The Native American tribes and nations who lived in modern-day Pennsylvania included the Lenape or Delawares, the Susquehannocks, the Shawnees, the Senecas and members of the Iroquois Confederacy. These Native American tribes and nations in Pennsylvania were all distinct in terms of their customs and general way of life. These Native American societies were also distinguished by their languages; however, the two most common language groups were Iroquoian and Algonquian (Native American Tribes, n.d.; The Indians of Pennsylvania, 2011).

The distinctions and uniqueness of Native American cultures have resulted in an interest in capturing and representing these cultures by non-Native Americans (Indians of the Midwest, 2011). The cultures of Native Americans have been represented in a variety of governmental, private and/or commercial formats for a variety of purposes (Hirschfelder & Molin, n.d.). For instance, Benjamin West, who was the historical painter for King George III, was from Pennsylvania. Due to his artistic skills and reputation, he was commissioned by Thomas Penn in 1771 to capture William Penn’s meeting with the Native Americans in 1682. However, at the time that West was commissioned, he was living in England for almost a decade. Therefore, he had to rely on his memories of Native Americans with whom he interacted in Pennsylvania, statues of Italians, and his own father as models for the portrayals of Native Americans in his renowned work titled: “Image of Peace” (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019). In addition, Seth Eastman, who was a member of the American military in the mid 19th century, had an interest in preserving a pictorial history of the Dakota’s peoples. As a result, he and his wife lobbied for him to be the illustrator for a study about Native American life, which was authorized by Congress (Seth Eastman, n.d.). Moreover, anthropologist Frank Speck had an interest in researching, collecting and documenting Native American cultures in photographs. He spent many years between 1914 and 1934 catering to these interests (Frank Gouldsmith Speck, n.d.). 

Though these depictions were not created by Native Americans, they have often been regarded  as authentic representations of Native American cultures by non-Native American audiences. (Hirschfelder & Molin, n.d.; Nagle, 2018). There are many reasons why Native Americans themselves do not have self-produced images or artifacts that have been preserved for posterity. These reasons include: differing ways of documenting their life from ways in which other cultures do, differing resources provided for capturing and preserving their lifestyle, images and/or artifacts being taken from the Native American communities, or items that may have been created but not preserved in the same way that non-Native Americans save and display their cultural artifacts. Furthermore, inaccurate representations of Native Americans, whether negative or positive, serve to misrepresent the experiences of Native Americans, while also creating long-lasting stereotypes (Hanson & Rouse, 1987; Hirschfelder and Molin, n.d.). Stereotypes and misrepresentations about Native American cultures are more likely to emerge in artistic depictions because they are subjective and they often lack context (Hanson & Rouse, 1987; Hirschfelder and Molin, n.d.; Nagle, 2018). Therefore, it becomes pertinent to examine the depictions of Native American cultures by non-Native Americans, in order to analyse these depictions; and identify the stereotypes, and if possible provide an accurate representation of the realities of Native American cultures.


  1. Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019, March 7). Benjamin West: American Painter. Retrieved from: [https://www.britannica.com/biography/Benjamin-West]
  2. Frank Gouldsmith Speck Photography Collection 1885 – 1934 (n.d.). Retrieved from: [https://www.si.edu/object/siris_arc_248692]
  3. Hirschfelder, A., & Molin, P.F. (n.d). I is for Ignoble: Stereotyping Native Americans. Retrieved from: [https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/native/homepage.htm]
  4. Indians of the Midwest: Stereotypes. Retrieved from: [https://publications.newberry.org/indiansofthemidwest/indian-imagery/stereotypes/]
  5. Jeffrey R. Hanson and Linda P. Rouse (1987) Dimensions of Native American Stereotyping. American Indian Culture and Research Journal: 1987, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 33-58. Retrieved from: [https://doi.org/10.17953/aicr.11.4.gtv1176075617v50]
  6. Reclaiming Native Truth Project, 2018. https://www.firstnations.org/publications/compilation-of-all-research-from-the-reclaiming-native-truth-project/
  7. Native American Tribes of Pennsylvania. (n.d.). Retrieved from: [www.native-languages.org/pennsylvania.htm]
  8. The Indians of Pennsylvania. (2011). Retrieved from: [https://explorepahistory.com/story.php?storyId=1-9-14]
  9. Seth Eastman: Pioneer and Painter – An Overview. (n.d.) Retrieved from [https://libguides.mnhs.org/eastman]
  10. Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2019). Improving adolescent literacy: Content area strategies at work (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson.

Educational Purpose

The items in this set relate to depictions of Native American culture by non-Native American photographers, painters and publications throughout history. Typically, these individuals used artistic expressions to portray scenes of Native American culture and life, which at times resulted in the perpetuation of stereotypes. These depictions also created or reproduced a generalised narrative about aspects of Native American culture. Students will learn through this set the importance of determining the origins of historical photographs, paintings, and/or documents, as well as establishing the context in which these sources were created. This is the process of critically analyzing an item in order to gain historical information and context from it. Furthermore, this set reinforces the importance of corroborating historical sources in order to compare and contrast these sources, to determine their reliability and trustworthiness.

