2020 Indigenous Peoples’ Day Virtual Teach-In: Food and Water Justice

More than 250 teachers from across the U.S. and other countries attended 2020 Indigenous Peoples’ Day Virtual Teach-In: Food and Water Justice, hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and Teaching for Change on September 12, 2020. The focus of the teach-in was Indigenous peoples’ histories and experiences around food and water justice today. The conference took place virtually, with closed captioning for select sessions.

The teach-in began with a keynote address by Winona LaDuke. LaDuke talked about the importance of biodiversity, especially in light of climate change and the pandemic. “We’re going to learn what re-localization is about.” LaDuke envisioned a post-petroleum agricultural system and talked about the importance of hemp. “If you could take all the things you make of plastic and make them out of hemp, that would be revolutionary.”


Winona LaDuke (member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg of the White Earth reservation) is an internationally renowned activist working on issues of sustainable development, renewable energy, and food systems. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota and is a two time vice presidential candidate with Ralph Nader for the Green Party. As program director of the Honor the Earth, she works nationally and internationally on the issues of climate change, renewable energy, and environmental justice with Indigenous communities.

Following the keynote were two rounds of curriculum workshops that featured classroom resources from the NMAI’s Native Knowledge 360° and the Zinn Education Project’s Teach Climate Justice campaign. Workshops included (read descriptions below):

  • Meet Today’s Climate Justice Activists: A mixer on the people saving the world 
  • Pipeline Protests: Putting Climate Civil Disobedience into the Curriculum (Necessity film and lesson)
  • Treaties Matter
  • The Inka Empire: What Innovations Can Provide Food and Water for Millions?
  • American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges 

The event was well received as indicated from participant comments:

Even though it’s the beginning of a tough teaching year and I have a gazillion things to take care of this weekend, this was a source of inspiration and energy. A heartfelt thank you to letting me register early this morning even though registration was already closed. Sending you heartfelt gratitude.

This is my favorite PD of the year!

Thank you so much! This is my second year participating in this event and I am coming up with specific information that I can use in the classroom this year.

Both sessions will be integrated into my planning for the year. I gained so much from these sessions and the resources shared by the presenters and among the community were fabulous. The keynote was wonderful!

 I got some great ideas for connecting Inka innovation and expertise with STEM — both the virtual program linked, and a hands-on project that could be connected to science standards around experimental design, data collection, and analysis.

I’d never heard of the necessity defense before but I’m about to take a deep dive into researching it. So interesting and so mind expanding — one way social justice can be codified into the justice system!

I’ve already scheduled a Zoom with my teacher candidates to share resources.

Workshop Descriptions

Meet Today’s Climate Justice Activists: A mixer on the people saving the world. This workshop will engage middle and high school teachers in a mixer lesson that can be used to introduce students to the stories of climate justice activists who are organizing toward climate action. The roles bring together various strands of the climate justice movement and highlight the broad coalition of groups and individuals who are working toward the goal of a just transition — including teach-in keynote speaker Winona LaDuke. This lesson, available for free access at the Zinn Education Project website, creates an opportunity for students to see themselves as part of this movement — as activists — capable of creating the change that so often feels out of reach. Facilitated by Tim Swinehart, high school teacher and co-editor of A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis.

Pipeline Protests: Putting Climate Civil Disobedience into the Curriculum (Necessity Film): This workshop is built around the new documentary film, Necessity: Oil, Water, and Climate Resistance, which details the story of multiple cohorts of climate activists: Indigenous leaders in the Climate Justice Movement, valve turners using civil disobedience to stop the flow of oil, and the legal team that uses the “necessity defense” in the courts. Participants will engage with excerpts from the film and experience a mixer role play based on the real-life subjects of the film. Attendees will receive classroom-ready curriculum suitable for multiple content-areas in grades 7-12 and adapted for online instruction. Facilitated by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca, high school teacher and Zinn Education Project curriculum writer/teacher organizer. 

The Inka Empire: What Innovations Can Provide Food and Water for Millions? [CC] The Inka Empire thrived in South America in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Join astronomer and educator Dr. Isabel Hawkins (bilingual/bicultural, from Argentina) of the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco to delve into The Inka Empire: What Innovations Can Provide Food and Water for Millions? This new Native Knowledge 360° online lesson highlights Inka-period engineering accomplishments that allowed the Inka to manage their vast and disperse empire. Discover how their legacy has relevancy in the present day. Explore a variety of sources that reveal how the need to feed and provide water for millions of people across an expansive territory led to Inka innovations in water management and agriculture. Many of these innovations are still in use today by Indigenous communities in the Andes.

Treaties Matter: Northern Plains Treaties and the Dakota Access Pipeline: In this session, teachers will be introduced to a student lesson on the choices and consequences Native Nations faced when entering into treaty negotiations with the United States during the period of westward expansion. By examining the intentions and outcomes of two specific treaties made between Northern Plains Nations and the United States, students build an understanding of the impact of those treaties today and are better able to empathize with current Native social justice issues. Facilitated by Michaela Pavlat, NMAI cultural interpreter and a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Gabrielle Lee (Kanaka Maoli), NMAI cultural interpreter.

American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges[CC] Learn how to use NMAI’s educational website, American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges. Explore digital resources that reveal how the Leech Lake Ojibwe of Minnesota protect wild rice. Find out how traditional culture, values, and indigenous knowledge, along with Western science and technology, inform the environmental work of contemporary Native nations. Recommended for teachers of sixth-through ninth-grade. Facilitated by Ed Schupman, manager of the Native Knowledge 360° Initiative and a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma.


Recordings of two sessions. The other sessions had interactive lessons with breakout rooms, so they were not recorded.

The Inka Empire: What Innovations Can Provide Food and Water for Millions?

American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges.