Topics in
Native American Literature (445N/845N)





Last Updated: 18 Feb. 2020

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

• For TH, 2/20: (bring back P.I. #2!?;) Momaday's Man Made of Words: 1-29 (1st PDF under "Files"=>"03 MOMADAY")P>• For TU, 2/25: Man Made of Words: 30-56, 76, 80-107; Response #2 (submitted to Canvas by the beginning of class)

—Satire of too many Facebook memes; "old Indian proverb" is especially/stupidly problematic.

—one of the most original voices in Nat Amer Lit



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.



= = = = Permanent Small Groups = = = =
These groups were determined entirely at random, but it did wok out that there's a decent mix of graduate and undergraduate students.
Group #1:
Becker, Livi
Howells, Phil
Lliteras, Noah
Miller, Logan
Sisley, Rachel
Group #2:
Borgmann, Jake
Kava, Jessie
Loomis, Kayla
Nelson, Lydia
Villamonte, Faith
Group #3:
Faust, Tessa
Knee, Baxter
Masad, Ilana
Rosno, Lydia
Group #4:
Flying By-Fire Thunder, Kimimi
Krueger, Dan
Matuella, Natalie
Schaefer, Carson
Group #5:
Gilmore, Sam
Li, Xincan
McConnell, Molly
Schlisner, Tara
Note: This list has been/will be replicated in Canvas's "Groups"; from there you can email your fellow group members at any time (helpful for later group projects, perhaps).


 TU, Jan. 14th::

"Grandma's Photo"
Regarding Black Elk Speaks and the questions of authenticity vs. simulation, my grandmother's photo (from 1943; click photo for larger version) might serve as a clarifying metaphor since it is, in many ways, analogous.
1) Both book and picture are ostensibly authentic, at first glance: "they are both Indians, after all—so why wouldn't their self-representations be valid?"
2) On second glance, however, the fact that Grandma is wearing a traditional male headdress is entirely inauthentic; and I would suggest (as others have) that there are places in BES where just such a second-glance "what the h---?" occurs.
3) Note, too, how both are very much situated in a moment of Western-Civ. history and ideology. Grandma's 1943 public display was no doubt for a (Lewis & Clark!) parade largely spurred by World War II American patriotism: "Hey, let's get some local Injuns all dressed up in full regalia, too!"—as further "moral support" (and with perhaps the implicit understanding that these "defeated people" are fine reminders of the U.S. military's might). Likewise, Black Elk's narrative must be read through the window of Neihardt's own attitude as a Romantic-primitivist poet and "man of feeling" consciously at odds with what he perceived to be an over-civilized Western world.

• If your copy of BES is, say, arriving late from Amazon, there is also a PDF of the full 2000 ed. on Canvas, under "BLACK ELK/Neihardt." (But, w/ diff. pagination and sans DeMallie's commentary, this is a very less than happy permanent solution.)

Important Note: (Most of) DeMallie's running commentary is now unfortunately in the back of the book (299-) instead of in the margins, but consider these notes a central part of the assigned reading: above all, they clarify which parts of the text are Black Elk's original words, and which (from single words & phrases to whole paragraphs) are Neihardt's editorial interpolations.

  * Black Elk Speaks: (some) background info *
*Neihardt, John G. (1881-1973):

first Nebraska poet laureate (1921 to death
[no, wait: "Poet Laureate in Perpetuity"!]);
besides Black Elk Speaks, best known for his
five-part "Old West" epic, A Cycle of the West
(pub. 1915-1949; written in heroic couplets!)


(Plaque commemorating) John G. Neihardt's early writing place, a cottage "study" in Bancroft, NE (TCG, 2008; click photo to enlarge).

*Nicholas Black Elk (Heh'aka Sapa)—1863-1950
—Oglala Lakota—Pine Ridge Reservation: Manderson, SD (N of Pine Ridge & just NW of Wounded Knee)
—suffered from tuberculosis since at least 1912; later, failing eyesight, eventual blindness
—Lakota wic[h]asha wakan ("medicine man")—BUT: conversion to Catholicism, 1904 (ergo, Nicholas as "Christian" name; even became a catechist ["preparer" of converts]!)

• Black Elk as Catholic catechist (photos from The Sixth Grandfather)::::

—At last, there has been great CONTROVERSY regarding what Black Elk "really believed." For one thing—and rather amazingly—it was Black Elk's insistence (elsewhere?!) on the compatibility of "Christianity and traditional [Lakota] religion" that "helped create the context of official tolerance" that led to the end of the U.S. government's ban on the Sun Dance (1883-1934), and its begrudging recognition of the Native American Church (182), another Christian/Native syncretism. But the debate continues: was Black Elk a "traditionalist whose Catholicism was insincere," a "sincere convert who relapsed into traditionalism upon meeting Neihardt," or a sincere "dual participant" in both (204-205)?
    [source: Holler, Clyde.  Black Elk's Religion: The Sun Dance and Lakota Catholicism.  Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1995; I've recently come upon another term for the phenomenon of "dual participation": "religious dimorphism" (Kidwell & Velie, Native American Studies 114)!]
—Other central sources: DeMallie's The Sixth Grandfather (1984); Joseph Epes Brown's The Sacred Pipe (1953)

        . . . . . . See also "The Two Masks of Nicholas Black Elk" (Bruce A. Peterson)  —essay on Black Elk's religious syncretism

 * Canvas Alert: Under "Course Content"=>BLACK ELK are several supplementary/background essays, including DeMallie's intro to The Sixth Grandfather" (divided into 2 parts) and his intro to BES per se from the same work.

        General Comment on Canvas PDF Files: I've had the English Dept. do most of the PDF files, and they aren't the best scans in the world; furthermore, they're graphic scans, so you can't search for text, and you often have to rotate the page view to even read them. Your best bet is to print them out, depending on interest and paper & ink availability: in this case, be sure to select "print to fit" so that no margins are cut off. (Oh, and of course & finally, some are required for class: yes, print these, read, and bring!)

To the Top

 TH, Jan. 16th::

Of the seven Lakota bands, the most populous & historically important are the—
* Oglala (Ogalala, Ogallala [NE!]) . . . "homed" on the Pine Ridge Reservation . . . Makhpiya Luta (Red Cloud), Tashunka Witko (Crazy Horse [never a CHIEF, officially, but a "shirt-wearer," for a while (Neihart's term: "advisor"— usually 4 of them, kind of "sub-chiefs," if you will, in charge of the logistics of the rituals & ceremonies]), Heh'aka Sapa (Black Elk), Mato Najin (Standing Bear), Afraid of His Horses
* Sicangu (Brulé, Brule) . . . Rosebud Reservation (& Lower Brule ~) . . . Sinte Gleshka (Spotted Tail)
* Mnikoju (Minneconjou, Mnikowoju) . . . Cheyenne River Rez . . . Si Tanka (Big Foot), Tah'cha Huste (Lame Deer); my grandma
* Hunkpapa . . . Standing Rock Rez . . . Tatanka Iotanka (Sitting Bull [like Crazy Horse, never a full chief, officially, but rather a wichasha wakan, like Black Elk]), Gall


From William Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" (1798); compare—especially the phrase in bold—with my discussion of "pantheism" and the Lakota wakantanka:

                        [. . .] For I have learned
        To look on nature, not as in the hour
        Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
        The still, sad music of humanity,
        Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
        To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
        A presence that disturbs me with the joy
        Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
        Of something far more deeply interfused,
        Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
        And the round ocean and the living air,
        And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
        A motion and a spirit, that impels
        All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
        And rolls through all things
. Therefore am I still
        A lover of the meadows and the woods,
        And mountains; and of all that we behold
        From this green earth; of all the mighty world
        Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
        And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
        In nature and the language of the sense,
        The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
        The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
        Of all my moral being.  (ll. 88-111)

Black Elk Speaks & page numbers:
Since BES seems to get a new edition (w/ different p#'s) every three or four years, like clockwork, I've decided to omit specific page number refs. in the summaries/notes below (w/ a few exceptions). Chapter/section pagination will still be given in parentheses, with the 2014 ed. 1st and the 2008 ed. 2nd (e.g.: 57-64/73-82).

