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Title: Native American Literature

Native American Literature
  • American Literature

(No Transcript)
Historical Cultural Context
  • Our American identity as we know it is a product
    of our past. Literature reveals how we arrived at
    our society and culture today.
  • We study Native American literature out of a
    respect for the indigenous cultures who were here
    before the European explorers as well as a
    respect for their cultural and literary influence
    throughout the years.

  • Indigenous Americans inhabited this continent
    before anyone else. They endured many invasions
    from the Spaniards for the following primary
  • 1. land
  • 2. gold
  • 3. crops
  • (all of which were plentiful)

  • Once explorers and settlers decided to stay and
    start building the natives could do nothing
    although they usually tried to fight back.
  • Natives had a completely different set of values
    and traditions
  • - some wouldnt fight back until they realized
    they would lose their land completely
  • - they lived off the land and held it in high
    regard earth was the mother
  • - they never used more than they needed and
    they never wasted anything

  • The settlers flagrant ways and intruding methods
    of desecrating the land came as a huge blow to
    the Native Americans.
  • The Europeans also brought disease that natives
    were never exposed to before, which brought
    actual physical desecration to their people.
  • Over time (hundreds of years) land was
    progressively taken away from them and they were
    not only robbed of their sacred land and the
    traditions it embodied for them, but they were
    forced into assimilating into the emerging
    European-American culture.

  • Indian removal was legalized with the Removal Act
    of 1830, which stipulated
  • 1. the tribe consent to move
  • 2. new land was to replace the old

  • This manifest destiny resulted in what would
    later be known as the Trail of Tears, or the mass
    forced exodus of thousands of Native Americans
    from their sacred land to government
  • From there, efforts to civilize them so that
    they could be mainstreamed into society

  • Indian children were sent to boarding schools far
    away from the reservations so that the authority
    of their parents/elders would be undermined.
    Language, and consequently, cultural identity was
    legally confiscated. Children were harshly
    punished for using their own language and were
    separated tribally to immerse them in English
  • Although great strides have been made in recent
    years for Indian Sovereignty, Native Americans
    continue to struggle because of the events of the

Storytelling Oral Tradition
  • Long before European explorers came to North
    America, Native Americans had a rich literary
    tradition of their own. Their stories, histories,
    and legends were shared and preserved through
    oral tradition. The storyteller is one whose
    spirit is indispensable to the people.

  • The Native Americans spoke hundreds of languages
    and lived in incredibly diverse societies with
    varied mythological beliefs. Despite their
    differences, their cultures and literary
    traditions had the following common elements
  • ? lack of a written language
  • ? they believed in the power of words and they
    relied on memory, rather than writing to preserve
    their texts
  • in this regard, these stories are not defined by
    the boundaries of written language there are no
    ending pages and they are not contained within a
    limited, concrete, physical source.

  • ? these stories belong to the collective
    people/the tribe
  • ? the oral tradition was a performance and is
    offered to the audience as dramatic events in
  • yet, the audience is not passive and has a role
    in bringing out the story
  • ? the storyteller is very important to culture
    and is one of the most
  • honored and respected members of the
  • ? the relationship between the storyteller and
    the audience is established through voice
    emphasis, gestures, use of space, eye contact,
    and the audience can be representative of the
    characters in the story
  • ? there is no known original author
  • ? these stories are open to personal

  • These oral stories include the following types
    of texts
  • ? cultural information (beliefs about social
    order and appropriate behavior)
  • historical accounts including migrations how
    people got to where they are
  • lessons describe how and why things are the way
    they are
  • creation stories and the origins of societies
    (beliefs about the nature of the physical world)

  • ? legends which include exploits of their heroes
  • ? traditions, religious beliefs, ceremonies,
    dreamsongs, shamanic chants, naming chants and
    blessings (beliefs about human nature and the
    problem of good and evil)
  • ? trickster tales featuring a trickster figure
    who was any combination of the following
    descriptions rule-breaker, malicious, cunning,
    foolish, chaos-causing, shape and gender shifting
    (a famous example is Kokopeli who was a Hopi
    flute player symbolic of happiness, joy, and
  • ? instructions from spirit mentors and
    explanations on how to conduct ceremonies
  • ? descriptions of natural processes such as water
    cycles, inter-species relationships, life cycles
    of plants, earth movements, and soil types
  • ? oral maps for travel which describe historic
    and on-going migrations of tribe for subsistence
    and holy journeys
  • ? magical tales of transformation which
    articulate the mystery and complexity of being
  • ? adventures in love, romance, and marriage

