Can There Ever Really Be Justice on Stolen Land?—Opening Up the Textbook

Can There Ever Really Be Justice on Stolen Land?—Opening Up the Textbook

Time: 20-40 minutes for the primary activity; 40-60 minutes with the extension.

“Opening Up the Textbook” lessons allow students to see how the story in the Basic Plan is (or isn’t) talked about in their textbooks and to consider the implications of the dominant narrative. This lesson would be especially effective after the Timelining to Understand activity.


  • Examine the content included in textbook entries for the Indian Removal Act of 1830 / the Trail of Tears
  • Compare and contrast the accounts with the information and perspectives presented in "Can There Ever Really Be Justice on Stolen Land?".


  • Launch the lesson:
    • If you feel it would be beneficial to your students, explain and discuss these concepts/definitions:
      • (White) Settler colonialism: Colonialism is when a country seeks to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of economic dominance. “Settler colonialism is a distinct type of colonialism that functions through the replacement of indigenous populations with an invasive settler society that, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty. Settler colonial states include Canada, the United States, Australia, and South Africa… Settler colonisers “come to stay”: unlike colonial agents such as traders, soldiers, or governors, settler collectives intend to permanently occupy and assert sovereignty over indigenous lands. Second, settler colonial invasion is a structure, not an event: settler colonialism persists in the ongoing elimination of indigenous populations, and the assertion of state sovereignty and juridical control over their lands.” (Barker and Battell Lowman)
      • An ongoing debate regarding the terminology used to describe Indigenous Americans  has existed since the 1970s. According to the National Museum of the American Indian, “the consensus… is that whenever possible, Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name.” (Ex: the Cherokee people, the Seminoles.) However, the terms “American Indian,” “Indian,” “Native American,” “Native,” and “Indigenous (American)” are all acceptable.
    • After watching the episode of Self-Evident Education entitled “Can There Ever Really Be Justice on Stolen Land?,” ask students to create a list of important people, events, facts, etc. that they learned from the episode. Then, ask students to sort the items of this list into two categories: what they expect to be included in a textbook, and what they do not. This can be done individually, in small groups, or as a class. Have students refer back to these lists after completion of the activity.
  • Read the textbook passage(s).

The Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears are given entries in most U.S. History textbooks. However, these entries do not always tell the whole story. Read your textbook’s excerpt OR look at some of the excerpts provided in the Student Copy. As students read, they should ask themselves/note:

  • Does the textbook discuss the ways that Native Americans were forced to assimilate into white colonial culture, particularly by participating in the slave trade?
  • Does the textbook highlight the ways that Native Americans resisted relocation and colonialism?
  • Does the textbook mention the reason for Jackson’s seizure of Georgia and other Southern lands?
  • Does the textbook mention the ways in which Black Native Americans and/or (formerly) enslaved Black people were impacted by the Indian Removal Act/Trail of Tears?
    • Analyze the textbook’s choices.

Present the following questions to the students. Ask them to write their responses individually or to discuss them in pairs, small groups, or as a class,

  • In what ways were Native Americans forced to assimilate? Does the textbook present this assimilation as good, bad, or neutral?
  • How many of the entries discuss resistance to white settler colonialism? In what ways did Native Americans and Black people resist?
  • Do the reasons given in the textbook for Jackson’s desire for expansion match those given in the video? If not, how do they differ?
    • Rewrite the textbook:
  • Give the following prompt:
    • Rewrite your textbook entry, or one of the ones below, so that it is more accurate and complete. Highlight or underline your changes to the text. Below the revised text(s), write a few sentences explaining your choices.