*"FOREWORD"—Vine Deloria, Jr. (1979; [in Bison Books editions only; 2014 ed.: xiii-xvi])  [also {BB PDF}]
—PLUS: it's in our Deloria text, FOR THIS LAND (232-234)!
*—initial reception of BES: a co-optative, reductionist, primitivist attempt to connect the text "with the larger reality of Western civilization"(—but is Deloria eventually guilty of some of this same reductionism?)
*—current society: "strange isolation" of (postmodern) culture; modern age: "industrialism," faith in "progress" . . . reception history: BES more appreciated as "crises mounted"—incl. technological "future shock" and an ecological "silent spring"
*—BES, then, as remedy?
    —Western civilization's new "focus on Indians and some of the spiritual realities they seemed[!] to represent" (—why?)
*—THESIS: "perhaps the only religious classic of this century"; especially for young Native Americans, for whom "the book has become a North American bible of all tribes" [—but: D.'s previous/alternate emphasis on importance to mainstream culture?] . . . perhaps "the emergence of a new sacred hoop" . . . BES, etc. ("the basic works of the Black Elk theological tradition") to be the "core of a North American Indian theological canon which will someday challenge the Eastern and Western traditions as a way of looking at the world"
    —But: Deloria's own religious/Romantic essentialism?—BES "a universal expression of the larger, more cosmic truths which industrialism and progress had ignored" . . . "the universality of the images and dreams" therein . . . "the theme of sacrifice so important to all religions" . . . "great religious teachings . . . encompass everyone" via their "transcendental truth" . . . ultimately, D.'s (problematic) emphasis on "universality" in part an effort to counter "the question of Neihardt's literary intrusions into Black Elk's system of beliefs" . . . Note that DeMallie, in the essay he appends to the 2008 (and 2014) edition of BES, finds similar (& obvious) "universalist" motives in JGN himself (e.g., 245/292, 257-258/306-307).

*Neihardt's 1932 Preface (xvii-xix/xvii-xx)
    —Wise Old Man archetype: "sitting alone," "half blind eyes" (cf. Homer), living in the "inner world" vs. "'the darkness of men's eyes'" (cf. Plato's parable of the Cave); "indubitable seer"; "a saint"; "profoundly" melancholic, with a "look of heart-break in his face"; "almost blind"
    —JGN's "strange" refrain (thruout prefaces): "strange[ly]": xvii, xix, xxiv, xxvii [xix, xxi, xxvi, xxix]
    —JGN's attitude/word choices: BE had lived in the "years of their [the Lakotas'] final defeat and degradation"?!—vs. Deloria's attitude?
    —book's raison d'être/the motives of BE and JGN:
        —BE to tell story "in fulfillment of a duty" . . . BE's first words: "'I can feel in this man beside me a strong desire to know the things of the Other World. He has been sent to learn what I know, and I will teach him'" . . . "What I know . . . is true and . . . beautiful. . . . You were sent to save it (especially my "Great Vision"); so "come back"—in the spring!
        —JGN: remedy to "the present state of affairs throughout the whole scale of human values as our civilization has dealt with them"? . . . "this excessively progressive age"
        —also, psychological interest: "students . . . of psychical research" and "those who seek meaning for in . . . visions"—and scholars of "essential[?!] religion"!?—cf. Jung's interest, below
    —**envelope/"narrative frame": BE->BE's son Ben (interpr.)->JGN's daughter, Enid (transcr.)->JGN . . .
*Neihardt's 1961 Preface (xxi-xxv/xxi-xxvi)
    —JGN's initial interest: Ghost Dance/Wounded Knee Massacre; so his search for "some old medicine man who had been active in the Messiah Movement"
    —BE: a wic[h]asha wakan ("man powerful/holy")—and 2nd cousin of Crazy Horse . . . psychic powers: "'the old man seemed to know you were coming!' . . . he certainly had supernormal powers"
    —earlier (& snubbed) "lady" visitor: Mari Sandoz, eventual author of Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas
    —"Wakon Tonka" (wakan tanka)—represented by one eagle feather (ergo, monotheism?! [no: misleading])
My 1961 edition:    
*Neihardt's 1972 Preface (xxvii-xxviii/xvii-xviii)
    —JGN's own travail: "to re-create in English the mood and manner of the old man's narrative"—no small task! . . . "For the last forty years it has been my purpose to bring Black Elk's message to the white world"—see also 1930 letter to BE, below
    —reception history: 2nd wave of interest began in Zurich, with Carl Jung! . . . revival in 60's & 70's: perhaps "the old prophet's wish . . . is actually being fulfilled"
*Neihardt's 1930 letter to Julius House (181-183/---)
    —Another (condescending) reference to Mari Sandoz, "a bustling lady who had come to get [from Black Elk] a pot or two of local color[!] for some writing that she had in mind"—but was, as we know, turned away.
    —More of JGN's hero-worship—and mystification, and equation w/ the ancient Greeks—of Black Elk, who is "a sphinx-like chap," and like "an old Homeric hero" (182).
    —Finally, the psychoanalytic critic must lick his/her chops at this sentence: "Very often it seemed as though I, myself, were telling the things he told me" (182); hmmm. Symptomatic?
*Neihardt's 1930 letter to Black Elk (237-238/223-225)
    —arrangements for interviews, disclaimer regarding any mercenary motives; and the promise "to use as much of your language . . . as possible"
    —REASON, encore: "I do feel that so much is known by you Indians that our white people do not know and should know"—such as?! . . .
*Relevant quot.? (of a typical Romantic gesture): "Great God! I'd rather be / A pagan suckled by a creed outworn. . . ." (—William Wordsworth)

 TU, Jan. 21st::
*Chapter 1: "The Offering of the Pipe" (1-4/1-5)—(and note Appendix 9 [291-296/---])
Note: these are mostly my really old "notes" to BES, often mere plot summary, with some added background info. My various emotional reactions must appear naïve, even misguided, in the wake of DeMallie's scholarly interventions. But in most cases, I've let them stand without correction or disclaimer.
    —"Why first"?! Why not "Early Boyhood" instead?: 1st chapter the rhetorical equivalent of preparation for a ritual (that is BES)?! appropriate communal emphasis on the "nation/people" (oyate)? (And note parallels between traditional story of the Sacred Pipe & White Buffalo Woman and BE's own Great Vision.) . . . But of course, the fact that this narrative choice was likely JGN's editorial decision—and NOT the first story BE told!—certainly complicates any answers here.
    —"the story of all life that is holy"—cf. William Blake, Deep Ecology
    —elegiac tone already (framing the book's coda): the story "of a holy tree that should have flourished . . . and now is withered; and of a people's dream that died"
    —Platonic echo/refrain from the Prefaces: "the darkness of their [men's] eyes"
    —p. 2/2: importance of the number four ["why?"] (but the "four spirits" are then monotheistically conflated into "only one Spirit after all" [BE's closet-Christian emphasis?!])
    —pp. 2-4/2-5: recounting of the traditional Lakota story of the Sacred Pipe and the White Buffalo Woman; a Jung or Eliade might point to the archetypal "centering" & "wholeness" of the tale, with the tepee built "in the center of the nation," the repetitions of the number 12 (3x4); I'm more interested in the interchangeability of humans and other species, of the easy transformation of woman to buffalo, etc.
    [—pp. 291-296/---]: "Comparison of the Transcript and Draft for the Origin of the Peace Pipe"]: Note JGN's various "ceremonial-Indian"-esque rhetorical flourishes to his daughter's bare, straightforward transcript, interjecting "a tone of reverence and solemnity, transmuting oral narrative into literature" [291/---]. (This commentary by DeMallie obviously carries some heavy Western assumptions about what "literature" is!)]
    —Lakota language notes:
        —"Grandfather, Great Spirit": "grandfather" = tunkas[h]ila, but in the traditional "religious" connotations of the word, this isn't some "Father in heaven"; the "grandfathers" are plural, including spirit-deities (if you will), human ancestors, and even other species; again, "Great Spirit" (for wakantanka) seems to me a very unhappy choice of phrase by Neihardt.
        —"Hetchetu aloh!": modern spelling—hec[h]etu [ye]lo, an often ceremonial utterance rather like the Christian "Amen." There is also "Ate heye lo"—"the father/s have said this to be true."

