Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Contemporary Lakota Culture Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan on Contemporary Native Americans: Lakota
Age Range: 4-7 years old
Aleah Pimentel & Matt Jones
April 4, 2012
   In this lesson plan, it is hoped that the children of the class are able to take away from it the idea of various values of contemporary Native Americans that have been passed down through the generations. It is also hoped that the children will be able to see how these values can be applied to their own lives so they can possibly gain some insight into the teachings that Native American children might go through as they age. Although the specific values taught within different tribes vary, the particular source I used for this lesson is a book, The Lakota Way by Joseph M. Marshall III. The purpose of this lesson is to make a connection between the lives of the children in the class and those of children of contemporary Native American families. In providing a link of morals and values that are fairly universally taught to children in some aspect, the children can see that while Native American children might have a different culture, they are still very much children just like they are.

   To demonstrate the value of compassion, the Story of the Eagle would be read. This story is of a woman, who after a great flood, was the only human left, and an eagle who befriended her and became human so that the human race could continue (can be edited to make more child-friendly). After the story, a quick discussion where the children might give examples of how compassion as a core value is applicable to their lives. This is to give the children an idea of how these values are still applicable to modern times and therefore, why contemporary Native American children would be taught such values.

              After the discussion, the dreamcatcher craft will be used both as an educational tool, and as a little something fun for the kids to be active and creative in!

Compassion story and discussion-20 minutes

Optional Materials: Feltboard or pictures of a woman, an eagle, a large rock or hill, rainclouds, and sunlight to provide a visual element to the story.

Story (edited for younger children):
              Some people like to tell creation stories. The story I’m about you is a recreation story. And it wouldn’t have had a good, happy ending if there were no compassion in the world.

              Long ago the people were living in a land of many lakes. The people were strong and life was peaceful and good.

              Then came a particularly hard winter; the snow was deep. It came early and stayed long. All the snow finally melted in May. Summer brought much rain and the lakes and rivers began to fill. The rains kept falling.

              The people knew that the wet season always passed. They patched their round bark-and-thatch lodges to keep the water from leaking in and waited for the rains to let up. But they didn’t. Soon the rivers and lakes overflowed and the rains kept falling. As the waters grew higher, the people found higher ground to make new lodges, but the water kept rising. Soon there was no rest trying to run away from the water.

              Food soon ran out and the very sick and weak were swept away in the water. Within days all but one of the people were gone. A young woman who was left clinging to rocks of a high hill. She was now all alone, hungry, cold and dizzy. Because she felt so weak she fell asleep and slept for several days.

              When she awoke, the rain clouds were gone and for the first time in days, the sun was shining. The great flood was over, but it left her all alone in its passing. She was the last two-legged left. In her loneliness, she began to cry. The sound of her cries carried across the land so all the four-legged and wingeds paused and listened.

              The young woman did not leave the hill for she was so sad. For many days she sat on the hill overcome with sadness. One afternoon she awoke to find a great eagle perched on a nearby rock. She was frightened because she knew the eagle to be a great hunter, but the young woman was drawn to the eagle’s soft brown eyes. He looked at her with curiosity. She waited, suddenly sensing there was no danger. Then the eagle spoke.

              “I have seen that you are alone,” he said.

              “Yes,” she replied. “The flood took my family; it took all of my people, the two-leggeds. I am alone.”

              “That is not true,” he replied. “Look around. Your relatives, the four-legged; the wingeds like me; and the crawlers: They are here. If you let yourself to die, there will be no more two-leggeds like you. There will be nothing but emptiness where your kind once lived. That cannot be, you must live.” He stretched his wings and took flight telling the young woman he would be back soon with food for her. He soon came back with a large fish and wood for her to build a fire to cook with.

              Each day the eagle brought the young woman food and firewood. Like the fire, his presence chased away the darkness and loneliness from the young woman’s life. The young woman was glad to see him each time he returned. Even so, the eagle could see that her sadness was still great. She refused to leave the rocks she now lived on, even when he would tell her of a valley nearby that would be good for her to build a lodge. He knew she would always be sad because she was the last of her kind.

