Native Americans and Dreamcatchers


Tribal Nations Map of North America.
Tribal Nations Map of North America.

Last week, I decided to teach my students about Native Americans.  Granted having been an anthropology student and almost attaining a major in Native American Studies, I thought that I needed to make a good presentation. Not the kind that is full of shit that we are taught in school that perpetuates stereotypes, but good solid information that shows these communities alive and thriving. To show the students that there is variety among Native American tribes and that no tribe is alike.

Students listen while I talk about Native Americans.
Students listen while I talk about Native Americans.

My friend has made a very good powerpoint, so I adapted it to suit my needs and added in a few more talking points that I felt were interesting. I decided to add in talking points about Navajo codetalkers, the Wampanoag tribe, boarding schools, and the Trail of Tears. I only had 40 minutes to talk about the subject because we needed the second period for our craft activity.

Tray of supplies for the dream catcher activity.
Tray of supplies for our dreamcatcher activity.

I used a tribal nations map that I found online. It is a wonderful map with the tribes names written in their places of origin.  The main points included showing a small clip from the movie ‘Windtalkers‘ to give the students an idea of what the language sounded like and how it helped win the war. The students were very surprised to know that it was a big secret.

Navajo Codetalkers. (Picture from Smithsonian.)
Navajo Codetalkers. (Picture from Smithsonian.)

I was able to make a parallel situation for them to understand that what has happened to Native Americans is similar to what happened to Koreans during Japan’s occupation of Korea. At that time Koreans had to adopt Japanese names and had to speak only in Japanese. Native Americans, especially those forced into boarding schools, were forced to change their names and speak only English. Resulting in the break up of many families and the decimation of many Native Languages. The biggest surprise came that these schools have only closed in recent history in the United States.

Political Cartoon. (By Parker, Florida Today.)
Political Cartoon. (By Parker, Florida Today.)

One of the most interesting things I remember from my days as an anthropology student was learning about the Wampanoag tribe. If you think about Thanksgiving, they are the tribe that first met the settlers. Two thirds of their tribe was wiped out due to western diseases and because of that they also lost their language. Luckily, a missionary had transcribed the bible into their language, as were other documents that enabled it to become documented. For almost a century no one spoke Wampanoag. However, a linguist from the tribe began to learn the language from these old documents and began to teacher her daughter the language. Her daughter became the first native speaker of Wampanoag in 100 years. This has created a language revival in the community. If you have not heard about this it is worth reading and watching more about it.

The shocking thing about this is how many languages die. I was telling my students that there were roughly 300 languages spoken in North America, before the settlers came. Today there are only 175 languages remaining and of those half of them will disappear within the next 100 years. Most of these languages do not have an alphabet or writing system. Instead they are oral languages, which means the primary mode of interacting with the language is listening and speaking only.

We Still Live Here – Âs Nutayuneân

So the fact that the Wamapanoag have recovered their language is an amazing feat and gives the tribe a chance to reclaim their lost identity. Language shapes how we see the world and so it is very important for many people not to lose it.

I decided to teach the students how to make dreamcatchers. This was not an easy task as all the tutorials online give directions using a paper plate.  In my opinion, the paper plate looks very tacky. So I looked for another option and found that it could be made with a pipe cleaner. I tried making a dreamcatcher with the pipe cleaner 3 to 4 times but I just felt like it wasn’t working.

My failed attempt at a pipecleaner dreamcatcher.


How can I make this work? I have class tomorrow! I was a bit stressed about how to make this activity a success. Luckily, an idea struck me about using metal wire.

The first step in making the dreamcatcher craft.
The first step in making the dreamcatcher.

The metal wire worked like a charm! It made an excellent base for the dream catcher. Even though I had directions on how to make the dreamcatcher the students had a hard time weaving the thread through it. I began to hear, “Teacher!”

“Teacher, help me!”

“No, teacher! Help me!”

Helping a student with their dreamcatcher.
Helping a student with their dreamcatcher.

I was suddenly surrounded by a flock of children. Granted most of their dreamcatchers came out nice and the students had a lot of fun with this activity. The one thing they already knew about Native Americans was dreamcatchers, and a few of the students said they had one at home.


A student made dreamcatcher.
A student made dreamcatcher.

I told them if they bought it in Korea it was most likely from China.  But, if they ever have the chance they should buy one from a Native American Artisan. Even though it was a lot of work this was one of my favorite activities to do with the students. I like to think that this lesson ended up being a success.

Top half of dreamcatcher completed.
Top half of my dreamcatcher completed.
The dream catcher I made to use as an example.
The dream catcher I made to use as an example.


2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Nina,
    Your “Dreamcatcher” is absolutely wonderful..You sould be proud of your ingenious ability to pursue the way it should be..
    You are a very awesome and special individual..Your students are most fortunate to have such a remarkable teacher.
    Keep up the good work, my dear..

    love, Aunt Millie

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