The subject of this lesson is a controversy that has deep roots in American History, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Using the PBS documentary video In the Light of Reverence students closely examine the struggles of the Lakota Sioux to maintain their sacred site at Mato Tipila (Lakota for Bear’s Lodge) at Devils Rock in Wyoming. Although the site was never ceded by treaty to the U.S. government, it is now under the administration of the National Park Service. Rock climbers claim any U.S. citizen should have complete access to the site because it is on Federal land. In deference to the religious practices of the Lakota, the National Park Service asks that people do not climb there during the entire month of June. The case has been litigated up to the Supreme Court. After watching the video and discussing various aspects of the controversy, students role-play members of four teams: the Lakota, rock climbers, National Park Service and the courts. Using extensive on-line resources linked to the lesson, students research the issues and evaluate the sources. The first three teams present their demands in a hearing. The court tries to help them reach a compromise and then adjudicates any unresolved issues. The lesson continues as students compare the plight of the Lakota to that of the Hopi and Wintu, (as presented in the video) who also struggle to maintain their sacred lands.
POV documentaries can be recorded off-the-air and used for educational purposes for up to one year from the initial broadcast. In addition, POV offers a lending library of DVDs that you can borrow anytime during the school year — FOR FREE! Please visit our Film Library to find other films suitable for classroom use or to make this film a part of your school’s permanent collection.
By the end of this lesson, students will:
- Understand the concept of “rights in conflict” arising under the First Amendment (freedom of religion)
- Interpret a current conflict from multiple perspectives
- Learn to advocate for a point of view
- Learn to resolve a conflict through a conflict resolution scenario.
GRADE LEVEL: 7-12
SUBJECT AREAS: Civics, Government, U.S. History
1. DVD of the POV/PBS program In the Light of Reverence.
2. Computers with Internet access.
3. Writing materials
4. Some art materials for making posters.
ESTIMATED TIME NEEDED: 3 to 5 class periods, in addition to homework preparation.
Introduction to the Issues
Viewing and Discussing the Video, Segment 1
Working as a Team
Relevant web sites for research
Role Play Sequence
Debriefing: Other Issues Raised by the Video
Discussion Questions for Viewing the Segment on the Hopi
Discussion Questions for Viewing the Segment on the Wintu
The first part, known as the Establishment Clause, guarantees the separation of church and state. The second, or the Free Exercise Clause, guarantees that individuals can practice their chosen religion. Tell students that we often think of these first two clauses from the First Amendment as working together to protect the religious freedom of all Americans.
(For an excellent lesson on the separation of church and state go to the Bill of Rights in Action.)
Ask students to brainstorm famous cases or issues in American history that have arisen or continue to arise under the Establishment Clause, such as school prayer. Make a list of these on the board. Under a separate heading focus on the second clause, “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise thereof [of religion].” Again, ask for any examples students may be familiar with. For example, students do not need to salute the American flag if doing so violates their religious practices.
Now tell students that they are going to investigate a controversial issue today in which a group of American citizens believe they are being denied their right to religious freedom, despite the protection under the First Amendment. In fact, they believe they are unable to preserve their religion in part because of the First Amendment.
Ask students what kind of situation could lead to such an impass? Let them ponder this ironic twist before explaining the current issue investigated in the first segment of In the Light of Reverence.
Then explain the riddle: A site held sacred by the Lakota Indians is owned by the Federal Government. Because it is on Federal land, the U.S. Government cannot endorse its exclusive use for a particular religion. Are the Lakota (Sioux) then being denied their right to practice their religion? Like all “rights in conflict” issues, this one only becomes more complicated on closer inspection. Various other interest groups also claim they have rights of access to Bear’s Lodge (Mato Tipila), also called Devils Rock.
Tell students that after viewing the first segment of In the Light of Reverence (approx. 24 minutes) they are going to play the roles of three groups in conflict with one another over this issue, and the court who help negotiate and/or decide the issue. You can print out the background information below as a guide to help students follow
the issues in the video.
Team I will take the position of the Lakota Indians. They feel that U.S. judges fail to understand their religious beliefs and practices and thus do not grant them the same status as a “real” religion. Standing Bear is on Federal land that is now administered by the National Parks Service, under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. It was never ceded to the U.S. government by the Sioux; rather it was taken from the Sioux after the U.S. Government broke a treaty with them in 1874.
Team II will take the position of the rock climbers.
Climber Andy Petefish sought the help of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, to sue the National Parks Service. The National Park Service had asked rock climbers not to climb Devils Tower during the entire month of June, in deference to the religious practices of the Lakota. The climbers feel their rights as U.S. citizens are in and are in danger of being abrogated if Federal land is “voluntarily” off limits to U.S. citizens. Furthermore they feel the request to limit climbing for religious purposes sets a dangerous precedent, which threatens the separation of church and state.
