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Native Americans

55 min

Guiding Questions

  • Why do minority groups sometimes suffer from discrimination?
  • What responsibility does Government have to protect minority groups?
  • Why have some minority groups struggled more than others in obtaining rights?


  • Students will describe the “Trail of Tears.”
  • Students will analyze the contradictions between the US Constitution and in the treatment of Native Americans.
  • Students will examine the difficulties Native Americans have experienced in US History.
  • Students will describe how at different points the US has either attempted to “separate” or “assimilate” Native Americans.
  • Students will explain why Native Americans have seemed to be unable to improve their freedom or equality in American society.

  • liberty
  • justice
  • property
  • equality
  • republic
  • majority rule
  • minority rights
  • representation
  • separation of powers

Have students read the Native Americans Essay.

Initiate discussion centered on the Native Americans Essay. Ask the students the following questions:

  1. What are some examples of how Native Americans have rarely enjoyed the benefits of liberty and equality under the American republic?
  2. In what ways have the status of Native Americans alternated between separation and assimilation?

First, direct attention to Handout A: The United States Constitution, explaining to students that it will be used as a resource throughout the lesson. The handouts they will be reading today should be analyzed in light of the principles reflected in the Constitution.

Ask students: “What Constitutional principles are – or are not – reflected in the events surrounding Indian Removal?” Write that question on the board.

Review with students and discuss the Constitutional principles reflected in the pre-reading, eliciting from students where and how those principles are present in the Constitution.

Next, review Handout B as a large group, and then assign students to pairs or groups of three and direct them to read Handouts C – G. As they read, students should look for, consider, and annotate ways the documents either do or do not reflect Constitutional principles. Students should then complete Handout B: Indian Removal, Constitutional Principles, and Civic Virtue.

After students have completed the reading and Handout B, conduct a class discussion that invites student analysis and evaluation of the Handouts C – G documents in light of Constitutional principles. Ask students to compare and contrast the principles in the U.S. Constitution with the principles in the documents.

Ask students to address the following prompt: “Did a series of President Andrew Jackson’s decisions regarding Indian Removal conflict with America’s constitutional principles? If so, how?”

If scaffolding is necessary, provide the following questions to guide students in their thinking: Jackson believed that each department of government had the power to interpret the Constitution.

  • What arguments can be offered for and against this position?
  • Does the fact that an action has been determined to be constitutional mean that the action is necessarily just or virtuous?
  • How should the citizens respond when powerful branches of government take actions that violate civic virtue, the Constitution, or both?

As mentioned in the handout “Native Americans,” while women and African Americans have won greater liberty and equality in recent decades to fulfill American ideals, Native Americans can point to few examples of progress. Ask students to write a paragraph answering the question “Why is it that Federal policies related to Native Americans have seemed to be unable to improve their freedom or equality in American society?”

Students may watch a documentary on the Native American occupation of Alcatraz (We Hold the Rock – YouTube) and read about the American Indian Movement (AIM) at American Indian Movement · Civil Rights Digital History Project · exhibits ( and at Digital History (, and consider how Native American protests fit into protests for Civil Rights for other groups (African-Americans, Women, Hispanic-Americans, Homosexuals) in the 1960s and 1970s and how these movements helped secure rights for different groups.

Students may consider ways in which Native Americans could continue to secure rights and opportunities today.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

Slavery and the Constitution