How did the Powhatan Indians interact with their environment?

Lesson Plan
Powhatans hunting and fishing, Theodor de Bry

Powhatans hunting and fishing, Theodor de Bry



Upper Elementary


Virginia Standards of Learning:

VS.1, a, d, e, h, i; VS.2 c, e
Applying geographic skills; Making connections; Questioning and critical thinking skills; Using information sources

This lesson also meets national standards of learning for social studies


One of our greatest sources for studying history is looking at primary sources such as diaries, letters, and journals.  Drawings, paintings, maps, and engravings from the early colonial period are also sources for information.  We have very few of these about the Powhatan Indians from that time period. Among the things we do have are some pictures that date to around 1585.  Originally painted in 1585 by John White, an artist who traveled to the North Carolina colony during that time period, the pictures were made into engravings by Theodore de Bry.  These engravings are the basis of most of the visual information that shows us what life was like for the Powhatan Indians. By examining and analyzing the John White images and John Smith’s Map of Virginia, students will identify and categorize natural resources that the Powhatan Indians used in everyday activities.



Using John Smith’s Map of Virginia, discuss with the class the importance of the land and the environment to the Powhatan People.

Divide the students into small groups.  Distribute two or more Powhatan Indian Period Images to each group.  Provide each student with a Living With the Land Graphic Organizer.

Direct each group to carefully examine the images and to identify the things they see in the pictures that come from the environment in which the Powhatan Indians lived.  Have students list these items in the first column of the graphic organizer.

Have the students look for relationships between the listed items and group them into categories.  Categories include food, shelter, clothing, and tools.  Students may add additional categories.  Direct students to list items in the appropriate categories on the worksheet.  Some items being classified may fall into more than one category.

Using the categories on the graphic organizer, students must make inferences about how the Powhatan Indians used natural resources in their environment.  What resources did they use to make the items they see in the pictures?  Have students report and defend their inferences.


Have students reflect on how the Powhatan Indians interacted with their environment (this can be class discussion, blog post, journal entry, etc.). Ask students to predict how the relationship between the Powhatans and their environment might change with the English and Africans arriving in Virginia.


Have students compare and contrast our modern day relationship with the environment in Virginia today with that of the Powhatan people.