TWO NORTHERN CHEYENNE STORIES
[Resource code: FVLD_01]
Telling Your Own Story
Lesson At a Glance
In this lesson, students watch two digital stories and then create their own story. The Big Dipper (Tsèhésenèstsestotse) tells the story of the children who became the constellation. The Great Race conveys how humans challenged the buffalo to a race.
Students will discuss the stories and then plot a story that is of importance to their lives using music, art, writing, movement or video. Depending on context, these may be Indigenous or non-Indigenous stories, from students’ own background and/or experience, or beyond.
In the video below, Mary Serbe, First Voices Head of Education, provides some more context.
Native American studies, specifically Northern Cheyenne culture and language in Montana
Storytelling, which can be integrated into history, ELA (language arts), visual arts, music composition and sound design, choreography, dance, and film
High School and college students (can be adapted for other grade levels)
2 class periods or workshops of 60 minutes or more. This can also be expanded to cover a longer duration.
Each digital story is roughly 9 minutes. Allow roughly 30 minutes for viewing the stories plus discussion, instruction, creation of student story scenes, sharing of scenes, and concluding discussion.
PREPARING FOR THE LESSON
Based on the number of students, the stories will be displayed on a large screen or projected. All students should be able to see the stories well and hear the sound clearly. Confirm internet connection to stream the story from First Voices website (https://www.threshdance.org/fv-current-and-future).
If internet connectivity is an issue in the classroom, contact First Voices (email@example.com) to request links to download the videos.
There's also a useful video on our Tips & Tricks page, where we demonstrate how to use technology for the most impactful lesson—and also what to do if things go wrong!
DISCUSSION BEFORE VIEWING
These questions, even if students do not have knowledge in this area, will be an indicator of students’ understandings and attitudes before watching the stories.
What do you [students] know about the Northern Cheyenne tribe? What would you like to share?
If the group is familiar with Northern Cheyenne culture, ask if anyone knows any history, stories, or the language. Where have they learned these things? Why shared the knowledge?
If the group is not familiar with Northern Cheyenne culture, ask students what they know about Indigenous culture(s) in their area or more broadly.
If students are unfamiliar with Native cultures, ask where they have gained what knowledge they do have (internet, movies, TV, songs). Do those sources specify a tribe or depict all Indigenous people broadly? Do students think their sources are reliable? Why or why not?
If you, as an educator are not familiar with Native American cultures, click here for some helpful resources.
VIEWING THE STORIES
There are two options. Educators may screen both stories and ask students to compare them or consider them together. Each story could also be screened and studied as separate lessons.
The two stories can be streamed from the links below (and If you have difficulty remember to see our troubleshooting video).
Tsèhésenèstsestotse (The Big Dipper) is narrated by two Northern Cheyenne Elders with elements of music, visual art, choreography, and dance.
The Great Race is depicted by Lame Deer High School students in their own words using the same elements.
DISCUSSION AFTER VIEWING
After viewing the stories, offer the students a few moments for reflection. See if they are speaking among themselves, seem eager to share, or are quietly considering the stories.
Utilize Visual Thinking Strategies questions to begin a discussion on each story with students. Always leave some time for students to think before answering. Those 30-60 seconds of thinking time often lead to thoughtful responses.
(For more information on Visual Thinking strategies, as well as many other useful teaching strategies, see our Tips & Tricks page.)
Discussion questions: Tsèhésenéstsestotse
What did you think was going on in The Big Dipper story?
What did you see or hear that makes you say that?
What else did you notice from the story?
What was one way that the story was told that stood out to you? Why?
(Note: This question is about whether students noticed and/or connected with the verbal narration, subtitles, dance/movement, music, backgrounds, painting, etc. as ways of telling a story.)
Why do you think this story was told in the Northern Cheyenne language?
Why subtitle it in English? Who benefits from the subtitling?
