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Aboriginal Legends (Grade 2 – 5)

Aboriginal Legends

Division/Grade Level

Division I or II
Grades 2 – 5
Time Frame

Three 40-minute classes
Lesson Overview

This lesson examines legends and stories of the Canadian Aboriginals. Students are given an opportunity to listen to and read legends and will come to understand that these legends helped the Aboriginals explain not only everyday life, but also their beliefs and the unexplainable (e.g. creation). Through their stories and legends we find that Aboriginal values, attitudes and cultural identities are shared.

This lesson also introduces students to the Peel Prairie Portal as a source of primary source material.

It is assumed that previous learning has included a discussion of the different Aboriginal tribes that were found in the western provinces in Canada’s early history.

Students will be given an opportunity to examine stories and legends and to recognize that aspects of cultural identity may be tied to these legends. Students will be introduced to the Peel Prairie Portal and learn about the potential of this web site as an important source of information.

Students will:

1. recognize “legend” as a genre;
2. understand that legends have been a part of the oral tradition of the Aboriginal people;
3. understand that legends and stories enable a cultural group to share and keep their identity;
4. distinguish similarities and differences using a variety of legends and folk tales.


Students will:

1. listen, read and respond to legends;
2. share responses to a variety of texts;
3. organize ideas in a logical sequence using a flow chart;
4. create an original visual image to accompany an existing legend;
5. present original ideas using oral, visual, print or electronic media (optional activity).


Students will:

1. develop a respect for the cultural traditions in which legends originate.

Curricular Connections

Language Arts
Social Studies
Fine Arts
New Vocabulary

Peel Prairie Portal Resource Materials

* Peel #6171
Clay, Charles
Swampy Cree Legends: Being Twenty Folk Tales from the Annals of a Primitive, Mysterious, Fast-disappearing Canadian Race: As Told to Charles Clay by Kuskapatchees, the Smokey One. Toronto: Macmillan, 1938.
* #5409
Bloomfield, Leonard
Sacred Stories of the Sweet Grass Cree. Ottawa: F. A. Acland, 1930.
* #2698
Manitoba Free Press
The Gophers Tail, a Good Luck Bringer: In Three Chapters, Containing the Cree Folk Story of the Gopher’s Origin, Here Set Forth in Print for the First Time. Winnipeg: Printed by the Manitoba Free Press Job Department, 1903.
* #2778
Manitoba Free Press
A Quill from a Canada Wild Goose: With the Cree Legend of Nih-Ka, the Wild Goose, Set Forth for the First Time in Print. Winnipeg: Manitoba Free Press, 1904.
* Alberta Folklore Collection, 96-93-615
Gard, Robert E.
Indian Legend: Creation of the World. Radio script (annotated), 1940 ca.

Other Resource Materials

1. Indian Legends of Canada – Ella Elizabeth Clark
The Loon’s Necklace – Pictures by Elizabeth Cleaver; Retold by William Toye
2. Other legends as selected by the teacher
3. Legends flow chart
4. Rubric for oral presentation of aboriginal legend

Developing the Lesson
Introduction or Opening Activity

The teacher should begin class by reading a legend such as The Loon’s Necklace. Discuss the ideas in the legend, and the meaning of the story. Ask why a story such as this may have been written.
Purpose of the Lesson

Students will read and discuss a number of legends or folk tales that are part of the folklore of the Canadian Aboriginals. Through listening and reading, students will see how these legends helped the Aboriginals make sense of the world around them. These stories enabled the Aboriginals to maintain their cultural identity, and were passed along from one generation to another in the oral tradition of the tribe. When the white settlers arrived they began to take some of the stories and put them into print. This lesson will use some of their old books and stories, accessed through the Internet.
Presentation of New Material

Using an LDC projector, display the Peel Prairie Portal. Show the students how to enter the portal and how to search for material by subject, title or author. Explain to the students that this particular website has many books, stories and documents which were written a long time ago. Today we are going to look at some legends that were written many years ago.

Enter the title Swampy Cree Legends. Look at the title page of the book, and examine the picture of Kuskapatchees, the Smokey One, in the front cover. This book was written in 1938 by Charles Clay. The stories were dictated to the author by Kuskapatchees, the Smokey One. Look at the preface; read some of it to the students if desired. Look at the table of contents. Look at the variety of sub-headings, and the story topics.

It is important to stress that these legends and stories were a part of the oral tradition of the Swampy Cree. Fortunately, Mr. Clay knew that writing them down was a valuable exercise. This would ensure that everyone would remember them.

Turn to page 48 and read Why the Loon has a Flat Back. Discuss the similarities and differences between this legend and the first legend (The Loon’s Necklace).

Read the legend How the World was Made Again (page 20). If you read the preface to the students (how all cultures have similar stories), mention this again at this time. Ask why a group of people might want to explain the origins of the earth. Do we have a similar story?

Go back to the Peel Prairie Portal and click on the Alberta Folklore site. Show the students the similar fashion in which this site works. Enter "legend" in the search engine, and find Indian Legend: Creation of the World. Read this story to the students. Once again discuss the similarities and differences of the legends. What could account for this?
Check for Understanding

There are a number of legends in the Swampy Cree book which lend themselves to this grade level. Of interest are How the Moon was Made (page 24) and Why the Eagle Smells Bad (page 60). The Peel site also has The Gopher's Tail: A Good Luck Bringer and The Cree legend of Nih-Ka, the Wild Goose [in A quill from a Canada wild goose: With the Cree Legend of Nih-Ka, the Wild Goose ...]. The teacher may also have legends that he or she prefers to use. Ella Clark has an interesting collection that includes landscapes, animals and the creation of the world. The teacher may wish to choose one overall theme. Gather as many different legends as you wish, and read them with the students. Have the students jot down similarities and differences as you read. Look for any patterns that may exist. Discuss the similarities and the patterns. If you find a pattern, write it down on chart paper so the students are able to refer to it later in the lesson.
Once again, explain how these legends helped the Aboriginal people make sense of the world around them. Each tribe would have similar yet different stories to explain the moon, the stars, the animals and the trees.
Independent Practice

Give the students the flow chart that accompanies this lesson. Have them choose any one of the legends that were discussed in class, and fill in the chart with the sequence of events. You may wish to have the students group themselves according to the legend. This will allow them to discuss the order of events and exchange ideas. Once the flow chart has been completed, have the students use the information on the chart to continue with one of the following activites:

* Create a play using popsicle stick puppets. Tell the story with your own words as you do the actions with your puppets.
* Illustrate the story as a comic strip or story board which you will use to relate the story to the class. Use words in your comic strip only for the times when the story characters are speaking.
* Form a small group and act out the legend. You should have a narrator who will provide the lines that are not spoken between the characters.

Distribute rubrics to students and inform them that they will be evaluated on their presentations according to the rubric.
Closing Activity

Have the students present their legends to the class. They may perform their plays or read their cartoons or story boards.

Evaluate student presentations according to the rubric.
Follow-Up Activities

The teacher may wish to follow this lesson with a creation of student legends. The students could create an outline of their legend on paper, and then do an audio-visual presentation using a paint/draw program, such as KidPix, to create a slideshow. Older students could be expected to produce a more sophisticated end product, while younger students could have 5-6 slides that tell their legend. (See "Aboriginal Legend Webquest" for one option.)

By E.A. Keith and S.J. Whyte