Lesson plans include resources and links, and answers to student questions. Many of the suggested resources* are authored by/produced by Indigenous persons, and/or feature Native voices. It’s always advisable to reach out to and bring into the classroom Indigenous educators when possible (or visit heritage sites, museums, etc. that feature Native speakers/staff). Make it a goal to feature Native voices, if not in person, then in print, in music, etc., in your lesson plans.
*Our recommendations - authors, illustrators, musicians, links, museums, businesses, etc. - do not imply any endorsements of WIEP.
Objectives: Learn from Native American storytellers and singers.
Incorporate media content featuring Native artists, authors/writers, actors, consultants, and educators into your lessons and classroom resources. Listen to “All Spirits Sing” CD/Album by Joanne Shenandoah. Read “Fishing with Grandma” by Susan Avingaq, “We are Water Protectors” by Carole Lindstrom, and/or “Berry Song” by Michaela Goade. Watch “Molly of Denali” episodes, or read “Molly of Denali” publications.
Also see Native American Children’s Literature Recommended Reading List published by the First Nations Development Institute for more book recommendations: https://www.firstnations.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Revised_Book_Insert_Web_Version_March_2018.pdf
Native American Foods Feed Us All
Grades 1 - 4
Objectives: Appreciate the many foods we eat that originated in the Americas. Learn that many Native People still harvest their traditional foods.
Discuss the plant foods we consume everyday that originated in the Americas.The includes but is not limited to: avocados, beans (common, lime, runner, etc.), chocolate, corn, eggplants, maple syrup, peanuts, pecans, peppers (bell, chili, jalapeño, etc.), potatoes (white and sweet), pumpkins/squash, strawberries (American variety instrumental in creating the commercial strawberry), tomatoes, vanilla, wild rice, and more. Learn how many Indigenous Peoples continue to feed their families or bring to market the food they cultivate, fish, and process. This can include examples like Anishinabek wild rice harvesting (1), or Abenaki or Anishinaabe maple syrup/sugar-making (2-5), or Seneca White Corn farming (6-8), or Chippewa fishing (9). More than harvesting and processing foods, learn about Indigenous chefs honoring their culture’s traditional foods in today’s culinary scene (10).
(1) See children’s book resource: “The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering” by Gordon Regguinti.
(2) See children’s book resource: “Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking” by Laura Waterman Wittstock.
(3) See chapter 17 Manabozho and the Maple Trees (an Anishinabe story-science lesson) in teacher resource book “Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children” by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac.
(4) See online story “A 1952 Visit to an Indian Sugarbush” by Matthew Thomas - http://maplesyruphistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/WiscMapleNews_2003_vol19_no3.pdf
(5) See online article “Sugaring in Wabanahkik (Land of the Dawn): An Abenaki History of Maple” by Alexander Contour - https://vt.audubon.org/news/sugaring-wabanahkik-land-dawn Note: I especially picked this article as many internet sites/sources make no mention of the probable use of clay vessels in cooking down maple sap (prior to adopting metal kettles through European trade) despite the fact that most of the maple sugaring region is in the pottery region. To be clear, the Native Peoples who resided in the maple sugaring region cooked other foods in clay vessels placed directly over fire/hot coals just before first European contact. Yes, Native pottery was used even in most the New England and Great Lakes region. And with the few historic accounts that mention or depict clay vessels in maple sugaring camps, along with pottery’s archaeologically-established pre-contact use among post-historic sugar-making groups, its likely many Indigenous People used their earthenware in some capacity to make their syrupy-sugary product.
(6) See The Iroquois White Corn Project: https://nativeamerica.travel/listings/the-iroquois-white-corn-project
(7) See online article “An Indigenous Corn Makes a Comeback” by Lisa Waterman Gray - https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/2018/06/an-indigenous-corn-makes-a-comeback/
(8) See Gakwi:yo:h Farms: https://sni.org/community-services/gakwiyoh-farms/?fbclid=IwAR3uYuzysugBE7OJinQOZWbjPuntMEUclzxRCFQy8lHuImpzWcDVSO17bsU
(9) See Red Cliff Fish Co.: http://redclifffish.com/our-community/
(10)Like Wampanoag Chef Sherry Pocknett: https://slyfoxdenrestaurant.com — See interview with chef Sherry Pocknett at: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/09/29/metro/indigenous-chef-keeps-wampanpag-traditions-alive-her-kitchen/?fbclid=IwAR1lJnUPt-AinCEWgUsw21gbH7UBIoiXhBmXf_8v1W6i10o83_kFK_bDw6Y
Wampanoags, Pilgrims, and Fishing in Common
Grades: 1 - 4
Objectives: Identify shared foods between Wampanoag and Pilgrim communities, like those that came from the ocean. Review the importance of environmental stewardship - specificallyourresponsibility to fish sustainably and protect our waters from pollution.
Discussion: The Pilgrims came to North America with plans to fish both for their own survival and to amass a commodity they could sell back to Europe (helping to fund their voyage). The Wampanoags they met had mastered fishing (and gathering shellfish) in their homelands… They used specialized equipment like fish weirs to funnel fish into small areas where they became easy to gather up, and nets to catch fish in. The fish the Wampanoag caught were for their own use and for trade (1).
