The history of American Indian culture at its roots pre-1492, as it appears in narrative and art will be studied first. Students will analyze age appropriate historical art that represents the land as it was, including cultural traditions (clothing, art [poetry reference], music, dance and architecture), and cultural beliefs. Students will visit prints available through Yale’s Print collection of the historical indigenous imagery. Students will understand which images are portrayals by non-Indians and be asked to question what implications lie in non-self-portraiture as truth. We will review online the Peabody’s collection of moccasins and American Indian artifacts to observe historical tradition.
In order to put representation in context, we will review the narrative regarding the path of injustices and political moves, the decades of allotments and broken treaties that were made involving American Indians, using excerpts from
by Charles Wilkinson, and any documentary clips that apply.
It is a common misconception that when the Europeans settled in America that we peacefully divided and shared the land with the American Indians here first, and merely acquired more due to population and economic growth. When in fact, the whole history is one large systematic injustice and history of oppression that absolutely decimated a nation of indigenous people groups, and that still, today these people groups are held under the thumb of Uncle Sam in a way that lessens the quality of life, inalienable rights, and sense of cultural identity. The American Indians were joined by treaty with the settlers that delineated the land unfairly, but convincingly enough that both parties agreed. The new American government amended treaties over and over again, pushing the natives from their lands to the point of being left with as little as 1% of the original space agreed upon which was already a small percentage of the country they inhabited fully to begin with. Along with this there were allotments of the land given out to foresters and farmers who subsequently destroyed the land that the people called home. Greed and power took over the land and changed its boundaries and its face.
the second chapter “The Deadening Years” discusses the timeline and circumstances on the loss and destruction of what was once American Indian Territory and continues to be American Indian homeland. This information is key to the initial discovery of the whole narrative of American Indian life after the settlement of Europeans. The third chapter, “Termination” discusses the concept of Termination, which is the system that keeps them from getting their land back, among other things. The students will review these chapters in a simplified form, to ensure a complete grasping of the concepts.
Sliver of a Full Moon: A play
In addition to the unfavorably amended treaties, students will learn the issues of jurisdiction, reading clips from
Sliver of a Full Moon
(for grade 8 only). The reservations have only jurisdiction over Indians, so that if a non-Indian commits a violent crime against an Indian, or on Indian lands, they cannot be prosecuted because the Indians don’t have jurisdiction over that person. Rights are continuously being taken away from and denied to the American Indian people groups. Because of this, economic problems have been created. Because the US is now based on a money economy and not a trading as it was pre-settlement, the Indian skills that were once highly valuable among themselves, are not as valued in the money-economy working-world and the sense of personal worth and ability to provide for ones family is declining. Because of the demoralizing nature of the reservation existence under the oppression of the US government along with the BIA, alcoholism, mental health issues, and poverty are prevalent in most communities.
Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, a story
The narrative of American Indians will lead us to explore what present day American Indian life is like. The issues discussed in the previous portion are also discussed in the humorous down-to-earth narrative from an adolescent perspective, written by Sherman Alexie, discussing the issues of alcoholism and growing up in a poor, politically and socially oppressed family. The class will start by reading clips from Sherman Alexie’s
Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.
This narrative brings a humorous, on the ground perspective of modern life on the “Rez”, and highlights the key issues of poverty, family dissolution, and alcoholism. More global political themes of reservation assimilation schools, employment, interactions with the BIA, and racism are also brought to light. Students will complete Assignment 1. A, listed below:
Assignment 1. A
The students will be able to pick scenes from a hat from Sherman Alexie’s narrative and act it out briefly in class to connect personal emotions to the story. They will also have a chance to create fictional scenes from their own culture that could be allegories for these events as homework, which will be read aloud the next class period.
