My son's grandfather (who is Norweigan) vacations in Arizona for the winter. Grandpa came back from Arizona with the touristy "Indian" toys--the feather headdress, the drum with the whooping Indian painted on the side, the tomahawk. My daughter got an Indian princess doll with the braids and beaded bucksin dress. I know Grandpa meant well but I was not happy... To me this kind of thing is like giving a child some baggy pants and a du rag then telling the child to go play "Black". It's all stereotypical--not honoring indigenous cultures.
So I sat my son down (he is 5) and told him that in America, there are over 500 Native American tribes. I told my son that not all "Indians" are alike--they have different languages, different foods they eat, different ways of living. I then used the example of pre-school. I asked my son when you go to pre-school are all of your friends just like you? So I made my son think--and notice that while people do have some things in common, there are also differences. I let my son know that it is just fine to be different, and to have something special about who you are.
I didn't know how to explain what a stereotype is...so I told him that it is wrong to assume that all Native people are the same because then you are not being respectful of what makes that person special. I told my son about his own Native American heritage--and that in his family there are three different tribes that his grandparents originated from. I let my son know that what he saw painted on the drum was not the way his grandparents lived, and that he could come to me any time with questions. I told him that when you play with these toys from Grandpa that what you see is only pretend, like a cartoon, and is not real.
AND THEN--this is great--Grandpa took the kids to the Science Museum! I was able to show and explain to my son--who had tons of questions--different aspects of what it is like to be Native American, and what their way of life is like. At the museum were artifacts from the Dakota like moccasins, quilts and pictures. There was also pottery from tribes who live in the Southwest. He even got to see a Hmong house that had traditional garments inside, a video of a Hmong elder speaking and pandau hung on the walls.
My son learned alot but I know I will have to have this conversation again. Seasame Street has a wonderful book called "We're Different, We're the Same". So I am using that too. How do you describe "stereotype" to a five year old?