Providing Native Culture in your classroom

Guest blogger: Amanda Sorby, Nay Ah Shing High School, Onamia

I grew up about 30 minutes from the Mille Lacs Band Reservation, I had several Native American students in my school, local rivers, towns, and places held Native American names, and yet I hardly remember seeing native culture in my school let alone learning about it. We come from a state that’s history is rich in Native American influence yet our students rarely if ever see, hear, or experience it. Now as a teacher in a Native American school I am immersed in this culture on a daily basis and find it hard not to teach history without Native Americans. Because of this I try to pass on this knowledge to my family. I am blessed to be able to bring my children to cultural functions at the school and my hope is that my children will understand that this culture is alive today and question why it isn’t taught to them in school. But I am still learning every day and one of the most important things I have learned is that no matter where I teach in the future I will always incorporate as much Native American culture and history in my lessons as possible. I have created a “tool box” of Native American resources that I will carry with me through my teaching career.

There are many simple ways that I have incorporated culture in my classroom. Ojibwe words are labeled on items in my room. The date is in Ojibwe along with the days of the week on my schedule board.  I keep Native American newspapers available in my classroom. Posters of Native Americans are on the walls. These are simple things that teachers around the country can add to make their classrooms feel more multi-cultural.  There are many other resources available to use in teaching as well. I have been blessed by gaining a large collection of resources and books through the wonderful cultural staff that I have worked with along the way. Listed are some of my favorites.


Mille Lacs Band Historical Site:

Ojibwe People’s Dictionary:

American Indian Education (classroom games, lessons, and videos)


Iroquois Confederacy: (Government)

“We Shall Remain”

(Videos for Teens made by Teens)


“6 Misconceptions About Native American People | Teen Vogue”:

“What does it mean to be Aboriginal?”:


“Ojibwe in Minnesota” By Anton Treuer

“Ojibwe, Waasa Inaabidaa, We look in all Directions” By: Thomas Peacock and Marleene Wisuri

“Living Our Language” Edited By: Anton Treuer

News Papers: (Current Events)

“The Circle”

“Indian Country News”

“National Native News”

Teaching the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862

Guest blogger: Laura Pasiuk, Century Middle School, Lakeville


As I thought of what to write my blog post on I decided to write about how I teach the US Dakota War of 1862.   I just started teaching about it this week and I thought it would be helpful for my own personal reflection and perhaps give some ideas for other teachers to use.    To set the stage of the US Dakota war my teaching partner Christy and I used something called a History Mystery, we actually received this idea at the Northern Lights workshop that we attended in November at the MN History Center.   It was a great way for my students to analyze primary sources and set the stage for what they will be learning about when we study the war.

We spend 4 days reading the different sections of chapter 9 and taking Cornell Notes.   I like to cover each of the four main parts of the war: Setting the Stage, Government and Tensions, War, and Aftermath.   I also use some additional resources each day to enhance what we are learning.   For setting the stage I read pages 46-47, 76 and 211-212 from Little House on the Prairie to show what the white settlers view was of the Dakota.  For government and tensions I read the first chapter from Battle Cry I think it does a great job of reinforcing the Dakota’s frustrations.   For war we read as a class the Eggs Play, the kids think its fun and it gets them moving.   For aftermath I use the History Centers webpage about the war to review aftermath and today.

After we read we show the TPT documentary “A Terrible Massacre”, and I have questions that my students answer.   It’s free on MN Video Vault, which is nice.  This year we are also doing something new that we came up with.   We took events from the timeline of the US Dakota War that is on the History Center’s website.   We chose 16 events that we thought were the most important.   We separated the events and the dates and printed them on large sheets of paper, laminated them and put magnetic tape on them.   We are going to draw a timeline on our white board and give each of the 32 slips of paper to different students.   We are going to read through the script once and assist our students in putting the events and dates in the correct order.   Then after we do this once we are then going to give the class 5 minutes to get them in the correct order on their own.   If they can get it correct on their own then the whole class gets candy.

To wrap up the chapter we give our students a group test.   We allow them to use their notes and it’s a great way to teach them to work together and inspires good dissucction.   Logistically it also cuts down the number of tests that I have to grade down by a lot.   If I have extra time before the test I have my students create a powerful word quilt, see attached images from last year.






