US-Development and Struggles in the West: Dawes Act

Lesson Plans – Middle School

4 | US-Development and Struggles in the West, Industrialization, Immigration, and Urbanization

Indian Land Tenure Curriculum (Dawes Act)

US History Curriculum
OSPI Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum for the Social Studies

Historical Era

1776 – 1815 Conflict and Alliance | 1801 – 1850 Indian Removal| 1850 – 1877 Treaty Era| 1870 – 1900 Assimilation | 1900 – Present Termination to Self-Determination

Corresponding CBA:

Constitutional Issues

Essential Questions:


Common Core State Standards

Grade 8_US_Indian Land Tenure Dawes Act_CCSS

Asset List



Video Content

Corresponding Chapters from the Regional Learning Project’s Required Curriculum Materials:

Chapter 9

DVD: Tribal Perspectives of American History in the Northwest

Study Guide

DVD Chapter List

The DVD (75 minutes total running time) is divided into nine chapters that range from 3 to 27 minutes in length, listed here with time codes for each:

Chapter 1: Introduction (4:15 minutes)

Chapter 2: History Through Oral Tradition (7:20 min)

Chapter 3: Before Contact (6:55 min)

Chapter 4: First Contact (10:00 min)

Chapter 5: Advent of the Fur Trade and its Consequences (7:20 min)

Chapter 6: Missionaries and Early Settlers (6:50 min)

Chapter 7: The Treaties (27:00 min)

Chapter 8: Treaty Aftermath – Nez Perce Story (5:30 min)

Chapter 9: Reflections (3:55 min)

Corresponding Chapters from the Regional Learning Project’s Required Curriculum Materials:

Chapter 3

DVD: Contemporary Voices Along the Lewis and Clark Trail

Study Guide

DVD Chapter List

The DVD (28 minutes running time) is divided into five chapters that range from 3 to 10

minutes each, as follows:

Chapter 1: Introduction (9:10 minutes)

Chapter 2: Early Contact and its Consequences (3:00 min)

Chapter 3: Language (3:45 min)

Chapter 4: Respect (7:00 min)

Chapter 5: Continuity (5:00 min)

Student Examples/projects
Lesson Overview

Lesson Overview content goes here.

Level 1

Lesson 1 content goes here.

Level 2

US Development and Struggles in the West , Industrialization, Immigration, and Urbanization – Level 2

GLE’s Covered:  US History 4.1.2 Part Four

In Level Two Students will:

  • Review the level one newsletter and crossword about the Dawes Act
  • Understand the current ramifications of the Dawes Act’s placing of lands into trust
  • Understand that creating general allotments runs counter to the cultural and spiritual traditions of the Pacific Northwest and other Indian people

Step One:

Teachers should review the OSPI Native Perspectives Newsletter on the General Allotment, or Dawes, Act.  Teachers should review the original intentions of the act and may want to discuss the ramifications of the Act on tribal sovereignty for Pacific Northwest tribes.

Step Two:

Teachers will introduce tribal origin story curriculum that helps explain the importance of Indian people’s relationship to the land.  An origin story is provided; however, this would be an ideal time to invite a local tribal elder to tell students about their tribes’ relationship with the land you live upon.  Once students have a better understanding of Indian peoples’ relationship with the land, the teacher should introduce the compare and contrast lesson showing the difference between the relationship Indians held with the land and the viewpoint of the US Government about land ownership and use.

Lesson 1 – Indian Origin Story

The Indian Land Tenure website has a wonderful set of lessons focused on the connection Indian people have with the land.  Several lessons are included on the Web Site and you are encouraged to use them.

For the purposes of this lesson you will be using the lesson for Standard 1, Lesson 1 found here: .  As stated in the Indian Land Tenure curriculum, “The survival and successful continuation of American Indian tribal societies is dependent upon their abilities to know and retain special connections to their homelands.”

This lesson will help students understand that unlike much of Western society, the relationship between Indian people and land is the foundation of Indian societies. The expectation for this lesson is to invite a member of your local Tribe to your classroom.  This is an opportunity for that tribal member to talk with students about the historical relationship of their tribe with the land on which your community is built, including its plant and animal species, hunting and fishing grounds, etc.

 Lesson Two – Land Tenure in the Context of Your Local Tribe(s):

In the mid-nineteenth century, the clash of Indian and European visions of land ownership came to a head with the continued encroachment of settlers onto Indian territories.  One of the most important pieces of legislation in the United States’ control over Indian tribes was the Dawes Act.

For lesson two, you will introduce students to the Dawes act’s division of Indian land into family allotments.  The Indian Land Tenure curriculum used for this lesson is Standard 2, Lesson four, found here:  The lesson is well thought out and self explanatory.  Please take time to familiarize yourself with the lesson prior to introduction to the class.  The lesson suggests that students perform a case study of their local tribe and other tribes they are interested.  Complete information on the allotment of tribal land in Washington State is provided in a link to the lesson plan.  It may also be helpful for you to include tribes frequently mentioned in US History texts during the post Civil War era (i.e. OSPI US History GLE 4.1.2 ).  Follow the websites instructions for evaluation of student learning.

Level 3

US Development and Struggles in the West, Industrialization, Immigration, and Urbanization – Level 3

GLE’s Covered: History 4.1.2 Part Four, 4.1.4; Civics 1.3.1; Economics 2.1.1

In level three, students will:

  • Review lessons one and two on the allotment of Indian lands
  • Understand the impact of Indian “reformers” on Indian land allotment policies in the United States.
  • Understand the “idealism and motivation behind the Dawes act and the reaction of Indian peoples to the carving-up of their lands.”
  • Use the Indian Land Tenure Foundation’s lessons on the Dawes Act.  For a copy, click on the following link and scroll down to Level 3: INDIAN LAND TENURE DAWES ACT LESSONS

Step One:

Teachers should review level’s one and two prior to implementing level three curriculum.  Level Three offers a deeper understanding of both the Dawes act and the motivation behind the creation of the act by non Indian reformers seeking to “save” the Indian people.  The lesson plan is included on the Indian Land Tenure site, however a direct link to the lesson, through NebraskaStudies.Org, is provided here:  (Note:  the hyperlink on the Land Tenure website is no longer active.)  Please note that some of the lesson activities focus specifically on Nebraska state history – as the focus of our unit is US History, this should not deter you from use of the lesson which provides valuable insights into the thinking of both Indians and whites during this era.

This website offers two options for introducing the Dawes act lesson to students.  Both introductions are powerful and I would suggest that using both would be appropriate as you introduce students to the deeper meaning of the Dawes act and its consequences for native people.  Option one requires only a handout and/or overhead projector, while option two offers lyrics to songs that are easily accessible through many online music sources.

Step Two – Student Evaluation:

Two evaluative tools are provided on the Nebraska Studies website for checking your students understanding of the Dawes act.  In addition, the website suggest extension activities that are useful for creating personal connections to the topic.  Extension activity #5 would be an especially rich and rigorous extension to the evaluation process.

In addition, if the required Civics CBA has already been addressed at the middle level, consider using either the “Why History” or “Causes of Conflict” CBA structure to implement an evaluation of student’s deeper understanding of the material.  Links to these CBA’s can be found here: