If the Native American tribe Powhatan sounds familiar to you, it is likely because you heard the tribe's name during studies of the early American colonies. The Powhatan tribe is the tribe of Pocahontas, wife of Jamestown colonist John Rolfe who helped to mend the relationship between Native Americans and the colonists for a period of time. Information about the Powhatan tribe is plentiful, and many aspects of its culture and history would make for an interesting project.
Elementary-aged students studying the Powhatan Indians can study information about the tribe's general characteristics. The Powhatan lived in towns near rivers in Virginia. The tribe's barrel-shaped homes made from bent sapling trees sat on high ground above the rivers. Women built the tribe's homes, carved tools, watched the children, wove mats and baskets, planted and gathered foods and processed the animals the men brought home into food and clothing. Men might be found carving canoes, hunting animals, plowing fields or fishing. Powhatan men wore breech cloths, women wore aprons and both wore leggings and moccasins. They lived peacefully and interacted with the colonists, helping them learn how to survive on their land. Have students create a "Meet the Powhatan" student-authored picture book that depicts the daily life of the tribe. Students draw pictures of village scenes based on descriptions of Powhatan life then provide captions for each picture.
Some Powhatan villages contained just the barrel-shaped homes arranged in a circle alongside crops of squash, corn, sunflowers and beans. Larger villages had additional buildings such as a chief's house, storage buildings, a temple and a palisade fence of wood stakes surrounding it. While woman and children worked in the crop fields or on chores around the homes, men hunted in nearby woods or fished in a nearby river. Have students work in groups creating dioramas or murals of a Powhatan village scene. Student groups can use large, flat boxes, pieces of cardboard, paint, dirt, twigs, twine and clay to create a realistic model in the form of a diorama. Alternatively, students can create village scene murals on large bulletin board paper using paint.
Older students have the reading and writing skills necessary to create a historical timeline in text and pictorial format. Prior to 1600, thousands of Powhatan lived peacefully in North America, farming and hunting the land. They initially welcomed the English colonists and offered to help them. From 1600 to 1608, minor fighting erupted, but this was smoothed over by the marriage of Rolfe and Pocahontas, who acted as interpreter and peacemaker. Eventually, the colonists, not understanding the Powhatan way of honoring the land, began to take the land by force. From roughly 1610 to 1620, small conflicts periodically erupted, but by 1622, an Indian attack on the English brought about a war that lasted over 10 years, into the 1640s. Have students create a timeline of the Powhatan history large enough to include text and visuals. Instruct students to evenly space out the timeline as they plan, label each event clearly, write a main idea fact about the event and draw a small picture.
Students can create a written historical fiction project in the form of a short story, poem or fictional journal. Students can include Powhatan historical events such as the meeting of early colonists for the first time and helping the colonists learn to farm and hunt. Students can write about the events surrounding the marriage of Rolfe and Pocahontas or about the escalating battles that led to the 10-year conflict. Have students choose one event on which to focus their story, poem or journal. Explain that the historical fiction genre involves a setting in the past, some reference to actual events of the past and fictional characters.