Curriculum Expressions

(These are the curriculum expressions that are the backbone for Shane Doyle’s curricular unit, “Tribal Oral Traditions and Languages in the Plains Region of the Lewis and Clark Trail.”)

Enduring Understandings

 The goal for this curriculum is that students will come away with an understanding that:

  • The hunting-gathering-trading culture of the Northern Plains remained largely unchanged for over 13,000 years.
  • A diversity of American Indian peoples were the original inhabitants of North America and have made significant contributions to the U.S. over time and continue to do so today.
  • History can be described and interpreted in various ways and from different perspectives.
  • Knowledge of cultural, environmental, political, social, and economic factors affects how we make sense of a place.
  • The geographic knowledge that tribes maintained about their homelands displayed the strength and reach of their oral traditions.
  • Lewis and Clark entered a region that tribes knew very well because of their travel, trade, and sharing of land and knowledge.
  • The Northern Plains people chose not to farm crops such as corn and beans because their land was already rich with wild food and the weather made farming a severe challenge.
  • Northern Plains people’s use of sign language was related to their unique landscape, which is highly visible and widely shared by over a dozen different tribes and language groups.
  • Northern Plains sign language was developed on the open plains, where many tribes shared mental maps of the broad and open landscape, where their neighbors lived in plain view.
  • Plains Indians enjoyed friendly relations for thousands of years before colonial times and the subsequent arrival of deadly diseases, resource shortages, dislocation, horses, and rifles.
  • Plains Sign Language is one of the greatest achievements of Plains Indian culture and is incomparable to any other shared language in world history because it is non-colonial and is based upon ideas and concepts that link together the people of the Plains.
  • Every spoken language changes over time.
  • All of the tribally specific languages spoken along the Lewis and Clark Trail originated from six larger language families.
  • Some Plains tribes share the same language families, but their languages are still very distinct.


Essential Questions (Aligned with Trail/Tribal Themes)

  • What were the key aspects of ancient life on the Northern Plains that allowed tribal people to thrive throughout the year?
  • How did the unique qualities of the Northern Plains influence the tribal cultures of history?
  • How does Feathers’ map disprove the idea that tribal people of the Northern Plains knew very little about their region?
  • If Feathers’ map showed that there was no northwest water passage, why did the Lewis and Clark Expedition still believe that such a route was possible?
  • What is the difference between the written and oral tradition in understanding geography?
  • How is Plains Sign Language unique?
  • How does Plains Sign Language indicate a close relationship between Plains tribes with different languages?
  • How do the words you use establish your identity?
  • How does an understanding of linguistics enable us to communicate better?
  • What does the fact that we have 850 new words in one year say about us?
  • What does such a rapid rate of change mean for other languages?
  • What are the advantages of being able to speak multiple languages, beyond just being able to communicate with someone?
  • What does retaining their Native American language mean for Native people living today?
  • What does it mean for all of us if a Native American language is lost?


Honoring Tribal Legacies Along the Lewis and Clark Trail

Essential Questions for Further Research and Discussion

Traces of the Past Observed Today

What was life like before Lewis & Clark?

  • How does the concept of “since time immemorial” relate to the world in the past, present, and future?
  • What are the creation stories of this place? How are these stories pertinent to understanding the world today?
  • What are the ancestral sites and scope of the territory of American Indian tribes who have inhabited this place?
  • How have relationships between people and the natural and built environment of this place been viewed?
  • How have American Indian peoples traditionally:
    • named, described and interpreted this place?
    • interacted with and contributed to the natural environment of this place?
    • built relationships and communicated with each other in this place?
    • created and organized a built environment in this place?
    • transported themselves and goods through this place?
  • Why did other groups of people come to this place?

Encountering Indigenous Peoples

What happened during the Lewis and Clark journey?

  • What political, economic, social, environmental, and cultural conditions led to Lewis and Clark visiting this place?
  • How did members of the Lewis and Clark expedition describe and interpret this place?
  • How have the perspectives of the Lewis and Clark expedition been passed down through time?
  • How did American Indian peoples describe encounters with members of the Lewis and Clark expedition?
  • How did tribal peoples contribute to the Lewis and Clark expedition at this place?
  • How have tribal perspectives of the Lewis and Clark expedition been passed down through time?
  • Why did various groups of people come to this place?
  • What political changes have occurred in this place?
  • What changes in lifeways, social interaction, and communication among peoples have occurred in this place?
  • What changes in the traditional cultures and languages have occurred in this place?
  • What economic changes have occurred in this place?
  • How has the health and wellbeing of tribal peoples been affected?
  • Why was the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail established?
  • How did the Bicentennial commemoration affect relationships between tribes and other stakeholder groups?
  • What lessons can be learned from the Bicentennial commemoration?
  • What purposes are served by the Trail today to honor tribal legacies?
  • How is understanding of the Trail enhanced through contemporary tribal cultures, languages, cultural landscapes, place names, sacred sites, and communities?
  • What cultural resources are in danger of being lost?
  • What conditions and trends pose threats to cultural resources?
  • What cultural attributes of this place should be protected and restored?
  • What does the future hold for this place?
  • How might tribal cultures, languages, cultural landscapes, place names, sacred sites, and communities of this place be preserved and sustained?
  • How might the natural environment of this place be preserved and sustained?
  • How can tribal peoples draw upon the perspectives of their ancestors to forge their future?
  • How can tribal peoples and other stakeholder groups work together to forge their future?