  • NOTE While oral stories are meant to be
    passed down through generations verbally, it is
    important to remember that written transcripts
    are not exactly representative of the oral
    performance. But a translation/ transcription of
    the stories is the closest we can come to sharing
    the Native American culture and tradition.

  • These oral stories were chanted, spoken, sung
    and repeated over and over until embedded into
    the memories of the next generations. The Native
    American oral tradition was the only way to pass
    on tribal history, heritage, and cultural
    practices. In order to continue hundreds of years
    of a tribes history the young must listen and
    remember the stories the elders tell and then
    pass them on.

Some Dominant Themes Motifs
  • relationships between humans and animals
  • respect and reverence for mother earth and nature
  • land as the strength of the people
  • village/community/tribe as sovereign
  • cyclical patterns renewal and continuance
  • importance of tribal traditions and history

Native American Wisdom
  • The earth was created by the assistance of the
    sun, and it should be left as wasThe earth and
    myself are of one mind. --Chief Joseph, Nez
  • All things are connectedWhatever befalls the
    earth befalls the sons of the earthThis we know.
    Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a
    strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does
    to himself. --Chief Seattle

  • The Earth our Mother is holy and should be
    treated as suchall forms of life are our
    brothers and sisters and have to be
    respectedLife is a holy, sacred experiencewe
    must live our lives as a religion, that is, with
    a constant concern for spiritual relationships
    and valueswe must live lives that bring forth
    both physical and spiritual beauty. All life has
    the potentiality of bringing forth Beauty and
    Harmony, but humans in particular have also
    the ability to bring forth ugliness and
    disharmony. --Forbes

  • You have noticed that everything an Indian
    does is in a circle, and that is because the
    Power of the World always works in circles, and
    everything tries to be round. In the old days
    when we were a strong and happy people, all our
    power came to us from the sacred hoop of the
    nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the
    people flourished. The flowering tree was the
    living center of the hoop, and the circle of the
    four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace
    and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave
    rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind
    gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came
    to us from the outer world with our religion.
    Everything the Power of the World does is done in
    a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that
    the earth is round like a ball, and so are all
    the stars. The wind, in its greatest power,
    whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for
    theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun
    comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The
    moon does the same, and both are round. Even
    the seasons form a great circle in their
    changing, and always come back again to where
    they were. The life of a man is a circle from
    childhood to childhood, and so it is in
    everything where power moves. Our tepees were
    round like the nests of birds, and these were
    always set in a circle, the Nations hoop, a nest
    of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for
    us to hatch our children. Black Elk, Oglala
    Sioux Holy Man, 1863-1950

  • Plants are thought to be alive, their juice is
    their blood, and they grow. The same is true of
    trees. All things die, therefore all things have
    life. Because all things have life, gifts have to
    be given to all things. --William Ralganal
    Benson Pomo
  • This rock did not come here by itself. This tree
    did not come here by itself. There is one who
    made all this, Who shows us everything. --Yuki

  • The American Indian is of the soil, whether it
    be the region of the forests, plains, pueblos, or
    mesas. He fits into the landscape, for the land
    that fashioned the continent also fashioned the
    man for his surroundings. He once grew as
    naturally as the wild sunflowers he belongs just
    as the buffalo belongs. --Luther Standing Bear,
    Oglala Sioux Chief

For Further Reading Study
  • The Way to Rainy Mountain and House Made of Dawn,
    by N. Scott Momaday
  • The Surrounded, by DArcy McNickle
  • Reservation Blues and The Lone Ranger and Tonto
    Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie
  • Storyteller and Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko
  • Neither Wolf Nor Dog, by Kent Nerburn
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, HBO film
  • Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya