Interpreting Moments of American Indian Activism

byTravis Bouldin


“Our country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty” are the popular words of an American ballad that stirs feelings of pride and reinforces the American Dream.  This popular anthem strengthens principles of freedom, justice, and a shared value of the American countryside.  However, the idea of who qualifies as “American” has been questionable since the day Europeans arrived.  In the years following, informal and formal laws defined American citizenship, which has shifted frequently.  Africans, Native Americans, women, future European immigrants and other groups of people are alike in that they have been legally written out of American citizenship throughout history.  As time progressed, disenfranchised people living on American territory began to demand the rights and privileges outlined in American policies, laws, and referenced in patriotic songs.  Though formal laws changed to include more groups, the dark stain of past abuses still impedes progress in securing equal rights and protections for all previously oppressed groups.  Native Americans are a group of people impacted by the slow evolvement of the law and mindsets.

Throughout the Americas, Native Americans have suffered many cruelties as a result of the arrival of Europeans.  Native Americans have been captured and used as slaves.  Homelands have been looted and pillaged.  Natives have been forced to relinquish lands they have held for centuries.1  While there were instances of cooperation during colonial period, the policy of removal was a monumental injustice.  American laws and policies led to a series of rebellions, battles, and massacres that resulted in division and mistrust.2  The massacres include the much publicized Wounded Knee, while the Trail of Tears is a removal that is frequently referenced.  These same policies continue to divide and lead to mistrust today.

Minority students living in Washington, D.C. will connect to the mistrust that American Indians have for the U.S. government and policy makers.  Locally, there are policies regarding fair housing that have left many families homeless.  Displaced residents received promises that they would be able to return to communities they were asked to leave due to housing complexes being sold, torn down and rebuilt.  However, many students and families are finding that the housing is not available at the same rates.  In fact, in most instances the cost of housing doubled.  Organizations such as the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) have rallied to help displaced residents.  WIN empowers families, who have lived in respective neighborhoods for generations, to petition city representatives to acknowledge and extend fair housing laws.

Background and Rationale

Often referred to as American Indians in modern-day discourse, tribes are still fighting for civil rights, guaranteed through treaties, individually and collectively.  Though the policy of removal is no longer a main fear of American Indians, the right to use the land is an important, ongoing battle.3  Most Americans acknowledge the broken treaties of the past, which led to the familiar Trail of Tears and other large movements.  Yet, many Americans overlook the broken treaties between the U.S. government and American Indians, which impacts their societies today.  This includes the promise of allocated funds, the right to use land for hunting and fishing, self-determination practices, and the right to be treated with respect on and off reservations.4  By and large, American Indians and their supporters no longer fight for these rights with weapons and bloodshed, but by taking civic action through protests, negotiations, and the overall use of diplomacy.  The American Indian Movement and the National Congress of American Indians are two contemporary movements that engage in the work for American Indian rights. 

The social status of American Indians has critical implications nationally and there are connections globally.  As with many other minority groups, American Indians seek to be recognized with equal protection and rights under the law.  Recognition has a firm foundation politically.  The federal government currently recognizes a myriad of indigenous tribes. Still, recognition goes beyond a documented decree of existence.  Federal treaties and documents acknowledge American Indian existence, but, at times, they do not enforce federal treaties or the extent of autonomy granted by written agreement.5 There is particularly a conflict between state and federal laws. State laws come into conflict with federal allowances not only for the right to use land for fishing, hunting and a general way of life, but also in the judiciary systems.6 Tribal courts have been given the authority to handle internal disputes, but there can be delays in justice depending on the citizenship of who is being tried.7

American Indian rights are closely tied to recognition and tribal self-determination.  Native tribes have negotiated specific terms and conditions with policymakers.  These treaties are what American Indians use to determine tribal progress and national respect.  It is determined by whether or not American Indians are allowed to continue their way of life as indicated in federal treaties.  In addition, equality refers to the treatment of American Indians once they leave reservations.  American Indians should be afforded the same respect and social treatment as the majority group in America.  It is important that there is a distinction between American Indian rights and the civil rights of other formerly oppressed groups in America.

Though equality for American Indians looks different, the connections to other oppressed populations is very much apparent.  The history of interactions with European settlers include atrocities that have manifested into a sense of mistrust and division that may very well plague the American society for hundreds of years to come.  Yet, there is hope in moving forward. Citizens, social advocates, and policymakers have an enormous impact on how to move forward with American Indian interactions and socialization.  This should not be viewed as a problem for bureaucrats to solve, but an issue that all American citizens can shape directly and indirectly.  The investigation of American Indian backgrounds, culture, and treaty promises will allow citizens to take informed action to achieve the ideals America was founded on.

The School

The Walker Jones Education campus is a prek-8 campus in central Washington, D.C.  The area is quickly gentrifying as older apartment buildings are torn down and replaced with newer condos and apartments.  Developers have promised to designate a certain number of units as subsidized units to help with affordable housing for residents.  However, these units are rarely affordable and many residents do not return.  This has not impacted the demographics of the school tremendously.  Still, it impacts the community, which has implications for the future of the community school.

