Teaching Students About Native American Eastern Woodlands
The Native American Eastern Woodlands is an essential area of study when it comes to understanding the history, culture, and traditions of the Indigenous peoples of North America. This diverse group of tribes inhabited the eastern parts of the United States and Canada, stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Great Lakes region. Teaching students about the Native American Eastern Woodlands can be an engaging and valuable experience, fostering greater appreciation and knowledge for these rich cultures.
Traditions and Way of Life:
Begin by discussing the various tribes that formed part of the Eastern Woodlands, such as the Iroquois, Mohawk, Algonquin, and Shawnee. Explain how each tribe had its own unique languages, customs, and beliefs. You can also introduce their traditional dwellings called wigwams or longhouses, which were crafted with wood frames covered with bark or woven mats.
The Eastern Woodland tribes relied heavily on agriculture for their sustenance. Teach your students about the “Three Sisters” – corn, beans, and squash – which were commonly grown together because they supported each other’s growth. Introduce them to other foods sourced from hunting, fishing, and gathering nuts, berries, and wild plants to supplement their diets.
Art and Craft:
Art played a significant role in daily life for these tribes. Introduce your students to beadwork (using quahog clam shells), pottery, carving (wooden utensils), and basket weaving as examples of traditional crafts. The use of natural materials such as feathers, animal skins, clay, wood, and plant fibers can demonstrate how tribes utilized resources from their environment in their artwork.
Teach your students about wampum belts – intricately woven strings of beads used for ceremonial purposes or to record treaties between tribes – to emphasize the importance of storytelling through art in Native American cultures.
Religion and Spirituality:
Help your students understand Eastern Woodland tribes’ belief systems by introducing them to the Great Spirit, known by various names depending on the specific tribal tradition. Explain the concept of animism – the belief in the spiritual essence present in all living beings and objects – and share with them some legends involving animals such as the Turtle, Bear, and Coyote.
Encourage your students to learn about traditional ceremonies such as dances and festivals to honor ancestors, mark seasons, or seek guidance from spiritual leaders.
Interactions with European Settlers:
Finally, it is essential to discuss the impact that European settlers had on these Native American tribes as a turning point in their history. Teach your students about trade between indigenous peoples and Europeans – which brought new tools, technologies, and weapons – but also introduced diseases that the Native population did not have immunity against.