In the Sign of the Beaver, white settlers are beginning to encroach on indigenous people's territory in the area which the U.S. settler state has called "Maine". As the world of whiteness begins to invade the lives of Saknis and Attean—a grandfather and grandson duo of the Penobscot tribe—Saknis knows his grandson must learn some of the ways of the white world if he is to survive the invasion. If Attean can read, he and his tribe will not be tricked into signing treaties that give up their lands and hunting grounds. Saknis explains to Attean why he must learn to read English by saying,
White man come more and more to Indian land. White man not make treaty with pipe. White man make signs on paper, signs Indian not know. Indian put mark on paper to show him friend of white man. Then white man take land. Tell Indian cannot hunt on land. Attean learn to read white man's signs. Attean not give away hunting grounds.
Saknis knows that the youth of his tribe must be able to hold onto their traditional language and culture while being able to navigate the white world that is being imposed upon them.