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Tangible History: Engaging Students Through Art of Indigenous Cultures

Author: Alima McKnight


Richmond Elementary School

Year: 2021

Seminar: Southwest Native American Art & Culture

Grade Level: 1

Keywords: appreciation, appropriation, Art, Blackfoot, Culture, design, hands-on, Indigenous, Native American, Navajo, pottery, Pueblo, symbols, teepees, textiles, weaving

School Subject(s): Arts, History

Acknowledging that hands-on activities have a greater impact on student learning and connection to content, this curriculum unit integrates the art and design of Blackfoot, Navajo, and Pueblo Native Americans in teepees, textiles, and pottery respectively. Incorporating Native American cultural creativity with literature and history, this unit gives students the opportunity to not only become familiar with the components, meanings, and processes of creating these art forms, but to create inspired works as well.

Download Unit: McKnight-A-Unit-Curriculum.pdf

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Full Unit Text
Content Objectives

“The ear’s hearing something is not as good as the eye’s seeing it; the eye’s seeing it is not as good as the foot’s treading upon it; the foot’s treading upon it is not as good as the hands differentiating it.”

This quotation of the Shuo Yuan was written by Liu Xiang in China between 77–6 BCE and later (yet among many) translated into English by John Knoblock in 1990.  It speaks to the idea that the more involved physically one is in something, the more meaning a thing can have or bring about.  This idea has had many quotations over thousands of years to support it. Modern research also supports this idea.  Ayub, Khan and Akhtar (2020) state “to make an effective learning environment is the active participation of students by performing the task, more specifically the learning by visual and audionic instruments can be enhanced by practically doing it.”  Additionally, Maslyk’s book Remaking Literacy: Innovative Instructional Strategies for Maker Learning, Grades K-5 (2019) is a practical, research-based how-to in creating maker-spaces that enhance the learning and connection of student participants, even in the less obvious subject area of literacy learning.  So, all in all, it bodes well for any teacher that wants their students to truly dive deep into a topic, and not just know about it, but understand and form meaning around the ideas and knowledge therein, kids have to get their “hands dirty.”  This unit seeks to literally get some dirt on your students’ hands!  Clay dirt that is.  Through hands-on art experiences in the classroom, this unit endeavors to build a connection between what students study and what they learn in a way that builds not only knowledge, but true understanding, appreciation, and connectedness.

This unit seeks to build a better understanding of Native American Indigenous culture and history through art.  By connecting literacy skill development with culturally rich and meaningful art lessons, students will gain an understanding of the peoples, histories, and contexts where art is not only a personal expression, but signifies rich cultural heritage.  Students will learn about some of the Native American peoples who lived, and continue to live today in the Great Plains and Southwest regions, and connect to these cultures through teepee covering design, Navajo textile design, and Pueblo pottery design respectively.

In the course of this study, some unpleasant truths will be examined in order for teachers to firmly stake their claim to its content. History’s colonization, and its subsequent acts of slavery, displacement, and murder, is a global reality that brings with it shocking truths. Many educators spend time deliberating about how to teach these histories, and sometimes leave out the more harrowing events due to the age of their students, their personal knowledge and comfort, or the willful and/or blind acceptance of racist history textbooks. This practice of picking and choosing what we teach, or more accurately, believe about how and why things happened is rooted in our formation of self.  The book ​​Racial formation in the United States (Omi and Winant, 1994) suggests how this develops:

…the establishment and reproduction of different regimes of domination, inequality, and difference in the United States have consciously drawn upon concepts of difference, hierarchy, and marginalization based on race. The genocidal policies and practices directed towards indigenous peoples in the conquest and settlement of the “new world,” and towards African peoples in the organization of racial slavery, combined to form a template, a master frame, that has perniciously shaped the treatment and experiences of other subordinated groups as well. This template includes not only the technologies (economic, political, cultural) of exploitation, domination, and deracination; it also includes the technologies of resistance…

If we are to impart to our students a more accurate perspective on Indigenous peoples we must embrace, or at least acknowledge, not only the impact and magnificence of their cultures, but the hardships and degradations they faced as they persevered.  From the start of European interest, the Native people of this continent were often seen as obstacles to remove in the way of treasures.  Aguilar (2013), in recounting the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, explains:

Prospects of a vast wealth and the fabled “Golden Cities of Cibola” motivated the first Spanish expeditions into the North American Southwest beginning in 1539 by Fray Marcos de Niza. Subsequent decades of Spanish occupation in the New Spain territory of Nuevo México (today the U.S. states of New Mexico and Arizona) were characterized by wholesale attempts to subjugate, convert, and ultimately conquer the indigenous Pueblo peoples of the region, largely by means of economic exploitation and religious persecution. Consequently, Pueblo-Spanish relations became deeply strained over time, ultimately leading to an uprising by the Pueblos against their colonial oppressors.

