Traveling Beads: American Indian Currency
Table of Contents
Museum Collections, Similar Items and Other Materials Used
National Educational Standards
Student Learning Objectives
Background and Historical Context
Teacher Tips
Lesson Implementation Procedures
Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
Extension and Enrichment Activities
Site Visit
Charts, Figures and other Teacher Materials Chart/Handouts

A. Title: Traveling Beads: American Indian Currency
  • Developer:
  • Gracie Warren, Adjunct Faculty Department of Secondary Education, Michael D. Eisner, College of Education, California State University, Northridge
  • Grade Level: Middle School (6-8)
  • Number of Sessions in the Lesson Unit Plan: 3 Lessons; Lesson 1 – 2 activities [110 minutes]; Lesson 2 – 3 activities [185 minutes]; Lesson 3 – 2 activities [110 minutes]
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B. Overview of this Collection-Based Lesson Unit Plan
  • Park Name: Manzanar National Historic Site
  • Description: This unit focuses on language arts through the exploration of the history of glass beads used for currency and ornamentation by the Owens Valley Paiute. Activities, such as journal writing, developing skits, role playing, creating art, and writing essays will give students a glimpse into the impact of early Spanish exploration, establishment of the mission system, and related trading practices. It further focuses on the connection between Paiute relocation and Japanese Americans who decades later were relocated to, and interned in the same area. Activities emphasize the impact of this westward expansion on the daily life of American Indian groups (Owens Valley Paiute) and an understanding of prejudice directed at particular groups. Students will create monetary and ornamental objects through the study of historic objects, analyze information to support the creation of these objects, and also analyze historic documents and evaluate them for language and techniques of persuasion.

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C. Museum Collections, Similar Items and other Materials Used in this Lesson Unit Plan
MUSEUM OBJECT [photos of objects in the Carl Sandburg Home NHS museum collections] SIMILAR OBJECTS [local items similar to museum objects] & OTHER MATERIALS Length of time

Lesson One: The Traveling Beads:  The Trail to Manzanar

Similar items:

  • Colored beads or buttons of different sizes and shapes.

Other materials:
Forms and Charts: Art-making materials
  • Lined paper, blank paper, card stock paper for journal cover

Two class periods or 110 minutes

Lesson Two: Let’s Make a Deal: Trade and the Owens Valley Paiute

Similar items:

  • Colored buttons of different sizes and shapes
  • Coins: equal numbers of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters in 5 plastic bags for group work
  • Inexpensive beads

Other materials:

Forms and Charts: Art-making materials
  • Sculpy (clay-like material)
  • Home oven
  • Paints


1 -3 class periods or 185 minutes

Lesson Three: Uprooted (Two Documents)

Projectile Point Exclusion Orders
Exclusion Orders  

Similar items:

Other materials:
Forms and Charts: Art-making materials
  • Sculpy (clay-like material)
  • Home oven
  • Paints

2 class periods, 110 minutes (ADVANCED)

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D. National Educational Standards

NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
NA-VA.5-8.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines
NA-T.5-8.1 Script Writing by Planning and Recording Improvisations Based on Personal Experience and Heritage, Imagination, Literature, and History
NA-VA.5-8.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
NA-VA.5-8.1 Understanding and Applying Media, Techniques, and Processes

California State Educational Standards

6th Grade

ELA  2.0 Reading Comprehension (Focus on Informational Materials): Students read and understand grade-level appropriate material.
2.4  Clarify understanding by creating graphic organizers, summaries,  etc.
2.8  Note unsupported inferences, fallacious reasoning, persuasion and propaganda
ELA  2.0  Writing Applications
2.5  Write persuasive compositions
2.5.a.  State a clear position on a proposition
2.5.b. Support the position with organized and relevant evidence
ELA  1.0  Listening and Speaking Strategies: students deliver focused, coherent
VA  2.0  Creative Expression:  Students apply artistic processes and skills, using a variety of media to communicate meaning and intent.
VA  3.0  Historical and Cultural Context
VA  5.0  Connections, Relationships, Applications:  Students apply what they learn in the visual arts to other art forms and subject areas 
PA  2.0  Creative Expression
2.2  Use effective vocal expression, gesture, etc. to create a character
2.3  Write and perform scenes that include elements of theater

