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Lesson 6
Lewis and Clark and Native Americans, Part II

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Study the existence of Native Americans living in the regions that the Lewis and Clark explored;

  • Locate on maps physical regional locations Native Americans had claimed and named prior to the expedition’s arrival;

  • Identify landmarks renamed by the expedition and determine whether these names/sites exist today.


This lesson correlates to the national McREL standards located online at

United States History

Standard 9: Understands the United States territorial expansion between 1801 and 1861, and how it affected relations with external powers and Native Americans


Standard 1: Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies

Standard 2: Knows the location of places, geographic features, and patterns of the environment

Standard 4: Understands the physical and human characteristics of place

Standard 17: Understands how geography is used to interpret the past


  • Lesson 6 Student Activity Sheet
  • Map of Lakota territory explored by Lewis and Clark; downloadable with Adobe Acrobat)
  • Several copies of a U.S. road atlas that includes topographical features, and/or a U.S. topographical map that includes political boundaries
  • Computers with Internet access

Time Needed

3-4 hours of class time

Teaching Strategy

NOTE: Be sure to be familiar with this lesson’s maps, rivers, and place names relevant to this lesson and the Web site and related resources.

  1. Explain to students that as they study details of the Corps of Discovery, they should be aware that areas the travelers explored were already inhabited by many different Native Americans tribes, who had established governments, lifestyles, economic bases, and trading and territorial boundaries. The primary group of Native Americans with whom the expedition interacted was the Lakota, one of the Seven Council Fires of the Dakota Nation. (This tribe is known to many as the Sioux Nation. For more information on the Lakota, see lesson 5.) While Lewis and Clark gave names to—and recorded on maps--locations and landmarks, they were actually renaming sites the Lakota had already claimed. Explain to students to begin to learn about the various sites Native Americans named, they will first study Lakota names for several tributaries of the Missouri River.

  2. Divide the class into groups of three or four students. Distribute copies of the Lesson 6 Student Activity Sheet and the U.S. road atlas and/or topographical map to each team. Tells students that the map on the Student Activity Sheet shows the Lakota names for several tributaries of the Missouri River. Point out that Lakota territory begins where the expedition passed the North Platte River, and continues on up into South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana. Instruct students to find these same tributaries in the road atlas and/or on the topographical map to identify their modern-day names, listing them next to the Lakota labels on the activity sheet.

    The following is a list of tributaries and rivers found on the map, with translations for the Lakota names.

    Mnisose - Missouri River

    Pankeska Wakpa - North Platte River (connects to the Missouri River at Omaha Nebraska)
    Panke - shell
    ska - white
    Wakpa - river or waterway

    Casmu Makoce - Sand Country (Nebraska Sandhills west of Missouri)
    casmu - Sand
    makoce - country

    Minitanka mniluza - Niobrara River
    mni - water
    tanka - large
    mniluza - rapid river

    Makizita Wakpa - White River
    Makizita - smoky
    Wakpa - river

    Landmark seen from Missouri: Inyan zito Paha - Green Rock Mountain or Hill
    Inyan - rock
    zito - green
    paha - mountain or hill

    Wakpa Sica - Bad River
    Wakpa - river
    Sica - bad

    Wakpa Waste - Good River
    Wakpa - River
    Waste - Good

    Hinhan Wakpa - Owl River
    Hinhan - Owl
    Wakpa - River
    Cansuska Wakpa - Box Elder River
    Cansuska - Box Elder (tree)
    Wakpa - River

    Hantesa Wakpa - Red Cedar River
    Hante - Cedar
    sa - red
    Wakpa - River

    Cante Wakpa - Heart River
    Cante - Heart
    Wakpa - River

    Mila Wakpa - Knife River
    Mila - Knife
    Wakpa - River

    Landmark seen from Missouri: Pehincicila Paha - Ghost Hair Mountain or Hill
    Pehin - Hair
    cicila - Ghost
    Paha - Mountain or Hill

    Hehaka Ta Wakpa - River of the Elk
    Hehaka - Elk
    Ta - their
    Wakpa - River

    Hehaka Wakpa - Elk River
    Hehaka - Elk
    Wakpa - River

  3. When the students have identified the tributaries, have them find other locations that probably had Native American names and were given new names, either by the expedition or others (explorers, residents, government officials, etc.) Ask them to determine which, if any, Native American names continue to exist, and which do not. Why have these names changed and/or remained the same? Should the original Native American names be reinstated? How might the sites’ original titles be remembered?

  4. Invite each group to create a visual representation of the original Native American names, for example, a map that highlights original and changed names, a poster, etc. Have each group share its piece, explaining its interpretive approach to the work.

Online Resources

    Circle of Stories


    Seth Eastman: Painting the Dakota

    Matters of Race

    The West

    See Online Resources in this site’s Archive section for additional information about Native Americans

Assessment Recommendations

You may wish to evaluate students on group and class participation, the accuracy of their maps, and the ideas generated by their group in the class discussions.


Students can:

  • Assume the roles of Lakota who have witnessed the renaming of lands they have claimed and, in a monologue, express their thoughts about the explorers’ actions.

  • Explore areas in their community originally inhabited by Native Americans, compiling historic data, etc.

  • Write journal entries in the voice of Corps of Discovery members who log reflections of their interaction with and observations of Native Americans with whom they have spent a week or more.

  • Conduct comparative research on Native American tribes, determining similarities and differences.