Teacher Notes >

Museum of Native American Cultures
A Project-based WebQuest

by Margaret Hill

Many of you may have noticed that there has been a rebirth of interest in Native American history and cultures all over the United States in recent years. This has led to a flourishing of Indian arts and to the development of many new museums. A new Native American museum is being built in your state and your class has just received the following letter from its director.


The Four Directions Institute is building a world class Native American History and Culture Museum in California. The physical structure of the museum represents the major Indian culture regions of the United States. Your team is invited to submit plans for museum displays and in this way become part of the curator staff for this new museum of America’s First Peoples.

Four Directions has been funded by various Native American organizations to create museum displays that are interactive and provide an authentic experience in learning for students of all ages. Each team will focus on only one nation within a specific Native American culture region including: Eastern Woodland Peoples (north and south), Great Plains Cultures, Pacific Northwest Cultures, California Indians, and Pueblo People of the Southwest.

The interactive display that the team constructs needs to have the following in order to be approved by the museum board:

  • a map of the region in which the people lived
  • representations of the economy or material culture of the people including food production and consumption, housing, tools and weapons, clothing
  • significant customs or religious practices
  • an example of one of the stories, myths or legends
  • significant person, event, or leader and a timeline

The display may be a mix of posters, PowerPoint, audio recordings, artifacts, etc.

The displays will be presented in two weeks and selected based on quality. We look forward to receiving your submissions.


Four Directions Institute


Step 1:
Divide the class into teams so that there is at least one team per culture region. If the class is large, assign two or more teams to a culture region but to different Indian nations within that region.

Assignments within the teams:

One Cartographer or mapmaker
Literature/legend researcher and transcriber
Anthropologist of Native American food and housing
Anthropologist of Native American weapons and clothing
Anthropologist of Native American beliefs, customs and culture

The team selects a head researcher to manage the sources and assign specific tasks. Also select one member to serve as the art coordinator supervising the creation of the posters and artifact replica displays.

Step 2:
Clear off a section of wall or bulletin board for creation and display of the team’s posters. Arrange for computer time for online research. Select books and articles from the library.

Step 3:
Create a team workfolder with a list of tasks assigned to each person, due dates, and note sheets. Hold a team planning meeting at the beginning of each work session. Review progress and assign those who have completed work to assist those team members needing help. Debrief the last few minutes of the work session. Collect papers and notes in the work folder and hand it in to the teacher. Assign tasks for outside of class.

Step 4:
Prepare poster displays. Using chart paper and markers create a map http://abcteach.com/Maps/northamer.htm showing the region that your Indian nation occupied (at its highest point). In an inset show the type of land or terrain and climate.

Write out an introduction (about 250 words) describing key points about the history of the people and a general summary of their culture (where they lived, how they made their living, and anything else that would “describe” the people to others.) Transcribe it to the chart paper.

Make a chart from foam board, tag board or chart paper for each topic: housing, food, clothing, tools, etc. You may combine the topics if appropriate (a single representation of a person at work might show both clothing and tools.) You may enlarge and then cut and paste pictures from books or the Internet as long as you add descriptive text. Alternately you may create a “persona doll” (which is shaped like a gingerbread figure) and “dress” the doll in drawn-on clothing or items created from cloth or construction paper and pasted on the doll. Use either of these techniques for the other posters as well.

Alternate Step 4
Prepare PowerPoint presentation following the directions in the software program. Only use this strategy if you have the equipment needed to project the site on a large screen or through the TV monitor.

Step 5
Present your display to the Museum Board (rest of your class or visiting teachers or parents.) Each person on the team presents the part of the display that they created. The research team leader provides an introduction and directs questions at the end of the presentation to the member of the team who researched that topic.


Web Resources:

Map of the Pre-Columbian Indian Macro-Cultures
Click on the region for list of common characteristics for Native American peoples of that macro-culture. Print out and create a poster of the map for the entrance to the classroom museum.
Cliff Dwellers and Pueblo People
Pueblo Indian History
Here is an annotated timeline fo Pueblo Indian history from approximately 10,000 B.C. to the present. Included are descriptions of five stages of Pueblo life including: Pueblo I (A.D. 750–900), Pueblo II (A.D. 900–1150), Pueblo III (A.D. 1150–1300), and Pueblo IV (A.D. 1300–1600), and Pueblo V (A.D. 1600–present). Standard 5.1.1

