American Indian Representation in D.C.

Guest blogger: Sara Beyer, Loyola Catholic School (Mankato)

I honestly had no idea what I should write about for this blog and questioned if I could make something worth reading. But when I traveled to Washington, D.C., with my students this March I found my muse. I fell in love with the research that I found so it got long but I couldn’t help myself. Hope you enjoy…

As my students and I traveled around the strategically planned nation’s capital I wondered if I would find a presence of the Native Americans who we stole this country from. I had already gone to D.C. when I was 16 and don’t remember any memorials or museums for Native Americans. This time the presence of our Native people overwhelmingly stood out. I wondered if it was due to my naïve age or if we are just becoming progressive in this time.

Before arriving in D.C., I learned there was the National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian located in the national mall. This newer Smithsonian opened in September 2004 through an Act of Congress that was passed in 1989. It was the first museum in the nation to solely represent Native Americans and present the exhibitions from Natives’ viewpoint. (Smithsonian Newsdesk, 2015)

It was very different from the other Smithsonian museums in D.C. I went to the Lelawi Theater and watched the 13-minute video that projected images on a canvas with glowing rocks below and a 360-degree sky of imagery as if you were outside. Viewers all sat in a circle as if we were hearing a story over a bonfire. The video was named “Who We Are” and showed Natives of today from all around the country. It seemed very fitting and was a great experience. There was so much to go see but my time was limited, (sneaking away from the students) so I made sure to visit the treaties exhibit. It focused on six major treaties of the United States and put them in chronological order. The information that was provided to the onlooker was from two perspectives: the Native Americans and the Europeans/U.S. government. I think it did a great job of showing the issue as being multi-dimensional and having multiple consequences from each major case presented in the museum. I encourage all to go if they get the chance!


On this trip I was able to bring my students to the Capitol. This place struck me with awe. It also blew my mind how much Native American remembrance and appreciation sits in this building. To make it even better, Native Americans are honored in forms of art! When we were on our tour on the inside I learned that each state gets to send two statues of anyone they choose to represent their state’s history. I was surprised by the number of states that were represented by Native Americans in the Capitol (7 of 100). So here are the names with their history I found on my scavenger hunt of statues in the Capitol:

Kamehameha I – Hawaii: In 1758, the future king of Hawaii was born. He was said to have superhuman strengths and was a great warrior. When he became king he organized his districts and placed great leaders to help regulate trade and peace among his native people and the new comers to their island. With such success as king, today he is known as Kamehameha the Great. You can see him honored on the Big Island today with a statue in his honor.

Po’Pay – New Mexico: The sculpture of the Pueblo Native American Po’Pay was dedicated to the Capitol in 2005. He was a well-known religious leader of his people who in 1675 organized the Pueblo Revolt again the Spanish. With his efforts, he helped save his culture and people from the Spanish conquerors.

Sakakawea – North Dakota: We all know the famous story of this Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clark complete their task in the West to prepare for Manifest Destiny. She stands tall in Emancipation Hall with her baby on her back, honoring the state of North Dakota since 2003.

(Sarah) Winnemucca – Nevada: Sarah was a native of the Paiute tribe. Her native name was Thocmetony and later called herself Sarah. She is famous in her state for being a spokesperson for her people to the U.S. government, to address issues they were facing. She later wrote her autobiography, becoming the first Native woman to publish a book.

Washakie – Washington: Washakie was a Shoshone leader in the late 1800s who knew many languages, which helped him negotiate with the U.S .army to preserve over three million acres located near Wind River in Wyoming for his people to keep. He also set up schools to educate his people to prepare them for the future. He is the only known Native American to be given a full military funeral. He now has sat in our nation’s Capitol in the Emancipation Hall since 2000.

Will Rogers – Oklahoma: This statue is hard to realize by just the eye that it honors the Native Americans of our nation. Will Rogers grew up in Indian Territory on a ranch. Knowing very little of this famous Cherokee, I found out “he began his stage career in 1905 with a vaudeville act. In 1914 he joined the Ziegfield Follies, where his commentary during his rope act gave him a start as a humorist. He went on to become a movie star, radio broadcaster, syndicated newspaper columnist, and author.”

Sequoyah – Oklahoma: Sequoyah was the first Native American to be honored in this collection in 1917. He is famous for being the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet.

Discovering these pieces of art in the Capitol lead to a lot of curiosity for my students and myself. We wanted to know why of all the people famous in a state, were these people chosen to represent their state at one of our nations most important buildings?! It led me to this inquiry of knowledge that I am passing down to you. I think this would be a great way to integrate art, maybe that isn’t created by American Indians, but represent them in our country today to tell their story that we have ignored for so many years.

