Students are prepared to present their findings from the specific U.S. Native American Policy I assigned to their group in the previous lesson. I project the timeline from this pdf with an Overview of Federal Indian Policy, which is on page 2. I announce that they are presenting in chronological order. This is to give them a chronological view of U.S. policy regarding Native Americans. I explain that what we expect is a brief summary of the policy of each era as well as their explanation of issues that likely concerned Native American communities during this time period. I explain that at the end of these presentations, students will have gained a good understanding of the challenges the Native American community have faced. This is necessary in order for students to understand the characters and events they are going to encounter in the texts I have selected for this unit.
I emphasize the importance of being a good participant, both as presenters as well as audience. When presenting, I instruct, do not read straight off the page. I explain that this is usually confusing because what we need is someone who spent a good amount of time examining this page to explain it to us in a way we can understand. Some will find this challenging. I give groups a few minutes to read over their paper once more and feel better prepared to present.
Beginning with the group that was assigned the era of “Doctrine of Discovery,” each group presents. When students begin to drift to directly reading from the page, I step in and ask them to explain what they are reading. They usually do this because they struggle to understand what they are reading. I take this opportunity to explain part of the information on the particular era. For instance, I help the first group explain the significance of the civilized vs. savages dichotomy, explaining that thinking of Native Americans as savages helped European conquerors justify what they did to them. The other thing I do during their presentations is help highlight the contradictions in the history of U.S. Native American policy, which I have compared to a pendulum. For instance, I want them to see that the U.S. government went from displacing Native Americans form their land, during the Indian Removal Era, to giving them land, during the Reservation Era, back to taking the land, during the Allotment and Assimilation era, back to giving it back to them, during the Indian Reorganization Era. Finally, I make sure students addressed any of the terms I have written on the board: assimilation, autonomy, language, land, identity, and memory. I am very interested in making sure students make these connections because we are going to find specific references to all these in the literature we are about to begin reading.
Take a look at this student presenting for her group.
Students turn in their paper with their notes on it and we are now ready to engage with our first piece of Native American literature.
We only have enough time left to receive a copy of the first Native American literature text, a poem Leslie Marmon Silko included in her novel Ceremony. Here is a copy of Silko's poem. I tell students that we will read this poem repeatedly in the next few days and that today, I am going to read the entire thing aloud to them. I enjoy reading aloud to students and they enjoy being read to. In addition to this simple joy, it is also helpful for students to hear the reading voice of an experienced reader. Students have often stated that it makes the text at hand more interesting for them. When they are reading on their own, many have a difficult time finding that natural human voice that helps us engage with the words of an author.
By the time I get to the end of this poem, students are so engaged with the story in this poem, that the ending absolutely has the intended effect. Many will sit back and say, “Whoa.” I thoroughly enjoy moments like these.
I tell students that we will be working with this poem for several days.