Vis-à-vis Chapter 1 of Black Elk Speaks:


My Version of the WBCW Story (made for my interview by a UNL journalism class, "Native Daughters" [Spring 2009])
This is the story of Ptesánwinyan or Ptesánwin, the White Buffalo Woman or White Buffalo Calf Woman. First of all, there are many versions of this story, and they've changed over the years, and keep changing, over time. And that's the way it should be.

But first we have to go back to a different mythic, cosmological figure—or name, anyway—Wohpé, or Falling Star. She was one of the seven sisters of the Pleiades [cf. Momaday's similar Kiowa tale], and one day she fell to earth [like Sky Woman of Iroquois legend]. And so she's also called Mediator, for her role as a connector between the sky and the earth. And it's here, as made clear in some versions, that she manifests herself as White Buffalo Woman. For that's exactly the mediation that White Buffalo Woman performs.

So the story itself. It's a bleak & hungry time for the Lakota, and these two young warriors are out hunting, looking for game, [maybe on their way to rent a video game or somethin',] and at the top of this rise they see this beautiful and—in what I think are some of the earliest versions—naked woman, with flowing "raven" hair. She's obviously wakan, a woman of great power, of numinosity.

Well, one of the warriors has "impure thoughts," as they say, and he's thinking about jumping her bones. But as soon as he moves forward, or maybe even as he's just thinking about it—phrhrhrhr [nighthawk call]—he's immediately turned to bones, to dust. Disintegrated. She then tells the other fellow, [who's thinking really hard now about baseball,] "Go home and tell your people that, in four days, I will bring them a great gift." He leaves posthaste, as you can well imagine.

Four days later, she arrives—and the gift is the canunpa wakan, the pipe of power. (Okay, the Sacred Pipe, to use the common translation. I'm just trying to avoid the Christian anthropologists' Western theological terms as much as possible.) She says, "This pipe is your connection to wakántanka." (That is, the "Big Power," or the force that moves through all things. Okay: the "Great Spirit" or "God." [Yu' happy now?!]) Besides the pipe ceremony itself, she also teaches the Lakota other rituals, although here there's a good deal of disagreement among the versions. But these likely included the Sun Dance, the inipi (the sweat lodge), and the hanblecia (the vision quest). (The fact that most recent sources count SEVEN of these rites, the same as the number of Catholic sacraments, is no coincidence, I think.)

Then something really weird happens. She turns into this buffalo calf; in fact, it's clear from many of the versions that she's also an emissary from the buffalo oyate, or people, sent to codify, as it were, the close connection, [the social contract, as it were,] between these two "nations." First, she's this black buffalo calf, then a yellow one, then a red one, and finally, a white one. Then—she's gone. Poof.

These four colors are important, as the four directional colors of the Lakota, and of the traditional circle, or "hoop." Besides the buffalo "alliance" that she brings, she also gives to the Lakota, probably at a time of great cultural peril, a crucial centering, symbolized not only in this holistic number four, but realized in the various rituals of cultural healing and social integration that she's taught them. She has brought her message to the people; she has brought the message to the tribe. Hechetu yelo.

*Chapter 2: "Early Boyhood" (5-12/7-16)
    —largely BE's memories from early youth of the Fetterman Fight (1866) and Wagon Box Fight (1867), "skirmishes" between the cavalry and Plains Indians climaxing in the Battle of the Little Bighorn
    —the coming of the washic[h]u: the Lakota word originally referred to anything mysterious and powerful (their incredible numbers! their guns!). And thus Fire Thunder later describes their new rifles as "some new medicine of great power." . . . "They told us that they only wanted to use a little land. . . . And when you look about you now, you can see what it was they wanted" . . . Another zinger: "they made a treaty . . . that said our country would be ours as long as grass should grow and water flow. You can see that it is not the grass and the water that have forgotten" (Black Elk—er, Neihardt!—is here referring to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, though the famous "as long as grass should grow and water flow" phrase isn’t from that treaty per se). . . . As I (hope to have) addressed the "green grass & water" historical mistake/mistake in class, I was reminded of a web site ( with its clever bon mot: "Of course, the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) had promised the Great Sioux Reservation to the Indians for 'as long as the grass shall grow and the water flow' - which in this case was about nine years."  [own "eco"-note: but soon we won't have to worry about any growing grass & flowing water stipulation!?]
    —Reservations: "little islands for us and other little islands for the four-leggeds"! (Originally, bird sanctuaries were called "Reservations," too); now stuck in "'square gray houses, in a barren land'"
    —VOCATION: one of BE's earliest references to a Lakota medicine man regards one who derives his power from the dragonfly. (Each wic[h]asha wakan has a particular "spirit animal"—almost always encountered during a vision quest—that aids and guides him.) BE's own "vocational" direction is first evidenced at age four, when "I first heard the voices." Then age five, and the talking kingbird [pictured]: "'Listen! A voice is calling you!'"—and the two arrow-slant men from the sky, who will re-appear in his Great Vision. Fittingly, they eventually turn into geese. Not surprisingly, BE's main "spirit animals" will be avian, especially the "Spotted Eagle."

To the Top

 TH, Jan. 23rd::
*Chapter 3: "THE GREAT VISION" (13-29/17-36)
    —C/C with the Book of Revelation!?—e.g., 1.10; 6.2, 8; *7.1*; 10.1; 21.1, 16-17
    *—advent of VISION: illness at the age of 9; fever presumably, in which the "voices" begin calling; see Ellenberger's The History of the Unconscious for the idea that many great visionaries experienced a similar "creative illness" at an early age, including Carl Jung. . . . Note that such a vision-inducing illness is more common to the (specific) shamanist tradition of East Asia and the Arctic (as described by Eliade) than to Lakota tradition, in which the adolescent consciously goes on a vision quest, or hanblec[h]ia, as did Crazy Horse and Lame Deer.
    *—Note how BE's experience fits into the Jungian Joseph Campbell's sequence for the "Hero" archetype: 1) descent (here, ascent); 2) "initiation" (reorientation of the psyche via an encounter with forces of the unconscious); and 3) return. . . . Alternately, the brain physiologist might perceive an OBE (out-of-body experience) or near-death experience in BE's psychic journey: "When I got up to follow [the two arrow-slant men] . . . I was very light"; on his "return," he sees a body "lying like the dead—and that one was myself."

cleansing wind
sacred herb
white giant('s white wing)
white geese
wooden cup of water
bows & arrows
thunder (beings,
& Thunderbird)
"split-tail" swallows

— Black -|- Road —


"daybreak star"
(and sun, of course)
sacred (red pipestone) pipe
spotted eagle
of understanding"
sacred/red/flowering stick
(=>flowering/holy tree)
sacred hoop
    1 RED "is the color that belongs to the Sun. . . . The color is invoked by shamans, and it represents the coming and the going of the sun. When one wears red the Sun is pleased and will listen to such a one. The Indians are red[!], so they are the favorite people of the sun" (James R. Walker, Lakota Belief and Ritual 108). (See also BES 2/2, 121/155, 123-126/158-161 for more on the meanings of the four directions.)


The Sacred Hoop Garden at the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari[!], near Ashland, NE (TCG, 2008; click photo to enlarge). BLUE for the west is not an uncommon substitute in Lakota iconography (more colorful?!), although BLACK fits much better the west's "storm-bringer" symbology.

