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Lesson Plan December 5, 2022

Leveraging Our Place: Native Nations and Land-Grab Universities


This lesson was created by Arizona State University professors Amanda R. Tachine (Diné), Ph.D., Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy (Lumbee), Ph.D., and K. Tsianina Lomawaima (Mvskoke/Creek Nation, not enrolled), Ph.D. It was originally designed for facilitation with undergraduate and graduate students, but has been adapted to be facilitated for secondary and post-secondary classrooms. Click here for a blog written by Professor Tachine and her former students Brody Frieden and Jaimi Foster about their experiences engaging with the lesson in 2022.


Students will be able to...

  1. Analyze the key details and central ideas of texts about the history and lasting effects of the Morrill Act of 1862 on Native communities in the U.S.
  2. Acknowledge that universities and the U.S. are built on Native homelands.
  3. Recognize American Indian/Native American presence in 21st century U.S.
  4. Conduct research on the wealth earned as a result of land grants to universities, and the histories and cultures of American Indian/Native American tribes whose land was taken and distributed as a result of the Morrill Act of 1862.
  5. Brainstorm recommendations for ways in which colleges and universities that have benefitted from the Morrill Act can utilize the wealth earned from land grants to support the American Indian/Native American tribes who had previously owned the land they were granted.

Lesson Overview:

Students will learn how to distinguish between land, property, and place in a higher education context. Students will also reflect on their own “sense of place” or “sense of belonging” as they explore resources about Native expressions of place and belonging, and make connections.

This lesson is designed for mixed classrooms that include U.S. citizens / residents and international students, who are both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. The lesson was written with the assumption that few classes will have a majority of Indigenous students, and that for many students the content of this lesson might be unfamiliar. The two learning objectives focus on American Indian peoples and lands in the U.S., while the in-class discussion activity associated with this lesson calls for students to reflect on their own sense of rootedness in place or sense of belonging. The lesson design is based on pedagogical theory that authentic engagement with the experiences of “others” or “other cultures” requires us to reflect on our own culture and experiences. Self-reflection provides a necessary foundation for critical understanding of others, and comparative analysis of diverse cultural and historical perspectives.


Colleges and universities are situated in regions with particular heritages, cultures, and aspirations, and scholars at these institutions are uniquely positioned to address the problems of their regions, and to offer perspective on the distinct historical, cultural, social, demographic, political, economic, and environmental forces shaping these regions. A focus on place means learning from local knowledge, as well as understanding the (inter)connections and divergences between land, property, and place. If an institution is socially embedded, meaningful and productive relationships between the university and its surrounding community, region, and state will flourish. Not least among these is the role of the university as a primary driver for regional social change, social and cultural learning, inclusion, and appropriate economic development.

Pre-class Assignment:

  1. Review the following resources:
  1. Bring to class a photograph, image, item of memorabilia, song … some tangible object that:
    • connects you to a place;
    • reinforces a sense of belonging;
    • enhances your sense of identity.

Prepare to speak briefly (1 minute!) describing and explaining how your item expresses or symbolizes your sense of connection.


We purposefully use the term “place” because it resonates with the language used in Arizona State University’s design imperatives. We avoid use of the term “home” when referring to a sense of rootedness or belonging because not all students have a “home” in the sense the term is often used. Some students might be homeless, or estranged from family, or have documented or undocumented immigrant or refugee status—a number of thorny and emotional issues might attach to the term “home” more strongly than the term “place.”

This module is intended to encourage all students, of all backgrounds, to think carefully about:

  • what place does or might mean to them;
  • the fact that in the U.S. all places were and are Native places.

We do not intend to encourage students to think that everyone can or should claim Indigeneity; or that non-Native claims to place are “the same as” (or superior to) Indigenous claims to place.

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