The Students

Grade eight students will explore this unit over the course of five weeks.  The school overall has a reading proficiency rate of 17%, which can make text comprehension and analysis very difficult.  All students are students of color and more than 90% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.  Many students have social-emotional stressors from the typical problems that plague urban communities to include drug and alcohol abuse at home, malnutrition, lack of educational support and a cycle of generational poverty.  Several students currently receive mental health services through a partner organization.  On-time and consistent attendance is an issue for 40% of grade eight students.  The academic strategies and activities are carefully selected to increase student engagement, while pushing student rigor with an awareness of student social emotional needs. 


In order to understand the American Indian social movements today it is important to understand the American Indian movements that have taken place over the last sixty years.  Understanding the past will undoubtedly assist in understanding present-day actions.  This unit will focus on four movements that increased national awareness in the American Indian fight for rights, the pursuit of self-determination, recognition of treaty rights, and foundational respect by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM).  The first movement is the Alcatraz campaign.  During the campaign, American Indians seized federal property and staged and extended occupancy in an attempt to negotiate rights with the U.S. government.  The Trail of Broken Treaties movement was a march from the west coast to Washington, DC, which focused on securing rights for all American Indians through negotiations with the U.S. government.  Next, there was a movement in the small town of Gordon, Nebraska, that demonstrated the social and economic power of American Indians when allied together.  Finally, the Wounded Knee operation is another occupation of federal lands in attempt to start political negotiations with the U.S. government.  The American Indian Movement swept through contemporary America “like a hurricane.”8  The movement rallied American Indians across many tribes and the organization solidified a position as a trusted and respected American Indian civil rights group. 

The American Indian Movement was formally founded in 1968 as a coalition of various American Indian tribes attempting to reinforce principals of sovereignty of American Indian tribal members and reinforcement of treaty rights.9  In the 1950s, the US federal government began terminating treaty agreement and encouraging American Indians to relocate to urban areas.10  This was problematic because treaties were viewed as the supreme law of American Indian land.  Without treaties dissention arose.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is an important organization in the advancement and stagnation of the American Indian movement.  The BIA supported American Indian relocation by offering housing, jobs, and other financial incentives.11  Once in these specified cities, especially in developing cities in California, support was not always there.  Some American Indians remained finding a new exhilaration for non-reservation life.  Some American Indians could not find jobs and or housing.  As a result, many turned back toward their old reservations.  In fact, one-third of the American Indians that left reservations using money from the BIA, returned to their reservations.12

Beneath the lure of finding hope in cities was the underlying focus of assimilation.  American Indians would immerse themselves in the culture of America and begin adopting cultural practices to include language, technology and overall socialization.13  The federal government also encouraged white families to adopt American Indian children, as opposed to placing children with American Indian families.14  Government officials believed that white families would be able to give American Indians a normal home life and environment. 

American Indians that refused to assimilate were among the members that led to the formal establishment of AIM.  The group focused on several issues including inequalities in the welfare system as it related to American Indians, poor housing, police brutality and unemployment.  Though born out of honorable social issues such as the right to liberty, self-determination, and natural rights, AIM was off-putting to many Americans due to the nature of how they operated.15  The group did not always use civil disobedience in their practices, but they never intended to.  Instead, they were militant when necessary and demanding, holding the government and the people of the U.S. accountable to treaties and fair practices.  The Alcatraz Campaign, Trail of Broken Treaties, Nebraska Occupation and Wounded Knee highlight the strategies AIM used to gain momentum in the American Indian fight for civil rights.


The island of Alcatraz became the scene for an American Indian takeover that eventually drew national attention to the AIM movement.  Mohawk Richard Oakes, one of the leaders, and other Natives sailed to the island that once housed the abandoned federal prison on November, 9, 1969.  The island was claimed for “All Indians.”  Many occupiers were students from UCLA and other local campuses.  They immediately went to work establishing laws, order, and policies to live peacefully among one another while calling for negotiations with the U.S. government.  Occupiers set up rooms in prison cells as leaders stayed in the former guard quarters.  All Indians had a voice at meetings.  At one point, the only ask was to deed the island to American Indians.  With donations pouring in from across the country, positive press coverage, and American sympathizers, the campaign was initially a success.16

American Indians from several tribes viewed the Alcatraz as a turning point.  It was among the first Pan-American Indian movements.  Tribes were coming together for a more than “just powwows and dancing”, as one American Indian referenced, “we are coming together for a future.”17  For the American Indians, this was politics.

American Indians worked together to make the island habitable, though they lacked several basic systems that would have made the island livable.  In that regard, many American Indians sarcastically compared it to reservation life, which supported their claim to keep the property.  One leader listed that it lacked wild game, resources, water and other things American Indians did not have on reservations.  In addition, as time progressed, the donations that came were very similar to the second-hand items that American Indians received on reservations.18

As time progressed, a wave of concerns hit the island.  The lack of supplies including scarce food supplies proved to be difficult for some occupiers.  Many students returned to campus to begin their next semester and many others returned to the mainland just for better accommodations.  The American Indians that remained were replaced by what was referred to as hippy Indians, who seemed to be more concerned with recreational drug use and having a good time. 

