ADL Curriculum Connections
Anti-Bias Lesson Plans and Resources for k-12 Educators

Lewis and Clark: The Unheard Voices

Secondary Level Unit

Rationale: The purpose of this unit is to increase awareness among students about the impact of the Lewis and Clark expedition and westward expansion on the lives of Native Americans. During this investigation, students analyze the letters and speeches of Thomas Jefferson in order to gain a depth of understanding about U.S. objectives for the Lewis and Clark expedition, U.S.-Indian relations, and plans for U.S. expansion. Readings about the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny extend student learning about the religious and political underpinnings of expansionism. Students are presented with the perspectives of contemporary Native Americans through a speech by Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and a song by a Cherokee rap artist, and engage in a research project to learn more about contemporary native culture and issues.

  • Students will increase awareness about the impact of the Lewis and Clark expedition on the lives of Native Americans
  • Students will analyze primary documents and other texts in order to learn about U.S. expansionism and 19th century U.S.-Indian relations
  • Students will consider the perspectives of contemporary Native American leaders
  • Students will conduct research about contemporary native culture and issues
National Standards (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
Age Range: Grades 11-12
Handouts/Supporting Documents: (.pdf format - 382 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.)
The Louisiana Purchase and the Corps of Discovery(optional)
Excerpt from President Jefferson's Secret Message to Congress Regarding the Lewis & Clark Expedition (January 18, 1803)
Excerpt from President Jefferson's Private Letter to William Henry Harrison, Governor of the Indiana Territory (February 27, 1803)
Excerpt from President Jefferson's Instructions to Captain Meriwether Lewis (June 20, 1803)
Excerpt from President Jefferson's Speech to a Delegation of Indian Chiefs (January 4, 1806)
Lewis and Clark, Exploration and Exploitation: The Aftermath (transcript of Part I and discussion questions)
Lewis and Clark, Exploration and Exploitation: The Aftermath (transcript of Part II)
The Doctrine of Discovery and U.S. Expansion
Native Hip Hop Artists
OutKast at the 2004 Grammys
Lyrics from What's It Gonna Take?
Tribal Nations Whose Homeland Lewis and Clark Explored
Other Materials: chart paper, markers, Lewis and Clark, Exploration and Exploitation: The Aftermath (video clip on the Web), What's It Gonna Take? (rap song MP3: 5,094 K), computer and LCD or overhead projector (optional)

Time: 1-2 hours or 2-3 class periods + time for independent research

Techniques and Skills: analyzing primary documents, brainstorming, connecting past to present, cooperative group work, critical thinking, forming opinions, historical understanding, large and small group discussion, media literacy, reading skills, research skills, writing skills

Key Words: bicentennial, commerce, contemporary, Doctrine of Discovery, objective, expedition, exploitation, indigenous, Louisiana Purchase, Manifest Destiny, marginalization, reservation, sovereignty, stereotype, westward expansion

Part I (60-75 minutes or 2 class periods)
1. "The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri river, & such principal streams of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregan, Colorado or another river, may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce." -- from a communication written by President Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis on June 20, 1803, setting forth the primary goals of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Ask students if they know what "mission" the quote references. If they are unsure, provide the date of the communication and help students to probe the text (Who explored from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean? What expedition was concerned with a direct route across the U.S. to increase trade? What was going on in the U.S. in 1803?) If necessary, provide students with background information about the Louisiana Purchase and the fur trade in order to place the above quote within its proper context. (See The Louisiana Purchase and the Corps of Discovery for a brief narrative, which may also be useful as a homework assignment, or use your own textual sources to provide an overview).
2. Tell students that 2004 marks the beginning of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which lasted from 1804-1806. Note that as this anniversary is being widely commemorated in schools, communities and the media, it is important to understand its history and significance today. Post a sheet of chart paper entitled "Objectives of the Lewis and Clark Expedition." Ask students to articulate the principal purpose of the expedition according to Jefferson's statement above (to find an all-water passage connecting the trade routes of the Pacific to the Old World of the Atlantic). Ask students to suggest additional objectives based on what they may already know about Thomas Jefferson or Lewis and Clark. Encourage them to brainstorm freely ("right" answers are not important at this point). Record their thoughts on the chart paper.
3. Divide students into groups of about four and provide each group with one of the following texts (it may be necessary for two groups to review the same document): Instruct students to read their assigned document and to highlight any information about Jefferson's objectives regarding the Lewis and Clark expedition, his views about U.S.-Indian relations, or his goals for U.S. expansion. These primary documents may be challenging for students, so they will need to work collaboratively to interpret them and may require your assistance to help them along. Post the following questions on the board, which groups can begin to discuss as they finish reading, and which can later be used for a whole-class dialogue.
  • What did Jefferson hope to achieve as a result of the Lewis and Clark expedition?
  • How did he instruct and equip the expedition in order to accomplish his objectives?
  • How did Jefferson want to develop the new territories? What information did he seek to gather about them?
  • What were Jefferson's beliefs about Native Americans and about U.S.-Indian relations? How did he instruct Lewis and Clark to treat the Native Americans they would encounter?
  • Do the objectives set forth in these documents reflect the ideals of the newly formed United States ("freedom and justice," "all men are created equal," "life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," etc.)?
  • How does what you have learned differ from your initial understanding and/or popular beliefs about Jefferson and westward expansion?
4. When all groups have finished working, gather them together and invite students to share what they learned from the four documents. Add this information to the chart started earlier, entitled "Objectives of the Lewis and Clark Expedition." Use the above questions to debrief with students and to extend their understanding. The following thoughts are offered as discussion points:
  • Most of us have been taught that the Lewis and Clark expedition was a peaceful journey to find a passage to the Pacific in order to extend trade to China. This was indeed a goal of the mission, but it is an incomplete analysis that conceals the multifaceted motivations of U.S. leaders. While the expedition was ostensibly a diplomatic mission with some worthy scientific and ethnographic goals, it was first and foremost an operation to assert U.S. sovereignty and to subjugate Native Americans to U.S. business interests. It is both an oversimplification of history and an affront to Native Americans to romanticize the Lewis and Clark expedition as an "incredible journey of discovery," an exploration of "new found" land, or the "opening" of the "American frontier" to freedom and democracy.

