FOCUSED: What Can Images of Virginia Indians Tell Us About Cultural Resilience?
Upper Elementary, Middle
Standards and Skills
Virginia Standards of Learning: Virginia Studies, US History to 1865
Standards of Learning: VS.2e, VS.2g, VS.8b, US1.3c
Using information sources, questioning and critical thinking, comparing and contrasting, making connections, demonstrating comprehension
Meets National Standards of Learning for Social Studies
According to Barry Bass of the Nansemond, one major challenge facing Virginia Indians is “educating the public that Virginia Indians still exist.” By examining images and photographs of and by Virginia Indians from the period of initial English colonization to the present, students will observe that despite the discrimination they have faced over time, Virginia Indians not only exist but have maintained their distinct culture and heritage while also remaining a part of the fabric of modern American society.
MATERIALS AND PREPARATION
PART 1: THROUGH WHOSE EYES?
Students will understand that those who create an image and their unique perspective influences what the image can tell us and how we view it.
Teaming Drawing Activity: This activity is designed to get students interested in looking at the images more closely and thinking about what the images convey.
- Have students form groups of 4. Give each group a blank piece of paper and a drawing utensil (pencil, pen, marker, crayon).
- Have the image either on a screen facing away from the students or printed where the students can’t see it.
- Explain the activity to students as outlined in the next step. Give students a minute or two to strategize how they will draw their image (Will each student take a section of the imFage? Will they start by drawing the overall outline and then fill in details?
- Students will take turns doing the following: One student will come to view the image for 20 seconds. Then, they will go back to the group and draw what they can remember from the image for 1 minute. Then, they stop drawing and another student goes to view the image for 20 seconds, then they add to the first student’s drawing for 1 minute.
- Repeat the activity with all three images.
Take a Deeper Look
Now that students have been introduced to the images and have developed a curiosity about what they show, you’ll take a deeper look at each image as a class.
Theodor de Bry Image: Pull up the image and title so that the whole class can see it. Go through the following questions as a class.
- What do you see in this image? Students should only describe the physical elements they see. For example: they see a man with feathers in his hair, he has a bow, he has markings on his arms, legs and chest, etc.
- What elements in the image are in your drawings? What elements did your group miss?
- Using the image and the title, who do you think made this image? Why do you think they might have made it? Students can read in the title that this was done by a man named Theodor de Bry after the watercolor drawings by John White.
- Tell students the background of this image: In the late 1500s, an Englishman named John White drew watercolor depictions of the Indigenous people that he interacted with in the New World. His drawings were promotional in nature: he depicted Indigenous people as welcoming and industrious, and therefore able and willing to help colonists establish settlements. He tried to show that Indigenous people were not a threat to colonists. John White then gave his watercolors to Theodor de Bry, who engraved them so they could be mass produced in Europe. His engravings mostly followed White’s watercolors but he made some changes and additions, even though he had never been to the Americas. In some cases, he made images of people look more European, like the people he was used to seeing.
Frank Speck Photograph: Pull up the image and title so that the whole class can see it. Go through the following questions as a class.
Contemporary Image: Pull up the image and title so that the whole class can see it. Go through the following questions as a class.
- What do you see in this image?
- What elements in the image are in your drawings? What elements did your group miss?
- Using the image and the title, who do you think made this image? Why do you think they might have made it? – Students can see from the title that this was a photo by Frank Speck. Students might guess that he was trying to show what life was like for Virginia Indians in the 1920s. Or they might make other guesses based on why they and their families take photographs.
- Tell students about who Frank Speck was and why he obtained his photographs: Jim Crow laws were laws that discriminated against Americans based on their race. Jim Crow laws discriminated against African Americans. They also discriminated against Indigenous people. In 1924, Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act. One part of the Racial Integrity Act made it illegal to identify as Virginia Indian on legal documents. This discrimination tried to legally erase the identity of Virginia Indians. Frank Speck was an anthropologist who grew up in Connecticut with an Indigenous woman who spoke Algonquian, which sparked his interest in Indigenous cultures and languages. He opposed the Racial Integrity Act. During the time he spent with Virginia Indians, he obtained pictures of them and their way of life. By documenting Virginia Indians around 1920, he showed how Virginia Indian culture persisted despite the attempt by the law to erase it.
Students will discuss how the creator of a piece of art (a drawing or a photograph) and their perspective influences what they choose to create and how that perspective influences how a piece of art is interpreted.
- When White, de Bry and Speck created images of America’s Indigenous people, do you think they focused on the same things that their subjects would have focused on? Why or why not? [Students might discuss how de Bry and Speck would have focused on what they were interested in and how they saw their subjects, and not necessarily how their subjects saw themselves.]
- When you drew copies of the images at the beginning of the lesson, did every person and group end up drawing the same things? Why do you think that is? [Students might discuss how each person focused on different aspects of the image, because each individual person approaches sources from their own unique perspective.]
- Why do you think it’s important to see primary sources of Virginia Indians created by Virginia Indians? [Answers will vary. Students might discuss how many sources showing Virginia Indians from the past were not from their perspective and might be missing important information. Students might also think about this question from their own perspective: they would not want people in the future to learn about their lives only from other people and not themselves.]
- Why is it important to understand how perspectives influence how primary sources are made and interpreted? [Answers will vary. Students might discuss the importance of seeking out diverse perspectives to gain a fuller understanding of a primary source. They also might discuss the importance of seeking out sources created by the subject being portrayed.]
PART 2: FOCUSED – VIRGINIA INDIAN RESILIENCE
Students will understand that Virginia Indians exist today. By examining images depicting Virginia Indian culture from three separate centuries, students will understand continuity and change in Virginia Indian culture.
Watch the video below.
Divide the class into small groups of 3-4 students. Give each group the primary sources and 2 “panels” worksheets (see “Primary Source Set”).
Tell the students that they are using primary sources to make an exhibit. They will look at the images and think about what stories the images can tell. Have them create 3 “panels”- for each panel, they will choose three images that relate somehow and write a “label”- one sentence that tells the viewer how the three images relate and what they tell us about Virginia Indian culture. Remind students to think about who created the image.
Have the groups switch so they look at another group’s “exhibit.” Have the students discuss amongst themselves: What did the other group include? Was it different or similar to their own exhibit? What new information did the other group find?
Have a class discussion to summarize aspects of Virginia Indian culture that did and didn’t change based on what they saw in the images.
- What were some of the changes that you noticed? Why do you think those things changed? Some reasons for cultural change include assimilation to American culture and changing technology.
- What were some of the things that didn’t change? Why do you think those things didn’t change? While some of the methods of cultural practice have changed, like fishing on motorboats instead of canoes, the practices themselves have not.
- What is one word you would use to describe how Indian culture has changed over time? Students might use words like adapted, existed, persisted, remained.
Sandra F. Waugaman and Danielle Morette-Langholz, We’re Still Here: Contemporary Virginia Indians Tell Their Stories (Richmond, VA: Palari Publishing, 2000).
Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990).