A Useful Book


Guest blogger: Nicohlas Thornton, Fond du Lac Ojibwe School

As I was thinking about what to write my blog post about, I was not really coming up with any good ideas.  Then, finally I remembered a book that I read in a college class on Native American History.  The book is called Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940, by Brenda J. Child.  As you can probably tell by the title this book, it gives a brief history and real life experience of federal boarding school life in the Midwest.  I found it to be very interesting so I will do my blog post by giving a brief summary of the book and discuss its usefulness in the classroom.

As much as I am embarrassed to say it, prior to reading this book, I barely knew anything about the federal boarding school chapter of Native American and American history and I don’t think we ever even covered it in any of my high school classes.  That is why I found it so interesting and informative.  It is a very short read (only about 100 pages), but a lot of useful information is packed in this book.  I think one of the most important pieces of this book is that it includes letters from parents, students, and administrators at the Flandreau School and the Haskell Institute to really help you understand what life was like at the boarding schools.

One of the most interesting chapters for me is titled “Homesickness”.  This chapter explains how the goal of the schools was to assimilate the students into white American culture and if the schools sent the children back home over the summer, the students would gain back some of their Native culture.  It includes countless letters of parents begging for their children to be sent home and the school would either not respond back or say they see no reason to send the students home.  The only reason students would be allowed to return home was if the family was struggling and they needed the child to work at home to help them survive.   Even in that case, enough money for the round trip travel had to be sent so that they paid for the travel and ensured the students would return to school.  It really showed the hardships that the children and families faced during this era.

I have not used this particular book in my classroom with students, but I definitely think it could be useful, especially for older high school students, because of all the primary sources that are included.  It is also pretty short which makes it easier to use.  Even if you don’t use it in in the classroom it is useful for teachers to read and gain a better understanding of this terrible time in American history.  I know it was able to do that for me.



Child, Brenda J. Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940.

Lincoln: U of Nebraska, 2012. Print.

Dropping “Savage” from the Vernacular

Guest blogger: Eric Cameron, Mahtomedi Alternative Learning Center


Over the last three semesters, a new slang term arrived in my school.  Savage.  As in “dude, that was so savage” for a bold action.  When discussing the process that George Washington would have undergone to get dental implants, a student even remarked, “what a savage!”  He was taken aback when I responded by saying, “Actually, Washington probably wouldn’t have appreciated being called a savage.”  The room was silent.  Thus began my campaign against the savageness (Webster’s definition) of the term “savage” (Urban Dictionary definition).

The top definition of “savage” on Urban Dictionary is “Bad ass.  Cool.  Violent.”  Whereas Webster’s defines the term as “not domesticated or under human control,” “lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings,” and “wild, uncultivated, boorish, and lacking complex or advanced culture.”  Where the definition in Webster’s certainly does not match the tenor and style of General and President Washington, the Urban Dictionary definition could be applied to the specific example being discussed at the time.  This begs the question, should a word or phrase be barred from common parlance as a result of its historical usage, even if it has taken on a new meaning?  Contemporary appropriation of cultural and historical language and symbols is nothing new.  The most commonly thought of example of this in a history classroom is the swastika; originally used as a religious symbol in eastern religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.  However, once it was coopted by the German Nazi Party in the 20th century, the symbol is no longer used in Europe and the western hemisphere.  Should the word savage follow suit?  American Indians were derided as savages, as lacking culture, because theirs was markedly different from that of the European colonizers.  The term “savage” was used to justify and perpetuate a systematic eradication of American Indian cultures and racial genocide of American Indian peoples.  Just as at Adolf Hitler and the Nazis knew that if they could teach racial superiority the German youth they would be able to use that notion to perpetuate support for the Third Reich, the Euro-Americans knew that if they could destroy the culture of American Indian youths through Indian Boarding Schools, if American Indian youths were taught self-hatred and forced to live as Anglo-European children, they could be indoctrinated into a “more civilized” lifestyle based on settled farmland and Christianity.

  Stopping the slang usage of “savage” has not been an easy campaign, but after nearly a year of conversations with students about the history of the word “savage,” the term has been all but eradicated from the vocabulary of 916 Mahtomedi Academy students.  It’s possible that the term fell out of use due to changing cultural trends, just as past phrases such as “rad” and “hip” have fallen out of the popular vernacular, however, I would like to think that my continual reminders and reteaching the word’s role in American History played a part in its disappearance from my students’ vocabulary.  

