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Native American
Literature
English III
Mrs. Abercrombie
FA 2013
Historical & Cultural Context
• Our American identity as we know it is a
product of our past. Our class will focus on
literature which 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.
Historical Context
• All texts (literature, songs, pictures etc.)
are cultural productions
• It is important to understand the
culture/history surrounding the production
of these texts to understand their
meaning.
• Indigenous Americans inhabited this
continent before anyone else. They
endured many invasions from the
Spaniards for the following primary
reasons:
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 wouldn’t 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 reservations.
• From there, efforts to
“civilize” them so that
they could be
mainstreamed into
society continued.
• 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
only.
• Although great strides have been made in recent
years for Indian Sovereignty, Native Americans
continue to struggle because of the events of the
past.
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
time
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
tribe/society

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 interpretation
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)
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 fertility)

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
human
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
tribe’s history the young must listen and
remember the stories the elders tell and
then pass them on. Therefore, stories are
vibrant with figurative language –
particularly metaphor.
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 was…The earth and
myself are of one mind.” --Chief Joseph, Nez
Perce
• “All things are connected…Whatever befalls the
earth befalls the sons of the earth…This 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 such…all forms of life
are our brothers and
sisters and have to be
respected…Life is a holy,
sacred experience…we
must live our lives as a
religion, that is, with a
constant concern for
spiritual relationships and
values…we 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
• “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
Chief Joseph Bruchac
• “The Sun Still Rises in the Same Sky”
“The Sky Tree”
• Huron piece of literature
• Creation myth
– The beginning of the earth
– How people, and land came to be

• The Earth Diviner Myth
–
–
–
–

Common among Native American cultures
Earth is covered by water
An animal dives down in to the water and brings up soil
Many Native Americans call North America Turtle Island

• Symbolism: What does the rooting of the tree
represent?
“The Sky
Tree”

• Archetype
– Prefix “arch” = Extreme
– Carl Jung (one of the founding
fathers of psychology)
– There are certain images which
our minds unconsciously create
that appear in the dreams of all
humans and in the myths of
every culture.

• Archetypes are symbols, but
symbols are not always
archetypes.
– Symbolism may vary slightly
Archetypes
Examples of Archtypes

In “The Sky Tree”…
Archetype
Tree
Universal religious symbol
Gilgamesh
(Mesopotamian)
Eve (Christian)
Yggdrasil (Norse)
Symbolism?
What does the rooting of
the tree symbolize?
“Coyote Finishes His Work”
 Creation myth
 Explains
creation of the
Indians
 Explains the
creation of Indian
culture

Messianic
(savior) Myth

 Archetypes
– Coyote = archetypal
trickster
– Earth-woman
– Old Man
Common Symbols
• Phallic symbols (male)– if it stands up or
goes off (guns, cannons, swords, spires);
anything that looks a bit like or can stand
in for the male sexual organ and represent
the potency of the male force/male
dominance (snakes, sleek cars,
motorcycles
Common Symbols
• Yonic (female) symbols – imitate fertility,
motherhood, and/or the womb (gardens,
food, pots), or the female primary sexual
organ gardens, (flowers in full bloom,
caves)
“Coyote Finishes His Work”
The trickster often takes the form of
an animal. (Think of the Serpent in
the Christian story).
What traits of Coyote help him to
be a trickster?
Where does Old Man Above send
Coyote?
“Coyote Finishes His Work”
• Coyote plays tricks on Indians.
• Coyote helps the Indians
– Rids the earth of evil spirits
– Teaches important skills

• Old Man tells Coyote his work is done,
and he sends Coyote to a resting place.
• The Old Man leaves, too.
• One day, Coyote and the Old Man will return.
• Meanwhile, the Old Man will send messages by
the spirits of those with near death experiences.
• Indians are awaiting the return of Coyote.
“Coyote Finishes His Work”

• Old Man Above sent “Coyote” to create inhabitants
of the world.
– Coyote made “Indians” and spread around world

• Liked to play tricks and often got in trouble
• Old Man Above came down and told Coyote his
work was done.
• Told the “Indians” that Coyote and he would return
when the world needed change
• Until then, they would live in the world of good/evil,
trickery/fun, beautiful/ugly that Coyote had
developed
“Coyote Finishes His Work”
• The return of Old Man and Coyote
– Coyote will return first.
– Earth will require a change.
– Old Man will bring spirits of the dead with him.
– There will be no more “other side camp.”
– All people will live together.
– Earthmother will be restored.
Wrap Up
Key Words/Phrases/Concepts

• Historical Context
• Oral Tradition
• Archetypal Characters and Symbols
– Trickster
– Tree
– Phallic vs. Yonic

• Messianic Myth
• Creation Myth
In Class Writing Assignment
Compare (similarities)/contrast (differences)
the American Experience of Native
Americans and Enslaved African Americans.
What role do their experiences play in the
collective American subconscious?

