Intro to Native American Literature (ENGL/ETHN 245N)




Last Updated: 24 Jan 2020

--To the Most RECENT "Class Notes" Updates--

• For TU, 1/28: Momaday: from The Way to Rainy Mountain (367-73); Luther Standing Bear: "The Sun Dance" (125-33); John Fire (Lame Deer)/Erdoes: "Alone on a Hilltop" (134-39)

• For TH, 1/30: Hogan: "All My Relations" (140-43); Response #1 (submitted to Canvas by the beginning of class)
  —also, Redbone extra credit[s] due (hard copy by beginning of class)

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em": my 1st earnest attempt at a schmaltzy college-dorm-room-poster graphic (my photo: Branched Oak Lake).
{click graphic for full-sized version}

—My response to a (previous semester's) student paper
that misspelled "Standing Bear" throughout.
{click graphic for full-sized version}



NOTE: I am intentionally brief, usually, in the following "NOTES" because I mean them to function as reminders & sources of review rather than to serve in lieu of coming to class: they DON'T. However, this page has a greater usefulness: by "Commentary," I mean that some points in these class notes are expanded upon (and re-organized) in ways that our limited class time—and my rather manic teaching style—disallows. Above all, supplementary material will be provided here, includinghelpful background information in tabular form and links to other Native lit/history resources.

Note: Highlighted author names are linked to each respective author's entry on my Authors & Readings Links page, for further research on your part.




 TU, Jan. 14th:: Course (online) syllabus, etc.

NOTE: Since the Trout anthology is now out of print, all Trout assignments are available as PDFs on Canvas, under "Files." Please print them out, mark them up as you read them, and bring them to class. Accessing them in class on a laptop, etc., is not an acceptable substitute.
Another NOTE on the TROUT readings: Given the cultural differences involved in ethnic literature, it's a really good idea not to skip Trout's intros to each reading. Often her specific comments regarding biography, history, and/or tribal folklore are very helpful in understanding the text at hand. (The questions & writing prompts afterwards are usually much less helpful—indeed, sometimes laughable in their rather high-school-level intent?? But they are certainly worth skimming for pointers as to how TROUT thinks the text should be read!)

     * Diane BURNS: "Sure you can ask me a personal question" (Trout 49-51): As a student of mine once learnedly pointed out, the poem presents the "universal theme" of the projection of bogus identities upon the unknown, the Other; from a specifically Native point of view, the poem parallels Deloria's point that non-Natives think they know, and "wanna be," Indians. E.g., "Your great grandmother, huh? / An Indian princess, huh? / Hair down to there? / Let me guess. Cherokee?"


How do you do?
  No, I am not Chinese.
No, not Spanish.
  No, I am American Indi—Native American.
No, not from India.
  No, not Apache.
No, not Navajo.
  No, not Sioux.
No, we are not extinct.
  Yes, Indin.
  So that's where you got those high cheekbones.
Your great grandmother, huh?
  An Indian Princess, huh?
Hair down to there?
  Let me guess. Cherokee?
Oh, so you've had an Indian friend?
  That close?
Oh, so you've had an Indian lover?
  That tight?
Oh, so you've had an Indian servant?
  That much?
Yeah, it was awful what you guys did to us.
  It's real decent of you to apologize.
No, I don't know where you can get peyote.
  No, I don't know where you can get Navajo rugs real cheap.
No, I didn't make this. I bought it at Bloomingdales.
  Thank you. I like your hair too.
I don't know if anyone knows whether or not Cher is really Indian.
  No, I didn't make it rain tonight.
Yeah. Uh-huh. Spirituality.
  Uh-huh. Yeah. Spirituality. Uh-huh. Mother
Earth. Yeah. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Spirituality.
  No, I didn't major in archery.
Yeah, a lot of us drink too much.
  Some of us can't drink enough.
This ain't no stoic look.
  This is my face.

