Saturday, August 2, 2014

Today's Native Americans (Kaya Lessons Series)

Native Americans still live and work among us today, but your kids may not realize it because they expect the stereotypical dress of the plains Indians from the early 1800's.  This series of lessons is an integral part of the Native American Story - Today's Native Americans.  I tried to incorporate the idea that every culture grows and changes over time throughout all our lessons.  For example, in the dolls activities, I made sure we also read about the people who make the dolls today. 
but here are some specific additional ideas.

A Simple Conversation - What is in a Name?

For starters, have your kids discuss the concept with you.  Just what the group of people who are descended from those that lived here before settlement by explorers from other continents is controversial, American Indian, Native American. . . Each tribe had its own name, its own word a word like "American" that in the language of that group of people meant, "us - those that live here and believe approximately what we believe, celebrate similar holidays and practice similar traditions."  The idea that the population of people descended from those that lived here before European "discovery" has different and contrasting views on what to be called was eye-opening to Alice.  We read the article "American Indian" or "Native American" together and broke it down and talked about its meaning paragraph by paragraph.

I then had Alice try to figure out what our family should be called if we were to be given a name that described our ethnic AND cultural background.  Any answer she came up with, I had a retort about why it didn't really work.  White would usually fit in terms of filling out a paper, but it doesn't really describe where we come from or our cultural background at all.  Biologically, she is both British and Scottish, but it isn't as though my family or my husbands really held on to any of the cultural aspects of the people of these places.  The person I know as my grandmother (though she is not so biologically) is Norwegian and is first generation immigrant, so culturally I relate more with this European heritage than I would the Scottish or British-Norman side of the family.  Alice is a sixth generation American on all other sides of the family and culturally, we can hardly even call ourselves European anymore.  Additionally, her father was raised in a large city, while I was raised in a fairly rural community.  I grew up around boats and on the coast, her Dad visited beaches, but it was certainly not a daily (or even monthly) part of his up-bringing.  You can see how I made sure it was pretty tough for Alice to "name" us by anything that would typically be used.

We then took a look at her dolls map and her American Indian "passport" in which she recorded information about six different tribes, traditional dress, housing, foods etc.  I posed this question, "Now, if you were asked to name all of these people with only one name that described who they are as a group, could you do it accurately?"  Of course the answer was no because they are made up of different cultures - some as different as Greeks and Norwegians, Turks and Japanese, or Kenyans and Ghanaians  their only commonality is that they reside on the same continent.  No similar language, different histories.  Additionally, they live in vastly different environments so traditionally have different ways of dressing, eating and interacting with the world around them . . . Then we took a look at how different the world is today for a Norwegian from what it was in the 1700's.  I asked, so would how a modern American Indian also see the world differently today from the way his great, great, great grandparents would see it?  Would Sacagawea's great, great grandchildren still dress the way she did?  I followed the conversation up by having Alice take a brief look at Fritz Scholder, Jim Thorpe, Maria Tallchief and Will Rogers.

Native Americans in the United States Population Study:

For a little geography, have students find each of the following states on an outline map and color in the ten states with the Largest Number of Native Americans.  Then, have students identify which tribes traditionally live/lived in that state.  They should also identify any reservations in the region and see if they can find patterns in the data.

Original Resource

For a great table and graphing lesson try Education World.

Read Some Books and Watch Some Movies:

This booklist of literature depicting American Indians in modern day situations and a question guide to use after reading are both part of this lesson plan from Read, Write, Think.  Since I do not have a whole classroom full of kids any longer, I did not follow the lesson plan exactly but will enjoy offering the gist of it up for Alice as part of the literature list we will be studying this year.

The PBS series: We Shall Remain includes the Incident at Wounded Knee (which took place in 1973).  Additionally, the videos include bonus features that have film footage created by modern American Indians as part of the "Reel Native" project.  The videos often feel a bit like a "day in the life of" styled documentary, but range dramatically in style, tone, and subject matter.  Preview them before showing, but many are completely usable even with elementary kids and interesting, informative, and exactly what needs to be shared.


  Include the American Indian Perspective and Experience in All History Units:

Part of the problem with presenting a unit that is a "American Indian" unit is that it continues the separation of "us" and "them."   For Alice, the continued question of the role of this group of people in our shared history will continue to come up again and again through-out our history studies.  For example, when learning about life in the colonies, we watched Colonial House which included the issue as it was faced at the time as well as modern day perspectives on it from the members of the colonial settlement reenactment group as well as modern American Natives that helped in the reenactments of encounters settlers had with natives (the whole thing took place on reservation land kindly placed on loan for the purpose of the project).   (code talkers during WWI and WWII, Indian Country Diaries, List of Congress People, and Billy Frank Jr. are just a few examples of resources out there about disparate aspects of history and even today's politics that can be touched on in this way).  It is in this way I hope to truly and completely dispel the idea of the American Indian as a thing of the past and replace it with the idea of neighbors with different backgrounds sharing in different parts of our history and our modern day experience together.

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