—my nip-it-in-the-bud satire on a Facebook
"game" that's bound to happen.
    *—call to HEALING vocation: BE's several "rehearsals" thereof in the vision . . . usually accompanied by archetypal "rebirth"/fertility imagery: wooden cup of water, flowering tree, "daybreak star" . . . Fittingly, the great healing, especially, of the people, animals, and earth anticipates the main goal of the Ghost Dance religion.
    *—CENTERing imagery (cf. Jung, Eliade): at the "center of the earth" (cf. Eliade's studies of the "Tree of Life" that usually stands at the "center" of the cosmos/world); the sacred hoop; the people's circled tepees/villages . . . including Jung's QUATERNITY ("4"): the interminable reiteration of groups of 4 (and twelve)—horses, generations, chant repetitions, etc.; note that, for Jung, four is number of wholeness, psychic integration, the ego's union with the psychic center that is the unconscious "Self"
    *—ceremonial reiterative style—e.g., p. 19/24, where BE seems to repeat the "story" again
    *—HUMAN/ANIMAL interelatedness: again, the boundaries of human and "animal" are porous, and BE himself eventually becomes the Spotted Eagle soaring above the earth & people; the finale of the vision is the eagle "hovering over" him and saying, "'Look back!'"; finally, apparently, alone, there is the "spotted eagle" still "guarding" him. BE's "animal-spirit-helper" thus becomes this eagle—cf. BE's "vision"-name: "Eagle Wing Stretches." . . . Finally, my favorite—"uncanny"—part is the eagle etched on the sacred pipe that comes "alive," with "its eyes looking at" BE (17/22)!
Ornithology Workshop: "What the heck is a 'Spotted Eagle'?!"
As even the most neophyte birder knows, there are only TWO eagle species in the U.S., the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle. But Luther Standing Bear speaks (Like Black Elk) of the Spotted Eagle, and indeed, of FOUR (surprise!) different kinds of eagles (wanbli) in Lakota tradition: the golden eagle of the east, symbol of the sun . . . the spotted eagle of the south; the black eagle of the west . . . and the bald eagle of the north" (Land of the Spotted Eagle 122). (Note that Black Elk places the "spotted eagle" in the east instead.) After months of research, I finally discovered that the "spotted eagle" (wanbli gles[k]ka)—and likely the "black eagle," too—is, in fact, the immature Golden or Bald species, both of which have a more mottled appearance in the first few years of their lives. I also suspect that the species most commonly intended is the immature Golden Eagle [pictured], more the "regal" soaring bird of the plains and hills (rather than the often scavenger fish-eagle that the Bald is). Whatever the case, the "spotted eagle" is the "holiest" bird for the Lakota, the primary intermediary and "messenger of Wakantanka" (William K. Powers, Oglala Religion 88, 165).
LATER ADD: my own photo of an immature Golden Eagle (Grant County [western NE]--23 Dec. 2015):
    *—Prophecy of the "four generations": BE is presently seeing the 3rd ~; he sees bad times at the end of the third—the hoop "broken" and the tree "dying"—and the 4th will be even worse, as he expresses in the famous sentence, "It was dark and terrible about me, for all the winds of the world were fighting." Note that Neihardt's footnote (23/29) reveals a desire to read BE's prophecy as relating to Western political events. And indeed, doesn't the following sound like "modern times," à la Yeats' "The Second Coming"!?: "the people ran here and there, for each one seemed to have his own little vision that he followed and his own rules; and all over the universe I could hear the winds at war like wild beasts fighting."
    *—finally, how much of (at least) JGN's rendition of BE's Great Vision fraught with cultural hybridity? Michael Castro, for instance, suggests that the "circle-within-circle of Black Elk's Great Vision [26/33] as rewritten by Neihardt" bears the influence of Dante's Paradiso (182; emphasis added).
    [source: Castro, Michael. Interpreting the Indian: Twentieth-Century Poets and the Native American. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1983.]
(And of course several of DeMallie's annotations in the new edition also make this point.)

*Chapter 4: "The Bison Hunt" (30-37/37-45)
    —1st memories of Great Vision visceral, numinous, imagistic; beyond "words"; "meanings" & "words" thereof "clearer"[!?] only in later retrospect  [I (hope to have) offered "my own" theory on right-brain/Lacanian Imaginary vs. left-brain/Lacanian Symbolic?]. . . BE wants to return to GV, "homesick for the place where I had been"
    —BE's strangeness, his aura, recognized by medicine man (Whirlwind Chaser): "'there is something special for him to do . . . I could see a power like a light all through his body'" . . . Standing Bear's testimony regarding the recovered BE: "he was not like a boy. He was more like an old man"; and BE's father notes his "'queer ways'"
    —subsequent momentary feelings of "queer"-ness: 1st time, an avian reminder (when aiming at a "little bird") that he "was to be like a relative to the birds," an inkling of ethical eco-relatedness; sure, he kills a frog immediately afterwards!—but the death makes him "want to cry" (31-32/39) . . . for QUEER feeling (of "power"), see also 33/41 ("nation" on "red road"); 38/47 ("thunder"); 40/49 ("spotted eagle" & deer); 48/59 (thunder/swallows/warning "voice"); 66-67/84-85 ("something terrible": Little Bighorn; regarding "something terrible," see also 160/207 [Wounded Knee]); 92/116 (Crows prophecy); 97/123 (Blackfeet enemies); 124-125/159-160 (during first cure); 150-151, 153/193-195, 197 (during Ghost Dance)
    —buffalo hunt per se  [cf. Luther Standing Bear's (even more "exciting") recounting of his first Lakota buffalo hunt, "At Last I Kill a Buffalo," in My Indian Boyhood (1931)]
        —note social appeal to hunters: "'you shall feed the helpless'"—cf. subsequent similar pathos-centered appeals to warriors before battle to the "community" (the hungry, the children, the elderly)
    —"comic interlude": Standing Bear's 1st kill, after which he keeps yelling the "kill" word, until "People must have thought I was killing a whole herd, the way I yelled" . . . (and cf. Chapter 6 entire for a longer "comic interlude")
    —cultural sexism: playing the Lakota version of "chicken" (lighting sunflower seeds on boys' wrists): couldn't say "Owh!" or they'd "be called women" (37/45; for a similar sexist appeal to machismo, see also 68/87)

*Chapter 5: "At the Soldiers' Town [Fort Robinson]" (38-41/47-51)
    —1st ref. to Crazy Horse, "who would have nothing to do with the" washic[h]u . . . vs. Red Cloud, who was "through with fighting"
    —1st sight of the washic[h]u: "At first I thought they all looked sick"!
    —return of the SPOTTED EAGLE from his GV, whistling, and "hovering over" him: as if "I was in the world of my vision again"; afterwards, 1st prophecy, of the deer coming (and slain)—but BE feels sorry again, beseeches his father to make an "offering" to the "wild things"
    —"comic interlude": Watanye, the laugher—with cracked & bleeding lips! . . . (and cf. next chapter "entire")
        —The "SOLDIER'S TOWN" was Fort Robinson, in extreme NW Nebraska (near Crawford), just southwest of what would become the Pine Ridge Agency or Reservation in SoDak. It was the original seat of that agency (first called the Red Cloud Agency), and the site of Crazy Horse's death. "Memorial" plaques from Fort Robinson (TCG, 2011; select thumbnail for larger photo):

*Chapter 6: "High Horse's Courting" (42-47/53-59)
    —as told by Watanye(?!?), as the book's narrative envelope/frame becomes even more convoluted—"Why does JGN include it at this point?"
    —"Universal" human touch?!: young men's love "sickness" (= BE's [or Watanye's?!] general comments on Lakota tradition/introduction to High Horse's story) [The greater irony/convolution: the story, as DeMallie informs us, was actually by a Cheyenne!]
    —From a Western point of view, the courtship is inordinately sexist, of course; e.g., the father's control, and Red Deer's incredible statement, "'Probably she wants you to steal her anyway'"?!
    —Note oral-tradition framework—the casual/"spoken" tone of the introduction, etc.; e.g., "You know, in the old days"; and the series of three plans (the 3rd—successful—one quite accidental, to be sure): this schema lives on in today's "dirty" jokes?!—and the standard comedy formula, of two serious replies/statements and a third, humorous punch-line.
    —Finally, the downright humor:
        —1st plan's execution: "his knife slipped and stuck the girl"!?
        —2nd plan, High Horse's "paint job": he falls asleep!—and his beloved awakes to see "a terrible animal, all white with black stripes on it, lying asleep beside her bed."
        —3rd plan: the 100 horses stolen from the Crows: HH asks "if . . . maybe[!] that would be enough horses for his girl."
    [Textual note: my 1961 ed. has an additional sentence (44/56): "She gave a big, loud yell. Then the old folks jumped up and yelled too. By this time . . . .]