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Native american literature

  • 2.
  • 3. Historical & Cultural Context • Our American identity as we know it is a product of our past. Our class will focus on literature which 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.
  • 4. Historical Context • All texts (literature, songs, pictures etc.) are cultural productions • It is important to understand the culture/history surrounding the production of these texts to understand their meaning.
  • 5. • Indigenous Americans inhabited this continent before anyone else. They endured many invasions from the Spaniards for the following primary reasons: 1. land 2. gold 3. crops (all of which were plentiful)
  • 6. • 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 wouldn’t 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
  • 7. • 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.
  • 8. • 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
  • 9. • 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 reservations. • From there, efforts to “civilize” them so that they could be mainstreamed into society continued.
  • 10. • 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 only. • Although great strides have been made in recent years for Indian Sovereignty, Native Americans continue to struggle because of the events of the past.
  • 11. 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.
  • 12. • 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.
  • 13. 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 time 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 tribe/society 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 interpretation
  • 14. 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)
  • 15. 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 fertility) 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 human adventures in love, romance, and marriage
  • 16. 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.
  • 17. 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 tribe’s history the young must listen and remember the stories the elders tell and then pass them on. Therefore, stories are vibrant with figurative language – particularly metaphor.
  • 18. 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
  • 19. Native American Wisdom • “The earth was created by the assistance of the sun, and it should be left as was…The earth and myself are of one mind.” --Chief Joseph, Nez Perce • “All things are connected…Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth…This 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
  • 20. • “The Earth our Mother is holy and should be treated as such…all forms of life are our brothers and sisters and have to be respected…Life is a holy, sacred experience…we must live our lives as a religion, that is, with a constant concern for spiritual relationships and values…we 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
  • 21. • “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
  • 22. • “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
  • 23. Chief Joseph Bruchac • “The Sun Still Rises in the Same Sky”
  • 24. “The Sky Tree” • Huron piece of literature • Creation myth – The beginning of the earth – How people, and land came to be • The Earth Diviner Myth – – – – Common among Native American cultures Earth is covered by water An animal dives down in to the water and brings up soil Many Native Americans call North America Turtle Island • Symbolism: What does the rooting of the tree represent?
  • 25. “The Sky Tree” • Archetype – Prefix “arch” = Extreme – Carl Jung (one of the founding fathers of psychology) – There are certain images which our minds unconsciously create that appear in the dreams of all humans and in the myths of every culture. • Archetypes are symbols, but symbols are not always archetypes. – Symbolism may vary slightly
  • 26. Archetypes Examples of Archtypes In “The Sky Tree”… Archetype Tree Universal religious symbol Gilgamesh (Mesopotamian) Eve (Christian) Yggdrasil (Norse) Symbolism? What does the rooting of the tree symbolize?
  • 27. “Coyote Finishes His Work”  Creation myth  Explains creation of the Indians  Explains the creation of Indian culture Messianic (savior) Myth  Archetypes – Coyote = archetypal trickster – Earth-woman – Old Man
  • 28. Common Symbols • Phallic symbols (male)– if it stands up or goes off (guns, cannons, swords, spires); anything that looks a bit like or can stand in for the male sexual organ and represent the potency of the male force/male dominance (snakes, sleek cars, motorcycles
  • 29. Common Symbols • Yonic (female) symbols – imitate fertility, motherhood, and/or the womb (gardens, food, pots), or the female primary sexual organ gardens, (flowers in full bloom, caves)
  • 30. “Coyote Finishes His Work” The trickster often takes the form of an animal. (Think of the Serpent in the Christian story). What traits of Coyote help him to be a trickster? Where does Old Man Above send Coyote?
  • 31. “Coyote Finishes His Work” • Coyote plays tricks on Indians. • Coyote helps the Indians – Rids the earth of evil spirits – Teaches important skills • Old Man tells Coyote his work is done, and he sends Coyote to a resting place. • The Old Man leaves, too. • One day, Coyote and the Old Man will return. • Meanwhile, the Old Man will send messages by the spirits of those with near death experiences. • Indians are awaiting the return of Coyote.
  • 32. “Coyote Finishes His Work” • Old Man Above sent “Coyote” to create inhabitants of the world. – Coyote made “Indians” and spread around world • Liked to play tricks and often got in trouble • Old Man Above came down and told Coyote his work was done. • Told the “Indians” that Coyote and he would return when the world needed change • Until then, they would live in the world of good/evil, trickery/fun, beautiful/ugly that Coyote had developed
  • 33. “Coyote Finishes His Work” • The return of Old Man and Coyote – Coyote will return first. – Earth will require a change. – Old Man will bring spirits of the dead with him. – There will be no more “other side camp.” – All people will live together. – Earthmother will be restored.
  • 34. Wrap Up Key Words/Phrases/Concepts • Historical Context • Oral Tradition • Archetypal Characters and Symbols – Trickster – Tree – Phallic vs. Yonic • Messianic Myth • Creation Myth
  • 35. In Class Writing Assignment Compare (similarities)/contrast (differences) the American Experience of Native Americans and Enslaved African Americans. What role do their experiences play in the collective American subconscious?