              One day, while waiting for the eagle, the woman climbed to the very top of her hill. Even though she saw the beauty of the land all around her, she could not chase away the loneliness in her heart. Then, one of the tiny black spots in the sky grew large and larger, and soon she heard the rush of wind under the great wings of the eagle. She marveled at the power of his mighty wings. But he also had different power, the power to chase away her loneliness.

              “I wish I was an eagle like you,” she told him. “I would fly with you. I could see what you see from so high in the sky. And I would not be the only one of my kind. I envy what you are.”

              “I am your friend,” he replied, “and always will be.”

Their friendship grew stronger. He brought her food, and she scratched pictures of him on the rocks. Every day she ventured farther and farther from her camp and even began talking of building a lodge somewhere. The eagle saw the young woman was smiling more often. Still, he could see the sadness in her eyes.

              On one fine day in late summer the eagle soared on the winds high above the young woman’s hill to talk with the great creator. He knew that winter was coming soon and the woman would need to prepare or she would perish. This troubled him greatly.

              “Grandfather,” he called out, “You who are most powerful, why have you not seen to her well-being?” he asked.

              “I have done so,” came back a voice. “I have sent you to her.”

              “I have helped her because she is a fine being,” replied the eagle. “I can only bring her food. I cannot give her what she truly needs. She needs others of her kind.”

              “There is another way,” the voice replied.

              “Tell me, Grandfather,” the eagle said. “I will help her in any way I can.”

              “You are a fine being too; you have a kind heart,” said the voice. “It would be difficult to lose your place in the Great Circle of Life, for that is what must happen if you truly want to help the two-legged.”

              “I do not understand, Grandfather.”

              “To help her you must become a two-legged. If you do, you will never ride the winds again. The choice is yours. You can become a two-legged and together you can give the Earth more of her kind. Or you can remain as you are.”

              The eagle paused to think. This was a very big decision. Finally he said, “Yes, I know what I must do.”

              “The choice you make is a road you can never turn back from,” said the voice.

              “There are still many of my kind,” said the eagle. “She is the only one, and she cannot be the last of her kind. The Earth and everything would feel the loss. I can see no other way.”

              “So be it,” said the voice. “I tell you this. Two-leggeds will find a place in their hearts for your kind. They will hold you high.”

              Below, on the hill, the woman would look up the the sky waiting for her friend’s return.

              “Do you wait for someone?” came a voice from behind her.

              It was familiar voice, one she knew well. He had returned! The young woman turned with a smile, which became a frown. She could see no one.

              “I am here,” said the familiar voice. The young woman nearly fainted as a tall, handsome young man stepped from behind a rock.

              “How can this be?” she cried. “I thought all of us were taken by the flood except me!”

              “That is true,” said the young man.

              “Then where do you come from?”

              “From the sky,” the young man replied.

              The young woman was very confused by this. The man’s voice was so familiar, and as she looked into the young man’s eyes, she saw there was something familiar in those deep, brown eyes

              “It cannot be!” she cried. “It is you!” The young woman ran and fell into his embrace, feeling something she thought could never be.

              Before that winter they built a lodge at the edge of a forest and in time became to be mother and father to many children, and to a new race of two-leggeds. She told her children who their father was and what he had been. They would watch the sky as the great eagles flew. They were, of course, watching their relatives. They taught their children who taught their children, and so on, to do the same.

              Perhaps now you understand why eagle feathers are sacred to the Lakota. To this day, Lakota revere the great eagles, and each time we see one in the sky we pause to speak our thanks to those relatives for their compassion.

