Ojibwe and Dakota PLT Lessons

Collage of images, wild rice being harvested by canoe, planted pine seedling, textile design based on Ojibwe and Dakota designers, pith of a cottonwood tree shaped like a start notes in Dakota traditional stories.

Use Minnesota forests as your "window to the world" to integrate indigenous content into your K-8 curriculum. Your students will love the hands-on learning and connections to the real world.

When teaching about American Indian lifeways and cultures, let the principles of "Respect and Knowledge" guide you. As you use these lessons, remember:

  • People have lived in Minnesota for thousands of years. This influences who we are today and the places where we live and work.
  • American Indian values of love, respect, courage, humility, wisdom, truth, and honesty are the same values taught to children today.
  • American Indian people are still current in Minnesota. It's OK to refer to the past, but make sure students recognize that they are real people living in Minnesota today.
  • If you don't know a person's tribe, it is OK to refer to them as indigenous, Native American, or American Indian. The tribal name (Ojibwe or Dakota) is preferred. You may even refer to the name of the band if you know it, such as the Mdewakaton Dakota.
  • Invite a tribal member to your class to share the lesson with students, whenever possible.
  • Minnesota Native American Essential Understandings for Educators

Lessons are funded by Minnesota Project Learning Tree and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative State Implementation Committee, and provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Respecting Mother Earth

Overview: Children are naturally curious about their environment. They should be encouraged to explore the outdoors, while having respect for living things and their habitats. In this activity, students will develop a set of guidelines for exploring and enjoying nature. The enrichment activity outlines how to respectfully make and use kinnickinnik (Ojibwe)/cansasa (Dakota). Children can use this material to honor living things in nature.
Subject: ELA, Social Studies
Grades: K-5

Optional supplemental material:

Who Cares for This Forest?

Overview: All indigenous people work in the forest—from foresters to loggers, scientists to naturalists. Everyone depends on properly managed forests for recreation, essential products, and a healthy environment. This activity provides students with an overview of forest-related careers, especially those on lands managed by indigenous Ojibwe and Dakota.
Subject: Social Studies, Science
Grades: Gr. 3-6

Optional supplemental material:

A Forest of Balance
alternate textPhoto source: Minnesota Historical Society

Overview: Students will learn about renewable and nonrenewable resources, especially those used by Ojibwe and Dakota people in Minnesota. Students will take part in simulations that demonstrate how to take care of renewable resources so they will last for generations.
Subject: Science, Social Studies
Grades: Gr. 4-8

The Forest Provides

Overview: Students compare stories about taking care of forests, and how forests take care of us. Students examine the importance of conserving natural resources by hearing or reading an oral Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) story from long ago, and either The Great Kapok Tree (Lynn Cherry), The Lorax (Dr. Theodore Seuss), or The Man Who Planted Trees by French author Jean Giono.
Subject: ELA, Social Studies, Science
Grades: Gr. 4-8

Mother Earth Provides

Overview:Tribal, private- and public-owned forests are often managed to provide many different resources. In this activity, students will learn how forests are managed to meet a variety of human and environmental needs.
Subject: Science, Social Studies
Grades: Gr. 6-8

400-Acre Wood

Overview:Students play the role of managers of a 400-acre (162 hectare) piece of public forest. Through this role, students will begin to understand the complex considerations that influence management decisions about forest lands.
Subject: Math, Social Studies
Grades: Gr. 7-8

The Star in the Cottonwood Tree
cut away of cottonwood tree showing a star

Overview: Share a traditional oral Dakota story about why cottonwood twigs have "stars." Then break open cottonwood twigs to find the star.
Subject: ELA, Science
Grades: K-6

Map of Indian Lands in Minnesota

map of minnesota showing the locations of various American Indian tribes in Minnesota.

  • Anishinaabe means "original people." It is a collective term for a group of tribes that live in northern North America: Ojibwe, Odawa, Saulteaux, Potawatomi, Oji-Cree, and Algonquin peoples. The Anishinaabe speak Anisinaabemowin, the Anishinaabe languages that belong to the Algonquin peoples.
  • Dakota people are comprised of four groups: The Bdewakantunwan (Mdewakanton), Wahpetunwan (Wahpeton), Wahpekute, and Sissitunwan (Sisseton) people form what is known as the Isanti (Santee), or eastern Dakota (a word that means ally). Living in present-day South Dakota are the Yanktonai and Yankton (who identify as both Dakota and Nakota) and the Teton (Lakota). Collectively today, these groups have tribal lands that cover areas from present day Minnesota into South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Canada. They form the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ (the Seven Council Fires, sometimes referred to erroneously as the Sioux). The Dakota language is a Mississippi Valley Siouan language, belonging to the greater Siouan-Catawban language family. It is closely related to and mutually intelligible with the Lakota language.
  • Indigenous is a more general word that means "originating from a particular place.
  • Reservation Reservation land is land set aside, or reserved, for Indian people. Tribal lands are sovereign lands that were not ceded to the state of Minnesota. The rest of Minnesota consists of land ceded by tribes to the state.
Understanding treaties

An Indian reservation is land set aside, or reserved, for Indian people. Tribal land are sovereign lands that were not ceded to the state of Minnesota.

The rest of Minnesota consists of land ceded by tribes to the state.

Treaties With the Ojibwe

It is important to remember that Ojibwe tribes never sold their rights to hunt, fish, and gather from ceded lands. In recent years, Ojibwe have gone into court against states to prove that their treaty rights have always existed. Court decisions from the United States Supreme Court have agreed with the tribes that they did, indeed, keep hunting, fishing and gathering rights on lands they sold. The Supreme Court ruled that the tribes should be able to use those treaty rights as long as the natural resources are also preserved and public health and safety are protected.
For more information:

Treaties With the Dakota

The Dakota people's treaty history differs because of the 1863 Dakota Expulsion Act, a federal law that "abrogates all Dakota treaties and makes it illegal for Dakota to live in the state of Minnesota. The act applies to all Dakota, regardless of whether they joined in the war in 1862. This law has never been repealed." U.S-Dakota War of 1862: Treaty timeline (Minnesota Historical Society)

Pronouncing Ojibwe and Dakota words
Helpful links for understanding
More Lessons and Books for Students
List of Minnesota Academic Standards Relating to Minn. American Indian Tribes

This list outlines all Arts, English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science standards related to content about Ojibwe and Dakota people. (Provided by the Minnesota Center for Social Studies Education)

About the lesson writer

Larissa Harris-Juip

Onondaga by birth, Larissa Harris-Juip, has lived and worked in northern Minnesota for almost two decades. She is working toward a Ph.D. at Michigan Technological University , studying Industrial Heritage and Archaeology. She has an M.A. from the University of Manitoba in Anthropology and a B.A. from Minnesota State University-Moorhead in Anthropology with an Archaeology emphasis and a History minor.

Larissa began working in natural and cultural interpretation in 2012 in the Nature Corps for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. She has held several positions with the Minnesota DNR and the Historical Society at locations such as Itasca State Park, the Mille Lacs  Indian Museum, Lake Bemidji State Park, and Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park.

She has worked in formal and informal education and holds a community expert and elementary education license in Minnesota. She has taught courses about Native American history and contemporary issues at elementary schools and an Ojibwe youth STEM camp (gidakiimanaaniwigamig) on the Fond du Lac Nation since 2017.

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