Team III will take the position of the National Park Service. In its administration of Federal land it has tried to reach a compromise between the Sioux and the rock climbers in accordance with its mission and Federal law.
Team IV will take the position of the Federal courts that will first try to seek a compromise between the parties in conflict. If any issues remain unresolved among the parties, this team will act as a supreme court and by majority vote, decide how to resolve the issues in conflict. (This team should be composed of an odd number of students so as to avoid a tie.)
Viewing and Discussing the Video, Segment 1 Once you have divided the class into these four groups, ask every team member to take notes under the three columns on the next page (Worksheet 1). Then show the film from the opening until approximately 23 minutes in. You may wish to stop with images of the Lakota’s 500 mile run accompanied by music because just after this the final judicial decision is made.
- Position of the Lakota Sioux: Opinions & Reasons
- Position of the Rock Climbers: Opinions & Reasons
- Position of the National Park Service: Opinions & Reasons
Before splitting up into teams, hold a class discussion in which students share their observations on the conflicting interests of the various groups.
Pose the following questions:
- For purposes of religious freedom under the First Amendment, how should a religion be defined? Is it important to define? If so, who should define it?
- In what ways are the American Indian religious practices viewed in the program similar and/or different to those practiced by the majority of U.S. citizens? What problems might this cause the Sioux?
- The video segment includes many Lakota myths and stories. How do these stories tie the Lakota to the land? How do they transmit and maintain their culture?
- Using the companion web site to the series, research other places Americans deem to be sacred. What seems to make them so? Why would you protect these sites, or not?
- Why is the actual site so important to the Lakota? What specific sites are important to Christians, Jews or Muslims?
- Mato Tipila (Lakota for Bear’s Lodge) is on Federal land. In judging this case, does it matter how the U.S. government acquired the land from the Sioux?
- Does separation of church and state mean that the Lakota should never perform religious ceremonies on Federal land?
- What role do economic interests play in conflicting interpretations of how the site should be used?
- How does the National Park Service view its role?
- At the end of In the Light of Reverence the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 is discussed. It was passed “to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions including but not limited to access to sites. The full text can be accessed in this PDF. A subsequent amendment to the act was made by Congress in 1994. You may also wish to discuss a Supreme Court decision, Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), which held that the First Amendment does not protect Indian religious practitioners who use peyote.
- What other sections of the Constitution are relevant
to the debate over Bear’s Lodge? For example, Article IV Section III gives Congress the power “to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.” Amendment V says that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
- What other options are open for satisfying the demands of the Lakota? Of the rock climbers? Of the National Park Service?
Phase 1. Meet, assign roles, and discuss the video and issues it raises from the team’s point of view.
Phase 2. Research. (See list of relevant Web sites below.)
Phase 3. Plan a presentation in which the team sets forth its most important priorities and demands. In this initial phase the team should not think of compromising with any other groups. It should present in the clearest and most forceful terms possible what it wants most. (Their positions may or may not correlate to ones presented in the video segment.)
Speaker A must present a 3 minute position statement setting forth its team’s most important priorities and demands.
Speaker B must present a 2 minute position statement.
Speaker C must present a 2 minute position statement.
Five each team time to meet and prepare its strategy. Assign students the roles below (or ask them to), after which they should research the issues and meet to discuss team strategy.
Team I should consist of one or more persons assigned
to the following tasks:
A. Lakota Tribal historian(s).The historian’s role is to be able to recount Sioux history, from the Sioux point of view, from 1850 to 1890, and to convey their religious practices. It may be useful to replay the video segment in order to hear again relevant tribal myths.
B. Constitutional scholar(s) and First Amendment rights specialist(s) who will interpret the laws in light of Lakota history and religion.
C. Environmentalist(s) who will give the Lakota view of how to care for the environment and what it entails.
D. Student who will make a strong visual statement in a poster of its team’s position.
Team II should consist of one or more persons assigned to the following tasks:
A. Member(s) of the rock climbing advocates such as Friends of Devils Tower, and the Access Fund. (Some of these groups disagree with one another over the best strategies to pursue.)
B. Constitutional scholar(s) and First Amendment rights specialist(s) who will interpret the laws from the point of view of citizens who want access to Devils Tower at all times, as do the Mountain States Legal Foundation.
C. Environmentalist(s) who will present the point of view of the rock climbers in terms of environmental issues.
D. Student who will make a strong visual statement
on a poster of its team’s position.
Team III should consist of one or more persons assigned to the following tasks:
A. Spokesperson(s) for the National Park Service, its mission, and history.
B. Constitutional scholar(s) and First Amendment rights specialist(s) who will interpret the laws from the point of view of the N.P.S. and the Department of Interior under which it works.