Painting the Dakota

Guest blogger: Chong Xiong, Hazel Park Preparatory Academy

I have been teaching Minnesota Studies for 6th graders for three years now. As a transplant from Wisconsin, I knew very little about the Native groups of Minnesota. It is a learning experience for my students and myself as we go through each unit and chapter.

We use the Northern Lights textbook and were finally able to have the iPad apps this year. The apps have allowed more interactions between the text and students, which has been great for the students who struggle to read. I especially like the artwork features within the app itself. I have tired incorporating artwork into my class, especially using it with our Dakota/Ojibwe unit.

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This year I asked my students to study artwork by Seth Eastman. The students were able to see Seth Eastman’s work in the textbook itself, and with the book, Painting the Dakota Seth Eastman at Fort Snelling by Marybeth Lorbiecki. When I started teaching, I was lucky enough to find a whole stack of these books in the school. The book itself has a is a higher reading level than most of my 6th graders can comprehend, but it has a lot of Seth Eastman’s drawings of the Dakota and scenes of Minnesota. Students were asked to pick a painting that interested them and taking notes about it. Just simple observations: who was in the painting, what it was, and what it showed us today about Dakota life. As we looked through Seth Eastman’s work, we also talked and discussed the idea of perspective, and point of view of the artist himself, being white, drawing natives. This concept was hard for my students to understand at first, so I compared it using the types of students we have in our school (African Americans/Asians).

During our cohort trip to Traverse des Sioux in St. Peter, I was surprised to learn about the perspectives of the paintings by Millet and Mayer depicting the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux. The activity that we did helped me focus more on my own lesson using Seth Eastman’s paintings. It also made me wonder if there were other sources of Native art of the Dakota at this time or present. We also address this issue when we watch the PBS documentary, “Seth Eastman, Painting the Dakota.” The students were able to have a better understanding of who Seth Eastman was and why he painted the Dakota.

For their final assessment, the students were asked to make their own paintings like Seth Eastman’s. The students enjoyed looking at the artwork and love drawing. They were asked to produce a Seth Eastman-like artwork, displaying anything of the landscape, people, or wildlife. They were not allowed to just copy Seth Eastman’s paintings itself. Most understood this requirement and drew a variety of landscapes, sceneries and Dakota people. It was a very fun end-of-unit assessment that the students enjoy doing. I also had a great time seeing their drawings and displayed them outside my classroom for the whole school to see.

I would definitely continue using this project in my unit but would like to find a Native perspective of art to add into this project. I’m hoping this cohort will provide me with some resources that can be incorporated into my lessons and allow for a wider range of work for students to analyze and view.

Northeast by Southwest

Guest blogger: Brad Sidle, Folwell Performing Arts Magnet School

NE by SW 1
Photo: Brad Sidle

The full moon, rising on the waters of the big lake, leaves a trail glimmering on the waves, and beckons the traveler to venture on a walk with the elders.  Generations have come this way before, and many more will come, to feel at once the immediate connection of soul to Mother Earth, and the recognition of the vast expanse in which we live and move.  We find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.  The pulses of the fresh water ocean and rhythms of the lake tides connect us with a spirit beyond our own existence, and give us space and place to restore the very essence of our lives.  It is for these reasons that an annual retreat to the area of the Grand Portage National Monument was the one constant refuge and recuperative destination for my dearly departed and myself.  It is for these reasons I return in July of 2016 to scatter ashes, set up a memorial, and relinquish that which is dearest to me to the hand of a gracious creator.

NE by SW 2
Photo: Brad Sidle

A piece of me and of my heart will live here forever.

The legacy of sense of place is strongly present in another location, in the southwest corner of the state.  Quarries today still ring with the sounds of traditional means of excavation of stone.  This stone is precious, and while the geology of pipestone is fascinating on its own, tradition tells one of many of the creation stories, how the ancient peoples suffered under days and days of flooding, and started to drown.  A young girl ran to the top of a hill, and prayed.  The rain stopped, a bird visited her and a man emerged from her wings.  The blood of the lost ancestors pooled in the area, coloring the stone, as a marker of the sacredness of the place.  “To be able to come down here and quarry in the womb of Earth Mother,” says Travis Erickson, a tribe member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton, “that’s really special.”  The interpretive center at the Pipestone National Monument features native Indian craft workers, who offer their crafts to be purchased.  Pipes from this stone carry on the tradition of the ancestors and elders, and the stories told by the craftswomen and craftsmen are the most precious parts of a visit.

