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  Category: Articles » Education & Reference » Teaching » Article

Native American Culture Activities

By Freda J. Glatt, MS

As many children learn about Native American culture during November, here are some activities and information about our first citizens.

Do you like barbecues? How about clambakes? Well, the next time you attend one, thank the Indians! Native Americans invented them, along with chewing gum, ponchos, chocolate, snowshoes, parkas, and moccasins. Do research to find out what else our first citizens invented!

Chief Seattle's Lesson

Seattle was a teacher
Who taught us how to care
For all the living things on earth,
Fresh water, and clean air.
"The earth does not belong to us,"
Great Chief Seattle said.
"We sometimes think it does, but we
Belong to earth, instead."

This poem was written by Helen H. Moore and reflects a basic belief of the Indians. Discuss its meaning and make a collage of fresh water vs polluted water and the effects of each, as well as clean air vs smog and the effects of each.

Beanbag Bunt

Many games that were played by Native American children when the Pilgrims landed are still played to this day. Here is a variation of a game played by the Zuni Indians of the Southwest.

Create a circle about 30' in diameter and make a horizontal starting line inside toward the edge. Put two different-colored beanbags behind the starting line and choose two children to be the first players; other children should be forming a ring around the circle.

The object of this game is to be the first to kick your beanbag around the inside of the circle without crossing its border. If a player misses, he must step outside the circle. In order to win, the other player must successfully complete his trip around the circle. Should there be a tie, or both players miss, they play another round. The winner of each round chooses a new opponent from the rest of the children.

Bird Feeder

After a good harvest, Native Americans made an offering of three ears of Indian corn tied to a gourd filled with corn kernels; this was hung outside their teepee in order to feed the birds. When the birds ate, the Indians were happy because they believed their offering had been accepted by the gods. Here are directions for you to make a bird feeder.

Cut a gourd in half vertically, scoop out the insides, and use a skewer or metal dowel to poke two holes about 1" from the top through both sides of each half of the gourd. Using a long piece of thin wire, thread one of the halves and wrap a loose end around an ear of Indian corn at the husk near the top of the ear. The longer end of wire should still be through the other hole so you can add another ear of Indian corn, then the other half of the gourd, and end with another ear of Indian corn. Finally, tie the loose ends together to form a loop and hang your bird feeder outside. Put some birdseed in each hollow end of the gourd and watch the birds eat!

Learn the names of birds in your area and keep a record of the kinds of birds that come to your feeder. Choose several birds and count how many of each kind come within a certain time frame; then make a pictograph showing the data.


The Indian money was called wampum and consisted of strings of beads made from the shells of clams and other shellfish. Purple was worth more than white. Here is how to make your own wampum.

Put half of a small box of macaroni into a bowl and cover it with purple paint, letting it soak for two hours. Strain the macaroni and let it dry on paper towels during the night. At last, create your wampum by stringing purple and white macaroni. Tie the ends of the string together for a necklace or a bracelet.

For variation, try stringing the macaroni in various patterns and assigning different numbers to the purple and white. How much is your wampum worth? Open a little store and use your wampum for money! If you can find seashells with small holes for stringing, try using them instead of macaroni.

League of the Iroquois

One of the first governments in America was the Five Nations, or the League of the Iroquois. The Mohawk chief, Hiawatha, helped found it in 1570 to unite the separate tribes, or nations, in war and peace. Consisting of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas, each tribe took care of its own business. When their affairs affected another tribe, however, the League Council stepped in.

Answer these True or False statements about the paragraph above...using the Cree Indian letters for T and F! The T looks like a lowercase b with more of a heart-shaped right side than a circle; and the F looks like an inverted capital V with a vertical side on the right rather than a diagonal.

Mohawk chief Hiawatha helped start the Five Nations. ____
The Seminoles were part of the League of the Iroquois. ____
The League told all its members how to conduct their business. ____
The Five Nations was one of the first governments in America. ____

Research to find out more about the Iroquois nation. Does the League still exist?

Totem Poles

In the Pacific Northwest, Native Americans such as the Tlingit, pronounced klink-it, still make totem poles to record their family and clan histories. The poles are carved of wood and brightly painted to resemble birds, animals, or people. An angry-looking bear, for instance, could symbolize a warlike relative; while a deer might symbolize a gentle one. Make a totem pole to reflect your family! Here's how.

Measure various colors of construction paper, exactly, to fit 6-8 1-lb cans, such as coffee cans. Laying the papers flat, use crayons, markers, or paint to draw a different face or design on each. Wrap a paper around each can and tape the edges together. Place each can down with the open side up and decorate with eyes, ears, noses, teeth, and other 3-dimensional features. Use fabric, buttons, sticks...any odds and ends you have.

Decide the order in which the cans will be stacked; then add sand to the bottom one to prevent the totem pole from tipping over. Put one can on top of another, taping them together as you go. Decorate the top of your totem pole!

There are many Native American tribes in our country today. On a map, pinpoint where each tribe lives. Find out which live in your region and take a field trip to learn more about them.

I hope these ideas are useful and have inspired your own creative thinking.

Happy Thanksgiving!!
About the Author
Freda J. Glatt, MS, retired from teaching after a 34-year career in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. Her focus, now, is to reach out and help others reinforce reading comprehension and develop a love for reading. Visit her site at Reading is FUNdamental!

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