Library Digital Content Access

American Literature - Native American Stories

Created By: Marty Sierra-Perry, Centennial High School (Champaign, IL)
Grade Level: 4th
Content Area: Social Studies
Database Integration: Students will access the TDC database to find examples of diaries and other source material which give information abou the nature and preparation of foods eaten by each of these groups of Illinoisans: Archaic Indians, Illini Indians, French settlers, pioneer settlers, immigrants of 1880-1910.


The tradition of storytelling in Native American communities serves many purposes. In most instances, these stories are meaningless without understanding the story's significance and purpose. Stories have been used to entertain, to teach moral lessons, to pass on personal family stories, and to teach tribal beliefs. Many stories were--and still are--the personal property of families.

The extension activities we will complete during our study of Fools Crow include the following:

  1. Students will read legends of the Blackfeet, the tribe of the novel, Fools Crow, by James Welch.

    There are many sites that list native stories; however, few relate any background information about the significance of the story. The following Web site makes that connection and is a great story resource. Once you get to the site you may want to make copies of some of the stories and their background, in order to analyze them and relate them to the novel.

    Blackfeet legends can be found at:

  2. In the Centennial Library are over thirty copies of various legends and myths of various Native Peoples. Some of the myths are creation myths, trickster/transformer or culture hero legends. When you use books as a source for Native American stories, try to evaluate the background of the author. Has the book been written by an individual who is Native American? Or has a non-native written the book? How might this affect the telling or interpretation of the story?

    Students will select one of the books on closed reserve* and learn about Native American stories and answer the questions below.


Bonus activities:

(Due January 4)

  1. Oyate, a Native American organization, offers an online directory of recommended books and books to avoid, at

    Educate yourself by reading the rationale for listing one of the books as one to avoid. Based upon what you know about Native American Literature agree or disagree with the arguments put forth and support your opinion.

  2. Native American Images: Accurate Portrait or Stereotype?

    How do newscasts, newspapers, books, movies, grocery products, sports teams, and online news sources portray Native Americans? How much do Americans really know about past and current Native American culture and history? Is this knowledge constructed from accurate information and representations or based on stereotypical misperceptions?

The following activity gives students the opportunity to research contemporary portrayals of Native Americans:

  1. To start this activity, students describe their personal perceptions by writing a journal entry that answers the following questions:
    • Draw your image of what a Native American looks like.
    • In what type of home do Native Americans live?
    • Where have you gained most of your knowledge about Native Americans?
    • Is it OK for sports teams to use native images and names?
    • Have you ever noticed the use of native images to sell products in stores? If so, describe.
  2. Research and construct a presentation that addresses the issue of stereotypes. Students could use a variety of methods to report their findings which may include: a PowerPoint presentation, a group report, a newscast, a talk show, etc.

Part 2:

  1. Students may work alone or in a group of 4.
  2. Construct a list of any types of stereotypical images or representations they are aware of currently. (These may include, but not be limited to, sports teams, films, grocery store products, textbooks, or regular books.)
  3. Students will be acting as reporters and researching a variety of topics that relate to Native American stereotyping.
  4. Students may also want to try to contact Native American community members or e-mail tribal Web sites to find out what their opinions are.
  5. Each student or group will be assigned different areas of focus (i.e., sports teams, films, food products, etc.)
  6. Students are expected to use a variety of resources to examine their area of focus, and each take responsibility for at least one item or example.
  7. The links listed below will help students get started.


After students complete their research and present their findings to their classmates, students in the audience will take notes on things they learned, or issues they want to discuss further. The presenters will compile the data and create a follow-up journal entry reflecting on what they've learned. Follow-up actions they might take are editorials, letters to companies or sports teams, etc. if they are interested in extending the lessons learned.