My classroom and my school are small compared to the greater American culture, but perhaps if those who have the influence and ability to alter the shared cultural language of American society choose to do so, they can stop the common parlance of such derogatory, and frankly, inaccurate, phrases such as “let’s pow-wow on that”, “hold down the fort,” and “low man on the totem pole.”  As teachers, we have that power within our classrooms and schools.  And as history teachers, we can take it a step further and slowly rid our curriculum of the idea that Columbus “discovered” the “New” World, and treat American Indian history as a part of American History, instead of relegating it to sections on with titles such as “the first Americans” and “the Trail of Tears”.  America’s future history depends on us to do so.


Guest blogger: Gary Lussier, Sr., Minneapolis Middle Schools

American Indian students begin to understand who they are in the vastness of the universe.  I went into a ceremony as a young man and witnessed the humility exuded by the conductor of the ceremony.  Humility in American Indian culture is presented many ways in one’s life time.  In this ceremony the spiritual leader welcomed any the spirits and introduced his self as the humble being asking for forgiveness for being so forward.  I saw him explain to the creation how insignificant he was, a small being to be understood.  As a teenager this put into my spiritual perspective the greatness that surrounded me, a vast universe, and a vast cosmos!  The spiritual leader referred to his self as most likely the least important even insignificant on this earth.  I felt humbled by the ceremony.  I am grateful to have experienced that profound feeling over and over throughout my life.

I have read over the years why that spiritual leader did what he did in others’ writings.  Writers conveyed who we are in the mix of life on earth as the “good beings.”  Perhaps one the clearest illustration of our place in life is written in the introduction of the late Basil Johnston’s book Manitous The Spiritual World of the Ojibway.  The Anishinabe or the “good beings,” throughout history experienced humbleness as I did; today teaching this to Middle School students has been my honor.

Standing in front of class I explain how approaching the area of a red willow stand early in the morning with humbleness I offer a gift of asemaa (tobacco) to the spirit world for what I was about to take.  The red willow sticks in front of each student would produce asemaa (tobacco). Students would make it by scraping off the top layer of red bark and then scraping the second layer and that would be the asemaa (tobacco).  To help students to understand there is a unique story in Edward Benton-Banai’s book The Mishomis Book The Voice of the Ojibway who writes the story of the gifts of the four directions.  Asemaa (tobacco) is the first medicine.

The social atmosphere of the classroom is rewarding.  Student questions abound and eyes and ears want to know the more of our culture and small glimmers of humility can be seen when I look very close.


Basil Johnston’s book Manitous The Spiritual World of the Ojibway

Edward Benton-Banai’s book The Mishomis Book The Voice of the Ojibway

The Four Sacred Medicines


Red Willow / Asemaa

Road Trippin’ – American Indian Studies Style

Guest blogger: Christy Vosika, Century Middle School, Lakeville

There are so many ways to further investigate Minnesota’s American Indian roots and I feel lucky to live in a state that seems to embrace its history.  I am also fortunate to teach with someone that is willing to get her Minnesota Studies “nerd” on and go to these historic sites with me.   We even drag our poor children with.  We have both been teaching 6th grade MN Studies in Lakeville for the last four years and each year we plan a history-geek site trip.  For my blog post, I thought I would go over some past American Indian specific trips as well as some that we have been dreaming about getting to.  I hope you enjoy our pictures of our rowdy good times!

Past Trips

Jeffers Petroglyphs

“Amid the prairie grasses are islands of uncovered rock, where American Indian ancestors left carvings — petroglyphs — humans, deer, elk, buffalo, turtles, thunderbirds, atlatls and arrows. They tell a story that spans more than 7,000 years.” – http://sites.mnhs.org/historic-sites/jeffers-petroglyphs

Lower Sioux Agency

“Established in 1853 by the U.S. government as the administrative center of the newly created Dakota reservation and the site of the first organized attack in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. A history center exhibit explores the Dakota story before, during and after the War. Self-guided trails take visitors to the restored 1861 stone warehouse and the Redwood Ferry crossing.” – http://sites.mnhs.org/historic-sites/lower-sioux-agency

Brown County Historical Society Museum

“Built in 1910 as the New Ulm Post Office, this brick German Renaissance-style building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the city’s most architecturally distinct structures. Inside, you’ll find an exhibit on the history of the Dakota War of 1862, an expansive historical display of Brown County’s Century Farms, and items from our Sister City of Ulm, Germany, proudly presented in the Ulm Room…Outside, you can view a map of Brown County’s most historically significant sites and an excellent painting of New Ulm during the Dakota War. “ – http://www.newulm.com/visitors-community/things-to-do/attractions/brown-county-museum/

Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post

“The Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post includes a museum dedicated to telling the story of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and an adjacent restored 1930s trading post where visitors can find American Indian gifts from Mille Lacs artisans.” http://sites.mnhs.org/historic-sites/mille-lacs-indian-museum

