Native Americans: Through Others' Eyes

Hook | Questions | Procedures | Data Investigation | Analysis | Findings | New Questions

Student Page

Michelle Yepiz
Georgi Gutierrez
Rebecca Wood


The student page contains the hook only. It is intended to spark interest in the topic and lead students to ask questions or make predictions.

Native American


Students will begin the unit by creating a class KWL chart about settlers views of Native Americans.  They will complete the "Know" and "Want to Know" sections of the chart.  Next, the teacher will invite a guest speaker from Jamul Indian Village (phone# 619-669-4785) to speak about the history of the Kumeyaay Indians in Southern California.  As part of the series, "Bringing the Past to Life," the speaker will provide specific information and answer students' questions relating to historical perspective and others' views of Native Americans.  Following the presentation, the students' will add to the "Want to Know" section of the KWL.

Native American

Imagine that you are a settler; you have just moved to an area that is inhabited by Native Americans; their customs are vastly different than your own.  What are your opinions of these new people? How will those views affect your treatment of Native Americans? A Native American from the Jamul Indian Village will be coming to your town to speak to you about their customs and culture.  After the presentation, some questions you might ponder are:

  • What were your preliminary thoughts about Native Americans?
  • What did you learn from the guest speaker?
  • Did the guest speaker change any of your views?

Now is the time to investigate primary source artifacts which illustrate early American and foreign views of Native Americans. Use the Bancroft Library: Images of Native Americans Exhibit to begin your investigation.


Students might ask similar but different questions than those listed here. The more students are guided to ask specific questions, the less inquiry-oriented the activity.

The goal of this project is for students to learn about American and foreign views of Native Americans.  The students will also come to understand how those views affected their relationships.  Students will search through a pre-selected primary source documents including oil prints, periodical articles and personal letters to answer the main question.
  • What views did the settlers hold of Native Americans and how did those views affect the way the settlers treated them?
These questions will allow students to synthesize information through a variety of media.
  1. How were Native Americans viewed in American literature?
  2. How were Native Americans viewed in American arts?
  3. How were Native Americans viewed through foreign media?
  4. How were the Native Americans treated by the settlers?


After students have asked questions related to the topic, they will need to decide a number of things, including:

  • Type(s) of data needed to answer the questions
  • Defining important terms
  • Choosing tools for data manipulation
  • Defining how data will be manipulated and presented

Type(s) of Data

Students will  use the Bancroft Online Library's Native American Exhibit to examine:

  • art work (oil prints, paintings, cartoons and sketches)
  • periodical articles
  • letters
  • journal entries.

Defining Important Terms (From Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

Native American - a member of any of the aboriginal peoples of the western hemisphere except usually the Eskimos; especially : an American Indian of North America and especially the U.S.

Settlers - people who settle an area; establish a residence

Foreign - 1: situated outside a place or country; especially : situated outside one's own country 2 : born in, belonging to, or characteristic of some place or country other than the one under consideration

Aboriginal - being the first or earliest known of its kind present in a region

Perspective - The capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance and to view your own task in a larger framework

Media - a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression

Investigation Tool(s)

The students will need access to Inspiration to create a concept map. They will need some kind of  word processing program to describe their thinking. They will use a K-W-L chart to  organize class information.

Manipulating Data

The students will work in groups to create  concept maps that organizes their findings into the subquestions which  they came up with. The students should use the program to add any notes about their thoughts or impressions concerning the primary source documents they encounter. Each student will use the word processing program to write an individual description of their own investigative process. This should also include each student's impressions and reflections of the investigation.  As a class the students will work together to create a K-W-L chart. At the beginning of the exploration the students will complete the "K" and the "W" part of the chart. As the investigation continues, the class will add to the "L" section.

Data Investigation

There is often a giant leap from defining the type(s) of data desired and actually finding the data. Providing guidance to students in finding the necessary data may be necessary.

  • .Students will use the Bancroft online library exhibit about Native Americans.


Raw data/information usually has to be manipulated before it can answer any questions. Students might be unaware of how data can best be manipulated, so teacher guidance may be appropriate.

After watching a class presentation delivered by a Kumeyaay tribe member, we began to wonder how the settlers that we had recently learned about viewed Native Americans. We wondered why they viewed them in those ways and how those views affected the way the settlers treated them. Because we were curious about the topic we visited a website about Native Americans. We started by looking at the various pictures and reading some of the primary source documents that we found in the DRC. After looking through the information we began to formulate a specific question. The question that we became most intrigued by was, “What view did the settlers hold of Native Americans and how did those views affect the way the settlers treated them?” After settling on that question we were then prompted to ask some more specific, subtopic questions. The first question we formulated was, “How are Native Americans portrayed in American Literature?” The second question we wrote was, “How are Native Americans portrayed in American art?” The third question we poised was “How are Native American portrayed in foreign media?” The last question we asked was, “How were the Native Americans treated by the settlers?”

Our next step was to create a concept map which organized our questions. We put the main question in the center and then we connected the four questions as links. We returned to the DRC to find specific answers to our questions. (For a larger map click here.)

Concept Map 1

By looking at some of the specific primary source documents we were able to infer how Americans and foreigners viewed Native Americans in literature and the arts. We brainstormed and rapid fire listed our thoughts on these in subtopic questions listed above to expand the concept map. As we looked through the DRC we found many wonderful links that gave us insight into the answer to our questions. We looked at each link and discussed the importance of each site. We discussed if we felt they were beneficial. We kept our focus on the primary source documents that were created during the earlier years. We felt that these would give us a more accurate portrayal of the settlers’ views. We discovered many great documents and pictures. As we came to each link that we liked we wrote down the exact link and described the pictures and our discussions. We then added information to our concept map based on the discussions we had.

