Appreciate the importance of language in culture. How does language keep culture alive?

Region: Arctic                                                         Class time: 2 class periods

>Language is the essence of culture. People’s ways of living, their histories, and their philosophies are all understood and communicated through language. Although most American Indian people today speak English, they still consider their traditional languages to be extremely important for cultural identity

Photo for puzzle: Eskimo hunter or photo representation of Inupiat culture

Activity: Have one puzzle, divide it up into fourths. Divide students into four groups. No talking. Put the puzzle together within group.

After the activity engage students by asking what it felt like to put the pieces together without being able to talk to one another. If students were able to talk to each other, would it have been easier to figure out which pieces they were missing, who had the missing pieces, and how to work together to put the puzzle (culture) back together? How can we build community if we are forbidden to speak to each other in a relatable fashion?

Introduce lesson about Native American boarding schools. Then discuss as a class. Explain how the puzzle was a metaphor for culture. Thus, by separating the pieces and students and forbidding the ability to speak native language, the boarding schools were trying to assimilate Native Americans into American culture.

Sample questions:

  • How is your school alike or different from the American Indian boarding schools?
  • What do you think life was like for American Indian children at the early boarding schools?
  • How would it feel to be separated from your family for four or more years without seeing them?
  • Why do you think the government and boarding schools wanted to eliminate American Indian languages and cultures?
  • Why do you think they ultimately failed in that effort?

Lesson: When language is taken away it is harder to relate to others and to oneself in a familiar, heartfelt way.

Language is central to cultural identity. It is the code containing the subtleties and secrets of cultural life. In many ways, language determines thought. —W. Richard West, Jr., Southern Cheyenne

Assignment: Write an editorial article and make poster incorporating editorial content. If students feel comfortable, interview an elder in the community. If not, provide resources of documented accounts from those who attended boarding schools.

3 thoughts on “Idea”

  1. Hi LB,

    I love the concept of this lesson so much. Looks like you’ve really gotten it organized since we talked about it on Friday. Awesome work.

  2. Glad to see this idea get fleshed out.

    Here’s some info from Zachary Jones the archivist at SLAM (he’s right upstairs) on the Impact of boarding schools on Alaska Native students and their families/villages. The photo album he mentions is a great source!

    The Alaska State Archives has historical records about Alaska Natives that attended schools in Alaska. For example, we have reports on Native enrollment from 1919-1938 (boxes VS 600 and 601), we have correspondence by government officials with and files on individual schools (we’d want to know what school specifically your students want to review) (Series 4). We also have 29 boxes of subject files of the territorial Dept. of Education from 1916-1959, but it would depend upon how many students are researching this and what time periods. We would need rational for pulling that many boxes, so perhaps the students could give us some feedback that could help us narrow things down. And we also have the district and territorial Governor’s subject files, which mention Alaska Native schooling. There are also many boxes, so we’d hope to learn a time period.
    Your students should know that each year the Governor produced a published Annual Report of the Governor of Alaska, which discussed education and “Alaska Native conditions” in the district and territory. Students could examine these by year. Students may also wish to see some of our photo collections, which have been digitized. One album is included via the link;

    This subject has been written on some by scholars, both Alaska Natives and non-Natives. A recent publication on this subject may be of interest for those studying Southeast Alaska Natives, or they may be interested in reviewing the endnotes for further secondary and primary sources. Link

  3. This is such a cool idea! It sounds like a really fun lesson that should spark a lot of discussion. I’m wondering about the details of putting the puzzle together. So the entire class will have one puzzle to put together, but each group will have one quarter of the pieces? Will there be rules about how and when the groups interact?

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