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Teacher Resources

Jefferson Defines Indian Policy | Monroe Alters Direction of Indian Policies | Acculturation
Indian Removal Policy | Resistance to Indian Removal | The Human Meaning of Indian Removal
Lesson Plans

Jefferson Defines Indian Policy

There is an excellent book related to this topic: Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans by Anthony F. C. Wallace. The website contains information and resources that will be helpful in teaching this section.

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Monroe Alters Direction of Indian Policies

Indian Peace medals were produced by the United States government and given to Indian leaders in the course of our nation’s negotiations with the multitude of tribes that owned the land coveted by the national and state governments. It is interesting to study the different designs of these peace medals are they evolved. Dr. Jack Campisi states:

Nearly every president from George Washington through Benjamin Harrison had medals issued with his likeness engraved on the front or obverse side; however, it is the reverse side that draws our interest. Here was emblazoned in pewter, bronze, or silver the central justification for our nation’s policy toward Indian tribes. This policy contrasted a Euro-American definition of civilization with a perceived Native condition of savagery. The components of this perception are presented on the medals in bas relief as bipolar: agriculture versus hunting, settlement versus nomadism, war versus peace, and ultimately assimilation versus tribalism.

Meaning in the Reverse: Indian Peace Medals by Dr. Jack Campisi

Contrast the reverse side of the two medals below as to the purpose and meaning behind the visual message.

George Washington Indian Peace Medal - reverse

Etching of medallion: on recto: Red Jacket smoking long pipe, George Washington on left with right hand extended, below inscription: George Washington / President / 1792;
on verso: presidential seal.
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

James Monroe Indian Peace Medal - reverse

These two images shows Sa-go-ye-wat-ha [Seneca chief Red Jacket] wearing the Washington Indian Peace Medal.

Sa-go-ye-wat-ha [Seneca chief Red Jacket] / painted by R.W. Weir ; eng'd. by M.J. Danforth, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Red Jacket. Seneca war chief / on stone by Corbould from a painting by C.B. King ; printed by C. Hallmandel, print, Philadelphia : Campbell & Burns, ca. 1835. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress



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Educating the Indians : a female pupil of the Government School at Carlisle visits her home at Pine Ridge Agency. Frank Leslie's Illust. Newspaper, Mar 15, 1884, cover. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Indian Schools

In the late 1800s, the United States supported an educational experiment that the government hoped would change the traditions and customs of Native Americans. Special boarding schools were created in locations all over the United States with the purpose of "civilizing" American Indian youth.

Thousands of Native American children were sent far from their homes to live in these schools and learn the ways of white culture. Many struggled with loneliness and fear away from their tribal homes and familiar customs. Some lost their lives to the influenza, tuberculosis, and measles outbreaks that spread quickly through the schools. Others thrived despite the hardships, formed lifelong friendships, and preserved their Indian identities.

Read more:

The Challenges and Limitations of Assimilation
The Brown Quarterly, Vol. 4, no. 3 (Fall 2001)

Explore a lesson plan from the Library of Congress about these schools:
Indian Boarding Schools: Civilizing the Native Spirit.

This lesson plan uses photographs, letters, reports, interviews, and other primary documents to help students explore the forced acculturation of American Indians through government-run boarding schools.

Websites for Indian Boarding Schools:

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Indian Removal Policy

Questions for Indian Tribes Map

1. Even after ceding, or yielding, millions of acres of their territory through a succession of treaties with the British and then the U.S. government, the Cherokees in the 1820s still occupied parts of the homelands they had lived in for hundreds of years. What modern states are included within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation? How large is the territory compared with the modern states?

2. What other tribes lived near the Cherokees? Whites often referred to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole as the "Five Civilized Tribes." What do you think whites meant by "civilized?"

Visual Resources:

The following maps illustrate the land holdings of the Cherokee people at specific times in history:

Before the United States expanded beyond the Mississippi River, the land that would become Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee was known as the Southwest.

This map shows the Old Natchez Trace passing through Choctaw and Chickasaw lands. The 440-mile-long path extends from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, and linked the Cumberland, the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. The word "trace" is an old French word which meant a line of footprints or animal tracks.

What effect did this travel route have on the Indian life and culture?

National Park Service Image

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Resistance to Indian Removal

Resources for more information about women's petitions:

  • Their Right to Speak: Women's Activism in the Indian and Slave Debates By Alisse Portnoy, 2005, Harvard University Press.
  • Alisse Theodore [Portnoy], “‘A Right to Speak on the Subject’: The U.S. Women’s Antiremoval Petition Campaign, 1829-1831,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 5 (2002), 601-24.

