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Native American Literature
Transcript of Native American Literature
DongA University Humanities
Group Activity: "My Spirit Animal"
Take a few minutes to think about what animal you feel is your spirit animal.
Try to think about your "character," or personality, and what animal fits that description.
Example: "I think my spirit animal is a bear. I love salmon, I sleep all the time, and I am very hairy."
After you finish thinking for a few minutes, discuss your spirit animal with your small group partners.
Repetitive: Many texts are presented as chants or songs, where the audience members are expected to repeat the lines of the song back to the leader. In this way, the stories can be remembered from generation to generation.
A Brief Historical Timeline
1492: Christopher Columbus lands in what are now the Bahamas and makes first contact with native people, capturing some as slaves to take back to Europe.
1607: First permanent English settlement in America at Jamestown.
1622: First armed conflict between native peoples and Europeans (at Jamestown).
1670s: “King Philip’s War” kills many native people and gives control of New England to colonial settlers.
1830s: The United States congress passes the Indian Removal Act, forcing most native tribes to lands west of the Mississippi.
1850’s: The discovery of gold in what is now South Dakota leads to a series of wars against the plains Indians. These tribes are finally controlled through systematic starvation after hunters killed millions of buffalo, leading nearly to their extinction.
1870s through the 1890s: A series of wars with western tribes end with the Massacre at Wounded Knee, where over 300 Native Americans (including many women and children) were killed by American troops.
Native American Texts and the
Although there were over 350 distinct language groups in the Americas prior to European contact Native American people had no writing systems with which to record their stories.
Despite this fact, these cultures had a very rich literary tradition in the form of stories that were passed from generation to generation in what is called an “oral tradition.” Old people passed the stories on to their children and grandchildren, who passed them on to their own children.
Native American cultures often used music, dances, costumes, paintings, and other forms of artistic expression to present and preserve their traditional stories.
The texts of the Native American Oral Tradition are tied very closely to the place where the people lived. All of the animals, the geography (for example, mountains, plains, rivers, deserts, or seashore), the plant life (trees or flowers), and even the stars and moon and rocks and dirt of a place are very important characters in the stories and become living personalities.
Subjects of Native American Stories
Trickster Tales: The trickster is a common character in Native American tales, often represented by the Coyote, a type of wild dog common to the Americas. The trickster may be helpful or harmful to humans, but most often just wants to cause some type of chaos. Native Americans believe that the trickster, or chaotic force in the universe, is neither good nor bad. It is simply a way of explaining the unpredictable nature of human existence.
Gambler Tales are also common and are similar to Trickster tales in that they attempt to explain the unpredictable nature of human life. In one story, the Sky Coyote gambles with the Sun to determine what will happen to humans on earth for the following year: will they be healthy and safe and happy or will some horrible thing happen to them.
Creation Stories: Like most cultures, Native American literature includes tales about how the world was formed. There are many versions of these stories, but many involve an Earth Mother who comes into the world and survives with the help of animals.
Tales of Abduction: There are many tales of people, especially women and children, who are taken away from their loved ones during wars or other social upheavals. Sometimes they endure many hardships before they finally find their way back to their family.
Tales of Migration: Sometimes entire tribes or cultures are forced to leave the land that they know and travel to unknown places because of war or food shortages. They endure many hardships before they find a new place where they can be safe.
Emphatic: The stories tend to be very emotional and personal in nature.
Participatory: They invite the listener to participate in the story, both as a speaker (by repeating the lines of the songs back to the leader) and as a listener: the stories often invite a strong emotional response.