Some American schools are only recently adding Native American history and/ or culture to the curriculum beyond the Trail of Tears and the “First Thanksgiving.”  However these additions to the mandated curriculum are on a very small scale, depending entirely on the state in which you live (Bahr, 2019).  Adding more context in history classrooms to the before and after of European contact, demonstrates the importance and worth of Native cultures to American history.  In so many ways, the education system has done the opposite by avoiding the topic, spurring misinformation or has even gone so far as to include “microinvalidations, microinsults, and microassaults” (Holter, et al., 2020) against Native Peoples in textbooks.  As educators, we must more honestly and openly acknowledge what has happened and work to paint a broader picture of a vast and differentiated peoples with distinct languages, customs, dress, architecture, diet, and art, to name only a few.  Additionally, while the North American Indigenous Peoples do possess a real and spiritual connection to nature and Earth, to explore more than the pow wow, drum circle, or spirit animal is to see why Columbus Day was replaced by Indigenous Peoples’ Day, as a day “honoring Indigenous communities and their resiliency in the face of violence by European explorers like Christopher Columbus” (Fadel, 2019).

As this curriculum unit explores different Native American peoples and cultures through literature and art, it is important to note that the art of Indigenous and Native peoples around the world is a trending concern and students may be aware.  Under what topic specifically are they trending?  The return, repatriation, and restitution of art objects to many cultures around the world from European and American museums and educational institutions of their artifacts is one example. Recognition and reparation for these injustices seems to be upon us (Rauenzahn, et al, 2021).  Throughout the  world, museums are beginning to return treasured artifacts to the peoples from whom they were sometimes bought, but were more often stolen (Robertson, 2020).  To those not returning artifacts, pleas are being made (German, n.d.).

Another trending topic of interest is iconography.  Companies and organizations are faced with the pressure to rebrand, or at the least, change names, slogans, and logos that negatively depict minorities.  Companies have long disregarded the call to change, however, the vast reach of social media and the financial outcomes of such negative long running press and pressures have been impactful (Chamberlain, 2020).  This truth supports the need for general education practices to include the history of marginalized peoples for all students, so that eventually everyone at the table will have more knowledge and appreciation of a larger and more diverse array of peoples and cultures. As the global community still debates what is appropriation versus appreciation, among many, a renaissance of appreciation is underway.  This curriculum unit strives to be part of the effort to replace appropriation with appreciation.

While mainstream media and social media outlets provide a stage for Native voices to be heard, units of study dedicated to Native American and other underrepresented or excluded groups can support these efforts. Teachers need to stay abreast of the conversations and statements and declarations made by members of those groups. The voices of today’s Native peoples and representatives should be included even as students delve into the past.

Cultural Context
Tipi Designs, Meaningful Symbols of the Plains

For many, the teepee/ tipi/ tepee is an emblematic symbol for all Native Americans, along with full head dresses of feathers and tomahawk weidling hunters astride a horse.  These images, while often symbolic, are stereotypical and do not illustrate the diversity of the estimated 60 million indigenous peoples (Smith, 2019) and 527 tribes that once fully inhabited this hemisphere.  However, the teepee was an essential tool, a mobile home for the nomadic peoples of the Great Plains.  Kiddle Encyclopedia’s Tipi Facts for Kids (2021) shares quick facts about teepees, including that they were built with wooden poles covered with animal skins, usually bison, that a teepee’s construction made them easy to erect and breakdown as tribes followed the roaming bison and other animals of the Great Plains and that they were often painted with meaningful designs.  Orlian offers a more detailed description of teepee construction and its meaning in The History Behind Teepee Dwellings (2021) including the number of poles and bison hides used, and the sophistication of the heating and ventilation system. In regard to design he notes, “The outside of the tipi may have been decorated or painted to show ancestors, spirits, battles, or other symbolic designs.  Not every tipi would have been painted or embroidered in this way.”  Thompson (2021) Which Native Americans Lived in Tipis? provides specific details stating that the Lakota, Blackfoot, Crow, Cheyenne, Sioux and Comanche nations are among those who lived in teepees and that dogs pulled them before the Spanish introduced the horse, and offers further notes about design, “Tipis in the southern part of the Great Plains were not usually painted, but some tribes in the northern Plains painted the outsides of their tipis to decorate them.”

Ewers (1975) wrote about the Blackfeet who were especially known for their teepee designs. Through study and interviews he described the designs in detail. Designs on teepees used in the 19th century had special meanings and symbolized beliefs and connections to the natural world rather than just as decoration. The Blackfeet  “treasured painted lodges as sacred objects.” Often the design of a teepee was sent from the spirit world via a dream. When teepees were old and no longer functional, their designs were transferred to a new teepee. Although designs varied, a black band at the top often represented the sky, with unpainted discs, or negative circular spaces, as stars. The stars could be patterned to represent constellations. Animal designs, chosen for each animal’s specific meaning, might also be painted, such as birds, bear, buffalo, elk, deer, and otters. Bands at the bottom of the teepees symbolized the earth, with the triangles being mountains, rounded mounds meaning hills, and the negative circular spaces representing spirits. Lastly, the designs were exclusively painted by the men of the tribe, while women maintained all other aspects of the teepee maintenance including setting them up and taking them down before travel.

Rich Textiles of the Navajo

The Navajo Southwest homeland is bounded by four mountains, one in each cardinal direction. These are known as the Four Sacred Mountains of the Diné People. Diné being the name the Navajo call themselves. The Four Sacred Mountains bound the territory and are meaningful places in the Creation Stories for the people of this region. There are many tribal stories of Spider Woman, who invented weaving, which is still to this day an important and highly valued aspect of Navajo life and culture. Carey (2015) describes the “The Navajo Four Sacred Colors”:


English Name Diné (Navajo) Name Territorial Position Color Precious Stone
Hesperus Peak Dibé Ntsaa north black jet
Blanca Peak Sisnaajini east white white shell
Mount Taylor Tsoodzil south blue turquoise
San Francisco Peaks Dook’o’oosliid west yellow abalone


Navajo textiles are very well regarded and were sought after by Europeans upon contact. The quality of their garments, rugs, and doorway coverings was already well recognized among other Native nations. Weaving their cloth on large looms was a centuries old process that was passed down primarily through the women in Navajo families. The style evolved over time, with each phase generally displaying more artistry and elaboration than the previous.

