A Unit on Native Americans

Three Lessons

by Nancy Husari


Note to Teachers: For more information on the book and video, or for more ideas about the lessons, feel free to e-mail me at nhusari@ccsf.edu

Day One: Lesson 5 (Facing Defeat) in The Idiom Advantage: Fluency in Speaking and Listening by Dana Watkins (Addison Wesley)

Notes: I have used lessons from this book in a Level 7 Non-credit class. I usually do the first few pages of the lesson over a period of two or three days. I do the prereading activity, the listening activity and the exercise entitled "Getting the Meaning". On another day, I often do a follow up vocabulary quiz on the idioms. This particular lesson provides a very good account of the tragic near extermination of Native Americans during the century.

Day Two: My Great Grandfather's Diary
This is a link to my webpage. Students can read my great grandfather's diary. He was a settler who viewed Native Americans as a threat. There are writing topics to accompany the diary. Look at the Student Stories on the website for ideas about how to publish student writing on the web.

Day Three: Video: Wiping the Tears of Seven Generations
This video provides a detailed account of the Tragedy of Wounded Knee, and the events leading up to it. Below is a summary that I give students before viewing the video. The video is available at the CCSF Library and online.

Wiping the Tears of Seven Generations
The Story of Wounded Knee

Before Europeans came to the United States, it was inhabited by Native Americans. The Native Americans comprised many tribes. The Plains Indians (of the Central part of the United States) had a nomadic way of life. The story of Wounded Knee is the story of the Lakota Indians (renamed the Sioux, by French settlers). The U.S. government's policy towards Native Americans, as stated by General Sherman, was to'clear off the buffalo',(the buffalo were the chief source of the Plains Indians' food and clothing), and 'clear off the Indians' to the point of total extermination if necessary.

The Europeans who came to America believed in "manifest destiny"; they believed that they (the white man) had a God-given right to this land, and that the native inhabitants were heathens who were simply in the white man's way. Of course, the two groups came into conflict; during this conflict, it is estimated that 50 million Native Americans were killed through war, starvation and disease. This number is equivalent to the number of soldiers that were killed on both sides during World War I and II.

In 1868, after 20 years of war, the Lakota Indians signed a peace treaty with the U.S. government. It was called the Fort Laramie Treaty. In it the Lakota Indians were given the Black Hills in South Dakota. To the Lakota Indians, the Black Hills were the heart of their religion. According to legend, life entered the world through the Black Hills.

In 1872, gold was discovered in the Black Hills. Now, Europeans did not want to honor the Fort Laramie Treaty. They wanted access to the Black Hills because of the gold. In 1875, after several unsuccessful attempts to buy the Black Hills from the Lakotas, war was declared against the "hostiles" (Lakota Indians). One of the first acts of war was General Custer's Battle of Little Big Horn. General Custer and his army were defeated in this famous battle. The U.S. government then confiscated the Black Hills because they said that the Lakotas had violated the treaty by defending themselves against Custer.

During this time, the buffalo were slaughtered. The Indians did not have enough to eat so they were weakened. A famous chief named Crazy Horse turned himself in. He went to live on a reservation. Within a year he was murdered by a U.S. soldier. Another famous chief named Sitting Bull went to Canada with his people to request a reservation there. His request was denied. He led his people back across the border to the Standing Rock reservation.

During this period, many Native Americans died due to drought, disease, and starvation. Many of them moved to reservations. At this time, they created a new religion, in spite of the government ban on Indian religion. The people who practiced their religion were called the Lakota Ghost Dancers. The Lakotas believed that this religion would bring the buffalo and their Lakota ancestors, who had been killed by the government, back from the dead. The white settlers felt threatened by the new religion. Troops were sent in; Sitting Bull was killed by soldiers in 1890. Sitting Bull's people left and went to the camp of another chief named Bigfoot. Bigfoot moved the people to Pine Ridge Reservation. The cavalry chased Bigfoot and his people; they forced them to make camp at a creek called Wounded Knee. It was in the middle of winter; the group included women, children, and unarmed men. Many had already died; many were sick. The cavalry surrounded the camp, set up machine guns, and killed most of the people. U.S. soldiers were given Congressional medals of honor for killing these people.

The elders of the tribe were considered to be keepers of sacred knowledge; many of the Lakota elders were killed at Wounded Knee.

Many Lakotas had visions that there would be seven generations of hardship and then there would be a rebirth of their culture.. In 1990, the seventh generation had come into being. At this time, Lakota Indians decided to do the Bigfoot Memorial Ride on the same route as the trip to Wounded Knee. They did the ride 5 times in temperatures as low as 80 degrees below zero. The ride was to commemorate the people who had died at Wounded Knee, and to celebrate the rebirth of the Lakota nation.

nomadic--a way of life in which people travel from place to place, hunting and gathering food
extermination--killing a population completely (100%)
heathens--Godless people; people who are considered lower than human
treaty--official agreement
reservation--After the wars and almost total extermination of the Native American people, the U.S. government decided that the acceptable place for Native Americans to live was on reservations. These reservations were always far from their native lands, and were/are generally not desirable places to live.
cavalry--army

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