Educator Resources

Federal Indian Policy

Teaching Activities

Standards Correlations

This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.

  • Era 6 -The development of the Industrial United States (1870 - 1900)
    • Standard 4A -Demonstrate understanding of various perspectives on federal Indian policy, westward expansion, and the resulting struggles.

This lesson correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.

  • Standard III.B.1 -Evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues regarding the purposes, organization, and functions of the institutions of the national government.
  • Standard III.B.2 -Evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues regarding the major responsibilities of the national government for domestic and foreign policy.
  • Standard V.B.4 -Evaluate, take, and defend positions on the relationships among personal, political, and economic rights.

Constitutional Connection

This lesson relates to the powers granted to Congress in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, related to making laws.

Cross-curricular Connections

Share this exercise with your history, government, global studies, and music colleagues.

Brainstorming/ Group Discussion

  1. Discuss with students their idea of "home." Ask students the following questions: What aromas, feelings, thoughts, and images come to mind? Is the "home" that you are envisioning the physical place where you reside currently? Why or why not? For some students, "home" may be a hangout with friends or a former residence in another town, state, or country. Some students have never moved and cannot imagine living anywhere else. Discuss with these students the idea of being homesick or being happy to be home after a long vacation. Explain to students that this lesson relates to a law that had a dramatic effect on "home" for thousands of Native Americans.

Map Analysis and Comparison

  1. Divide students into small groups of three to four, and photocopy and distribute copies of the maps of Indian Territory (Oklahoma) 1885 and 1891 and the Map Analysis Worksheet . Groups should analyze one map at a time, first the 1885 map, then the 1891 map. After they have completed the analysis sheets, direct them to compare the two maps and answer the following questions in their small groups:
    1. List the different names that are found on the maps. Where do you think these names come from? What do you think they mean?
    2. Compare the two maps. What differences do you find? Use a ruler or a scale to compare distances and sizes.
    3. How had the area changed in the years between the two maps, 1885 and 1891?
    4. How can you account for the differences?
    5. How do you think the people living there felt about these changes?
    6. Why do you think some groups remained while others did not?

    After the groups have completed the assignment, review their responses and discuss any questions that they raise. Record their questions on a piece of large poster board to refer to or explore later. Ask students to read their textbooks to find information about the purpose for establishing reservations. Instruct students, working in their groups, to list reasons for and against setting aside communal land for tribes. Ask students what problems they think would result from this federal policy.

Class Discussion

  1. Read aloud to students Section 8 of the Dawes Act and ask students to raise their hands each time they hear the name of a tribe that was mentioned on the 1891 map. Direct students to look at a present-day map of Oklahoma and compare it to the 1891 map. Ask students to predict what happened after passage of the Dawes Act that ultimately reduced the land holdings of the Five Civilized Tribes. Present students with information from the historical background essay, ask them to share any additional information they found in their textbooks, and use the information to answer the questions recorded on the posterboard in Activity 2.

Document Analysis

  1. After explaining to students that the Dawes Act prompted the changes they saw in the two maps that they compared and that subsequent acts help explain why a present-day map of Oklahoma looks much different from the 1891 map, divide students into small groups. Copy and distribute documents 3 and 4 , the Testimony of Clement V. Rogers and the Application for Allotment and Homestead of Will Rogers, to each group. Inform students that these two documents come from the 21-page enrollment case file of Will Rogers, the American humorist. Ask student groups to study the documents and list the information the Bureau of Indian Affairs required of each applicant. Ask a volunteer from each group to present the group's list to the class.

Creative Writing

  1. After analyzing the Rogers documents, instruct each student to create one of the following:
    1. a dialogue between Will Rogers and his father discussing allotment and the process for applying.
    2. a letter from a government official replying to Rogers's requests.
    3. a contemporary newspaper article on the Dawes Allotment Act.
    4. a poem from the perspective of an Indian indicating why the Indians want their tribal land to remain communal property or why they approve of the allotment process.

Artistic Interpretation

  1. Locate the music and lyrics of "Don't Drink the Water" from the Dave Matthews Band album "Before These Crowded Streets." Distribute copies of the lyrics to the students and play the song for the class. While the song is playing, instruct students to underline powerful lines or draw images that come to mind for each verse. After the song is over, ask volunteers to describe the images that came to mind. Discuss the meaning of the song and the historical comparison to the Dawes Allotment Act and the Rogers case file. Instruct students to find other examples of songs, movie clips, or art works that reflect the Indians' struggle for land and their way of life during U. S. history. Students should present their selections to the class and explain why they chose them.


  1. Direct students to select an existing reservation in the United States, research its history, and determine the circumstances that allowed it to continue to exist throughout periods of varying federal policies. Ask students to report their findings in the form of a newspaper feature story.
  2. Direct students to select a traditional society that exists in the world today. Possibilities include the Yanomamo (Brazil/ Venezuela), Aboriginies (Australia), Tarahumara (Mexico), Mbutu (Africa), and Amish (United States). Instruct students to find out where the group lives, its population statistics, and what its culture is like. Ask students to create a five-entry journal as if they were staying with and studying their selected group. Explain that their entries should include the information found during their research and should describe the relationship that exists between their group and its modern neighbors or society.

The maps included in this project are from Record Group 49, Records of the General Land Office. They are available online through the National Archives Catalog National Archives Identifiers:


The two textual documents come from Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The National Archives Catalog replaces its prototypes, the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) and NARA Archival Information Locator (NAIL). You can still perform a keyword, digitized image and location search. The online catalog's advanced functionalities also allow you to search by organization, person, or topic.

The online catalog is a searchable database that contains information about a wide variety of NARA holdings across the country. You can use the National Archives Catalog to search record descriptions by keywords or topics and retrieve digital copies of selected textual documents, photographs, maps, and sound recordings related to thousands of topics.

Currently, about 80% of NARA's vast holdings have been described in the National Archives Catalog. Thousands of digital images can be searched in the National Archives Catalog. In keeping with NARA's Strategic Plan, the percentage of holdings described in the National Archives Catalog will grow continually.

This article was written by Kerry C. Kelly, a teacher at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ.

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