My youngest sister was adopted by my parents when she was 13. She is Lakota. She knows she is Lakota and is proud of her heritage.

Alice's (seven years old) Aunt has talked about her heritage and shared some of the myths and traditions of the Lakota with Alice, yet I overheard Alice tell someone she had never seen a, "real Indian before" Within the context of the conversation it was clear, she was referring to American Indians, not people from India (which she has also met and befriended btw).

When asked why she said that despite knowing her aunt, Alice said, "Well, she doesn't dress like one." We've done lessons for Social studies that included watching that included clips of modern Native Americans from a variety of tribes living their lives today.

Why is this stereotype so seared into my child's head despite personal counter-examples as well as lessons about it?

2 Answers 2


This sort of thing is common. One of my children (at that same age as it happens) once claimed not to know any gay people. Ignoring celebrities etc, I said "What about [Bob] and [Steve]?" The reply: "what about them, are you saying they are gay?" "Well, they are married, they live in the same house, you've seen their house, you've been to parties, ..." "Oh." ....think.... "OK, then."

It can be a challenge for kids to reconcile stereotypes others have told them with people they actually know. It is also hard to put two things in the same category. We've all seen a 3 or 4 year saying "You're not [Alice], I'm the [Alice.]" Or "you're not a twin because I am a twin." So to put a real Lakota person who wears the same clothes and talks the same way into a category with "tv Indians" is hard. All you need to do is help. Don't worry about contradicting the stereotype. Her aunt does that everyday.


I don't think she is stereotyping so much as learning to classify, which is appropriate for her age. As children engage with the world, they are constantly looking for how they fit in. They look for the differences in others in order to sort out who they are in contrast.

We continue to do this throughout our lives, with increasing levels of sophistication. It is one of the huge benefits (and trials) of relationships, and marriage in particular. It is within our relationships to others that we continue to hone our understanding of ourselves.

You might try reinforcing her classification scheme while also extending it to be more inclusive. "I can see why you would think that. A lot of times when we see pictures of Native Americans they are in traditional garments, and your aunt does not wear traditional garments. In fact, remember when we watched those videos? A lot of modern Native Americans don't ever wear traditional garments. So dress is only one way to tell if someone is a Native American. What are some other clues that tell you a person might be a Native American? (Discuss genetics, tribal connection, naming traditions)... Of course, the only way to tell for sure is to ask them!"


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