The culture of Indigenous people in North America  is very wide and overarching. Unfortunately, so is the vast history of mistreatment and misappropriation of Indigenous peoples’ culture. Indigenous American culture can be interesting, cultural, spiritual, creative, and unique. However, we want to learn how to celebrate its originality in the most respectful way possible. A few wonderful ways to do this is to know your history, learn how not to repeat it, and to intentionally have meaningful discussions on how to move forward.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Taken by Courtney Lancaster in 2014.

Learning Targets 

  • I can identify basic cultural attributes and values in early Indigenous regions of North America.
  • I can Identify how Western Culture has misunderstood or misappropriated Indigenous culture in the past.
  • I can take part in meaningful discussions on how to avoid misappropriation of Indigenous culture


Key Terms

  1. Indigenous 
  2. Colonialism
  3. Culture 
  4. Misappropriation 
  5. Western Culture 
  6. Agriculture 
  7. Inequality
  8. Exclusion 
  9. Exploitation

History of Misappropriation or Misunderstandings

Take time to think about Indigenous culture that we see in popular culture from today and in the past that has been deemed problematic, controversial, or offensive. Think about why many of these displays of Indigenous culture have been offensive to so many people. For what reasons do you think that they find them offensive? Do you agree?

Films/T.V. Shows The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Dances with Wolves (1990) Man of the House (1995), Westerns, Walker Texas Ranger
Popular Songs ‘Indian Outlaw’
U.S. Holidays  Thanksgiving, Halloween, Columbus Day 
Sports Teams Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins 
‘New Age’ Spiritually Spirit animals, Sundance ceremony, dream catchers
Incorrect History Founding of North America,  Pocahontas 
Common Expressions “Last man on the totem pole” “Eskimo kiss” “Indian giver” 
Artwork  American Progress – 1872 painting by John Gast
Clothing Feathers, “Hippie” clothing, moccasins


Why does it matter, and why is it considered offensive?

As you may know, our country has a long history of misappropriations, exploitations, and colonialism. From the Trail of Tears to missing Indigenous women being overlooked in the media to Catholic boarding schools, some issues should be addressed. We cannot go back and change history, but we can acknowledge the tragedies and learn how to be more respectful in our future actions.

Discussion Activity

  1. Stand in a straight line, shoulder to shoulder.
  2. Take a step forward if you have ever felt misunderstood or out of place in your community. 
  3. Take a step forward if you have ever felt made fun of for being different. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Why does it matter to acknowledge whether or not we are misappropriating Indigenous culture?
  2. How can I celebrate Indigenous people’s culture without diluting it or taking it over?
  3. What do I respectfully say to someone who may be misappropriating Indigenous culture?

Writing Prompts

  1. Write about a time when you felt like you weren’t being taken seriously or were left out on purpose.
  2. Why is it important to acknowledge the racial violence that happened long ago? Is there anything that we can do to make the situations of the past better today?
  3. How are Indigenous people still experiencing mistreatment today?