Lesson 4: Indigenous Lands of Indiana (2024)

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  • Hoosier History and Indiana State Parks
  • Current: Lesson 4: Indigenous Lands of Indiana

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Key objectives

In this unit students will learn about Indigenous groups in early Indiana and explore the causes of removal of two tribal nations from Indiana, their resettlement during the 1830s, and what life is like today for these tribes.

  • State Academic Standards

Featured state parks

  • Pokagon State Park
  • Tippecanoe River State Park
  • Prophetstown State Park
  • Mississinewa Lake

Key resources



Activity 1: Home and Language

Students will examine online maps that illustrate the general locations of Indigenous tribal groups in the Northwest Territory before Indiana’s statehood, and will compare those locations with where Indiana’s state parks and lakes are located today. They will look at state park and lake names to identify local connections with the Indigenous groups who lived in those locations. Activity length: 45 minutes.

  • Background

    Indigenous peoples have been in what became Indiana since at least 8,000 BCE, when the Ice Age ended with receding glaciers. These early inhabitant were nomadic hunter-gatherers. They used stone tools to hunt and prepare food and perform other daily tasks. Beginning in 5000 BCE we see the emergence of the Archaic period, characterized by advances in the use of tools. Next, we enter the Woodland period, characterized by the use of pottery and the beginnings of agriculture. Following the end of the Woodland period in 1000 CE we have the Mississippian culture making an appearance. The Mississippians built upon the advances of their predecessors and began to establish metropolitan areas. They are also the first peoples in the area to grow maize, a staple food crop.

    Europeans first arrived in Indiana in the late 17th century. The first to arrive were French fur traders. The Beaver Wars were happening at this time, which was a conflict primarily between Algonquian and Iroquois over the trade in beaver pelts, trade in general, and ascendancy in the territory. This series of wars was brutal and bloody. The natives fled the area during the war and only returned after the war ended in 1701. The primary inhabitants were Miami and Potawatomi. The Miami are in the Algonquian language family. Indiana was home to several bands of Miami, including Wea and Piankashaw. Their territory included most of the northern portion of what is now Indiana. The Potawatomi came to Indiana by way of the Michigan territory, but migrated to Indiana at some point following the Beaver Wars. The Lenape sought refuge in Indiana from the Chesapeake Bay after intrusion on their land by Europeans. They found a new home in what is now Central Indiana. The Shawnee migrated to northeast Indiana from Ohio in the late 18th century. From there they found their way to the Vincennes area in search of better hunting opportunities. The Shawnee brothers Tec*mseh and Tenskwatawa led a confederation of natives to try to win back their land and existence from the encroachment of Europeans. Tec*mseh and Tenskwatawa took inspiration from the confederation that resisted the Americans in the late 18th century. These conflicts with Europeans eventually came to a head, resulting in the forced removal of the Indigenous peoples of Indiana who had called this land home for thousands of years.

  • Vocabulary, materials required, focus questions


    • BCE: This is an abbreviation for Before the Common Era, which means before year 1 of the Common Era. This designation corresponds with BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini).
    • Archaic period: This period in North America occurred from 8000 BCE to 2000 BCE. This designation for this period came from archaeologists in the 1950s.
    • Woodland period: This period corresponds to pre-Columbian North American cultures from approximately 1000 BCE to 1000 CE.
    • Pottery: Items of artistic value and/or practical everyday use that are made from clay and baked in fire to harden.
    • Agriculture: The purposeful growing of plants for use as food and other products that support human life.
    • Mississippian culture: A culture of mound-builders who lived in North America from 900 to 1500 BCE.
    • Confederation: An organization that consists of a number of parties or groups united in an alliance or league.

    Materials required

    Focus questions

    • How did Indiana get its name?
    • Who lived here before Europeans colonized the continent?
    • What was daily life like for the people who lived in present day Indiana during this period?
  • Step-by-step directions
    1. Review the online resource from the Myaamia Center called Walking Myaamionki. Ask students to each select one of the locations identified and transfer the general locations of settlements to a present-day map of Indiana that shows all state parks and lakes. Which parks and lakes are located in or near the homelands of an the Myaamia?
    2. Ask each student to select one state park or lake property located in or near the homelands of the Myaamia and use that site’s property map to see if there are words or references to the Indigenous people who lived in that region of the state. Ask each student to write a short description of the property and what it might have looked like during the time that Myaamia lived there.
    3. Several tribal nations are working to reclaim and teach their languages to young people today. Use the matching game to learn the meanings of several property names that have their roots in Indigenous languages.

Activity 2: A Disruption of Tribal Life

Students will look at what happened to two Indigenous groups who lived in Indiana, how they were removed and what their lives are like today. Activity length: 60 minutes over three to four days.

  • Background

    Over a period of about fifteen years beginning in 1830 Indigenous tribes were forcibly removed from Indiana to territories farther west. Removal was happening on a national scale with the passage of the Indian Removal Act by the United States Congress in 1830. The Wea and Shawnee saw the direction that things were headed and left the state voluntarily, leaving the Miami and the Potawatomi the two remaining tribes. The Wea and Shawnee experienced great hardships from pressures on hunting and land use directly related to American settlement. These groups escaped by moving west. The Potawatomi village led by Chief Menominee resisted as long as possible. He and his village were removed along what is called the Potawatomi Trail of Death in 1838. Of the nearly 900 people removed around forty of them died along the journey. After the Trail of Death, the only Indigenous peoples left in the state were the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, having gained special permission from the government to remain in the Great Lakes. In 1846, many of the Miami as a tribal nation were removed by force. However, many stayed on land that they owned privately.

