Retracing Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery Expedition
Each year classrooms across the U.S. study, re-enact, and celebrate the Lewis and Clark expedition, a journey that has become an emblematic symbol of American fortitude and courage. While there are many aspects of the “Corps of Discovery” worthy of commemoration—the triumph over geographical obstacles, the appreciation and cataloging of nature, and the epic proportions of the journey—this is only part of the history.
Lewis and Clark: The Impact on Indigenous People
While Lewis and Clark regarded the West as territory “on which the foot of civilized man had never trodden,” this land had been home for centuries to millions of Native Americans from over 170 nations. For the descendants of these people, celebrations of the Corps of Discovery mark the onset of an era of brutal repression, genocide and the destruction of their culture.
About this Curriculum Unit
The lesson plans in this curriculum unit take an in-depth look at the history of U.S. expansion and Indian policy, and present the voices and perspectives of Native Americans on the Lewis and Clark expedition. These materials offer an alternative viewpoint on an often-glorified era, and call attention to the dangers of ethnocentric and one-sided versions of history.
In South Dakota, a group re-enacting the Lewis and Clark expedition was confronted by American Indian leaders who questioned the legacy of the journey and its effects. “All [they] did by coming up into our territory is open old wounds,” commented a Lakota member of the delegation. “You are re-enacting the coming of death to our people.”
As educators plan historical commemorations into their curriculum each year, it is critical that they incorporate lessons that encourage curricula that encourage multiple perspectives and values, reduce cultural encapsulation and highlight the experiences of those who have been traditionally marginalized in history. This unit offers a prime opportunity to model such an approach.
About the Lessons Plans
Elementary (Grades 4-5)
This lesson introduces students to the role Native Americans played during the Lewis and Clark expedition and the impact of westward expansion on indigenous people. During this experience, students interact with a variety of maps to learn about the growth of the U.S. during the 1800s, illustrate their ideas about early encounters between white explorers and Native Americans, and read about the ways in which native peoples contributed to the success and survival of the Lewis and Clark mission. Through quotes, art, literature and reflective writing, students also explore contemporary native perspectives on Lewis and Clark and stereotypes about Native Americans.
Middle Schools (Grades 6-8)
The purpose of this lesson is to heighten student awareness about the different vantage points from which history can be viewed and to offer an alternative perspective on the impact of the Lewis and Clark expedition and western settlement on Native Americans. During this investigation, students learn about the experiences of the Cheyenne as a case study for understanding the U.S. policy of Indian removal during the 19th century. Students also explore selected pieces from the art exhibit, Reflecting on Lewis and Clark: Contemporary American Indian Viewpoints.
Analyzing Primary Source Documents to Understand U.S. Expansionism and 19th Century U.S.-Indian Relations
High School (Grades 11-12)
Students examine the impact of the Lewis and Clark expedition and westward expansion on the lives of Native Americans. During this investigation, students analyze the letters and speeches of Thomas Jefferson in order to gain an understanding of U.S. objectives for the Lewis and Clark expedition, U.S.-Indian relations and plans for U.S. expansion. Readings about the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny extend student learning about the religious and political underpinnings of expansionism. Students are presented with the perspectives of contemporary Native Americans through a speech by Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and a song by a Cherokee rap artist, and engage in a research project to learn more about contemporary native culture and issues.