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McREL Standards Activity

Creation Stories

Purpose:As a result of this activity, students will have a greater understanding of the cultural and religious foundations of Native American societies.
Related Standard & Benchmarks:
United States History
 Standard 1.Understands the characteristics of societies in the Americas, Western Europe, and Western Africa that increasingly interacted after 1450
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 5. Understands how values and beliefs in Native American origin stories explain other facets of Native American culture (e.g., migration, settlement, interactions with the environment)
Language Arts
 Standard 5.Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 1. Uses context to understand figurative, idiomatic, and technical meanings of terms
Student Product:Students will produce a brief summary of their group discussions
Material & Resources:A good list of Native American creation stories can be acessed online. It would also be helpful for teachers to have maps on hand that detail the primary locations of the major Native American populations prior to the Columbian discovery.
Teacher's Note:This activity may be assigned to students to work on individually, however working in groups will allow for more thoughtful discussion and interpretation. The activity can be easily expanded or varied by asking students to focus on what the story might say about the role of children in society, what cultural aspects are evident (e.g., food, housing, traditions, ceremonies, clothing, political structures, social structures).
Native American Creation Stories, a genre of early American literature, are written to explain the origin of the Earth as viewed by Native American cultures. However, the creation stories can also serve as a learning tool to teach students about Native American culture, social structure, religious beliefs, and how they experienced the physical environment. Students can be divided into 4 or 5 small groups. Each group will be assigned a specific creation story to read. If maps are available, students should identify the general location of the tribe for the story they are reading (e.g., coastal Northwest, Atlantic Coast, Midwestern or Southwestern Plains). Once the students have read the story, they can begin addressing the following questions: 1. What references does the story make to a diety? Based on the story, is the culture polytheistic or monotheistic? 2. Does the story refer to any social or gender roles? For example, are there any symbolic relationships or metaphors that might indicate the role of women in the society? 3. What references are made to animals in the story and what symbolic relationships can be drawn? For example, the buffalo plays a dominant role in creation stories from the Great Plains. Why is this, and what is the special relationship between the people and the animals? 4. What elements of the natural environment are described in the story? What do the references reveal about the possible climate and environmental conditions in which the tribe lives? For example, is water referred to as if it is in abundance, or is water very rare and sacred? Once students have discussed all of the questions, one member of the group should write a summary addressing the key points and ideas (or, at the teacher’s discretion, each member could write a summary). If time allows, the groups can read aloud the creation story and its summary to the rest of the class. A class discussion can follow and students can have the opportunity to compare and contrast the different elements of each creation story.