Note: If educational setting or students are focused on language, you can also show this behind-the-scenes video, “Difference Between Speaking Cheyenne and English” With Ruthie Shoulder Blade and Alaina Buffalo Spirit. See our “Behind the scenes” page.
Discussion questions: The Great Race
What did you think was going on in The Great Race story?
What did you see or hear that makes you say that?
What else did you notice from the story?
What was different about hearing the story from high school students after hearing an elder tell a story?
Discussion questions: Both stories
What did you learn about Northern Cheyenne culture from these stories?
Note: Based on students’ responses, share information about Northern Cheyenne culture and the tribe from the resources listed below. (For example, if students felt like they learned what the land is like in that area, discuss Lame Deer, MT where the stories were created.) Did students’ observations align with this information? What did they glean from the stories? What did they learn from continued discussion?
THE LESSON ACTIVITY
Students will create one scene from their own story based on an experience, stories they have been told, or stories that have a special meaning to them using the media best suited for this class.
The medium could be oral storytelling, a written story, script, storyboard, song, visual art, performance, or a multimedia story (combining several elements like what was just seen). In a less structured environment, ask students how they would like to tell their stories (music, film, etc.). Students can work alone or collaboratively.
2: Discussion questions during activity
What stories about their own culture or life experiences are meaningful to them? Any stories about family or friends?
Any other types of stories (books, movies, etc.) that are meaningful?
Note: The goal here is to get students thinking of stories they know as a point of comparison with the Northern Cheyenne stories.
Ask students to choose three storytelling strategies that were used to tell the Big Dipper or Great Race stories. What part of the story did those elements convey?
What strategy would they use for their story? (This may be tailored to the subject matter of the class, such as ELA, music, visual art, etc.)
3: Creation activity
Choose one meaningful scene from your own story. Select one part of that story that you can convey to an audience (one place, one person, one image, one emotion, etc.)
Why did you choose that part of your story? How will you show why it is important? (Examples: exaggeration, contained body language or wild movements, choice of colors, a repeated phrase that is written or sung.)
Dance/Movement: How could simple gestures or movements tell your story?
Visual Art: Will you create something representational or use colors and techniques to create a feeling? Suggest using watercolor paint or drawing with basic pencils and sharpies.
Writing (ELA): Write a short paragraph or several lines of a poem that encapsulate the scene from your story.
Music/Sound Design: Create 30 second worth of music or sound that conveys your scene
Filmmaking: Use your phone to create a 30 second scene. Will you recreate something literal or convey a mood or emotion using your phone’s camera?
If students are comfortable, ask them to present or perform their story. Ask them to point out specific influences of the Northern Cheyenne digital stories on their scene.
If students are engaged, the lesson can continue—building multiple scenes to tell a longer story.
Consider discussing similarities and differences between telling their own stories and the Northern Cheyenne digital stories.
You can also connect with storytelling in a broader sense. The passing down of stories can create oral histories and sustain cultural knowledge. People like Ruthie Shoulderblade are keepers of knowledge who have learned or been given a story.
If you wish, refer to (or play) the following videos in relation to these questions.
Why Is Story Telling Important? (Knowledge-keepers Ruthie Shoulderblade and Alaina Buffalo Spirit)
Why Is the Tsèhésenèstsestotse Story Meaningful to the Northern Cheyenne People? (Ruthie Shoulder Blade and Alaina Buffalo Spirit)
Also available are videos from the artists involved in creating the story, who come from tribes and cultures other than the Northern Cheyenne. These include:
Sammy Jo Bird (Blackfeet artists and Rodeo champion)
Chontay Standing Rock (Chippewa Cree musician and composer)
Preeti Vasudevan (dancer, choreographer, Artistic Director of Thresh))
You may also be interested to review some videos from Preeti Vasudevan, Artistic Director of Thresh, discussing her ideas as she developed the videos with the students.
A wide range of additional resources to continue the learning.
DOWNLOAD LESSON PLAN
Finally, if you'd like to download and print) the lesson plan...have at it!