—Diane Burns, c. 1989


• My own Brief Outline of U.S./Native American History •

To the Top

 TH, Jan. 16th::
* Trout: "Historical Overview," "Images & Identities" (xvii-xxvii, 1-3); crucial terms/"themes"::::
    * dualistic Western projections re NatAmer: the "noble savage" vs. the "heathen redskin"
    * oral tradition / ORALITY: stories; trad. songs & chants (incl. "incantatory" repetition)
    —ergo 19th-c./early 20th-c. NatAmer emphasis on autobiography (as stories of the "people")?!
    —ergo contemp. NatAmer turn towards poetry?!
    * "SPIRITUALITY" (& "Nature")
    —incl. both assimilations of & reactions against Western theology
    * HYBRIDITY—both biological/racial & cultural/literary
        —incl. the vast majority of well-known "Native" authors
    * Literary evolution from PLAINS NatAmer lit. to SOUTHWESTERN NatAmer lit.
        —e.g., Black Elk, Standing Bear, Zitkala Sa, Eastman -> Momaday, Silko, et al.
        —note how Momaday recapitulates/epitomizes said "movement" (Kiowa->desert SW [Navajo, etc.])
    * Native American RENAISSANCE (c. 1969-)
        —e.g., Momaday, Deloria, Welch, Ortiz, [& Silko, Vizenor]
        —renowned novels: Momaday's House Made of Dawn, Silko's Ceremony
    * (Native) Ecofeminism—espec. Linda Hogan: "(native) women & the land & the animals"
    * TENSION/division between Native TRADITIONALISTS & (POST-)MODERNISTS::
        ** "Traditionalism"—what Alexie calls the "corn pollen school"—that includes novels/poems calling for/lauding a return to the "old ways," an emphasis on spirituality, etc. [usually essentialist] . . . versus->
        ** the (postmodern) "postindian" (Vizenor's term), which emphasizes that "Indian" itself is a necessary "pose" imposed by Western ideology—and whose literary manifestations often employ more sardonic humor and more "gutter" realism [usually constructivist]
    * "Native American" versus "(American) Indian"?! [discussed?]

* VINE DELORIA, JR.: "Indian Humor" (654-62)        
    * humor => a people's "collective psyche" (655)
        —NatAmer. the "opposite," really, of the "wooden Indian"/"Kawliga" stereotype (655); key reason for humor?: survival! (662)
    * JOKES: Columbus; Custer; Christian missionaries; nationalism, and . . .
        —"militancy" (656, 660-662): note date of essay (1969); indeed, Deloria's sometimes strident tone of protest approaches that of A.I.M. (the American Indian Movement) of the late 1960's & early 70's. . . .

À propos of Native "militancy,"
here is my version of the
popular bumper-sticker/t-shirt
slogan (replacing an armed
Geronimo & company with
Tatanka Iyotanka [Sitting Bull])

* Blackboard Alert: Under "Course Documents"=>"Deloria, Jr., Vine" are more PDF files by and about Vine Deloria, Jr.

Regarding Deloria's joke about Custer being a
"well-dressed" fellow at the Little Big Horn—
a photo of the neck tag of my ARROW shirt

• Vis-à-vis Vine Deloria, Jr. on Custer:
(painting by William Reusswig;
jokes stolen from Vine Deloria, Jr.)
(graphic "borrowed" from Google Images)