The Written Record
The Pilgrims wrote about the fish and shellfish the Wampanoags caught and ate. Fish were usually boiled in preparation for meals. Fish and shellfish were also dried for later use. Herring, shad, lobster, cod, eels, bass and others were noted by name…
“Squanto went at noon to fish for eels; at night he came home with as many as he could well lift in one hand, which our people were glad of; they were fat and sweet; he trod them out with his feet, and so caught them with his hands, without any other instrument.” (Mourt’s, 46)
“…we found many of the Namascheucks…fishing upon a weir which they had made on a river which belonged to them, where they caught abundance of bass.” (Mourt’s, 53)
“After we met another man with two other women,…and their baskets were full of roasted crab-fishes, and other dried shell-fish, of which they gave us,…” (Mourt’s, 55-56)
“…Massasoit brought two fishes that he had shot, they were like bream, but three times so big, and better meat. These being boiled…” (Mourt’s, 57)
“There we found many lobsters that had been gathered together by the [Natives],… our company, went to seek the inhabitants, where they met a woman coming for her lobsters,…” (Mourt’s, 74-75)
“…boiling cod and such other things they had for us.” (Mourt’s, 76)
The Wampanoags also took advantage of beached whales, cutting out sections of their large bodies (probably targeting the fat) as was witnessed by the Pilgrims: “As we drew near to the shore we espied some ten or twelve Indians, very busy about a black thing,… a grampus which they were cutting up;…” (Mourt’s, 21-22)
The Pilgrims fished for their own needs too: “As for fishing, having but one boat left,… they were divided into several crews,… who went out with a net they had bought, to catch bass and other fish, each party taking its turn… If she stayed to long or got too little, then all went to seeking shellfish, which a low water they dug out of the sands.” (Bradford, 77). The Pilgrims also wanted to amass fish to send back to Europe (along with commodities like beaver furs) to pay off the debts of their voyage and colony (2). (The Pilgrims were funded by the Virginia Company.)
Classroom Project: Create a Net filled with Fish
The Net: The most cost effective material to make the gill net from is natural jute. You can find small rolls of jute at home improvement stores, farm stores, and sometimes craft store. Hemp works too, though it costs a bit more. I don’t suggest sisal as it is hard on the hands and doesn’t knot as tightly as jute, which is important.
Start the gill net for the students… Double your jute and stretch it between two anchor points (hooks, poles, etc.), thus creating the “headline.” Add the vertical strings that will be used to create the netting. Do this by taking lengths of string, folded in half, and attach each of them with a simple girth hitch to the headline (see photo). Space those verticals about 3 to 4” from each other.
Now with the students, start the netting… Grasp two strings, one from each neighboring pair of verticals, and at a suitable distance, bind them together with a simple overhand knot (see photo). Continue doing this with all vertical strings until all are finished in the row. Continue until the net is finished.
A Few Tips:
-Start the knotting at the center of the net, and work your way left and right.
-Finish one full row before starting the next. It will come out more even this way.
-You can start the knotting before involving your students, so you might get the hang of the spacing before guiding them.
-How big should you make your gill net? Allow about 9” x 9” space (81 sq inches) per student participating. So for example, a gill net 63” long by 27” tall will accommodate 21 students’ fish and shellfish.
Discussion: Today when we need string, we go to the store to buy it. In the 1600’s, Native peoples made their own string. Cordage is one of the most important “tools” to Indigenous families… It quite literally bound the Wampanoags’ world together. The cord they made did many jobs: it hafted their tools, wove their mats and bags, strung their jewelry and fishing nets, and lashed together the framework that supported their homes. Native families always sought to make sure they had string on hand. They made much of their cordage from the fibers of inner barks of trees (like basswood) and plants (like milkweed, nettle, and dogbane).
The Fish: Below are illustrations of six varieties of fish/shellfish that were caught by the Wampanoags and Pilgrims in the 1600’s. Print one illustration sheet per student. Have each student color their one fish or shellfish. After they are colored in, cut out the fish/shellfish. (Tip: You may want to print each page on white cardstock, or back each page onto cardstock or construction paper so the cut-outs are stronger when strung from/tacked onto the net.)
Display the net on a wall or bulletin board, tying or tacking the fish and shellfish onto the net.
In the 1600’s, many of Europe’s waters were over fished and/or polluted and unable to sustain healthy fish/shellfish. There was a lot of demand in Europe for protein to feed the ever-growing populations of England, Spain, France, etc. And so Europeans came to fish the waters of North America, where cod and other species of fish were plentiful. Portuguese, French, and English fishermen had fished off the coast of New England for some time before the Pilgrims ever landed at Patuxet (Plymouth), where they too found the fish and shell fish to be plentiful.
Overfishing and pollution has historically led to depleted fish and unhealthy shellfish resources. Today we have fishing regulations and laws in place to (hopefully) keep fish and shellfish populations healthy and able to feed humans every year, for generations to come. If we were to overfish or pollute the waters our food fish and shellfish live in, we could possibly damage these species so significantly they may never recover. We could lose them forever as a food source. Not only would that be unwise for humans, it would be disrespectful to those animals that have the right to live, and live in clean waters.