Other tragedies hit the island, which caused the news media to begin telling a narrative of disaster and dysfunction.  Richard Oates daughter died after falling from a landing.  This cause many sympathizers to question the safety of the island.19  Others questioned adult supervision in general. 

The federal government eventually cut the electricity and water supply.  Soon after, a fire broke out which proved to be disastrous.  The media officially deemed the occupation as one focused on assault, theft, and unsafe conditions.20  Eventually, President Nixon gave the order to remove the few people that remained on the island in June, 1971. 

The Alcatraz campaign did not have the outcome pursued by American Indians.  However, the movement was powerful in that it built awareness and pride.  The movement highlighted what was possible when American Indians stood together.  Alcatraz was a crucial point in American Indian history that would lead to AIM movements to come.

The Alcatraz campaign was a bold movement in contemporary American Indian history.  American Indians took a huge risk in the seizing of federal property.  In addition, they made social, economic, and family sacrifices in support of all American Indian Tribes.  Like many first attempts, the occupation did not meet the final objectives.  Still, like many other successful movements throughout history, the occupation increased awareness and was a stepping stone on the path to American Indian self-determination.

Trail of Broken Treaties

In the year following the removal of the last American Indians from Alcatraz, AIM and other American Indian organizations and supporters embarked on their next big endeavor.  Caravans of Native Americans organized on the west coast and began traveling east with a final destination of Washington, D.C.  The ultimate goal was to present to the federal government the Twenty-Point position paper.  The paper wanted the federal government to revitalize the treaty making process, create a treaty commission to review violations and supply compensation and asked the federal government to conduct Indian policy as stated in the treaties.21  It was the hope that a resolution on the points presented in the paper would lead to a resolution on issues that continued to plague American Indians societies.  This undertaking relied heavily on the news media outlets to share the story of the movement and advance their cause.  However, as the caravan moved closer to D.C. the media coverage dwindled and things took an unexpected turn.

A caravan of 800-1000 people arrived in Washington D.C., and went the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office.  Confusion made the initial meeting extremely inhospitable.  American Indians were promised housing and board, which were not available upon arriving.  Many had to individually seek shelter and the accommodations that were provided were in places that were shared with rats.22  To make matters worse, the Nixon administration refused to meet with the band of American Indians.  Some American Indians felt as if they had been fooled.  This lead to a conflict with the BIA and a standoff with high tension.

The BIA was founded in 1824 as an agency within the U.S. Department of Interior.  The purpose was to enhance the quality of life for American Indians, promote economic opportunities, and to protect assets and tribal trusts of American Indians, Indians tribes, and Alaska Natives.23  Despite the mission, many American Indian were already in conflict with the BIA.  Many felt that the BIA did not have the best interest of American Indians in mind nor did the organization serve American Indians well.  American Indians also complained that bureaucratic processes of the BIA did very little to have a positive impact on the day-to-day living of American Indians.  American Indians went on to accuse the BIA of mismanagement of trust resources and responsibility to individual tribes. 

Feeling as if they had been double-crossed, some American Indians began destroying papers, documents, records, deeds and other items in the BIA office.  In response, the local authorities were called, and they gathered around the building with snipers stationed atop rooftops.  American Indians responded by setting up barricades in the office space and began fashioning weapons.  The activists were prepared to fight anyone that attempted to remove them. 

The resolution was a stalemate of sorts.  Neither side received what they sought.  However, American Indians were allowed to leave without charges and the government allotted a portion of money to help with travel expenses. 

The Trail of Broken Treaties was not a complete loss.  The campaign was one of several events that would eventually lead to legislation to give American Indians more control.  In the mid-1970s, legislation passed to give more power to the local recognized tribes in regards to use of funds.  This also included the right to hold tribal courts.  Indirectly, a surge of national American Indian pride and awareness was directly associated with the caravan trail.

The Nebraska Campaign

While the American Indian Movement enjoyed popular success in urban areas, the movement did not have strong connections in rural areas and on reservations.  This changed after an American Indian, Raymond Yellow Thunder, was found dead in border town.  Young activists, recalling the recent campaigns of AIM, contacted the organization for help.  AIM arrived with other supporters and rocketed AIM to a new level of respect as an American Indian social movement.

Oglala Lakota Yellow Thunder was found dead in his pick-up truck in the border town of Gordon, Nebraska in February, 1972.  Initially, reports rumored that he was tortured and mutilated by white men in the town.  It was soon revealed that he did not suffer from physical torture or mutilation, but that he was the target of a hate crime.

