First Conservationists (The)

3, 4, 5

Students will learn some ways Native Americans valued the Earth.

Lesson Rating 
Print2-4 class periods

The learnerwill:

  • through class discussion, identify at least two steps taken by Native Americans to protect the Earth.
  • list three ways they take care of the Earth.
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: A Message from Chief Seattle. Dial Books for Young Readers, 1991. ISBN: 0803709692.


  1. Anticipatory Set:Overhead of Oren Lyons quote (see Attachment One). Draw on the chalkboard an outline of North America to show students why Native Americans called it "Turtle Island."

  2. Tell students that 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.

    • Introduce vocabulary: 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 tointerdependence: dependent on each other or one anotherphilosophy: general beliefs, ideas, and attitudes of an individual or group
    • Show on overhead as you read aloud (see Attachment One): "In our way of life, in our government, with every decision we make, we always keep in mind the Seventh Generation to come. It's our job to see that the people coming ahead, the generations still unborn, have a world no worse than ours and hopefully better. When we walk upon Mother Earth we always plant our feet carefully because we know the faces of our future generations are looking up at us from beneath the ground."Lyons, Oren. Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation and spokesman for the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy.
    • Additional Background Information: Chief Seattle, 1790-1866, was a respected leader of the Northwest Indian Nations. In 1850, the government in Washington, D.C. wanted to buy all the lands of Chief Seattle's people, who had been defeated in wars with the white man, and who were tired, hungry, and without hope. Chief Seattle addressed the government in his native tongue.
    • Read aloud Brother Eagle, Sister Sky (see Bibliographical References).
    • Points for class discussion:
      • 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."
  3. Questions (see Attachment Two):

    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.


  4. Create a "Family" Earth Day Quilt (See attached instructions in Attachment Three).

    • 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.
    • Using Native American terms (symbols), students write a message on strips of brown bulletin board paper (crinkled) to all people as if they were Chief Seattle.

Answers to questions reflect an understanding of Chief Seattle's message Students' drawings or writing show examples of protecting the Earth and its resources for future generations. Evaluation: Points Possible Points Earned 1. Answers include restated questions. 20 2. Answers are complete and correct. 20 3. Each sentence begins with a capital letter and includes correct ending punctuation. 20 4. Correct spelling-priority words and "use words." 20 5. Project:One page of class book (creativity, use of color, words to explain illustration)Bookmark-creativity, use of color, meaningful message. 20

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.