Grade Levels

The nature of this set makes it most suitable for high school students, in particular students in grades 11 and 12.

State Standards

Secondary Standards Grades for History: 9,12. Historical Analysis and Skills Development

  1. 8.1.12.A. Evaluate patterns of continuity and rates of change over time, applying context of events
  2. 8.1.12.B Evaluate the interpretation of historical events and sources, considering the use of fact versus opinion, multiple perspectives, and cause and effect relationships.
  3. 8.1.12.C Analyse, synthesise and integrate historical data, creating a product that supports and appropriately illustrates inferences and conclusions drawn from research [Reference RWSL Standard 1.8.11 Research]

Secondary Standards Grades for History: 9,12. Pennsylvania

  1. 8.2.12.A Evaluate the role of groups and individuals from Pennsylvania played in the social, political, cultural and economic development of the US and the world.
  2. 8.2.12.B Evaluate the impact of historical documents, artifacts, and places in Pennsylvania which are critical to U.S. history and the world.
  3. 8.2.12.D Evaluate how conflict and cooperation among groups and organizations in Pennsylvania have influenced the growth and development of the US and the world. 

  • Ethnicity and race
  • Working conditions
  • Immigration
  • Military conflict
  • Economic stability

Source Set

1. "Indians in Council."
2. "Doc Dance of the Dahcotas."
3. "Striking the Post."
4. "Shawnee Woman"
5. "Woman using large mortar and pestle (1930s)"
6. "William Penn's Treaty with the Indians, when he founded the Province of Pennsylvania in North America 1681."
7. "Wm. Penn's treaty with the Indians when he founded the Province of Pennsila. 1661: The only treaty that never was broken"
8. "William Penn's Treaty With the Native Americans - Postcard"

Discussion Questions

  1. Who are these artists and what is their background, interactions and/or relationship with Native Americans and their culture? 
  2. Is there documentary evidence of these artists’ perspective on Native American culture?
  3. What was the purpose for the creation, publication or reproduction of these pieces by the artists? Who commissioned these pieces? Why were they commissioned? Who/what was/were the intended audience(s)? What do you think motivated them in choosing to depict Native American life and culture?
  4. Are you able to identify evidence of the artists’ perspective(s) about Native Americans from their works?
  5. Are any of the depictions of Native American culture in these works corroborated by other historical sources?
  6.  What types of historical sources could you use to corroborate these depictions?
  7. Benjamin West’s 1771 painting which was titled: An Image of Peace, has been reproduced in a variety of ways since it was completed; what do you think accounts for its popularity then and now?

    Classroom Activities

    1. Ask students to examine the depictions of Native Americans in this primary source set and identify the consistent narratives about Native American cultures portrayed in these depictions. Also have students look for inconsistencies and think about why. Compare and contrast the consistencies with the inconsistencies found.
    2. Ask students to research modern interpretations of Native American depictions, such as in organized sports. Have them write an essay where they take a position on if the portrayal of Native Americans in organized sports [Atlanta Braves/Golden State Warriors/Kansas City Chiefs/New Jersey Savage/Washington Redskins/Cleveland Indians] could be perceived as a celebration of American national heritage ora stereotype of Native American cultures.
    3. Ask students to create a R.A.F.T [Role. Audience. Format. Topic] writing assignment guided by the items in this primary source set. According to Fisher and Frey (2019), R.A.F.T. is a writing-to-learn activity where students “recall, clarify, and question what they know and what they still wonder about” (p. 142). In this activity, students attempt to depict a perspective related to the content they are learning and write a document from the perspective of that person. Below are two model R.A.F.T. prompts related to the content of this primary source set. Students would use elements of their own research as well as the sources in this set to compose a document in the format, addressed to the audience, about the topic, and from the perspective of the role.






    Benjamin West

    Lenni Lenape/Delaware Indians 

    Apology Letter

    Benjamin West apologies to the Native Americans for the use of non-Native Americans as inspiration for his famous 1771 painting.

    Seth Eastman

    Native Americans of the Dakotas

    Job Application/Resume

    Seth Eastman applies for the job to capture the culture of the Native Americans in a single painting.

    Additional Resources for Research

    1. This article titled: “Creating an Image of Peace” provides background information related to Benjamin West’s 1771 painting, which depicted the 1682 treaty signing between William Penn and the Native Americans: [http://statemuseumpa.org/penn-treaty/creating/] [http://statemuseumpa.org/penn-treaty/creating/part2.htm]
    2. This article provides a brief background about Seth Eastman; along with more of his depictions of Native American culture [https://mndigital.org/projects/primary-source-sets/seth-eastman-depictions-native-american-life]
    3. This article outlines the photographic collection of Frank Gouldsmith Speck between 1885-1934, along with some background information [https://www.si.edu/object/siris_arc_248692]
    4. Explore PA History, https://explorepahistory.com/story.php?storyId=1-9-14.

    Set created by Tanika Digiovanni, Temple University College of Education.

    We appreciate your feedback on the sets! You can fill out our assessment form to let us know what you think. If you have any questions about the sets or are interested in sets on a specific topic, contact us at info@padigital.org.