How Do Tribal Stories Tell the Story of Washington State Geography


How Do Tribal Stories Tell the Story of Washington State Geography


Washington State Library, Office of the Secretary of State

Grade Levels


In this focused inquiry, students investigate the question: How do tribal stories tell a “story” of our state’s geography?

Students engage in this inquiry by first studying a topographical map of Washington State, focusing especially on the topography of Eastern Washington. Students will then listen to a story told by Spokane Tribal Elder, Paulene Flett, about how the Spokane Tribe came to be on the land. Students will then read a scientific description of the Missoula Floods, which helped to shape the geography of Eastern Washington. After they collect their evidence, students will write a well-formed argument with a claim, evidence, and reason.

Lesson Objectives

1. Students will be able to read primary and secondary sources and gather information that helps them answer compelling and supporting questions.

2. Students will connect the power of Native American storytelling with the historical record.

3. Students will develop a claim with evidence and reasoning to answer the compelling question.

Source Materials

Featured Source(s):


SSS1.6-8.1 Analyze positions and evidence supporting an issue or an event.

SSS3.6-8.1 Engage in discussion, analyzing multiple viewpoints on public issues.

H1.6-8.4 Analyze a major historical event and how it is represented on timelines from different cultural perspectives, including those of indigenous people.

H2.6-8.2 Explain and analyze how individuals and movements have shaped Washington State history since statehood.


Compelling Question: How do tribal stories tell the “story” of our state’s geography?

Staging the Question:

Students will begin the inquiry with a quick study of a topographic map of Washington State. 

Supporting Question: 

How does the Spokane story, “Long Ago Legend” tell the story of Eastern Washington Geography?

Formative Performance Task:

  1. With a partner, study the topographic map and answer the questions provided (identify, make predictions, and ask questions). The teacher then “reveals” the major topographic features of Eastern Washington (Spokane River, Columbia River, Lake Coeur d’Alene, Lake Pend Oreille, Mt. Spokane, and others as appropriate to your location).

  2. Students will first listen to the story, “A Long Ago Legend” as retold by Paulene Flett in 1999 on Prairie Home Companion. While students listen, they can sketch words and/or images that they hear in the story. Tell students: We understand geography by looking at maps and scientific research, but we also can learn about geography from the stories of the Spokane Indians who have lived on this land for thousands of years. Their stories are the history of their people.

  3. Students will then read a story (written in Salish, translated in English). As they read, they should sketch in the margins: What geographic features do you “see” in your mind? Then, students will fill out the graphic organizer included in the lesson.

  4. Students will investigate the more recent (20th century) scientific descriptions of the floods and geographic features of Eastern Washington. Distribute copies of “Tracking the Great Missoula Floods” to students. In pairs, students should read the graphic illustration and description of the floods that happened in Washington and Oregon approximately 15,000 years ago. Note: Mount Spokane is just north and west of Spokane on the graphic.


Using details from the featured sources, craft an argument that answers the compelling question. Students should have a claim, evidence from sources, and reasoning that provides an analysis of evidence connected to their claim.

Taking Informed Action:

Research a story or legend of your closest tribal neighbor. Work with your classmates and the Tribe to publish the story in the language of the Tribe and in English.

WSL_How do tribal stories tell the story of Washington State geography.pdf