North West Company Fur Post

“Step into a reconstructed fur post from the winter of 1804. Meet a French voyageur, a British fur trade clerk and visit an Ojibwe encampment. The visitor center houses an expansive exhibit gallery with a 24-foot birch canoe, a 30-foot tall stone fireplace and a gift shop. The Snake River heritage trails are open year round for hiking, snowshoeing and skiing.” http://sites.mnhs.org/historic-sites/north-west-company-fur-post


Road trip wish list

Bloomington River Rendezvous

“This wonderful festival is a chance to experience living history at the Pond-Dakota Mission Park in Bloomington, Minnesota. Its goal is to demonstrate the lifestyles of people living in Minnesota between 1830 and 1870 through story-telling and interactive, hands-on demonstration!” https://www.bloomingtonmn.gov/pr/river-rendezvous

Pipestone National Monument

“For countless generations, American Indians have quarried the red pipestone found at this site. These grounds are sacred to many people because the pipestone quarried here is carved into pipes used for prayer. Many believe that the pipe’s smoke carries one’s prayer to the Great Spirit. The traditions of quarrying and pipemaking continue here today.” https://www.nps.gov/pipe/index.htm

Blog post for the Minnesota Historical Society, teacher cohort on Native American history in Minnesota

Guest blogger: Kirstin Ruth Bratt, St. Cloud State University

January 29, 2017

In a nation that remains deeply divided politically, our understanding of current events is often reflected in our understanding of history. Our understanding of “truth” is often deeply dependent on our political viewpoints.

As a professor of reading and study skills, I was curious to know whether the treaties between the United States government and the Native American governments could provide a chance for students to read objectively. By objectively, I mean that students could put aside their personal viewpoints to read two treaties from the 19th century in a thoughtful and investigative manner, reflecting on both sides of each treaty to consider motives and claims and assumptions.

At the end of the fall semester of 2016, I asked my students to complete a rhetorical analysis of two treaties:

What I wanted to know from their analyses was whether or not students would be able, given a series of steps and guiding questions, to read the treaties in a thoughtful and complex way, as rhetoricians or historians or social scientists might read them.

Besides the typical reading questions about thesis, supporting details, transitions, inferences, patterns of organization, bias, tone, and purpose, I also asked students to think about the treaties in terms of benefits, promises, language, historical changes, assumptions, relationships, gains, and losses[i]

My students were split regarding the bias of the treaties. About half of the students believed that the treaties were biased toward the USA, while the other half believed that they were biased toward the Native Americans. Some students noted that the tone of the documents shifted in the years between 1837 and 1851, becoming friendlier over time, but they disagreed about why this may have happened. Some believed that the US government was becoming more conciliatory, while others felt that the US was becoming more manipulative. A few students noted that the treaties were written and signed in English, and that the use of English was unfair or signaled an illegitimate process.

About half of my students, those who focused more on the financial side of the treaties, believed that the treaties favored the Native Americans. The other half, those who focused on the land itself, felt that the Native Americans were being mistreated and that the United States was taking advantage of a more powerful economic position. Most students recognized that the Native Americans were being asked to cede land to the United States, but some students stated the opposite: that United States was giving land to the Native Americans. All students recognized that payments would go to Native Americans, but they had varied responses about this. Some felt that the payments were high, others low, but none had done any outside research to determine the value of the money or the land at the time of the treaties. A few commented that the Native Americans were between a rock and a hard place: they could accept the terms of the treaties and accept some payment for the land or lose everything later after further aggressions.

The results of my assignment are mixed, as might have been expected from a group of students in a diverse social context, and highlighted for me the fact that I need to teach rhetorical analysis with a variety of primary and secondary documents rather than just the two treaties in isolation. When students read the treaties, they accepted the words at face value rather than reading between the lines, and a lack of prior knowledge and historical context almost assures that a student will not be able to carry out an informed reading of primary sources.

[i] Questions asked included the following:

  • How can you discover the main point?
  • Is the main point explicit or implied?
  • What is the main point of the passage?
  • What are the supporting details? In other words, what details are being used to support and elaborate the main point of the treaty?
  • What are the transitional words and phrases used by the writer?
  • What is the pattern of organization used by the writer?
  • What inferences can be read into the text?
  • What is the purpose of the text?
  • What is the bias of the writer?
  • What is the tone of the manuscript?
  • What are the underlying assumptions of the writer? Provide at least three assumptions (or warrants). What are the claims of each side?
  • What are the benefits of the treaty for each signer?
  • What are the promises in the treaty?
  • What stands to be gained? What stands to be lost?
  • Find words that seem to have negative connotations. What are the words and their connotations?
  • Find words that seem to have positive connotations. What are the words and their connotations?
  • What seems to have changed in between 1837 and 1851?
  • How might you describe the relationship between the parties to each treaty?