C. Environmentalist(s) who will present the N.P.S. point of view regarding rock climbing and religious rites in terms of their impact on Federal lands.
D. Student who will make a strong visual statement a poster of its team’s position.
Team IV should consist of one or more persons assigned to the following tasks:
A. Student(s) assigned to research the Lakota viewpoint and pose questions about it.
B. Student(s) assigned to research the mountain climber’s viewpoint and pose questions about it.
C. Student(s) assigned to research the National Park Service’s perspective and pose questions about it.
D. Constitutional scholar(s) who will review other Supreme Court cases in light of this controversy.
Relevant websites for research
Before asking students to begin online research (see suggested web sites below), ask students to evaluate the likely reliability of the information the sites convey by assessing the following:
- Who maintains the web site? Is it a government
organization, a non-profit organization, a for-profit organization,
a university, or an individual?
- Does the site advocate a particular viewpoint?
To what audience is it mainly appealing? Is its use of language propagandistic?
Two students will act as lawyers for the petitioner(s) and together
prepare one brief.
Mountain States Legal Foundation
Its mission is to provide, “a strong and effective voice for freedom of enterprise, the rights of property ownership and the multiple use of Federal and State resources” by seeking a proper interpretation of the Constitution.
Councilfire for “Top American Indian and Canadian First Nations news
stories and current events”.
National Park Service:
For its mission statement and “Who We Are” go to http://www.nps.gov/legacy/index.htm.
National Park Service Devils Tower National Monument
A complete history of the park in relationship to the mission of the National Park Service
The Access Fund
A “national non-profit organization dedicated to keeping climbing areas open and to conserving the climbing environment.”
1. Speaker A from each team should set forth the teams position (3 minutes).
2. Members of the 4th team (the court) should pose two questions to each team. Two speakers from each team have a minute to reply per question.
3. Speaker B (Constitutional experts) from each team should present a statement backing up Speaker A (2 minutes). During the oral arguments, the justices may interrupt the lawyers and ask questions. The questions and the time the lawyers take to answer them will be deducted from the 7 minutes allotted to each side.
4. Members of the Court should pose one question to each team regarding the points made by its second speaker. A speaker from each team has one minute in which to reply to the question posed.
5. Speaker C from each team should present a statement (2 minutes).
6. Members of the Court should pose one question to each team regarding the statements made by the third speaker from each team. A speaker from each team has one minute in which to answer the question posed.
1. Members of the Court should meet in private session and formulate a compromise plan. It should take into account the views of all three teams, but focus on what is best and fair under the Constitution for the American people. If possible, the court should cite other relevant cases (using the two suggested Supreme Court Web sites).
2. The compromise plan should be presented to all three groups in writing.
3. Each of the 3 teams should read the compromise plan, meet, and plan a response. The team should prepare a written statement in which it specifies why it has either.
4. Rejected the entire plan
5. Accepted the entire plan
6. Accepted parts of the plan and rejected others.
1. All four teams should reconvene.
2. Each of the 3 teams should read their responses to the compromise plan.
3. If all teams agree on the Court’s plan, the role play ends there.
4. Rejected the entire plan
5. Accepted the entire plan
6. Accepted parts of the plan and rejected others.
1. If the parties reject parts of the plan, The Court should then moderate a discussion of the outstanding differences, calling in succession on a member of each of the 3 teams so as to insure fairness.
2.The Court must meet again to come up with a revision of its original plan or an alternative plan.
3. It should present its new plan either orally or in writing (as time permits). Each team will deliberate briefly on the alternative plan.
4. If the alternative plan is rejected by any one of the three teams, the Court must meet and make a final judgment as to
what should happen on its own. It must justify its position with reference to the demands of all groups, the Constitution, environmental law, and the best interests of the American people.
Debriefing: Other Issues Raised by the Video
Show the remaining minute or two of segment 1 of the video (at approximately 24 minutes in) which discusses what the Supreme Court did about Bear’s Lodge and compare it to the outcome arrived at by the class. With your class view either or both of the remaining segments of IN THE LIGHT OF REVERENCE about the struggles of the Hopi (approx. 25 minutes in to 46 minutes) and the Wintu (46 minutes to 111 minutes) to retain their sacred lands.
- The Hopis wish to reclaim land that is currently privately owned, rather than in the public domain. Does this strengthen or weaken their case?
- Did the Hopi have a fair chance to ever buy the property that was once theirs? Should this alter the case or not?
- Who should determine what is sacred ground, and by what measure?
- What redresses are the Hopis seeking for the loss of their sacred land?
- What environmental issues are at stake in the fight over lands the Hopi call sacred?