Four white men approached Raymond Yellow Thunder in town.  All parties were intoxicated.  The men beat Raymond stripped him of the bottom half of his clothing and put him in the trunk of their car.  Raymond Yellow Thunder suffered other abuses before he was last seen by an American Indian boy who reported that Yellow Thunder told him that he was “beat by white men.” 24

Raymond Yellow Thunder was found eight days later dead him his pickup truck.  The autopsy report found that he died from exposure and complications stemming from blunt force trauma to his head.  AIM organizers demanded a second autopsy and it confirmed the findings of the first autopsy.  Two of the four men were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years and prison and two years in prison respectively.  Each also received a $500 fine.  American Indians were not convinced that justice was appropriately served.25

Well before the trial, AIM arrived in the town of Gordon within days of being notified that Raymond Yellow Thunder was killed.  Nearly 1,400 American Indians from 80 different tribes and supported arrived in town to demonstrate and to take action.  AIM and supporters boycotted certain establishments they found to be unwelcoming to American Indians.  They also moved more than one-million dollars of tribal money out of the Gordon banks.  Many residents stayed inside out of fear, unsure of what the American Indian group had in mind.  AIM demanded justice through the criminal justice system.26  This caused political and economic strife in the town of Gordon. 

In response, the town of Gordon agreed to create a human rights commission.  They also disciplined an officer accused of mistreating American Indians while in custody.  The governor stepped in well to ensure there was an investigation completed with integrity.

A strong message of intolerance of abusive practices was sent to Gordon and other border towns.  In addition, the events in Gordon exposed a failed system of the BIA as it relates to tribal governments.  Many American Indians felts that the tribal governments could have prevented the death of Raymond Yellow Thunder and similar incidents if they were running effectively.  With their new voice, local American Indians openly spoke out against the Dick Wilson, the tribal leader.  AIM shifted their attention to prepare for the next major movement.

The victory in Gordon solidified AIM as an empowering movement for American Indians.  American Indians came together and policies changed based on their actions.  The Gordon campaign encouraged American Indians all of the country.  American Indians found power in standing together.  AIM reached the rankings of being a credible organization that achieved results.

Wounded Knee

An indirect outcome of the Gordon Campaign was the voiced concerns over tribal government leadership.  Dick Wilson was a name mentioned multiple times. Wilson was the Sioux tribal leader.  American Indians under his leadership complained of corruption, abuses suffered by his opponents, and the failure of the U.S. government to fulfill treaties.  After efforts to impeach Wilson failed AIM was contacted for support.  AIM and other supporters planned a march to demonstrate protest to Wilson’s leadership.  Wilson learned of the march and moved to federal lines for protection and support. Also, Wilson, already in conflict with AIM, banned all AIM activities.  Understanding that AIM would not be able to demonstrate as planned, Russell Means set his sight on a nearby venue with historical significance.  The American Indian Movement held Wounded Knee to force a federal investigation of the Dick Wilson administration, a federal investigation of other reservations, an investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and broken treaties.27  

The original Wounded Knee massacre took place in 1890 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  American Indians were surrounded and there were orders to hand over weapons.  There was a skirmish that broke out between a white man and Indian.  An unknown shot was fired, which lead to the bloodshed.  Over one-half of the 150 American Indians killed were women and children.  The U.S. lost 25 soldiers.  It is generally believed that the battle could have been avoided.  Big Foot, the Lakota Sioux Chief, was surrounded, outnumbered and was believed to have complied with the directive issues by the U.S. government.  It is rumored that the massacre was retaliation killing for the Plains Indians defeat of the U.S. army at Little Bighorn in 1876.

Nearly a century later, Russell Means and 200 AIM supports made their way to Wounded Knee and prepared for a siege.  There were eleven hostages with the AIM group, but there has been a debate over whether or not they were hostages.  A member from the hostage group noted they were free to leave, but decided to stay.  Wilson and local troops soon surrounded Wounded Knee and preventing protesters from leaving and prevented sympathizers from getting in.  The siege lasted for 71 days.28  Federal Marshals and National Guard members cut off water and electricity.  In addition, there was an attempt to keep food from entering the Wounded Knee area.  During one food drop, American Indians were fired upon as they ran from shelter to get food and supplies.  On May 8, AIM surrendered after White House officials ensured the groups they would start the demanded investigations.  American Indian Movement leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks were arrested, but were later released after the finding that evidence was tampered with.

A quiet war continued with Dick Wilson after the Wounded Knee occupation dispersed.  Several opponents of Wilson were killed in the years following the occupation.  Today, the Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the poorest areas in the U.S. Adult unemployment rates are between 70-80%.  A victory was claimed by AIM, but work still needs to be done.


There have been several American Indians movements and organizations outside of AIM that have led to some advances within American Indians societies.  During the time of AIM, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) continued to advocate for legal rights through court proceedings.  The NCAI continued to gain tribal sovereignty and self-determination through a series of court rulings.  Other important American Indians kept the movement alive through their respective work organizing, rallying and petitioning.  Richard Oakes, Russell Means and Dennis Banks have appeared in the text above, but there were others such as Clyde Bellecourt, Hank Adams, Vine Deloria Jr, Ada Deer and Billy Frank Jr.  In his book, Blood Struggle, Charles Wilkinson attests that the modern sovereignty movement does not have one single inspirational leader such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Ceasar Chavez.  Instead, there is a group of leaders that embodied strength, dedication, and resilience in different aspects of the movement.