7th Grade
ELA  2.0 Reading Comprehension (Focus on Informational Materials): Students read and understand grade-level appropriate material.
ELA 2.4 Identify and trace the development of an author's argument, point of view or perspective in text.
ELA  2.6  Assess the adequacy, accuracy, and appropriateness of the author's evidence;  note instances of bias and stereotyping
ELA 2.0 Writing Applications:  Students write narrative, expository, persuasive and descriptive text.
ELA 2.1  Write fictional narratives.
ELA 2.4  Write persuasive compositions.
ELA 2.5  Write summaries of reading materials.
ELA 1.0  Listening and Speaking Strategies:  Students deliver focused, coherent
presentations that convey ideas clearly.
VA  2.0  Creative Expression:  Students apply artistic processes and skills, using a variety of media to communicate meaning and intent.
VA  3.0  Historical and Cultural Context
VA  5.0  Connections, Relationships, Applications:  Students apply what they learn in the visual arts across subject areas 
PA  2.0 Creative Expression:  Students apply processes and skills in acting, directing, designing, and script writing to create formal and informal theatre.

8th Grade
ELA 2.0  Reading Comprehension (Focus on Informational Materials): Students read and understand grade-level appropriate material.
ELA  2.3  Find similarities and differences between texts
ELA 2.0  Writing Applications: Students write narrative, expository, persuasive and descriptive text.
ELA 2.2  Write responses to literature.
ELA 2.4  Write persuasive compositions
ELA 1.0  Listening and Speaking Strategies:   Students deliver focused, coherent presentations that convey ideas clearly.  They evaluate the content of oral communication.
ELA 1.8  Evaluate the credibility of a speaker (e.g. hidden agendas, slanted or biased material)
VA 2.0  Creative Expression:  Students apply artistic processes and skills, using a variety of
media to communicate meaning and intent.
VA 3.0  Historical and Cultural Context
VA 5.0  Connections, Relationships, Applications:  Students apply what they learn in the visual arts across subject areas 
PA  2.0 Creative Expression:  Students apply processes and skills in acting, directing, designing, and script writing to create formal and informal theatre.

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E. Student Learning Objectives
Students will be able to identify the impacts of early European exploration on the culture and economy of American Indians by focusing on the Owens Valley Paiute and compare and contrast the concept of “relocation” for American Indians and Japanese Americans.

Students will be able to describe historic objects using sensory vocabulary as well as compare and contrast characteristics of historic and modern objects through a variety of activities.

Students will be able to create journal entries (illustrations or stories) based upon a view point of a person or personified object.

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F. Background and Historical Context

American Indian Trade in the Owens Valley – Beads
Archeological evidence suggests that humans first entered the Owens Valley as least 12,000 years ago. Further evidence shows that these peoples inhabited locations within and around Manzanar as long as 10,000 years ago. It appears that these early peoples moved frequently, maintaining base camps along creeks and meadows and made frequent short-term camps in desert scrub locations. Higher elevations were used for hunting and plant gathering.

Euro-American exploration in the Owens Valley began in 1829 when Peter Ogden, a trapper with Hudson’s Bay Company, entered the area. When the Euro-Americans came to the Owens Valley, the Owens Valley Paiute also known as Numu (the people) were already living here. Previously established trade routes allowed the Numu [Owens Valley Paiute] to continue to exchange items of value with other bands, groups and tribes, trappers and explorers. Trade items includeb obsidian stone cores to make projectile points (arrowheads), glass, shell and bone beads, and food items such as pine nuts.

Most early European glass beads were produced in Italy and Bohemia (Czech Republic) and then distributed to various North American Indian groups by European explorers, trappers and fur traders. Spanish land expeditions and the mission system were responsible for introducing trade of the beads throughout the west. American Indian groups, such as the Numu [Owens Valley Paiute] advanced this trade throughout California, using previously established trade routes through the Sierra Nevada mountains and beyond.

