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Mark Botti, NEH Summer Scholar 2015

Indigenous Literature

Lesson Plan by Mark Botti

Grade 9 English

Length:  Ten 80 minute classes

Exploring Indigenous and Personal Identity Through Multimedia Storytelling

This unit is made for 9th grade English classes and is designed for ten 80-minute class periods which is about four weeks if taught on a block schedule.  We will explore the complex meaning of identity, learn about Indigenous cultures, specifically the Iñupiat, Salish, Pend d’oreille, Sami and the Yahi, and students will explore their own identity.  This unit will take us to poetry, film, photography, video games, art, and the Internet, all of which will be used as vehicles to explore indigenous and personal identity.

This Unit plan engages the following essential understandings from IEFA:

Essential Understanding 1: There is great diversity among the twelve tribal nations of Montana in their languages, cultures, histories and governments. Each Nation has a distinct and unique cultural heritage that contributes to modern Montana.

Essential Understanding 2: There is great diversity among individual American Indians as identity is developed, defined and redefined by entities, organizations and people. A continuum of Indian identity, unique to each individual, ranges from assimilated to traditional. There is no generic American Indian.

Essential Understanding 3: The ideologies of Native traditional beliefs and spirituality persist into modern day life as tribal cultures, traditions, and languages are still practiced by many American Indian people and are incorporated into how tribes govern and manage their affairs. Additionally, each tribe has its own oral histories, which are as valid as written histories. These histories pre-date the “discovery” of North America.


■                    Understand the concept of personal identity

■                    Develop an understanding of Indigenous cultural identity through art, history and literature

■                    Explore and analyze stereotypes

■                    Think critically about a variety of texts

■                    Examine and express complex ideas through writing and conversation/discussion

■                    Explore diverse methods of expression

■                    Analyze and understand poetry

■                    Express oneself through poetry, photography and art

Exploring Identity

Final Project

Student Handout


As we study personal and indigenous identity, you will prepare an artistic exploration of your identity.  The project is due on the final day of the unit.  It must consist of the following ingredients:

■                    An original poem presented via video.  This poem will be inspired by the poem “I am Not the Indian You had in Mind” by Tom King or any of the poetry studied in this unit.  Be creative with your video; it must contain the words of your poem read aloud, but whatever else you do is up to you.  Consider adding images of objects, people, or places in your life that are either mentioned or alluded to in the poem or that represent your identity.

■                    A self-portrait inspired by the work in About Face: Self Portraits by Native American, First Nations, and Inuit Artists. 

■                    A one page minimum reflection answering the question: Who are you?

Extra Credit Assignment: Play the game Never Alone and submit a report on your experience.  This award winning and progressive video game was designed in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people.  You play as a young Alaskan girl or a white fox who search for the source of a blizzard.  Along the way, you will encounter video clips that delve into the rich culture of the Indigenous Alaskans.  This game is available on game consoles, PC and Mac, and costs about 15 dollars.  This is an optional assignment and extra credit points can only be earned by completing the written requirements. 

You must respond to the following prompts in your report:

■                    Identify and explore three key values of the Iñupiat culture.  Provide specific details (Quotes, examples) to support your observations.

■                    How does the journey of Nuna and the fox contribute to your understanding of the Iñupiat culture?


Day One: Defining Identity

Goals:  To understand and define “identity” and to begin an exploration of student identity.

Activity One: Identity through names (10 minutes)

■                    This is an introductory exercise that allows students to introduce themselves and explore their name and how it contributes to their identity.

■                    Each student will write their full name on the board and explain to the class the meaning, origin or history of their name. 

Activity Two: Free-write (5-10 minutes)

■                    Students will write for three to five minutes on the prompt:  Who are you?  The teacher may need to introduce the techniques and guidelines of freewriting.

■                    Class discussion and reading.  Ask for volunteers to share part or all of their free writing 

Activity Three: Exploring humanity, gender and nationality (20-30 minutes)

■                    What does it mean to be human?  Write five qualities.

■                    Discuss in small groups and then as a class.

■                    What does it mean to be a girl (or boy)?  Write five qualities.

■                    Discuss in small groups and then as a class.

■                    What does it mean to be an American?  Write five qualities.

