Students watch a video about American Indians culture through art. Students learn that much of American Indian culture, ceremonies, and governance has been preserved through visual art. This art helps non-American Indian people learn about American Indians and helps American Indians remember the ways of their cultures. Students identify the range of social structures seen in the artwork of Catlin and Black Hawk.
This lesson is part of "Minnesota | Unit 3: Upper Mississippi European Exploration and Settlement" which explores the question of what was gained and what was lost by both American Indians and settlers as the groups encountered each other throughout American history.
18.104.22.168: North America was populated by indigenous nations that had developed a wide range of social structures, political systems and economic activities, and whose expansive trade networks extended across the continent.
Crayons or markers
An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to project videos to the class
Notebooks or loose-leaf paper
Class set of Catlin vs. Black Hawk handout
Tell students they will be watching a video about the depictions of American Indians in art created by Catlin and Black Hawk. Students should take notes on what the art is showing about the social structures, political systems, and economic activities of the American Indians.
Play the video, Black Hawk and Catlin: Native Americans Then and Now [5:45].
Distribute the Catlin vs. Black Hawk handout and have students create a list of things they saw in George Catlin’s art. Remind them that Catlin’s art was made after the Indian Removal Act where American Indians were removed from some southern states and sent west of the Mississippi. The Act, signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1830, forcibly removed American Indians from states such as the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida Territory. The removal marches, which became known as the “Trail of Tears,” resulted in lots of life lost and Catlin, through his art, was trying to preserve what was thought to be dying off. His art in the video depicts mostly ceremonies, which does not encompass all American Indian culture.
Have students create a list of things they saw in Black Hawk’s art. Remind them that Black Hawk’s art was from primarily from one reservation in South Dakota. The art contains the more day-to-day life of the Indians.
Ask students to think about the art they’ve seen, and have them think about what life may have been like before and during European settlement in America. [Answers might include cultural and social structures similar to both Black Hawk and Catlin’s portrayals.]
Point out to students that art is important because it is one method of communicating history, storytelling, and preserving ways of life. The Europeans came to America and wanted to impose their lifestyles and cultures instead of adjusting to what Native Americans had already established. A lot of American Indian cultures still exist today, but some parts of these cultures only survive in the art depicting that time period.
Further Discussion Questions
1. What did Alyce Spotted Bear say about the word “preserve”?
2. What nations were captured in each of the artist’s work?
3. What mediums did American Indians use to record their history?
Extend the lesson: Research Activity (45 minutes or take-home assignment)
Catlin painted American Indians after the passing of the Indian Removal Act. He was preserving a culture thought to have been dying out. Study the map found in the video at 2:33 – pick one of the groups shown, and research what life in that community is like today.
Ask students to write a paragraph about the culture, government, statistics, and modern concerns of the American Indian community they’ve chosen.
Catlin’s list might include: dances, red war paint, evidence of war, or preparing for hunting (bear and buffalo).
Black Hawk’s list might include: marriage, friendship (arms around each other), hunting, gathering, trading, medicine, fighting, and ceremony.
She didn’t like the idea that Catlin’s version of American Indian culture should be preserved because it didn’t account for the richness of the other parts of the American Indian culture. All cultures change over time, so while it may be more important to “remember” the past, it doesn’t mean that the older culture has to continue, or be “preserved.”
Catlin – Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa and many others. Black Hawk – Sans Arc Lakota
Stone, hides, shields, ledgers