And so, by visiting these two national treasures, we understand, and better, we also feel, the connection generations of indigenous peoples felt and still feel with this mystical land, and the enduring sense of belonging that has passed from generation to generation.

Creating Meaning at a Sixth-Grade Level

Guest blogger: Krista Betcher, Northfield Middle School

Every year, I am reminded at how little background knowledge my students have in history — especially Minnesota History and specifically Dakota and Ojibwe. In that light, I am constantly seeking out resources and tools to help my students create meaning at their level. I’ll share a few of my favorite resources and also some student work samples.

Every year, I use three books by Kathy-jo Wargin: The Legend of Minnesota, The Legend of the Lady’s Slipper, and The Legend of the Loon. The messages in these books are simple, yet complex. I use them in the Early Dakota and Early Ojibwe chapters, as a way to show the importance of family, tradition, respect, and spiritual beliefs to the Dakota and Ojibwe. In my opinion, creating the foundation of Early Dakota and Early Ojibwe is critical to student understanding of the U.S.-Dakota War and beyond. I am constantly going back to the foundation we build in early chapters-to help students analyze and evaluate the “how” and “why” of historical events and even to support a present-day awareness of current events related to Dakota and Ojibwe.

Another book I use when teaching early history is Tatanka and the Lakota People. This is the Dakota creation story; I really love the way it is written in English on one side and Dakota on the other side. It’s just one more resource that helps students create their own understanding of Early Dakota.

student maps
Student work, courtesy Krista Betcher.

Map creation is a big part of my classroom. The resource I’ve used is the “True North: Mapping Minnesota’s History” website through the Minnesota Historical Society, but unfortunately it’s being updated and is not currently available. I’m anxious to access it again, on the new platform! As we progress through the textbook, I always go back and refer to previous student-created maps. For instance, when talking about the treaties, I refer back to the maps they created for Early Dakota and Ojibwe Migration (see the two examples). This allows my students to see, through their own creation, how life changed through history for the Dakota and Ojibwe.

student maps 2
Student work, courtesy Krista Betcher.

This year, I had my students create “stop motion” videos of their treaty map. I am sharing three examples: one is an iMovie trailer and the other two are stop motion videos (video 1 and video 2). These three examples are a good snapshot of how my students are creating their own understanding. One map example is at right, and I really like the visual impact of the stop motion movie in conjunction with the map.

Growing up, I hated history, because it was “read the textbook, answer the questions at the back of the book, take a test……then repeat.” I never created meaning from history, the way it was taught. Now, I am blessed to teach Minnesota History, and it’s my mission to help history become real and meaningful to my students. In my classroom, with varied resources and technology, I am helping my students create their own understanding of Minnesota History and specifically Dakota and Ojibwe history.


Montileaux, Donald F. Tatanka and the Lakota People: A Creation Story. Pierre, SD: South Dakota State Historical Society, 2006. Print.

Wargin, Kathy-jo, and David Geister. The Legend of Minnesota. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear, 2006. Print.

Wargin, Kathy-jo, and Gijsbert Van Frankenhuyzen. The Legend of the Lady’s Slipper. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear, 2001. Print.

Wargin, Kathy-jo, and Gijsbert Van Frankenhuyzen. The Legend of the Loon. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear, 2000. Print.

A Quarter of American Indian Studies

Guest blogger: Pete Bothun, Harding High School

This year has been a year of change in our Social Studies department: for the first time, we were able to devote a whole quarter to American Indian Studies! We approached the unit from a different perspective and worked from modern day backwards. This approach really hooked the students in and got them involved.

We started with the mascot issue and looked at the various perspectives on this issue, and our discussions took on a life of their own. The first mascot lesson we looked at was the University of North Dakota. This was particularly relevant because of the logo and nickname change. We also offered the opportunity for our students to either observe or take part in the October 18 protest at TCF Bank Stadium, before the football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Kansas City Chiefs. As a part of the discussion about this protest, we were able to get Barry Frantum, one of the organizers of the protest, to speak to our classes.

What was extremely challenging was developing the curriculum on the fly. Our American history PLC worked countless hours to make sure the curriculum we taught was intentional and thoughtful. We were one of the first schools to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. As a part of our celebration, our students put together multimedia presentations highlighting Native American heroes and activists. We did this as we were breaking down the 1970s protest at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. We used the PBS program We Shall Remain, which generated some passionate discussion about the reasons why this happened.

The students then finished the quarter by producing an interactive timeline chronicling the history of the Native nations and the issues that they have faced over the course of the history of North America, beginning with the first European contact. The final piece of the assignment was a reflection on the quarter as a whole. We are still looking at the data, but the feedback we received from our students was very positive!