Native American Vocabulary

Vocabulary:  New Native American Terms:


1.       Amulet is an object worn, especially around the neck, as a charm against evil or injury; good luck charm

2.     Nomad (Plains Indians) a member of a people that has no fixed home but wanders from place to place

3.     Quill is one of the sharp hollow spines of a porcupine or hedgehog.

4.     Shaman or  Medicine man : a person especially among the American Indians that is believed to have magic powers that can cure illnesses and keep away evil spirits by potions and charms

5.     Tomahawk : a light ax used as a weapon especially by North American Indians

6.     Leggings: a covering for the leg; Separate leggings of buckskin leather were worn by some Native Americans 

7.     Brave is a Native American warrior

8.     Chief (Tribal Chief) the head of a tribal form of self-government

9.     Tribe is any Native American tribe that shares the same language, customs, and beliefs.

10.  Sand painting is the art of painting ritual paintings for religious or healing ceremonies.

11.   A coonskin cap is a cap fashioned from the skin and fur of a raccoon.

12.  Buckskins the skin of a buck or clothing, usually consisting of a jacket and leggings, made from buckskin.

13.  Wampum These are beads of polished shells formerly used by North American Indians as money and ornaments. In the Iroquois Confederacy if a person tried to deliver a message without the wampum they were not often believed. 

14.  Buffalo  (plural bison) is a large shaggy-maned mammal with a large head, short horns, and a large fleshy hump above the shoulders;


1. An awl to punch holes in leather and bark.

2.      Bark was used to make cradleboards, baskets, and wigwams.

3.      Sweet grass   (sage) used to bless the new home.

4.      Spinning sticks and a bow is used to make fire.

5.      Snare is a trap to catch a rabbit.

6.      Pit traps catch opossum or raccoons.

7.      Wigwam is a house.

8.      Elder  is the spiritual leader

9.      Double ball and lacrosse were games played by Ojibwa children. 

10.   Spinning sticks and a bow is used to make fire.

11.    Forest People is the Woodland Indians.

Picture Dictionary on Native Americans:



Dream Catcher


Quill Shield


Chief Joseph







Corn Husk Mask

Wigwam Frame








Tepee (tipi)



Cliff dweller


A coonskin cap is a cap fashioned from the skin and fur of a raccoon.


Leggings: a covering for the leg; Separate leggings of buckskin leather were worn by some Native Americans 

Tepee (tipi) is a cone-shaped tent usually made of skins and is the home of the Plains Indians.

Tomahawk is a light ax used as a weapon especially by North American Indians.

cradleboard- is a flat surface with the child wrapped tightly to it.

papoose is an American Indian baby


Canoe is a long light narrow boat with pointed ends and curved sides that is usually moved by someone using a paddle.

Navajo Weaver

Hogan is a Navajo Indian home usually made of logs and mud with a door facing east.

Headdress a covering or

ornament for the head  


Appropriate Methods

When Teaching About Native American Peoples:

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  1. Understand the term "Native American" includes all peoples indigenous to the Western Hemisphere.
  2. Present Native American Peoples as appropriate role models to children.
  3. Native American students should not be singled out and asked to describe their families' traditions or their peoples' culture(s).
  4. Avoid the assumption there are no Native American students in your class.
  5. Use books and materials which are written and illustrated by Native American people as primary source materials: speeches, songs, poems, and writings, which show the linguistic skill of a people who have come from an oral tradition.
  6. When teaching ABC's, avoid "I is for Indian" and "E is for Eskimo."
  7. Avoid rhymes or songs that use Native Americans as counting devices, i.e. "One little, two little, three little..."
  8. Research the traditions and histories, oral and written, of Native Americans before attempting to teach these.
  9. Avoid referring to or using materials which depict Native Americans as "savages," "primitives," "The Noble Savage," "Red Man," "Red Race," "simple," or "extinct."
  10. Present Native American Peoples as having unique, separate, and distinct cultures, languages, beliefs, traditions, and customs.
  11. Avoid materials which use non-Native Americans or other characters dressed as "Indians."
  12. Avoid craft activities which trivialize Native American dress, dance, and beliefs, i.e. toilet-paper roll kachinas or
  13.  "Indian dolls", paper bag and construction paper costumes and headdresses. Research authentic methods and have the proper materials.
  14. Realize that many songs, dances, legends, and ceremonies of Native American Peoples are considered sacred and should not be "invented"
  15.  or portrayed as an activity.
  16. If your educational institution employs images or references to Native American peoples as mascots, i.e. "Redskins", "Indians," "Chiefs," "Braves," etc. urge your administration to abandon these offensive names.
  17. Correct and guide children when they "war whoop," use "jaw-breaker" jargon, or employ any other stereotypical mannerisms.
  18. Depict Native American peoples, past and present, as heroes who are defending their people, rights, and lands.
  19. Avoid manipulative phases and wording such as "massacre," "victory," and "conquest" which distort facts and history.
  20. Teach Native American history as a regular part of American History and discuss what went wrong or right.
  21. Avoid materials and texts which illustrate Native American heroes as only those who helped Europeans and Euro-Americans, i.e. Thanksgiving.
  22. Use materials and texts which outline the continuity of Native American societies from past to present.
  23. Use materials which show respect and understanding of the sophistication and complexities of Native American societies. Understand and impart that the spiritual beliefs of Native American Peoples are integral to the structure of our societies and are not "superstitions" or "heathen."
  24. Invite a Native American guest speaker/presenter to your class or for a school assembly. Contact a local Native American organization or your library for a list of these resources. Offer an honorarium or gift to those who visit your school.
  25. Avoid the assumption that a Native American person knows everything about all Native Americans.
  26. Use materials which show the value Native American Peoples place on our elders, children, and women. Avoid offensive terms such as "papoose", and "squaw." Use respectful language.
  27. Understand that not all Native American Peoples have "Indian" surnames, but familiar European and Hispanic names as well.
  28. Help children understand Native American Peoples have a wide variety of physical features, attributes, and value as do people of ALL cultures and races.
  29. Most of all, teach children about Native Americans in a manner that you would like used to depict YOUR culture and racial/ethnic origin.

1998; Ableza Institute



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