■                    Discuss in small groups and then as a class.

Activity Four: Defining Identity. (30 minutes)

■                    See attached worksheet titled “Defining Identity” on pages 4-5.

■                    Students complete questions 1-3 on their own.

■                    Discuss answers in groups

■                    Come up with a group definition of identity. 

■                    Share definitions with class.

Homework: Complete Identity Worksheet questions 4-10; bring in one object that defines or identifies your culture.


Defining Identity

Student worksheet




Please answer the following questions as thoroughly and honestly as possible.


 How do you define identity?


Follow the link below to the Oxford English Dictionary and read all of the definitions for Identity.  Answer the following questions.    


a.  Choose the definition that you feel best defines identity and write the definition below.


b.  Why did you choose this definition?


c.  Is this definition perfect?  If so, why?  If not, why not and what would you add?


Share your above answers with your small group and create a new and improved definition of identity below.



Answer the following questions for homework.


How do your physical characteristics contribute to your identity?


How does your family/ancestry contribute to your identity?


How does language contribute to your identity?


Think of a place that is really important to you. Why is this place important and how does  this place contribute to your identity?


What are your hobbies?  How do they contribute to your identity?


Identify three dreams or desires and explore how each one contributes to your identity.








Revisit the question from the beginning of class.  Who are you?



Day Two: Cultural Identity and Stereotypes

Goals: To define and explore the concept of culture and tie it to personal identity.  We will answer the following questions:  How does our cultural background define us and contribute to our identity? Can our personal identity come in conflict with our cultural identity? 

Activity One: Free write; show and tell (15 minutes)

■                    Students will write for three minutes on the prompt:  How does the object you brought in define or identify your culture?

■                    Share: All students will share what they brought and explain how the object defines or identifies their culture.

Activity Two: Define and explore the meaning of culture (20 minutes)

■                    Students will come up with their own definitions and then discuss them in small groups.  We will then discuss these definitions as a class, listing characteristics and qualities on the board. 

Activity Three:  Exploring indigenous culture (15 minutes)

■                    Explore the definition of indigeneity on the following website:

Activity Four:  Begin research of tribal cultures (30 minutes)

Each student will be assigned one tribe from the list below and take notes on cultural qualities and characteristics that make their assigned tribe unique.  I will assign websites as starting points for each student. 

1.  Salish and Pend d’Oreille:


2.  Inuit


3.  Sami

            4.  Ohlone

Homework:  Continue assigned tribal research


Day Three:  Stereotypes and tribal identity

Activity One:  Identify common stereotypes of Native Americans (20 minutes).  We will record and list on the board and discuss the significance of each stereotype.

Activity Two: Watch, read  and discuss “I am not the Indian you had in mind” by Thomas King (20 minutes).

1. Students will take notes on King’s main point and how he achieves this point.  We will focus on what message he is trying to send about Indians and what stereotypes he is disproving.

2. Class discussion on student notes

Activity Three:  Discuss tribal cultures based on research (40 minutes). Students will be grouped according to the previous day’s research assignment.  Groups will discuss their findings. Each group will present to the class a list of tribal characteristics that help form tribal identity and break stereotypes.

Homework:  Students will write an original poem titled: “I am not the ____________ you had in mind.”  They can fill in the blank with anything that relates to their identity (e.g. girl, high school student, athlete, etc.)


Day Four:  Film Reel Injun

We will watch the film and students will take notes on the following topics:

1.  How has Hollywood stereotyped Native Americans in film? Students will focus on the categories provided in the film.

2.  How have more recent films attempted to break these stereotypes?


Students will organize their notes on the film and write paragraphs responding to the two above questions. 


Days Five and Six: Native American Poetry

We will begin class with a discussion of the homework and the film from the previous class.

After the film discussion, we will study poetry.  The objective is for students to explore the identity of the speaker of each poem and tie that identity to tribal identity.  The guiding questions for the poems are:

■                    Describe the speaker.  What do we learn about him or her?  How does the poem reveal the identity of the speaker? How does the diction and imagery contribute to our understanding of the speaker?

■                    How does the poem reveal tribal identity and culture?  How does the diction and imagery contribute to our understanding of the tribe?