*Chapter 7: "Washicus in the Hills" (48-56/61-71)
    —"thunder . . . from the west" (cf. GV), and trouble: "queer" feeling from the "split-tail swallows" (Barn Swallows) reminding BE of his vision; and his subsequent alarm at the boys throwing rocks at them, for the "swallows seemed holy"
    —Custer [Pahunska = "long hair"] et al.'s expedition for gold in the Black Hills: ignoring 1868 treaty—for "as long as grass should grow and water flow"! . . . because the "yellow metal . . . makes the Wasichus crazy," while the Lakota know "it was not good for anything"
        Fort Laramie Treaty, 1868
    —outrage of Crazy Horse & Sitting Bull; versus "Red Cloud's people," the "'Hangs-Around-the-Fort'" crowd [cf. the French Vichy?!—the "native" collaborateurs during the Nazi occupation]
    —sad language assimilationism: "Tunkasila" (Grandfather) now applied to the U.S. President! (cf. the Lakota "Flag Song")
    —BE personally sad regarding the plight of the Black Hills because of the GV, in which Harney Peak is the "center of the world," the Hills a special PLACE of his tribe and vision
    —BE's 1st conscious attempt to re-create his vision: "alone," and "under a tree"
    —horse race, and association of the geese of the North ("white wing") with speed—later to be invoked in battle
        —Character: like BE, a "queer man," withdrawn and alone—walking around (as if) unaware of anyone, "except little children"! [Christ analogue!?]; unconcern for material possessions, starved himself when camp low on food: "Maybe he was always part way into that world of his vision"
    —December, 1875: U.S. government's call for all Lakota to go to forts/reservations or be deemed "hostiles" fit to be hunted down as enemies of the state; BE's defense (& eventual refrain): but it's "our own country" and we "were doing no harm"; and we "only wanted to be left alone"
        Crazy Horse's "sacred power" in battle derived from his early vision(s); his family (& BE's) had a tradition of wic[h]asha wakan; JGN offers a rather misleadingly Platonic vision of the "spirit world" versus the mundane "shadow world"; BE refers to CH's later "great" vision on Bear Butte (picts below). . . . CH's 1st hanblec[h]ia/vision quest—circa age 14—included fasting, until, on the 3rd day, he experienced a vision, of a warrior on horseback, with a lightning zigzag on his cheek and wearing a stone behind his ear, with one mere feather in his hair, and no scalps; the man, moreover, was impervious to bullets: CH would later dress (and behave) accordingly in battle. Fittingly enough, the experience included both a visionary and a real "red-backed" hawk (that is, a kestrel, aka sparrow hawk). According to Luther Standing Bear, rather than the single (kestrel) feather of the vision, he wore "the full body of a hawk [kestrel] on the left side of his head" (My People the Sioux 88)—and Hoka he'd away! (Either way, he was not your typical warrior-headdress conformist.)]


Bear Butte, SD (TCG, 2009, 2011; select thumbnail for larger photo)

Crazy Horse Memorial (Black Hills, SD) [TCG, 2011; select thumbnail for larger photo]:

[OLDER] Photos from the Crazy Horse Memorial (and tourist-trap kitsch store), SD (TCG, 2006, 2009; select thumbnail for larger photo)::::

*Chapter 8: "The Fight with Three Stars [General Crook]" (57-64/73-82)
    —that is, Battle of the Rosebud (Montana): just eight days before the Battle of the Little Bighorn
    —BE's father's decision to join Crazy Horse (& thus a denigration of Red Cloud)
    —"flood" image/motif: "the river of Wasichus"
    —BE's 1st battle: like Crazy Horse?, thinking of his vision "maybe . . . helped"
    —Sun Dance [cf. Luther Standing Bear's more ("painfully") detailed account of the Lakota Sun Dance in My People the Sioux (1928)]
        —fertility motif: time (June); "women . . . bearing children," etc.: "the Sun loves all fruitfulness"
        —emphasis again on "four," and centering
        —SACRIFICE ritual: rawhide strips tied into cut torso; sacrificial "victims" then strain until the "flesh tore loose"  (cf. Deloria's introduction [Bison ed. or pdf], his privileging of "sacrifice"?)
    —"comic interlude": Iron Hawk's narration of battle—not the bravest fellow in the camp!?; spends most of the day of the battle—EATING!; see also IH's "shaky" appearance at the Little Bighorn

*Chapter 9: "The Rubbing Out of Long Hair" (65-80/83-101)
    —BE's 1st partic. in healing ceremony; note "motifs" similar to BE's GV, though Hairy Chin is a "Bear" medicine man
    —Warriors riding like "swallows": the Lakota in battle often invoked swallows, like geese, for their swift flight and—regarding swallows per se—for their erratic motion. Moreover: "Certain birds, such as the swallows, spotted eagles, hawks (that is the grey grouse hawks [goshawk? aka "chicken hawk"]) are mysterious" (Walker, Lakota Belief and Ritual 102).
    —the reader's main impression of the battle one of helter-skelter confusion and mayhem?—exemplified by Standing Bear's "We were all crazy" paragraph, so "crazy" that they accidentally scalp a Cheyenne ally
    —or is the main impression one of sheer horror?—Standing Bear cannot even sleep that night "because when I shut my eyes I could see all those horrible sights again"
    —Iron Hawk's "righteous anger" in battle (as he keeps "beating" a dead soldier): "These Wasichus wanted it, and they came to get it, and we gave it to them" . . . Later, regarding the soldiers killed in the river, trying to fill their buckets: "I guess they got enough to drink, for they are drinking yet"
    —"comic interludes": "Two fat old [Native] women" and the naked (live!) soldier . . . the soldier hiding in the bush, tormented by the Native boys' amateurish bow-&-arrow efforts: "Once he yelled 'Ow'"!
    —BE (finally): initial ignorance about his find, a time-piece, until he found out how to wind it: is there a metaphor here?!
    —suggestion of cannibalism!?
    —Like Iron Hawk, BE isn't sorry for the many dead (but such a strange—uh—translation?!): "I was a happy boy"; moreover, he "knew this would happen," given his people's kinship with the "thunder beings of my vision"
    —chapter's finale: spontaneous "kill-songs," à la impromptu street rap, etc.—not bad for a bunch of "illiterates" incapable of the "literary arts." . . .
    —[later add:] What strikes me more and more when I reread this chapter is the odd/uneven tone (or tones): a mixture of the chaos and smell-of-blood horror of war and a goodly amount of black humor, even slapstick comedy?!

Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876)—Tribal Representation::::
Oglala5 of the 71 bands
of the Lakota ([Teton] "Sioux")
[western SD, etc.]
Crazy Horse; (the elder) American Horse; (the elder) Hump; BLACK ELK
HunkpapaSitting Bull; Gall; Iron Hawk (speaker in BES) [and, BTW, though not at the battle!: Vine Deloria, Jr.]
Mnikoju ("Minneconjou")Lame Deer ("leader of the battle"); Lone Horn; Spotted Elk (Big Foot); (younger) Hump; (Joseph) White Bull (who later claimed to have been the one to kill Custer); Fast Bull; Standing Bear (speaker in BES)
Sans Arc 
SanteeDakota ("Sioux") [Minn, eastern SD]Inkpaduta(?; may have been present)
YanktonaisNakota ([Yankton] "Sioux") [southeastern SD] 
Cheyenne (Shahíyela][Wyoming, etc.] 
[—and some Arapaho]  
    1 Apparently absent were the Brulé (Sic[h]angu) and Two Kettles Lakota bands.
    2 Not to be confused with the Blackfeet/Blackfoot tribe of Montana.

