Lesson Plan

Who Uses the Land?

An aerial view of the village of Elim shows how many communities in Alaska utilize the land and water resources in everyday life.

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Social Studies
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
8.RI.8, 8.RI.9
State Standards:
Alaska State Standards: SA3.1, AH. PPE3, AH. CC6
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question/Objective

How is the local environment used throughout history and today?


The Seward Peninsula has been used for over 10,000 years. The earliest evidence of usage harkens back to the Bering Land Bridge, when the earliest inhabitants of this continent crossed over from Asia. This land use continues up to today, with many different groups competing for rights to use the land. The various types of usage have not always been beneficial.

The students will engage in research to learn how the local environment has been used throughout history.

For background information on land use history in Alaska, visit the following websites:

  • Alaska history: http://www.akhistorycourse.org/articles/ article.php?artID=138
  • Native Alaskan History wiki: http://wiki.bssd.org/index. php/Native_Alaskan_history
  • ANCSA info for Elementary School age: http://www. alaskool.org/projects/ancsa/elem_ed/elem_ancsa.htm
  • Inuit History in Alaska: http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Inuit.html
  • History of Northwest Alaska: http://www.akhistorycourse.org/articles/article.php?artID=75 


  • Decide whether students will work in heteregenous groups, homogenous groups, or self-chosen groups. 
  • Make sure that students have access to computers or other resources to complete research
  • Get butcher paper or large paper 
  • Make one copy per student of the following: "Who Uses the Land Chart and Sample" and "Alaska Local History Reflection Questions". 
  • If doing the extension: make one copy per student of the extension questions. 


Use this worksheet as a graphic organizer for time period research.

Download Who Uses the Land Chart and Sample

Lesson Hook/Preview

  • Point to a couple of places on a map of the United States. Picking Texas or Florida may prove to be good starting points.
  • Ask the students how those lands are used today? Some potential answers may include fishing, tourism and orchards for Florida. Some potential answers for Texas might include fishing, tourism, ranching, and oil drilling. Write these answers up on the board.
  • Have the students engage in a discussion about how these uses might conflict with each other. For instance oil drilling and fishing may conflict in Texas. Point out that both states have native populations still present (Comanche’s in Texas and Seminoles in Florida). How would the native populations have access to the land in these two states?


1. Put students in groups of 2-3. Hand out to each student the "Who Uses this Land Chart and Sample". Explain that today they will be researching how native populations in Alaska used their local environment throughout history and today.

2. Assign approximately 1/3 of the class to research Alaska and the uses of the land before modern contact. By before modern contact the students should focus on Alaska before its exploration by the Russians and Europeans. Using the chart, they should research the following questions:

  • What groups were present on the land?
  • What did these groups use the land for?
  • Were any of the uses of land (or people) at odds with each other? How would this conflict have been resolved?

3. Assign the second third of the class to research the colonial period in Alaskan history. This period includes the time from when white men (Russians, British and Americans) began using the land up until statehood. Using the chart, once again they will answer the following questions:

  • What groups were now present on the land?
  • What did these groups use the land for?
  • Were any of these uses of land at odds with each other? How would these conflicts have been resolved?

4. Assign the final third of the class to research the modern period in Alaskan history. This time period runs from gaining statehood until the present day. Using the chart, have them answer the following questions:

  • What groups are present on the land (make sure they answer for groups of people and organizations)?
  • What did these groups use the land for?
  • Were any of these uses of land at odds with each other? How would these conflicts have been resolved?

5. Note: There are some special events and groups of people that may be of interest to your class. For the colonial and modern periods you may want them to research reindeer herding and how it affected the land. You may also want to have them research Project Chariot during the statehood period for a discussion of how nuclear usage would have affected the land. An investigation of the proposed Rampart Dam may also be relevant. There are a couple of events closer to home that are also of importance. Have the students working on the modern era include the Red Dog Mine and Rock Creek Mines. Information is included on these mines that will help show students how different land uses can conflict with each other.  

6. Next, have the students share the information that they have found and place it onto different sheets of butcher paper labeling the periods: Before Modern Contact, Colonial Period, and Modern Period. Group the butcher papers of similar periods together. 

7. Ask students to walk around the room to look at the paper of each period.

8. Ask the students to take some time to examine each time period and answer the questions on the top-half of "Alaska Local History Reflections" (assessment).

9. Ask students to share their answers and discuss.

10. Ask students to go back to their butcher paper and add a new category. This category will be titled Environmental Impact. Have them write on the butcher paper how different group’s usage of the land would affect the environment. For example, early miner’s use of fire to clear land had a negative impact on forests and tundra, negatively impacting local wildlife. Have the students focus in on how some of the various usages contribute to climate change. Oil and gas exploration is a definite contributing factor. Mining can also contribute to climate change. Tourism could also contribute to climate change. When dealing with a delicate ecosystem like the arctic tundra, contact with humans can take years to recover from. Many types of lichen take 20-30 years to fully grow. Increased land usage threatens to disrupt these ecosystems.

11. At this point introduce the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the concept of native corporations. Resources are included in the background of this lesson to help share information about ANCSA. Some specific points to highlight is that the continuing struggle for native land claims to be recognized coupled with the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay in 1968 led to ANCSA. The government and corporation wanted to extract the oil by pipeline but couldn’t do so until they had rights to use land claimed by natives. Ask students to brainstorm what these concepts mean and how they affect people in Alaska. Be sure to ask students how this Act and the native corporations affect different kinds of land usage (i.e. hunting, ATV use, oil exploration etc.). Under this act who determines land usage? 


  • Land Use - Involves the management and changing of natural environment or wilderness into built environment such as settlements and farms
  • Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) - Law signed by President Richard Nixon on December 18, 1971, constituting at the time the largest land claims settlement in US history. ANCSA was intended to resolve long-standing issues surrounding aboriginal land claims in Alaska, as well as to stimulate economic development throughout Alaska. The settlement established Alaska native claims to the land by transferring titles to twelve Alaska native corporations and over 200 local village corporations.
  • Native Corporations - Established in 1971 with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act which provided for the establishment of 13 regional corporations to administer land and financial claims of Alaska Natives. 

Assessment Materials

Alaska Local History Reflection Questions

Use the last series of questions sub-titled "Show What You Know" as an assessment. If desired, you may use all reflection questions as an assessment. You may also use the last question on policy recommendations as a writing prompt.

Alaska Local History Reflection Questions

Download Assessment

Supports for Struggling Learners

*Heterogenous grouping or pairs 

*Highlighted or simplified language research materials 

Enrichment Activities

An alternate example of this activity would include energy usage. Alaska is home to an abundance of natural energy sources. Of course there is the Alaskan pipeline and oilfields. Alaska also contains significant amounts of natural gas. Recent efforts to build pipelines that use this gas have met with limited success. Many smaller villages and cities have begun to use wind power and geothermal power sources. Chena Hot Springs began using geothermal power in 2006. Wales, Kotzebue, Nome and many other cities have built wind turbines. When examining these issues we can ask ourselves the same questions about using the land and potential conflicts. While renewable energy is always preferred, we still run into some conflicts when using it. Wind generators have to be built somewhere. They can affect birds and other animals in the area.