- What are the rights of property owners? Would the Hopi’s claims (if they were acceded to) weaken the rights of all property owners?
- Does the application of Federal funds to the development of private property alter the claims of either side?
- Does the fact that the Wintus are not recognized as a tribe by the U.S. government weaken their case relative to that
of the Lakota and Hopi?
- What is unique about California history that makes it difficult for large tribes to stay intact? Are the Wintu being further penalized because there are so few of them?
- Why do realty investors feel the American public would be better served by developing the land?
- The religious rights of the Wintu are being challenged by other “New Age” religious groups. Who should decide what constitutes a religion, and whether one religion should take precedence over another?
- Did you listen to your fellow team members??
- Did you contribute positively to group discussion?
- Did you follow through on research the team assigned to you?
- Did you help resolve any conflicts while working with one another?
- Did you express your viewpoint effectively during the role play?
- Did you help the team reach appropriate compromises in the last phases
of the role play?
Team members should share their individual assessments with the whole team and then evaluate the team’s performance with a rubric such as the following:
- How effectively did the team listen to one another?
- Did everyone contribute positively to group discussion?
- Did each member follow through on research the team assigned to him or her?
- Did the team resolve any conflicts while working with one another?
- Was the team able to present its viewpoint effectively to other teams
during the role play?
- Did the team suggest appropriate compromises in the last phases of
the role play?The teacher can assess students for the presentations they made during the
role play using a rubric such as the following:
- Did the presentation reflect research into the
- Did the presentation reflect a grasp of what rights
came into conflict?
- Was the presentation carefully prepared, well
organized, and delivered in a convincing manner?
- Ask students to contribute to the discussion board
at the companion web site to the video, expressing how they would resolve
the conflict, based on what they learned in their role play.
- Did the presentation reflect research into the
- After students view the 2nd and 3rd segments of the video ask students to write an essay comparing the Constitutional issues that were depicted in the 1st segment (Lakota Sioux) to those arising in one or two of the subsequent segments (Hopi or Wintu). Students can use the questions in the Debriefing section of this lesson to guide them as they make comparisons. Alternatively, ask students to design a chart in which two or more of the segments are analyzed in terms of categories such as “religious rights,” “property rights,” “historical precedents” and so forth.
- In the Light of Reverence suggests that there are different ways to resolve problems when the interests of different groups conflict. In segment 1 about the Sioux and Bear’s Lodge, an aggrieved party (the rock climbers) went to court. In the case of the Wintu, the Forest Service tried to negotiate a compromise among the groups in conflict, and finally, through its mandate as a government agency, made decisions about the use of the land. Ask students to compare and contrast these two methods of settling disputes in either a graphic organizer or an essay. What are the costs and benefits of each method?
- Invite a lawyer to class who can share relevant information about conflict resolution, what happens when a case goes to trial, or other issues relating to the program.
- Ask students to research the history of the Wintu, Hopi and Sioux. What other issues are at stake for them today?
This lesson addresses the following national curriculum standards.
1. Civics and Government, National Standards For Civics and Government.
II. B. 3. The role of organized groups in political life. Students should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on the contemporary role of organized groups in American social and political life.
II. B. 4. Diversity in American Society: Students should be able to evaluate, take and defend positions on issues regarding diversity in American life.
II. D. 4. Conflicts among values and principles in American political and social life.
II. D. 1. What is the place of law in American society?
V. B. 1. 2. 3. Students should be able to evaluate, take and defend positions on issues regarding (1) personal rights, (2) political rights, and (3) economic rights.
V. B. 4. Relationships among personal, political and economic rights. Explain and give examples of situations in which personal, political, or economic rights are in conflict.
2. American History, National Center for History in the Schools.
Era 6 Standard 4A: The student understands various perspectives of Federal Indian policy, westward expansion, and the resulting struggles. The students can therefore evaluate the legacy of 19th century Federal Indian policy.
Era 10 Standard 2C: The student understands changing religious diversity and its impact on American institutions and values.
Era 10 Standard 2E: The student understands how a democratic polity debates social issues and mediates between individual or group rights and the common good.
3. Geography 9-12, McRel
Standard 6: Understands why places and regions are important to individual human identity and act as symbols for unifying a fragmented society.
Standard 10: Knows how people’s changing attitudes toward the environment have led to landscape changes.
Standard 18: Understands why policies should be designed to guide the use and management of the Earth’s resources and to reflect multiple points of view.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joan Brodsky Schur teaches social studies and English at the Village Community School in New York City. She has written many articles over the years for Social Education. Joan and fellow-colleague Sari Grossman are co-authors of In A New Land: An Anthology of Immigrant Literature. Joan is also a contributing author to the Constitution Community, a website of the National Archives.