A close look at just one style of weaving shares the complex history of Navajo weaving. The early Chief blanket style is marked by thick bands of light and dark with thin bands of blue color alternating in rows out to the ends. The colors were natural black and brown and creamy white tones with narrow bands of indigo blue.  (Fig.7) The style and palette were subtle and the blankets utilitarian.​​This Chief blanket style earned its name not because it differentiated Navajos of social rank, but rather because Lakota, Arapaho, and Ute chiefs often sought out these valuable, large, warm, tightly woven blankets through trade. These garments were woven during the Classic Period  between c. 1800-1850.This was a time of regular life for the Navajo.

The Second phase Chief blanket style was marked by the additions of more geometric shapes, rectangles, often red and blue, still however against the background of alternating bands of dark and light (Fig. 8) These garments were created between c. 1850-1870. This was a time of war and difficulty for the Navajo as many were held at the Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation that was a prison camp. At this time, Navajo textiles provided warmth and were perhaps also potential trade items that could be transferred to American military personnel holding them as prisoners. The dark black of the Navajo woman’s dress is remembered and described in Navajo stories of these difficult times; for some the dark color served to protect the wearer at night if she ran away. The design elements themselves hold messages.

Third Phase Chief style blankets were marked by the addition of terraced diamonds. This style may be the most readily recognizable as Southwest weaving the world over. Busier serrate design influences from Mexican weaving became more common and the color palette also expanded, as the Navajos were further influenced by Spanish colonial textiles, colored yarns, and styles. The rush of European settlers across the Southwest opened trade routes. With the return of Navajo from the prison camp after 1868, their transition to the new trade economy within the newly restricted reservation boundary, and the completion of the transcontinental train line in1881, the Navajo lifestyle and weaving underwent many more changes. Navajo weavers adapted to new demands of the tourist market. Traders sold brightly colored commercial yarns and encouraged the weaving of rugs instead of wearing garments in order to meet the demands of the outside market. Weavers quickly adapted to meet these new demands and wove rugs. Regional rug styles developed.

Witherspoon (1977) notes that historically all aspects of weaving were done by women, while men made the looms and patterns were never planned out in written or drawn form. For Navajos, the patterns and designs are not there as representations of beauty seen in the world, but are themselves beauty being brought into the world. “The Navajo experience beauty primarily through expression and creation, not through perception and preservation” (Witherspoon, 151).  For example, Navajo sand paintings can take days to create and may be blown away in a matter of minutes without disappointment because the purpose of their creation is to bring beauty into the world, not to be a longstanding example of talent or decoration. This is not to say that the endurance and longevity of a woven piece of Navajo textile is not valued, for in the fabric lies a timeless story and workmanship rivaling the most accomplished symphony or painting.

Today, Navajo weaving is almost entirely an art form yet it retains important teachings and meanings for Navajo weavers and is done by women and men. Modern Navajo weavers employ many of the traditional methods of weaving as passed down through families. Linda Teller Pete and Barbara Ornelas (2020) are weavers for whom the sacred practice of weaving remains a family tradition. They learned from their mother and aunt and are passing the art to their children. In keeping with sacred traditions, they believe certain aspects of their practice should stay within the culture (as with sand paintings used in healing), much like a secret family recipe, but also say that respectful appreciation of the artform can be enhanced by sharing the history, practices and techniques that make it so special. “By teaching all who want to learn, we are cultivating a strong community of allies”  (Ornelas and Pete, p109). For modern weavers, the ideal is to bring beauty into the world and share it.

Enduring Pottery of the Pueblos

The Pueblo Peoples of the American Southwest are made up of 20 different, sovereign tribes. The name Pueblo came to represent the many tribes located in The Four Corners region of New Mexico that hold a shared history, architecture, culture, and strength in maintaining their identity in the face of colonization and acculturation by the Spanish and later Euro American settlers. By studying many examples we can see the overlapping beliefs, symbolism, and techniques that group these clay masterpieces together. However, to say that Pueblo pottery exists as a general category of art would be to under-represent the nuances of each tribe’s history and continued art forms. Therefore to understand the evolution of Pueblo pottery, it is wise to do both a general and differentiated study.

The tradition of Pueblo pottery is thousands of years old with utilitarian construction leading to a bold and unique artform. Throughout its history, the pottery has consisted of using clay from the earth found in the ground of the dry Southwest deserts and designs that represent a spirit-earth connection. Brody (1990) chronicles Pueblo pottery’s evolution from the prehistoric ancestral Pueblo with its black on white line designs created for utilitarian and ceremonial purposes through to the historic Pueblo polychrome, or multicolor, geometrical designs of today’s potters. He notes that the earliest examples of Ancestral Pueblo  pottery are virtually indistinguishable from tribe to tribe, but as centuries passed and the peoples of this region became more fractured, in part by their relationships with the Spanish conquerors, distinctions started to become more and more readily noticeable, especially “within the Euro-American world” (p 50).