Dreamcatcher craft-20-30minutes

While the children are making their dreamcatchers, explain the belief in the dreamcatchers for Ojibwe people. How it is believed that there are both good and bad forces that affect people, the dreamcatcher helps to keep the bad forces from steering people in the wrong direction. This is why “many Indian people have a dreamcatcher above their bed to sift their dreams and visions. The good will pass through the center hole to the sleeping person. The evil in their dreams are captured in the web, where they perish in the light of the morning sun. It is said the dreamcatcher holds the destiny of the future.” ( “Dream catchers are arts and crafts of the Native American people. The original web dream catcher of the Ojibwa was intended to teach natural wisdom. Nature is a profound teacher. Dream catchers of twigs, sinew, and feathers have been woven since ancient times by Ojibwa people.” This practice of woven dreamcatchers eventually spread to other Native American cultures, such as the Lakota, where the story and tradition continued. “The dreamcatchers were woven by the grandfathers and grandmothers for newborn children and hung above the cradleboard to give the infants peaceful, beautiful dreams. The belief is that the night air is filled with dreams. Good dreams are clear and know the way to the dreamer, descending through the feathers. The slightest movement of the feathers indicated the passage of yet another beautiful dream. Bad dreams, however, are confused and confusing. They cannot find their way through the web and are trapped there until the sun rises and evaporates them like the morning dew.”(
Here is a link to a picture and the original instructions of this craft:

·         hole puncher (For teacher to punch holes in plates before hand)
·         paper plate with the middle cut out and holes already punched into it (perhaps the yarn for the beads and feathers already threaded through three specific holes before the kids start their craft)
Optional for special needs: have some yarn pre-beaded and feathered so the child won’t have problems threading beads or tying on feathers and they can just focus on threading yarn through dreamcatcher itself.
·         yarn, any color
·         craft beads
·         craft feathers
·         color markers
·         scissors (one pair per student would be ideal as it would speed up the craft process, but one pair per 3-4 students should suffice.)

1. Begin by cutting in the center of the paper plate. Leave a rim of 2 inches all around the paper plate.
2. Take your hole punch and punch hole in the rim of the paper plate, about ½ inch apart each.
3. Measure out your yarn 5-6 ft long. Tie one end of the yarn to any one of the holes on the rim of the paper plate.
4. Weave the yarn up, over, and all around the paper plate from one hole to the next one. You can make your pattern any way you like. Make sure to loop through each of the punched holes.
5. You can add the craft beads to the middle of the dream catcher with the yarn as you go through the holes. Simply slip them onto the yarn and continue with the next hole. They will appear to be in the middle of the dream catcher.              
6. Once all of the holes are threaded with the yarn, tie a knot at the end of the yarn with the plate and the last hole.
7. Now, take your hole punch and punch 3 more holes in the paper plate at the bottom of the plate.
8. Cut 3 more pieces of yarn, about 5 inches long each.
9. Take each piece of yarn and tie them to the 3 punched holes at the bottom of the dream catcher.
10. Choose some beads to thread onto each of the 3 yarn pieces and then tie one feather to the end each of the hanging yarn pieces.
11. Take your markers and decorate the edges of the paper plate.
12. Lastly, make a piece of yarn the length you need to hang it on the wall. Punch one more hole to the top of your paper plate dream catcher and tie the yarn to it.
13. Hang your new Dream Catcher in a place where sweet dreams are welcome.

Sign Language Activity (10-20 min depending on how many signs)

