Digital Paxton: Digital Collection, Critical Edition, and Teaching Platform

Wampum Tells a Story

This two-part lesson asks students to consider wampum belt as historical, political, and symbolic meaningful objects in relation to the graphic novel, Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga.

Lesson Objectives:
Essential Questions:
Grade Level: Grades 6-8.

Standards: Ohio History and Language Arts Standards
Historical Background:
Before reading Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga, introduce students to wampum. Students need to understand that wampum served political, economic, and diplomatic functions for Northeastern Native Peoples such as the Haudenosaunee.

Lesson 1
  1. Play The Wampum Belt: a Nation to Nation Relationship.
  2. Distribute Wampum Belt Reproductions.
  3. Brainstorm keywords associated with wampum belts.
  4. Divide students into groups of 4-5. Each group will be responsible for collecting the following information about a specific belt:
    1. What is the story behind this belt?
    2. What is the meaning of the symbols integrated into the composition? (The Penn Wampum Belt includes figures)
    3. What materials were used to make the item? Why are these materials used and how were they acquired? (Wampum belts are made of whelk shells and quahog clams, which are strung and woven to form long belt shaped rectangles.)
    4. What colors does the belt include? (Colors are consistently purple and white.)
    5. Who made it and what purpose does the belt serve?
  5. Have group members share their findings by filling in the information into a prepared table that is visible to the class.
  6. Using information in the table, students volunteer to make observations about similarities and differences among the belts. (Should find that materials, colors, methods of construction, and symbols tend to be similar, though specific purpose, creator, use of the belt varies.)
  7. Assessment: Ask students to write a three-sentence reflection.
    1. The most interesting thing I learned was…
    2. Something I would still like to learn is…
    3. I will find my answer by…

Lesson 2
  1. Play Joy Harjo's Eagle Song to prepare student to navigate Ghost River.
  2. Provide brief overview of the previous wampum discussion.
  3. Students will use the Jigsaw technique to analyze and share the story. Divide students into four groups. Each group will read a specific section of Ghost River, takes notes, and summarize key facts about the assigned section.
    1. The Lenape origin story
    2. The massacre at Conestoga Indiantown and recitation of names
    3. The massacre at the Lancaster workhouse
    4. The present-day Native people
  4. Next they will regroup so each new group has at least one expert from the original four groups. Members take turns sharing their findings within the new group. The intent is for everyone to have an introduction to the entire story.
  5. Reconvene as a class to create a timeline of the events in the book.
  6. Discuss the rationale for beginning Ghost River with a Lenape origin story and ending with living Native people. Why are the author, artist, and editor embedded in the book?
  7. See if students noticed any primary source materials embedded in Ghost River. If so, what did they learn about the political cartoons?
  8. Have students look for images of wampum (e.g. the Penn Wampum Belt appears on pp. 33, 64). Write the page number of each instance on the board and have students discuss each instance in the context of the larger narrative. Make sure students engage symbolic instances:
    1. The massacre at Conestoga Indiantown (pp. 31-32)
    2. The rending of the belt (pp. 58) and the single detached bead (pp. 61-62)
  9. Assessment: Have students complete exit ticket:
    1. Why did the artist use wampum throughout Ghost River?
    2. Did the inclusion of wampum enhance or detract from your understanding of the story?

This lesson was created during the 2019 Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Teacher Seminar, "Native Peoples, Settlers, and European Empires in North America, 1600-1840" (July 28-August 3, 2019). You may also download a printable version of this lesson.

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