Of Stone and Stories: Pueblitos of the Dinetah
This site begins with a Dinetah creation story and then provides well illustrated information on Indian people of the southwest including pueblito architecture, clothing, tools, etc. History of New Spain and a timeline showing Indian events alongside European ones is very helpful. There are two sections on archaeology. Standards 5.1.1 and 5.1.2

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
This page is working with nineteen pueblos in the Southwest to provide historical and cultural information. In addition to links to individual pueblos, there is overview information about pueblo people as a whole. Standards 5.1.1 and 5.1.2

Plains Indians
Blackfeet History and Culture
Like many of the Great Plains tribes, the Blackfeet originally lived far to the east in the area north of the Great Lakes. It is thought they even ranged as far east as Labrador, so anthropologists sometimes classify them in prehistory as one of the eastern woodlands tribes. This site discusses their history and includes some of their stories, a timeline, and biographies of important leaders.

Historic Native Americans in the Mississippi Valley
This University of Arkansas site has a brief, clearly written history of the major nations of the Mississippi valley including the Osage, Caddo, and Chickasaw.

At The Osage Village Council
This link is to a WebQuest for fourth grade students in which there are useful links to resources about the history and culture of the Osage people as well as the Treaty of 1808.

Buffalo and The People
This short article by Emma I. Hansen, Curator of the Plains Indian Museum describes the importance of the buffalo to the Plains Indian culture and economy both before and after the arrival of the Europeans. Standard 5.1.3

Dakota, Lakota, Nakota, and Anishinabe People
Written by the Minnesota historical Society, this site provides a brief overview of the history, culture and key leaders of the Dakota, Lakota, Nakota, and Anishinabe nations.

Western Apache
This article from the Encyclopedia of North American Indians describes much about the history, culture, and interactions with Europeans by the Western Apache people.
Eastern Woodlands
Iroquois History
This site, written by Lee Sultzman of the Old Fort Johnson French and Indian War museum, describes the history and culture of the Iroquios people at the time of European settlement. Like most Indian names, Iroquois came from others. The Iroquois call themselves Haudenosaunee meaning "people of the long house." There is a wealth of information here. Standard 5.1.1, 5.1.2, 5.1.3, and 5.3.3

History of the Choctaw Nation
Select History for the navigation bar. Then you will find a list of chiefs, interviews, the Choctaw Trail of Tears, the Code Talkers, national history and Oklahoma history. Standard 5.1 all, 8.8.2, and 8.12.3

The Cherokee Nation
This official Cherokee site has primary sources and historical information about the Cherokee people. Included are oral histories, the text of more than ten treaties, a 1716 price list of goods priced in deer hides. There is particular detail on the Trail of Tears and the Civil War.

Oneida Nation Culture and History
This Oneida Nation site traces the history of the people with specifics about the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and also legends and stories of the people.

Scenes from the Eastern Woodlands: Virtual Tour 1550
In brief, clear language support by detailed color drawings, this site explains what life was like among Eastern Woodlands people in the mid 1500s. There are pages on building wigwams, making pottery, hunting and much more. It links to other technologies and arts for Eastern Woodlands peoples.

Traditional Stories, Legends and Myths of Southeastern Tribes
Seminole Legend of Grey Bear from a handsome book of traditional stories by storyteller Betty Jumper. Seminole Creation Story, as told by James E. Billie. Choctaw: Why the Possum Has a Large Mouth told at Bayou Lacombe sometime in the early 1900's. Cherokee: Why Possum's Tail is Hairless from website that has a collection of info about possums and skunks. Cherokee Myth of the Crane, by Tom Belt. The Origin of Disease and Medicine A Cherokee story from the on-line Cherokee Messenger, transcribed from James Mooney, 1890, Myths and Legends of the Cherokee. Cherokee Bear Story From MasterCard International World-wide Stories, source, teller unidentifiable.

Traditional Stories, Legends and Myths of the Woodland Tribes
Here are over twenty traditional stories from the indigenous nations of the northeastern America.
Pacific Northwest
Library of Congress-American Memory Collection
American Indians of the Pacific Northwest

This digital collection integrates over 2,300 photographs and 7,700 pages of text relating to the American Indians in two cultural areas of the Pacific Northwest, the Northwest Coast and Plateau. These resources illustrate many aspects of life and work, including housing, clothing, crafts, transportation, education, and employment. The materials are drawn from the extensive collections of the University of Washington Libraries, the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture (formerly the Cheney Cowles Museum/Eastern Washington State Historical Society), and the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

A History of the Northwest Coast
This history is written as a hotlinked timeline of European-Indian interactions beginning in 1774. The links lead to explanations of the economy of the Indian northwest, native stories, key people and more.
Northwest Plateau
Nez Perce Indian History
This brief site provides an overview of Nez Perce history and links to other historical and cultural information.
Native American Documents Project
This is an interactive online version of the California section of the 1952 compilation of ethnographic by John R. Swanton, The Indian Tribes of North America, with an extensive introduction. Information about native groups can be accessed by clicking on their names on two maps, one for Northern California, the other for Southern California.