Numu (Owens Valley Paiute) belong to an group known as the Northern Paiute which extends through California, western Nevada and eastern Oregon.

The Numu were accomplished horticulturists, constructing and maintaining irrigation ditches and diversion dams to water crops. Seasonally they traveled to temporary camps throughout the valley to hunt and gather plant resources. In winter the Numu lived at the edge of the timber in the Inyo mountains to the east where pine nuts were found. Spring and summer they searched for wild seeds and game. In the fall there were communal hunts, dances and pine nut harvests. There was communication and an exchange of ideas with the tribes west of the Sierra during summer. Inter-marriage with these tribes was common.

Despite their forced removal in 1863, many families returned to their native homeland and reside in the Owens Valley. Today the Northern Paiute are subdivided into local bands of several hundred members each.

Indian Removal Act
The early 19th century was a time of rapid expansion for the new United States. Euro-American settlers were eager for places to raise cotton and build new homes, so they began to move west to look for land. These places were home to Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chicasaw and Seminole nations. Settlers perceived these nations as an obstacle standing in the way of progress. The future President Andrew Jackson, was a forceful proponent of Indian removal. From 1814 to 1824, Jackson negotiated nine out of eleven Indian treaties which removed the southern tribes from their traditional lands in exchange for land in the west. Tribes sometimes consented to keep peace for the promise of food, hunting and gathering rights and services promised.

In 1830, just a year after taking office, President Jackson moved new legislation called the “Indian Removal Act” through both houses of Congress. He outlined this plan in his Annual Message to Congress on December 6, 1830. Under these treaties, Indians were to give up their lands in exchange for lands west in what would become the state of Oklahoma. The Cherokee resisted removal from their land responding with peaceful resistance movements to violent resistance. These actions eventually lead to the settling of issues through the legal system of the United States. Their principal chief, John Ross, took the Cherokee case to the Supreme Court, where he won a crucial recognition of tribal sovereignty. In the end, the Cherokee’s attempt to assimilate and their landmark legal victory proved no match against the American manifest destiny. On May 26, 1838, federal troops forced 15,000 Cherokee from their homes in southeastern United States. This began the march to Indian Territory in eastern Oklahoma known as the "Trail of Tears." About 4,000 Cherokee died of cold, hunger, and disease on their way to the west.

In the Owens Valley of California, the Numu (Owens Valley Paiute) endured their own version of the “trail of tears.” By the 1850s, pioneers entered the Owens Valley eager to raise cattle and mine the nearby mountains. Like the lands in the eastern and southern United States, they settled the most desirable land. This land was crucial to the survival of the Numu [Owens Valley Paiute].

In the spring of 1862, the US military attempted to drive the Numu off their land, but Numu bands gathered forces and drove the settlers and military out of the valley. That summer the military returned and established Fort Independence, eight miles north of Manzanar. In retaliation for driving the settlers out, the military shot the Numu on sight and destroyed their food supplies. By fall the Numu weakened, suffering severe causalities, agreed to sign a treaty, giving up land in exchange for food and supplies. Many camped at Fort Independence that winter. However the promised supplies never came. The Numu headed back to the mountains and war resumed.

Eventually Numu perseverance was no match for the rifle and the heat of summer.  The starving Numu surrendered. They had no time to gather their belongings.  As they left, their homes were looted. In July 1863, the Numu were marched 225 miles from their Owens Valley home to Fort Tejon, near Bakersfield, California. During the march, over 150 died from exposure, thirst and hunger.

Although Manzanar is known as a place where Japanese Americans were confined during World War II, the site is also home to the Numu [Owens Valley Paiute]. Although Manzanar is most infamously known as a place where Japanese Americans were confined during World War II, the site is also Paiute homeland.  Eighty years before the U.S. Military brought 11,000 Japanese Americans to the Owens Valley, the US military removed a thousand Paiutes from this homeland.

