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Northwest and Plateau Native American Tribes Lesson

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Totem pole made out of boxes and painted by the children

Totem pole made out of boxes and painted by the children

This is part 3 of a 4 part hands-on unit on Native Americans. Decorate parfleches, fry salmon cakes, create totem poles, dramatize a dramatize potlatch ceremony, and more! My lessons are geared toward 3rd-4th grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 17 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your class, family, or homeschool co-op group!

Creating a Shoshone parfleche

Creating a Shoshone parfleche

Plateau-Basin Introduction and Shoshone Parfleches

*Please bring markers and glue for each of your children.*

1. Stretch & pray.

2. Proverbs 4:26.

3. Point out tribes on map. Sing the "Tribes of America" Song (Tune: "10 Little Indians")
Eastern Woodlands/
Northeast, Southeast:
Iroquois, Algonquian,
Seminole/Creek & Cherokee
All lived in the East
Blackfoot, Lakota, Sioux, and Comanche
Cheyenne, Crow, and Pawnee
All hunted buffalo on the plains.
They are the Plains tribes!
On the Plateau-Basin is the Nez Perce
And Sacajawea's Shoshoni.
Head to the Northwest to find the Haida
And the Inuit.

4. Quickly discuss traits of Woodlands/Northeast & Southeast and Plains tribes.

5. Look at pictures of Plateau-Basin tribes & compare with other regions of tribes. (Point out that the Plateau-Basin and the Plains tribes shared many similarities in their ways of life.)

6. Quickly discuss Shoshone & Sacajawea. (We will not focus on Sacajawea because we covered her in more depth when studying Lewis and Clark.)

7. Look at pictures of Shoshone parfleche. Discuss what parfleches were used for. Make a parfleche. Point out how they frequently used geometric shapes and patterns, especially squares, rectangles, and diamonds repeated 6-8 times, to decorate their leather. Since they used dyes from fruits and berries to provide color, red, yellow, green and black were the most common colors.

a. (Before class) Pre-fold a 12" x 18" sheet of paper or a brown bag for each child. Fold 3 1/4'" borders along the top and bottom. Then fold 5" borders at each end. The folded parfleche size will be 5 1/2" x 8".

b. Give each child a pre-folded 12" x 18" sheet of paper. Let them use markers to create designs on their parfleches.

c. As children color in their parfleches, use a hole punch to make a hole in the end sections of the parfleche. Give each child 2 pieces of string to tie to each hole and then to tie together. (Younger children will need help with this)

(* Note: Unless you are not limited by time, set a time limit of 15 minutes because this could take a long time for those who want to make intricate patterns. To make it go faster, you could use paint instead of markers. If some children finish early, encourage them to add more patterns or to outline the pictures in black marker.)

YOU WILL NEED: (per child) 1 PRE-FOLDED 12"x18" sheet of paper or brown bag and 2 pieces of yarn or leather straps; as many hole punches as you own

Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph & Nez Perce

8. As children finish coloring, quickly discuss and look at pictures of Chief Joseph & Nez Perce. Talk about how Chief Joseph said whites and Indians were both created by the same God and should have equal laws. The Nez Perce were readily accepting of Christianity, but white people time and again did not hold to their word. Finally Chief Joseph’s father tore his Gospel of Matthew saying that he no longer wanted anything to do with what the white people stood for. We need to be careful that we treat others with the love of Jesus and stick to our word so that we do not cause others to get a false view of what Christianity should be.

Collecting Timber and Kindling

Collecting Timber and Kindling

Collecting Timber and Kindling

9. (Optional - If you plan to have a fire at the powwow that you will be doing for the end of unit activity) Go outside and collect timber and kindling. Discuss fire building and safety as you stack the wood for the powwow.

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Making Salmon Cakes

Making Salmon Cakes

Tlingits of the Northwest & Salmon Cakes

10. Look at pictures of the Tlingits. If you are not limited by time, read Totem Tale: A Tall Story From Alaska by Deb Vanasse.

YOU WILL NEED: "Totem Tale: A Tall Story From Alaska" by Deb Vanasse

11. Divide into 3 groups & make Salmon Cakes

Each group will make the below recipe:

1 (7 3/4 ounce) can salmon

2 teaspoons grated onions

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/8 dill (optional)

8 soda crackers, crushed


oil (for frying)

Mash salmon, bones and all, in a bowl with a mixing spoon. Blend in onion, egg, salt, pepper and dill (if using). Using your fingers, crush crackers and mix them in to the salmon. Give each child a small spoon full of mixture and let them form it into a patty and then dip it in flour to coat both sides. Have them repeat this until all the salmon mixture has been formed into patties. At this point children will make totem poles while 2 teachers/moms will fry salmon patties in oil in skillets. Lay fried patties on paper towels to help drain the oil.

