Native Americans and Giving

3, 4, 5

Through the use of literature and discussion, this lesson will introduce the philanthropic behavior of the Native American in the United States. The speech of Chief Seattle will be explored by using the book Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: The Words of Chief Seattle.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Forty-Five to Fifty Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • reflect on the words of Chief Seattle and describe the Native American view of stewardship of the land.
  • define the terms "common good" and "stewardship" and give examples in everyday life.
  • Copy of the book Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: The Words of Chief Seattle (see Bibliographical References)
  • Excerpts from John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Speech (Handout One)
  • Samples of Mind Maps (Handout Two)
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.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Say to the class, "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." Explain that this famous 1961 quote from a speech by John F. Kennedy echoes the ideas on which the United States was founded many years ago. See "Excerpts from John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Speech" (Handout One). Tell the learners that they are going to learn about some of the early people and groups in our country's history that worked toward the "common good."

  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, have students make comparisons between traditional Native American practices related to the spiritual view of the environment and current day practices.

  5. Have students share what they know about the mistreatment of the Native Americans and the land where the settlers moved. How is the treatment different from what Chief Seattle asked for in his speech?

  6. Introduce the term "stewardship." This refers to the idea of managing our resources so they benefit everyone, not only now, but in the future. By not polluting the water, the air, or the land, 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.

  7. Discuss the meaning of "common good" with the learners (resources shared by the whole group of people). To ensure they understand the concept, ask students for examples of "resources" and "how they can be shared by a whole group." What would Chief Seattle list as examples of "resources" to be used for the common good? Would he say that everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the common good?

  8. Tell the students that they are going to create a mind map showing the Native Americans and what they wanted for the "common good." Model a mind map. There are different varieties that the learners can use as shown in Mind Maps (Handout Two). Have the students create their mind map and fill in the shapes with the suggestions offered by Chief Seattle.


The learners will demonstrate their understanding of the term "common good" through discussion. They will provide a mind map correctly filled with at least six (6) Native American ideas of "common good" based on the book and the discussion.

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.