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Teaching Tolerance Releases “The Forgotten Slavery of Our Ancestors,” a New Classroom Film About Indigenous Enslavement for Grades 6-12

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Teaching Tolerance pro-ject has released a new classroom film, “The Forgotten Slavery of Our Ancestors,” to help in-troduce students in grades 6-12 to the history of Indigenous enslavement across the Americas, including land that is now the United States. 

The 12-minute film is part of the Teaching Hard History project, an effort launched by Teach-ing Tolerance in 2018 to improve classroom lessons about the history of slavery in the U.S. It offers a critical contribution to the unfolding conversation about what young people should learn about American history.

The historians featured in the film explain how the enslavement of Indigenous people preceded and helped shape the system of African enslavement in New England, which came later. “This is our shared history,” historian Andrés Reséndez says in the film. He estimates that between 2.5 and 5 million Indigenous people were enslaved from the time of Columbus to 1900 in the Americas.

Along with the film, Teaching Tolerance offers guided discussion questions to help students and educators unpack the film’s content and analyze its connection to the Teaching Hard History framework. Both are available now on the Teaching Tolerance website at: Toler-ance.org/ForgottenSlavery. 

“This film will be a powerful resource in helping students develop a more inclusive perspective of slavery in what became the United States,” said Monita Bell, interim co-director and manag-ing editor of Teaching Tolerance. “And by doing so, we will help guide them to a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of their communities and this nation.”

The film was directed and edited by Howdice Brown III, and produced by Alice Qannik Glenn, Marie Acemah and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Brown is of Iñupiaq descent and oversees production at Channel Films. Glenn is an Iñupiaq who was born and raised in Utqiaġvik, Alas-ka. She hosts and produces a podcast called Coffee & Quaq to celebrate and explore contempo-rary Native life in urban Alaska. Acemah is the founder and director of See Stories, a nonprofit that builds inclusive communities through film and story.

“When Marie, Howdice and I started this project, we all sat down and had a frank conversation about why the project was important to us,” Glenn said. “What I shared then—and what I still feel now—is that this film is about truth. It’s about learning and teaching the true history of our people. Learning this true history is the only way that all people in this nation can move forward and heal from our collective past.”

“My goal with this film was both to introduce people to the fact that our Ancestors were widely enslaved and to show how multi-faceted this history is,” Brown said. “Each region has a differ-ent story with layers of complexity. I want everyone—Indigenous people, teachers, students and anyone who lives on this land—to think critically and deeply about our history, and how it im-pacts our present, as well as our future.”

“As an educator, I approached this film from the perspective of ‘How can we support teachers to engage their students with this little-known history?’” Acemah said. “Like most teachers, I am a white woman who never learned the story of Indigenous enslavement in school. I  know how teachers are stretched thin and need material around this subject that they can use in the classroom, and that also invites them to take a deeper dive into this history. It’s my hope that teachers use this film as a starting point to work with their students to understand the story of Indigenous enslavement on whatever Indigenous lands they teach on.”

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, provides K-12 educators across the U.S. with free classroom and professional development resources that are designed to provide students an education rooted in equity and social justice. To learn more, please visit www.tolerance.org