Native American Curriculum Initiative

Amplifying native voices in the classroom to improve student learning and school culture

Amplifying Native Voices


When teachers came to us wondering how to respectfully include indigenous arts in classrooms, we asked our state's sovereign nations, "What would you like the children of Utah to know about your tribe?" The Native American Curriculum Initiative was born. We amplify native voices for individual and collective growth and increased understanding.  As the BYU ARTS Partnership continues to put its mission into action for all children to benefit from an "education that provides for academic excellence, social confidence, and personal expression through the experience with the arts," greater support for teachers and children in the learning and teaching of Native American cultural arts is imperative. It's necessary to create and use authentic, accurate, and relevant cultural arts lessons that teachers can use with confidence if we are to move forward in a way that brings about positive educational change.


Guiding Principles

This collaborative work to amplify Native Voices is guided by these principles, or what we call "The NACI Way":


  • Embrace partnership and reciprocity.
  • Know your own culture.
  • Ask with genuine intent and listen attentively.
  • Accept "no" gracefully.
  • Use accurate and original sources, in history and the present. 
  • Allow the time needed for authentic growth.
  • Assume goodwill and learn from mistakes. 

Initiative Goals

On this journey, we learned there are no absolute answers so we created questions to help teachers uncover the sensitivities within individual situations to respond respectfully. As Native American materials are incorporated into schools, the goal is that these same principles expand who and what children learn about through the arts. We hope the work of NACI facilitates culturally responsive teaching as educators:


  • Provide accurate, non-stereotypical information about Native American (or other non dominant) cultures;
  • Choose, research, and integrate Native American themed materials to teach other subjects throughout the year;
  • Bring Indigenous tribes/nations into the present by featuring contemporary Native Artists in the classroom.
Sign up for our newsletter button


Partnering with Utah's Tribal Nations

Crucial to this endeavor is establishing a collaborative partnership with tribal nations of Utah in the creation of lessons that align with tribal customs and traditions. The BYU Arts Partnership believes "the greatest impact for change will be accomplished through collaborative efforts involving teachers, schools, districts, departments, and universities," and in this case, tribal nations. Providing arts-integrated lesson plans, an artist roster, and other resources in partnership with and approved by tribes will add validity and another layer of confidence and support for teachers and children.




Native American Lesson Plans


The lesson plans developed as part of the Native American Curriculum Initiative allow teachers to:

  1. Integrate Native American Perspectives when teaching core subjects
  2. Feel confident using tribe-approved materials
  3. The Arts are a culturally responsive pedagogy

Integrating the arts to learn about Native Americans inspires a community-centered classroom, feature an arts-heavy lesson plan, sometimes the art is native, and sometimes the art-making isn't indigenous but used as a method for understanding.


Native Teaching Artists in the Classroom

Contemporary Native artists demonstrate the significant contributions of Native peoples' who exist in the past as well as the present through their performances, demonstrations, and lectures. Native American Teaching Artists are one of the best resources for your classroom when seeking to provide accurate and authentic voices in your students' learning experiences. Our initiative can connect you to these individuals through our partnership with the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.


Bring an artist to your classroom.


The Utah Division of Arts and Museums (UDAM) has curated a Native American Teaching Artist Roster that lists Native Artists that you can invite to your classroom. Use the link below to peruse the list of artists. Next, talk with your principal, District Arts Coordinator, or school arts team about funding to appropriately compensate these artists for the time, knowledge, and expertise. 


If you need further assistance you can write a grant to UDAM to help you secure funding for the artist. Bringing an artist to the classroom is a great way to amplify the authentic voices of Native Americans in your learning space.


View the Native Artist Roster Button



Alan Groves

Northern Ute/Hopi Tribe

Alan Groves

Beadwork/Quillwork Artist

Though his artistic expression began through drawing and painting, Indigenous artist and high school teacher Alan Groves has mastered traditional Native American arts. He uses hand-dyed porcupine quills and seed beads to create bracelets, necklaces, beaded feathers, moccasins, medicine pouches, and more in his indigenous artwork. He earned a Master's Degree from Brigham Young University and also works as a teacher coach in his school community. Alan makes and sells jewelry as well as pow wow regalia for his family's personal use in their cultural practice.

