Saturday, April 4, 2009

We Shall Remain: Teaching Native American Culture Within American History

We Shall Remain: Teaching Native American Culture Within American History

By Eric Langhorst - April 01, 2009

How do you teach Native American
history and culture in the context of an American history class? Is the
Native American content taught in separate components or woven within
the framework of the remainder of the curriculum? As an 8th grade
history teacher, I know that unfortunately in many textbooks Native
American culture is compartmentalized and taught from an outside
perspective. "We Shall Remain," the new documentary series from
American Experience and PBS airing in April and May
(check your local listings), is an invaluable resource for teachers who
wish to teach Native American culture within the curriculum of United
States history courses. The series includes five films, each offering a
unique approach, depicting the role of Native Americans within the
context of American history. The five episodes include: "After the
Mayflower," "Tecumseh's Vision," "Trail of Tears," "Geronimo" and
"Wounded Knee."
I recently asked my 8th grade American
history students what immediately came to mind when I said "Native
American." Several mentioned the help Native Americans provided the
Corps of Discovery on their expedition to the West, a topic we recently
discussed in class. Many of the responses, however, characterized
Native Americans in militaristic terms - focusing on warfare, attacks
and battles. Additional common responses included "Thanksgiving,"
"teepees," and "hunting bison." These responses left me disappointed,
in part with the limits of my instruction. The history of Native
Americans in North America is much richer and more fascinating than
just these highly stereotypical glances.

The sheer volume of content - 7.5 hours
- that comprises "We Shall Remain" can invoke two emotions in
educators: excitement and intimidation. The content is incredible, as
is to be expected from an American Experience production, but it can
seem overwhelming to a classroom teacher with a curriculum already
stretched thin. As I watched the series, I viewed the content from two
perspectives: 1) personal content enrichment and 2) inclusion in the
curriculum. I discovered that there are ample opportunities for both.
For example, I discovered that Episode 2
- "Tecumseh's Vision" - matches the curriculum for my class. I
currently teach about Tecumseh in my junior high American history
class, but our focus has traditionally been limited to general
references to his historical importance in uniting several Native
American tribes in defiance of the United States government. As I
watched the 90-minute episode, I was captivated by the story of
Tecumseh and his relationship with his brother. The episode shows
Tecumseh as so much more than just a Native American leader who
rebelled against the invading American settlers. Tecumseh is depicted
as a natural leader with the ability to assemble a diverse group of
cultures into a unified cause in an attempt to save their way of life.
Leaders from both the British and United States militaries respected
his leadership qualities. As a teacher, I can now describe with much
more depth the story of Techumseh's life. This is an example of how
teachers can use this series for personal content enrichment.

the entire episode in class may not be possible for some teachers due
to time constraints, but I do plan on using a segment from the episode
in class with my students as well. The five-minute clip I will show is
the dramatic meeting between eventual president William Henry Harrison
and Tecumseh. With a proper lead in, the students will appreciate the
tension and importance of this moment.

Additionally, I found
that episode 1 - "After the Mayflower" - includes several segments
describing the economic interdependence between the Wampanoag and the
Pilgrims, which I can incorporate into my class. Many history teachers
struggle with techniques to teach economic concepts in the United
States history curriculum, so this film is a valuable new resource.

5 - "Wounded Knee" - describes the 1973 standoff between supporters of
the American Indian Movement and United States Marshalls, which lasted
71 days. I think an excellent activity for a high school civics class
would be a comparison of the Wounded Knee incident and other struggles
for civil rights in American history.

"We Shall Remain" has an excellent companion website
that offers a variety of resources, many of which can help teachers
expand the discussion of Native American culture in your history
classes. Many students have the misconception that all Native American
culture has faded away. The website includes two resources to help your
students make a connection with what it means to be a Native American
in the 21st century. ReelNative
is a collection of short - 5 to 10 minute - video documentaries
depicting contemporary issues as seen through the eyes of Native
Americans. The videos are available for viewing online and are a great
way to generate discussion in class. Native Now,
another section on the website, describes major issues affecting Native
culture today, including language, sovereignty and enterprise. This
section of the site includes video interviews, articles, and links to
additional resources.
The website will also include a comprehensive Teacher's Guide
with descriptions of individual episodes and chapters; comprehension,
discussion and analysis questions related to each episode; activities
to incorporate the films in class; and links to additional information.

"We Shall Remain" has helped me reconsider the manner in which I teach
Native American history in my own classroom. I found that I could do
more to integrate Native American culture into additional units of
How do you teach Native American history
and culture in your history classes? I encourage you to share your
experiences. Please leave a comment on this blog and help us to create
a month-long discussion of the topic featuring teachers with diverse

Many more links at:


Teresa Anahuy


PBS airdates: Monday, April 13 May 11,2009 (check local listings) PBS
American Experience presents WE SHALL REMAIN, a groundbreaking
mini-series and provocative multi-media project that establishes Native
history as an essential part of American history. Five 90- minute
documentaries spanning three hundred years tell the story of pivotal
moments in U.S. history from the Native American perspective. WE SHALL
REMAIN premieres April 13, 2009 on PBS. A companion public radio
documentary series, focusing on contemporary Native issues, will be
distributed to public radio and Native broadcasters to coincide with
the television program. For more, visit Buy the DVD:



native american
We shall remain
american experience
united states


Being Indian its not,
Just the "Blood"....Its "Living the way"......

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