The Student Assessment

Students will complete a variety of tasks and activities, which will give them the information they need to answer the unit’s compelling question. The compelling question is the culminating activity that will give students the opportunity to write an opinion piece using evidence from a variety of tasks including primary and secondary sources, video excerpts, transcripts, website pages, and photographs. The sources will provide a variety of perspectives including that of American Indians, executive branch cabinet members, non-Native community members, state officials, celebrities, federal treaties, and state laws. Students will have the resources needed to draw an informed conclusion, which will ultimately lead them to take civic action to support tribal sovereignty and tribal self-determination today. 

The compelling unit question will read as follows: “Much of what Americans learn about American Indian cultures comes from sensationalized accounts of Disney characters such as Pocahontas and instances of early cooperation and conflict.  In addition, many public school history curricula do not cover contemporary American Indians societies.  After reading primary and secondary text sources, watching videos, and analyzing photographs, draw a conclusion about the contemporary American Indian Movement.  Use evidence from a variety of sources to support your claim.”

Teaching Strategies Overview

This unit is designed to reach a wide range of learners.  In urban classrooms, reading levels and student skills will vary.  Teachers attempt to close the gap through effective differentiation techniques, which can be difficult to implement daily.  The instructional strategies outlined are suggestions to be used at the discretion of the teacher.  The teacher may elect to use some strategies with the whole class, while reserving other activities for advanced groups of learners.  The same rationale can be applied by selecting appropriate activities for struggling readers.  The presence of the teacher in these activities will vary as well, which will have an impact on learning outcomes.  Whether presented as whole group, small group, paired, or individual instruction, the teacher’s knowledge of the class dynamics will have the greatest impact on student learning.  Every strategy and activity is not required.  The ultimate goal is to select the right activities for the right students that will lead to student success on the unit assessment and beyond.


As a pre-task activity, students will answer the unit compelling question based on their current knowledge of the topic and without help from the instructor.  Pre-task activities are important for teachers and students.  For the teacher, it serves as a baseline assessment for content knowledge and writing conventions, which are both components of the common core learning standards.  Using the Informational and Explanatory Teaching Task Rubric (See Appendix 2), student responses are scored and can be used to show growth.  This is also an opportunity for teachers to create student groups based on the individual student knowledge of the content and the student ability to effectively execute rubric-based skills.  For example, students with more content knowledge will be able to navigate higher tiered lexile readings in small groups or pairs.  Advanced students will be provided with the opportunity to engage in advanced tasks absent of the teacher to develop advanced grade-level skills.  Students that lack skills in writing conventions will need assistance in with writing.  Ideally, the teacher will provide several small group sessions to improve writing and practice during extension activities such as homework.  The most appropriate time to work with this small group writing conventions is during the time advanced learners are analyzing sources in the respective small groups.

Students benefit from the pre-tasks writing activity because it gives students an opportunity to identify what they know and do not know.  This step is often skipped in classrooms, but is extremely valuable.  Students have the opportunity to create their own learning plan.  The teacher can have students reflect on this daily, weekly or when students are having a difficult time academically or behaviorally.  The learning plan refocuses students on what is important, while allowing them to celebrate successes.  For example, students can check off content knowledge or writing skills as they master them (See Appendix 3).  The monumental tasks of addressing the unit compelling question is broken down into small pieces, which will allow students to check-off items individual students master and ultimately makes the tasks more manageable for students.  This also provide students with the language to verbalize areas of mastery and areas of growth.

Task Analysis

Before engaging with any content, students will complete a task analysis.  Using the compelling question, which is also the unit assessment, students will rewrite each step of the task in their own words (See Appendix 4).  Next, students will describe what is being asked of them in their own words.  Students can sometimes have difficulty addressing all components of a constructed response.  The task analysis will serve as a checklist when writing and as a checklist when gathering information.  While all students should complete the pre-task writing activity, the task analysis will be assigned at the discretion of the teacher.  Advanced student writers may not find this useful, while it will provide additional guidance for poor writers or writers that lack background knowledge.

Anticipatory Guides

Anticipatory guides are the first piece of content students grapple with.  The anticipation guide allows students to agree or disagree with compelling and supporting questions.  The compelling and supporting questions are changed into simple statements that require students to answer true or false.  Next, students write down their rationale for their decision.  Scaffolding up, students then discuss their rationale for each statement in pairs or in a small group.  They have the opportunity to change their opinion and rationale based on conversations with peers.  Next, groups share their answers and rationale as a whole class.  Again, students have the ability to change their answers based on what they hear from peers.  During this process, the teacher has another opportunity to informally track student knowledge.  Most importantly, the teacher should listen for misunderstandings and then use the misunderstandings to frame learning throughout the unit.  For example, a teacher may introduce a new activity be saying, “Last week, I heard a student say…  As you review the document today, be prepared to determine whether or not that was an accurate statement using evidence from the source.”  Anticipatory guides can remain posted in the classroom and can be referenced as students come to new understandings.  Students or the teacher will write new understandings directly on individual anticipation guides or the classroom anticipation chart throughout the unit.

