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indigenous cultures: activity ideas

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  1. Defining Indigenous People

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subject: Social Studies; Reading & Language Art; Math

    Before introducing lessons about indigenous people, it's important for students to have some background information regarding world population. This understanding will make the statistics of the indigenous people more relevant. For example, knowing that 250,000 people are born every day in the world will help put in perspective the diminishing number of the Lancandon tribe of Central America (300 people) and the Inuit people of Greenland (55,000).

    Begin by asking the students "how many people they think exist in the world?" Pick a child to record their estimates and then together discuss ways of finding the answers. Perhaps they may come up with more questions to inquire about, such as "how many countries are there," or "how many languages are spoken in the world." Proceed with their inquiries by researching on the web, asking people, and/or using the library... After finding the answers, turn these results into various graphs. This conversation can nicely lead into learning about indigenous people in the world.

    Ask the students how they can find out the meaning of "indigenous people." After giving them some time to gather resources, let them work in small groups to define the term "Indigenous people." Then allow them to share the answers and create one working definition for the class.

    While discovering the meaning of "indigenous people," have the groups keep track of new vocabulary they come across from researching and reading about indigenous people. Another activity can include turning these vocabulary words into a classroom glossary or book. Some new terms you may give or terms they may find might include: indigenous, indigenous people, globalization, culture, refugees, persecution, colonialism, race, social justice, nomad, inhabitants, descended, etc.

    The students can create classroom crossword puzzles, word searches and/or small board games. Give them the option to create a word game not mentioned. Set aside time for the kids to share their games with classmates.

    Online Resources

    Circle of Stories:

    Indigenous Australia Dictionary:

    Native Planet:

    PBS Lesson Plans

    America Responds: A Nation of Many Cultures:

    Print Resources

    The Atlas of Endangered Peoples by Steve Pollock
    Threatened Cultures by World Issue Series
    The No-Nonsense Guide to Indigenous Peoples by Lotte Hughes

    More Recommended Resources

  2. Cultures Around the World

    Grade Levels: 3-5; 6-8
    Subjects: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts

    With over 370 million indigenous people (over 5,000 groups) spread out among 70 different countries, learning about indigenous people can be a bit overwhelming. Not only are their population numbers constantly changing, but, also the places where they live differ and change. Indigenous people live all over the globe, from rainforests to the deserts, high in the mountains to along river valleys, and in the Artic to deep in the outback of Australia.

    To help breakdown the list and organize these groups, an activity can include presenting sheets of paper that break the world into smaller areas. For example, display one piece of paper that says "North America" and list a few names of indigenous people living in the area. Instead of listing "Native Americans," (to help avoid stereotypes) list individual groups such as the "Apache" and "Navajo." Other sheets may include: South America (Yanomami people), Central America (Lacandon tribe), Canada (The Inuits), Russia (The Nentsi) etc... Seeing an organized list like this will help students understand how widespread indigenous cultures are around the world. Have them spend more time researching and adding names of other indigenous people to each list.

    After creating lists, create map pieces. Perhaps the lists can be rearranged into continents and the class can be divided into groups accordingly. Each group works together creating a map piece to represent each continent along with a key that shows where some indigenous people live. Displaying the continents together to make one world map will be a great geography tool to use and keep on display throughout the year. Cut out colorful photos from the Internet to add to the displays depicting dress, religious beliefs, and other traits specific to each group.

    Once the lists or continents have been created, another possible activity is researching a group. Allow the children to work in pairs or small groups and together have them come up with questions for each group.

    Some important questions may include:

    • Where do the groups live? (Rain forests, valleys, the Arctic...)
    • How do they spend their days? Certain traditions they may follow?
    • What is their religion?
    • How many people are left?
    • Have they made any changes to adapt or globalize themselves?
    • Why are they indigenous? What is happening to their land?
    • What are their struggles?

    Allow the children to make interesting discoveries on their own and share what they have learned. Give the presentations to other children in other grades to help open their minds about indigenous people.

    Online Resources

    Connecting Youth Worldwide:

    Mapping Indigenous People:

    PBS Lesson Plans

    Africa: Teacher's Guide:

    Survival Skills:

    Print Resources

    The Atlas of Endangered Peoples by Steve Pollock
    Threatened Cultures by World Issue Series

    More Recommended Resources

  3. Challenges to Survival

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts; The Arts

    Begin this activity by discussing reasons or explanations as to why indigenous people are indigenous. Listing categories may help organize the learners thought process. Have a student record their explanations or reasons. Some answers might include; disease, forced trade, natural disasters, drought, rain forest destruction, and government action. Remind the children that these are just some of the reasons for diminishing indigenous cultures. If the children are having a difficult time coming up with possible explanations, use various websites and books to print off stories about indigenous people (see below.)

    Other conversations might include recent threats to indigenous people. Some children can research why disease,and not the 2004 Tsunami, killed many people from the Nicobar and Andaman islands in the Indian Ocean. Or why disease such as malaria strikes the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon rain forest. Discussions might include why the Iraqi government finds the Marsh Arabs a threat or why the Veddas of Sri Lanka are under threat of losing their land to the creation of a national park.

    Now that students understand why there are indigenous people, activities can center on what happens when these groups are forced to live a completely new lifestyle. Allow the children to research organizations that help indigenous people and help children settle in a global economy. Together role play or discuss the negatives and the positives of globalization. Some groups to research might include the International Labour Organization (ILU), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The Globalist and Free The Children.

    Some other activities may include writing letters to children of indigenous groups or perhaps depending on where you live, try to arrange a classroom presentation by a person from one of these populations. Giving students the opportunity to organize a small ceremony to recognize indigenous people can be a great way to culminate this topic of study. Perhaps the students can read quotes from these cultures and play music that is specific to certain areas where indigenous people live. Keep in mind that August 9th of every year celebrates indigenous people everywhere and recognizes their rights and their environments.

    Online Resources

    The Globalist: Public Radio Collaboration:

    International Day of the World's Indigenous People:

    Living With Change:

    PBS Lesson Plans

    River of Song:

    NOVA: "Warriors of the Amazon":

    NOVA: "World in the Balance":

    Circle of Stories: Our Small World:

    Print Resources

    The Carribbean (Indigenous People of the World) by Anne Wallace Sharp
    The Amazon (Indigenous People of the World) by Anne Wallace Sharp

    More Recommended Resources

Published: July 2005