The Importance of Teaching Native American Literature in High School

As high school students reach their junior and senior years, they are often expected to dive deeper into the texts they study in English class. However, the traditional canon often neglects the contributions of Native American writers to American literature. Educators today recognize the importance of teaching literature from diverse perspectives, and Native American literature is an essential part of that effort. In this article, we will explore the importance of including a Native American literature unit in high school courses.

The Value of Native American Literature

The Native American experience is unique and complex, and it is not accurately reflected in traditional American literature. By including narratives, poems, and stories written by Native American authors, students can gain a deeper understanding of the significant contributions of Native American cultures and communities to American society. Native American literature presents stories, often in first-person narration, that reflect the diversity of experiences, perspectives, and worldviews of native people. This is critical because it provides students with insight into an often-overlooked aspect of cultural and literary heritage.

The Historical Context

Native American literature comes from a long tradition of storytelling and oration, but it has not always been readily available in written form. In many cases, Native American literature has been suppressed or banned by the US government and education systems in an effort to assimilate Native American communities. The lack of representation in contemporary literature syllabi has been a failure, as it reinforces the marginalization of an entire group of people. The inclusion of Native American literature in high school curriculums is a step toward repairing this gap in knowledge and understanding.

An Opportunity for Empathy and Understanding

Teaching Native American literature in high school can provide a chance for deeper cultural understanding and empathy. Native American literature is not limited to one genre, style or experience. By exploring diverse representations of native people’s experiences through literary works, students can begin to recognize and understand the complexities of native cultures, histories, and daily life. This exposure can dispel stereotypes and myths about Native American communities, and help students understand the impact of colonization and ongoing cultural erasure.


Understanding the past and the present of Native American literature can help students develop empathy and recognize the contributions made by Native American writers. It is important to expand traditional literary syllabi to include works by Native American authors to represent the diversity of experiences among the people of America. Reading and discussing Native American literature is an educational opportunity for students to look beyond the colonial myths and prejudices and to gain a richer understanding of our collective history. It is essential to listen to and appreciate the Native American perspective if we are to achieve a deeper shared understanding of our country’s past and reconcile our shared history.

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