Swentzell (1997) describes the Pueblo term Po-wa-ha, water-wind-breath, as the force moving between all things, alive or not, and the fluidity with which that force flows. Within the designs of Pueblo pottery there are often built-in breaks in the designs (Fig. 9) to allow for Po-wa-ha to move or flow.

In 1944, Woodhill wrote in Pueblo Craft that pottery creation and design was originally a woman’s job and that after bringing clay home from a village clay pit, it would take days to reach the final product. With a spotlight on Maria Martinez, a San Ildefonso Pueblo potter, Woodhill (p. 87) illustrates the steps of coil constructed jars (Fig.10). In general, this pottery is lightweight with geometric designs and coil construction formed using a basket base. Wenger (2015), like Woodhill, points out that although the basic construction of the Pueblo pottery by coiling and scraping of clay to form the vessels is similar, but notes however that the tempering and firing will be different among tribes due to the various locations from which the clay and fuels are extracted. Brody (1990) differentiates the clay by its endurance as evidenced by the need of a temper, a material that prevents the clay from shrinking during drying. Trimble (2007) highlights that due to variations in the geology of the soil, the clay of the Pueblo tribes differs. Taos Pueblo pottery shines with mica, while San Ildefonso Pueblo pottery is often black.

The painted designs on Pueblo pottery as mentioned earlier, vary greatly. For example, Trimble (2007) shows examples of Acoma Pueblo pottery with black-on-white designs, while Hopi Pueblo uses red and gold. Still certain motifs occur with some regularity, many of which are associated with water due to its importance in the hot, dry Southwest desert climate. Rain and clouds are often depicted as a series of lines. Birds and feathers also appear as symbols of the wind and nature. In addition to vessels for water, the storage of seeds and food, and for holding powdered products like cornmeal, Pueblo pottery includes figurines  (Fig. 11). Acoma and Laguna Pueblo pottery are wonderful examples of the use of these motifs. Historic to modern Pueblo,  pottery designs are colored black, red, and orange with the negative space being the color of the clay slip, which is often white or cream colored.

The process of making clay hard, and therefore a usable vessel, is called firing which  requires intense heat. Pueblo tribes have, for centuries, used cow dung as fuel for these fires. Depending on the amount of fuel used, pottery is fired from 30 mins to two hours (Woodhill, 1944).

Teaching Strategies

The teaching strategies suggested here stem from Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is basically an upward path toward more and more critical thinking and cognitive interaction with a subject. (Armstrong, 2021) (Fig. 12).  The goal is to build your student’s knowledge and associations with the information on Native American culture in the context of design until they are able to create their own interpretations of the styles or meaning.

The increasingly rigorous strategies suggested for teaching about teepee design are summarize, relate, examine, value, and design. Students will summarize a brief passage in the book “The Longest Night” by Scott Foresman (2015) that mentions teepee design. Students will relate the meaning of Blackfoot teepee symbols to their own feelings and family associations in order to choose or create symbols for their own designs. Students will examine the designs of several Plains Indians tribes and their meanings. Students will place value on the symbols within the culture of the tribes from which they derived in relation to their own value system in order to connect to the symbols most representative of themselves and their desires and thoughts. Students will design a teepee that represents their values as symbolized by different Plains Indians tribes or create their own symbols with a key. Lastly, students will express their choices in a written essay using sentence frames.

The increasingly rigorous strategies suggested for teaching about Navajo textiles are discover, describe, identify, design, and create. Students will learn about Navajo textiles in the context of their history, including the phases, or progression, of design. Students will engage in Notice and Wonder activities about different pieces with direction towards purpose, production processes, and differences of textiles and designs if students do not naturally arrive at such observations or questions. Students will learn to identify specific symbols or art styles and phases or design periods. Students will design a pattern either on paper or using a computer pixel design website. Students will create a Navajo textile inspired paper or yarn woven piece.  Lastly, students will express their choices and the process by which they created their finished product in a written paragraph using sentence frames.

The increasingly rigorous strategies suggested for teaching about Pueblo pottery are discover, describe, identify, design, and create. Students will learn about Pueblo pottery in the context of its production and materials. Students will engage in Notice and Wonder activities about different pieces with attention drawn to noticing the negative spaces of the designs and what those spaces could represent. Students will learn to identify specific symbols. Students will design a bowl on paper using symbols of Pueblo artisans. Students will create a bowl in the shape of the Pueblo avanyu or water serpent, the protector of water.  Lastly, students will express their choices and describe their design in a written paragraph using sentence frames.

Classroom Activities

Blackfoot Teepees

The purpose of these lessons is for students to learn about the purpose of teepee symbols and embrace the idea that symbols can present their own personal values, feelings, and ideas in order to build connectedness to another culture whose values are expressed through symbols. Students often see art at face value, a picture of a tree is a tree, the sky is the sky. However, with symbols, students will see how one (sometimes seemingly unrelated) image can represent something totally different. The creation of their own artifact deepens their understanding and appreciation for the creation of such Native American artifacts.


Students will be able to design a teepee with symbols of or inspired by Plains Native American tribes in order to represent their own values and those of their family.