  • Though often considered a friend of Native Americans, Thomas Jefferson was among the first U.S. leaders to put forth a plan for Indian removal, both to keep native peoples isolated from U.S. citizens and to remove all barriers to expansion and commerce. Even before the Lewis and Clark expedition, Jefferson signed the Georgia Compact of 1802, which stated that in exchange for land (what is today Alabama and Mississippi), the federal government would remove all Native Americans within the territory of Georgia "as soon as it could be done reasonably and peacefully." In 1803, The Louisiana Purchase made land to relocate Native Americans widely available and set the stage for the forced removal and genocide of millions of Native Americans in the decades that followed.
5. As a follow-up to the document analysis and to provide a contemporary Native American perspective, play for students Lewis and Clark, Exploration and Exploitation: The Aftermath. This video clip is from a November 2002 conference at Penn State University entitled Lewis and Clark: The Unheard Voices, and features Wilma Mankiller, a social activist and former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, delivering the keynote address. If the technology to play this clip is unavailable, use Part I of the transcript provided here with excerpts from the address, and ask for student volunteers to read sections aloud dramatically (they may need to practice in advance). Use some of the questions at the end of the transcript to process the speech with students.
6. Assign the reading, The Doctrine of Discovery and U.S. Expansion, as a homework assignment to extend learning about the concepts of Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery, which are referenced in Wilma Mankiller's address and represent the philosophical basis of 19th century U.S. expansionary behavior. Questions are included at the end of the reading, and can be used as a written assignment and/or the basis of a classroom discussion.
Part II (30-40 minutes or 1 class period + time for independent research)
7. Comment to students that, as noted in the reading on the Doctrine of Discovery, the effects of 19th century American Indian policy are still felt today in native communities. Ask students what they think some of these effects are (e.g., poverty, land disputes, desecration of sacred sites, deterioration of native languages and cultural practices).
8. Tell students that you are going to play an excerpt from a rap song performed by a Native American hip hop artist. Ask them if they are aware of any native hip hop artists. If they are silent or snicker at this idea, suggest that stereotypes about Native American music and the invisibility of native people in contemporary music may be examples of the effects of historical marginalization of Native Americans. Share the list of Native Hip Hop Artists, and encourage students to explore some of their music.

Just before playing the song, project or distribute the photo, OutKast at the 2004 Grammys, which shows Singer Andre "3000" Benjamin performing his hit song, "Hey Ya!," decked out as a time-traveling Native American. Explain that OutKast's stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans offended many people and, in part, inspired the artist, Litefoot, to write the song, What's It Gonna Take? Play an excerpt from the song and, if you wish, post or distribute the lyrics. As students listen, ask them to think about the legacy of Lewis and Clark and the issues with which many contemporary Native Americans struggle. After students have had ample opportunity to take in the song, elicit their reaction using some of the following questions:
  • What lyrics or images stood out to you? How did they make you feel?
  • Litefoot makes several references to the fact that while some artists are challenged for racist lyrics, stereotypes of Native Americans are ignored. Do you think that such a double standard exists?
  • Litefoot comments on the use of Native American mascots in sports and on athletic apparel. Why do you think he finds this offensive? Do you agree?
  • What are some of the media representations of Native Americans that anger Litefoot? Why do they make him feel disrespected?
  • What does Litefoot mean when he says, "We only good with feathers on, we don't exist when they off"? How do old-fashioned stereotypes affect contemporary Native Americans?
  • In the last section of the song, how does Litefoot describe being received at a mainstream rap concert? How do you think this relates to society's ideas about Native American people and culture?
  • What connections can you make between the issues Litefoot raises and what you have learned about the history of discrimination against Native Americans?
9. Ask for students volunteers to read aloud Part II of Wilma Mankiller's speech, Lewis and Clark, Exploration and Exploitation: The Aftermath. Let these words sit with students for a moment, then allow them to respond. Highlight the following points from the address:
  • Most Americans know little about indigenous people, who remain objects of curiosity instead of people with valuable knowledge and gifts to share.
  • Pervasive stereotypes exist about Native Americans that prevent us from knowing them as whole human beings.
  • Though many Americans know little about indigenous people, Native Americans have to learn everything about them.
10. In order to work against some of the problems described above, and as a fitting Lewis and Clark bicentennial tribute, conclude the unit by having students conduct research on contemporary Native American culture and issues. This may be done individually or in groups, as an in-class or homework assignment. Ask students to write a brief report on one of the tribes that Lewis and Clark encountered two hundred years ago, and that still exists today. The report should include some of the following information:
  • The tribe's present-day location and its geographic location prior to the colonial era.
  • Facts about the tribe's history and heritage, and how it was impacted by westward expansion
  • Information about tribal life today (e.g., governance, leadership, housing, education)
  • A description of current cultural practices (e.g., dance, ceremonies, religion, art, music)
  • Current problems or issues (e.g., poverty, land disputes, deterioration of native languages and cultural practices)
See Tribal Nations Whose Homeland Lewis and Clark Explored for a partial list of tribes and their Web sites.
 Lewis and Clark: The Unheard Voices ©2005 Anti-Defamation League