View Larger Map
Photos from the LITTLE BIGHORN Battlefield National Monument, MT (TCG, May 2009; select thumbnail for larger photo)::::
Better Photos? (TCG, 2011; select thumbnail for larger photo)::::

—painting by William Reusswig;
jokes stolen from Vine Deloria, Jr.

—from a series of memes based on the quip, "I could be birding right now";
graphic "borrowed" from Google Images

CUSTER LIVES! (TCG, 2011; select thumbnail for larger photo)::::
    *1. Custer State Park (Black Hills, SD) / *2. Roadside café between Custer township & Custer St Prk /
    *3. Business across the street from Wall Drug (Wall, SD) / *4. Custer National Forest (Montana; just east of the Little Bighorn battlefield)

Ouch, another relevant picture: a 1970's "adult" video game in which CUSTER is allowed to get his revenge on a nubile "squaw" (select thumbnail for larger photo):

THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941): excerpt from the "classic Western" (1941), highlighting Custer's favorite tune (& 7th Cavalry battle song!), the jig-ish Irish drinking ditty, "Garry Owen."

—my photo: Turkey Vulture at Crazy Horse Monument, 2011

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• Hard copy DUE TH, Jan. 30th, 12:30.

To the Top

 TU, Jan. 28th::
*Chapter 10: "Walking the Black Road" (81-86/103-109)
    —Historical realities (1876): Sitting Bull & Gall to Canada; but Crazy Horse staying in "the country that was ours"
    —Translation realities: Neihardt's choice of translating the Lakota wi as "moon" (81/103) (as in—ugh—"many moons"!?) is rather a poetic (and primitivist) archaicism, since the word just as well means "month" as it does "moon" in Lakota.
        —Canada as "Grandmother's Land": refers to Queen Victoria (cf. the U.S. President as "Grandfather").
    —whisky: mniwakan ("holy[?!] water")—no irony there . . .)
    —"forced" signing of the Treaty of 1876, ceding the Black Hills [As an historical sidenote, one chief of the Mnikoju, Lone Horn, is said to have "died of shame" soon afterwards.]
        —BE's "land ethic": "But only crazy or very foolish men would sell their Mother Earth." Then the incredible plaint, "Sometimes I think it might have been better if we had stayed together and made them kill us all."
    —starvation plight: eating their ponies, many dying babies
    —Crazy Horse's now even "queerer" behavior: even more withdrawn, as if, sensing his immanent death, he is "thinking how to help us when he would not be with us any more"
    —in contrast, Spotted Tail has grown fat on "Wasichu food": "How could men get fat by being bad, and starve by being good?" (The eternal question of Western theology & ethics, too!?) . . . ergo, (JGN claims that!) BE himself begins to doubt his vision: "maybe it was only a queer dream after all"

*Chapter 11: "The Killing of Crazy Horse" (87-90/111-114)
    —Lakotas' suspicion (supported by history) that CH's "impromptu" slaying was planned by the washic[h]u
    —CH's almost Christ-like death: refuses to see the "Great Father" in Washington, D.C. because "'there is no Great Father between me and the Great Spirit'" (cf. Christ's words regarding Caesar); in fact, this whole sentence is JGN's interpolation (as DeMallie tells us), so the influence of the Western mystical tradition seems all the more likely.
    —BE's (er, Neihardt's) wonderfully moving paragraph of tribute: "Crazy Horse was dead. He was brave and good and wise. . . ." At last, "I cried all night, and so did my father."
    —Not only did CH refuse to be photographed while alive, but note how his parents are intent on keeping his body "hidden" in death. BE seems almost joyous that his body "might be lying over there," not far from them; but at last, the place of his remains is no matter: "but where his spirit is, it will be good to be." (Uttered by an old man, whose "dream" has "failed"—and so now looking forward to such a place himself? But again, this is another interpolation by JGN!)

*Chapter 12: "Grandmother's Land" (91-96/115-121)
    —impending doom of reservation life (and assimilation): "they were going to pen us up in little islands and make us be like Wasichus"
    —VOCAB. note: "How" is Neihardt's mispelling of hau, Lakota for both greeting ("hello") & assent ("yes," "agreed")
    Why does the "Injun" say "Hau"?--I mean, "How"?: MP3 excerpt from Disney's "What Made the Red Man Red" (Peter Pan)
    —ergo?—BE becoming more conscious of his visionary calling: "I wondered when my power would grow"
    —finally SPEAKS to another of his visions: tells uncle of his "queer feeling" prophetic of their encounter with the enemy tribe, the Crows; tells Iron Tail that he's "heard a voice in the clouds" and that they should flee (the Crows again) . . . then informs father of the coyote who's told him where the bison are
    —plaintive coda conflating hungry Lakota and hungry porcupines: the porcupines huddle near the camp, for warmth, "crying because they were so cold"—and the humans let them be, feeling sorry for them; and when the "old people" talk of the good old days, BE feels "like crying." (Oh, my poor young porcupine!)

*Chapter 13: "The Compelling Fear" (97-100/123-127)
    —the "grasses": oh, "their tender faces"!
    —"queer" inkling about the Blackfeet, voices of the thunder, etc., confirmation of his growing powers; but another Sun Dance reminds him of his vision and that he has still done nothing about it; now he FEARS the thunder, the very clouds—at last, the voices telling him, "It is time! It is time! It is time!" . . . ergo BE becomes more withdrawn and "queer," as the crows, too, mock him
    —confessing (as it were) his vision to the medicine man Black Road; the man's solution is that his vision needs public praxis: a "horse dance . . . for the people"

*Chapter 14: "The Horse Dance" (101-109/129-139)
    —BE's prep. for ceremony: fasting, purification (sweat lodge [inipi ritual], sage)
    —memories of GV include "all the songs that" he "had heard" in his vision!
    —typos: p. 102/131: "straight black lines"; "bright red streaks"; 105/134: "I knew the real"!?
    —note the "quaternal" chant (4 syllables, 4 times): "Hey-a-a-hey! hey-a-a-hey! hey-a-a-hey! hey-a-a-hey!"
    —BE's "shadow" metaphysics encore: he "could see that what we then were doing [the actual ceremony] was like a shadow cast upon the earth from yonder vision in the heavens. It knew the real was yonder and the darkened dream[!] of it was here"  [Later add: but this is also obviously another interjection of JGN's good ol' neo-Platonism.] . . . and yet that "shadow" must have been a grand procession, visually!
    synchronicity: ceremony punctuated with a rainstorm response from the "thunder beings"; . . . even more eerie event: upon returning to the tepee, they see on the design of the sacred hoop in the soil "tiny pony hooves as though the spirit horses had been dancing while we danced"
    —further praxis: the curing of individuals
    *—climactic prayer one of fertility/rebirth (and "naturism," much in the spirit of the Ghost Dance to come): "'Guide the people that they may be as blossoms on your holy tree, and make it flourish deep in Mother Earth and make it full of leaves and singing birds.'"
    —BE's new dedication to his GV: now rises early to view the "daybreak star" of the East—the direction of (especially shamanic) "understanding" (via the analogy of "light," no doubt)

*Chapter 15: "The Dog Vision" (110-116/141-148)
    —"alone," BE receives a reminder from the two "slant-arrow" men that he "should do" his "duty" to his people
    *—but then the notable retrospective passage, after the "failure" of the dream: "now when I look upon my people in despair, I feel like crying and I wish and wish my vision could have been given to a man more worthy." Sure, he's cured individuals, but he realizes that means little in the grand ecological scheme of things, which concerns races & species, not individuals: "If a man or woman or child dies, it does not matter long, for the nation lives on. It was the nation that was dying, and the vision was for the nation; but I have done nothing with it."
    *—HANBLEC[H]IA/vision quest: as part of "lament" [the hanblec[h]ia is also known as "crying for a vision"], BE first fasts for four days, as preparation; for the vision quest itself, he is left out alone: "But the place was full of people; for the spirits were there" . . . three birds from three directions (spotted eagle, "chicken hawk" [both who eventually speak], and "black swallow"; from fourth direction, the south, come "beautiful butterflies," crying: "a pitiful, whimpering noise"! . . . DOGS from a cloud of dust, soon charged upon by the butterflies-changed-to-swallows; the dogs' heads become those of the washic[h]u
    —subsequent DREAM—of healing the "sick" via the healing herb—and a plethora of rebirth imagery: the light of dawn, the rejuvenation of nature (birds, horses, bison), and—most startling?!—"clouds of baby faces smiling at me"!
    —As with the GV, his hanblec[h]ia needs fulfillment in the real world, via the . . . [next chapter]