We Shall Remain, Episode 3, Trail of Tears, April 13, 2009, a production of American Experience in association with Native American Public Telecommunications NAPT for WGBH Boston

People and Events: Indian Removal, 1914-1858.”  WGBH PBS Online

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G. Vocabulary

Aboriginal – original or earliest known; native; one of the original or earliest known inhabitants of a country or region.
Indigenous – having originated in and being produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular region or environment
American Indians - a member of any of the aboriginal peoples of Americas.
Archeology - Archeology is the scientific study of past cultures and peoples based on objects, structures, and other remains. 
California Indians – Aboriginal peoples of California.
California Mission System  - Spain set out to create permanent settlements in the New World for political, economic and religious reasons. Spanish missions were established in Alta California [present day California] in the late 1700 - early 1800s to spread the Catholic faith among the local Native Americans, and to provide Spain a foothold on the Pacific Coast of western North America. 
Connotation - the extra, added meanings or feelings associated with a word.
Culture - is the shared ways of life learned by a group of people, including their language, religion, technology, and values.
Denotation - literal meaning, dictionary definition of a word.
Euphemism - use of a mild or indirect expression instead of one that is harsh or unpleasant.
European land expeditions – A time during which Europeans and their descendants intensively explored and mapped what we call today North America. During that time, European countries pioneered oceanic explorations that established links with Africa, the Americas and Asia in search for alternative trade routes and locations to colonize followed closely by the establishment of the California Mission System. 
Fact- a truth that can be proven through evidence; real and observable
Paiute - (pronounced /'paIjuːt/, sometimes written Piute) refers to two related groups of American Indians, the Northern Paiute of California, Nevada and Oregon, and the Southern Paiute of Arizona, southeastern California and Nevada, and Utah.
Shoshone - The historical Shoshone were nomadic people who traveled over a wide portion of the Western United States.  They occupied parts of Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Utah, from the Great Basin to the Plains; into parts of Colorado and Wyoming.Note: within the Owens Valley, Shoshone and Paiute commonly intermarried. Also known as Numu.
Kearsarge Pass -  12,999 foot pass located in the southern Sierra Nevada range above the town of Independence. This pass was believed to be one used for trade by local Owens Valley Paiute. 
Loaded words - words that are slanted for or against a subject; words slanted to create an emotional impact.
Opinion - personal belief, judgment or attitude toward something, cannot always be proven
Taxonomy - from Greek taxis meaning arrangement or division and nomos meaning law) is the science of classification according to a pre-determined system, with the resulting catalog used to provide a conceptual framework for discussion, analysis, or information retrieval. In theory, the development of a good taxonomy takes into account the importance of separating elements of a group (taxon) into subgroups (taxa) that are mutually exclusive, unambiguous, and taken together, include all possibilities. In practice, a good taxonomy should be simple, easy to remember, and easy to use.

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H. Teacher Tips
  • All activities can be adapted for class length
  • Teachers can include information and assignments specific to their geographic area based on these assignments.
  • Download the images of the beads and objects with captions, print in color and laminate, if possible
  • Alternate:  Use document reader to project objects for class viewing

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I. Lesson Implementation Procedures

Objects Background:
For this lesson students will examine photographs of glass beads found in the Owens Valley, CA, post 1850. 

Lesson One: The Traveling Beads; The Trail to Manzanar

Activity One:
Assessing Prior Knowledge about beads.

  • Show photograph of glass beads on screen to entire classroom.
  • Have students brainstorm prior knowledge about the beads and write responses in Column 1 of Prior-New Knowledge Chart at their desks. 
  • Sample questions:  What do you see in this picture?  What are these items made of?  Who made them?  What do you think they are used for?  Who would use them?  Where do you think they were found?  How old are they?
  • Students share responses orally.
  • Teacher gives students the following shared information about the objects and students fill in Column 2, New Knowledge, on the chart.

Shared new information:  These are glass beads found in California in the Owens Valley which is on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Range.  This mountain range is over 14,000 ft. tall.  The beads were used by the Paiute Indians, an indigenous group living in that area.  Researchers discovered these beads were made in Europe in the early 19th century.  They are similar to glass beads found in the California missions on the western side of the Sierras.