Connecting the Past to the Present
Bring up the importance of Indigenous rights to hunt, fish, and gather natural animal and plant resources on their ancestral lands. These are lifeway traditions that many tribal citizens enjoy today as their ancestors have in the past (unless the tribe has relinquished such rights by agreement with or were stripped of them by force from the US government). According to the Mashpee Wampanoags:
“Since time immemorial, the Mashpee Wampanoag have been located in and have occupied, lived and died in, and survived on sustenance and other means from the land and natural resources of what is now southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. The Mashpee Wampanoag have zealously guarded their hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering rights, which rights have not been abrogated by federal action. Further, during this at least 12,000-year documented history, the Mashpee Wampanoag have acted as responsible stewardsof the land and its natural resources.” “Consistent with federal law, these rights are exercised both on- and off reservationand have not been limited or abrogated by federal action or abandoned by the Mashpee Wampanoag. These aboriginal rights historically and now hold critical importance to the survival of the traditions, lifeways and culture of the Tribe. Accordingly, the Tribe will continue as it always has to protect and practice its aboriginal rights that are vital to the survival of the Mashpee Wampanoag community.” (3)
(1) “8 Fun Facts About the Striped Bass: The Fish That Fed Plymouth Colony.” - https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/8-fun-facts-about-the-striped-bass-the-fish-that-fed-plymouth-colony/
(2) “Who Were the Pilgrims?” - https://plimoth.org/for-students/homework-help/who-were-the-pilgrims
(3) Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Aboriginal (Fishing) Rights - https://mashpeewampanoagtribe-nsn.gov/aborignal-rights --------
Pilgrim Quotes from “Mourt’s Relations: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth” and “Of Plymouth Plantation” by William Bradford. --------
- “Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Shellfish Farm” at https://mashpeewampanoagtribe-nsn.gov/october-2019-mittark-blog/2019/10/2/the-mashpee-wampanoag-tribe-shellfish-farm-is-growing-and-looking-for-volunteers
- Children’s Book: “Clambake - A Wampanoag Tradition” by Russell M. Peters
Grades: 2 - 5
Objectives: Learn about different and diverse Indigenous thanksgiving celebrations. Foster an appreciation of Native foods by enjoying a meal of traditional dishes.
The 1612 “Thanksgiving” was in fact a harvest celebration… Have students explore celebrations of food-centered gratefulness practiced by diverse Indigenous communities across North America (or The Americas), past and present.Learn about Wampanoag clambakes (1), or the Green Corn Ceremony (past and present) of the Choctaw, Muskogee/Creek and others (2-5), or the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois’s Thanks to the Maple Ceremony (6,7). Consider reviewing the list of Haudenosaunee annual ceremonies at https://www.haudenosauneeconfederacy.com/ceremonies/ and discuss how many honor the farmed or gathered foods (or the entities responsible for the foods) that sustained The People of the Longhouse (spoiler alert, it’s most!). Cook and enjoy some of the traditional Indigenous dishes that brought/still bring families and communities together: Hominy/hulled corn, corn pudding/mush, boiled bread, succotash, wild rice, etc. Even better, purchase some of the foods from Native producers (8–13) to include in your dishes. Throw a science lesson in: see WIEP’s article “Keeping Foods for Later Use” at http://woodlandindianedu.com/dryingfoods.html and discuss with your class why Indigenous persons historically dried their foods using sun, wind, and smoke. Compliment your students’ dining experience with traditional and/or modern music by Native musicians/singers. Remember that enjoying traditional Native dishes and music is a great way to learn and appreciate Indigenous cultures respectfully… Reading Indigenous addresses (shared publicly) can be appropriate (15), however please do not duplicate/mock Native ceremony.
(1) See children’s book resource:“Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition”by Russell M. Peters.
(2) See Encyclopedia of Alabama’s Green Corn Ceremony by Eric E, Bowne: http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1553
(3) About the Choctaw Green Corn Ceremony, see School of Choctaw Language’s online page Green Corn Ceremony: https://choctawschool.com/home-side-menu/biskinik-archive-(history,-news,-iti-fabvssa)/2012-articles/green-corn-ceremony.aspx
(4) About the Seminole Green Corn Dance, see Seminole Tribe of Florida: https://www.semtribe.com/stof/culture/green-corn-dance
(5) See children’s book “We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga” by Traci Sorell (mentioning Cherokee foods, Green Corn Ceremony, etc.)
(6) “Iroquois Traditional Ceremonies” by Randy Cornelius (Oneida Cultural Heritage Department): https://oneida-nsn.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/IROQUOIS-TRADITIONAL-CEREMONIES-8.17.pdf
(7) “Native Thanksgiving rites are our gift to all people” by Doug George-Kanentiio: https://www.syracuse.com/opinion/2017/11/native_thanksgiving_rites_are_our_gift_to_all_people_commentary.html
(8) See Native Harvest for wild rice and maple products: https://nativeharvest.com
(9) See Red Lake Nation Foods for wild rice: https://redlakenationfoods.com
(10) See Passamaquoddy Maple for maple syrup and maple sugar: https://www.passamaquoddymaple.com
(11) See Seneca-Iroquois National Museum’s shop for maple syrup and White Corn (whole or meal): https://shop.senecamuseum.org/product-category/miscellaneous/
(12) See Indian Pueblo Store for blue corn meal and beans: https://www.indianpueblostore.com/collections/food-beverage/#product-wrapper
(13) See Lakota Foods for non-GMO popcorn: https://lakotafoods.com
(15) See Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address at https://americanindian.si.edu/environment/pdf/01_02_Thanksgiving_Address.pdf
(Above: A couple food products from Native-owned organizations we purchse for program and home use... Wild rice from Red Lake Nation Foods, and hulled corn and cornmeal from Iroquois White Corn Project.)
Grades: 2 - 6
Objectives: Learn basic history of corn, and understand corn as a plant. Foster an appreciation by exploring what corn does for us everyday.
Explore the history, science, and impact of corn in our everyday lives (1,2). The successful harvest of corn (successful with Native guidance) set the stage for holding the 1621 Thanksgiving observance… corn the English retained from Wampanoag sources - corn the English successfully grew with Native guidance. The type of corn the Wampanoag grew is an Eastern 8-Row/Flint variety. With its hard pericap, it was exceptional for storage when dried, and capable of making common dishes like corn cakes, corn mush, hominy, succotash, and more. The following are questions for students to answer and discuss with their teachers:
Where was the first corn created, and when, and by whom?