*Chapter 16: "Heyoka Ceremony" (117-120/149-153)
    *— Via HEYOKAs (trickster-esque Lakota "holy fools," through whom "everything is backwards"), BE (or rather Neihardt, as DeMallie indicates!) offers a philosophy of tragedy & comedy: "the truth comes into this world with two faces," but both create an imbalance; the heyoka's job, BE/JGN surmises, is to correct, to reverse (ergo the "backwards"), this one-sidedness. . . . [cf. Shakespeare's fools (and Jung's shadow) as performing a similar function of redressing the king's (& ego's) imbalance?]
    —ceremony per se: ritual slaying of dog (maybe the strangest—and most [culinarily] disturbing—chapter in the book, for the Western "palate") . . . meanwhile, the heyokas provide a comic sideshow of sorts during the proceedings, via such props as bent arrows
    *—But through such shenanigans (and canine corpse consumption) comes a tribal renewal: they are "better able now to see the greenness of the world, the wideness of the sacred day"; and—"Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus we should do."

[This note usually comes later, but it's appropriate here, too, because the Lakota heyoka is pretty much a human embodiment of the trickster figure:]
Note on the TRICKSTER archetype/NatAmer deity-motif: In NatAmer folklore/myth in general, Coyote is the most common Trickster, a cosmic & natural force blessed with both sheer animal "stupidity" and uncanny animal cunning. In Lakota stories, for instance, he is forever losing his tail, getting chopped up into bits, and generally making a mess of the cosmic order. But he always comes back to life, and the world is better off for his shenanigans. (Also prominent as a Trickster in Lakota myth is Iktomi, the spider. In the Pacific Northwest, Raven [or Crow, or even Blue Jay] is Trickster.) The function of these tricksters has long been debated. My own reading relies on Jungian psychology, Bakhtinian dialogism, and ecology/ecocriticism. Jung reads the trickster as an aspect of the Shadow archetype—that "dark" complex of the unconscious psyche whose real role is to make the ego realize that it is out of balance, through its sheer repression of that "dark" side. The philosopher & linguist Bakhtin claimed that the dominant social discourse towards order and reason necessarily entails a "polyphonic" (multi-voiced) reaction, in myth, literature, and society itself. Regarding this latter, he points to various cultural manifestations of "Carnival," wherein the common folk go "crazy" in an established ritual that is directed against the (repressive) social order. (Cf. Mardi Gras!) Finally, in a purely naturalist/ecological sense, the Trickster is "raw" instinctual animal, always erupting into "civilized" (and repressed) human consciousness as a magical & numinous force—again, as a corrective against an oh-so-blind ego-faith in order and rationalism: a reminder at last that WE are animals, that cosmic evolution needs entropy and chaos, that to remain in any blithe condition of stasis is a psychological and cultural death.

*Chapter 17: "The First Cure" (121-126/155-161)
    *—SQUARE vs. the CIRCLE: Anglos' square "gray houses" ("a bad way to live, for there can be no power in a square") versus the Lakota circle: "everything an Indian does is in a circle," for "everything [in nature] tries to be round"; note the "Nature" origin of such a privileging: "Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours"! Indeed, BE pursues this avian analogue: "Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of many nests," where we "hatch[!] our children."
    —But now the Lakota are stuck into "these square boxes"; moreover, they are "prisoners of war."
    —BE's search for the "four-rayed" herb, for "curing": aided again by birds (indeed, by FOUR kinds of ~), who lead him to the spot
    *—1st cure per se: notable is the "rumbling thunder" of BE's drum, a non-verbal rhythm reminding me of Julia Kristeva's theory of the prelingual (but rhythmic) semiotic, from whence I would suggest the GV originally issued (and which words—the Lacanian Symbolic—must inevitably corrupt): "Its sound . . . makes men feel the mystery and power of things." . . . human/humorous touch: BE knows "now that only one power would have" sufficed, but the then-neophyte "called on every power there is" . . . human/plaintive touch: "queer" feeling while healing the poor sick boy includes "something that made me want to cry for all unhappy things, and there were tears on my face."
    —Successful cure—only 19 years old—and his career/reputation now established

*Chapter 18: "The Powers of the Bison and the Elk" (127-132/163-169)
    —most explicit statement regarding the fact that visions require realization, must be "performed"
    *—PROBLEMs of communicating vision!?: no one has heard the GV entire until Neihardt; and BE re-acknowledges the crucial non-verbal (and much less communicable) elements thereof: "there was very much in the vision that even I can not tell when I try hard, because very much of it is not for words. But I have told what can be told." And he still wonders if he has done the right thing in telling it—does this end the power? Having "given away" the vision, "maybe I cannot live very long now. But I think I have done right to save the vision in this way."
    —Bison ceremony: the bison, associated with the east (and sun), are equated with the "red man" (of shamanic "understanding")—and the Lakota people . . . but the eagle feather must be involved, too, to the point that "The eagle and the bison—like relatives they walk" . . . now BE "feel[s] the power with me all the time"
        —a bit of "closet" Catholic subtext, when the children are given "a little of the water of life from the wooden cup"?
    —Elk ceremony: assoc. with the south, ergo fertility & life
        —a statement begging for depth-psychology commentary?: "the growing power is rooted in mystery like the night, and reaches lightward"
        *—women: assoc. with the moon; with fertility ("flowering stick"), domesticity ("sacred hoop"), and peace ("sacred pipe"): "for all these powers together"—so central to BE's GV—"are women's power"; and so, while these associations seem as sexist as the pro-male assertions (e.g., "upon the backs of men the nation is carried" and "the power of man encircles and protects the power of the woman"), there is yet a quite gynocentric fundament to Lakota culture . . . (HOWEVER and at last—as DeMallie tells us!—much of the condescending language is JGN's Western patriarchal sexism.)

*Chapter 19: "Across the Big Water" (133-139/171-178)
    —slaughtering of the last significant buffalo herds by the washic[h]u: wastefully, for gold, or for mere bloodlust
    *—Reservation life now, in those damned "square gray houses": the "hoop" is "broken," and no "center" remains (cf. Yeats' "The center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.") . . . hunger, partly from Anglo mismanagement & greed: "There were many lies, but we could not eat them"! . .  At last, in line with the "broken hoop": "What are many little lives if the life of those lives be gone?" . . . to BE's sorrow and shame, his people "were not living that [old] way any more. They were traveling the black road . . . ."
    —Reason for agreeing to travel with Buffalo Bill's troupe: maybe he can learn something from "the great world of the Wasichu" to help his people & his dream . . . And so to Omaha->Chicago->New York, and to utter . . .
    *"—Alienation: BE now "like a man who had never had a vision. I felt dead and my people seemed lost"
        *—and the Anglos?: "I could see that the Wasichus did not care for each other the way our people did"; BE (er, JGN!) even turns a touch Marxist, as it were: "They would take everything from each other if they could, and so there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all"; in sum, "They had forgotten that the earth was their mother."
    *—& imprisonment: sees NY prison and thinks of the Res: "my people too were penned up in islands"; and characteristically, this colonizing drive extends to nature itself: "the Wasichus had even the grass penned up"!!
    —"comedy" of the boat trip—until the tragedy & sorrow: "When I saw the poor bison thrown over, I felt like crying, because right there I thought they were throwing part of the power of my people away."
    —strange section on the Queen of England: BE & company rather too proud and happy regarding her interest?!; cheering & singing for her, as if blinded by the sheer pomp & "ceremony" (hmmm) of it all? . . . (Note: the "Jubilee" was in honor of the 50th year of Victoria's reign [1887].)
        —Note on "All the Queen's Horses": you no doubt noticed by this point the queen's equines: (two horses, followed by) FOUR of 'em, followed by EIGHT, a vestige, at least, of the "primitive" quaternity in the very spectacle-center of "civilization"?

