Subject: Art/Design

Essential Question

How have Native American musicians, poets, and visual artists negotiated their identity, and what role does physical space play in these negotiations?


In this lesson, students begin by examining the ways their sense of identity might be affected by social pressures associated with different spaces. By watching clips from RUMBLE, students then discover how musicians Robbie Robertson, Stevie Salas, and Taboo have negotiated their Native identities, and compare these musician’s journeys with those of earlier Native Americans. Students then participate in a gallery walk activity, exploring how some artists have negotiated their “Native” and “American” identities visually. Students will also investigate how Native American poets have express their sense of identity, analyze some traditional Native American perspectives on space, and compare Native and European American concepts  of land and property. Finally, students view Jimi Hendrix’s performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” from the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969 and consider ways the guitarist might have celebrated his multiethnic identity through an instrumental rendition of the song.

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson sent a letter marked “unofficial and private” to Indiana Territory Governor (and future president) William Henry Harrison. In the letter, Jefferson provides “information and instructions as to our Indian Affairs,” and outlines the Federal Government’s plans to encourage tribes to leave their hunter-gatherer societies and take up agriculture. This, Jefferson and others hoped, would result in Native Americans then selling off vast tribal lands to the American government. “In this way,” Jefferson concludes, “our settlements will gradually circumscribe and approach the Indians, and they will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or be removed beyond the Mississippi.”

Many Native Americans, however, wished neither to “incorporate as citizens” or depart from lifestyles their communities had practiced for centuries. Among the most vocal dissenters was Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader who traveled widely and amassed a sizable following from dozens of tribes that opposed Jefferson’s vision. Tecumseh aligned his large, pan-tribal force with the British during the War of 1812, and, despite several early military victories, was ultimately defeated. Following this loss, treaty after treaty resulted in Native Americans being forced west of the Mississippi. Those who remained were expected to “incorporate as citizens,” or “assimilate”–i.e. “bring into conformity”–with the European American public that surrounded them.  

“Assimilate,” leave, or face the consequences–Native Americans have grappled with these choices for over two centuries.

Just how Native Americans were to “bring into conformity” with the 19th century American public was an issue of much debate. To some, it meant that Native Americans should adapt to the farming and factory jobs that might occupy one with darker skin. To others, “conformity” within the European American U.S. could only be achieved by a complete abandonment of all things “Indian”–communal living, the pooling of resources, native languages, religious practices, and music. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, this movement to “civilize” Native Americans resulted in measures such as the banning of song and dance, and the forced enrollment of thousands of Native American children in Federal Indian Boarding schools designed to “Americanize” them in both body and mind.

Throughout the history of the United States, being of Native American heritage often meant being persecuted. In such an environment, Native Americans were often forced to be very careful in how they presented their cultural heritage, and to whom. As several musicians recall in RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World, such feelings became deeply embedded in future generations. Guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Robbie Robertson recalls his elders advising him in the 1950s, “be proud you’re an Indian, but be careful who you tell.” Elsewhere in the film, guitarist Stevie Salas discusses coming to terms with his heritage only as a young adult in the 1980s, and the Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo admits to intentionally privileging his Hispanic heritage over his Shoshone ancestry in the multiethnic Los Angeles of the early 1990s. Each of these musicians, however, ultimately returned to their cultural and geographical roots and found personal strength.

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Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge)
    • Ways Native American artists have struggled with revealing or promoting their indigenous ancestry
    • How Native Americans have been historically forced to negotiate their identities
    • The structure and guiding motivation of Indian boarding schools in the early 1900s
    • The artwork of Fred Kabotie, Wendy Red Star, Teri Greeves, Jeffrey Gibson, Diego Romero, and Brad Kahlhamer
    • The poetry of Native American writers Diane Burns and b: william bearhart
    • The relationship between identity and physical space
    • Native American conceptions of land and space, and how it differs from European American ideas about property
    • How music might serve as a vehicle to express identity
  2. Mastery Objective:
    • By discovering how Native American musicians and visual artists have grappled with personal identity and exploring the multi-layered nature of their own identities, students will be able to better empathize with the historic struggles that Native Americans have confronted in the United States.


Motivational Activity

  1. Pass out Handout 1 – Community Circle to students, and have them complete the exercise. Then, have students share part or all of their completed handout with the class. (If the activity is unclear to students, feel free to show Image 1, “Example My Communities Chart.)
  2. Ask students:
    • Do you behave or present yourself differently among various communities and spaces? Why?
    • Are all “spaces” physical? Can you think of any communities in which you participate which are not bound by geography? (Encourage students to consider their online lives.)
    • Do any of the quadrants you labeled better represent you? Do you feel you are being “more true to yourself” in some places versus other places? Could you be “true to yourself” no matter who you were with and where you were? Why or why not?