A. Corn was first created through selective breeding, 9-10,000 years ago by Native Peoples in what is now Mexico.
What do we know (and not know) about how corn was created?
A. We know corn was first developed from teosinte grass in Mexico, but after that the journey of corn is difficult to know for sure. It is likely early corn brought to South America became genetically different over time, then traveled back to Central America where it mingled with its old relative and created a corn more productive, more reliable, more akin to what we know corn to be today (3).
Name the parts of a corn kernel.
A. Tip cap, germ, pericarp, endosperm (4).
Take it Further: How does corn grow after a kernel is planted? Have students see for themselves by growing kernels inside (next to the sides of) clear cups, remembering to add holes to the bottom the of cups to drain excess water).
Name the parts of a corn plant.
A. Roots, prop roots, stalk, ear, silks, leaf, tassel (5).
Why does corn thrive only with the aid of humans?
A. One reason is because corn doesn’t dispense its seeds well due to tight husks. Corn is bred by humans to be harvested by humans and not easily lost to/carried by wind.
What is nixtamalization and why was/is the process beneficial?
A.The nixtamalization process is the soaking of corn in alkali solution (often made from hardwood ashes), turning corn into hominy. The process loosens/dissolves the hard pericarp of the kernel, making previously unavailable niacin (vitamin B3) more nutritionally available from the corn, as well as improving the texture of dough made from the corn-hominy. Native Americans processed much of their corn like this for hundreds of years, and we still consume corn foods that have undergone nixtamalization like hominy, grits, and tortillas. *Note: Children learning about nixtamalization should be made aware that corn processed in ash solution is caustic until the corn is properly washed clean… ingesting strong ash water is harmful (6).
Why does drying corn preserve it for consumption later?
A. It takes away enough moisture so bacteria and mold cannot grow and spoil the corn.
What does corn do for us today?
A. Makes food for humans and animals, and fuel, and even plastic.
What types of food does corn make or come in?
A. Fresh corn, sweet corn, popcorn, corn meal, corn starch, high fructose corn sugar, feed corn, etc.)
Make an impact by taking the lesson further… Fill a table with an assortment of foods packages and drink bottles (with visible labels) that contain a corn-derived ingredient, like corn flour, corn starch, corn oil, high fructose corn syrup. This can include corn muffins, pies, breakfast cereals, pancake syrup (not real maple syrup), pudding, canned fruit, stuffing, soup, breaded chicken nuggets, barbecue sauce, ketchup, soda, popcorn, cheese puff snacks, cheese nacho chips, some baby foods, even pet food. Remind children that their chicken, egg, beef, and dairy products usually rely on corn-fed animals (7).
(1) See children’s book “Corn is Maize: The Gift of the Indians” by Aliki Brandenberg. (Note: Page 26 is misleading concerning the “First Thanksgiving,” though the author does good to point out that Native Peoples have given thanks for corn long before the Pilgrims and the “First Thanksgiving.” And yes, we do consume other corn varieties besides sweet and pop, such as the corn we derive our cornmeal and cornstarch from, so don’t be afraid to correct that on page 28).
(2) See children’s book “The Life and Times of Corn” by Charles Micucci (Note: Beware of the “Pilgrims invited Squanto and some Wampanoags over for a Thanksgiving feast” myth on page 28… teachers shouldn’t be afraid to add corrections to their non-fiction books, and start a conversation with their students about what historians do and how our understanding of history evolves as we get better at understanding/knowing the evidence, or as new evidence surfaces.)
(3) See “Ancient DNA Continues to Rewrite Corn’s 9,000-Year Society-Shaping History” Smithsonian: https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/releases/ancient-dna-continues-rewrite-corns-9000-year-society-shaping-history
(4) Worksheet: “Parts of a Corn Kernel” posted by Little Learning Lane: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Parts-of-a-Corn-Kernel-Worksheet-2873466
(5) Worksheet: “Label the Parts of the Corn Plant” posted by Little Learning Lane: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Parts-of-a-Corn-Plant-Worksheet-2874023
(6) WIEP Worksheet about traditional hominy: http://woodlandindianedu.com/hominy.html (scroll to the bottom of the page)
(7) See “Corn: It’s Everything” by Iowa Corn: https://www.iowacorn.org/education/corn-its-everything
Faces of Native America
Grades 2 - 6
Objectives: Recognize Indigenous Peoples as fellow citizens through visual media and discussion.
It’s highly recommended that any Native American history-focused lesson is paired with a lesson or activity that highlights the continued Indigenous presence. You can heighten Indigenous visibility with a project that showcases Native imagery (especially if you are unable to bring in Indigenous persons to visit with/present to your students). Images are powerful, and building a collage is a simple and interactive project. Collect and cut out images of Native persons from media (printed online sources, magazines, newspapers, etc.), and arrange the images in a collage. Display your class’s collage in the classroom or hallway where others can see and learn from your activity.
Try collecting a few images of notable Indigenous persons - artists, scientists, writers, activists, politicians, scholars, traditionalists, educators, etc. - and discuss these individuals with students as you add them to the collage. For example, you may want to include images of…
-Jessie Little Doe Baird, a Mashpee-Wampanoag citizen and linguist heading efforts to revive the Wôpanâak language.
-Sherry Pocknett, a Wampanoag chef showcasing her culture’s traditional cuisine and encouraging eating for health.
-Winona LaDuke, an Ojibwe/Anishinaabe activist for environment, land, and Indigenous rights.
-John (Bullet) Standingdeer, Eastern Band Cherokee member who created a new way to learn the Cherokee language.
-Deb Haaland, enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo and currently serving as the 54th United States secretary of the Interior.
