Native American history research paper topics

Native American history offers hundreds of years’ worth of  interesting research paper topics. There are several suggestions we recommend you use for topics.

November is a good time to research Native American topics. (Credit: cmich.edu)

November is a good time to research Native American topics. (Credit: cmich.edu)

These include famous Native Americans, the dark period of forced placement of Native children into Indian boarding schools to eradicate their Native American culture and language; and Native American Heritage Month.

Famous Native Americans

A good topic for a term paper is to write a profile or biography of a famous Native American. History knows well the names Crazy Horse and Sacajawea, but what about novelist, poet and essayist Leslie Marmon Silko, a writer also known for codifying the oral traditions of the Laguna Pueblo tribe? Born in New Mexico in 1948 on the Laguna reservation, she grew up listening to stories passed down from her grandparents. In the field of literature, she writes short stories that incorporated Laguna mythology of nature, healing, rebirth, and identity, and has published works in anthologies of contemporary Native American writers. Drawing on matriarchal Laguna folklore, she writes about maternal qualities, sexual humor, and natural realism, and has become known as a feminist writer.

Silko writes about more than just the Laguna. Of mixed ancestry—Native, white, and Mexican—she is influenced by many cultures. In the book The Old Lady Trill, the Victory Yell: The Power of Women in Native American Literature, author Patrice E.M. Hollrah wrote: “Although each American Indian tribe has its own unique culture, Silko chooses to focus more on commonalities among Southwest tribes, including world views and origin stories. Her mixed ancestry might account for this relaxed attitude about tribal specificity in her writing and her habit of straying from a strict Laguna Pueblo context.”

Other famous modern Native Americans include:

  • Golfer Jeff Curl, who was tied for second place with Tiger Woods at the 2012 U.S. Open
  • Actress Irene Bedard
  • Retired astronaut John Bennett Herrington
  • Surgeon Dr. Lori Alvord
  • Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Kyle Lohse
  • National Book Award winning author Sherman Alexie

Dark period: Native boarding schools

Another perhaps not enjoyable but very important topic to write about is the systematic removal of 100,000 Native children from their families; the children were then placed in white, Catholic boarding schools. This practice purposely removed children from their culture, native language, religion and traditions. Begun in 1869, the practice continued until the 1970s. In “Soul Wound: The Legacy of Native American Schools,” published in Amnesty International Magazine March 26, 2007, Andrea Smith wrote about how U.S. and Canadian authorities “took Native children from their homes and tried to school, and sometimes beat, the Indian out of them.”

Physical abuse, rape, forced labor, starvation, medical experimentation and other atrocities on these children were rampant. Smith interviewee Willetta Dolphus, a Cheyenne River Lakota, said that for Halloween, she dressed up as a nun “because nuns were the scariest things I ever saw.” Suffering from post-traumatic stress, some of these children grew up to become alcoholics, sexual abusers, and transients. But there is hope. The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition was formed to heal individuals, families, and communities harmed by the decades-long Indian Boarding School Policy.

Native American Heritage Month: November

November is Native American Heritage Month, which offers many topics for research on Native American history. The National Park Service is celebrating with events at historical locations around the country, including Indian mounds in Mississippi and the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail. Native American veterans from World War II to the Iraq War are being honored and remembered. The traveling exhibit “Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations” featuring Dakota and Ojibwe stories is visiting museums in Minnesota and the Smithsonian.

For more information, check out Questia’s library on Native American History. 

What other topics in Native American history would make a good term paper?

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