  1. Tell the class that you’ll now be looking at how Native American musicians and visual artists have struggled with identity, and the way different spaces might allow them to “be themselves.” Play Clip 1, “Fitting In,” and ask:
    • Why might Robbie Robertson have been told, “Be proud you’re an Indian, but be careful who you tell?” What might his elders have been worried about?
    • Why did Robbie Robertson’s peers doubt the possibility that he could become a successful musician outside of the reservation he visited? What do you think might have made them feel that way?
    • Why do you think Stevie Salas might not have wanted to be seen as an “Indian rockstar?” (Encourage students to consider how Native Americans had been treated previously, the lack of successful Native musician role models, and the possibility that he might have been stereotyped if he promoted his Apache heritage. Did he think there was such a thing as an “Indian rockstar”?)  
    • Why did Salas feel he needed to create an “identity” to fit into the Los Angeles scene, and why did he feel like he didn’t fit in to that space? (Encourage students to think about the ways musicians and entertainers who appear on stage might need to promote an identity.)
    • What inspired Taboo to recognize his Native ancestry?
  2. Pass out Handout 2- Excerpts from Sure You Can Ask Me a Personal Question, Diane Burns. Individually, in groups, or together as a class, read the poem. Then ask students:
    • How would you describe this poem?
    • Who might Diane Burns be having a conversation with in this poem?
    • Do you get the sense that Burns is enjoying this conversation or not? Why?
    • What kind of assumptions are being made about Burns in this poem?
    • How might this poem relate to the comment Robertson received “Be proud you’re an Indian, but be careful who you tell?” Why might Burns be reluctant to admit her heritage after having the conversation represented in the poem?
  3. Pass out Handout 3 – Profile of Artist Fred Kabotie and read it aloud as a class. Ask students:
    • What do you think federal authorities were trying to accomplish by sending Native American children like Kabotie to English-only, military-style boarding schools?
    • What were authorities trying to accomplish by prohibiting traditional Pueblo dances?
    • In the reading, P.T. Lonergan states that military-style Indian schools were needed to make Native Americans more “efficient.” What do you think Lonergan meant by “efficient?”  
    • What do you think Horton means when she says the military-style schools for Indians led to “bodily forgetting”? (Encourage students to think about whether forming military-style lines everyday would lead Native Americans students to forget about how they moved and positioned their bodies in traditional dances and ceremonies).
    • What role do you think painting served for Kabotie while at the Santa Fe boarding school? How might it have helped him with his situation?
    • How did painting allow Kabotie to represent his Hopi identity?
  4. Tell students they will now be looking at more contemporary artwork to see how recent Native American artists have presented their identity in their art. Break students up into groups for a Gallery Walk activity. Post the Gallery Walk Images throughout the classroom, then give each group Handout 4 – Gallery Walk Questions and have them follow the prompts. Once the groups have finished, have them share their ideas with the class.
  5. Pass out Handout 5 – When I Was in Las Vegas and Saw a Warhol Painting of Geronimo, b: william bearhart. Individually, in groups, or together as a class, read the poem. Then ask students:
    • How would you describe this poem?
    • What kind of thoughts is bearhart having while looking at the painting of Geronimo?
    • How does he identify with Warhol? How does he identify with Geronimo? Are the connections he’s making sincere?
    • How might this poem represent a process of understanding one’s cultural identity?
  6. Tell students they will now analyze the relationship between land and Native artists’ struggles with identity. Play Clip 2, “Indian Country,” and ask:
    • In RUMBLE, Salas mentions that his friend, Apache and Pueblo drummer Randy Castillo took him on a retreat to “Indian Country” in New Mexico. What might have Randy noticed in his friend that inspired him to go to Indian Country? What do you think Randy might have hoped the result of that trip would have been?
    • In the clip you just viewed, John Trudell says the secret of Indian Country is, “Losing the part of your mind that needs losing.” What part of Salas mind do you think Randy thought “needed losing”? Was that part of his identity? What part of your mind might Trudell suggest you lose?
    • What might it have been about “Indian Country” that ultimately affected Salas? How might you compare the scenes you see in New Mexico with your images of cities such as Los Angeles? How might people behave differently in each place? Why?
  7. Pass out Handout 6 – Native Perspectives on Land, and read as a class. Ask students:
    • Based on what we read, how would you summarize the traditional Native American viewpoint on land? Would you say it is more practical or spiritual?  
    • How might this viewpoint differ from the Western European viewpoint of land? (Encourage students to think about the Western idea of land as property, owned by an individual to live or produce resources.)
    • Thinking back to the clip you saw previously, in what ways might have the Native American conception of land helped Salas recover his identity?
  8. Play Clip 3, “Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock.” Ask students:
    • Do you think Jimi Hendrix expressed his multiethnic background through this version of the “Star-Spangled Banner”? Why or why not?
    • How might a song like the National Anthem relate back to the ideas about land you discussed previously? Why might the song be a particularly poignant one for someone such as Jimi Hendrix?
    • Why do you think Jimi Hendrix’s sister expressed concern over the reactions to his performance of the “National Anthem”? How might this relate to more recent discussions of the “National Anthem” at major public events?