This section from:

In late 1829, Catherine Beecher anonymously published a circular letter addressed to the “Benevolent Ladies” of the United States.

Catherine Beecher, “Circular Addressed to the Benevolent Ladies of the U. States,” Dec. 25, 1829, in Theda Purdue and Michael D. Green, eds., The Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents, 2nd ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005), 111-14.

In this letter, Beecher sympathetically portrayed the “poor Indian[s]” as a dignified people, no longer “naked and wandering savages,” who had made much progress towards becoming Christian and civilized. Although Beecher showed little interest in the native cultures of the Indians of the South, her remarks showed no sign of racism (as distinct from ethnocentrism). Instead, she focused on the fact that the U.S. government had promised to protect these Indians and their lands. (The Indian nations in question included the Cherokee, Chocktaw, Creek, Seminole, and Chickasaw, which were often collectively referred to as the “Five Civilized Tribes” because of their notable adaptation to white, American ways.) Beecher was writing, she declared, because “it has become almost a certainty that these people are to have their lands torn from them, and to be driven into western wilds and to final annihilation, unless the feelings of a humane and Christian nation shall be aroused to prevent the unhallowed sacrifice.” Clearly, Beecher did not believe the rhetoric of the Jackson administration that removal would be voluntary and that it was necessary to protect Indians — instead, she said, Indians’s land would be “torn” from them, and their removal west would lead to their “annihilation.” In short, Beecher thought that she saw through the pro-removal rhetoric to the real reason that Indians were to move west — their “fertile and valuable” lands were “demanded by the whites as their own possessions.”

This letter helped inspire a small but significant petition campaign on the part of American women. Alisse Portnoy has carefully studied this petition campaign. While her article helps document the political resistance to the Indian removal policy, it also shows how women in the early republic period began tentatively to assert a “right to speak” regarding political issues. Portnoy shows that how these women spoke is just as important as the fact that they did so.

Here are several questions to consider when reading this essay:

  • What main arguments does Portnoy make?
  • What evidence does she bring forward? Where did she get this evidence?
  • Where did the petitions come from? What might be the significance of their regional source?
  • Why are these petitions historically significant?
  • Why weren’t the petitions effective in changing Indian policy?

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The Human Meaning of Indian Removal

What went wrong on the Trail of Tears? Ask students to compare Scott's letter and general order, statements about what should have happened, with Burnett's narrative of what he saw. Since soldiers did not, routinely ignore general orders, the vast discrepancy between these primary sources calls Scott's sincerity into serious question. The fact that the army did not investigate what happened also suggests that the general order was never supposed to be taken literally.

Questions for Trail of Tears Map

1. How many different routes are shown? Why do you think there might have been so many?

2. Find the water route. What rivers does it follow? What advantages to you think it might have over an overland route? What difficulties might it present?

3. Locate the land route. How does it compare with the other main routes? What major rivers did it cross? What advantages and what disadvantages might the Land Route have?

4. The largest group of Cherokees followed the land route. They left Tennessee in the late fall of 1838 and arrived in Indian Territory in March. What problems do you think they might have encountered on the journey?


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Lesson Plans

Primary grades:

  • Traditions and Languages of Three Native Cultures: Tlingit, Lakota, & Cherokee
    This lesson compares the cultures and languages of the Tlingit, Lakota, and Cherokee American Indian tribes, and helps students learn the importance of preserving a group's traditions.
  • Native American Cultures Across the U.S.
    This lesson discusses the differences between common representations of Native Americans within the U.S. and a more differentiated view of historical and contemporary cultures of five American Indian tribes living in different geographical areas. Students will learn about customs and traditions such as housing, agriculture, and ceremonial dress for the Tlingit, Dinè, Lakota, Muscogee, and Iroquois peoples.

Middle grades:

  • Not 'Indians,' Many Tribes: Native American Diversity
    Students study the interaction between environment and culture as they learn about three vastly different Native groups in a game-like activity that uses vintage photographs, traditional stories, photos of artifacts, and recipes.
  • Anishinabe - Ojibwe - Chippewa: Culture of an Indian Nation
    This lesson focuses on one American Indian Nation, the Anishinabe, also known as the Ojibwe, Ojibway, or Chippewa Indians. Students will learn how to conduct a research project on different historical, geographical, and cultural aspects of this Native American group.
  • Native American policy
    The lesson supports students' examination of the different views and policies about native americans from 1787 through 1830.

Secondary grades:

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