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Native American Myth Assignment

Native American Creation Stories

Paula Petrik, Professor of History and Art History, George Mason University



Read the following creation stories:

  • New Netherlands Creation Story (ca. 1620's)
  • Origins of Ottawa Society: A Creation Story (ca. 1720's)

    This is a creation story of the Native Americans of the Ottawa Society. Think about how it compares to other creation stories, both Native American and European. You might want to look at two other creation myths, that of the Indians of the New Netherlands and of the Sioux. Pay close attention to the role of women in the story.
  • Sioux Creation Story (ca. 1910)

    Originally, the Sioux tribes (of which the Lakota were one band) lived around Lake Superior. Like other woodland native peoples, they gathered wild rice and beans and engaged in fishing and hunting. Prolonged warfare with the Ojibwa forced them westward, one group into Minnesota and other onto the Great Plains in present-day North and South Dakota. Once on the plains, the Sioux embraced a nomadic life centered on the buffalo.


Then answer the following questions related to the stories:

  1. According to the New Netherlands story, what existed before the earth was created? What were the first three creatures created? How are the personalities of these three creatures reflected by people in society? Explain the significance of the main figure in this American Indian creation story and what it tells us about their culture.
  2. According to the Ottawa, how was humankind created? Give an example of how the Ottawa learned to survive by adapting to their environment. Explain how the Ottawa viewed the role of women in their society.
  3. Compare and contrast the Ottawa creation story with that of the biblical creation beliefs of the Europeans they encountered.
  4. Briefly summarize the Sioux creation story. Why does the Sioux creation story include the crow, loon, otter, beaver, and turtle? Compare the Sioux story with the other creation stories.
  5. What evidence do you find in the oral tradition that European culture influenced Native American beliefs about creation?
  6. From your analysis of the documents, what would say are the strengths and weaknesses of the oral tradition as historical source material? What can be learned about pre-Columbain life and thought among indigenous peoples from a close reading of the materials?

Updated | April 2004


Archeological evidence indicates that Native American tribes lived in the Yellowstone area almost 10,000 years ago; a major trail these tribes used for tracking bison goes right through the park. Some of the tribes that traveled or lived nearby include the Shoshone, Bannock, Blackfoot, Flathead, Nez Perce, Utes, Crows, Piegans, and Paiutes.

Imagine what Native Americans must have thought when they first saw the park's geysers, mudpots, and hot springs! As in other cultures, Native American culture is rich in myths and legends that were used to explain natural phenomena that they didn't understand. The most common myths are the creation myths, that tell a story to explain how the earth was formed. Others include explanations about the sun, moon, constellations, animals, seasons, and weather. In this lesson, students will review some of these myths and then write their own myths to explain how the geologic features of Yellowstone came to be.


Students will:
  • read Native American myths
  • summarize the myths in class discussions
  • write their own myths

National Standards:

National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association

  • Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions
  • Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world.
  • Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).


After viewing the Yellowstone video, ask the students what they think the Native Americans and first white explorers' reactions might have been when they first saw the geysers and landforms of the Yellowstone area. Encourage them to imagine themselves seeing these stunning features without having any knowledge of them before. Rewind the video and watch the segment that tells the names the natives gave to the park (11:50-12:56). Discuss why they used these names. You can also refer them to the Native Peoples page on this Web site.

Ask the class what a myth is and if they've ever read or heard any Native American myths. If someone knows one, let him/her repeat the story to the class. Ask what other cultures have myths (ancient Greeks and Romans, for example). Discuss why these cultures had myths (to explain the natural phenomena that they weren't able to explain otherwise). Elicit some common themes in myths (beginning of the earth, how humans first came to be, floods, thunder and lightening, fire, death, constellations) and common characters (gods, animals) of myths.

Read aloud Tomie de Paola's The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush or another Native American myth of choice. Have the students identify the natural phenomenon that is explained by the myth, the theme, and the main character. Give each student a myth to read silently, and then have each student summarize his/her myth for the class. Native American myths can be found in the list of resources below.

Review the unique features of Yellowstone. Let each student pick one of the features and tell them they are to write a myth as if they are a Native American seeing that feature for the first time. The myth must explain how that feature was formed. After they finish their final draft, they can make picture books. Let the students share their myths with the rest of the class. If there is a younger grade in the school that studies Native Americans, let the class vote on the best myths to be read to the younger grade.

Assessment Suggestions:
  • Understanding and oral summary of the Native American myth
  • Creativity of the student's own myth
  • Writing process (prewriting, draft copy, and editing)
  • Writing mechanics (spelling, punctuation, grammar)


After writing their myth, students research how the features really did form.

Students pretend they are the first white explorer to see the area and write an account of their first impressions of the natural attractions in Yellowstone Park.


Web Resources:

Native American Mythology

Choctaw Legends and Stories

Native American Bedtime Story Collection


Caduto, M.J., and Bruchas, J., 1991, Keepers of the Animals; Native American Stories and Wildlife Activities for Children, Fulcrum Publ., Golden, Co.

Caduto, M.J., and Bruchas, J., 1989, Keepers of the Earth; Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children, Fulcrum Publ., Golden, Co.

 Yellowstone Wildlife

| Reflections | Native Peoples | Shaped by Fire | Featured Creatures | A Virtual Tour | Visiting Yellowstone |
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