Summary Activity:

  1. Have students to return to the “My Communities” handouts they completed at the beginning of class, then ask:
    • Imagine you are an artist or a public figure. Which aspects of your identity would you want to present, and which would you want to keep private? Why?
    • Still pretending you are a public figure, what sort of obligations might you have in presenting yourself a certain way? What sort of pressures would you feel, and  what risks would you take in presenting other aspects of your identity to the public?

Extension Activity:

  1. See Extension Activity: “Contemporary Musicians Promote their Native Heritage.”


Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text

  • Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text
  • Reading 2: Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas
  • Reading 4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone
  • Reading 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words
  • Reading 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take
  • Reading 10: Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12

  • Speaking and Listening 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively
  • Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally
  • Speaking and Listening 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric
  • Speaking and Listening 4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience
  • Speaking and Listening 5: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations
  • Speaking and Listening 6: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language for Grades 6-12

  • Language 1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking
  • Language 3: Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening
  • Language 4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate
  • Language 5: Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings
  • Language 6: Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression

National Standards for Music Education – National Association for Music Education (NAfME)

Core Music Standard: Responding

  • Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
  • Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’ and/or performers’ expressive intent.
  • Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.

Core Music Standard: Connecting

  • Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.

National Core Arts Standards


  • Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 9: Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.


  • Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standards 11: Relate artistic ideas and work with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

Career Technical Education Standards (California Model) – Arts, Media and Entertainment Pathway Standards

Design, Visual and Media Arts (A)

  • A1.0 Demonstrate ability to reorganize and integrate visual art elements across digital media and design applications.
    A1.1 View and respond to a variety of industry-related artistic products integrating industry appropriate vocabulary.
    A1.2 Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and create projects and products across multiple industry applications.
    A1.3 Describe the use of the elements of art to express mood in digital or traditional art work found in the commercial environment.
    A1.4 Select industry-specific works and analyze the intent of the work and the appropriate use of media.
    A1.5 Research and analyze the work of an artist or designer and how the artist’s distinctive style contributes to their industry production.
    A1.6 Compare and analyze art work done using electronic media with those done with materials traditionally used in the visual arts.
    A1.7 Analyze and discuss complex ideas, such as distortion, color theory, arbitrary color, scale, expressive content, and real versus virtual in works of art.
    A1.9 Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work. ia, and Entertainment |
    A3.0 Analyze and assess the impact of history and culture on the development of professional arts and media products.
    A3.2 Describe how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence and are reflected in a variety of artistic products.
    A3.3 Identify contemporary styles and discuss the diverse social, economic, and political developments reflected in art work in an industry setting.
    A3.4 Identify art in international industry and discuss ways in which the work reflects cultural perspective.
    A3.5 Analyze similarities and differences of purpose in art created in culturally diverse industry applications.
    A4.0 Analyze, assess, and identify effectiveness of artistic products based on elements of art, the principles of design, and professional industry standards.
    A4.2 Deconstruct how beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence commercial media (traditional and electronic).
    A4.3 Analyze the aesthetic value of a specific commercial work of art and defend that analysis from an industry perspective.
    A4.5 Analyze and articulate how society influences the interpretation and effectiveness of an artistic product.
    A5.0 Identify essential industry competencies, explore commercial applications and develop a career specific personal plan.
    A5.2 Explore the role of art and design across various industry sectors and content areas.
    A5.3 Deconstruct works of art, identifying psychological content found in the symbols and images and their relationship to industry and society.

Performing Arts (B)

  • B2.0 Read, listen to, deconstruct, and analyze peer and professional music using the elements and terminology of music.
    B2.2 Describe how the elements of music are used.
    B2.5 Analyze and describe significant musical events perceived and remembered in a given industry generated example.
    B2.6 Analyze and describe the use of musical elements in a given professional work that makes it unique, interesting, and expressive.
    B2.7 Demonstrate the different uses of form, both past and present, in a varied repertoire of music in commercial settings from diverse genres, styles, and professional applications.
    B7.0 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of multiple industry performance products from a discipline-specific perspective.
    B7.3 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of the musician in the professional setting.
    B7.4 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of the actor and performance artist in the professional setting.
    B8.0 Deconstruct the aesthetic values that drive professional performance and the artistic elements necessary for industry production.
    B8.1 Critique discipline-specific professional works using the language and terminology specific to the discipline.
    B8.2 Use selected criteria to compare, contrast, and assess various professional performance forms.
    B8.4 Use complex evaluation criteria and terminology to compare and contrast a variety of genres of professional performance products.