Activity 1: Framing the Counter Narrative
Rationale: Students will observe Native American cultures in order to eradicate colorblindness.
Objective: Indigenous people are Americans and thrive in modern society. Many Native American Tribes are confined on reservations and portrayed, and seen, in stereotypical ways. Students, and educators, will reflect on their own bias and colorblindness when watching the videos.
Activity: Big Video Portrait: Building a Silent Conversation. Teacher will post four large post-it notes on the walls and each will be labeled with the title of the videos. Students will watch all four and take notes on each. Afterwards, scholars will walk around the room, and write their reactions and thoughts on the post-it sheets. Finally, the teacher will guide a Socratic discussion of the responses after all are posted.
Videos to View
- “A Tribe Called Red: Stadium Pow Wow”
Music shapes culture, and at times, defines a generation. A Tribe Called Red writes the narrative of indigenous people between their traditional ethos and the modern world. The band combines traditional ‘pow wow’ chanting and singing with modern hip-hop and electronic music.
- “Unlearning ‘Indian’ Stereotypes by Rethinking Schools”
The video teaches about racial stereotypes and provides a primer to Native American culture and history. Narrated by Native American children, it is an exceptionally useful tool in its straightforwardness and its lucidity: The children speak with fluency and authority. “Unlearning Indian Stereotypes” enlightens scholars about the reality of the chronicle of indigenous peoples and is a wonderful resource.
- “Ending the Era of Harmful “Indian” Mascots by National Congress of
American Indians” http://www.ncai.org/proudtobe
Indian mascots, logos and symbols have become multi-billion-dollar brands that continue to promote racial stereotypes. For over forty years, Native American advocates have promoted changes to teams’ nicknames in an attempt to end the legitimized racism against indigenous peoples. These images have appalling consequences for Native Americans, and there is an immediate need to end the colorblindness across the country.
- “American Indian College Fund: Help a Student Help a Tribe”
A college education is often a well-deserved ticket to a career and the middle class. Many Native Americans do not have access to the upward ladder and only 14% of American Indians have a college degree, which is half of the national average. The personalized stories of Native Americans expose the delusion of racial stereotypes and danger of colorblindness in society.
Activity 2: Poem Analysis
Objective: Students will examine “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings” by Joy Harjo and explore a counter-narrative of land ownership.
Rationale: Joy Harjo is an accomplished poet, playwriter and musician, and in June 2019 became the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate in United States history. She has published eight books of poetry, a memoir and two books for young adults. A Muskogee Creek Tribal member, Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is a professor of English and American Indian studies at the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign. “My poems are about confronting the kind of society that would diminish Native people, disappear us from the story of this country,” Harjo wrote.xxii Reading and analyzing the poem allows the scholars to absorb a counter narrative of land ownership in America.
I have chosen “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings” as a counter narrative to colonial settler history, and a Native American perspective on tribal lands taken by the whites and the Federal government. Also, I want scholars to examine the colorblindness in the AP U.S. History curriculum and absence of Native American voices.
Activity: “How to Analyze a Poem in 6 Steps” by Teach for Americaxxiii
Step One: Read
- Students will read poem silently
- The class will read it aloud
Step Two: Title
- How does it relate to the poem?
- Does it paint a picture?
- Does it imply multiple possibilities?
Step Three: Speaker
- Who “tells” the poem?
- Who does the speaker address?
- Are there clues about the speaker’s personality or point of view?
Step Four: Mood and Tone
- What is the mood of the poem?
- What is the attitude of the speaker?
Step Five: Paraphrase
- Students analyze the poem line-by-line
Step Six: Theme
- What is the subject?
- Who is the speaker?
- What is the situation of the poem?
Activity 3: Film Analysis of the Sioux
Objective: Students will analyze the 2007 film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee to open the curtain on a colorblind ideology and society.
Rationale: Students will explore the culture and history of the Sioux and engage with the movie to open their eyes to cultural genocide by a white-power structure. I selected Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee as a counter narrative in American history. The AP U.S. History curriculum endorses a colonial settler history and there is a dearth of Native American voices. Scholars need a more complete analysis of Western expansion in order to break away from their colorblindness.
Because the film is over 120 minutes long and scholars often ask for a scene to be paused or rewound, two full 80-minute classes must be allotted to viewing the assessment. In addition, it is suggested that educators turn the English subtitles on for students who may struggle with auditory learning.
