Not “Indians,” Many Tribes: Native American Diversity

Interior of a Salish Longhouse, British Columbia, 1864. Watercolour by Edward M. Richardson (1810-1874).
Photo caption

Wigwam, used by many Native American cultures in the East and Southeast

Image courtesy of EMuseum, Minnesota State University, Mankato

There were literally hundreds of Native American tribes and there still are. All of those tribes have their own traditions and their own customs. Many had their own language. To say that a certain word, recipe, or custom is "Indian" is incorrect.

Source: Wisdom Keepers, Inc.

What comes to mind for your students when they think of "Indians" or "Native Americans"? In this unit, students will heighten their awareness of Native American diversity as they learn about three vastly different Native groups in a game-like activity using archival documents such as vintage photographs, traditional stories, photos of artifacts, and recipes. One factor influencing Native American diversity is environment. Help your students study the interaction between environment and culture.

Guiding Questions

How did geographic location, climate and natural resources influence the diversity of Native American tribes and nations?

What can we learn about a Native group from archival documents?

What, if any, generalizations are reasonable to make about Native Americans throughout America?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

Discuss ways a particular archival document reflects the culture and environment of a Native American group

List at least three differences among the Native American groups studied that relate to environment

Gather data about a Native group using the Internet, if available