Grades 3–5 — The Geography of Indigenous Oregon

In this curriculum, students use geography to look at Oregon history specifically through the lens of Indigenous peoples. Students will explore the different ways that people are connected to land and place through time, tradition, and deep knowledge. We have designed this unit to align and be woven within the 4th grade lessons from Oregon Department of Education’s (ODE) SB 13 Tribal History, Shared History curriculum. Some of the lessons overlap with the ODE lessons, while directly connecting to materials and artifacts found in the Oregon Historical Society’s Experience Oregon exhibit.

Like the ODE curriculum, the Oregon Historical Society created the Experience Oregon exhibit with input from all nine federally recognized Tribes in Oregon. Some of the material in this unit is grounded in the Columbia River Valley. We encourage educators to augment these lessons with material and knowledge from the Tribes and lands closest to you. Educators can use the curriculum with or without a museum visit.

Recommended Educator Background Knowledge Resources

  1. Essential Understandings of Native Americans in Oregon provides the necessary foundation for all teaching and learning about the Indigenous people of Oregon. This guiding document also serves as the basis for all Tribal History, Shared History lessons.
  2. Critical Orientations for Indigenous Studies Curriculum is another guiding document used by the creators of Tribal History, Shared History and offers educators a framework for orienting their teachings using the 6 Ps: place, presence, perspectives, political nationhood, power, and partnerships.

Recommended Resources for Background Information and Extensions in the Classroom

  1. The First Oregonians, a collection of essays co-published by the Oregon Council for the Humanities and Oregon State University. Recommended reading is Chapter 6: Federal-Indian Relations.
  2. Teaching Critically about Lewis and Clark: Challenging Dominant Narratives in K–12 Curriculum by Alison Schmitke, Leilani Sabzalian, and Jeff Edmundson provides background information and ready-to-use lessons based on primary sources.
  3. For more background knowledge and lessons, see the 4th grade curriculum from The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. Curriculum from other Tribes will be added soon.
  4. For more background knowledge on the relationship between Oregon Tribes and the land, view the following short interview excerpts with several different tribal members from around Oregon. These can also be shared with students. 

Tanna Engdahl, Cowlitz: “Of Course We Wouldn’t Leave” (run time: 3:24 minutes)

Bill Yallup Jr. Yakama, Rock Creek: Connection to Place (run time: 2:47 minutes)

Greg Archuleta, The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde: Plants Are Waiting to Return (run time: 1:28 minutes)

Bobbie Conner, Cayuse/Nez Perce/Umatilla: Intestinal Fortitude (run time: 2:24 minutes)

Tony Johnson, Chinook: Connection to Place (run time: 1:19 minutes)

Louie Pitt, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs: You Have to Know “Where You’re From” (run time: 1:23 minutes)

Bill Yallup Jr, Yakama: All That Lives (run time: 2:22 minutes)

Enduring Understandings

  1. For thousands of years and into the present day, Native peoples have studied, cared for, honored, been shaped by, and thrived in the land of Oregon.
  2. Maps are tools that help us to better understand multiple aspects of a place. Indigenous peoples in Oregon are diverse, and there are many ways that different Tribes relate to the land.
  3. Tribes and Indigenous communities continue to thrive in Oregon despite facing extreme adversity.

Learning Goals

  • Students can demonstrate basic geography skills.
  • Students can identify significant geographical features of Oregon.
  • Students demonstrate essential understandings regarding the Indigenous peoples of Oregon.
  • Students can research and write about current events.
  • Students can present and analyze relevant information.

Menu of Lessons  

Pre-Visit Lessons

Pre-Visit Lesson One: Since Time Immemorial — Mountains and Stories

Students review how Oregon mountains were created, read a Molalla story about Mount Hood, and begin creating their map of the Oregon region by adding Mount Hood, other mountains/mountain ranges, and their own location. Students also add a compass rose and a key.

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Pre-Visit Lesson Two: Water as Provider

Students explore the importance of water both in their own lives and the lives of Oregon’s Native peoples through reflection, discussion, artifact analysis, and watching a short oral history. Students add waterways to their map: major rivers, lakes, and the ocean.

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Pre-Visit Lesson Three: Geography and Language Groups

Students learn about chinuk wawa and other Indigenous languages. They consider the relationship among languages, people groups, and geography.

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Museum Visit

Oregon Historical Society Museum Visit: Experience Oregon Note Sheet

While students explore the Experience Oregon exhibit, they look for information that will answer questions around the relationship of Oregon Indigenous peoples with geography. Students fill out an OHS Experience Oregon Note Sheet to support previous lessons and prepare students for the post-visit lessons.

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Post-Visit Lessons

Post-Visit Lesson One: Debrief Experience Oregon Visit

Students reflect and share what they learned from their visit to Experience Oregon and add tribal headquarter locations to their maps.

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Post-Visit Lesson Two: Broken Treaties

Students view the OPB/OHS documentary Broken Treaties, An Oregon Experience (59:19 mins) to gain insight into the history of Oregon’s Native peoples over the past 200 years.

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Post-Visit Lesson Three: Indigenous Oregon Today

Students research a contemporary Indigenous person, place, or event in Oregon and complete a research sheet to share their findings.

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Post-Visit Lesson Four: Complete Maps

Students return to the maps they created during the pre-visit lessons and add facts they recorded during the visit and other finishing details.

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Optional Lesson

Optional Lesson: Mapping Trade

Students learn about Celilo Falls, The Dalles Rendez-Vous, and the significance of these places within American trade systems through listening to interviews, observing photographs, and reading maps. Students add trade sites and routes to their personal maps.

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Thank You, Community Partners!

We would like the thank the following organizations and individuals for sharing knowledge and materials for this unit: