Features: History & Social Studies
Wampanoag warrior

Celebrate "We Shall Remain" for Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate it than to learn something about the history and cultures of some of the first Americans? This month EDSITEment also celebrates the recent five-part PBS series We Shall Remain, which was partially funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This series spans four centuries and shows Native Americans’ history as part of the national experience from the Mayflower to the Wounded Knee occupation of 1973. Not only is each episode viewable online but each is accompanied by a full transcript and teacher’s guide. In what follows, we suggest pairing the first three episodes with one or more EDSITEment lessons or reviewed Websites in order to help teachers’ incorporate these stories into the U.S. History course.

Using We Shall Remain to Enrich U.S. History Classes

"After the Mayflower," the first episode, deals with the native encounter with the British colonists in the 17th century. Before watching this episode, teachers could use Images of the New World to raise two questions about these colonists. First, how did they picture the native peoples of America during the early phases of colonization of North America? And second, how do you get people to move to a faraway, largely unknown, and potentially dangerous locale?

Teachers could then show the first episode, or have students read sections from the transcript, when they teach about the founding of the New England colonies. For example, our new lesson on Colonizing the Bay examines John Winthrop’s historic "Model of Christian Charity" sermon showing how it inspired and motivated the Puritans mission in the new world. This would make a good counterpoint to the episode’s presentation of the relationship between Puritans and the New England Indians over five decades. Or teachers could turn to Mapping Colonial New England: Looking at the Landscape of New England, which contrasts the different ways the English immigrants and Native Americans used the land and how this eventually led to King Philip’s War. If teachers wanted students to do some further research on one of the tribes in the episode, the Abenaki, they could turn to Not 'Indians,' Many Tribes: Native American Diversity.

Episode Two, "Tecumseh’s Vision" tells the story of the Shawnee warrior who grew up in the midst of the American Revolution. Tecumseh’s tribe fought valiantly for the defense of their homelands on the side of the British. The role of the Shawnee in the war is discussed in The Native Americans’ Role in the American Revolution: Choosing Sides.

When the war ended, Indians were not present at the Peace of Paris in 1783 and the terms of the treaty did not even mention these peoples. Despite this the treaty had a huge significance for Indians, the EDSITEment lesson on Ending the War, 1783 part of the Curriculum Unit on the American War for Independence offers student the opportunity to examine the treaty in detail and consider its implications.

As adults, Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa created a great military and political confederacy of often antagonistic tribes, all committed to stopping the westward expansion of white settlers.  During the War of 1812,  Tecumseh and his allies fought on the British side.  In this enterprise they were confronted and checked by the governor of the Indiana territory, William Henry Harrison at the battles of Tippecanoe in 1811 and Detroit in 1813. Three decades later Harrison ran for President of the United States. Teachers will want to point out that his earlier victories gave him his national appeal to the white voters in The Campaign of 1840: William Henry Harrison and Tyler, Too.

Episode Three, Trail of Tears deals with thousands of Cherokee expelled from their homes in south-eastern United States and forced to migrate west during the presidency of Andrew Jackson.  NEH funded New Georgia Encyclopedia contains an article on the Cherokee Indians depicting this loss of a nation during the winter of 1838-39 on the “trail where they cried.”  Also useful is the NEH-funded multimedia resource on Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil and the Presidency which has an extensive section on The Legacy of Indian Removal. For further investigation into the Cherokee, teachers can turn to Traditions and Languages of Three Native Cultures: Tlingit, Lakota & Cherokee.

Episode Four is devoted to Geronimo, the leader of the last Native American fighting force to capitulate to the U. S government.  Episode Five deals with the occupation of Wounded Knee at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by examining the broad political and economic forces that led to this event which captured the world’s attention. 

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Using Picturing America to Teach Native American Art and Culture

Visual images of Native American heritage and the insights they afford can be found via the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Picturing America Project In their discussion of Jackson’s Indian Removal policy, teachers may find it useful to incorporate one of the images made by an artist George Caitlin, part of his visual record of the indigenous cultures of the frontier. In Catlin Painting the Portrait of Mah-to-toh-pa—Mandan, 1861/1869 (Illustration “6-B”) we see an example of his practical (yet sentimental) values, so representative of the Jacksonian era, in which the United States, finally in control of the wilderness, felt a wave of nostalgia for what it was about to lose. Another PA image which you will want to consider using is by Black Hawk “Sans Arc Lakota” Ledger Book, 1880–1881 (Illustration “8-B”) who may have died at the battle of Wounded Knee.

Picturing America also reproduces and discusses the long and varied traditions of American Indian pottery and basket-making from 1100 through 1940 in the Picturing America Gallery (Illustration "1-A"). Included are ancient jars made by the Anasazi, an ancient Sikyátki bowl, a 1904–05 basket by Washoe artist, Louisa Keyser from the southwestern United States, from Alaska, a basket made from whale baleen by Carl Toolak in 1940, and a jar by the renowned potter María Montoya Martínez from 1939. Here is a large depiction of these items.

This beautiful and sophisticated pottery is a reminder that Americans were residing in New Mexico long before the Spanish arrived in the 16th-century to settle the region. When the Spanish encountered these people and their distinctive planned communities they dubbed them “Pueblos,” their word meaning “towns.” For an introduction to these Pueblo villages in New Mexico see the recent EDSITEment spotlight The Road to Santa Fe: A Virtual Excursion. The story of the Spanish encounter with the indigenous inhabitants is told in the new NEH-supported film and website When Worlds Collide. Teachers Can Make the Most of “When Worlds Collide” including the program’s key concept of “mestizo”  and receive guidance on how to use this website in their classrooms.

Other Resources

You can also take advantage of the resources of the National Museum of the American Indian and the new EDSITEment-reviewed Web site Native American Histories from the University of Washington Library as well as the NEH-funded PBS website Cracking the Maya Code, and The Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea. Another new NEH-funded site from the Newberry Library focuses on the Indians of the Midwest.

Further information on Native American heritage can be found in several EDSITEment lesson plans. Teachers in the K-2 classroom can introduce their students to Native American life with either Native American Cultures Across the U.S. For elementary aged students, EDSITEment offers Anishinabe-Ojibwe-Chippewa: Culture of an Indian Nation. High school students can delve into the complex issues of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act with the lesson Kennewick Man: Science and Sacred Rights.

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Art, Life and the Reservation Today

More than half of all Native Americans living in the United States reside in urban areas such as Seattle, Portland, and Las Vegas. In fact, the largest urban population of Native Americans can be found in Los Angeles, California. While this means the majority of Native Americans live in cities, Native Americans are also the demographic group with the lowest percentage of urban dwellers among all United States demographic groups. In short, more Native Americans live in rural areas than any other ethnic group in America. While not all Native Americans dwelling in rural areas live on reservations, a significant percentage of the population does continue to live on Indian land and to be governed by tribal governments. Even for those who do not live on reservations, their familial reservation often continues to hold a deep and important personal and symbolic value. If we turn once again to the We Shall Remain website, we can find a section Native Now devoted to an interactive map of Indian reservations in the United States as well as issues.


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Suggested EDSITEment Lessons and Websites for Use with We Shall Remain

"After the Mayflower," Episode One

"Tecumseh’s Vision," Episode Two

"Trail of Tears," Episode Three

"Geronimo," Episode Four

"Wounded Knee," Episode Five

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Featured Lessons

Featured Websites


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