(This is the introduction for Shane Doyle’s teaching unit, “Tribal Oral Traditions and Languages in the Plains Region of the Lewis and Clark Trail.”)
Northern Plains Indian oral traditions along the Lewis and Clark Trail are rich and diverse, proud and resilient, and beautiful in their humanity. This curriculum is meant to inspire more insightful and more sophisticated understanding of the tribal oral traditions along the Missouri River region. Family, community, and intertribal traditions, such as elder storytelling to youth, the give-away ceremony, the naming ceremony, sign language and the spoken word, and hundreds of other tribally specific traditions remain a strong part of the tribal culture in the 21st century. These traditions continue to define and embody the culture of contemporary tribal members, providing the foundation for the societal values of extended family, generosity, grace, courage, and humor. Material property such as clothing and food, along with knowledge of sacred stories, medicines, and songs were treasured and shared with friends and loved ones. Lewis and Clark were the beneficiaries of this communal culture while traversing the West, as tribal peoples provided the Corps with places to spend the winter and assisted them for over two years with surplus foods, horses, and guides.
Many cultural traditions are still enriching the lives of tribal peoples today, but many are in danger of being lost to history, with languages being at the forefront of this loss. These lessons are designed to inform students and provide them with the digital resources necessary to learn about a Native language from the Northern Plains. Maybe a student who participates in this curriculum will be inspired to create a Plains Sign Language App in the future, take a leading role within, participating in, or advocating for tribal language revitalization in the U.S.