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Elementary Level Unit Printable Version

Rationale: The purpose of this unit is to introduce students to the role Native Americans played during the Lewis and Clark expedition and the impact of westward expansion on indigenous people. During this experience, students interact with a variety of maps to learn about the growth of the U.S. during the 1800s, illustrate their ideas about early encounters between white explorers and Native Americans, and read about the ways in which native peoples contributed to the success and survival of the Lewis and Clark mission. Through quotes, art, literature and reflective writing, students also explore contemporary native perspectives on Lewis and Clark and stereotypes about Native Americans.

  • Students will learn about the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition and the beginnings of westward expansion
  • Students will increase awareness about Native American communities at the time of Lewis and Clark and the ways in which they interacted with white explorers
  • Students will develop their ability to read and analyze maps
  • Students will use literature and visual art to explore stereotypes about Native Americans and native perspectives on U.S. history
  • Students will consider appropriate ways to commemorate the history of U.S. expansion
National Standards (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)

Age Range: Grades 4-5

Handouts/Supporting Documents: (.pdf format - 1770 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
(Click on the link above for a master pdf file with all of the handouts or click on any individual title below for an html version of that single handout.)
U.S. Outline Map
The U.S. in 1800
The U.S. After the Louisiana Purchase
American Indian Tribes, c. 1600
Native American Tribes and Language Groups,
Native American Stereotypes
Lewis and Clark Among the Native Americans
Winter with the Mandan
Across the Great Divide
George Drouillard
Corps of Discovery Expedition Route Map
Guide to Native American People Encountered
Land Transfers from Native Americans to Whites: 1775-1894
Selected Paintings and Text from This Land is My Land
Letter from George Littlechild
Tribal Nations Whose Homeland Lewis and Clark Explored

Other Materials
chart paper, markers, supplies for painting, drawing or collage, This Land is My Land (book), computer and LCD or overhead projector (optional)

Time: 3-3½ hours or 4-5 class periods

Techniques and Skills: analyzing information/media for stereotypes, analyzing visual art, brainstorming, creating visual art, connecting past to present, cooperative group work, critical thinking, forming opinions, historical understanding, large and small group discussion, map skills, reading skills, writing skills

Key Words: band, bicentennial, buffalo, captive, commerce, continent, Corps of Discovery, discover, expedition, frontier, indigenous peoples, interpreter, Louisiana Purchase, merchant, North America, removal, reservation, scout, settlement, stereotype, terrain, territory, tribe


Part I (1 hour 15 minutes-1 hour 30 minutes or 2 class periods)
1. Tell students that the year 2004 marks the beginning of an important bicentennial in U.S. history. Ask for a volunteer to define bicentennial. If the students are unsure, help them to figure the meaning by breaking the word into its components ('bi' as in bicycle meaning two; 'cent' as in century meaning one hundred, etc.) Ask students if they know what important event took place starting two hundred years ago, during the years 1804-1806. List their responses on a sheet of chart paper and ask them to vote by a quick show of hands on which event they think is correct.
2. Tell students that before you reveal the theme of the bicentennial, you are first going to provide some clues. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 students and provide each group with a copy of the U.S. Outline Map. Ask students if they think a U.S. map at the start of 1803 looked the same as it does today. Instruct each group to discuss this question and to shade in the portion of the map that they believe represents the country in 1803. Display the maps so that the class can observe each group's approximation.
3. Project or distribute copies of The U.S. in 1800 and help students to compare this map to the ones they shaded in. Next, project or distribute The U.S. After the Louisiana Purchase and provide the following information:

