Native Peoples of North America

Throughout the year we study indigenous cultures around the world.  The fall presents a good time for studying Native Americans since we are already spending more time outside connecting with the natural world.  Since our school is located on a large property on a section of Waller Creek, we regularly take short hikes in and around the creek bed.  During our study of the native peoples of North America, these hikes took place in the context of foraging, hunting and gathering.  We did not actually hunt any wild animals, but we did find and collect many interesting feathers from birds that spend time in the area.  As regular birdwatchers, we were able to identify the birds to whom these feathers once belonged.

Foraging for interesting natural objects

Feathers from grackles and hawks

We have been studying the many types of dwellings erected throughout North America.  We decided to erect a teepee from a readily available material that grows on the property, bamboo.  We regularly harvest the bamboo for various projects.

Bamboo harvested for the teepee

A student prepares the bamboo

Teepee frame made from bamboo

We also made plans for a model of a pueblo from sticks and clay, which we will make in the next few days.  Our books and posters described various dwellings, from cabins to huts.  We discussed the advantages of different types of dwellings depending on location and lifestyle.

We studied many of the crafts made by people in North America and then made our own versions.  The students always enjoy working with beads.  We talked about the different materials early peoples used for beads, how they made the beads and used them.  We contrasted these materials with the types of materials used for beadwork in our society.  While the beadwork of most Native American artisans is too complex to produce without years of practice, we were able to make  some necklaces and bracelets.  Some of the students chose to incorporate patterns into their work.  We also made pouches and gods eyes (ojos de dios).

Pouch for gathering special or useful objects

Ojos de Dios

Ojos de Dios

Working with clay is always a good experience for the students.  We made platters and engraved designs into the clay while it was soft.  While the students worked with the clay, we discussed the many forms of pottery made by different groups and how important it was to their daily activities.  In looking at pictures of pottery, we came across many pictures of baskets.  A friend of the school donated several boxes of reeds and basket-weaving designs, so we will be learning about basket weaving in the near future.

Clay pottery

We studied various pictograms and symbols used by some groups of native peoples.  We also made some of our own.  We talked about the advantages of communicating ideas through pictures instead of written words, as well as the limitations.  We put up large pieces of paper on a wall outside so that we could have lots of room to paint the symbols and pictures.

Steve painting pictograms

Painting pictograms outside

Close up of pictogram paintings

The sun and the sky

Between our library and the public library, we amassed quite a collection of books retelling Native American folk tales.  These stories have been the best avenue for discussing different native groups, their beliefs, and how they lived prior to European contact.  The idea of “animal people”, present in most of the stories, resonated with the students.  Coyote, a central character in the stories of the Southwest tribes, was probably our favorite.


Tomorrow we will be taking a trip out to McKinney Falls State Park to spend the day hiking.  It will be a wonderful opportunity to spend even more time outside, connecting with the natural world.  And next week, before leaving for our Thanksgiving break, we will be cooking a soup with ingredients native to this continent: beans, squash, corn (known to some groups of Native Americans as the three sisters) and tomatoes.


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