Students will pick one chapter upon which to read and reflect, as well as a cartoon to analyze. In reflections they will describe the context that their chapter describes regarding life on the Reservation, family dynamics and/or the “flip side” of his life as the only American Indian in an all white school. After describing the characteristics to create a context, they will pick one issue upon which to focus. They will then take a cartoon that highlights that particular issue, and write one paragraph describing how this issue is highlighted and what message Alexie might be trying to get across. Ask the students why it is important that it is a cartoon and not prose? Lead them to the connection of humor, satire and sarcasm, and imagery/visual language as a way of communicating political ideas beyond mere words. Why is it valuable? The instructor will highlight the multidimensional aspect of speaking through art.
Visual Language: Art Says Something
The teacher will also provide examples of modern poetry, photography, and paintings by Native Americans that concentrate heavily on cultural practices. The source for these pieces will be the book
A Gathering of Spirit: A Collection by North American Indian Women
, edited by Beth Brant. The first poem is “Pow Wow” by: Vickie Sears, which describes the Sundance festival in beautiful imagery and colorful language as it pertains to her life experience (page 135-137).
One example of photography will be
by Diane Reyna (168), which depicts American Indian clothing and a bottle of Coca-Cola™ at a Sundance festival, bringing both traditional and modern imagery in the same image to challenge the time period in which students might believe certain imagery to be stuck, when they are in fact very much present.
From the same book, students will review drawings by Jaune Quick-To-See-Smith and will revisit Sherman Alexie’s book for the cartoons. These drawings use satire and humor to contrast stereotypical representation of the American Indians of the past with the reality of American Indians in the present. Throughout these studies, the students will interact with the art, ask questions about artistic choices in group-work, and use the critiques to draw conclusions their own about what they see. Students will complete Assignment
Students will select and watch 4 videos to watch from
, which is an educational resource made for teachers in Wisconsin. The videos are short documentary styles of first-hand story telling, accurately depicting modern life as an American Indian in Wisconsin. Students will complete the following assignment:
Assignment 1. B
Students will reflect on one of the videos of their choosing. They will write one paragraph comparing and contrasting what they saw with their own life, what is similar and what is different. They will also answer the questions.
How might this person have been misunderstood if their story were not told in this way? Meaning, what did you think about this topic before you saw the video and after? Did it change? Lastly, pick one aspect of American Indian life we have covered in our study, how would you tell a story about it and in what medium?
Students will visit the Yale Art Gallery prints library, images and prints representing past and present American Indians. Students will be asked to discuss how they are represented in the past, how they are represented now and if there is a sense of disappearance.
In the imagery that we see now does it ever give us the feeling that Indian Americans no longer exist?
If the students are asked this question, the answer will most likely be
. We will discuss:
How are American Indians represented in art we see around us
remembering the modern narratives in our unit, can they be more accurately represented? How can American Indians be represented in a way that reminds our viewers the culture is very much alive?
Students will reflect on this discussion with a small paragraph answering these questions and an expression in a small drawing.
Assignment 1. C
Students will use the connections made from the poetry, cartoons, and photography to create a page of thumbnail sketches. The sketches will be brief snapshots of what they imagine past or present American Indian life to include. Simple daily things are to be included such as moccasins, sneakers, teepees, houses, their cultural foods, ceremonial clothing, symbols of religious practices and moments in modern life. They might also make cartoons like Alexie.
When the Students bring their pages back they will divide into small groups and discuss their representations. They will analyze together the accuracy of their interpretations. Are the images from the past real, or based on stereotype? Are the images from the present true to what life is currently like on the Reservation, or stuck in the imagery that represented American Indians in settlement days. They will use the analytical skills they learned when reviewing American Indian Representations at Yale Art Gallery and in the videos.
Students will be able to see the simplicity of the culturally specific snapshots and be able to draw connections with their own life. For example, noticing the shoes, ceremonial clothes, religious practices, architecture, and food of his/her own, and from his/her own family. Students will discover to the concept of cultural identity that everyone is not like the other and that each facet is valuable in making up a unique culture.
Assignment 1. D
Students will keep small journals each day to log feelings and thoughts related to the ongoing narrative, and most importantly to make connections with their own lives. They will log any connections they make with cultural aspects, feelings towards political decisions, poverty, racism etc. They will be encouraged to sketch any imagery that comes to mind as they contemplate these issues.