Native American Curriculum Initiative

Supporting teachers and children in the learning and teaching of Native American cultural arts

Native American Curriculum Initiative



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.

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.




  • Turn to primary sources for accurate information; in history and in the present

  • Explicitly address misinformation and misconceptions about Native American cultural arts

  • Create, discover, choose and use Native American themed materials as a vehicle to teach other subjects throughout the school year

  • Liberate Indigenous tribes/nations by bringing them into the present






Native American Lesson Plans


Native voices are the heart of our project. As the state's original inhabitants, they continue to retain their cultural traditions and thrive in the present day as sovereign entities. Each tribe chooses representatives to work side by side with BYU ARTS educators to develop curriculum materials. Lessons are then vetted in elementary classrooms and presented to tribal councils, cultural and education departments for review and approval.

Native American Artist Roster


The Utah Division of Arts and Museums, in partnership with the BYU ARTS Partnership, has prepared an artist roster featuring Native American artists and educators who would be available to provide arts instruction and experiences for your students. The full roster can be found on the Utah Division of Arts and Museums website (link coming soon). But what follows is a list of some of the individuals you will find on the roster.


Ty Allison


Flute player and builder, Storyteller, empowers artists, addresses misconceptions, & brings Native arts into the present

Patrick Willie


Champion hoop dancer, Blogger of Native culture and life

Michele Reyes



Alan Groves


Drummer, Singer, Beader

Johnny and Eva Keams


Johnny is a dancer and singer; Eva is a dancer, beader, and a great presenter of Native culture to students.

Alvin Watchman


Has a drum group that hosts

Joseph Runs Through


Teacher, Dancer, Drummer

Saanaii Atsitty


Poet, Storyteller

More to come!

Native American Children's Books

Seeking Culturally Responsive Books About Native Americans for the Classroom


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. 



  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.

Highly Recommended Books


We are happy to share book recommendations with teachers with our three-step process for vetting Native American children's books as described above. While these books can get any teacher started with a culturally rich and responsive collection of children's books, we invite teachers to do their own research to vet and determine the best books to use in their classroom. Acquiring knowledge on the content and context of these books empowers teachers with personal connections to the content and fosters empathy to share with students.

The following three lists describe 1) the books we personally enjoy and readily share with educators to use in the classroom, 2) books we sometimes use but make sure to point out inaccuracies or concerns, and 3) books we have set aside from our own library. 

  • A Boy Called Slow 


    by Joseph Bruchac

    Illustrated by Rocco Baviera

  • Mission to Space


    by John Herrington

  • Songs of Shiprock Fair


    by Luci Tapahonso

    Illustrated by Anthony Chee Emerson

  • Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two


    by Joseph Bruchac

  • An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People


    by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

    Adapted by Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza

  • Pia Toya: A Goshute Indian Legend


    Retold and Illustrated by the Children and Teachers of Ibapah Elementary School, The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute

  • Beauty Beside Me: Stories of My Grandmother's Skirts


    by Seraphine G. Yazzie

    Illustrated by Baje Whitethorne, Sr.

  • Storm Boy


    by Paul Owen Lewis

  • Echoes of the Elders: The Stories and Paintings of Chief Lelooska


    Edited by Christine Normandin

  • Spirit of the Cedar People: More Stories and Paintings of Chief Lelooska


    Edited by Christina Normandin

  • Why the Moon Paints Her Face Black


    Told by Eleanor Tom

    Transcribed by Chloe Valentine Brent

  • Coyote and the Sky: How the Sun, Moon and Stars Began


    by Emmett "Shkeme" Garcia

    Illustrated by Victoria Pringle

  • And It Is Still That Way


    Legends Told by Arizona Indian Children

    Collected by Byrd Baylor

  • Jingle Dancer


    by Cynthia Leitich Smith

    Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa

  • The Butterfly Dance


    by Gerald Dawavendewa



The Blue Roses By Linda Boyden and illustrated by Amy Cordova


CONCERN: Homogenizes Native American cultures by not being tribe specific.

Storm Maker's Tipi By Paul Goble 




Dancing With the Indians by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Samuel Byrd




Brother Eagle, Sister Sky with paintings by Susan Jeffers





Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal


CONCERN: It does not provide the authentic recipe for Southwest Fry Bread and it says Navajo were given yeast by the federal government, but they were given Baking Soda.








  • Ten Little Rabbits by Virginia Grossman & Sylvia Long

  • Arrow to the Sun by Gerald McDermott

  • Knots on a Counting Rope by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Ted Rand

  • Red Cloud's War: Brave Eagle's Account of the Fetterman Fight by Paul Goble

  • How the Stars Fell into the Sky: A Navajo Legend by Jerrie Oughton, illustrated by Lisa Desimini

  • Coyote Places the Stars by Harriet Peck Taylor