Cultural values and oral history lesson plan

I chose to do my lesson plan as a way to connect cultural values, history, and oral traditions in the classroom.  I have looked at the poster of Traditional Values in Alaska for many years, along with our Southeast Traditional Values poster – they are up in my classrooms throughout the school district.  I’ve often wondered if it’s ever gone farther than that, I know that CCTHITA (Tlingit and Haida) has some dvd’s from a project asking elders to speak to this values which I’ve had the opportunity to watch bits and pieces.  But with no Tlingit teachers at the high school I work at, or few, if any, in the district, I wonder if any have ‘spoken to’ the values in the poster, or if there are up there as a symbolic representation that this is a culturally safe space, or some other reason I can’t think of right now to write down.  How do we make these values posters relevant to the teachers and students that walk past them everyday?

So with this in mind I created this lesson, I tried to do it in a way that I could use it as a unit to approach all of the different regions in Alaska during an Alaska History class – though I could pull different aspects of it to use in a Sociology class.

I could go on and on about the reasons behind my lesson but I always try to be mindful of what I’ve heard from different speakers on Native education:

“Don’t teach us our culture, teach us through our culture.”

This can be so tricky to navigate as an educator – we have to be so mindful of the language we use, the tone we use, and the manner in which we speak.  As we carefully facilitate and guide our students, we can validate cultures, values, beliefs, histories, technology, intellect, and ways of knowing.

I believe my lesson best exemplifies Cultural Curriculum Standard A.1.) recognizes that all knowledge is imbedded in a larger system of cultural beliefs, values and practices, each with its own integrity and interconnectedness.

I start my lesson with a discussion on values, cultural values of the Inupiat and then spend time with activities that I hope will allow students to see the integrity and validity of the oral histories and values of the Inupiat.  The final project is shaped in a way for students to create an oral history based on cultural values and perspective (I do my best to refrain from using ‘storytelling’ because I don’t think it does justice, nor validates, the beauty, power, and intellect found in a culture’s oral traditions).  Then, maybe, that poster won’t just be something they walk by anymore.

MPJ Arctic Region Lesson Plan

Inupiaq values page


Inupiat Photo Gallery

2 thoughts on “Cultural values and oral history lesson plan”

  1. Hi Mischa, I was really happy to see the quote, “Don’t teach us about our culture, teach us through our culture.” I found this quote last year and it became the driving force behind a unit that I taught on Alaska Native folk music to 6 year olds. You’re right, it is not easy to navigate. With the help of the school’s cultural specialist, we really switched things up -from what my host teacher expected. My classes made a lot of noise, played a lot of music and had a lot of fun. The highlight of my unit was when I happen to see a Tlingit Dance performance at the library, some of my students were watching and some were in the performance. When the performing group invited other children to join my students in the audience knew how to respectfully join. They had learned the song on their violins a week earlier.

  2. I really like this lesson plan. I love how varied the activities are, and how much reflection and self-assessment you incorporated into it. And you make a really good point, that just because we have the values poster up in our classroom, that doesn’t mean we’re encouraging students to think about and understand and learn from those values. This sounds like a really important lesson that has the capacity to work with a lot of different learning styles.

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