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Learning about a Culture from a Story
Social studies, geography, language arts
1. Tell your students that they'll now be reading the Raven Myth, a creation story that was very special to the people they've been studying. Stress that all cultures have stories to explain the Earth's creation. Creation stories address some of the fundamental questions of human existence. Who made the sun, the moon, and the stars? Where did people come from? How did the animals, the birds, the fish, and the plants begin? Emphasize that although the word "myth" can sometimes mean something untrue, a creation myth is not a whimsical story. Be sure to stress that while the Raven Myth does not include a modern scientific explanation of how the world began, it expresses the deepest and truest values, fears, hopes, and beliefs of the traditional culture your students are studying.
2. Divide your class into four or five groups of equal size. Give each group copies of the Raven Myth. Choose several student volunteers to alternately read the story aloud. Emphasize that the Raven Myth is most authentic when spoken aloud, since the people who created it had no written language. Ask your student readers to carefully enunciate the Raven Myth and request that the rest of the class listen closely. Appoint a spokesperson for each group and ask the spokesperson to note the natural environment described in the Raven Myth, including the animals, birds, fish, and plants.
3. When your students have finished reading the Raven Myth, begin a class discussion. What was the environment like? (Cold and wet, located near the sea with nearby rivers and mountain streams.)What animals and fish were described? (Raven, mountain sheep, tame reindeer, caribou, sticklebacks, graylings, blackfish, salmon, beaver, muskrat, deer, bear.) What plants could Man eat? (Salmonberries and heathberries.) What hunting advice did Raven give to Man? (Caribou were plentiful; beavers were difficult to catch; muskrat skins made good clothing; graylings were found in clear mountain streams; sticklebacks lived along the seacoast.) Which animal was the most dangerous to people? (Bears.)
4. Tell your students that because they've gathered many clues from this story and the objects in Lesson Plan 1, they're ready to solve the mystery. Who do they think these people were? In what region of the world might they have lived? Ask your students to think of all the animals, plants, and objects they have identified. Hint that people of this traditional culture lived in what is now the northernmost part of the United States and the forty-ninth state to join the Union. (This may be a difficult exercise for younger students unfamiliar with U.S. geography or history.) Students should conclude that the traditional culture they have been studying was located in Alaska. Direct your students to maps of the region and tell them that they have been studying the traditional culture of the Bering Sea Eskimo people during the nineteenth century.
5. Give each group copies of the Traditional Eskimo Life essay. Choose several student volunteers to alternately read the story aloud. Tell your students to listen closely. After the story has been read, begin a class discussion. What information in the essay did they already know from studying the objects and story? What information in the essay was new to them?
6. Conclude the activity by telling your students that contemporary Bering Sea Eskimo culture is a rich blend of tradition and change. Hunters now use high-powered rifles, snowmobiles, and boats with outboard motors. Once-isolated villages are now linked by television and radio. Most children attend school regularly and study by the glow of electric lights during the long, dark, Arctic winters.