-Sean Sherman, Oglala Lakota chef and founder of The Sioux Chef, working to highlight and make more accessible native cuisine.
-Ronda Holy Bear, a Lakota figure artist whose exquisitely crafted dolls tell her People’s history.
-Aaron Yazzie, a Diné/Navajo mechanical engineer at NASA who has worked on the Mars Science Laboratory and Mars 2020 missions.
-Quannah Chasinghorse-Potts, a Hän Gwich’in and Sičangu/Oglala Lakota land activist and model.
-Zahn McClarnon, a Lakota actor known for his portrayals in popular television and streaming series.
(A simple online search of these person’s names listed above will produce images and info.)
(Above: An example... A collage my students and I put together and hung in my classroom in 2003.)
Consider pairing this project with the children’s storybook “We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know” by Traci Sorell. This is a colorful, non-fiction book… The illustrations are entertaining for young elementary students while the text focuses on some tough topics that can challenge young children… You’ll likely be introducing your students to new words, defining sovereignty, assimilation, termination, etc.
Wampanoags, Pilgrims, and Pottery in Common
Grades: 4 - 8
Objectives: Identify similar and shared technologies among Wampanoag and Pilgrim communities, like pottery. Understand Wampanoag clay cooking pots as a functional artform. Students will be introduced to diverse pottery traditions of various Indigenous communities (in activity 3).
Most history lessons highlight different technologies between Native Americans and settlers, overlooking similar or shared technologies. One of these technologies is pottery. Both Eastern Native Peoples and colonists created and utilized earthenware vessels. Two main differences between Native and English pottery is 1. English pottery was often made with the aid of a pottery wheel, while Native pottery was created while stationary, and 2. English pottery was often glazed (lead glaze), helping to cover the porous nature of the earthenware, while Native pottery was unglazed (though it may be burnished). Wampanoag cooking pots, with their round bottoms, were placed over hot coals propped up in place by three or so large stones. Wampanoag clay pots were likely used by Pilgrims who were in need of more or new cooking vessels.
Watch the video “History in a New Light” by Plimoth Patuxet Museums at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1HyCd81FJUwith your students. Take note of the appearance of the Wampanoag clay pot (8:15), including the decorative features along the collar. Sherds of Wampanoag pottery were found in/near this Pilgrim house feature (10:30), meaning this Native pot was probably utilized by the English too. This is a prime example of (and a great opportunity to introduce) the importance of “context” in archaeology. These clay sherds are obviously of Native manufacture, but they tell a larger story when found in or around an English home. Indeed both the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims utilized pottery for cooking their meals, so it would be rather easy for Pilgrims to adopt the pottery of their Wampanoag neighbors… The video mentions that Wampanoag cooking pots can be used similarly to English “pipkins” (11:00). Check out this original (reconstructed) pipkin found at Jamestown:https://historicjamestowne.org/collections/artifacts/pipkin/(Plimoth Patuxet Museums sells recreated pipkins athttps://www.plimoth.com/products/pipkin-small)
Examining New England Native Pottery
Next explore the style of Wampanoag (and their neighbors’) traditional pottery. It can be hard to find many historical examples of Wampanoag pottery online, so you may also want to search for other examples of related Northeastern Native American pottery. The 17th century Wampanoags didn’t live in a bubble - that is to say they were in contact with their neighbors, communicating ideas and artistic styles. Consider utilizing one or more photos of pottery created by their neighbors as visuals for your students too, like: --------------------
Discuss the artistic prowess of Native potters. Examine the intricate incised designs that may have conveyed the makers’ beliefs (symbolic motifs) and their tribal or family affiliation. Students should notice similarities between clay pots from different tribes/Nations of the region. The makers, who were mostly women, created functional art - that is they created aesthetically pleasing yet utilitarian pots. Watch WIEP’s 3 minute video “Cooking Traditional Foods in Clay Pots” with your students at https://youtu.be/5_TvmJHmL8c … From the video students should understand how these pots were used,… how these clay vessels were placed directly on/over hot coals to cook the foods inside them.
The Process of Making a Clay Pot
Traditionally, pottery making started with gathering desirable clay from a clay deposit, drying the clay, sifting the clay to rid it of impurities, then rehydrating the clay and tempering it. Tempering refers to the mixing of clay with another element, like sand, crushed rock, or crushed shell (like the Wampanoag pot in the Plimoth Patuxet video). Often round/pointed-bottom pots were created by molding the clay in a textile or loose fiber-lined hole (in the ground) or in the bottom of a basket… the body then built up with coils (or sometimes slabs). The coils and seams were smoothed over with hands and tools, and the shape of the pot manipulated until it matched uniformly on all sides. Native potters initially dried their creations, sometimes then burnishing the pot smooth, before they were fired (in either an open fire or in pit-fire) into a finished ceramic capable of holding and cooking foods.
Clay Gives Way to Metal
As European goods flooded into Native villages, including Wampanoag communities, metal kettles/pots started to replace Native manufactured pottery. One advantage of metal kettles was their durability. While clay vessels were more fragile than metal pots, the “staying power” of pottery is amazing, as can be confirmed by archaeologists and collections full of many, many thousands of pottery sherds. A major advantage of metal cookware was the increasingly easier access to metal kettles, making pots easier to replace. This most certainly convinced Native cooks to rely on European cookware more and more. While we can confirm Native folks enjoyed metal kettles for their durability, your students should understand metal pots took out the competition (Native-made pottery) because they were becoming more readily available.