■                    Does the poem defy stereotypes?  If so, why? If not, why not?

Key Terms: Diction, Imagery (figurative and literal), Speaker, Tone

Poems for study:

“Agnes” by Victor Charlo*

“Blonde” by Heather Calhoon*

“Elk Thirst” by Heather Calhoon*

“Frog Creek” Circle by Victor Charlo*

“Grandmother Eliza” by Nora Dauenauer

“I Take My Home” by Jennifer Greene*

“Indian Blood” by Mary Tall mMountain

“My Home is in My Heart” by Nils Aslak Valkeapää

“My Reservation” by Jennifer Greene*

Students will be placed into small groups of about four.  Each group will be responsible for two or three of the above poems.  Their goal is to answer the relevant questions and then present their work and their assigned poems to the rest of the class.

The presentations will take place on day six. 

Homework for day six: Continue working on assigned poems and presentation.

Homework for day seven: Watch Ishi: The Last Yahi and take notes.

Link to film:

The film can also be found on Netflix and Amazon.

*denotes a poem that can be found in Birthright: Born to Poetry--A Collection of Montana Indian Poetry


Day Seven: Ishi: The Last Yahi

The focus of the day’s lesson will be to bring our studies to a local place.  Because my students are Northern Californians, discussion and analysis of the film will bring the topic home to them, so to speak.

Activity One (Fifteen minutes):  Students will work in groups discussing their notes and listing the main points of the film.  

Activity Two (20 minutes): Students will read, analyze and discuss news stories on Ishi from the San Francisco Chronicle (2014)

Article part 1

Article part 2

Activity Three (45 minutes): Students will create a portrait of Ishi based on the film and articles. 

Homework: Work on the second draft of original poem.  This draft will be based on my comments on the first draft and inspired by the poetry from the previous two classes


Day Eight: Self-Portraits

The focus of this class will be the study of identity through the visual: self-portraits.  Our text for this exercise is About Face: Self Portraits by Native American, First Nations, and Inuit Artists.

Activity One (40 minutes): Students will move around the room to learning stations and examine and analyze selected self-portraits from the book above.  At each learning station students will encounter one self-portrait and will respond to the following prompts:

1.  What does the artist’s choice of medium reveal about him/her?

2.  What statement is the artist making about him/herself?

3.  How does the self-portrait contribute to your understanding of the artist’s identity?

4.  How is indian identity reflected in the portrait?

5.  What other observations can you make about the art and artist?

Activity Two (30 minutes):

Class discussion on each portrait using the questions above as our guide.

Activity Three (10 minutes):

Brainstorm self-portrait ideas for student self-portrait project

Homework:  Create a self-portrait inspired by the self-portraits from About Face: Self Portraits by Native American, First Nations, and Inuit Artists


Day Nine:  Work on final projects

Students will spend the whole class working on their self-identity projects.

Homework:  Self-identity projects due next class.



Day Ten: Presentation of self-identity projects.

Each student will present their projects to the class.  We will discuss these presentations as a class after each student has presented.


Works Cited

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. 28 Aug. 2015. Web. <>.

Countries and Their Cultures. 28 Aug. 2015. <>.

Flathead Watershed Sourcebook. 28 Aug. 2015.


Ishi: The Last Yahi, Dir. Jed Riffe and Pamela Roberts. 1992. Film.

Kamiya, Gary. “Ishi, last 'wild' Indian, found refuge in S.F.” San Francisco Chronicle. 5 Sept. 2014. 28

Aug. 2015.

Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area. 28 Aug. 2015. <>.

National Park Service. 28 Aug. 2015.


Never Alone.  Upper One Games and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council.  E-Line Media, 2014. Video Game.

Pearlston, Zena and Ryan, Allen, eds.  About Face: Self Portraits by Native American, First Nations, and

Inuit Artists.  Santa Fe: Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 2006. Print.

Reel Injun.  Dir. Neil Diamond. Domino Film, 2009. Film.

Susag, Dorothea, ed. Birthright: Born to Poetry--A Collection of Montana Indian Poetry. Montana Office

of Public Instruction, 2013. Print.

United Nations Regional Information Centre For Western Europe.  28 Aug. 2015.