After students write down the new knowledge, the teacher asks them to fill in Column 3 with new questions they now have about the beads.  Some sample questions the students might ask are:  How did the beads get to the California missions?  How did the Paiute get them?  How did the beads get over a mountain range that is 14,000 feet high?  Why did the Paiute want them?  Was anything else found with the beads?  What did they use them for? 

Lesson One: The Traveling Beads; The Trail to Manzanar

Activity Two:
Read short article, "The Traveling Beads," about the origin of the glass beads and the effect of European exploration on California and, in particular, on the Numu or Owens Valley Paiute. 

Students and teacher as a class activity read "The Traveling Beads."

Based on information in the excerpt, students will share information orally which answers questions from the Column 3 of the Prior-New Knowledge Chart.  They will design and create a diary and write entries below.  

  • Students will use narrative writing skills to compose a minimum of six diary entries from the point of view of one of the following:
  • An explorer from the “old world” traveling to the “new world” with a pouch full of sparkling Italian glass beads
  • A Spanish or French fur trapper on his way to a trading post with skins to trade
  • A Spanish priest in one of California’s missions meeting an American Indian
  • A member of the Paiute nation traveling over the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the western slopes
  • An archeologist who unearths the glass beads
  • A glass bead (use your skills at personification) changing hands, pouches, etc. as it makes it’s way from Europe to North America

Students will illustrate four of the six diary entries.  Create a card stock cover which has a title and graphic (picture or symbol) which introduces the reader to the diary’s subject. Note – what kinds of decorating elements? Could expand the range by having students see/research Paiute basketry motifs (or link to the local website that has LOTS of basketry examples) and/or adapt art projects to their own liking or tastes.

Lesson Two: Let’s Make a Deal:  Owens Valley Paiute

Activity One:

  • Project photograph of glass beads for entire classroom.
  • Each student uses comparison/contrast chart to write down descriptive taxonomy of shape of beads in column.  Review with teacher on the projected chart.
  • Break students into groups of four or five.  They will be working in these groups for two days.  Give each group a bag of colored plastic buttons and/or glass beads (preferably, easy-to-find, and not large) and a bag of coins.
  • Students fill in column 2 and column 3 on the Comparison/Contrast Chart as a group based on their observations of the buttons and coins.
  • Share responses orally.  Teacher then asks:

How do you think the Paiute determined the value of each of the glass beads?  
What determines the value of each of our coins?
Do the buttons have any value?  What would it be? 
What criteria would you use to determine the value of the various buttons?

Lesson One: Let’s Make a Deal:  Trade and Owens Valley Paiute

Activity Two:

  • Pass out Sculpy (clay-like material).  Each group will design and form clay beads to be used for currency or decoration.  The group should decide on the shape, size, texture and design for each bead. 
  • Teacher collects finished beads and takes them home to bake in an oven.
  • The next day, the baked beads are returned to each group and the students paint them.
  • The group then decides how the beads will be used.  The group can decide to use the beads in one way or several ways. 
  • Sample uses of beads include:  as toys, art, jewelry, clothing ornamentation, money, logos, rituals or ceremonies—be creative!

Teacher tips: Teacher can help students research beadwork, native designs, native basketry designs and other possibilities to develop their own designs for their bead designs.

Lesson Two: Let’s Make a Deal:  Trade and the Owens Valley Paiute

Activity three:
  • Each group will now write a short skit using dialog in which they will use the beads they have created. The beads should play a central role in the plot.  The completed skit should be 10 minutes long. Each person in the group will be responsible for portraying one character in the finished script.  One member of the group should act as chairperson, one will act as recorder, one will be the rehearsal director, and one will be responsible for keeping the group on track and evaluating the group process. (Pass out a copy of the rubric to each group to allow them to see what is expected.)
  • This simulation will take place in the 21st century and involve a situation that occurs in their school, community, family, etc.
  • Duplicate the completed script for each member of the group.
  • Rehearse the skit for approximately 20 minutes.
  • The skits will be presented to the class.  Class members will evaluate each skit for creativity of use of beads, performance skills, and plot using the Student Rubric Form.
  • Evaluation:  Teacher evaluates each skit using the Teacher Rubric Form.

