First Conservationists

3, 4, 5

Youth learn some ways Native Americans value the Earth.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne 45-Minute Class Session

The learner will:

  • identify at least two steps taken by Native Americans to protect the Earth.
  • list three ways they personally take care of the Earth.
  • any social studies text that includes information about Chief Seattle
  • read aloud copy of Brother Eagle, Sister Sky by Susan Jeffers 
  • Social Studies text or biography about John Muir - (one of the first conservationists)
  • display of Oren Lyons quote (handout)
  • copies of the journal questions (handout)
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.

Home Connection 

Optional: See handout for a family quilt project


Jeffers, Susan (Illustrator). Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message from Chief Seattle. Dial Books for Young Readers, 1991. ISBN: 0803709692.


  1. Anticipatory Set:  Display Oren Lyons quote (see handout). Point out an outline of North America to show why Native Americans called it "Turtle Island."

  2. Set the tone before reading Brother Earth, Sister Sky: Native Americans believe they have a responsibility to take care of this place they call "Turtle Island." They also believe they have the responsibility to take care of each other. This includes the animals, the insects, birds, fish, and all the living things. Native American traditions include a concern for future generations.

    • generation(s): a group of individuals born and living at the same time; the average span of time between the birth of parents and that of their offspring
    • befall: to happen to
    • interdependence: dependent on each other or one another
    • philosophy: general beliefs, ideas, and attitudes of an individual or group
  3. Read aloud Brother Eagle, Sister Sky (see Bibliography). Discuss:

    • In the story, voices speak. Who are these voices and what did each say?
    • Summarize Chief Seattle's message: "You must give to the rivers the kindness you would give to any brother."
    • Explain: "The earth does not belong to us…we belong to the earth."
  4. Answers to Questions (see Journal Questions handout):

    1. Q. Who is the 'Seventh Generation'? A. The generations still to come. Those that will be born many years from now.
    2. Q. Explain the following statement, "What befalls the earth befalls all the sons and daughters of the earth." A. If we destroy the trees and animals, generally pollute the Earth and do not take care to use our natural resources wisely, we will ultimately be destroying man, who is dependent upon the Earth and its resources.
    3. Q. In what ways do we protect our world? A. Recycle, reuse, plant trees, conserve water and energy, etc.
    4. Q. What must be done for future generations? A. Continue to recycle, learn new ways to conserve energy, plant, etc.
    5. Q. What could we do to teach our community to take care of the world for the "Seventh Generation"? A. Read social studies text about John Muir, then discuss the importance of conservation.
  5. Individual projects:

    • Create a class book showing how we take care of the Earth, then read it to first and second graders.
    • Create bookmarks with environmental slogans or messages to be used in a media center or donated to local libraries, nursing homes, etc.

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 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.1 Give examples of philanthropic traditions of diverse cultures.