Lesson Plan

American Indian Reservations

The Indian Girl's Home. A group of Indian girls and Indian police at Big Foot's village on reservation.

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
State Standards:
State: Nebraska
Subject: History
Grade Level: 6th -8th

State Standards: SS 8.3.1a, 8.3.1b, 8.3.4a
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations.

Essential Question

What were the purpose of reservations? How did they impact American Indian culture?


In this lesson, students will develop an understanding of American Indian Reservations and why they were created. The will do this by examining maps of the American Indian reservations, discovering why American Indian reservations were created, and discussing living conditions on American Indian reservations.
Students will then be able to answer the following essential question: What are reservations and why were they used?


The Homesteaders, Immigrants, and American Indians unit is broken up into six lesson plans, taking 45-120 minutes to complete, targeting sixth through eighth grade students. A class does not have to complete every lesson in the unit - each lesson comes with its own set of objectives and resources. This is lesson 4 of the unit.

This lesson focuses on the creation of American Indian Reservations. The first people living on the prairie were the ancestors of the various American Indian Tribes. Through archeology, we can surmise that the plains have been inhabited for centuries by groups of people who lived in semi-permanent villages and depended on planting crops and hunting animals. Many of the ideas we associate with American Indians such as the travois, various ceremonies, tipis, earth lodges, and controlled bison hunts, come from these first prairie people.

Horses were brought to Mexico by the Spanish in the 1600s. With the migration of the horse from Mexico in the 1700s, the culture of the plains people changed to one that was more mobile. Before the horse, the cultures hunted and traveled in relatively small restricted areas. With the introduction of the horse into American Indian society, greater distances could be covered. The horse became a status symbol to the American Indian and individuals amassed vast herds of these animals.

The first known historic tribe in the plains area was the Pawnee who lived in earth lodges part of the year and in tipis during the summer and fall hunts. The earth lodge tribes such as the Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan, Omaha, Oto, Ponca, Pawnee, Wichita, Winnebago, among others, planted crops such as corn, squash, and beans and stored their food in underground storage caches. Their semi-subterranean lodges held from 10 to 40 people. Several lodges were grouped together to form fortified villages. Smaller groups ventured out with tipis for the bison hunts, returning to the earth lodge for winter. 

Other tribes associated with the Great Plains were the Lakota-Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahos, Comanche, Kiowa, Crow, among others. They lived mainly in tipis, traveling through the Plains region. These groups were the great hunters of the Plains following the bison or "buffalo" and foraging for berries, roots, and other plants. They lived in extended family relationship groups, traveling to familiar places and encampments. Often, they traded and warred with the earth lodge dwellers.


This lesson requires enough computers for students to work in pairs or small groups. If computers are not available, the teacher can print out each of the online resources (mentioned below) so students can refer to them in class.

Make enough copies for each student or one per group of the “History of Reservations: Map Investigation” and “Life on the Reservation: Primary Source Analysis”


Hand out to students to gather information on the creation of American Indian reservations.

Download History of Reservations: Map Investigation

Hand out to students to gather information on life on the reservations.

Download Life on the Reservation: Primary Source Investigation

Lesson Hook/Preview

1. Ask students to answer the following questions out loud or on a piece of scratch paper: Who owns your desk?

2. While some students will say they own the desk, they are actually just using and taking care of the desk while they sit at the desk. This is called being a steward.

3. Ask the students:

  • Who owns a farm —the farmer? the community? the country?
  • Who owns land?

4. Explain to students that most American Indian groups did not believe people owned land and thus you could not buy or sell it; it was just yours to use. They were merely stewards of the land, much like students and their desks. They do not own the desks, but they are theirs to use. However, the settlers and US government had a very different perspective.


1. Explain to students that today they will be answering the question: What are reservations and why were they created?

2. Put students in pairs or small groups. Give each pair or small group access to a computer and a copy of the “History of Reservations: Map Investigation” questions.

3. Give students 20 minutes to investigate the maps at the following links: http://www.cartoko.com/2010/05/indian-reservations-1840/ and http://bit.ly/b2vB8o

4. Ask the students to share the answers to their “Reflection Questions” at the bottom of the Map Investigation to discuss as a class what reservations are and why they were created.

5. In the same pairs or small-groups, assign each group one of the primary documents about life on reservations found at http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/resources/archives/eight/wkmiles.htm.

6. Give students twenty minutes to analyze the primary source using the “Life on the Reservation: Primary Source Investigation” questions provided.

7. Each group of students should share out their findings with the rest of the class. As the other groups share, the students should take notes at the bottom of their “Life on the Reservation: Primary Source Investigation” questions.



Steward – A person who manages or looks after another’s property.

Reservation – An area set aside by the US Government for Native Americans to live on.

American Indian – Persons who are native to the land that is currently the United States.

Settler – Person who moves to a new location to live.

Assessment Materials

To show his or her new knowledge of reservations, each student should assume the
role of an American Indian living on a reservation in 1890. The student will
write a diary entry about what their life would be like. Suggest to students
that they choose to write from the point of view of one of the tribes they followed on the maps.

Supports for Struggling Learners

Teacher planned groups or partnerships that are a mix of ability levels.

Primary Source Analysis could integrate images rather than text to support English Language Learners. A potential source could be from http://blogs.denverpost.com/captured/2014/01/02/wounded-knee-1890-1973-photos/6496/ or http://blogs.denverpost.com/captured/2011/02/23/from-the-archive-frontier-life-in-the-west/2713/

Enrichment Activities

Students could generate a letter from President Ulysses S. Grant, who set up the first reservation, explaining his reasons for its creation. 

Related Lessons or Education Materials

This lesson plan is the fourth lesson in a larger curriculum unit on Homesteaders, Immigrants, and American Indians for grades sixth through eighth.

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Last updated: August 21, 2018