Our first project of the year involved an introduction to civics, participation in the Michigan Student Caucus project through the University of Michigan, and a study of Indigenous people, both in Michigan and in other parts of what is now called the United States.
We began with an introduction to the concept of government and the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. We also explored the concept of “sovereignty,” which came up again later in our study of Indigenous nations. Students designed their own fictional sovereign state based on their answers to questions about how they would choose to govern.
We continued with a look into the Constitution with a focus on finding evidence of the main ideas embedded in the document (limited government, republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, and popular sovereignty). Students also focused on the Bill of Rights and other key amendments.
Concurrently, students began participating in the Michigan Student Caucus online platform where they debated different ideas about issues of significance with other young people around the state. They created media artifacts (such as a slideshow, podcast, article, zine, board game, or animation, for example) to teach other participants about an issue that they felt worthy of consideration by the entire Caucus. After researching their issue, they also used the Michigan legislative database to review current bills related to their issue. Once they reviewed current bills, they used their research to construct their own policy proposal that aimed to address the issue they identified. Using the format of actual legislation, with preambulatory and operative clauses, students drafted their proposals and shared them with others on the MSC site. Participants gave one another feedback and then ranked their top proposals. The highest ranking proposals were compiled into the MSC party platform, which students presented to a group of legislators and agency heads during a special legislative meeting in Lansing in early December. Two of our eighth graders had proposals chosen, by their peers, to be included in the party platform.
Throughout this unit, our study aimed to recognize and amplify the voices and contributions of Indigenous people, both in Michigan and throughout what is now called the United States. After reflecting on what students knew and thought they knew about Indigenous people in Michigan and working to deconstruct stereotypes about Indigenous people, we met with Professor Matthew Fletcher, Director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University, to learn about both the history of the Anishinaabek in Michigan but also to learn about current issues in Indian law. We also took a walking tour along the Huron River with local historian, Matt Siegfried, in order to more deeply understand the history of the place in which we live. Extending our study from there, we moved into a closer look at forced removal of Indigenous nations throughout American history. We then tied this history to present-day issues of land sovereignty related to pipelines on Indian land. Students took on the roles of different stakeholders and engaged in a fishbowl debate around the issue of the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline. Closer to home, we read and listened to news about the recent court case involving the Bad River Bands of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Enbridge Line 5. We also welcomed Senator Jeff Irwin to our class (as well as one of the Michigan Student Caucus professors and one of the student topic coordinators) to talk with us about a bill that he’d recently introduced that would change “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples Day” statewide.
We incorporated a study of Joy Harjo (Muskogee Creek; U.S. Poet Laureate) and her poetry into our unit in order to make sure that our learning space included not only Indigenous history, but also the voices of current Indigenous artists. In terms of Indigenous voices, we also read (and listened to) a book in Ojibwe: Ajijaak by Cecelia Rose LaPointe (Ojibew/Metis, Mashkiziibi and Kchiwiikwedong, or Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibew or LaPointe Band of Ojibwe and Keewenaw Bay Indian Community). We wanted to hear the sound and learn about the vocabulary and structure of one of the languages of Indigenous people in what is now called Michigan. We also read analyzed Encounter by Brittany Luby (Anishinaabe-kwe) which pushed us to think about how, upon meeting others, we have a choice about the way that our interaction transpires. The book reimagines a 16th century meeting between a French explorer (modeled after Jacques Cartier) and an Iroquoian man).
To end this unit, we researched Indigenous women who are serving in the United States Congress today (Representative Deb Haaland and Representative Sharice Davids) and learned about the influence of the Iroquois Confederacy and the Great Law of Peace on the U.S. Constitution.
Presenting the project to the SK community during a Friday morning meeting
Discussing Indigenous Peoples Day with visitors in our class, including Senator Jeff Irwin, Prof. Michael Fahy (one of the directors of the MSC project), and Devin McIntyre (one of the UM student topic coordinators of the MSC project)
Presenting fictional sovereign states as we developed our understanding of the role of government
Sharing our fictional states with one another
Reading and responding to Joy Harjo's poetry outside
More Joy Harjo outside
Book that Professor Matthew Fletcher created and shared with students about his own family story and broader stories of the Anishinaabek in what we now call Michigan
Sharing media artifacts that students created to share with other MSC participants on the site
Fish bowl discussion on the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline (done in character as different stakeholders, including Standing Rock Sioux leaders, farmers, construction workers, and representatives from the Our Children's Trust lawsuit about climate change)
Walking tour of the Huron River with local historian, Matt Siegfried
Close examination of waterways maps along the Huron
Eighth grader presenting her work in front of high school students, UM students, state legislators, and various agency heads (topic: the case for more school counselors in K-12 schools)
Another eighth grader presenting their work in front of high school students, UM students, state legislators, and various agency heads (topic: the case for inclusive, comprehensive sex education in K-12 schools)
On the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives with Rep. Yousef Rabhi and Sen. Jeff Irwin
Miigwetch (thank you) to all of the visitors who shared knowledge with us, hosted us on trips, and thoughtfully answered our questions. We sincerely appreciate your time and energy.