Subject: Social Studies/History

Essential Question

What is cultural appropriation, how does it affect Native American communities, and should it be regulated by law?


In this lesson, students will engage in a structured academic controversy to address the question, “should appropriation of Native American cultural practices be regulated by law?” Working in small groups, students will consider cultural appropriation in varying degrees by watching RUMBLE clips of African American “Mardi Gras Indian Tribes” from New Orleans, viewing images of sports logos, controversial fashion items, and consulting divergent viewpoints in regards to each. Groups will pair off into a “yes” and “no” answer, and support their position with evidence. Then, the groups will switch, and each defend the opposite position. Finally, the class will end with each student drafting a personal response to the activity. Throughout the lesson, students will additionally encounter poetry written by Native Americans that offers their perspectives on the issue of cultural appropriation.

In 2013, A Tribe Called Red, a Canadian collective of First Nations DJs whose work regularly samples traditional Indigenous Music, requested on Twitter that their Non-native fans refrain from wearing Indigenous headdresses and “warpaint” at their performances. “It’s insulting,” they wrote, adding later that donning such outfits is an act of “racial stereotyping and cultural appropriation.”

A Tribe Called Red’s statement is one of the many that have brought the contentious issue of “cultural appropriation” into public consciousness. The practice, defined by Fordham Law Professor Susan Scafidi as, “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission…[especially] when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways,” is viewed by some as a serious issue that deserves legal action. Others, however, believe that “cultural appropriation” is a natural outgrowth of the “melting pot” culture of a place like the United States and that there is nothing negative about it whatsoever. Perhaps no bellwether of the contentiousness behind the term is as telling as the Wikipedia entry for the term, where the open source nature of the site allows anyone to make edits, and they do. “Cultural appropriation” is updated, and also reverted to its previous state almost daily as individuals seek to control the meaning of the concept itself.


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Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • The definition of “culture”
    • Various definitions of “cultural appropriation”
    • About the debate regarding the validity of the concept of “cultural appropriation”
    • About specific instances in popular culture labeled as “cultural appropriation”
    • About the Mardi Gras “Indians” of New Orleans
    • Some of the ways certain Native American musicians and poets have responded to cultural appropriation
  2. Mastery Objective:
    • Through textual analysis of divergent viewpoints on cultural appropriation, students will be able to evaluate both sides of the debate and then employ research-based evidence in the statement of their own beliefs about the issue


Motivational Activity:

  1. Show Image 1, “A Tribe Called Red Tweet. Ask students:
    • Have you ever heard of “A Tribe Called Red”? Who might they be?
    • A Tribe Called Red is a group of Indigenous DJs from Canada who regularly draw upon traditional Native American music. Why might fans of A Tribe Called Red be coming to their shows in headdresses and warpaint?
    • Why might A Tribe Called Red consider this practice insulting?
    • Why is the group only speaking to the Non Natives in this tweet?
  2. Show students Image 2, “A Tribe Called Red Tweet Responses. Ask students:
    • Why might wearing headdresses and warpaint at A Tribe Called Red performance be considered racial stereotyping?
    • How does A Tribe Called Red further defend their position?
    • What might A Tribe Called Red mean by using the phrase “cultural appropriation”? What is cultural appropriation?


  1. Tell students that they will be discussing the issue of “cultural appropriation” in class. But before you can assess the idea,  you must address the words separately. Ask students:
    • How might you define “culture”?
  2. Show students Image 3, “Culture – Oxford Dictionary,” and ask:
    • What might be some examples of things considered “culture” by this definition?
  3. Now show students Image 4, “Appropriate / Appropriation – Oxford Dictionary,” and ask:
    • How might appropriation apply to culture? Can you think of any examples?
  4. Show students Image 5, Fordham law professor Susan Scafidi’s definition of cultural appropriation, “Cultural Appropriation Definition,” and ask:
    • Can you think of any examples of cultural appropriation? Do you think that it is an issue that should concern people?
  5. Tell students that Indigenous culture has been a source of fascination since European colonizers first came to the Western Hemisphere. From Hollywood movies to sports to comic books, non-native companies and institutions have profited from Indigenous culture. Pass out to students  Handout 1 – Excerpts from The Real Indian Leans Against, Chrystos. After reading the poem individually or as a class, ask students:
    • What is Chrystos describing in this poem?
    • For you, what emotion of feeling is Chrystos getting across in this poem?
    • In what ways might Chrystos be connecting the sale of figurines with the treatment of Native Peoples in the United States?
    • What is Chrystos doing in the final stanza? What new idea are they introducing?
    • How might the final line, “I want to live somewhere where nobody is sold,” have a dual meaning within this poem?
    • What might this poem say about cultural appropriation?
  6. Play Clip 1, “‘Indians’ at Woodstock,” and ask:
    • Why do you think “Indians were in” at Woodstock? What do you think the elements of Native American fashion you saw in this clip might have meant to the people who wore them? (Encourage students to think of what Woodstock represented at the time: freedom, escape from the mainstream, etc. Perhaps the Native American clothing suggested freedom, outsider-ness, and a connection to nature and the past, even if those things were more imagined than real.)
  7. Pass out to students Handout 2 – What’s an Indian Woman to Do? Marcie Rendon. After reading the poem individually or as a class, ask students:
    • What is Rendon describing in this poem?
    • For you, what feeling is Rendon conveying in this poem?
    • Do you think Rendon’s message in this poem is directed at any audience in particular? Who?
    • Do you see any connections between this poem and Chrystos’ poem? If so, what might be the connections?
    • What might this poem be saying about cultural appropriation?
  8. Break students into small, even-numbered groups, ideally of four, for the Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) activity. Then divide each group into Side A and Side B. Inform groups that they’ll be addressing the question, “Does cultural appropriation negatively affect Native American communities, and should it be regulated by law?” Over the course of the activity, Sides A and B will switch positions, arguing both in the affirmative and the negative.  
  9. Tell students that they will gather information for the SAC at four stations. Groups should move through the stations as time and space permits, and may begin their journey at any of the four stations. Groups should follow the instructions on Handout 3 – Cultural Appropriation Structured Academic Controversy.

Summary Activity:

  1. Ask students:
    • Having taken both sides of this debate, how do you now feel about cultural appropriation? Is there a “yes” or “no” answer to its existence? Does it concern you? Is it always the same, or do you feel differently about the varying ways you see cultural appropriation occur?

Extension Activity:

  1. Look up the term “Hollywood Indian.” In a short essay, use two examples of the “Hollywood Indian” to address the idea of cultural appropriation in American cinema and television. How have Native Americans been portrayed? What does the portrayal of Native Americans suggest about the mostly white producers and directors who have written and casted them?


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 Curriculum Standards for Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Theme 9: Global Connections

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.
    A1.4 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.
    A1.9 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).
    A4.5 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.
    A5.1 Compare and contrast the ways in which different artistic media (television, newspapers, magazines, and electronic media) cover the same commercial content.
    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.
    B7.1 Identify and compare how film, theater, television, and electronic media productions influence values and behaviors.
    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.
    B8.3 Analyze the aesthetic principles that apply in a professional work designed for live performance, film, video, or live broadcast.
    B8.4 Use complex evaluation criteria and terminology to compare and contrast a variety of genres of professional performance products.