Lesson 1, Teacher:

Teacher reads The Longest Night, a fictional story of a Native American boy becoming a man via a Vision Quest, aloud and notes the part of the passage that talks about teepees and to note the book illustrations. Teacher will emphasise that not every Native American tribe used teepees, nor did those that did, put symbols and designs on them. (Fig.1) Teacher will explain that teepees were a type of mobile home that, due to its design and construction, made it possible for the people of the plains to follow the bison (not buffalo):

“The bison provided them with meat for food, hides for clothing and shelter, and horns and bones for tools. They would even use the bladder to hold water. For the Plains Indians, bison equaled survival. The Plains Indians believed they shared the Earth with their animal relatives, especially the bison.” Bison Bellows: A day to thank the bison.

Teacher will show the range of the Plains Native Americans on a map, drawing attention to the range of the Blackfoot peoples.

Lesson 1, Students:

After students read The Longest Night, they will be asked to create symbols that could represent their family or character traits. The students will share their symbol choices/ designs.

Lesson 2, Teacher:

Teacher will reread the passage of the book that talks about teepees.Teacher will show students different Blackfoot (Fig.2) teepee and tribal symbols and introduce their meaning. Teacher will do a Think Aloud about the symbols that would represent their family and values. Teacher will draw chosen symbols on their teepee.

Lesson 2, Students:

Students will examine symbols of Blackfeet/Blackfoot (Fig.2) designs and their meaning. Students will recreate the symbols or use their own designs created in lesson 1 on their own 3D mini-teepee (Fig. 3).

Lesson 3, Teacher:

Teacher will present a template for the writing assignment and fill in the template as an example, demonstrating language moves and connecting the symbols to their meaning through written expression. (Fig.4).

Lesson 3, Students:

Students will write about the symbols, what they mean, and why they chose them for their family teepee in an essay about their teepees.


Students will present their teepee to the class and read their essays. A diorama style village will display their creations. (Fig. 5)

Navajo Textiles

The purpose of these lessons is for students to develop an appreciation for Navajo textiles, their purposes, and their design and execution difficulty. The creation of their own artifact deepens their understanding and appreciation for the creation of such Native American artifacts.


Students will be able to create an authentic and culturally appropriate Navajo textile design.

Lesson 1, Teacher:

Teacher will explain/ read aloud about Native American and Navajo peoples having a deep connection and appreciation for nature and animals:

“Indigenous peoples’ relationships with animals are the result of tens of thousands of years of connections to their environments.In Native American traditions, animals are sometimes used to communicate the values and spiritual beliefs of Native communities. Animals’ importance is also evident in the creation stories of many tribes. Animal imagery is often used to share family, clan, and personal stories. [Today] Indigenous Peoples strive to be respectful of their environments. Many believe in thoughtfully honoring the lives of animals by only taking what is needed.” Native American Relationships to Animals: Not Your “Spirit Animal”

Teacher relates the story of the Spider Woman:

According to Navajo legend, Spider Woman lives at Spider Rock in Canyon De Chelly.  She was first to weave the web of the universe. She taught the Navajo how to weave, how to create beauty in their own life and to spread the “Beauty Way” teaching of balance within the mind, body & soul. Spider Rock : Home of Spider Woman

Teacher then shows the story of “Spider Woman Teaches the Navajo” from Kindergarten Wonders Curriculum Interactive. Teacher displays different Navajo textiles in chronological order of design, conducting a Notice and Wonder session for each and a compare and contrast for textiles from different Phases. (Fig.6) Teacher will guide Notice and Wonder and compare and contrast towards symbols and/or patterns if students do not naturally arrive at those observations or questions. Teacher will ask students to think about when they learned about Native American symbols before and to note that different tribes use different styles and symbols. Once all student work is complete, teacher will explain that design differences can be classified into three Phases: First, Second, and Third. Teacher will read a brief description of each phase. Teacher will show the range of the Navajo on a map.

Lesson 1, Students:

After learning about Spider Woman, students will Think, Pair, Share why they think a spider is the animal connection to life and weaving for Navajo tribal members. Students will list their Notices and Wonders as they view actual Navajo textiles. Students will create a Venn diagram to compare and contrast some textiles. Students will choose their favorite Phase.

Lesson 2, Teacher:

Teacher will provide several examples of Navajo textiles and an explanation of their design elements over time, materials and tools used, and purposes of those textiles. (Fig.8) Teacher will show a video of weaving, past and present. Teacher provides an opportunity for students to create their own textile design, inspired by those of Navajo weavers past or present.

Lesson 2, Students:

Students create a textile design online (ie.). A challenge in this activity is for students to use earth tones only- colors found by creating them by hand with materials found in nature or the colors of the Diné four mountains.

Lesson 3, Teacher:

Teacher models one, two, or three of the following hands-on experiences (in decreasing difficulty): yarn weaving, paper weaving, or pattern creation on a web. The hands-on experience may depend on your students’ level of art experience or access to materials.

Lesson 3, Students:

Students create yarn woven mats, paper weaving mats, or create an earth colors pattern inside a printed spider web.


Students write about their design and share with the class.

Pueblo Pottery

The purpose of these lessons is for students to learn about the symbols and designs in Pueblo pottery. The previously learned idea that symbols can present their own personal values, feelings, and ideas in order to build connectedness to another culture whose values are expressed through symbols is further developed. The creation of their own artifact deepens their understanding and appreciation for the creation of such Native American artifacts.


Students will be able to create a design in order to reflect their understanding of Pueblo pottery and art.