YOU WILL NEED:1 mixing bowl per 4-6 children, 1 mixing spoon per 5 children, 2 skillets, 1 (7 3/4 ounce) can of salmon per 4-6 children, 2 tsp. diced onions per 4-6 children, salt, pepper, dill, flour, 1 egg per 4-6 children, & 8 soda crackers per 4-6 children, oil, plates, and paper towels

Book to read for activity 11

Coloring miniature totem pole

Coloring miniature totem pole

Totem pole made out of boxes and painted by the children

Totem pole made out of boxes and painted by the children

Totem Poles

12. Look at pictures of totem poles.

13. Color and tape together Totem Poles. While children color their totem poles, you can provide additional information about the significance of totem poles. You can get an idea of what to say from the lesson plan at this link. (If you have lots of empty paper towel rolls, you can let children tape the totem pole pattern to one to make the totem pole more stable.)

TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED: (per child) 1 copy of the totem pole on p. 4 of this webpage (please cut out the pattern ahead of time) and tape


(If you're not limited by time...or if you skip Step 9 on collecting timber and kindling for the fire for the powwow) Make totem poles out of boxes like the one at the top of this lesson plan.

a. Divide children into groups of 3.

b. Give each group a box. Give each group something heavy (like a rock or a 2 liter bottle of soda) to put in the bottom of the box so it won't fall over.

c. If you have a large can of paint, let children use the types of paintbrushes you'd use to paint walls to paint the front of the box white and then then 3 of the sides of the box another color. Also paint at one set of "wings/arms" with that color. (I cut the wings out of a pizza box.) (We had some leftover paint from when we painted a porch swing. You could also buy a $5 gallon of "mess up" paint if they sell those at your local hardware store.) To make this go faster, I assigned each child 1 side of the box to paint. It's okay if it's not perfect! ***Have children wear old clothing if they do this step!*** (None of us got paint on our clothing, but it definitely could happen.) If you don't have lots of paint, skip this step and don't paint the box.

d. Using black paint, have a parent paint 3 straight lines across the front of the totem pole so that it has 3 evenly spaced squares. Each child gets one square in which to paint a face. I did remind them to first think of an animal face and then try to paint that.

e. Use tape to attach the "wings/arms" to the back of each totem pole.

f. We used these are decorations for our powwow.

Potlatch Ceremony

Potlatch Ceremony

Potlatch Ceremony & Review

14. Discuss potlatch ceremony & dramatize potlatch:

I divided the group in half. One group was the Eagle Clan and the other was the Raven Clan. The Raven Clan quickly drew an eagle on a circle of construction paper and strung it with yarn to make a necklace with a "medallion." We quickly discussed the background of a potlatch as the children finished their medallions. For each clan one boy volunteered to be a chief and one child volunteered to do a dance. The Ravens entered the living room and each put a "shawl" (really a bath towel) around their shoulders. The Eagle Clan pretended to row a canoe over to the living room. The script began. The Eagle Clan each sat down and wrapped a towel around their shoulders. The Raven Chief hit a stick on the ground 3 times. Welcomes were said. The Raven Clan each retrieved a plate and drink and served the Eagle Clan and the Raven Chief. Then they got food for themselves. Everyone ate. A script was read using the words from the lesson plan at this link. The Ravens gave the Eagles the medallions. The script was read. The volunteer dancer from each side did a dance. Garbage was collected by the Ravens while the Eagles folded up their "blankets." Thanks & good-byes were said, and the Eagle Clan left and pretended to row away in their canoe.

Menu: mint tea, 1 salmon cake, 4 blackberries, & 1 slice of sourdough bread

TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: 8 3-inch construction paper circles with a hole punched in them, 8 pieces of 2'-long yarn, 16 towels & 2 sticks/plastic bats

TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED: 16 small cups, 16 small plates, & 16 napkins

TEACHER/PARENT 4: YOU WILL NEED: Mint tea, blackberries, sourdough bread

Food served at the Potlatch Ceremony

Food served at the Potlatch Ceremony

16. (If you're not limited by time) Discuss & look at pictures of Inuit & whaling.

17. (If you're not limited by time) Play the Seal Hop & Kneel Jump (World Eskimo-Indian Olympics) from "A Kid's Guide to Native Americans History" by Yvonne Dennis.

18. Five minute drill/discussion on what we learned.

Book to use for activity 17



Homework: Tribe & Missionary Reports

For each of the main tribes we studied, my sons and I completed an "Indian Tribe Report" page from this link. This week we did reports on the Shoshone, Nez Perce, and Tlingit.

We also completed a missionary report page using the form from this link. This week we studied Narcissa Whitman, missionary to the Cayuse of the Northwest.

Great Book to Read on Narcissa Whitman

More Great Books on Narcissa Whitman

Attack in the Rye Grass: Marcus and Narcissa Whitman (Trailblazer Books #11) by Dave and Neta Jackson is a 160 page chapter book that places 2 fictional characters in the historical events of the lives of the Whitmans. It is part of a Christian series focusing on the lives of missionaries. We love this series! If you are looking for something less advanced, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman: Oregon Pioneers by Marian T. Place is a great option! It is the 80 page chapter book that I read with my 7 year old son. It has illustrations every few pages and is perfect for his reading level. It is part of the Discovery Book series, which is one of my favorite chapter book biography series. Narcissa Whitman : Brave Pioneer (Easy Biographies) by Sabin is the only picture book I know of about Narcissa Whitman. It is 46 pages. Even my 4 year old was able to sit through us reading this because her life was so fascinating!