Paideia Seminar

Paideia Seminars will be used to engage the entire class in a highly structured meaningful conversation around selected sources.  The seminars are extremely valuable, but are skills that must be taught and practiced.  Teachers are encouraged to practice a Paideia seminar with students using a low-level, high-interest opinion source before conducting the Paideia seminar found in the class activities section of this unit. 

A Paideia seminar is a collaborative, intellectual dialogue about a text in which the teacher facilitates using open-ended questions.  The overall goal is to guide students to a fuller understanding of textual ideas and values of oneself and others.  All participants including the teacher are seated with their desks in a circle.  The teacher will ask a series of open-ended questions that engage students and push student thinking.  The teacher will also track the conversation by identifying whom speaks and in which order, taking notes on student misunderstandings and hot button issues, and then using the notes to drive deeper student discussions.  Students are expected to pay close attention to the speaker and take notes.  Students are allowed to speak with peers without raising a hand.  Students can respectfully agree and extend, or disagree and refute what other students say.  Students will also reference the text to support opinions and will ask questions of peers to gain a better understanding of the opinions of other students.

The teacher monitors the conversation the entire time by drawing lines to show the flow of the conversation among participants.  The teacher will also use symbols to make a note of how many times individual students asked a questions, agreed, disagreed, referenced the text or make a connection (See Appendix 5).  At the conclusion of the seminar, the teacher shows students their individual level of participation.  This allow students to set goals for future Paideia seminars.  For example, if a student notices he only spoke twice and referenced the text once, he may set a goal of speaking more and referencing the text more.  Goal-setting will also be done at the class level.  If the teacher notices there was a lack of connections to other content during the discussion, the class can set a goal to have a certain number of connections by the end of the seminar.  The individual and class goal-setting allows students to guide their own learning, while improving listening and speaking when discussing text-based sources.  A class Paideia seminar will be used to analyze an excerpt from The Absolutely True Narrative of a Part-Time Indian and a textual summary of American Indian fishing and hunting treaty rights linked to The Ways video.

Question Formulation Technique

The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is a simple process that leads to rigorous student results.  It helps students produce questions, improve questions, and strategize the use of questions to conduct research.  The steps are as follows:

  1. Students are presented with and image, video, or text and will have 2-3 minutes to come up with as many questions as they can about the piece.  During this time, there is no judgment of the value of specific questions.  The students only write.
  2. Students place an “O” next to open-ended questions and a “C” next to close-ended questions. Student will have the option of changing the close-ended questions to open-ended questions, or deleting the closed-ended questions entirely.
  3. Students prioritize questions based on the actions they wish to take. Questions that need immediate answers will be placed at the top of the list.  Questions that students wish to explore further are moved to the bottom of the list.
  4. Students use sources provided by the teacher and those they find on their own to answer the refined list of questions.

There are several variations of the Question Formulation Technique.  Some forms include reflection at the end of the process, while another variation allows students to reflect on each step for a deeper understanding.  Teachers may choose to engage in the reflection process if this is a strategy that will be used multiple times throughout the year.  Scholars will use the Question Formulation Technique with the stimuli of a portrait of Alfred Mamaday of the Kiowa tribe from the For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw text.

Guided Notes

The guided notes strategy is used to increase engagement and to highlight important information during a lecture, paired reading or individual reading.  Guided notes can be used with a variety of learners in a single class.  Students can listen as a teacher reads and explains or students can read on their own.  Guided notes ensure that all students have the same key understandings and key concepts about a particular topic.

There is a small amount of teacher preparation time needed for guided notes.  The teacher is responsible for creating a list of notes and highlighting key information for students.  Next, the teacher uses a word processing document to replace key concepts with blanks.  Finally, students fill in the blanks as a teacher reads and gives the key vocabulary, or students read and complete the notes on their own.  Students that struggle with reading will benefit from teacher lead guided notes, while advanced readers can work on their own.  The teacher will only need to check the notes of independent students to ensure they have the correct concepts.  Students will use the guided notes strategy to explore the AIM Wounded Knee campaign.

Close Reading

Close reading, originally mostly practiced in English language arts classrooms, have a powerful impact in social studies classrooms.  Close reading differs from a normal reading activity in that it requires the reader to look beyond the surface meaning of a text.  In doing so, the reader develops critical thinking and analytical skills, in addition to the standard comprehension skills associated with reading.