Lesson 1, Teacher:

Teacher will remind students of their previous lesson on Native American art and design and invite students to share their learning experiences. Teacher will introduce the Pueblo people by showing the land of the Pueblo on a map and their adobe homes. Teacher will ask: what might these homes be made from? Why do you think that was used? What else might they have made from that material? (clay) Teacher will show images of Pueblo pottery and do Notice and Wonder and a compare and contrast Venn diagram of two. Teacher will ask students to find the OPEN SPOT in the design FOR THE ENERGY TO MOVE. Teacher will ask, using an example with negative space: “If you were to draw this, would you draw the black or the blank?” Teacher will instruct students to choose one piece of pottery to draw.

Lesson 1, Students:

Students will view images of Pueblo pottery and do Notice and Wonder and a compare and contrast Venn diagram. Students will draw a piece of pottery. Once they are done, students will make a note of the answer to the question: you draw the blacks or the blanks?

Lesson 2, Teacher:

Teacher will present a video about Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo and the process of creating Pueblo pottery. Teacher will present a video of making a coil pot. Teacher will provide an opportunity for students to create a coil/ snake pot. Teacher explains that to make a snake coil pot, clay is rolled like a snake on a table, then the long coil is turned to create the pot and that this is the first type of pottery many Pueblo children first make.

Lesson 2, Students:

Students will do Notice and Wonder about the video on Pueblo pottery. Students will create a coil pot.

Lesson 3, Teacher:

Teacher will provide an opportunity for students to create the symbols of Pueblo pottery or their own symbols for water, sky, and different animals either on the coil pot with paint or on a large piece of paper with paint, markers, or crayon. Teacher will remind students to leave an opening in their pattern/ design.

Lesson 3, Students:

Students will create the symbols of Pueblo pottery or their own symbols for water, sky elements, and/ or different animals either on the coil pot with paint or on a large piece of paper with paint, markers, or crayon. Students may choose to be inspired by the Museum of Indian Art and Culture Coloring Book (2020).


Students will create a commercial for their pot that describes its design elements and purpose.


Aguilar, Joseph  R. “Researching the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.” Expedition Magazine Researching the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 Comments, Penn Museum, 12 Dec. 2013,

Information about the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish.

Ayub, Alia, et al. “An Analysis of Learning By Doing and Its Impact On Students’ Scores At Elementary Level.” New Horizons, vol. 14, no. 2, 2020, p. 159., Accessed 27 Dec. 2021.

Teacher motivation is essential for the students to cope with the more challenging learning…Another significant phenomenon to make an effective learning environment is the active participation of students by performing the task, more specifically the learning by visual and audionic instruments can be enhanced by practically doing it…Students occasionally feel bored during the whole class duration, thus the proper selection of the guest speaker enhances their stimulation to their work.  Students get ready before the arrival of guest speakers…It means the teaching pedagogy learning by doing greatly affects the students’ academic scores…The results of the study show the very significant and positive impact of the learning by doing teaching.  The students were engaged in different activities through which they could clarify their concepts, understand the concepts by their own efforts.  In this method the teacher plays his/her role as a facilitator just…Conclusion:  From all above discussion and the results of the study it was concluded that students should be engaged in learning activities, to make them an active partner in teaching and learning process.  Students get bored just listening to the teacher, and even when they try to acquire knowledge by themselves, they understand the concepts in depth and their misconceptions and misunderstandings are cleared up in time.  So in this era there is greater need to engage the students in interactive teaching pedagogies for better results.

Bahr, Connor. “Native American History Should Be Taught in Schools.” Seminole Tribune, 30 Sept. 2019, p. 2A.

This editorial suggests why Native American history should be a part of the curriculum because to this day it is not valued and we are living on land that hold significance to their cultures. ght alongside European history. “It’s sad that I know more about the Roman Empire than people who may have lived where my house now stands. We tend to think of Native Americans as having one culture that didn’t change until Europeans came, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Each tribe has a unique culture…”

“Bison Bellows: A Day to Thank the Bison (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior,

This webpage describes the relationship between the Native American Plains people and the bison.

Brody, J. J., and Rebecca Allen. Beauty from the Earth: Pueblo Indian Pottery from the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, 1990.

This book chronicles the ancient Anasazi Pueblo’s history as connected to the production of pottery to modern Pueblo pottery. Explanations are given of methodology and materials.

Carey, Harold. “The Navajo Four Sacred Colors.” Navajo People, Navajo People,

This webpage details the Navajo, or Diné, origins and use of color in their culture.

Chamberlain, Craig. “Why Are Familiar Brands with Black Images Getting a Rethink?” Illinois News Bureau, 29 June 2020,

Curtis, E., (1903-1930). The North American Indian. [Photographs]. Northwestern University Library: Digital Collections. Illinois, United States.

Ewers, John C. Blackfeet Indian Tipis: Design and Legend. Museum of the Rockies, 1976.