A Teacher’s Introspection

Mni Sota Makoce, MNHS Press.

Guest blogger: Brad Sidle, Folwell Performing Arts Magnet School

The book was Mni Sota Makoce, published by the Minnesota Historical Society.  After three weeks of reading a passage here, a chapter there, or a selected pericope fitting into a lesson on American history for seventh grade, I collected some reflections.

“I have a hard time reading this book.”

“I can’t pronounce the words, and I don’t know any of these names.”

“It hurts me to read so much of this.”

“I feel guilty even though I know it happened a long time ago.”

Comments from  my students?  No, those were many of my feelings and reflections.

Observation #1. I wanted to distance myself from so many of the cruel and hurtful acts that were perpetrated against a demonized people.  I wanted to protest that I didn’t live then, and I didn’t do this, and it wasn’t for me.  I wanted to say I didn’t benefit from any of the shameful and selfish actions I read about in the history.  I wanted to be one of the good guys, one of the protagonists, one of the Indians.  I for a moment was the 11-year-old reading the book about Squanto that was in my school library, and dreaming of hunting wild game and living in the wilderness to show my preparation for becoming a warrior, a man.  Of showing bravery and integrity and maturity beyond my years.  For being honorable and known as brave and true.  But I knew I was the outsider, the onlooker, and the “wannabe.”  I felt such a distaste for what I realized were my own ancestors, my own community, my own family.  I shook my head, I cried in silence, and I felt a visceral response to my own complexity in and benefit from the relentless barrage on the people who lived in the land I now call my home, and the small piece which I possess.

Observation #2.  The students in my seventh grade classroom come to historical studies from a wide range of perspectives.  As they read the passages chosen to supplement other readings under the umbrella of Manifest Destiny, they shared some of my feelings.  The names were unfamiliar, the vocabulary was difficult to pronounce or comprehend, the content brought up feelings of pain.  But most of those responses were not primarily from the perspective of the guilty conscience of the victor, but from that of people historically traumatized and victimized.  Much of the history I bring for students to consider is from a culture not theirs, naming names not historically theirs, in places so close in physical proximity but so far in psycho-emotional connection.  Some of them recognize their capacity for introspection and resources for change, and develop the resilience that will serve them in facing all of life’s cruelties and injustices.  Some are struggling to overcome a victim narrative and feel trapped in helplessness and pain.  And some have not yet developed the empathy to feel the pain of others, while some face such continual trauma that they can’t deal with the trauma of anyone else.

Observation #3.  It strikes me that some of the most resistant readers are the native Indian students in my classroom.  Every observation about the students at large in my classroom are observed in microcosm with these students.  Many know little about this history, and many don’t want to know details about this history.  Many don’t trust what their white male teacher chooses for them to read, no matter what the source, and some resent the white male teacher for trying to teach them about their culture, their background, their history.  I have been challenged at times that I don’t know the story, and I have to agree.  I offer the opportunity to them to tell me what I am misunderstanding, but their words often fail them.   Or perhaps it is untellable.  It is often attributed to Louis Armstrong about jazz: if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know.

But in the end, it is my job as a history teacher to offer a breadth of material, from cultures I understand and do not understand, from perspectives I represent and do not represent, about events as they are recorded by the dominant culture and the non-dominant cultures.  I can only hope to plant the seeds of inquisitiveness and thoughtfulness, and this book has certainly fed my own impulses in this direction, and offers to feed my students.

Teaching about Standing Rock

standing-rockThe large-scale protest around the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota offers an opportunity to make history relevant for students by exploring connections between the past and present. Below are a number of articles and teaching suggestions we found that provide context and historical perspective to the current protest. There has also been a lot of compelling coverage via social media — an engaging and comfortable platform for your digital native students.
Have you discussed or taught about the Standing Rock protest in your social studies classes? If so, we’d love to hear how you have done this and what resources you have found most useful. Please share on the MNHS History Education Facebook Page, the Northern Lights Teacher Closed Facebook Group, or tag @HistoryEdMNHS in a Tweet. Let’s have a dialogue!