To the Top

 TU, Jan. 21st::
  * Vine Deloria, Jr.'s "Indians Today, The Real and Unreal" (7-15)
    * "Indians," above all, PROJECTIONS of a Western colonial MYTHOLOGY, "mythical Indians of stereotype-land" (7-8)
        —early colonial myths from Columbus, on—often of a (positive) "noble savage" (8-9, 10)
        —but also incl. negative conflation with other animals, as (a wild/non-human) "savage" and a "wild species" (9-11, 12)
    * Indeed, whites (often claim to) "understand Indians"—largely based on pop. stereotypes, however (10).
    * White Americans' NEED to IDENTIFY with/as Native American (8-9)—Why?:
        —"Indian-grandmother"/"descendent of Pocahontas" complex: female (less threatening), a New World "royalty" (9)
        —need for "some blood tie with the frontier," with the American soil? (9)
        —an avoidance of "facing the guilt" of white culture's abusive treatment of Native Americans? (9)
    * Legal/social status, contrasted with historical plight of African-Americans (11-13)
        —Natives not "recognized" as human until the colonizers' realization: "they got land!" (11)
        —African-Americans traditionally segregated [as the OTHER], NatAmer assimilated [as the SAME] (12)
    * NatAmer vs. Western WORLDVIEW [fairly essentialist] (13)
    —NatAmer "simplicity and mystery" vs. Western "knowledge"?! (13) (Elsewhere, Deloria says, "The white man . . . has ideas; Indians have visions." As for Western religion: "The Christian environment is always a ruined and destroyed, a totally exploited, environment.")
* My tabular version of Deloria's "Cultural Binaries."
        —NatAmer pre-Columbian political history also laudable in its democratic structure (13)
    * Final CALL TO ACTION: "What we need is a cultural leave-us-alone agreement" (14). (Any problems with this assertion?)

* Canvas Alert: Under "Files"=>"Deloria, Vine, Jr." are more PDF files by and about Vine Deloria, Jr.

• Vis-à-vis Vine Deloria, Jr. on Indian princesses:

* Philip J. Deloria's "I Am Not a Mascot" (45-48)
    * Thesis: NatAmer sports icons = "the most consistently popular [human!?] mascot in American athletic history" (45).
        —historical advent in early 20th century (45-46)
    * WHY?::
        —early "twentieth-century primitivist nostalgia" (cf. the visual and literary arts of the period) (46)
        —end of Manifest Destiny; ergo, need to DISPLACE the frontier enterprise/spirit into the sports arena, which thereby became a "metaphor" for the American identity (46)
    * NatAmer responses (47):
        —even some NatAmer claim such mascots as an "honoring"?!
        —protests against ~: e.g., AIM (Russell Means & Dennis Banks)
    * CALL TO ACTION: "Indians need to exert some control over . . . any and all ways they are represented in public discourse."
    **** FINALLY, note the following film, which deals largely with the Fighting Illini mascot (but sorry, not in UNL library—try around town?):
        In Whose Honor?: American Indian Mascots in Sports.  Dir. Jay Rosenstein.  New Day Films, 1997.    (And with flute music by Bill Miller [Mohican]).  [—available via Interlibrary Loan at the Love; or I could show it some evening if there's enough interest . . . 2010 Note: You can now "purchase" the vid as a digital download (90-day streaming) at New Day Digital for $4.99!]
** Local Schools:
    NOTE: if you're doin' the "Sports Mascots" option for Essay #1, researching old newspaper articles regarding the controversies surrounding these particular name changes might be very à propos.

* Canvas Alert: Under "Files"=>"02 MISCellaneous" is another essay on Indian stereotypes by Susan Shown Harjo, plus the original 1992 lawsuit against the Washington Redskins.


—my critique of NFL hypocrisy (graphic "borrowed" from Google Images)
(To clarify, the NFL recently made calling a fellow player the N- word a 15-yard penalty.)
{click graphic for full-sized version}

• Recent tweet by Sherman Alexie:


** Students' SHARING of Native representations . . .

"What Made the Red Man Red?" —from Disney's Peter Pan (1953)

The famous Keep America Beautiful PSA (the "Crying Indian") PSA (Earth Day, 1971)


* For my own set of pages on Native (mis)representations, check out Great Indian Moments in Pop Culture.


      * Maurice KENNY: "Reading Poems in Public" (4-6): The poet speaks of real(?!) Native life and the "old stories," while his non-Native audience focuses on the superficial; their "Indian," at last, is still "Geronimo on the late show."