Some other Native American pottery artists include Richard Zane Smith (Wyandot), Chase Kahwinhut Earles (Caddo), Lisa Rutherford (Cherokee), Tammy Garcia (Santa Clara Pueblo), Natasha Smoke Santiago (Mohawk), and Edmon L. Perkins (Choctaw), among dozens more… These pottery artists (among others) and their work can be easily looked up online. It’s important that students studying Native American history connect the history lesson to the present, understanding Indigenous Peoples continue on and are a part of our society today.
The following are student activities to chose from…
You’ll need: Air-drying clay. Rolling pin. Wax paper. Sculpting tools (pencils, etc.) to smooth and incise clay surfaces. String to hang and display.
Using air-drying clay, have students create a decorated silhouette of a traditional-style Native New England clay cooking pot. Roll the clay flat and using WIEP’s pottery silhouettes as stencils (below), have students slice out (from the clay) the style of cooking pot they’d like to decorate. Incise the clay to decorate. To display, drill a hole at the top of each pot silhouette before it drys.
Activity 2: Make small clay pots (grades 5 - 7)
You’ll need: Air-dry clay. Sand. Molds, to shape the round bottom of the pots. Sculpting tools (pencils, plastic spoons, etc.) to smooth and incise the vessels’ surfaces.
Using air-dying clay, have students create a traditional-style Native New England clay cooking pot. Instruct students to mix a little sand into their clay while the class discusses temper - the reason for it and the different tempers that were used in Native pottery. Remember the bottoms of these vessels are round (those round or pointed bottoms help to distribute the heat more effectively), so have a mold base ready for each student’s use, like silicon half-sphere candy mold trays (large size, cut apart so each student has one), or burlap or wax paper-lined disposable bowls. Mold the bottom with a small ball of clay, and form the rest of the pot with coils, pressed and smoothed. Pot rims can be incised with lineal pattern-work. Carefully remove finished pots from bottom molds before drying.
Students, individually or in groups, will research the traditional-historical pottery of a culture in another region of North America, and compare that pottery with Wampanoag (and New England regional) pottery. There are many pottery traditions to pick from as ceramic use was prevalent across the continent,… north to Maine and Ottawa, Canada, encompassing the Great Lakes, south to Florida in the East and Mexico in the West, engulfing all the Woodlands east of the Mississippi, and the Mississippi River region itself, and most the Southwest, much of the Basin, and part of the Plains region too. Some pottery traditions to pick from can include:
- Oneota pottery of the Western Great Lakes
- Middle Mississippian pottery of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, etc.
- Fort Ancient pottery of Ohio and surrounding areas
- Plaquemine culture pottery of Louisiana and Mississippi
- South Appalachian Mississippian pottery of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, etc.
- Ancestral Puebloans/Anasazi pottery of the Four Corners Region
- Fremont Culture pottery of Utah and the surrounding areas
Or pick a pre/early-historic ceramic from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, etc. to compare to pots of the New England area.
Encourage students to use credible online sources like museums, universities, academic papers and articles, historical societies, and state/national park sites. Students should answer some basic questions when comparing pottery of another region: Is the clay tempered, and with what? (Some clays are naturally tempered, such as clays from areas of mica deposits) How do the shape of the pots/vessels differ from New England cooking pots? Are the vessels painted? Incised? Fabric-impressed? Burnished? Etc. Students should supply images of the pottery/pottery sherds as part of their short report. Have students render a drawing of the vessel(s) they’re studying for extra credit. Students should present their research to the class.
Extra Resources:See Hodinohso:ni Art Lesson #2“Clay Pots” (Iroquois pottery) https://snpolytechnic.com/sites/default/files/docs/resource/2_haudenosaunee_arts_clay_pots.pdfSee “This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology: Pots from the Past” http://twipa.blogspot.com/2020/11/pots-from-past.html See Florida Museum’s Ceramic Technology Lab Gallery: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/ceramiclab/galleries/See Native Ceramics of Historic Jamestowne: https://historicjamestowne.org/collections/artifacts/material/native/
Headlines from Indian Country
Grades: 5 - 12
Objectives: Add visibility of Indigenous communities today in the classroom with the aid of social media.
This is an add-on exercise to enrich your classroom lessons and discussions, reminding students (particularly students of predominantly non-native areas) that Native People are still here, still a big part of our society.
Create a social media account and follow/like Indigenous organizations, businesses, news outlets, tribal governments and more, to see their current postings. Share some age-appropriate posts with your students as daily headlines - maybe every day of November (Native American Heritage Month), or longer if you can. Headlines can include anything from sports tryouts to food drives, to artists awards, to legislation… from community posts that all students can relate to, to headlines that speak to the unique situations Native Peoples face.
Searching and compiling a list of Native American social media pages can be time consuming, so I’ve put together a list (with links) of several pages to start with, select from, or to use in its entirety. The more you include, the more posts you’ll have daily to pick from to share with your students. Using Facebook you can add any or all of the following:
Be aware that some pages (like tribal police departments and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA) may post mature content. If appropriate older students (high schoolers) could learn, for example, MMIWG advocacy and statistics (like “the murder rate is 10 times higher than the national average for women living on reservations, and the third leading cause of death for Native women (1).”
And please note: While these pages may be public, page owners and posters are not looking for just anybody’s comments or opinions. Many of these pages were created to serve their tribal members, their students, their communities,… not for the purpose of interacting with a wider audience. Let’s add visibility of Indigenous Peoples in our classrooms by listening to and learning from Native content. We can do this respectfully without offering unsolicited opinions from non-members on community-focused forums.
