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Subjects Image: 
Grades: 3rd - 5th Grade
Lesson: 2
Unit: 2: American Indian land tenure history
Subject: History/Social Studies
Additional Subject: Geography
Achievement Goal: Students will identify several causes of tribal land loss and create a visual representation of land loss among Montana Tribes, including land loss on reservations from allotment.
Time: Two class periods
Lesson Resources:

Lesson Description:
States Image: 

Students examine the loss of land that tribes experienced through the establishment of reservations and subsequent land cessions and allotment.

Teacher Background:

Before the creation of reservations and allotments, American Indian tribes lived in every part of Montana. The areas in which the tribes traversed or settled, in which they hunted, fished, gathered, or planted were their aboriginal homelands.

As non-Native people began to settle upon Indian lands and overwhelmed native communities, many tribes began to sign treaties with the United States government to stop this encroachment and retain some of their lands for the tribe’s exclusive use and benefit. This is how many reservations were established.

Allotment of Indian reservations was institutionalized in 1887 by the Dawes Act. Indian communities continue to face the effects of this legislation.

Nineteenth-century proponents of allotment, who were mainly progressive non-Natives living in the Eastern United States, believed individual ownership of land would make Indians a sedentary, “civilized” people, who disregarded their leaders and the cohesiveness of the tribe. The allotment advocates envisioned Indians adopting the habits, practices and interests of the new settler population.

The U.S. President applied the Dawes Act to reservations whenever, in his opinion, it was advantageous for particular Indian tribes. Members of the selected tribe or reservation received permission to select pieces of land—usually around 40 to 160 acres in size—for themselves and their children. If the amount of reservation land exceeded the amount needed for allotment, then the federal government could negotiate to purchase the land from the tribes and then sell it to non-tribal settlers. In Montana, over two million acres were either ceded outright or sold to non-Indian homesteaders and corporations as “surplus lands.” In addition to the loss of this land, allotment had a significant social impact on Indian communities.


Montana Science Content Standard 2

Students, through the inquiry process, demonstrate knowledge of properties, forms, changes and interactions of physical and chemical systems.

Essential Understandings Regarding Montana Indians 3

The ideologies of Native traditional beliefs and spirituality persist into modern day life as tribal cultures, traditions, and languages are still practiced by many American Indian people and are incorporated into how tribes govern and manage their affairs.

Teacher Preparation Resources:
  • Arrange internet access and computer projector to show students an online video.
  • Gather the materials listed in the Lesson Resources section.
  • Obtain pink and green colored pencils or markers and large star stickers.
  • Review the land statistics in the Tribal Land Status chart in the Lesson Resources section.
  • Look through photographs of Glacier Park.
  • Make copies of the Montana outline maps and Montana maps with Indian Reservations listed in the Lesson Resources section.
  • Enlarge student copies of the Montana map with the seven Indian reservations.
Student Activity:resource icon


  1. Give each student a blank outline map of Montana. Have students color the land in the state that they think was Indian land in 1800. Tell students that they don’t have to color the exact lands of tribes, just the percentage of land they believe belonged to the tribes living in Montana around 1800.
  2. Now give students a second blank outline map of Montana and ask them to color in the percentage of land that belongs to Indian people today.
  3. Allow students to share their maps with the class and explain their thinking. Post the maps somewhere in the classroom.


  1. Give each student a second blank outline map of Montana. Provide each student with large star stickers and have them fill in the map completely with the stickers. Have students keep track of how many stickers they are using. Each sheet should have a certain number of stickers, so tell them to keep a tally—it will save them from having to count all of them after they have the whole map filled in! Play some music while they are completing the task.
  2. Provide students with a Montana map with Indian reservations. Have them ONLY fill in the reservations with the star stickers. Tell them to keep a tally once again.
  3. When they are done, compare the number of stickers it took for the whole Montana map and the number it took for the reservations. Let them know that this is not an exact measurement, but it gives them a visual idea of how much land the tribes ceded (gave up) to the United States.
  4. Compare the star maps with the colored maps. How similar or different are they?
  5. Share with the class that the approximate percentage of Indian land today in Montana is 9%—that includes all of the land within the boundaries of the seven reservations. The first loss of land came through the establishment of reservations by treaties, Executive Orders and Congressional Acts. This was the largest loss of Indian land.
  6. Show images of the Blackfeet Reservation. Tell students that until 1896 the reservation was 2.3 million acres. The Blackfeet Tribe was pressured into ceding 800,000 acres to the United States. This land became Glacier National Park. The total size of the park is 1,013,573 acres. Show students park photos from the website. Ask students to compare the Glacier National Park lands to the Blackfeet Reservation land.
  7. This was not the end of land loss for Montana Tribes. Today, not all of the lands on some reservations still belong to the tribe(s). What could have happened? Let students respond if they have any ideas or answers.


  1. Tell students that the government wanted to encourage American Indians to convert from their traditional way of living and become farmers and ranchers. They believed that a way to do this was to assign tribal members their own piece of their reservation land. After this was done, some reservation lands were sold to non-Indian homesteaders. The government did this by passing a law called the Allotment Act or the Dawes Act. This happened on the Blackfeet, Crow, Flathead, and Fort Peck Reservations. The Fort Belknap and Northern Cheyenne Reservations were allotted, but remaining lands were never opened up for sale. Rocky Boy’s Reservation was never allotted.
  2. Give students the enlarged Montana map with the Indian reservations. Tell the class the land status percentage of each reservation. Write the reservation down on the board, the names of that reservation’s tribe(s), and the fee/trust land percentage.
  3. Have students draw a line that approximately divides the reservation in half. Have the students estimate the percentage area of tribal land using the half-line marker. Privately owned land is called “fee” land. Tribal land is called “trust” land. Have them color tribal land in green. Fee land should be colored in pink.


  1. Watch the four-minute film interview of Francis Auld.
  2. Discuss the interview with students after viewing the video.
  1. Ask students to write down two causes of land loss among American Indian Tribes.
  2. Ask them to write a paragraph about each one, describing it as best they can.
  3. Evaluate students based on teh Montana Standards and the Achievement Goal for this lesson.
Lesson Resources:

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