View from Native California: Lifeways of California's Indigenous People
This history by Tad Beckman, Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, describes the indigenous people of California and how they adapted to the state's widely diverse environmental regions. Indians developed small communities that were largely sedentary and cooperative societies, woven intimately into micro ecological niches. The terrain available in California was so varied that even larger tribal territories tended to split up into tribelet domains in which small collections of communities developed cultural traditions that suited their own particular environments. In all there were more than one hundred different tribes and tribelets in California with thoroughly developed, distinctive languages and cultural traditions.

California Indians
This site is organized around three basic topics: an Historical Sketch; Culture Areas; and Medical Practices. The Historical Sketch traces the social and cultural evolution of the native peoples, beginning with their first appearance and ending with the contemporary scene. The Culture Area section takes a look at the manifold economic and social adaptations made by the native peoples just prior to and shortly after the coming of the Europeans. The last topic, and it's a broad one, is Medical Practices of the Native Californians. In this section we will examine the roles of health care providers, concentrating on how plants were used in maintaining and restoring health to both the individual and the community.

Four Directions Institute: California Indians
Here is a list of over 40 California tribes with a map, a brief history and timeline, and related resources links with cultural information for each group.

California Indian Baskets
This site has California Indian artifacts for sale, especially Indian baskets from northern California. The clear, detailed pictures may be enlarged for whole class projection. There is much here for the classroom but be careful not to inadvertently buy something.

Federally Recognized California Tribes
This California map shows counties in pale colors for reference. For the listing of California recognized tribes as published in November 1996 in the Federal Register.

Traditional Stories, Legends and Myths
How Coyote Stole Fire: A California Karok tale, typed as retold in Virginia Haviland's North American Indian Legends, 1916.
General Sources
Encyclopedia of North American Indians
This is a general reference site on American Indians with hundreds of articles about Native Americans by individual, tribe, topic, organization, etc. The articles are written by scholars and usually have bibliographies to guide further research.

Native Americans and the United States Government: A Guide to Sources
Since Native Americans inhabited the North American continent for thousands of years prior to European colonization, their special status as the original proprietors of the land largely defined their eventual relationships with the United States government.

University of Missouri Columbia: Museum of Anthropology
The Museum's ethnographic collection comprises items representing historic native cultures of North America. The Native American collection includes items from Arctic, Southwestern, Plains, Northwest Coast, and Eastern Woodlands groups.


Children’s Books:

Bonvillain, Nancy and Frank W. Porter. The Hopi. Chelsea House.

Bruchac, Joseph. First Strawberries: A Cherokee Story, How the Chipmunk Got His Stripes, Puffin
Bruchac, Joseph. Flying with the Eagle, Racing the Great Bear: Stories from Native North America. Troll.
Bruchac, Joseph. Native American Stories. Fulcrum.
Bruchac, Joseph. Turkey Brother, and Other Tales: Iroquois Folk Stories (The Crossing Press Series of Children's Stories). Crossing Press.

Burby, Liza N. and David Shirley. The Pueblo Indians. Chelsea House.

Claro, Nicole. The Apache Indians (Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.
Claro, Nicole. The Cherokee Indians. Chelsea House.

Cohlene, Terri. Clamshell Boy: A Makah Legend, Dancing Drum: A Cherokee Legend, Little Firefly: An Algonquian Legend, Ka Ha Si and The Loon: An Eskimo Legend, Quillworker: A Cheyenne Legend, Turquoise Boy: A Navajo Legend, Watermill Press.

Dolan, Terrance. The Kiowa Indians (The Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.
Dolan, Terrance. The Shawnee Indians. Chelsea House.
Dolan, Terrance and N. Bonvillain. The Santee Sioux Indians. Chelsea House.
Dolan, Terrance. The Teton Sioux Indians. Chelsea House.

