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Indigenous People

Learning objectives for students

This unit is intended to focus on two essential questions regarding indigenous people. (There are two other essential questions the World Trek Team will be addressing, though there are no lessons available relating to them.) By using or adapting the core lessons and activities, your students will address these questions:

We encourage teachers to share their ideas for improving or adapting these lessons and activities. We also encourage teachers to suggest activities of their own. Click here to see what's working for other teachers.

Lessons and activities for students

I.A. Minilesson: What foods are indigenous to America

Many thanks to Richard Zapien for contributing this lesson!


  • To establish a framework around the term "indigenous"


The term "indigenous" has essentially one meaning: that which is native to a particular place, yet in today's world it is also a very political term that raises questions of political autonomy and civil rights. To help raise all these concerns it is essential to first discuss and realize what is indigenous about our own communities. This mini-lesson is only one of thousands of possible springboards to the question of "indigenism".


> pencils

> paper


1. Students will be asked to prepare a typical day's schedule of their meals. They will list at least 15 ingredients (found on the label of most packaging) that make up this food. Then they are to be shown the following list of foods that are indigenous to the Americas.

cactus fruit (nopales )
cacao beans (chocolate)

2. Students are to check off as many "American" foods that they have in their daily diet, and ask students where the other foods in their diet originally came from. Even though many will say, "...from the supermarket", you want the students to realize that the food they eat were originally imported from some other place.

3. Now, ask students, "What type of person might be more inclined to eat only the foods that are native to the Americas?" "Why would these foods be important to them?"


Students should understand that Indigenous Americans would eat the above foods because they are the people, whose ancestors originally cultivated those foods.

I.B. Timeline of Migrations into the Americas

Many thanks to Richard Zapien for contributing this lesson!


  • Identify and label areas of settlements of distinct ethnic groups in the Americas.
  • Label a map of modern day North, Central and South America (including the Caribbean Islands).
  • Label sites of European colonial migration with the Americas (15th - 16th centuries).
  • Hypothesize the question, "What makes a person indigenous?"


This interactive activity should be done in conjunction with some other study of the Americas, of Indigenous groups. It is intended to provoke debate as to "What is indigenous in the Americas?". The political edge must be handled by the teacher since the activity can not assume student reactions. Likewise, students will not be given perfectly delineated map directions about where they are to make up the boundaries that are part of the lesson; they must only approximate their findings. The assessment does not so much revolve around cartographic skills as it does on several "debatable" questions found at the end of this lesson plan.

Key Terms:
Bering Strait


"Timeline of Migrations into the Americas" Map showing Bering Strait migration route Hint: enlarging the map x2 might help!
Information Strips: Series A
Information Strips: Series B
Information Strips: Series C

>20th century map of the Americas

>Colored pencils or similar


Pair students in mixed ability pairs, or groups of no greater than four.


1.a. Before beginning the activity, students should do their best to draw boundary lines and label the countries of the Americas and the Caribbean. Remind students that in this activity they will be formulating the question: "What makes a person indigenous?", and therefore, they not need worry about having enough space on the map to fill in the names of all countries, especially concerning the Caribbean Island and Central America.

1.b. Note: You should make clear to the students that in this activity they are going to travel back in time before these countries and names existed. We added these names only to better understand where they are today.

2. Students groups receive information strip "A". This single strip will represent the arrival of the first peoples into the Americas. Students will mark this arrival on their maps with "red arrows", and place the corresponding symbol on their map's legend.

3. Students will receive information strips, series "B", which highlight the civilizations of many of the more predominant Indigenous American civilizations. They will shade these areas using green.

4. Now that all students have labeled many of the major sites of Pre-Colombian civilizations as described in informational strips "B", they should formulate reasons why such cultures were able to create long-standing societies in the regions in which they did.

5. Now, each pair will receive series cards "C". Students will label their maps to show the presence of the European colonizers. They should find that the areas they need to shade in the color red have already been shaded from the "series B" strips. They should be asked to discuss their findings. Tell students to color red over the areas already shaded.


Now, hold a class discussion focusing on the following questions:
1. Which are the oldest civilizations?
2. which are the most recent?
3. Which civilization likely had the most contact with the others?
4. What were some of the outcomes of this contact?
5. Who are indigenous people? Who are the indigenous people of the Americas?


II. Press Conference : Early Western European Expansion in the Americas

Many thanks to Richard Zapien for contributing this lesson!

Social Studies / Language Arts

In this activity students will analyse Aztec drawings and read short essays on the impact of The Conquest from the indigenous perspective.


  • Students will gain an understanding of some of the consequences of European contact with various American indigenous groups.
  • Students will formulate opinions about the pros / cons of European arrival in the Americas.

Background - You may want to show this on an overhead or give students copies, or you may just want to use it for yourself



Eight study guides:
Leaders Punished
Second Class Citizens
Spanish Imposed
Violence Continues
Catholicism Imposed
Destruction of Histories
Architecture Destroyed
Death by Diseases

Leaders Punished
Second Class Citizens
Spanish Imposed
Violence Continues
Catholicism Imposed
Destruction of Histories
Architecture Destroyed
Death by Diseases

"Press Conference" recorder sheet one

"Press Conference" recorder sheet two

> pencils

> map of the Americas (optional)


Students should be grouped into eight distinct, mixed ability groups. My suggestion would be that each member per group be given a specific responsibility:

1. Group Recorder, (writes down what is being said by group)

2. Group Leader, (sees that all group members are participating)

3. Group Speaker, (reports information to the other student groups)

4. Group Reporter, (asks key questions to Group Speaker in "interview" activity)


1. Ask students what they know about the arrivals of the Europeans in the Americas.

Discuss their responses.

2. Present the following activity to the students, reminding them that what they are going to be learning is not necessarily positive.

3. Give each group one on the eight study guides and the corresponding illustrations, and tell the students that they will be using the study guides and illustrations to create a mock press conference.

4.___e Students are to create a series of"questions and answers" , which detail the information given in the study sheets. (Students may also create questions and answers from other sources you may have in the classroom). Example questions and answers based on the study sheet,"Architecture: Destruction of the old, and Construction of the new", may look like the following:

(Group Reporter) Q.: Would you please explain your role in Aztec society.

(Group Speaker) A.: Yes, I worked as an architect in many Aztec monuments, such as the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlán.

(Group Reporter)Q.: Why then did the Spanish destroy all of your monuments and construct their own on top of yours?

(Group Speaker) A.: The Spanish thought that our religion was the work of the devil, so they replaced our religious monuments with those that reflected Catholicism.

Helpf___õul Hint>> Students should use the discussion questions at the end of each study guide to help them build interview questions.

5. When students groups have created a fair number of questions and answers, the Group Speaker and the Group Reporter should practice saying the questions and answers. Ask them to think of any talk-show, whereby the Group Reporter becomes the host, and the Group Speaker becomes the person being interviewed.

6. When all groups are sufficiently rehearsed, group by group they should present their interview to the class.

7. During the press conference, students should listen to what the reporting group has to say and record that information in the spaces listed in the "Press Conference" recorder sheet.

8. Allow time at the end of ‘conference’ for students to ask questions.


Students should have responded to the press conferences in their Student Recorder sheet.

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