Available for: Art workshops (children and adult) with Native American groups, Secondary education cultural training and Native American curriculum integration.


Photo: Samuel Jake @samueljjake


Patrick Willie

Navajo Tribe

Patrick Willie

Hoop Dancer
A Navajo from Orem, Utah, Patrick is a celebrated Hoop Dancer. A digital and in-person Native cultural ambassador and UVU math major, Patrick travels around Utah County on his bike, performing the Hoop Dance at schools and teaching youth about Native culture. He learned how to hoop dance at age eight; since then, he has embraced the life-changing process of learning and sharing his cultural identity. As his learning deepened, he found himself asking, "How would my ancestors, my elders, respond to this situation?"  His connection to his heritage has shaped him into a more optimistic, open-minded person: "We all belong to the same world, so we should treat each other that way." Patrick embraces the wide reach of technology as a way to preserve, share, and celebrate his Native culture, teachings, and language.


Photo: Samuel Jake @samueljjake

Read more here


Michele Reyes

Navajo/Dine Tribe

Michele Reyes

Seint Artist

Michele Reyes, a mother of seven children, creates beautiful woven rugs by combining traditional Navajo patterns with some of her own style. Michele learned to weave as teenager from her grandmother, but after losing her left arm in a car accident, she gave it up. When she received a loom later in life she was determined to figure out a way to make it work and she began to weave again. Now, along with her husband Kyle, she is the owner and operator of Three Canoes Design. She connects with her culture by weaving and making regalia for her family.

Read More on Our Blog


Opinion Editorials


The Salt Lake Tribune: Reclaiming the Bear River narrative by Brenda Beyal and Heather Sundahl


Bear River Massacre Memorial


Deseret News: Meet 3 little-known Utah women who've changed our state for good by Brenda Beyal and Heather Sundahl


Two native women standing in a field


Native American Children's Books


One evolving aspect of the BYU ARTS Partnership Native American Curriculum Initiative is the journey of helping classroom teachers choose culturally accurate and authentic literature. As more Native American authors write from an authentic voice and position, the time has come to replace many Native American theme books used in classrooms for more affirming authentic literature. Following is a three-part process we have created to help in the literature review process. Each part has questions that guide the process.


Seeking Culturally Responsive Books About Native Americans for the Classroom

Three-part process for vetting books:

  1. Look at the cover of the book paying attention to the author and illustrator, read the inside flaps of book covers, the foreword and notes.
  2. Digest the book's words and illustrations.
  3. Consider how the book will enrich your students' understanding of Native indigenous cultures.


1. Look at the author and illustrator, including the inside flaps of book covers

  • Who is the author? Illustrator? What is their background and experience?
  • What is their connection to the tribe?
  • What position are they speaking from?
  • What is the purpose for writing the book? 
  • Can you recognize the attempt at authenticity and accuracy? 
  • Is the research explained or stated? 

2. Digest the book's words and illustrations looking for tribe specific representation. 

  • As you are looking and reading, use your personal knowledge to look for accuracy and authenticity.  
  • Watch for stereotypes and homogenization (clumping tribes into one).
  • If you find yourself with questions, do some quality research!  
  • Consider the setting and watch for oversimplification in describing characters. 
  • Be cautious of descriptions of ceremonies and the use of deity in the culture in a casual manner. Always do your research!

3. Consider how the book will enrich your students’ understanding of Native indigenous cultures.

  • Is the book specific enough to provide understanding? Vague references will only confuse the reader. 
  • Does it bring Native Americans into the present? 
  • Joseph Bruchac, Abenaki author cautions against "The Dances with Wolves Syndrome" – books in which all Indians are noble and all white people are bad. Any children's book that builds up one culture at the expense of another ultimately keeps racial tension alive.


Join Us 

Add your name to our mailing list to receive a quarterly update on the latest lesson plans, resources, and events related to the Native American Curriculum Initiative. Thank you for joining us in our efforts to amplify native voices in the classroom. 

Sign up for our newsletter button