Close reading is important because it allows readers to fully engage in a text without background knowledge.  In general, students struggle accessing a text when a subject is unfamiliar to them.  To combat this, many teachers build background knowledge using pictures, layering texts, introducing important vocabulary, or giving background knowledge before tackling the difficult text.  The scaffolding techniques are effective forms of instruction.  Still, it does little to prepare students for success reading texts in which the subject is unfamiliar to them.  When close reading, students have an opportunity to break down the text, determine the value of the text, draw conclusions about the implications of the text and determine how the text impacts the life of the student. 

Close reading can be completed in a series of small groups or as a whole-class activity.  The benefit to using small groups is that the teacher has more time with students to ensure understanding.  The teacher will need to spend time preparing in the advance.  It is important to select a text that is rigorous and one that will allow students to dive deeply.  Students will read the same text three times.  During the first reading, students will read to determine what the text says. The teacher will ask comprehension questions to ensure students understand what they read.  Students will then read the text a second time. After the second read students try to figure out how the text works.  Questions can be asked about the author’s purpose, word choice, or the targeted audience.  It is important that students use evidence from the text to support their reasoning.  Finally, students will read the text a third time and analyze or compare the text to other content or sources.  The third reading allows students to make connections to other texts or similar texts by the same author or a different author.  Afterwards, students can draw conclusions about consistent themes or the content.  It is important for the teacher to have 2-3 questions identified before starting the close reading session.  In addition, teachers can add or modify questions based on student understanding and interest throughout the close read.

The excerpt from Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee will be new content for students and difficult for them to understand.  Students will use the close reading strategy to engage with this text.

Writing Opportunities

There will be an embedded written activity that allows students to draw a conclusion about a similar movement in preparation for the final written piece. The written piece will include the following question: Do historical tragedies have an expiration date? Is it possible for a community to move forward if they relive tragedies of old? Think about a time that you were forgiven for a mistake. Also, think about a time that you were not forgiven for a mistake. Use your personal reflections and evidence from the sources you have studied.


Finally, students will revisit the unit compelling question and write a constructed response using the five-paragraph essay format.  In alignment with the College, Career, and Civic Action (C3) national social studies standards, students will take student-led informed action as an individual, in pairs, or as a larger group. The actions can include political change, fundraising, awareness raising, behavioral change, volunteering or any other appropriate action. Students will have an opportunity to reflect on the unit overall, which will include their individual academic and written growth, evaluation of resources, recommendations to increase the student value of the unit for future students, and the future of the civic action they have taken.

Class Activities

Anticipatory Guide

Teacher Says/Does

Student Says/Does

Pass out the anticipatory guide (See appendix two). Give students 3-minutes to complete.  Explain that they may not know all of the answers, but that they should make informed choices.  In classes with low readers, the teacher should also read the statements aloud.

Complete the guide.

Say: With a shoulder buddy, you will have 3-minutes to compare your responses.  Feel free to change your answer if your partner is able to convince you to do so.  It is okay for you to keep your original answers.

Discuss responses

Have two groups of two combine to create a groups of four.  Have students repeat the process of comparing note and changing answers of convinced.  This should take an additional 3-minutes. 

Groups of four discuss responses

Read each statement aloud and have students raise their hand to agree/disagree with each statement.  Call on a student to answer true or false and to give their rationale.

As students answer, the teacher should jot down accurate an inaccurate information in order to focus the remaining lessons

Answer questions and give rationale.

Students can keep these and reference them as they explore additional activities in this unit, or the teacher can create and post an anchor chart to refer back to during the unit activities.

Paideia Seminar

Teacher Says/Does

Student Says/Does

Pass out the article “American Indian Movement” (appendix three).  Give student seven-minutes to read and re-read the article.

For struggling readers, you may choose to read the article aloud or in a small group.

Student read the article.

Have students number each line of the article.  There should be a total of 25 lines.

Students number the article.

Say:  Identify the single more important line of this article and circle the corresponding number.

Students circle the number they chose.

As desks are already in a circle, have each student say aloud the number they chose.  Write down the number as students give them.  Quickly add up the total of numbers.  Announce which number occurred at the highest rate.  Next, ask a student that selected that number to explain why they chose that number.  From this point, any student may agree and extend or disagree and offer a new argument.

Announce numbers and rationale.  Students begin respectful discourse.

Based on the follow of the conversation, ask clarifying or questions to extend the conversation.  Questions can include:

-  Can other disenfranchised groups use the AIM model today?  Why are why not?

-  Would you be willing be become a member of AIM?  Why or why not?

-  Where have you seen a movement similar or AIM throughout history or in another context?

The ultimate goal is to create questions that will stimulate students academically and lead to rich discussion.

Engage in respectful intellectual discourse with peers.

Question Formulation Technique

Teacher Says/Does

Student Says/Does

Assign students to groups of four.  Pass out the stimuli (Portrait of Alfred Mamaday).

Say:  Select one student in your group to be the recorder.  You have three-minutes to come up with as many questions as you can about the portrait.  Write down every question without discussing whether or not it is a good question.

Students ask and write down questions.