Dramer, Kim. The Shoshone (Indians of North America). Chelsea House.

Fowler, Loretta, The Arapaho (The Indians of North America), Chelsea House.

Franklin, Robert. The Paiute. (The Indians of North America), Chelsea House.

Haluska, Vicki, The Arapaho Indians (The Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.

Hendrickson , Ann-Marie. The Blackfeet Indians. Chelsea House.

Hubbard-Brown, Janet. The Mohawk Indians (The Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.
Hubbard-Brown, Janet and Martin Mooney. The Comanche Indians (The Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.

Koestler-Grack, Rachel A. This series of brief nonfiction books about Native Americans by Blue Earth Books includes: The Cherokee: Native Basket Weavers, The Choctaw: Stickball Players of the South, The Iroquois: Longhouse Builders, The Seminole: Patchworkers of the Everglades, The Sioux: Nomadic Buffalo Hunters, and The Inuit: Ivory Carvers of the Far North

Koslow , Philip. The Seminole Indians (The Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.

McDaniel , Melissa and Catherine Iannone. The Powhatan Indians (Junior Library of American Indians), Chelsea House.

McDermott, Gerald. Coyote. Voyager Books.
McDermott, Gerald. Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale, Raven Legend of the Trickster form the Pacific Northwest. Harcourt.

Moss, Nathaniel, B. The Shoshone Indians (Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.

Nicholson, Robert. The Sioux (Journey into Civilization), Chelsea House.

Rifkin, Mark. The Nez Perce Indians (The Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.

San Souci, Robert D. Song of Sedna [Eskimo].Yearling Picture Book.

Scordato, Ellen. The Creek Indians (Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.

Sears, Bryan P. and G. S. Prentzas. The Hopi Indians. Chelsea House.

Sherrow, Victoria. The Iroquois Indians (Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.

Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. The “First Americans Book” series by Holiday House, 1995-1997. has short, accurate and readable books on Native American nations, including: The Apaches, The Cherokees, The Cheyenne, The Hopis, The Iroquois, The Nez Perce, and The Sioux.

Sonneborn, Liz. The Cheyenne Indians (The Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.

Schwabacher, Martin. The Chumash Indians (The Junior Library of American Indians). Chelsea House.

Trafzer, Clifford E. The Nez Perce (Indians of North America). Chelsea House.
Trafzer, Clifford E. Yakima, Palouse, Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Wanapum Indians. Chelsea House.

Williams, Jack S., Thomas L. Davis, and Heather Feldman,. This is a new series of books by Powerkids Press on California Indians including some not yet published, including: The Chumash of California, The Esselen of California, The Luiseno of California, The Miwok of California , The Modoc of California and Oregon, The Mono of California, The Mojave of California and Arizona, The Ohlone of California, The Pomo of California, The Shasta of California , The Shoshone of California, and The Tongva of California

Wood, Leigh Hope. The Navajo Indians (Junior Library Series), Chelsea House.


Learning Advice:

  • The introduction should grab the reader in the first line or two so that they will want to study the display and learn about this specific Indian culture group.

  • Remember that in museum displays, the written text must be short, clear, and tied specifically to the chart, artifact, map etc.

  • Be as authentic as possible in color, texture, and size for your drawn or artifact displays.


Each student will be evaluated based on the part of the project he/she contributed. Each part of the project will be evaluated on the following criteria:

Historical/cultural accuracy – 60%

  • Uses and cites two or more sources
  • Accurate detail for the assigned Native American nation

Quality of display presentations– 25%

  • Use Color and Design
  • Writing is clear and grammatically correct

Oral Presentations – 15%

  • Presenter’s knowledge of subject matter
  • Clarity of presentation

[For teachers: It is recommended that the teacher also evaluate intra-group cooperation based on day-to-day working of the group and how well the students performed their assigned roles.]



The hundreds of thousands of Indian people who called North America home before and after European contact had rich and varied cultures. With well over 500 separate nations, it is overwhelming to study each nation individually. It becomes not only more possible but more comprehensible when the study is organized around similar macro-culture groups, such as Eastern Woodland Peoples (north and south), Great Plains Cultures, Pacific Northwest Cultures, California Indians, and Pueblo People of the Southwest. Though there are distinct similarities among the nations within these culture groups, it is also true that there are significant differences in local customs, beliefs, social, economic, and political life which some of you have explored. The museum displays you have created for your classroom now represent a sampling of the incredibly rich contributions and the fascinating cultures and histories of the First Americans.


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