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N. Scott Momaday. In the Presence of the Sun. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009; and N. Scott Momaday. The Journey of Tai-me. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010

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book review

  1. 1. Access Provided by Arizona State University at 12/14/11 5:09PM GMT
  2. 2. Book Reviews N. Scott Momaday. In the Presence of the Sun. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009. 169 pp. Paper, $18.95. N. Scott Momaday. The Journey of Tai-me. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010. 88 pp. Cloth, $21.95. Elizabeth Archuleta, Arizona State UniversityN. Scott Momaday is one of the most important American Indian writers inAmerican literary history. With the 1968 publication of his House Made ofDawn, he introduced a mainstream audience to American Indian literature. Hecreated an American Indian voice that refused to remain silent or stoic and withlittle connection to contemporary reality. Many American Indian writers previ-ous to Momaday spoke about Indians in the past tense, as if their culture wasdead and dying or already gone. Many were more ethnographic in nature inthat they described how things “used to be” before colonization. House Madeof Dawn presented something new; it was a work of fiction, an imagined worldthat American Indians could recognize, because it created Indian charactersthat were figures of humanity rather than stereotypes. His Pulitzer Prize–win-ning novel shared a story of American Indians living in the present and negoti-ating a system of white settler colonization. In the two books under review, Momaday reminds us why these works de-serve another reception. They are simply unforgettable. A much smaller audi-ence heard Momaday’s voice in The Journey of Tai-me. As he explains in the pref-ace, The Journey of Tai-me’s original edition included only one hundred copiesprinted on handmade paper. This is a republication of that 1967 limited edition.As a scholar of Indigenous literature, I have to admit that I was not familiarwith The Journey of Tai-me, but when I opened it up and began to read, I in-stantly recognized the story Momaday was telling. After reading the book jacket,
  3. 3. I learned why I found the narrative so familiar. The Journey formed the basis fora work that has never gone out of publication, The Way to Rainy Mountain. Why a republication of this book? I, for one, am happy to see the origins ofThe Way to Rainy Mountain. I’m sure many others like myself were not familiarwith The Journey of Tai-me. Readers unfamiliar with The Journey of Tai-me willnot find a multivoiced book. Rather, a single voice narrates the journey of theKiowa people and their sacred bundle and the experiences that shaped theminto the people they are today. Absent are the more formal historical scriptsthat help animate Rainy Mountain. Instead, all we find in The Journey is an in-dividual voice that reads more like a memoir. It feels personal and intimate, as ifMomaday is speaking with us in person. This singular voice emphasizes the im-portance of the journey motif, which is fundamental to many cultures. For hispeople, the journey from the mountains and forests to the northern plains withtheir medicine bundle and stories intact is epic. Momaday’s father gave him thestories about the journey his ancestors experienced. They became Momaday’sstories, because he adds his own memories to the journey his people are stilltaking. The idea that the Kiowa people have of themselves and how they cameto be survives because the oral tradition survived. Momaday builds on his ideaof who he is as a person and as a descendant of the Kiowa in his writing. Thisbook is a must for anyone who is interested in the development of a writer andhis work. In the Presence of the Sun is also a republication of previously published sto-ries, poems, and drawings. While it includes a voice that is more formal andWestern, it also contains the feel of the oral tradition that we find in The Jour-ney of Tai-me. This collection presents a perspective that is reflective of Moma-day’s life, one that is multicultural and multigeographical. The first section, “Se-lected Poems,” includes images of his own personal journeys and experiencesliving in the Southwest on mesas and in the plains. Included are items impor-tant to the Kiowa—bears, horses, and shields—as well as the memories and ex-periences of another time and another place. Poems such as “The Horse ThatDied of Shame,” “The Gourd Dancer,” and “The Stalker” confirm Momaday’scontinued emphasis on the importance of the oral tradition. This section pres-ents glimpses of events that sound like excerpts taken directly from The Journeyof Tai-me. The second section, “The Strange and True Story of My Life withBilly the Kid,” carries on Momaday’s ongoing fascination with this character.His imagined conversations and interactions with Billy the Kid represent an-other character that has become mythic and has obviously found its way intothe minds of Indians like Momaday. The third section, “In the Presence of theSun: A Gathering of Shields,” describes cultural objects that are significant tothe Plains people in multiple ways. An initial entry into this section tells howthe shields are made, why they are important, and who carries them. The shield Book Reviews 259
  4. 4. is emblematic of Plains culture, it is art and so must be aesthetically pleasing, it reflects its individual maker, it represents another reality like a mask, it is a story, and, finally, its shape is a meditation on life. Along with each prose poem we are introduced to an image of a shield, sixteen in all. The final section, “New Poems,” presents poetry that relies more on Western poetic traditions and more universal human subjects such as parenthood, chastity, and futility. The republication of Momaday’s work is a testament to the interconnection between American Indian writing, oral traditions, histories, and cultures. His work shows the importance of language and words to his survival as well as the survival of American Indians. His work has captured our imagination for many decades. His voice helped redefine the American Indian voice from one of victim to one of survivor. Perhaps that is the reason his work continues to be in publication and read by new generations of readers. Gelya Frank and Carole Goldberg. Defying the Odds: The Tule River Tribe’s Struggle for Sovereignty in Three Centuries. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010. 432 pp. Cloth, $65.00. Kristen A. Carpenter, University of Colorado Law School, Boulder It has become popular for academic scholars to challenge American Indian as- sertions of “sovereignty” and “culture” in their legal claims.1 Sovereignty, some critics argue, is a problematic term for Indian tribes because it originates in a Western European legal tradition of absolute dominion over territory, a notion that fits poorly with the colonized status of many indigenous peoples. Culture, the critics contend, has become meaningless because of its inextricably consti- tutive relationship with concepts such as law and because its fluid nature de- fies delineation. (What is Navajo culture if some Navajo traditions may have been borrowed from the Spanish, for example?) Moreover, both concepts seem fraught with normative limitations in a global community increasingly char- acterized by individual autonomy, mobility, and exchange across local and na- tional borders.2 Similar skepticism about sovereignty and culture manifests in federal Indian law decisions. One U.S. Supreme Court justice recently suggested, in a crim- inal jurisdiction case, that tribal sovereignty may have “ended” in 1871, when Congress stopped signing Indian treaties.3 In another case, a federal appellate court denied application of the Native American Graves Protection and Repa- triation Act where the human remains in question were apparently “too old” for the claimant tribes to prove their cultural affiliation.4 These decisions and many others ignore practical realities: Indian tribes are self-governing entities with civil and criminal lawmaking powers, and Indian tribes do maintain tra-260 american indian quarterly/spring 2011/vol. 35, no. 2