TITLE: With Strings Attached:
Hollywood's Gift to a Navajo Family
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Historical Research, Evidence and Point of View
Grades 9 through 12
Students identify bias and prejudice in historical interpretations.
Grades 9 and 10
2.8 Evaluate the credibility of an author's argument or defense
of a claim by critiquing the relationships between generalizations
and evidence, the comprehensiveness of evidence, and the way in
which the author's intent affects the structure and tone of the
Grades 11 and 12
2.4 Make warranted and reasonable assertions about the author's
arguments by using elements of the texts to defend and clarify
Grades 9 and 10
2.3.a. Marshal evidence in support of a thesis and related claims,
including information on all relevant perspectives.
Gathers and uses information for research
Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret
Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Uses reading skills and strategies to understand
a variety of informational texts (for example, textbooks, biographical
sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines,
essays, primary source historical documents, editorials, news
stories, periodicals, catalogs, job-related materials, schedules,
speeches, memoranda, public documents, maps)
The Clys, a Navajo family living in Monument Valley in Utah,
received an unexpected gift. The gift was a film entitled Navajo
Boy, which was made in the 1950s. It featured various members
of the Cly family. The Return of Navajo Boy chronicles
the Cly family's reactions to the gift they had been given. In
this lesson students explore issues of culture and identity and
learn about Navajo culture by examining the perspectives of those
portrayed in the film.
This lesson's objectives are for the student to
develop an understanding of the relationship
between culture and identity.
To assess students' achievement of the above learning objectives,
teachers may rate students on the quality of their written summarizations,
their presentations and their participation in group discussions.
learn how media can function as a tool to examine
social and political mechanisms for change.
be able to analyze and critique the ways in which
American Indians are portrayed in literature.
learn about and be able to summarize their knowledge
of Navajo culture.
Time Two to three 40- to
50-minute class periods
Materials and Teacher Prep
Videotape The Return of Navajo Boy
Drawing and writing supplies
Bookmark the following Web sites:
The purpose of this activity is for the class to develop background
knowledge on Navajo culture prior to viewing the film.
1. Divide the class into small groups. Tell the students that
each group is responsible for collecting eight to 10 facts about
The following Web sites are good places to begin researching
2. Use the information the students collect to create a class
mural that portrays Navajo culture.
3. Post the mural in a visible place in the classroom to use
as a resource throughout the remainder of the lesson activities.
FOCUS FOR VIEWING
This film chronicles the experiences of a Navajo family and
describes the impact the return of a family film has on their
lives. Encourage the students to think about how The Return
of Navajo Boy affected the various members of the Cly family
and how this relates to larger issues of culture and identity.
Some important questions to discuss prior to viewing the film
include the following:
What role does one's heritage play in developing
Media can function as a mechanism for social and political change
by providing an opportunity to explore issues in a variety of different
ways. By exploring the impact this film had on the Cly family, students
gain firsthand knowledge of the power of story to effect change
in the world. Encourage students to think about the effect this
film had on larger societal and political issues.
What role does language play in culture?
What role does family play in developing culture?
What struggles do people face in trying to retain
their cultural heritage in the United States?
Tell the students to think about the following overarching question
as they watch the production:
What was the real essence of the gift that
was given to the Cly family?
In the Postviewing Activities, students explore issues
portrayed in the film surrounding identity and culture. These include
the importance of the role of family in nurturing identity, the
impact of the loss of the Navajo language, respect for the earth
and a desire to preserve family traditions. Students are asked to
create a presentation that represents a critical analysis and understanding
of these key issues.
The purpose of this activity is for students to examine, through
an exploration of the impact of Navajo Boy on members of the Cly
family, the importance of identity and culture.
1. Read and discuss with the students each of the following
quotes from the film:
"The images show us as we were but we never got to say anything."
-Elsie Mae Cly Begay when discussing Navajo Boy
"I wonder how much money they got." -Elsie Mae Cly Begay when
discussing the fact that her family never received any money from
the sale of postcards that pictured Cly family members
"I wonder what it would be like if there were no tourists."
-Lorenzo Begay when discussing the groups of tourists in Monument
"Like all Navajo women, my mom is strong and independent." -Lorenzo
Begay when describing his mother
"The government penalizes us for our traditions when they reject
our claims." -Bernie Cly when discussing his health and government
"I lost culture, language and a way of life... ." -John Wayne
Cly when talking about his life away from his Navajo family
"This summer some White people came. They told me that they
were returning my pictures. It was as if I were lost and finally
found." -Jimmy Cly when describing how he felt upon the return
to the family of Navajo Boy
2. Ask the students to imagine that they are one of the members
of the Cly family and have them write a letter describing their
feelings. They may use the above quotes, or their own ideas based
on the film.
3. Create a presentation in which each student has a turn reading
his or her letter aloud to the entire class.
4. Provide time to discuss students' reactions to each other's
work and to the issues raised.
The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to
critically examine cultural assumptions that authors make when
telling a story and the impact such assumptions have on culture
1. Have students work in pairs or small groups. Ask the students
to choose a book on American-Indian culture to read. This can
be a picture book, a myth or a work of historical fiction, and
it may be for any reading level. Have the students read the book
and describe how American Indians are portrayed in it. The following
Web site is an excellent source for books:
2. After the students have written their descriptions, have
them go to the following Web sites, which provide critiques of
how American Indians are portrayed in literature:
If the students are unable to find the exact book they have
chosen, have them choose one that has similarities to the book
they have selected.
3. Ask the students to write a second description of their book
based on what they have read in the various critiques. Have them
compare and contrast their first and second descriptions, highlighting
4. Provide time for students to share what they have learned.
5. Create a class collection of students' work that shows both
the initial student descriptions and those written after reading
6. Have the class create a presentation for younger students
that illustrates key points regarding the portrayal of American
Indians in literature.
1. Share with the students the following statement written by
a 16-year-old Native-American girl:
"I have many dreams. If I could change anything
in the world, Columbus would never have found America."
2. Research and discuss how American Indians have been treated in
the United States.
3. Ask each student to prepare a response to the following question:
In your opinion, what was the gift that was
given to the Cly family?
This response may be a drawing, an essay, a poem, a videotape or
any other appropriate format.
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