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Note: Teach only when snow is on the ground.
Various American Indian tribes have explanations for how they came to inhabit the Americas. These explanations differ from the explanation often presented in social studies textbooks that the earliest Americans were hunters who crossed a land bridge between Asia and North America during the ice age.
There are generally three types of creation stories told by American Indians.
The first type deals with a flood, or an earth diver. The Crow Indians, for example, tell that Old Man Coyote looked out one day and saw only water and sky. Suddenly two ducks appeared and Coyote asked them to dive under the water to see if there was anything interesting under the surface. One diving duck found a root or a branch and then returned to bring up a lump of mud. From the lump of mud, Coyote created a large island. He then blew on the island and it grew as large as the earth is today. Coyote continued to work with the beautiful but empty prairies, creating grass, trees and plants from the root found by the duck. Coyote then went on to make canyons, valleys and rivers. Finally, from a handful of earth, Coyote made men, other male ducks, women, female ducks and all sorts of other living things. The Ojibwe creation story is also an earth diver or flood story. Teachers are urged to consult local community elders or Indian educators to find the story which is specific to the community involved.
The second type of creation story is based on the idea of emergence. In the story told by the Kwakiutl Indians, people emerged from a huge shell that Raven found when he flew down to earth from the upper world. Raven was happy to have these new playmates and he gave them everything they needed to live comfortably. Raven shouted loudly after giving the people many other gifts because he wanted to know if there was anyone else living on earth. The calls of Grizzly Bear, Wolf, Mink and others answered him because they had found people also. The belief is that the people (Dakota/Lakota/Nakota) emerged from a cave in the Black Hills called the Wind Cave. The Dakota/Lakota/Nakota people also have a story which relates to the flood but which is not the actual creation story. Teachers interested in the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota stories can consult the book entitled Lakota Myth, written by James R. Walker, published by the University of Nebraska Press.
The third type of creation story involves a person "falling from the sky." The Iroquois story is an example of this type. The tale of the Sky People is a story that tells how the earth and human beings came to be. This story has been told for hundreds of years by American Indians who call themselves Houdenosaunee (hoo-dee-noh-SHAW-nee), or people of the longhouse. Early French explorers gave them the name Iroquois.
To a tribe such as the Crows, tribal members feel lucky that Coyote and the two ducks gave them such a beautiful home on the grassy prairies of what is now the state of Montana. To the Kwakiutls, the creation story shows the links between the Kwakiutls, their ancestors and animals. Most Kwakiutl families trace their origin to a spirit, which may have taken the form of an animal such as Raven. These spirits could grant a family the right to fish or pick berries in a special place, or even give them magic powers. Like most tribes, the Iroquois people continue to honor their creation story. All of the prayers of the people begin with a reference to the creation.
AMERICAN INDIAN WORLD VIEW
The creation stories handed down to American Indians by their ancestors have been and continue to be very important. The stories express what the American Indians value and believe in addition to helping them understand the meaning of their existence. From the stories, young children learn how their ancestors came to live in their land.
DEVELOPMENTAL CHECKPOINTSenior High students understand the idea that there may be more than one way to explain something as complex as the concept of creation. They will be able to compare and contrast creation stories from several cultures.
The student will be able to:
TEACHER BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Teachers may need to gather information on the various creation stories that might be generated by various cultural groups in the classroom. Also, some students may have a cognate for the word myth in their own languages so it is important that teachers be careful of using the word myth when discussing creation stories. Teachers should keep in mind that the word myth could mean an old story, a story that is not true, or a story that a group of people hold to be true. In the context of American Indian creation stories, myth refers to a story that a group of people hold to be true. It is recommended that teachers use "stories" or "teachings" in the classroom setting to clarify this meaning.
1. Students find resource materials that provide statistics showing how the numbers of American Indians have changed dramatically over the past several hundred years. Brainstorm reasons for the decrease in numbers of American Indians followed by a reading on the actual reasons for the decrease.
2. Students work in groups to create a time line that extends around at least three walls of the classroom. Using general knowledge and/or resource materials from the library, place key events in the history of students' home countries on the right-hand side of the time line. These events should take up a very small space on the time line, leaving the vast majority of the time line as a visual symbol of how long American Indians have inhabited the Americas. As readings following this lesson are presented, students can also add dates and names of Europeans and American Indians who impacted post-1492 American history.
3. The teacher reads one example of a creation story and discusses the various aspects of the story with the class. Students then are selected to work in groups of three or four. Each member in the same group is given the same American Indian creation story to read and discuss. However, the various groups are given different stories to read and discuss. After this is done, the groups disband and form new groups in which a member of each group combines with two or three members of other groups. Members of these new groups then summarize and discuss the three or four stories.
4. Students illustrate an American Indian creation story individually or in a group.
5. Students interview their parents or grandparents about creation stories from their own cultures. Following the interviews, students write down and/or illustrate these creation stories. These stories can then be paired with or contrasted to some of the American Indian creation stories that the students have already read and discussed.
6. After reading the various creation stories and the explanation about the North American/Asian land bridge, students can illustrate or role play the differences between the stories/explanations.
VOCABULARYStudents will create their own vocabulary lists.
RESOURCESChamot, Anna Uhl. America: The Early Years. Reading, MA: Addison- Wesley Publishing Company, 1987.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCESDunn, A (1995). When Beaver Was Very Great: Stories to Live By. Midwest Traditions, Inc.
LINKAGES - Mathematics (chronological order, interpretation of charts and tables)
- Adapted from plans by John Neuman, Robbinsdale Area Schools