8. Famous Apsáalooke People of 2014: Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow

(This is the Lesson Plan 8 for Shane Doyle (Crow) and Megkian Doyle’s curriculum unit, “Living within the Four Base Tipi Poles of the Apsáalooke Homeland.”)

Six 50-minute class periods

  • secondary

By Shane Doyle

President Obama awarding Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Photo Credit: Bacone College

President Obama awarding Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Photo Credit: Bacone College



CCSS Literacy SL 10-1

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS Literacy SL 10-1d

Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.

CCSS Literacy RST 10-6

Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, defining the questions the author seeks to address.

CCSS Literacy WHST 10-1

Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

CCSS Literacy WHST 10-1a

Introduce precise claims, distinguish the claims from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among the claims.

CCSS Literacy WHST 10-1c

Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claims and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claims and counterclaims.

CCSS Literacy WHST 10-1d

Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

CCSS Literacy WHST 10-1e

Provide concluding statement or section that follow from or supports the argument presented.



Students will be able to

  • Engage in pre-reading research to effectively gather information to provide the clues needed to understand the assigned reading.
  • Make connections between personal experiences and those of the main character.
  • Use vocabulary necessary to understand this text.
  • Understand the meaning of counting coup both in the traditional and contemporary context.
  • Listen attentively to my teacher and my peers.
  • Take complete notes that are useful to me.
  • Interpret details from text read to me.
  • Think about how what I do in school will prepare me for being a leader in life.
  • Write and present a strong speech about leadership.
  • Respect and appreciate the contributions other people have made to my success.
  • Work respectfully and effectively with others to organize a successful public event.



  • Who is Joe Medicine Crow?
  • What are the qualities of an Apsáalooke leader?
  • What lessons can be learned by hearing the stories of elders?
  • What skills or abilities do you have in the area of leadership?
  • What is mentoring and who can you mentor?
  • How can we honor/recognize/thank people who have helped us find success?



Suggested Formative Assessment of Learning Outcomes

  • Leaders Log Entries
  • Class discussion
  • Evaluation of Pai’s speech
  • Leader selection rationale
  • Leadership event planning

Culminating Performance Assessment of Learning Outcomes

Leadership speech should demonstrate clear presentation of claims, reasons, and evidence in a formal style and with a concluding statement that is supported by the argument presented.




Joseph Medicine Crow, an enrolled member of the Crow Tribe in Southeastern Montana, wrote his autobiography when he was in his 90’s in cooperation with Herman J. Viola, Curator Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution. There are four pages of photos inserted in the center of the book. In his own words, Joseph Medicine Crow chronicles his life as a child and young adult on the Crow Reservation during the period when the Crow people transitioned from their nomadic traditions to life on a reservation. In short stories he remembers his family and their experiences as he is raised to become a Crow warrior. While the time when warriors can “count coup” in the traditional sense is past, Medicine Crow’s experiences mold him into a leader, able to count the four coups and become a chief by the time he completes his service in WWII. Today, in 2013, Mr. Medicine Crow is 100 years old. In the clip below he is 96. For more biographical information about Dr. Medicine Crow see this article published when President Obama awarded Dr. Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom.



Begin class with a discussion of leadership. Allow students to suggest names of people they believe are leaders. Engage students in a discussion exploring the following questions:

  • How did these people become leaders?
  • What steps did they go through to become leaders?
  • How do we define a leader?
  • What do you have to do to be considered a leader?
  • In what areas do you think you might be a good leader?
  • Is it possible to lead even when you follow?



  • Book Counting Coup
  • Montana, U.S., and world maps
  • Leaders Log materials (optional) – paper, video or audio recording equipment, etc.
  • Whale Rider movie or just the clip of Pai’s speech
  • Leadership event supplies: Student-made giveaway gifts, decorations, invitations, etc.
  • Access to online and print resources for research



  • Auditory
  • Visual
  • Kinesthetic
  • Tactile



Read the introduction of Counting Coup out loud to the class. Ask students to reflect on the introduction. What expectations did the Crow people have for their leaders? What experiences did they want their leaders to have? This book is about Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow. Today he is one of the most respected men in the Crow (Apsáalooke) tribe and is 100 years old. Let’s view a speech he gave when he was just 96.

Dr. Joe Medicine Crow Speaks. What strikes you most about this speech? What is the main idea of the speech? What questions did the speech generate for you?



Introduce the Leader’s Log—a way to examine yourself as a leader while you read about the experiences of Joe Medicine Crow. Students essentially take a mental journey through various aspects of leadership in their own lives. (Allow students to collect their log information in any format they choose… journal, plain paper pages, computer log, tape recorded, video recorded, etc. Inform them that for their final product, all of the entries must be submitted as one, cohesive entry. For example, if a student chooses to record his log on loose plain paper, all of the pages should be bound together in an organized, meaningful, and creative way.) Examples of what a log can be:

Assign chapters 1-3, pgs. 13-34.
Following this reading, ask students to respond to the following questions in their Leader’s Logs (remind them to record the question and then answer it):

  • What are your expectations of a good leader?
  • What kinds of experiences do you think strong leaders should have?
  • Joe’s grandfather put him through some experiences to train him to be stronger. What were these?
  • What types of training have you gone through to get stronger?
  • Who are the people who help prepare you and how do they prepare you?
  • Joe talks about the history of the Crow people and about Crow traditions and beliefs?
  • How do these things influence how he grows up?
  • Think of at least two ways that your own family history, traditions, and beliefs have influenced how you are making it through life?
  • When things are difficult, how do you stay strong and make good choices?

