Commemorating Native American Heritage Month at the Briscoe Western Art Museum

Billy Hensley Young Chickasaw Man Visual Voices Briscoe Museum Native American Heritage

As we are in Native American Heritage Month, this season is a perfect opportunity to explore the cultural heritage of Native people in the West and in Texas particularly. While feathered headbands have been a popular activity over the years, lessons from Native leaders teach us that they are not appropriate. However, for parents that would like to expand their children’s understanding of the diversity of Native American nations in the United States we have selected a few options to pair with lessons on the history of Native people and their culture as they explain it today.

For more ideas about experiences that you can do while learning at home with your kids, visit our page, Charter a Voyage of Learning. Be sure to look up the activities I wrote up this summer in The West Starts Here With the Briscoe Western Art Museum.

Learning About Native American Heritage in the West

As my kids and I have been homeschooling, part of their social studies curriculum has been learning about the history of original inhabitants of this country. Finding ways to teach about diversity through emphasizing the commonalities between cultural groups has to make others seem more relatable and lays a foundation for deeper discussions. Native American Heritage Month, celebrated in November, and Native American Heritage Day, always celebrated the day after Thanksgiving, are excellent times to approach these subjects.

The activities below pair well with a visit to the Briscoe Western Art Museum.

Activity for Preschoolers: Learn How to Play a Comanche “Hand Game”

The hand game is an activity that is found in multiple Native cultures that is designed to teach observation and coordination. This activity is one that can be played with small children as a small object is passed from one hand to another and the other player guesses which hand the object is held in (not unlike the old “button, button” game). The game can be made more complex by incorporating more people into the game.

Colville stick game Colville Reservation ca 1908 Native American Heritage Briscoe Museum
Colville stick game, Colville Reservation, ca. 1908

Here’s a vintage set of rules for playing the hand game.

Comanche Hand Game Rules Native American Heritage Briscoe Museum

Players can also sing a Hand Game Song.

Activity for Grade Schoolers: Create a Puppet Show With Characters From a Native Story

This activity is designed to engage children with a Northwestern Shoshone story, “Coyote Steals Fire”. This story is available via free download and tells one version of how human beings acquired fire. We’ve prepared a set of downloadable instructions for this activity as well.

After reading the story with your kids, download and print this pattern to make the puppets.

Shadow Puppet Template Native American Heritage Briscoe Museum

Then, you and your kids can put on a shadow puppet play to reenact the “Coyote Steals Fire” story.

shadow puppet Native American Heritage Briscoe Museum

Activity for Upper Schoolers: Planting and Growing a Chickasaw “Three Sisters Garden”

The “Three Sisters”—corn, beans and squash,—constituted a staple of some Native agricultural diets. These vegetables were grown across the country from the Southwest through the Northeast. The Chickasaw tell a story of the Three Sisters, as you can watch here.

Growing a Three Sisters garden will provide a long-term project that will yield three ingredients that, when combined, make a complete protein source.

Three Sisters corn beans squash crop

When kids grow their own food, they develop a sense of cultural awareness and learn STEAM principles through applied education. Then, they can use the produce they raised in a recipe that combines these three ingredients, such as this recipe for Three Sisters Soup.

Local Connection for Learning About Native American Heritage

Come visit the Briscoe, where we are currently featuring the show Visual Voices: Contemporary Chickasaw Art. The exhibition includes more than 55 artworks by 15 present-day Chickasaw painters, potters, sculptors, metalsmiths and weavers, and tells a beautiful and compelling contemporary visual story. From oil paintings (including Billy Hensley’s Young Chickasaw Man, featured at the top of this post) and watercolors to textiles and metals, glass and bronze, the artworks are unique, intrinsically Southeastern in design and distinctive among contemporary tribal artists. We will also be featuring the literary talents of the Chickasaw Nation through our Briscoe Book Club, where we will be discussing Anompolichi: The Wordmaster.

Visual Voices Contemporary Chicasaw Briscoe Western Art Museum
Joanna Underwood Blackburn, Prayers Rising, 2018

We will also be celebrating Native American artistic culture through our Yanaguana Indian Arts Celebration. This year’s event is virtual, offering a glimpse into traditional and contemporary Native American culture, with musical performances and dancing, as well as storytelling, and artist demonstrations of ledger art, silversmithing and Huichol art. Yanaguana: Virtual Indian Arts Celebration will be online November 21–22, 2020. This virtual community day will feature some of the contemporary artists from Visual Voices as well as performances and demonstrations by some of the Native artists that have been involved in some of our previous Yanaguana celebrations.

Ty Defoe Yanaguana Indian Arts Briscoe Museum Native American Heritage
Ty Defoe at Yanaguana Indian Arts Celebration

Charter Moms Chats

Watch Ryan Badger, Curator of Collections with the Briscoe Western Art Museum, speak with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats about at-home learning activities to commemorate Native American Heritage Month on Friday, November 6, 2020 at 4 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.

For more ideas about experiences that you can do while learning at home with your kids, visit our page, Charter a Voyage of Learning. Find more activities about San Antonio’s Western heritage in The West Starts Here With the Briscoe Western Art Museum.

About the Author

Ryan Badger is the Curator of Collections with the Briscoe Western Art Museum. He is a museum education professional with ten years of experience at the Alamo, the National Park Service, and the Smithsonian Institution. He has spent most of his career learning about the people and cultures that make the West a unique region. He enjoys spending time in nature and teaching his two children how to appreciate the natural world.