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John Muir: Native American History

Subject area: Social Studies

Experience and outcomes: SOC 2-04a, SOC 2-06a, SOC 3-06a/b

Share chapter five (pages 66-73), I Will Walk One Thousand Miles, about John Muir's explorations in America with your class.

Muir journeyed across America and settled in California where he carried out a lot of his conservation work. When exploring, he often used existing trails made by Native Americans to navigate across America – saying himself, 'how many centuries Indians have roamed these woods nobody knows, probably a great many'. However, Muir also held racist views about the indigenous people he met during his travels, and wrote about them in a derogatory way.

Learning activity

Find out more about the indigenous people who live across America, their traditions and heritage, especially those in California where John Muir settled and whom he came across in what is now Yosemite National Park. Make fact files about indigenous Californians using websites like Britannica Kids(this will open in a new window) and National (this will open in a new window)Geographic Kids(this will open in a new window). For information about Native Americans in general(this will open in a new window), National Geographic Kids is a great website to explore. Ask pupils to share their fact files in class, sharing with peers what they have learned about Native American culture and heritage.

Extension activity

Subject area: Social Studies and Literacy

Experience and outcomes: SOC 2-01a, LIT 2-26a, LIT 2-29a

Now that pupils have learnt about Native Americans, as an extension activity, learn about the how Europeans colonising America had a devastating effect on Native Americans. This video by Past to Future(this will open in a new window) provides a timeline of Native American history and provides further context for the treatment of indigenous people across America.

Events like the Californian gold rush in the mid-19th century had a huge impact on Native American communities, and as Muir himself wrote 'the Indian tribes along the Western Sierra foothills became alarmed at the sudden invasion of their acorn orchard and game fields by miners'.

'Indian' was the name given to Native Americans by Columbus, as he mistakenly thought he had arrived in the Indies which was the term India, China and Japan were known by at that time. The Smithsonian Museum have a video covering the Western Expansion(this will open in a new window) and another video about the treaties between the American Government and Native American tribes(this will open in a new window) to grab land from indigenous communities. BBC Bitesize(this will open in a new window) also have lots of excellent resources on the conflict and oppression of indigenous people.

After watching these videos or reading the BBC Bitesize pages, divide the class into small groups to discuss what they have watched. What did they think of the issues discussed in the videos? Do they think the treatment of Native American peoples was fair? What is the lasting impact of the Western Expansion?

Reflecting on learning:

Learners can: