Westward Expansion: A New History explores the transformation of the North American continent in the nineteenth century. Students examine this complicated and violent history through two lenses, first considering the major events and policies that accompanied U.S. westward growth, and then exploring the effects of U.S. expansion on a local level.
- Discuss the controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
- Read and analyze letters from native youth activists who oppose the project.
- Reflect on the role of youth in social movements.
Ask students what they have heard about the controversy over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Have students heard of the project? Have students heard about resistance to the project? As a class, read the CNN article 5 things to know about the Dakota Access Pipeline. What topics does the article cover? According to this article, why is the pipeline being built? Who is protesting, and why? Who supports the project, and why? Inform students that, while there are many dimensions to the controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline, they are going to explore just one—the responses of native youth from the activist organization Rezpect Our Water to the project. (Note: You may wish to have students explore the organization’s website prior to completing this activity.)
Youth Activist Letters
Break the class into groups of two to three students. Distribute “Rezpect Our Water: The Letters” and “Youth Activist Letters: Graphic Organizer” to each group and assign each group two to three letters to read. Alternatively, if your class has access to technology, you may instead wish to have students visit the website directly so that they can also view the accompanying images. Instruct groups to read their assigned letters and fill in their graphic organizers.
Invite the class to reconvene. You may wish to call on students or groups to share their answers to a few of the questions on the handout. What reasons did youth activists provide for opposing the pipeline? Specifically, what economic, environmental, political, and cultural reasons did they cite?
After reading more about the Dakota Access Pipeline and reading about the opposition to the pipeline by some native youth, what do students think should be done about the pipeline? Ask students to share their thoughts, but remind them to support their statements with facts.
Next, transition into a discussion about native activism surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline. Did students find the letters that they read in opposition to the pipeline persuasive? Why or why not? What commonalities did students notice between the letters? What differences did they notice? Who do students think are the intended audience for the letters? Why might the activists have made this decision? What role can youth play in making meaningful changes in their communities through activism? Have students heard of other types of activism being practiced in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline?
Remind students that native people in the United States have been engaged activists throughout history. Ask students to create a timeline of native resistance and activism to colonial and U.S. government policies.
Can students imagine themselves participating in any kind of protest movement? Why or why not? Do any students in the class consider themselves activists now? What current issues inspire students in the class? Is there a cause that students can imagine themselves dedicating their lives to? What lessons can students learn from the Rezpect Our Water activists? Have students respond to these questions in writing.
Photo by Tony Webster.