Some of the most striking mural paintings in the American West were the big, bright and bold designs the Blackfeet Indians of Montana and Alberta painted upon the outer surfaces of their mobile homes. The Blackfeet treasured painted lodges as sacred objects. Each painted lodge was not an entity in itself, but part of a complex of sacred objects belonging to its owner. Of the smaller animals the otter was most frequently pictured on the painted lodges of the Blackfeet. Probably the most famous of the several otter lodges, the Single Circle Otter Tipi, had a unique design layout. It was owned by RedCrow, renowned head chief of the Blood Indians. It was known as the Single Circle Otter Tipi…

Fadel, Leila. “Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day?” NPR, NPR, 14 Oct. 2019,

This transcript of a NPR report explains reasons that support getting away from Columbus Day and moving towards Indigenous Peoples’ Day. “For Native Americans, Columbus Day has long been hurtful. It conjures the violent history of 500 years of colonial oppression at the hands of European explorers and those who settled here — a history whose ramifications and wounds still run deep today.”

Foresman, Scott. The longest night. Pearson Education Limited, 2016.

This children’s book gives a fictional account of Wind Runner, a Native American boy on Vision Quest to find his Spirit Animal.

German, Senta. “Repatriating Artworks (Article).” Khan Academy, Khan Academy,

“The repatriation of art and cultural objects is a popular topic in the news and there is a familiar list of arguments on either side of the debate. …. The good news is that successful repatriations of recent looting have occurred and those who purchase from the illicit trade are increasingly discouraged from doing so…. The era of repatriations has finally come. The work is slow and uneven and there are countless objects yet to return home, but repatriations are now occurring at a rate never before seen.”

Holter, Olivia G., et al. “Cultivating Perspective: A Qualitative Inquiry Examining School History Textbooks for Microaggressions against Native Americans.” Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, vol. 30, no. 3, 2019, pp. 255–284.,

This article reports on the examination of words and phrases in textbooks that disparage or misrepresent Native Americans in a historical context. The study counted the number of usages that painted  pictures of violence and savagery.

Jaeger, Ellsworth. Wildwood Wisdom. The Macmillan Company, New York, NY, 1945.

This part-survival-guide publication provides descriptions and illustrations of North American wildernesses. There is a significant amount of information about Native Americans told from a how-to perspective in terms of their way of life.

Liu, Xiang. Shuo Yuan. Taiwan Zhonghua Shu Ju, 206 BCE-8 CE.

This is a collection of philosophical stories from China.

Maslyk, Jacie. Solution Tree. Solution Tree, 2019,, Accessed 27 Dec. 2021.

Apply the concepts of maker-centered learning and projects to your literacy education: (1) Examine the ways maker education and project-based learning (PBL) can enhance teaching and empower student engagement and learning; (2) Learn how to reimagine instruction to ensure students build crucial literacy, collaboration, and thinking skills; (3) Study various low-tech and low-cost strategies and how to utilize them in flexible learning spaces or makerspaces in the elementary classroom or school; (4) Receive checklists and planning tools for incorporating a maker education curriculum in your classroom reading activities; and (5) Reflect on the literacy activities and makerspace ideas presented by answering reflection questions at the end of each chapter.

Nash, Abel, et al. “Your Fun Coloring Book- Museum of Indian Arts & Culture | Santa Fe, New Mexico.” The Museum of Indian Arts &Culture, 2020,

“Native Knowledge 360°-Native American Relationships to Animals: Not Your Spirit Animal.” Home Page,

This article explains why not choosing a Spirit Animal is important for non-Native Americans.

Nelson, Susan K. “Tipi Diorama.” Free Teacher’s Resources and Projects,

This website provides ideas and resources to help students create different Native American shelters.

“New Mexico’s 19 Pueblos.” Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 18 May 2020,

This website celebrates Pueblo culture and helps readers to understand the differences between tribes. It also informs about pottery and it’s tribal distinctions.

Omi, M., & Winant, H. (1994). Racial formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge.

“…provide an account of how concepts of race are created and transformed, how they become the focus of political conflict, and how they come to shape and permeate both identities and institutions. The steady journey of the U.S. toward a majority nonwhite population, the ongoing evisceration of the political legacy of the early post-World War II civil rights movement, the initiation of the ‘war on terror’ with its attendant Islamophobia, the rise of a mass immigrants rights movement, the formulation of race/class/gender ‘intersectionality’ theories, and the election and reelection of a black President of the United States are some of the many new racial conditions Racial Formation now covers.”

Orlian, Lee​. “The History behind Teepee Dwellings.” Teepee Joy Blog, 14 July 2021,

This blog is an outsiders look in at teepees. It is informative about teepee construction and materials. Students that are proficient readers could easily gain a lot of information from this blog.

Pete, Linda Teller and Barbara Ornelas, How to Weave a Navajo Rug and Other Lessons from Spiderwoman. Loveland, Co:Thrums Books, 2020.

This book takes an intimate look at Navajo weaving. The authors are famous weavers that combine personal narrative with weaving insider information. The book is an invitation to learn about the sacred practice and become an ally in the broadening of Navajo weaving knowledge.

Rauenzahn, Brianna, et al. “The Regulation of Stolen Cultural Artifacts.” The Regulatory Review, Penn Program on Regulation, 6 Aug. 2021,

In this week’s Saturday Seminar, experts weigh in on how U.S. policymakers can strengthen the legal regime that governs stolen cultural artifacts to deter looting and reduce the illegal trade.

Robertson, Geoffrey. “It’s Time for Museums to Return Their Stolen Treasures.” CNN, Cable News Network, 8 Jan. 2020,

“Western museums are beset with demands to give back stolen property — the cultural heritage of oppressed people plundered by colonial armies in the 19th century or taken unfairly by grasping missionaries or egregious ambassadors…. No less than 90% of African cultural property resides in European museums, according to a report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has decided that much of it must be returned. However, the British Museum has refused to give back to Greece the half of the Parthenon Marbles stolen by Lord Elgin.