To the Top

 TH, Jan. 23rd::
      * Sherman ALEXIE: "13/16" (20-22): The reservation Native protests an identity of fractions, & numbers, & inane labels; his father finally removes all the labels (literally), finding "stories" instead.
      * Louise ERDRICH: "Dear John Wayne" (42-44): Natives at a drive-in "whoop it up" sarcastically at a John Wayne movie; more seriously, the colonialist, Manifest-Destiny urges that John Wayne epitomizes are indicted: "Everything we see belongs to us." (Note: the final two lines refer to the disease that killed John Wayne—cancer: itself a metaphor here for "take it all" colonialism.)
      * James WELCH: "Plea to Those Who Matter" (52-53): Perhaps the most bitter poem we've encountered to date, in which the narrator ostensibly gives his white "friends" what they want, as he pretends to want to look, and "be," white—smashing his nose "straight for you," and scrubbing his "teeth / away with stones." But note the heavily ironic tone.
      * Linda HOGAN: "The Truth Is" (23-25): the poet expresses the pain of her dual racial heritage via a series of metaphors—hands, a bipartite tree, shoes & feet. She is a "woman of two countries," and most painful is her consciousness that one half of her is the "enemy": she remembers "who killed who." ("Who" is "who" here?)

* LINDA HOGAN  1947- (Chickasaw1)
—champion of a triumvirate of "Others"—gender, race, and species (see Dedication, first sentence of Preface of Dwellings)
—some "labels": ecofeminism (land/animals ≈ women, as comparable victims of Western patriarchal oppression); "spiritual" ecology (i.e., an emphasis on intuition and "feeling," and a New-Age-esque "inner growth" via an expansion of ecological consciousness; here "spiritual" includes an near-mystical relationship to the land and other species [see her later essay in Trout, "All My Relations"]); "deep" ecology (which claims, for one thing—and to put it simplistically—that all life forms are "equal," of intrinsic worth [related terms: biocentrism, ecocentrism, bio-egalitarianism; vs. anthropocentrism, homocentrism])
Selected Bibliography::::
** Calling Myself Home (1978; poems)
* Eclipse (1983; poems)
* Seeing Through the Sun (1985; poems)
** "The Two Lives" (1987; in I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers, ed. Brian Swann and Arnold Krupat)
* Mean Spirit (1990; novel)
* Red Clay: Poems & Stories (1991)
** The Book of Medicines (1993; poems)
** Solar Storms (1995; novel)
** Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World (1995; essays)
** Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals (1997; ecofeminist essays, edited by Hogan, Brenda Peterson, and Deena Metzger)
* Power (1998; novel)
* The Sweet Breathing of Plants: Women and the Green World (2000; more ecofeminist essays, edited by Hogan and Brenda Peterson)
* The Woman Who Watches Over the World: A Native Memoir (2001)
1 "The name Chickasaw is a bird sound. It whistles when you say it" (Hausman).