Assign chapters 4-8, pgs. 35-59.
Following this reading, ask students to respond to the following questions in their Leader’s Logs (remind them to record the question and then answer it):

  • In what ways are you learning to be self-sufficient?
  • In what ways have you learned to work with others in a community?
  • Why are both being self-sufficient and working with others important qualities in a leader?
  • Joe Medicine Crow describes how the games he and his friends played prepared them for life. How do your school activities, sports, games, and other extracurricular activities improve your ability to be a leader?
  • Joe Medicine Crow talks about how he learned to fear white people and Sioux. How are our perceptions of other people and events influenced by those we grow up around?
  • How can we examine our fears and try to understand the truth in order to make good choices?
  • Are experiences worth having even if you fail, like when Joe came in last in the horse race?
  • What have you gained from events where you have not done as well as you wanted to?
  • Engage students in a discussion about history.
  • What is your definition of history?
  • How do we learn about the past?
  • What do we consider “valid” or “acceptable” ways to learn about the past?
  • Are stories a way to learn history?
  • Is it possible for two different accounts or stories of an event to both be true?
  • Is the history we study in our textbooks subjective?
  • If yes, in what ways?
  • Can we use an autobiography like this one to learn truth about what has happened in the past?
  • Why or why not?

Assign chapters 9-12, pgs. 59-94.
Following this reading, ask students to respond to the following questions in their Leader’s Logs (remind them to record the question and then answer it):

  • Joseph Medicine Crow said that chiefs were highly respected by the Crow people because they had earned the right to leadership. In what ways can you gain the respect of those around you to earn the right to leadership?
  • How do the stories of those who have lived longer than we have teach us to be better leaders?
  • Joe talked about the honor songs that were made for chiefs. What are some ways that we honor respected people in our cultures?
  • What effect does prejudice have on opportunity?
  • Do you think you have learned to think negatively about some types of people?
  • As a leader how can you ensure that you will treat everyone you work with with respect?
  • On page 71 Joe talks about how “we punished ourselves”. What does he mean?
  • Can you think of times when you have had similar experiences?
  • Why do you think we sometimes feel the urge to bully others?
  • As a leader how do you think you should respond to bullying and prejudice?
  • Interview one person whom you consider wise or who sets a good example for you. Ask him/her to tell you one story that he/she thinks will help you in life. Remember not to ask the “leading questions” Joe Medicine Crow talked about. Record this story in your log.

Assign chapters 13-15, pgs. 95-118.
Following this reading, ask students to respond to the following questions in their Leader’s Logs (remind them to record the question and then answer it):

  • Joe Medicine Crow had a number of stories that were important to him as he grew up. Consider the teaching stories from your own culture (like Aesop’s fables, why stories, Bible stories, nursery rhymes, etc.). Why is telling these stories valuable?
  • Why is remembering these stories valuable?
  • How do these stories form our character
  • Joe Medicine Crow liked to tell the other Indian students he met his Crow stories as a way of telling them who he was. What story would you tell to someone who wanted to know you?
  • When things get difficult like they did sometimes for Joe, where do you find encouragement and how do you ground or center yourself?
  • After Joe came back from WWII he gave his feather to his cousin Henry as a way of mentoring him. Are there any ways you could pass on what you have learned to someone else to mentor them?
  • When you look back on your life, what has your legacy been thus far?
  • Joe remembered how he thought his grandfathers would have been proud of him riding that horse he took in the war. What experiences have you had when you felt others would be proud of you?
  • What do these moments reveal about your character and/or your abilities?



When Joe had completed his coups he was asked to give a speech to recite his war deeds, a way of demonstrating his leadership. Show students the brief clip of Pai’s speech on leadership from the movie Whale Rider (or show the whole movie for greater impact). You may need to provide some movie background and also some information on Maori culture in order for students to understand the speech. You may use this link for a brief summary of the film’s plot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_Rider.

Engage students in a discussion about what they have learned or thought about while composing their leaders’ logs. Students may also evaluate Pai’s speech discussing what they think she intended to communicate, who her audience was, etc.



Assign a leadership speech according to your own parameters of length and content. Talk to students about the traditional Crow giveaway described on page 121. Engage students in a discussion about the people who have made their successes possible. Ask each person to consider one or two people they would like to honor for the role they have played in each student’s success. Then discuss as a class what the students might be able to make to give away to these people at a special leadership event.

Coordinate the leadership event so that students may help with the planning and set-up. Delegate jobs such as decorating, making invitations, making giveaway gifts, organizing the program, getting a meeting space, setting up chairs, etc. Invite each of the students’ honored guests. Present each student with his/her leadership award and allow each student to give a brief leadership speech and to give his/her gift to the honored guest who has contributed to his/her success. As a class reflect on the impact of the leadership event.



This lesson can be differentiated for students by using alternative recording methods (other than writing) and by selecting only certain questions rather than all leaders log questions. Accelerated learners may pursue research on one or more of the many cultural traditions discussed in the book and may present this learning to the class to help expand their understanding of the book and the culture. Accelerated students may also be interested in completing the leadership curriculum developed for the Whale Rider film referenced above. To view this curriculum visit: http://www.filmeducation.org/pdf/film/WhaleRider.pdf



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8easozQ1Elg Dr. Joe Medicine Crow Speaks Medicine Crow, J. (2006).

Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow chief on the reservation and beyond. National Geographic Society.

Using Primary Sources

This book can be considered a primary source because Joe is writing about his own life during the period of 1913 to the present.