           Many varieties of American Indian Sign Language have been used all across the continent. This sign language was used as a “Lingua Franca” between tribal nations speaking at least 40 different languages.  It was used for diplomatic relations as well as the exchange of goods. Within tribal communities, it was used as an alternative to verbal language and as a primary language to the deaf. Plains Indian Sign Language speakers are uncounted, but without proper recording it will soon drift into disuse.
The main factor in selecting which specific gestures to teach would be their simplicity. Easy signs like that for fish or horse or bow and arrow would be my first choices. After teaching a few of these signs, a discussion of their uses would follow. The main things I would touch on would be the signs uses between native tribes that did not speak the same language and the uses for non-verbal communication during hunting or raiding. I would also be sure to mention that the Plains Indian Sign Language was a major influence on the current American Sign Language. Nothing about this section would be terribly specific to the Lakota, beyond the fact that they are one of the tribes that uses it. A site named "Hand Talk" ( has an extensive index of signs that includes illustrations as well as text descriptions of each sign.  No real materials are required, but foreknowledge of the signs would be a requisite. This activity could also be turned into a Simon Says game:
1.      The instructor would teach a series of signs (4-8) such as fish, horse, buffalo, bow and arrow, noon, etc.
2.      The teacher would call out signs saying “simon says (sign)” the ones who make the improper sign or make a sign that the teacher calls out without saying the “simon says” prefix is out.
3.      If you are willing to supply candy, you could reward the winners and play the game a few times
4.      If you have the time, it would be helpful to have a quick discussion with the kids afterwards. It might also be more engaging if the teacher opens the discussion by asking about what the possible uses of a sign language would be, but it is not likely that you will get all the answers you are looking for from the students alone.
Aside – The index page of Hand Talk, which I have linked above, has a very simple navigation system. It only takes two clicks, one to click the link and another to click which sign you want to see. All the signs are displayed on the same page so if I were to link specific signs I would just be copying and pasting the same link.
Accommodations for handicapped students would only need to be made for those who do not have control over the motor functions of their hands. The two things you could do would be to do the actions for them with their hands/arms, or if this is not possible, you could just pair them up with other kids to watch how they do it.

Reading Activity (20 min)

           The next activity is reading The Star People: A Lakota Story by S. D. Nelson. Nelson is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Nelson earned his bachelor’s degree in art at Minnesota State University at Moorhead. His art work, featured in his book, is a contemporary interpretation of traditional Lakota artwork. The Star People is about Sister Girl and her brother Young Wolf who stray too far from their village and soon find themselves caught in a great prairie fire. After seeking refuge in a stream, they realize that they are hopelessly lost. With the coming of night, their deceased grandmother (one of the Star People who are the spirits of the Old Ones) leads them home. This story will teach the students about some of the important aspects of Lakota culture (and Native American culture in general) This includes the importance Natives place on their elders, which is such a stark contrast to our current cultures treatment of our elderly. It also shows the interest Natives take in the environment. The reason for Sister Girl and Young Wolf go out on their own is to look at all the animals on the plains and watch the clouds in the sky. It will show stylized images of Native American dress. The only materials required for this activity would be the book itself ( Two steps are necessary for this reading:
1.      Read the book aloud, page by page, being sure to show the pictures.
2.      Once your finished, talk about the aforementioned notable aspects and ask the children if they liked the book or not

Although I have tried my best to lay a firm groundwork for this lesson plan, I personally do not plan on actually administering it so I have left room for a teacher to add in his/her own additions. I felt that the discussions in particular need to be formed around the children that will be participating since it is unlikely that they will absorb information that they find uninteresting or over their heads. While doing the activities it is important to note the aspects that interest them most or just ask then at the start of the discussion and delve a bit deeper.
           This lesson plan would appeal to the Peoples, Cultures and Change Over Time Academic Standard of “the differences and similarities of cultures around the world are attributable to their diverse origins and histories, and interactions with other cultures throughout time”. This lesson would provide a basic understanding of one of the indigenous cultures that occupied the land our country now claims and is still around today. Native Americans are rarely discussed in children's history lessons outside of their role in Thanksgiving. This lesson is supposed to have a "then and now" regard toward the Lakota and establish a basic understanding of them as a culture that is present in the current time period as well as in our nation’s history. Although by following this standard it seems blatantly obvious to mention our government’s treatment of Native Americans since it is probably the most influential interaction, but as the reservation system seems to be judged as inappropriate for little children and has caused problems in the Morris public schools in the past, I thought it best to leave it out.

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