Native American Gender Roles and Spanish Colonialism

Subject: History
Topic:  Integrated
Grade Levels: Elementary; 4


This lesson explores culture, oppression, and colonialism by exploring Native American gender roles and how they differed from Spanish gender roles.

Time: 45 minutes

Lesson Materials:

Lesson Objectives:

* Understand that different cultures have different interpretations of gender and gender roles
* Begin to understand colonialism and the role it has played in shaping history
* Examine how colonialism changed the perception of gender roles in the Americas

Essential Questions:

  1. How is gender cultural and contextual?
  2. What influence did Spanish colonialism have on Native American ideas of gender?


CCSS 4.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

HSS 4.2Students describe the social, political, cultural, and economic life and interactions among people of California from the pre-Columbian societies to the Spanish mission and Mexican rancho periods.


Colonialism: when one country exercises control over another area and its people

Gender identity: the gender that you feel you are

Gender roles: a set of social and cultural beliefs or expectations about appropriate behavior for people of a certain gender

Cisgender: a person whose gender identity is the same as the gender they were given at birth

Transgender: a person whose gender identity is different than the gender they were given at birth

Non-binary: a person whose gender identity is not just male or female

Two-Spirit: a person of First Nations or Native American descent possessing both a male and female spirit

Teacher Background:

This lesson addresses standards about traditional practices of Native American peoples. The teacher should be prepared to discuss how gender roles varied across cultures, how the Spanish sought to impose their culture on the Native American people, and how this fits into the colonial Narrative. The teacher should also have a basic understanding of gender (identity, expression, etc.) and gender-expansive Native Americans (sometimes referred to as Two-Spirit.


  • Computer
  • Projector


  1. Show the Native American Gender Powerpoint (20 mins):
  2. Discuss the powerpoint (10 mins)
    1. What were the student’s impressions? Did they know about these different Native genders?
    2. Why did gender roles change? What effect did that have on people who didn’t identify within a European binary?
    3. Does this still affect ideas of gender today? Where do you see it?
    4. What do you imagine life was like with multiple genders before the Colonists came? Do you think there was more freedom to be who you are?

Assessment Ideas:

Have students write a short story imagining what gender would look like in the Americas had they not been colonized, based on the information in the powerpoint. Include characters of all different genders and explore how they identify, how they express their gender, what jobs they do, and what role they have in their communities.

Relevant Resources:

Author(s) Information:

Matthew Klein is an Education Intern at Our Family Coalition in San Francisco, CA.

Carly Solberg is an undergrad student at Sonoma State University studying Women, Gender and Queer Studies and is an Education Intern at Our Family Coalition in San Francisco, CA.

Lesson tags: 4th grade, CCSS 4.1, HSS 4.2, native american, Spanish
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