(1) US Department of the Interior - Indian Affairs, “Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Crisis: Violence against Native Americans and Alaska Natives far exceed national averages.” https://www.bia.gov/service/mmu/missing-and-murdered-indigenous-people-crisis
Grades: 9 - 12
Objectives: Define “decolonization,” understanding it by actions, goals, and community movement. Learn about tribal sovereignty and the unique due citizenship status of Native persons (of federally-recognized tribes). Students will acknowledge Native persistence in the face of adversity.
This discussion is designed to follow a history lesson addressing colonialism, particularly the effects of European/Anglo-colonization on Indigenous Peoples. Consider obtaining a copy of the book “Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Too Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition)” by Anton Treuer - a great classroom resource for students, and teachers (1).
Q. Firmly understanding what colonization is, ask students to define “decolonization.” Decolonizing movements in the United States includes decolonizing lands, lifestyles, and minds… What does that mean and how is it practiced?----------------------
A. Merriam-Webster defines decolonization as “to free (a people or area) from colonial status” and “to free from the dominating influence of a colonizing power…” - to walk back the influence (or forced compliance) that has attacked Indigenous-originated lifestyles and systems of thinking. The goal of decolonization is “achieving Indigenous sovereignty - the right and ability of Indigenous people to practice self-determination over their land, cultures, and political and economic systems.” However this “official” dictionary definition makes decolonization appear simple, but decolonization is anything but. Decolonization means different things to different people… sometimes looking like one thing or feeling like another. What follows are just some examples in which individuals understand, define, or envision decolonization:
- Decolonizing spaces or environments can include adding visibility of Indigenous citizens through public artworks. Or signage using Native terms for place names, calling attention to Indigenous-Land connections. Or meaningful “Land Back” offerings (land restitutions) to tribes/Nations or Native organizations. Or creating learning environments more welcoming of Indigenous persons and perspectives. ---------------
- Decolonizing lifestyles can include foods/diets, medicine/medical culture (like de-medicalizing non-life-threatening birthing), spirituality/belief systems, language, and more. For example, revitalizing and promoting fluent speaking of Native languages is often thought of as an act of decolonization. Wôpanâôt8âôk, the Wampanoag language, is undergoing a revitalization. Introduce students to the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project:https://www.wlrp.org ----------------
- Decolonizing education can be attending cultural camps, Native-run schools and immersion schools, where Indigenous children are encouraged to speak their Native language and learn cultural traditions and the skillsets of their ancestors. -------------
(There are more answers to the questions above, and students can find various perspectives on decolonization online. I’ve only supplied a few basic examples here.(2)
Q. What is tribal sovereignty?
A. Tribal sovereignty is the ability and right of Native Nations (tribes) to govern themselves, and govern their lands and resources (should they still have land/reservations). Tribal communities often have their own government, and many run their own schools, provide their own police, rescue and medical services, incorporate their own businesses, and adhere to their own tax codes. Though federally recognized tribes with reservations may operate as autonomous communities, tribal Nations do not provide their own military services. However many Native Americans volunteer and serve in the United States armed forces, and Native-U.S. dual citizens and Indian reservations are protected/defended by U.S. military services.
Dual Citizenship: Native persons who are enrolled tribal members of federally recognized Nations/tribes within the borders of the U.S. have dual citizenship. Honoring tribal sovereignty includes respecting tribal citizenship by accepting IDs issued by a tribal governments the same as IDs issued by the U.S. government. Have students look up “Iroquois passport” and “federally recognized tribal-issued photo ID.” Ask students why does validating these forms of ID (when traveling, voting, etc.) respect tribal sovereignty? What has changed in international security that is now undermining Native American governments’ abilities to issue their members IDs that will be honored (meet standards of acceptance) by other Nations?
Sovereignty vs. Assimilation: Historically Native Peoples sought to keep their tribal sovereignty as the U.S. undermined their sovereignty with efforts to assimilate Native Americans.Tribal sovereignty shaped Indigenous People’s experience as a minority group in vastly different ways to other minorities’ experiences in America… While other minority communities were fighting for equality as U.S. citizens, many Native people were fighting for their freedoms as Native citizens. While other minorities wanted to gain access to education, the U.S. forced Native American children to attend residential “schools” (an assimilation tactic). Immigrants asked for U.S. citizenship, while many Native Americans didn’t want citizenship yet all were made U.S. citizens (the Indian Citizen Act of 1924). While most Native Peoples today have pride in being both a citizen of their Nation and a U.S. citizen, many also understand (and live) the complicated relationship the U.S. and each one their Nations/tribes have together, respectively.
Q. What does Orange Shirt Day bring attention to?
A. Orange Shirt Day is September 30th, coinciding with the Canadian National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Wearing orange (in both Canada and the United States) brings attention to the plight of Native children who were forced to attend industrial residential Indian schools,… institutions whose aim was to assimilate Indian children (3). While at these boarding schools, Indigenous children were not allowed to speak their native language, often had their long hair cut off, usually made to learn trades and work many hours a week, were emotionally abused, many times physically abused, and sometimes sexually abused. Some children died while in the “care” of residential schools - a horrific truth currently unfolding as archaeologists locate more unknown, unmarked graves of Native children on the grounds of Indian residential schools in both Canada and the US. In some places, the remains of those children have only started to be returned to the communities the children came from (have students look up NAGPRA). Those Indigenous people who attended industrial residential schools and left/graduated are often referred to as “survivors” by the Native community.
Many of these schools existed in several states (and in Canada)… Carlisle in Pennsylvania probably being the most infamous. Consider introducing your students to the history of the Thomas Indian School in New York. Read “Close to Home: The Thomas Indian School - History of a Native American Residential Boarding School” by Joe Stahlman at https://jfepublications.org/article/close-to-home/ And make use of the accompanying photo essay “The Thomas Indian School: Narrative Sovereignty and Healing” (Joe Stahlman, Hayden Haynes, Jocelyn Jones): https://jfepublications.org/article/the-thomas-indian-school/ featuring extra background from the authors, and photos from the exhibit “Hënödeyësdahgwa’geh wa’öki’jö’ ögwahsä’s. Onëh I:’ jögwadögwea:je’. We Were at the School. We Were There. We Remember.” at the Onöhsagwë:De’ Cultural Center.
