Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about Native Americans and the Cherokee.  The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Cherokee. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Help children understand that different groups of native people have been living in North America for thousands of years, long before the United States and Canada were “discovered” by explorers and founded by settlers. Learning about Native American peoples will help children understand the history, development, and changes of their communities, state or province, and country. This movie will explore the Cherokee people and their traditions, culture, and language. It will also introduce the Trail of Tears and its devastating affect on the Cherokee and other American Indians. The Trail of Tears can be a sensitive topic and difficult for some children to comprehend. We recommend spending as much time as needed on this topic and providing plenty of opportunities for discussion.

Explain to children that the Cherokee are a native people of the Southeast portion of the United States. Historically, they lived in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. Today there are three federally recognized Cherokee tribes: the Cherokee Nation, the United Keetooway Band of Cherokee Indians, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Additionally, the Cherokee people are currently divided into seven clans, or groups: the Wild Potato Clan, Long Hair Clan, Deer Clan, Bird Clan, Blue Clan, Red Clan, and Wolf Clan. These clans are not separate tribes, sects, or communities. Members of the clans cohabit in the same communities. Each clan has its own leaders and rules, all of which follow the rules of the overarching Cherokee government. Members of different clans come together for celebrations and to make decisions.

Help children understand that the Cherokee have their own language. The Cherokee today speak English and a multitude of other languages, but many are still knowledgeable and fluent in their native language. In 1821, a Cherokee silversmith named Sequoyah created a syllabary to make reading and writing in the language possible. The Cherokee officially adopted Sequoyah’s system in 1825 and as a result, the literacy rate increased dramatically, surpassing that of the European and American settlers. You may want to share some Cherokee words with children. The word “dog” in Cherokee is gitli and the word “cat” is wesa. You can find English and Cherokee dictionaries online, and a few even have links to audio samples so you can hear the pronunciation.

The Cherokee have been practicing the same traditions for hundreds of years. A Stomp Dance is an important religious ceremony where people come together to pray and dance around a sacred fire. It is a chance for people to share their ideas and stories, and discuss topics important to the people as a whole. The Stomp Dance is traditionally preceded by stickball, a game played by different American Indian groups, including the Cherokee. This game is likened to the game of lacrosse. Players use a stick with a small net at one end to throw a ball. In some versions of the game, players score by throwing a ball across goal posts. In the Cherokee version, players throw the ball to knock an ornament off the top of a tall pole. The Cherokee also have a long-standing tradition of basket-weaving and pottery-making. Another tradition includes creating masks and rattles out of gourds. Remind children that these traditions have been passed down through the people for hundreds of years.

Historically, the Cherokee were farming people. The women grew and harvested corn, beans, and squash. They gathered berries, nuts, and fruit. The men used bows and arrows and blowguns to hunt animals like deer and wild turkeys. They used spears and fishing poles to catch fish as well. Help children realize that the Cherokee used every part of the animal and wasted as little as possible. Like many other Native American people, the Cherokee believe that the animals’ sacrifice should not be taken for granted or wasted.

Hundreds of years ago, before contact with European settlers, the Cherokee lived in houses made from clay and river cane and other plants. In the winter, some members moved to an asi, which is a circular house that is sunken into the ground. This house is easier to keep warm during the cold winter months. Later, the Cherokee built log cabins. Remind children that the Cherokee did not live in teepees, wigwams, or longhouses.

In the late 1600s, the Cherokee began trading with European settlers. They traded their crops for items such as cloth and guns. As trading increased, so did the Cherokees’ exposure to infectious disease, such as smallpox. Unable to fight off these diseases, many Cherokee died. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. This forced thousands of native people from their land, including the Cherokee. The settlers wanted the land for themselves and believed the native people had few or no rights to the land. Entire communities were forced to move to an area that is now Oklahoma. Native people traveled hundreds of miles, and many died of exposure, starvation, and diseases along the way. The Cherokee called it “the trail where they cried,” or the Trail of Tears. This troubled time in history is difficult for many children to understand. We advise holding plenty of discussions to address children’s concerns. You may want to watch BrainPOP’s movie on the Trail of Tears, though we recommend screening the movie first to make sure its pace and content is age-appropriate for your children.

The Cherokee have overcome many challenges, and today they are among the largest of the federally recognized American Indian groups in the United States. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are more than 300,000 members of the Cherokee. Many are still practicing the same traditions and celebrating their culture and heritage.