Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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1. Native Voices   

1. Native Voices

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•  Using the Video
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•  Activities
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Activities: Author Activities

Ghost Dance Songs - Teaching Tips

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  • In his book A Little Matter Called Genocide, American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Ward Churchill places images of stacked bodies from Wounded Knee next to images of bodies from German concentration camps in World War II. These images have some shocking similarities and force the question: was Wounded Knee a genocidal act? More importantly, what are the implications of calling it one? Ask your students to define the word "genocide" and then to debate when we should limit the use of the word.

  • Have your students read either Black Elk's or Eastman's description of the Ghost Dance movement before they read the Ghost Dance songs. Why were the whites in the area so scared? You may want to have your students read the sections surrounding the description so they know what led up to the incident.

  • Unlike the Chippewa songs included in this unit, the Ghost Dance songs were highly ritualistic and performative: they were intended to bring about the deeds they describe. If we take these songs seriously, this would be disastrous for many of their readers. What does it mean, then, to read these songs respectfully? Use this as a problem-solving activity for students. How can an audience respond to literature that may, at its heart, want to end that audience's very existence? How does the text change when read by those who identify with the author, those who are targeted by the author, and those who are not directly implicated by the text? (Amiri Baraka's "Black Art" poems pose issues related to these questions.)

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