Activity: Students will be required to take notes while watching the movie and answer opened-ended and historical questions as a homework assignment.
- List four historical items you learned or found interesting while watching Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
- What are your thoughts and questions about the film? You might reflect upon the historical figures, their challenges, the title or other ideas.
- What is the significance of the title Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee?
- Describe the argument between William Tecumseh Sherman and Senator Henry Dawes in the beginning of the film.
- Explore the “twoness” of Charles Eastman as a Sioux who was educated in a Christian school and white society.
- Analyze the different viewpoints of the Ghost Dance by the Sioux and white Americans.
- Examine the Dawes Act and its impact on the Sioux.
- Before watching this film, how did colorblindness and legitimized racism impact your perspective of Native Americans? How has the filmed rewrote the narrative in your opinion?
I have shown Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee for the past decade in some of my classes and collected stupendous responses from former students. It is one of the more eye-opening and enlightening units in my toolbox to teach empathy, debunk the heroic white narrative and illustrate the taking of the land for the benefit of white settlers. I have included responses from my scholars:
“The Director did an excellent job at encapsulating Senator Henry Dawes’ emotions and perspectives toward the Sioux. There were times where Dawes felt as though he held the ultimate solution to the Native Americans instead of realizing that white Americans and the Federal Government had stripped the Sioux of their culture and resources.” Rylan
“It was interesting to see a film about a subject that I knew so little about: It was never discussed in any of my classes nor mentioned in my text books. I find it incomprehensible that I have not learned a shred about these events in any history class until now.” Miles
“After watching this movie, I was very surprised how little I knew of the Sioux or Western migration by white Americans in the 19th Century. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee made me realize how much Native American history has been hidden from my education. These stories are gruesome and horrifying in American history and should be taught.” Melody
Activity 4: Counter Narrative Analysis in Film
Objective: Students will dissect the 1989 film Smoke Signals in order to comprehend the multifaceted negotiations native peoples have performed to navigate settler colonial society, preserve their sovereignty and challenge forms of domination.
Rationale: Students will explore the culture of the Coeur d’Alene and cultural revival of reservation life in modern America. The film is less than 90 minutes but will be viewed over two periods. In addition, it is suggested that educators turn the English subtitles on for students who may struggle with auditory learning.
In 1998, Smoke Signals debuted at the Sundance Film Festival by Miramax Films and it was promoted at the first major feature film written, directed and produced by Native Americans. Chris Eyre directed and co-produced the film, which was adapted from Sherman Alexie’s book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
“Smoke Signals is an important movie for Indian Country, and to see these beautifully nuanced Native American characters on the big screen was a revelation for us,” says Victor Rocha, conference chair of the National Indian Gaming Assn. “Not only could we be the stewards of our own stories, but it proved we could make great movies.”xxiv
Two-best friends, Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) and Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams), embark on a journey to recover the ashes of Victor’s father. The young men could not be any more different, but form a deeper bond of understanding. It is a story of the universal nature of forgiveness and spiritual renewal is surveyed through self-examination, sorrow and catharsis.
In 1988, the National Film Preservation Act formed the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) to “ensure the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America’s film heritage.”xxv Twenty-five films are nominated every year, and Carla Hayden, 14th Librarian of Congress, named Smoke Signals to the National Film Registry twenty years after it was produced.
Activity: Students will examine their own basic assumptions and racial stereotypes of Native Americans and assumptions of settler colonialism in history.
- List four historical items you learned or found interesting while watching Smoke Signals.
- What are your thoughts and questions about the film? You might reflect upon the historical figures, their challenges, the title or other ideas.
- Why did the writer and producers title the film Smoke Signals?
- Why does the narrator make the statement “We were children born of flame and ash” early in the film?
- What is the cultural significance of the statement “It’s a good day to be indigenous!”
- Describe the relationship and journey of discovery by Victor and Thomas.
- Why does Thomas-Builds-the-Fire tell stories throughout the movie?
- How does Smoke Signals illustrate a counter narrative of life on the reservation?
Activity 5: Primary Source Analysis
Objective: Students will explore colonial settler policies undertaken by the Federal government to take the land from Native Americans over the course of American history.