  • Vocabulary, materials required, focus questions


    • Indigenous: To belong to a particular place by birth or origin; occurring naturally in a particular place.
    • Indian Removal: In the 1800s, the United States government systematically and forcefully removed native peoples living east of the Mississippi River to areas west of the river.
    • Native: This word is a synonym of indigenous
    • Treaty: A formally concluded and ratified agreement between independent groups or nations

    Materials required

    Focus questions

    • What is a typical day like for you? Do you have favorite things that you like to do? What would it feel like if someone told you to pack up everything you own that you could carry and walk from where you live to another state where you’d never been? What if your grandparents and great grandparents had to walk with you, or your baby sister or brother or little cousin? Often small children would have been carried.
    • Did Indigenous children who lived in Indiana experience something like this?
    • What is a treaty?
  • Step-by-step directions
    1. Divide students into two groups and assign each group one of the two groups (Miami and Potawatomi) to research about their tribal removal using a KWL Chart. Students may also work individually or in pairs.
    2. Have students identify generally what they know about the tribe and write that in the first column.
    3. Each student or group of students should write the following questions in the second column and answer them in the third column:
      • Identify on your map where this tribal group lived in Indiana (it may be multiple locations).
      • Identify five important things about the way this tribe lived while here in Indiana in the early 1800s.
      • What happened that resulted in the tribe being removed from Indiana? (Look at treaties.)
      • What route was the tribe forced to follow to leave Indiana? Are there any Indiana state parks along the routes identified?
      • Are there any signs, historical markers or memorials of any type identifying and commemorating the presence and/or removal of this tribe from Indiana? (Note the state park and lake names.)
      • Did anyone from the tribe stay in Indiana?
      • Where is the tribe centered today? (Note — it may be multiple locations.)
      • Identify five important things about the tribe today
    4. Finally, have each group create a mural/map on butcher paper illustrating the locations and examples of tribal life in Indiana, the removal route (note any cities, towns, rivers, state parks or lakes,or stories shared in the information read) and the tribal locations, along with representations of tribal life today.
    5. Follow-up the research and murals/maps with a discussion about land use and people today. Possible discussion direction might be A) Are there examples in which land can be taken today? (Highways, etc.) Are there situations when that is the right thing to do? What factors must be considered to make that determination? B) Are there places in the world today where entire groups of people are being forcibly removed from their homelands? If so, why? What do the students think about that?

Activity 3: What I Remember

This activity encourages students to experience, both virtually and in reality, a place and its characteristics. Students will think about what they would remember if they had to leave for some reason, and what they might share with their children or grandchildren about that place. Activity length: 30-60 minutes at school and at home.

  • Background

    Having a home, a sense of place, somewhere you belong is an important part of being human. The Indigenous people who lived here before 1830 were no different. They were forced to leave their home where they lived for centuries in order to make room for the European population that had begun to colonize the Americas.

  • Material required, focus questions

    Materials required

    Focus questions

    • Where is one of your favorite places? (Home? A park? Grandparents’ house? The mall?)
    • Is there a place that your family loves and returns to every year to gather? A place where you always have your family reunions, etc? The family farm?
    • Can you think of a place that is significant to people who live in the U.S. (the White House, Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery)
    • What do you remember about it now?
    • What would it feel like if someone told you that you had to leave that place or could never visit it again?
  • Step-by-step directions
    1. Invite students to sit comfortably with books closed and pens/pencils put away. Ask them to imagine they were Miami Indians taking one last look at the landscape before being removed from their homes and sent west. Ask them to watch quietly and listen to the short videos from areas along the Mississinewa River at what is now Mississinewa Lake located where the Miami once lived. Repeat the process with video from Pokagon State Park located in the area where the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi lived.
    2. Ask them to imagine that they are Miami Indians taking a look at their home before they are being removed west. Remind them that Miami had lived here for generations and had passed down stories of their life along the river.
    3. After watching the videos, talk about what the students saw and heard, and discuss the feelings the images and sounds created. How would knowledge of those places known as home have been passed on in a way that Indian children today might learn about them?
    4. Ask them to write a short story or poem that they might share with their children or grandchildren to help them know something about the place they just watched in the video. Invite those who are willing to share the poems with the class.
    5. As a homework assignment, ask them to visit one of their favorite places, or a place that is meaningful to their family, and spend five minutes watching and listening to the sounds of that place. Have they visited a place that is meaningful to the citizens of the United States? Ask them to write a short story or poem about this place that is special to them or to their family, and have those who are willing share them with the class.

    Extension ideas

    • Invite someone from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi or the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma to come to your class and speak about their history and life today.
    • Read and learn about Frances Slocum, a white woman who was kidnapped by the Delaware and spent much of her life with the Miami in the area where Mississinewa Lake is now. Frances Slocum: A Moment of Indiana History.
    • Invite your students to write a first-person story about what it would be like to be forced to move away from home.

    Thanks to Dr. Ronald Morris and the history education students at Ball State University for their assistance and creativity in developing the activities for this unit.

Lesson 1 Indiana’s Ancient Seas
Lesson 2 Glaciers in Indiana
Lesson 4 Indiana — Land of the Indians
Lesson 5 Indiana After the American Revolution
Lesson 6 From Forests to Farms and Towns
Lesson 8 The Beginnings of Indiana’s State Parks System
Lesson 9 Building Indiana State Parks — CCC and WPA
Lesson 10 State Parks after WW II
Lesson 11 Putting Out The Welcome Mat
Lesson 4: Indigenous Lands of Indiana (2024)
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