Students examine the role of the Wampum Belt in Iroquois society to develop an understanding of how visual images can represent collective identities. Students also create a symbol that accurately reflects a collective identity resulting from their feelings of belonging to a group.
Introduction to collective identities
Provide student groups with a collection of visual symbols, such as the following:
- products, such as a Nike symbol
- groups, such as a school crest
- shared set of values or beliefs, such as a cross, a yin yang, the Sikh khanda, a Star of David or a Celtic cross.
If students are unfamiliar with these symbols, write an explanation on the back of the picture of the symbol.
Ask students to sort the symbols into three groups—products, groups, and beliefs or values.
Invite students to justify their choices by explaining why they sorted the symbols as they did. Ensure respectful discussion regarding symbols that may be considered sacred.
Point out to the students that people have individual characteristics but also share aspects of their identity with others. Those aspects we share with others are often reflected in symbols that express a collective identity. Ask students to suggest a symbol that could be used to represent all students of the class. Ask students to consider whether the symbol would reflect shared beliefs or values or merely the fact that they are classmates. How would the symbol differ if it reflected shared beliefs or values instead of being for classmates?
Introduce Wampum Belts
Through a brief lecture or short reading, introduce students to Wampum Belts (see References). You may want to refer to credible Web sites to provide background for students (see References). To help students understand how Wampum Belts contributed to a collective identity (e.g., belt is woven together, the Hiawatha Wampum Belt was created from purple and white wampum beads to symbolize the union forged when the former enemies buried their weapons under the Great Tree of Peace), review with them the structure of the Six Nations.
Connect Wampum Belts to Iroquois collective identities
Invite students to suggest plausible connections between the design of Wampum Belts and the collective identity of the Iroquois.
Ask students to draw plausible conclusions based on these criteria:
- consistent with the evidence
- consistent with what we know about the Iroquois
- considers all the available evidence.
Generate criteria for a powerful symbol
Invite students to suggest criteria for a powerful symbol that reflects collective identity by considering how the Wampum Belt reflected the collective identity of the Iroquois Confederacy.
Remind students to identify how symbols were used by the Iroquois to communicate collective values and beliefs. Guide students in identifying the attributes of a powerful symbol. Criteria might include the following:
- inclusive—represents most or all of the group
- connects to important beliefs and values.
Create a representative symbol
Form small groups and ask students to prepare a powerful symbol that represents the collective identity of a group to which they belong. The group may be a sports team, a club, a religious group or another group with whom the students share a set of values, beliefs or interests.
Remind students to consider the criteria for a powerful symbol that they identified earlier.
You may want to suggest that students prepare a sketch or description of their symbol that they can share with another group for peer feedback.