  * Linda Hogan: "The Two Lives" (26-41)
* Intro: current planetary socio-political problems: related to H.'s own tribal/family plight
    —"colonization" not just 3rd-world, but 1st-world indigenous, women, environment (26-27)
* H.'s "two lives," historically speaking—
    —white pioneers: "destruction of the land and animal life"; genocide (NatAmer)
        —But defends?!: they acted "out of desperation" (27).
    —Chickasaw tribe: "Trail of Tears" (forced removal from Mississippi) (27-29)
        —[TERM:] métis—"halfbreed," mixed-blood (29)
    —[source NOTE:] The quot. from Harjo (29) was actually originally adapted from Audre Lorde's "A Litany for Survival"—whose refrain is "We were never meant to survive."
        —Now: "landless," poor, and—"We often dislike ourselves" (30)
        —H. refers again to this plight as that of the colonized—connecting, again, 1st- and 3rd-world concerns (and aligning NatAmer protest with that of postcolonial [3rd-world] scholars) (30).
        —tribal peoples' lack of privilege, language difficulties, in "the dominant and dominating world" (30)
* H.'s autobiographical musings (30-)—"when I was a child, two lives lived me" (30). . . . (Later, she calls herself "a person of betweens" [35; & see her poem, above]).
    —impoverished childhood (30-33)
    —[TERM:] the "Other(s)" (32)
    —H.'s protest includes both "classism and racism"; rather than "self-hatred," she has chosen to be "politicized rather than paralyzed" (33).
    —working-class existence before college; then college, and her intriguing perception that "higher education perpetuates racism and classism" (34-35)—(what does she mean by this?!)
    —women-writer mentors: incl. an African-American (Audre Lorde), a Russian-Jewish-American (Tillie Olsen), and a Native American (Zitkala-Sha [Dakota]) (36)!
        —but: critique of ([white] bourgeois) feminism (à la bell hooks) (36)
        —seminal Audre Lorde quot.: "The Master's tools will not dismantle his house" (36). (cf. Alexie's quot. on "the language of the enemy")
    —"spiritual" journey (incl. "spiritual ecology"):
        —Note, in both poetry and prose, her characteristic metaphor of the reptile/amphibian (turtles, frogs, etc.), in accord with the "amphibious" & "ancient woman" that she is . . . (37) (& see final paragraph [40])
        —the spiritual often equated, in Western society, with "crazy" (38)
        —the "spiritual" includes poetry, stories, and her role as "mother and a caretaker[?!] of animals and trees" (39).
        —The "spiritual" includes a political commitment, "a vision of equality and freedom"; an activism on behalf of "human and civil rights, animal rights," and the environment; and the 3rd World . . . incl. "civil disobedience" (39).
        —Deep Ecology: "inner [spiritual] growth" requires a reverence for "every living thing" (39).
    FINAL PARAGRAPH: the experiential details/images of her "many" lives; incl. the "first frogs in springtime," "trees and waters," and the "songs of night" (40) . . . (NOTE: Trout awkwardly & untowardly edits out the essay's finale; here H. segues to one last quot. from another of her short stories.)
Original source of "The Two Lives"—and great secondary source for yr essays! (on reserve at Love):
Swann, Brian, and Arnold Krupat, eds.  I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers.  Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1987.

     * Trout: "The Spirit World" (75-78)
—recall my reservations (no pun intended) in class . . .

[moi:] Some Key Terms in the Discussion of Comparative Religion:
(ethical) DUALISM (good vs. evil/God vs. Satan)(ethical) MONISM/HOLISM (contrast the role of the trickster)
(theological) MONOTHEISM ("I believe in one God")(theological) pluralism/POLYTHEISM (often 4 deities, directions, winds, etc.)
(metaphysical) TRANSCENDENTALISM ("a higher/other world")(physical) IMMANENCE (whatever "spirit world" there is—it's right HERE, in this world)

** Further clarification: Vine Deloria, Jr.'s many writings on Native and Western religions led me to make the following chart, which, I think, is more clarifying (in its admittedly over-generalizing essentialism) than Trout's commentary:

Western Civ./Euro-American/Christian WorldviewNative American Worldview
analysis, divisionholism, synthesis
"history": linear time, progress"geography": space, place, & land (timeless "eternal present"1)
"end-of-the-world" eschatology/apocalypticismcyclic "return"
evolutionpurposiveness (teleology)
cause & effect. . . [synchronicity?]
reason & logicemotion & intuition
dogmatism (deductive & inductive)immediate lived experience (& ergo religious adaptability)
the "other world""this world"
hierarchy of living beings, "dominion" over nature & other speciesegalitarianism of life forms, interrelatedness
property/ownership"sharing," incl. with other species
specialists in charge of social/religious esoteriacommunal knowledge/access of cultural truths
messiah/savior- - - -
"guilt" culture"shame" culture
religious dogmatism & proselytismreligious tolerance
[----my interpretive additions----]
Left BrainRight Brain
monism/monotheism (but really: dualism)monism (but really/and/or "polytheism")
1 Cf. the colloquialism "Indian time," the apparently casual regard for being "on time" (and related to the racist epithet "lazy Indians").
[—and see my own web outline of Western Cultural Binaries made independently of Deloria's influence, and in fact aimed at the deep ideological divide ("Classical" vs. Romantic) within Western civilization itself—]