Lesson Three:  Uprooted:  Two Documents  (Advanced)

Activity One:

Review background knowledge “Indian Removal Act.”

Journal Entry
  • Teacher projects photograph of Paiute obsidian arrowhead.  This arrowhead was found in the sands of Manzanar in the Owens Valley.  Have students imagine that they found this arrow head on a hike. They then write a short journal entry answering these questions: 

What do you think this arrowhead was used for? 
Why were arrowheads important to the daily lives of the Paiute?
What do we use today to accomplish these tasks instead of arrowheads?
Why was this arrowhead discarded?
What will you do with it?

  • Teacher encourages students to read and discuss their journal entries and note similarities on the board.

Lesson  Three:  Uprooted:  Two Documents  (Advanced)

Activity Two:
  • Introduce background information and historical context.
  • What do the documents say about the necessity of removing the Indians?  The Japanese Americans?  (Are the Japanese Americans named in the order?)

What is the tone of each document? 
What facts are included in each document? 

  • What opinions does Andrew Jackson express about the native tribes?

How does Jackson say the Indians will benefit from being removed?
What opinions does Franklin D. Roosevelt express about Japanese Americans?
Based on the information in each document, is the removal and relocation of each group justified?

  • Pass out "The Power of Words" worksheet.  Students complete worksheet and share responses orally in class discussion.
  • Using the information from the Key Facts worksheet and The Power of Words worksheet, students compose a persuasive paragraph from the viewpoint of the leader of an Indian tribe.  How would he feel about the accusations Jackson makes about Indian tribes stopping progress?  “leading uncivilized, savage lives and the other charges.”   Use powerful, loaded words to fight back against Jackson's point of view.
  • Teacher use the Persuasive Essay Scoring Guide to evaluate the paragraph.

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J. Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results

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K. Extension and Enrichment Activities

Lesson One:
Extension: Have students research the “value” of beads to Japanese Americans. Research can relate their use as decoration, religious purposes and/or trade items to beads made in Japan.

Lesson Two:
Imagine you are an archeologist exploring in a state other than California.  It can be the state you live in or one that you'd like to visit one day.  What will you find?  Use the Internet to discover which American Indian tribes lived or still live on the land.  Then, choose a tribe to research and write an expository essay of about 300 words in which you explain an aspect of tribal life.  Some of the areas you might explore are tribal art and artifacts, tribal myths and legends, language, religion, traditions, foods, etc.  Create a three dimensional sculpture, model or picture to illustrate what you discuss in your essay.

The website offers state by state interactive links on customs and culture of the various American Indian tribes.  Another good resource is

Lesson Three:
Extension: During World War II, Japanese Americans were interned at Manzanar on land that was once the home of American Indians.  Both of these peoples shared the experience of being displaced from their land and homes by the U.S. government.  Find out more about the land used in other areas of California and in other states to relocate Japanese Americans during World War II.   Ultimately there were ten internment camps.  Which states were they in?  Were other internment camps constructed on tribal lands?  Discuss the results of your research in a short 300 - 400 word expository essay.  Refer to

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L. Resources

Bahr, Diana Meyers, Viola Martinez, California Paiute, Living in Two Worlds
2003, Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University Isbn0-8061-3514-x

We Shall Remain, Episode 3, Trail of Tears, April 13, 2009, a production of American Experience in association with Native American Public Telecommunications NAPT for WGBH Boston

People and Events: Indian Removal, 1914-1858.”  WGBH PBS Online

Web sites with bead work and basketry designs:  (even has a memory game based upon designs that is fun to play on the computer)

American Indian in the Owens Valley reference sites:

Eastern California Museum -

General information on Owens Valley Paiute and Shoshone Tribes:

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M. Site Visit
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N. Charts, Figures and Other Teacher Materials