Native Americans and Generosity

3, 4, 5

Introduce the philanthropic behavior of Native Americans through the speech attributed to Chief Seattle, using the book Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: The Words of Chief Seattle.

PrintOne 45-Minute Session
  • Describe the Native American view of stewardship of the land.
  • Define the terms "common good" and "stewardship" and give examples in everyday life.
  • read-aloud copy of Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: The Words of Chief Seattle 
  • Samples of Mind Maps (handout below)
Teacher Preparation 
Note: This lesson depends on a picture book that uses text attributed to Chief Seattle. In truth, there is not an accurate version of that famous speech from 1854. The closest version was published in 1887 (33 years after the speech), written by Henry Smith who translated a poetic version from notes he took of the speech. It is believed that Mr. Smith captured the meaning of the speech but not the actual words. (The speech was not in English.) You may wish to raise students’ awareness of legends and let them know that the translation has been altered over the years for different purposes. In addition, Chief Seattle was from the Northwest, not the Plains, as portrayed in the Jeffers illustrations. Although these were not his actual words, the powerful message of our relationship to the earth is still important for us to consider.
  • Jeffers, Susan (Illustrator). Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: The Words of Chief Seattle. New York: Dial Books, 1991. ISBN 0-8037-0969-2


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Long before any settlers came from other continents, North Americans had a life tied to the generosity and gratitude of the land. The indigenous people sought balance with the land by taking no more than was needed and sharing with their community members. There was an understanding with nature that guided behavior. This is described in the book Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. 

  2. Hold up the book Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. Explain that it is a re-creation of a speech by Chief Seattle. Using information provided on the back flyleaf of the book (or another source), introduce Chief Seattle historically to the class. Explain that the city of Seattle, Washington was named for him.

  3. Read the book aloud. As you read, notice and discuss the symbolism displayed in the artwork in the book.

  4. Make a list together of the special precautions/concerns Chief Seattle asks everyone to take with the environment. Whenever possible, make comparisons between traditional Native American practices related to the spiritual view of the environment and the common good. Listen for examples of respect, gratitude, and generosity.

  5. Introduce the term stewardship. This refers to the idea of managing our resources so they benefit everyone, not only now, but in the future. When we make laws and practice protecting the water, the air, or the land from pollution or overuse, we are looking out for ourselves and for everyone. Ask the learners to think about Chief Seattle's words and suggest ways that we can be good stewards of the environment.

  6. Discuss the meaning of common good (resources shared by the whole group of people). To ensure they understand the concept, discuss examples of "resources" and "how they can be shared by a whole group." Discuss Chief Seattle's examples of resources to be grateful for and use respectfully for the common good. 

    Ask, "Would Chief Seattle say that everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the common good?"

  7. Using the Mind Map handout, have participants write the main idea of common good in the center and fill in the shapes with the examples of actions offered by Chief Seattle.


Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.3 Recognize that citizens have a responsibility for the common good as defined by democratic principles.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.5 Recognize the wise use of resources as <i>stewardship</i>.
    2. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark E.4 Describe an early example of philanthropy practiced in the indigenous culture.
    3. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark E.4 Analyze information to differentiate fact from opinion based on the investigation of issues related to the common good.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.3 Define stewardship and give examples.