Q. Why is there a Native American Heritage Month?
A. The first “National American Indian Heritage Month” was declared by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, and has been declared annually since 1994. “During National Native American Heritage Month, we celebrate Indigenous peoples past and present and rededicate ourselves to honoring Tribal sovereignty, promoting Tribal self-determination, and upholding the United States’ solemn trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations (4).”
One reason we observe Native American Heritage Month is to make space for the histories and experiences of our fellow citizens of Indigenous heritage to be seen, heard, and appreciated. Our textbooks have traditionally focused on White-American histories, only including Native Americans when speaking of friends to Pilgrims or obstacles to American progress - all from White-colonial perspectives - then dropping Native Americans thereafter as if they magically disappeared. Not only is Indigenous history bigger than “good Indian, bad Indian” colonial narratives (which also fail to mention the many wrongdoings of colonial players against Indigenous populations like enslavement, land stealing, massacres, residential Indian schools, etc.), but Native history continues past “the U.S. made Indian reservations” paragraph to recent history, to present day and into the future.
Q. What does “Rock Your Mocs” call attention to?
A. “Rock Your Mocs” day is November 15th, and the dates of “Rock Your Mocs” week surround the November 15th date (dates change each year) (5). “Rock Your Mocs” brings attention to the persistence of Native People in our society by bringing visibility to Indigenous citizens through the simple act of wearing traditional shoes to work, to school, to run errands, etc. Wearing moccasins shows unity between all Native Americans while still showing diversity between their different Nations (inherently as the shoes vary culture to culture). Some might even call this an act of “decolonization” by (re)introducing what’s indigenous (regalia) to post-colonial spaces.
(1) I do recommend this book for the classroom however I must point out (since this page is written to complement our article about the 1621 Pilgrim-Wampanoag harvest celebration) that the author’s write up on “What is the real story of Thanksgiving?” is misleading. There was a 1621 Pilgrim harvest celebration to which 90 or so Wampanoag men were in attendance. See WIEP article “The “First Thanksgiving”: Understanding the Semi-Accurate History of a Half-Truth Holiday” - http://www.woodlandindianedu.com/thefirstthanksgiving.html
(2) See “What is decolonization, why it is important, and how can we practice it?” By E. Belfi & N. Sandiford (Decolonization Series Part 1: Exploring Decolonization): https://globalsolidaritylocalaction.sites.haverford.edu/what-is-decolonization-why-is-it-important/
(3) See book “Survival and Loss: Native American Boarding Schools” from Developmental Studies Center.
(4) See https://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/about/ and “A Proclamation on National Native American Heritage Month, 2022” at https://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/about/
(5) See official web page: https://rockyourmocs.org
“We Are Still Here”
Grades: 9 - 12
Objectives: Learn what life is like for Native American youth today through Native voices/perspectives. Explore Indigenous experiences through recorded interviews and/or writings.
Watch documentaries and read essays/articles that highlight Native American youth of/near your students’ ages… include competing experience of young adults who grew up on reservations/community land/villages and those who grew up in urban or largely non-native communities. Watch the short (8 min) film “We Are Still Here - A Documentary on Today’s Young Native Americans” on YouTube ( https://youtu.be/HnPKzZzSClM ) (1,2). Have a discussion with your students afterwards. Some video takeaways can include…
1. Young Native persons today share some common experiences, but not all (even from the same state, even from the same community).
2. While many Indigenous people live in poverty, some do not. Many who do live in poverty can be at a disadvantage to promoting their culture and history as everyday needs must take first priority (rent, food, clothing, medicine, basic education, etc.).
3. Alcoholism is addressed in context with social/historical trauma (3) (for which poverty and feelings of hopelessness/loss of opportunity factor in).
4. While many Indigenous people live as mainstream Americans do - going to grocery markets, school, work and such - some practice traditional subsistence hunting or farming.
5. Young Native people today are often exposed to the same little bit of Native American history in school as non-Natives, however some communities have now implemented cultural learning programs like community schools and culture camps, promoting Native language, traditional skillsets, love for their Native culture, community, and self, etc.
6. While we do see a lot of Native folks dancing in powwow/gathering settings on the video, it is made clear (by the interviewees) not all Indigenous people are powwow dancers (4).
(1) At video time 2:27: “Didn’t rice,” and later “don’t rice,” refers to harvesting wild rice.
(2) At video time 5:35: The young man states the Pilgrims/English/Anglos “had a thanksgiving celebration every time they slaughtered an entire village.” See WIEP article “The “First Thanksgiving:” Understanding the Semi-Accurate History of a Half-Truth Holiday” for clarification between the 1621 Pilgrim harvest celebration (associated with the national holiday), and days of thanksgiving often declared in association with war/battle, including the 1637 Pequot massacre and the battle of Gettysburg) - http://www.woodlandindianedu.com/thefirstthanksgiving.html
(3) See WIEP’s online post-article “Native Americans Not Genetically More Susceptible to Alcoholism” - http://www.woodlandindianedu.com/notgeneticallysusceptible.html
(4) Take it Further: Have students read “Not All Indians Dance” - an essay discussing stereotypes by Joseph Marshall III published in the book “On Behalf of the Wolf and the First Peoples” (pgs. 27-41).
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