Rationale: In 1832, Black Hawk stated: “You know the cause of our making war. It is known to all white men. They ought to be ashamed of it.” Founded in 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the American Indian Movement (AIM) demanded civil rights for Native Americans and opposed poverty and police brutality against Indigenous people in urban communities.xxvi AIM also sought “revitalization of traditional culture, protection of legal rights and autonomy over tribal areas and the restoration of lands that they believed had been illegally seized.”xxvii
In the AP curriculum, colorblindness in the course must end and a new narrative written that includes the voices of Native Americans. An analysis of a primary source provides scholars with the historical information necessary to reanalyze the colonial settler narrative of American history.
Activity: The American Indian Movement: The Trail of Broken Treaties, A 20-point Position Paper
How to Analyze a primary source documentxxviii
- Summarize the document in your own words.
- What is the author’s purpose? Who is the intended audience?
- Make connections with the text: lectures, current events, personal experiences, books and movies.
- Make inferences: read between the lines, speculation and conclusions.
- Compare the primary source to a secondary source: the AP United States History text book used in your course.
- Write down four historical items that you learned after reading the document.
- Identify two questions about the documents left unanswered, or that you now have, after reading it.
- Explain how the source illustrates colorblindness in the AP U.S. History curriculum.
- How can this document be incorporated in an AP U.S. History course to oppose a colonial settler narrative?
Activity 6: Short Story Analysis
Objective: Students will explore a counter narrative of American life in a short story.
Rationale: A poet, novelist and filmmaker, Sherman Alexie is an award-winning author: He earned a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007) and given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writer’s Circle of the America’s. Alexie was born to Salish Indians—Coeur d’Alene father and Spokane mother—and his maternal grandmother was a Spokane spiritual leader. As a child, he suffered from congenital hydrocephalus and underwent surgery: He became an avid reader instead of an athlete. Alexie attended an all-white school, earned honors and voted class president. In 1991, Alexie graduated from Washington State. An analysis provided the students with a much-needed perspective on American life.
Activity: Students will analyze two short stories from The Lone Ranger and Toronto Fistfight in Heaven: “Crazy Horse Dreams” and “A Drug Called Tradition.” Literary analysis is an interpretation of a piece of literature and allows the reader to comprehend how the parts contribute to the entire piece.
Big Portrait: Constructing a Literary Analysisxxix
- What is the author’s background?
- What is the narrator’s personality?
- What is the role of the narrator?
- III. Setting
- Where and when does the story take place?
- Identify essential plot points: Conflict, Climax and Resolution.
- What are some of the character’s personality traits?
- What roles do the characters play?
- What are their morals and ethics?
- What is the relationship with other characters?
- Literary Devises
- What devises does the author employ?
- Allusion, Foil, Foreshadowing, Irony and Symbolism
Final Assessment: Argumentative Essay
Objective: Students will articulate their knowledge of legitimized racism in America and take a position and defend an argument with evidence from sources and lessons.
Rationale: The Common Core established English Language Arts Standards for Writing, and in Connecticut, students are required to read texts, primary and secondary sources and acquire knowledge in order to problem solve in Social Studies and English classes. Students must think critically, analyze evidence and synthesize knowledge learned throughout the unit. The final assessment will compel scholars to achieve the criteria in the Common Core.
Activity: Teachers will mandate that scholars research articles on the debate over the use of Indigenous Peoples’ symbols as team nicknames. Students must understand the role of Congress in our Constitutional Republic and how to amend the Constitution. The students will write an argumentative essay answering the following question: Should Congress pass an Amendment to the Constitution that bans the use of Native American symbols as nicknames, mascots or logos by professional sports teams?
Alternative Final Assessment
Rationale: I am lucky enough to teach in an Arts Magnet school, and many of my scholars are incredibly talented artists. In order to allow scholars to display their abilities, I provide alternative assessments. One year, a student was in danger of failing my U.S. History course as a junior, and he asked for an additional assignment to pass for the year. I asked him to research a topic from the Civil War and complete a painting of the event with a bibliography. He came back with a 22 x 16 oil painting of Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. It was well researched and an original interpretation of the day’s events. Needless to say, he passed the course, and I still have the painting on the wall at school. He taught me a great lesson, and there is a wonderful opportunity in this unit to provide scholars with an alternative assessment.
Activity: Design a new logo and/or mascot for a team that currently is colorblind to the legitimized racism of the use of their Native American nickname. Or design a T-Shirt logo for Indigenous People’s Day.