture, renowned for intricate woven blankets, rugs, and decorative items using geometric patterns and patterns inspired by elements, seasons, and the natural world. Learn from the Navajo and make a loom out of cardboard to start weaving yarn back and forth. Start with a simple pattern and when you've got the hang of it, research classic Navajo designs to see if you can recreate them. 

Rain Stick

Nowadays, it's pretty easy to know when it's going to rain. All you have to do is open the weather app and check out the forecast. Unfortunately, the earliest indigenous people didn't exactly have it that easy! Instead, native peoples in dry climates created rain sticks that were used in traditional ceremonies to make the weather pour down. The sticks were typically made of hollowed-out dried cacti that were filled with small pebbles or grains, and shaken to mimic the sound of the rain. While dried cacti may be hard to get your hands on (literally), a simple paper towel tube will do the trick. Fill it with dried beans, popcorn kernels, or beads and shake it all around to see if you can outsmart the weather app. 

Chickasaw Three Sisters Soup

Native American Heritage month falls in November, which is peak soup season, giving you the perfect excuse to make a big batch of Three Sisters Soup. The soup is a staple among many Native American food cultures, and while they all have the same base ingredients of corn, beans, and squash, many tribes add in their own additions and special touches. The main ingredients not only complement each other in the bowl but also in the ground as well. The beans grow up the stalks of the corn, and the squash helps keep all the moister and weeds out of the soil for maximum growth. This delicious and hearty Chickasaw recipe adds in potatoes and tomatoes, putting a spin on the traditional soup. 

Fry Bread

One of the most well-known food items to come out of Native American history is fry bread. But the bread, which is more like fried dough, has a complicated legacy. When the United States government forced tribes out of their native lands, the people were given rations on their forced journeys, including flour, sugar, and lard — which is how fry bread came to be. Over time, the bread has come to represent more than just a meal and showcases the complex history of the Native American people. In today's culinary scene, the bread has been elevated to be a base for tacos or even served on the sweeter side with cinnamon and sugar.

Wojapi Sauce

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The Gingered Whisk

Love jam? Then you're going to be all over Wojapi sauce, which originated with the Native Plains cultures of the Lakota and Dakota. The simple sauce comes from berries that have been cooked down until they are very thick. Not sure what to use it on? It's pretty much good on anything. Add it on top of a slice of cake, use it as a marinade for chicken or steaks, or spread it on a piece of toast. While the indigenous Plains people used chokecherries to make Wojapi sauce, any kind of berries will work, from blueberries to blackberries to strawberries.

Cherokee Bean Bread

Cherokee Bean Bread, which comes from the Cherokee Nation of the American southeast, is a staple dish that comes together with just dried corn, beans, and the starchy liquid that comes from cooking down the beans. The bread, which is more like a dumpling, is then formed into small patties and cooked inside a corn blade to make a tasty treat. While the dish may be simple, the traditional elements that make the bread what it truly is, are not always widely available. So that's why chef Nico Albert has made this updated version borrowing from the method for cooking tamales. The simple swap makes it accessible for anyone to try out. 

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell

Ready to learn a new word? You'll get a bunch of them plus a whole history of the Cherokee Nation in the book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga. The word otsaliheliga is used by the people of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. The informative tale by Traci Sorell shows the word in action and follows the people of the Cherokee Nation through a full year of tribal celebrations and everyday life. The award-winning book includes a glossary of the complete Cherokee syllabary, so you can learn even more about the native language. 

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard

To the Native American community, fry bread is way more than just food. The fried dough bread represents community, history, family, and so much more. The sweetly illustrated picture book Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, a Seminole Nation member, explores the rich history behind the dish in a kid-friendly way, and is a must-read for those looking to add a Native American history book to their shelves. Make sure to check out the author's note for even more insight into the traditional food and the deeper meaning behind it. 

A Day with Yayah by Nicola I. Campbell

Old traditions carry on to new generations in Nicola I. Campbell's uplifting book, A Day with Yayah. The story follows a young girl named Nikki on an adventure with her grandmother to learn all about plant life, foraging, and the natural world. During their lessons, not only does Yayah teach her granddaughter which plants are edible and how to use them, but she also teaches her the names in their native language. By the end of this book, you'll have a whole new understanding of plants and inside information about the Nlaka'pamux language. 

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker's Story by Joseph Bruchac

Meet Chester, a young Navajo boy who refused to give up his native language and culture no matter how many times people from outside his tribe told him it would be useless. Over and over again, Chester was made fun of and told to forget his background, yet the young boy persisted and kept his culture close to his heart. It's a good thing Chester never listened because years later, he is needed by the U.S. Marines to help solve an unbreakable code written in the Navajo language. Follow along on Chester's journey in this powerful book written by acclaimed author and Abenaki citizen Joseph Bruchac.