Dinner Table Talks create the opportunity for families to have important conversations centered around books. These discussions will build our capacity for talking about race and define our roles in fighting against both every day and systemic racism.
In author S.D. Nelson's Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story, the titular character shares stories about her life growing up in the Native American tribe, the Hidatsa, during the mid-1800s to early 1900s. Filled with black-and-white drawings and photos, this biographical story provides insight into not only her life but also the lives of the other members of the Hidatsa tribe. From the tribe's pact with the nearby Mandan tribe (which joined forces, to protect themselves and each other from the Lakota tribe) and trying to survive the onset of European-American settlers to more joyous occasions that involved dancing and corn harvests, readers are able to gain more knowledge about what it might have been like to be a member of this tribe during this time in America. This book is an honest portrayal of Indigenous life and the life that Buffalo Bird Girl likely lived, never shying away from the vibrant, youthful experiences she experienced or the move that she and others in her tribe and nearby tribes were forced to make from their homes to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. As Nelson shares in his notes from the author, "Like all other human beings, [the Hidatsa, the Mandan, and the Arikara] face the many challenges of a rapidly changing world. Today they govern themselves with self-determination. Their words and actions give shape to their lives and hope for theirchildren."
"I am an old woman now. The buffaloes and black-tail deer are gone, and our Indian ways are almost gone. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I ever lived them."
— Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story by S.D. Nelson
Guidelines for Discussion
Be open and honest--even when it's hard.
Understand your own prejudice and bias.
Embrace other cultures or races by reading books, watching movies and going to community events.
Celebrate yourself and your own cultural identity.
Don't shy away from conversations about race. Talking is how you build capacity for anti-racism.
Acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them.
It's okay not to know the answer. Look for it together.
These can be difficult conversations to have with children. If adults need extra support for these discussions, you can learn more at Embrace Race.
Older Children (3rd Grade & Older)
What words would you use to describe the story of Buffalo Bird Girl's childhood?
Buffalo Bird Girl was born nearly 200 years ago. Why do you think it is important that she was able to tell her story in her own words?
What was your favorite part of the book?
Read this encyclopedia entry about the Hidatsa people. How does this information match the story of Buffalo Bird Girl? How does this information differ?
Brittanica Kids describes the forced removal of the Hidatsa, Mandan and Arikara tribes this way: "In 1870 the U.S. government set up the Fort Berthold Reservation in what is now North Dakota. The Hidatsa, the Mandan, and the Arikara lived there together." Buffalo Bird Girl describes it this way: "Like-a-Fishhook Village is gone now. There are no buffalo left to hunt, and the fur trade ended long ago. The government of the United States said my people had to move from our village. They promised to provide rations of food and clothing, if we lived on a reservation." Why do you think you should read information from a variety of trusted sources?
If you could try any of the activities that Buffalo Bird Girl described, which activity would you pick and why?
After reading about her life, did you find anything surprising or unexpected in Buffalo Bird Girl's story? Does this book deepen your knowledge of native and indigenous people? Why or why not?
Why do you think the United States government would forcibly move tribes to reservations and insist that native people learn to live "the white man's way?" Do you think those actions were fair? Why or why not?
In Buffalo Bird Girl's world, work is often divided by gender. Would you want your gender to determine what you were allowed to do or work you were assigned? Why or why not?
"The Hidatsa people are still here, as are the Mandan and the Arikara. They remain one sovereign nation. Each member of the nation has the same freedoms as every citizen of the United States." We must learn about history while recognizing that these tribes still exist today. Did you know that some native and indigenous tribes actually have their own government, laws, schools and hospitals? Why do you think we should protect their sovereignty?