• EXTRA CREDIT Opportunity:—1-or-more-page summary/response: +5 pts. (possible)
** TH, Jan. 23rd, 7:30- p.m.—Lied Center: Kimball Hall—Martha Redbone Presents "Bone Hill: The Concert"

• "The continuation of the MOSAIC Series into the new year kicks off with a radical exploration of race and heritage with Martha Redbone's Bone Hill. Utilizing Redbone's rich family history and eclectic genre range, Bone Hill tells the story of four generations of Cherokee women overcoming adversity and becoming one with the land in the Appalachian Hills of Kentucky. One of today's most vital voices in American Roots music, Redbone masterfully tells her story through an expansive collection of songs, including Cherokee chants, lullabies, blues, gospel, jazz, R&B, and funk. Audience members will be taken on a journey of honesty, self-exploration, and difficult yet crucial subject matter."

• Finally, student-priced tickets are $17.50; but I can get you in FREE; just email me your name and NUID.

• Hard copy DUE TH, Jan. 30th, 9:30.

• EXTRA CREDIT Opportunity:—1-or-more-page summary/response: +5 pts. (possible)
** FR, Jan. 24th, 2:00-3:00 p.m.—Lied Commons—A Public Conversation with Martha Redbone

—facilitated by our own UNL History & Native American Studies professor Margaret Huettl

• Hard copy DUE TH, Jan. 30th, 9:30.

To the Top

 TU, Jan. 28th::


[For Momaday's "December 29, 1890":]

<=Famous photo of the slain Mnikonjou Lakota chief

Big Foot (Si Tanka) after the Wounded Knee massacre

(more) Images of Wounded Knee

Below: my meme to another famous photo, of the Wounded Knee mass grave::::

(photo "borrowed" from Google Images [Wounded Knee mass burial])
{click graphic for full-sized version}


  RESPONSE #1 (2 pages or more)—80 points—Due TH, 1/30 (Canvas upload, by the beginning of class)—CHOOSE ONE:
a) As announced on the syllabus and in class, a do-your-own-thing/anything-you-want "reader's journal" that addresses a goodly number of our assigned readings is an alternate to the specific prompts below; but avoid simple plot summaries or a simply rehashing of ideas brought up in class or on the course web notes. [This last caveat applies to all response choices.]
b) Write a poem or brief autobiographical narrative essay on your own cultural and/or ethnic "hybridity." (Refer, at least obliquely, to several readings assigned read so far to demonstrate that your own creative/narrative impulse has been informed by our class readings.)
c) The "Three Deloria" essays: explore a theme/develop an argument that somehow deals with the two assigned essays by Vine Deloria, Jr. and the "Mascot" essay by his son Philip.
d) Rank SIX of the contemporary Native poems we've read to date (through Momaday) from "best" to "worst," evaluating them in terms of such matters as form (verse type, figures of speech, imagery, diction, etc.) ; "theme"—and (perhaps) their relative power in expressing a Native/hybrid voice.
e) [to be graded w/ rose-colored glasses:] Compare/contrast two of the autobiographical/cultural-ritual essays by Standing Bear, Lame Deer, and Hogan ("All My Relations"). For example, which gives you the clearest notion of Native (in this case, Kiowa or Lakota or Chickasaw[?!]) history and "religion"?; which is most conducive to cross-cultural understanding?; etc.
f) Develop your own focused thesis/argument regarding at least three of the readings assigned so far.

To the Top

 TH, Jan. 30th::

To the Top

 Course Syllabus/Schedule

 TCG's Nat. Amer. Authors & Readings Links

 TCG's Native American Lit Courses: VIDEO Resources

 TCG's Great "Indian" Moments in Pop Culture

  TCG''s Native American Reading List


ENGL/ETHN 245N Class NOTES/Commentary--Spring 2020

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