Robertson, Geoffrey. Who Owns History? Elgin’s Loot and the Case for Returning Plundered Treasure. Random House Australia, 2019.

“Serious scholarly investigations into the size of the Indigenous population in the

Western Hemisphere before 1492 began early in the twentieth century. In 1924, Paul Rivet estimated that between 40 and 50 million people lived in the hemisphere before the

Indigenous Holocaust began. 9 That same year, Karl Sapper also estimated the Indigenous population in the hemisphere to be between 40 and 50 million.10 Both Rivet and Sapper later revised their estimates downward to about 15.5 million and 31 million respectively.11 In 1939, Alfred Kroeber developed a much lower estimate of only 8.4 million for the entire hemisphere.12 In 1964, Woodrow Borah announced a much larger estimate of “upwards of 100 million” Native inhabitants.13 Two years later, Henry Dobyns estimated the Indigenous population of the hemisphere to be between 90 million and 112.5 million.14 In 1976, William Denevan estimated the Indigenous population at between 43 and 72 million, the mid-point of which is more than 57 million.15 In 1987, Thornton provided an estimate of about 75 million.16 The following year, Dobyns revised his estimate significantly upward to 145 million.17 In 1992, Stannard estimated the original population of the hemisphere at about 100 million.”

Smith, David Michael. “Counting the Dead: Estimating the Loss of Life in  the Indigenous Holocaust, 1492-Present.” University of Houston-Downtown.

This article pulls from many sources to give an estimate of Native Americans prior to European contact.

“Spider Rock : Home of Spider Woman.” Nizhoni Ranch Gallery,

This webpage tells the story of Spider Woman in Navajo culture.

Swentzell, R. (1997). “An Understated Sacredness.” In Baker Morrow (Ed.), Anasazi Architecture and American Design, (pp. 186–189). University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

This chapter describes Santa Clara Pueblo religion and describes a sacred shrine. There is a very detailed account of how spirituality connects to  people and places.

“Tipi Facts for Kids.” Tipi Facts for Kids,

This website offers a kid friendly examination of teepees. It would be great for younger students. There are facts about construction, designs, and how the reason for such home designs.

Trimble, Stephen. Talking with the Clay: The Art of Pueblo Pottery in the 21st Century.  School for Advanced Research Press, 2007.

This book provides context for Pueblo pottery and gives rich examples of the various types with details about each.

Wilson, Roy. “The Blackfoot Tipi.  Learning Centre. .” Learning Centre.

Images and descriptions of Blackfoot teepees, from the construction to details about designs. This is a great resource for students to see photos of real teepees.

Witherspoon, Gary. “Beautifying the World through Art .” Beautifying the World through Art, in Language and Art in the Navajo Universe, University of Michigan Press, 1977.

This book chapter connects Navajo philosophies about art in the world, and the practices that are engaged in when Navajos weave.

Underhill, Ruth. Pueblo Crafts. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Division of Education, 1944.

This pamphlet is a collection of facts about the Pueblo, with a focus on crafts. Many things are described including weaving, basketry, pottery and music. There are histories, photographs and drawings. Well known artists are named and their work and techniques displayed.


Pennsylvania Curriculum Standards

Grade 3 Standard Area – 9.1: Production, Performance and Exhibition of Dance, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts

The following standards will be addressed as students connect the art of teepee designs and symbols, textile patterns, and pottery designs and symbols with the time periods and cultures in which they derive.

  • Standard – 9.2.3.A – Explain the historical, cultural and social context of an individual work in the arts.
  • Standard – 9.2.3.B – Relate works in the arts chronologically to historical events (e.g., 10,000 B.C. to present).
  • Standard – 9.2.3.E – Analyze how historical events and culture impact forms, techniques and purposes of works in the arts (e.g., Gilbert and Sullivan operettas)
  • Standard – 9.2.3.F – Know and apply appropriate vocabulary used between social studies and the arts and humanities.
  • Standard – 9.2.3.G – Relate works in the arts to geographic regions.
  • Standard – 9.2.3.J – Identify, explain and analyze historical and cultural differences as they relate to works in the arts.
  • Standard – 9.2.3.L – Identify, explain and analyze common themes, forms and techniques from works in the arts.
  • Standard – 9.1.3.B – Recognize, know, use and demonstrate a variety of appropriate arts elements and principles to produce, review and revise original works in the arts.
  • Standard – 9.1.3.D – Use knowledge of varied styles within each art form through a performance or exhibition of unique work.
  • Standard – 9.1.3.E – Demonstrate the ability to define objects, express emotions, illustrate an action or relate an experience through creation of works in the arts.
  • Standard – 9.1.3.J – Know and use traditional and contemporary technologies for producing, performing and exhibiting works in the arts or the works of others.
  • Standard – 9.1.3. – Know and use traditional and contemporary technologies for furthering knowledge and understanding in the humanities.

Grade 5 Standard Area – 9.1: Production, Performance and Exhibition of Dance, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts

The following standard will be addressed as students as they choose the symbols for their teepee and write about why they made their choices for their designs.

  • Standard – 9.1.5.E – Know and demonstrate how arts can communicate experiences, stories or emotions through the production of works in the arts.