Our Favorite Children's Books on the Plateau-Basin Tribes

Sacagawea: Journey into the West (Graphic Biographies) by Jessica Gunderson is one of our favorite books on Sacagawea of the Shoshone because of its comic book format combined with its historical accuracy. We did not spend as much time reading about Sacagawea, because we focused more on her when we studied Lewis and Clark. Famous Indian Tribes by William Moyers is the best book I could find that provides an overview/generalizations of each group of Native Americans. The illustrations on each page are large and colorful. This was published in 1954, so it does include a few false stereotypes. You can skip those words. Overall I found this to be a great book for introducing each geographical group (Plains, Southwest, etc.) of Native Americans. Coyote Steals Fire: A Shoshone Tale by Northwestern Shoshone Nation is a Shoshone legend along with brief information about the Shoshone. It is accompanied by a CD that tells the legend in the Shoshone language and includes 2 Shoshone songs, which are really amazing to hear! The Nez Perce (First Americans Books) by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve is a fact-filled illustrated book provides lots of information about the Nez Perce and had historically accurate illustrations. Chief Joseph, Guardian of His People (Garrard Indian Books) by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery is a wonderful, shorter chapter book. I read this 80 page chapter book on this amazing Nez Perce leader with my 7 year old. It has illustrations every few pages. My 4 year old listened to much of the book as well. We didn't have time to read Chief Seattle by Elizabeth Montgomery, which is from the same series, but we would have read it had we had time. These are the best children's chapter book biographies on famous Native Americans that I have come across!

Our Favorite Picture Books on the Northwest Tribes

Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest by Gerald McDermott includes a legend of the trickster Raven but with illustrations that look like the totem pole. The Raven tricks the Sun Chief by pretending to be a baby. He then steals the "light" from the Sun Chief, allowing for it to finally shine again. How Raven Stole the Sun (Tales of the People) by Maria Williams is a great picture book Tlingit legend about the trickster Raven and the sun, moon, and stars. It even includes some Tlingit words. The Frog Princess: A Tlingit Legend from Alaska by Eric A. Kimmel is a Tlingit legend that tells of a woman who goes to live in the kingdom of frogs despite the wishes of her parents. A Dog Came, Too: A True Story by Ainslie Manson is a cute, historically accurate picture book about the dog that accompanied Alexander Mackenzie in his explorations of the Northwest Pacific coast. Alexander Mackenzie by Ronald Syme is an 96 page chapter book with many illustrations. I read this exciting biography with my 7 year old son.

Setting up a tepee during Lesson 2: Plains Native American Tribes Lesson

Setting up a tepee during Lesson 2: Plains Native American Tribes Lesson


Hunt for arrowheads, build teepees, paint totem poles, draw Pueblo chalk drawings, present on specific Native American tribes, and more during this fun four week hands on study of Native Americans.

  • Northeast and Southeast Native Americans Lesson - This is part 1 of a 4 part hands-on unit on Native Americans. Make arrows, cook Three Sisters Stew, go on an “archeological dig” for arrowheads, create Iroquois Bowl games, bead Seminole necklaces, and more!
  • Plains Native American Tribes Lesson - This is part 2 of a 4 part hands-on unit on Native Americans. Create headdresses and war shields, build a teepee, eat dried “buffalo” and more!
  • Northwest and Plateau Native American Tribes Lesson - This is part 3 of a 4 part hands-on unit on Native Americans. Decorate parfleches, fry salmon cakes, create totem poles, dramatize a dramatize potlatch ceremony, and more!
  • Southwest Native American Tribes Lesson - This is part 4 of a 4 part hands-on unit on Native Americans. Make Navajo Fry Bread, draw Pueblo chalk drawings, create Navajo sand paintings and concho-style belts, weave Apache baskets, and more!
  • Native American Powwow and Field Trip Ideas - After our 4 part unit study on Native Americans, our culminating activity was a powwow. Each child presented on a different tribe and brought food from that tribe for us to share. I am also including where we went for field trips during this unit.
  • Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies - Over the years I have posted over 40 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 170 lessons. The unit studies include the Human Body, Simple Machines, Earth Science, Medieval Period, American Revolution, Pioneer Life, Countries of the World, and many more! For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources.
Konos Volume I: Attentiveness

Konos Volume I: Attentiveness

Konos Curriculum

(Volume I: Attentiveness)

Would you like to teach this way every day?

Konos Curriculum

I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful curriculum and was created by moms with active boys!

Konos Home School Mentor

If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!

© 2011 Shannon

Leave A Note - Let me know you dropped by! Was this lens helpful? Do you have any questions, comments, or additional ideas? Please post here!

TransplantedSoul on February 22, 2012:

Thanks - I enjoy learning about different cultures. It is sad that here in North America we do not have Native people come into the schools to teach their perspective first hand.

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