Next, have students identify questions as open-ended or close-ended.  Student should place an O next to open-ended and a C next to close-ended questions. 

At discretion of the teacher, have students delete the close-ended questions or change the close-ended questions to open-ended questions.

Students label questions and convert close-ended questions to open-ended questions.

Say:  Now, you will have an opportunity to prioritize your questions.  Think about which questions are most important to have answers for.  These questions will be moved to the top of your list.  The remaining questions will be moved to the bottom of your list. 

Student discuss the value of each question and prioritize each question accordingly.

Say:  Moving forward, you will use the sources I provide you with to answer the questions you have created.  Near the end of the unit, I will allow you additional time for independent group research if you have any unanswered questions. 


Alexie, Sherman, and Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. New York: Little, Brown, 2007.

Hurtado, Albert L., and Peter Iverson. Major Problems in American Indian History: Documents and Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Iverson, Peter. We Are Still Here: American Indians in the Twentieth Century. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1998.

Lobo, Susan, Steve Talbot, and Traci L. Morris. Native American Voices: A Reader. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010.

Mithlo, Nancy Marie. For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw.

Page, Jake. In the Hands of the Great Spirit: The 20,000-year History of American Indians. New York:Free Press, 2003.

Smith, Paul Chaat., and Robert Allen. Warrior. Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee. New York: New Press, 1996.

Utley, Robert M., Wilcomb E. Washburn, Ann Moffat, and Richard Snow. The American Heritage History of the Indian Wars. New York: American Heritage Pub., 1977.

Wilkinson, Charles F. Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. New York: Norton, 2005.

Appendix 1

C3 Framework Indicators:

  • 2: Explain points of agreement experts have about interpretations and applications of disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a compelling question.
  • 3: Explain points of agreement experts have about interpretations and applications of disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a supporting question.
  • 2: Construct explanations using reasoning, correct sequence, examples, and details with relevant information and data, while acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of the explanations.
  • 5: Critique the structure of explanations.

Common Core Literacy Standards:

  • 6-8.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
  • 6-8.2: Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
  • (a) Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories as appropriate to achieving purpose; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
  • (b) Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.
  • (c) Use appropriate and varied transitions to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.
  • (d) Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
  • (e) Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone.
  • (f) Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented.

Appendix Two

Read each statement and mark it as true of false.  You may not be sure of the answers right now.  You will have an opportunity to update your response throughout the unit.

True or False



Native Americans were completely wiped out when Europeans arrived.

All remaining Native Americans live on reservations.

Reservation life is good and it allows Native Americans to live the way they choose.

Native Americans are also referred to as American Indians

Native Americans are equal to all other social group in America.

The last of the Native Americans were sent away or killed during the Trail of Tears.


Appendix Three

The American Indian Movement- John Tibbet

The American Indian Movement is a Native American organization established in the United States. Due to the diversity in North America, Native American's or Indians are too often forgotten.

In an attempt to bring attention to the injustice, and to provide better protection and care for the Indians, the American Indian Movement was established. Also referred to as AIM, this movement was launched in 1969 in Minneapolis, MN. Years ago, Indians received a lot of abuse from law enforcement officers, and crimes against Native Americans were often unreported. Disciplinary actions were rare, and many Indians and non-Indians felt compelled to campaign for changes.

Since its start in the late 1960's, the American Indian Movement has successfully changed America's perception of Native Americans. Today, there are several reservations, and Indians are eligible to receive government funds to build homes, schools, and maintain their community. This way, the Native Americans can raise their families in good conditions. Additionally, abuse and prejudice against the Indians has decreased. There are also programs in place to help Native Americans immerse themselves in American culture. To boost the economy, small business grants are available to Native Americans, and many have taken advantage of this opportunity.

Example of an Indian-owned business might include an online website that advertises authentic Indian artifacts such as pottery, clothing, moccasins, jewelry, and beadwork.

The American Indian Movement has actively objected to the use of Indians as mascots for sport's teams. Occasionally, protesters are present at Washington Redskin and Atlanta Brave games. Even though the American political system has an organization responsible for equal treatment of Indians, AIM has accomplished more, and continues to work for the equal treatment of all Native Americans.

Within the past forty years, Native Americans enjoy better living conditions, increased employment options and on-the-job training, and improved educational system.


  1. "Indian Slavery in the Americas," The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, , accessed July 18, 2016,
  2. "Relations between Indians and U.S. Citizens," Indian Country Wisconsin, , accessed July 18, 2016,
  3. "Lake Superior Whitefish | The Ways," Lake Superior Whitefish | The Ways, , accessed July 19, 2016,
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. Ibid
  7. "BIA Website," Indian Affairs, , accessed July 19, 2016,
  8. Paul Chaat. Smith and Robert Allen. Warrior, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (New York: New Press, 1996), 127
  9. -
  10. . 7.
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  19. . 66.
  20. . 108.
  21. . 154.
  22. . 150
  23. . 8
  24. . 114
  25. . 184
  26. . 189.
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  28. . 205-210

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