This is an American short story written in 1841. It depicts the “injun” as a mode for comedy with no regard for the fact that the “injuns” are human beings. This link helped us to understand that during these times Native Americans were not thought of as human. They were considered barbaric and animal-like. It was easy for settlers to treat the Native Americans badly and abuse them because they were not considered equal to the settlers. Along with the short story (which is written in non-standard spelling) are some drawings. The drawings depict the settlers as handsome and brave while the Native Americans are depicted as cowardly and stupid. We discussed some stories we have heard like this and why we think stories like this became so popular. We added some ideas onto our concept map, namely “animal-like” and “barbaric” after looking at this picture and reading the document.


The second picture in the American artwork portrays Native Americans as being “drunken blights upon civilization.”  Along with the quotes from the artist one comes to understand that Native Americans were often seen as lazy “savages.” We discussed the impact such views had on Native Americans. We also tried to decide why such views came into play.

This American artwork link has pictures that portray Native Americans as “blood-thirsty” savages. The pictures make the settlers appear as if they are innocently trying to travel along and then, for no apparent reason, the Native Americans attack them. While looking at this link we discussed possible reasons why the Native Americans might have attacked the settlers and why the settlers might have perceived the attacks as unprovoked.  We continued to add ideas to our concept map.

This picture represents a foreign view of Native American Indians. In this picture we see three Indians in a very crude form; the mother is barefoot, holding the hand of a naked child, emphasizing the uncivilized nature of mothering and society. All of the people have very dark skin, perhaps exaggerated to emphasize the difference between them and the artists of white, European descent. A class statement is also being made here, that the Indians were low class by virtue of their different parenting practices and social structure. The man is also very dark, and almost naked. He holds a small axe and a rifle, suggesting Indians are a very violent people. One would extrapolate that he would potentially either scalp you or shoot you, either way he is ready to kill. This picture definitely depicts Indians as crude, barbaric, and uncivilized. We can see from this picture that like American art, foreign European art can be similar in depicting a pejorative, exaggeratedly violent perception of Native American Indians.

 Native American

This painting by a Swiss artist really accentuates the savagery of Native American culture. The painting depicts the Indians in an orgy of violence, with full headdress, tomahawks, spears, shields one could gather that part of Indian culture is based around fighting, and that Indians are definitely not a peaceful people. The Indians are so violent they appear to be dancing naked and fighting with each other. The chaos shown through this painting could be seen as a reflection of Indian life in general.

This portrait of Crockett (a white man) boiling a dead Indian with his bear expresses to its viewers the way the settlers dehumanize the Native Americans.  It is apparent through this literature that the Native Americans were looked at as animals.  This story speaks of a family that took in a baby bear and raised him.  The bear became part of the family and became sick.  Crockett went out and shot an Indian to cook for the bear.  This exemplifies that the Indians life is of no importance.  The bear’s life was of greater value than the Indian that was shot, killed and cooked for him.

This almanac cover from 1852 portrays savage animals with an Indian.  In this picture, there are wild animals with an Indian fighting one another.  While viewing this picture, we noticed that the Indian fits in with the animals and seems to fight like a wild animal himself.  After viewing this picture, we discussed that the Native Americans must have been feared for they are depicted as brave but vicious beings.  While searching through these sites we continually added to our concept maps. At first we focused primarily on the two questions about American views. (For a larger map click here.)

Concept Map 2

We examined those documents and artworks and added to our concept map based on those perceptions. Our next concept map illustrates how we continued to add to our concept map after looking at the foreign views. (For a larger map click here. )

Concept Map 3

For our ideas about how the Native Americans were treated we used various examples from many of the sites. After we added all of our ideas to our map, we organized it to make it easier to understand. (For a larger map click here.)

Concept Map 4

After viewing these pictures and documents we came to the realization that settlers held a very negative view of the Native Americans. We determined that the settlers then treated the Native Americans quite unjustly. From the pictures and documents we began to understand that Native Americans suffered greatly because of those biased views. Many of the pictures and documents that we examined depicted the Native American as being “animalistic, barbaric” and “savage.” The views of settlers were definitely negative.

Native American portrait

From the primary source documents outlined above we discovered that settlers did not view the Native Americans as being human; they were not equal to the settlers. The story about Davey Crockett is especially telling of this fact. This document illustrated the fact that Native Americans could be killed and no one would think twice about the event. After completing this WIP, we continued to formulate new questions. We felt compelled to continue to search out more complex answers to our beginning questions. We had discussions about what the actual consequences of those opinions were. We wanted to know more about what actually happened to the Native Americans. We found a great deal of information pertaining to the views of the settlers and we wanted to know more about the consequences of those negative views.


No result is meaningful unless communicated appropriately. Discussion of findings should be supported. There may or may not be definitive answers to the questions students raised.

  • The class will have a completed K-W-L chart which chronicles the class's process from what they knew to what they learned.
  • Each group will have a concept map which outlines important primary source documents they discovered and any other pertinent information they found to be useful from the DRC (similar to the above examples).
  • Each student will submit a word processed document which details their individual experience and impressions (similar to the above analysis).

Possible New Questions

Answers often lead to new questions, starting the inquiry cycle over again.

After students complete the investigative procedure, they might be lead to ponder  additional questions about this topic. Some questions the students might ask are:

  • What were Native American's views of the settlers? 
  • What were specific consequences of the settlers' negative views?
  • How did the Native Americans react to the negative treatment from the settlers?