In 1803, President Jefferson purchased the rights to an area of land that would double the size of the United States. Named Louisiana after King Louis of France, it was all of the land that the French claimed in North America. Jefferson paid $15 million for the rights to this 820,000 square mile expanse of land that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Because the West was a vast and mysterious wilderness to U.S. citizens in 1803, President Jefferson decided that it must be explored.
4. Return to the list of ideas brainstormed earlier about the bicentennial theme and ask students if they now know the correct answer. Inform them that the years 2004-2006 mark the bicentennial of the expedition President Jefferson sent out to explore the new Louisiana territory, which was called the Corps of Discovery and is best known by its leaders-Lewis and Clark.
5. Ask students why they think President Jefferson called the expedition a corps of discovery, and what it means to discover something (to find a place for the first time). Ask if Lewis and Clark were actually the first ones to find the land west of the Mississippi. Make sure that students are aware there were millions of Native Americans living in North America before white settlers began to occupy the land. (In pre-Columbian times, the Native American population of the area north of Mexico is conservatively estimated to have been two million, though some authorities believe the population to have been as large as 10 million or more). Point out that to these people, the U.S. looked nothing like the maps displayed earlier, which show states and territories defined by white men. To highlight this, project or distribute copies of American Indian Tribes, c. 1600 and/or Native American Tribes and Language Groups, which show the geographic distribution of some of the more than 500 tribes that existed at the time of Lewis and Clark.
6. Ask students to consider what Lewis and Clark may have observed as they met Native American communities on their journey, and what those Native Americans may have been thinking and feeling as the Corps of Discovery entered their lives. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 and ask each group to create a painting, drawing, or collage that represents their ideas about that first encounter. Each group should include a caption with several sentences summarizing the scene. When the students are finished, display their work and allow them to take a "gallery walk" so they can carefully observe each illustration.
7. Have each group briefly describe the scene it has created. As you process each image, make sure to correct stereotypes that emerge (see Native American Stereotypes for guidance). One common assumption that many students hold is that Native Americans led a primitive existence and were awed by the power and sophistication of white explorers. Tell students that, in fact, the Lewis and Clark expedition depended upon Native Americans for survival throughout their journey.
Part II (40 minutes or 1 class period)
8. Ask students how they think Native Americans contributed to the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition and take just a few responses. Divide the students into four groups and provide each with four small post-its, one copy of the handout, Lewis and Clark Among the Native Americans, and copies of one of the following readings, which provide just a few examples of individuals and communities that provided assistance to the expedition: Instruct each group to select a recorder or note-taker, then to read the text together and write down examples of ways in which Native Americans contributed to the success and survival of the Corps of Discovery. Direct students to create a symbol representing each example and to select up to four to draw onto the post-its (for example, a corn icon might symbolize the sharing of food).
9. While the students are working (or in advance), attach yarn to the class wall map of the U.S. to approximate the Lewis and Clark trail, and label it with some of the tribes encountered en route (see Corps of Discovery Expedition Route Map and Guide to Native American People Encountered). When students are ready, gather the class together and help each group to affix its post-its to an appropriate spot on the map. Ask students to explain each symbol and what they have learned from the reading.
Part III (1-1¼ hours or 2 class periods)
10. Post and read aloud one or both of the following quotes:
"The Lewis and Clark expedition is one of the great American stories of heroism, bravery, and human endurance, but the complete history must include the fact that without the assistance of Indian people, the expedition would not have succeeded." --Robert Miller, Associate Professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland and member of the Eastern Shawnee tribe
"[One] benefit [of the bicentennial] is that we could finally reclaim our role in this history that so many Americans learned in third grade. This group of people traveling through the wilderness, well, those were our homelands. We were already there, watching them come and watching them go. Many times we could have ended the expedition, but we didn't." --Bobbie Conner, Vice Chair of the National Council for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial and member of the Umatilla tribe
Tell students that while the bicentennial is an occasion to remember the helpful contributions of Native Americans to the expedition, many people feel that the anniversary is not a cause for celebration. Ask students why this may be so. Then share the following quote:
"Lewis and Clark are not our heroes; they never will be our heroes. They represent the opening of the West to American settlement - and that meant dissettlement of Native Americans and the destruction of their cultures and families. But one thing we do have to celebrate is that we survived Lewis and Clark." --Amy Mossett, Tribal Involvement Coordinator for the National Council for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial and member of the Mandan tribe
Allow students to respond to this quote and answer any questions they may have. To illustrate the quote, project the map, Land Transfers from Native Americans to Whites: 1775-1894. Tell students that although the Lewis and Clark expedition was peaceful and held out the promise of friendship between Whites and Native Americans, the U.S. government took almost all Native homelands over the next hundred years. Add that the Native American population was reduced from millions before the age of exploration to only 237,000 by the year 1900 (today there are about 4 million Native Americans in the U.S.)
11. To demonstrate the feelings of many Native Americans today about the history of white exploration, read to the students from This Land is My Land by artist George Littlechild. The book recounts the history of the Cree people and their relationship to the land through colorful paintings with accompanying text. You can read the entire book or just project some of the Selected Paintings and Text available here. (Discussion prompts are also included with the text). After discussing the paintings, share the Letter from George Littlechild and let students know that it was written to them specially for this study.
12. Tell students that of the roughly 60 remaining tribes that Lewis and Clark encountered 200 years ago, 40 have agreed to participate in bicentennial activities and serve as tribal advisors for the National Council for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. Ask students why these leaders might have agreed given the painful history. Inform them that these leaders don't necessarily approve of the celebrations, but they see the bicentennial as an opportunity to present different historical viewpoints and to discuss issues facing Native Americans today, such as the loss of ancient languages and the need to save sacred sites. Tell students that tribal leaders are asking us to avoid disrespectful terms like "discovery" and "celebration" when discussing Lewis and Clark, and to use words like "journey" and "commemoration" instead.
13. Conclude the lesson by having students do reflective writing about the Lewis and Clark bicentennial. Ask them to consider what the anniversary means to Native Americans today, how they think the bicentennial should be commemorated, and what they think their friends and family should know about this subject. Their writing can take the form of a standard essay, an article for the school newspaper, or a letter that can be mailed to local media or American Indian Nations that were on the Lewis and Clark trail (see Tribal Nations Whose Homeland Lewis and Clark Explored for contact information). If time allows, students may be encouraged to do further research on the Corps of Discovery, the Native communities they encountered, or modern-day native life and issues. Students may want to share their writing and research with other classes or even plan an appropriate commemoration activity for the school.

  • In This Issue
  • Terminology
  • Quick Facts
Lesson Plans
Elementary Level Unit
  • Middle Level Unit
  • Secondary Level Unit
Additional Resources
  • Bibliography and Resources
(PDF: 67K)
  • Art from Reflecting on Lewis and Clark: Contemporary American Indian Viewpoints
  • Selected paintings and text from This Land is My Land by George Littlechild
  • Maps: Native America, U.S. Expansion, and Indian Removal
Listen to "Whats it Gonna Take" by Rap artist, Litefoot
(MP3: 4,094K)

Anti-Bias Study Guide
(Secondary Level)
Echoes and Reflections (Holocaust Curriculum)
A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Recommended Multicultural and Anti-Bias Books for Children
A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE™ Programs and Resources
The Miller Early Childhood Initiative of A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute
Braun Holocaust Institute
Confronting Anti-Semitism
ADL Online Catalog: Resources for Classroom and Community

 Lewis and Clark: The Unheard Voices ©2005 Anti-Defamation League