Graphics "borrowed" from Google Images;
yes, I know that these words are really Neihardt's;
but today's politics seems to require some
poetic licence/"fake news"/positive propaganda.

To the Top

 TH, Jan. 30th::
*Chapter 20: "The Spirit Journey" (140-143/179-183)
    —lost from troupe, then "to Paris," and a "Wasichu [French?] girl" and family
    —ill again, and visionary "trip home"—house ascent rather "Wizard-of-Oz"-esque?!: back to Black Hills & Pine Ridge, where he sees a large camp gathering
    —[another typo: p. 141/180: "Then I was alone. . . ."]
    —humorous (and pathetic, at last) "crack" regarding coffin
    —finds Buffalo Bill, returns home—to the large gathering that he had prophesied; and his mother had even dreamed of his spirit-return "on a cloud")

*Chapter 21: "The Messiah" (144-149/185-191)
    —*Passages from James Mooney's The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890*—
        Note above all how the Ghost Dance religion was a syncretic medley of Christian messianism & millennialism and traditional cross-tribal Native beliefs & ceremonialism:
        —Quot. from "Messiah Letter" of Wovoka (Jack Wilson): "Do not tell the white people about this. Jesus is now upon the earth" (781).   {--complete text of the "Messiah Letter"--}  Wovoka-as-Messiah ("Wanekia" [literally, “savior”]) is himself conflated with Christ: Lakota "delegates" sent to check him out reported "a man . . . who said he was the son of God, who had once been killed by the whites[!], and who bore on his body the scars of the crucifixion. He had now returned to punish the whites for their wickedness" (820; see BES 147/189: "son of the Great Spirit," etc.).
        —Wovoka's dogma includes "a predicted Indian millennium or 'return' of the ghosts,' when the white man would be annihilated" (787). (A government agent at Standing Rock writes, "It would seem impossible that any person, no matter how ignorant, could be brought to believe such absurd nonsense" [787n]!)
        —"The [Ghost] dance is to continue four successive nights, in accord with the regular Indian system[!], in which four is the sacred number, as three is in Christianity" (782).
    —wretchedly desperate Reservation conditions  [the same social conditions emphasized by Mooney (see above) in his explanations of the attraction of the "Messiah Craze"]
    *—the Paiute prophet Wovoka's promise of a "new earth"; Lakota delegation visits him, return with exuberant report, but BE still skeptical; Wovoka's message quite messianic & millennialist, two religious characteristics rather alien to most Native worldviews::::
    —but BE notes similarities to own GV; then his own father dies  (no cynical readings regarding Freudian displacement possible here?!)
    *—crucial is the ecological promise of the GD religion: the return of the bison and "other animals," and of the "beautiful green land"
    —BE's own "conversion": witnesses dance—a "circle"! and "center"! and "red"!: all serve as a spur to his own GV-mission, he is overwhelmed with a "great happiness," and now he will "dance with them."

*Chapter 22: "Visions of the Other World" (150-155/193-199)
    —joining the dance: "the power was in me," and the "queer feeling"
    —mass visions: as dancers collapsed to the ground in their fervor, "they were having visions . . . and many were crying for the old way of living and that the old religion might be with them again"
    *—BE's own GD vision: flying / spotted eagle / "a beautiful land" and "living light" and the people in "a great circle"; at last, an eco-renewal: "green, green grass" and "animals of all kinds"—epitomized in "a beautiful tree all green and full of flowers" . . . near-death experience?: told it's "'not yet time to see your father'"
    —from vision, fashions own Ghost Dance shirts (a Lakota innovation, BTW, of the GD, as Mooney tells us)
    —2nd dancing vision, of six villages "all clear and green in living light"; and the Wanekia, with an "eagle feather," and who "spoke like singing"! . . . tells others of vision, and finally wonders (though this is a surmise/interpolation by JGN) if the Wanekia could have been the "red man" of his GV
    *—If my "eco-"emphasis regarding the Ghost Dance is correct, it is significant, then, that BE ends up at "the sixth village," that is, "the Sixth Grandfather, the Spirit of the Earth, because I was to stand for him in the world."

*Chapter 23: "Bad Trouble Coming" (156-159/201-205)
    —now "the Indians were beginning to dance everywhere"; why?—"hungry and in despair . . . many believed in the good new world that was coming"
    —another vision, of the "Flaming Rainbow," recalls BE to his original vision; in retrospect, he considers it his "great mistake" to have followed his Ghost-Dance "lesser visions" (especially that of the "two sticks") rather than his original GV
    —more humor? (and pathos): the agent decides "that we could dance three days" a month, but "the rest of the time we should go and make a living for ourselves somehow. He did not say how we could do that"!
    —Dead relatives now said to be in the "Other World," with the "Wanekia" (= Christian Heaven?); BE speaks out publicly in favor of the Wanekia and the "new world that is coming"
    —Other events: Sitting Bull murdered; The Mnikoju leader Big Foot and his people (and some of Sitting Bull's) on their way to Wounded Knee in the wake of SB's death. Then "something terrible happened."

*Chapter 24: "The Butchering at Wounded Knee" (160-164/207-212)
    —right after Xmas!, 1890; note word choice in chapter title ("Butchering")
    —hearing the gunfire of the slaughter, BE dons his GD "sacred shirt," which "protected" him "that day" . . . incl. "one eagle feather for the One Above" (hmmm—quite Christian in its phrasing?)
    —irony (of those who write the history): "the Wasichus sometimes call it Battle Creek now" . . . (Regarding the "standard" textbook names for conflicts in the 19th-c. West, it's now a commonplace commentary that, when the U. S. Cavalry won, it was called a "battle"; when the Indians won, it was a "massacre.")
    —joins in latter part of "battle": "The bullets did not hit us at all" (due to BE's "power"); finds and wraps up "little baby"
    *—the PATHOS of the scene: "Dead and wounded women and children and little babies"; "I saw a little baby trying to suck its mother, but she was bloody and dead"; bodies "heaped and scattered"; of course, JGN "provided" (i.e., pretty much imagined/made up) the details here! . . . BE vows revenge
        *—Mooney's incredible(ly racist—and speciesist) commentary: "Four babies were found alive under the snow, wrapped in shawls and lying beside their dead mothers, whose last thought had been of them. . . . [O]nly one lived." And yet—"The tenacity of life so characteristic of wild people as well as of wild beasts was strikingly illustrated" here (Ghost-Dance Religion 876-877)!?!?
    —flashback/account of how massacre began (Yellow Bird)
    —synchronicity of the weather: started as a "good winter day," then snow, & blizzard, & cold, as if to mimic the "cold-blooded" events of the day


Famous photo of slain Mnikoju Lakota chief Big Foot (Si Tanka) at Wounded Knee.

(Now let's read the Momaday poem on Wounded Knee?! [It's one cold poem.])

* more Images of Wounded Knee, incl. the open mass-grave trench (or see my meme, below)

—photo "borrowed" from Google Images
(Wounded Knee mass burial)

*Chapter 25: "The End of the Dream" (165-169/213-218)
    —(strange place? for more) comic(?) relief: return to Pine Ridge, to supper, and gunshots into the tipi: "but we kept right on eating. . . . If that bullet had only killed me, then I could have died with papa [jerky] in my mouth."
    —now bent on revenge: "this time I took a gun with me" . . . note that he hadn't gone armed to Wounded Knee "because I was a little in doubt about the Wanekia religion at that time, and I did not really want to kill anybody because of it"!
    —skirmish at the Mission; any symbolic ramifications in the following?!: "there are many bullets in the Mission yet."
        —BE charges like the "geese of the north" of his GV, even imitating the sound; impervious to bullets until he "wakes" out of his vision-power; only THEN is shot (no doubt the cynic might see some retrospective "creative memory" at work here?)
        —though his "insides were coming out," wants to return to battle; but "'Your people need you'" for later, greater duties—as will John G. Neihardt!
    —retreat north to the Badlands; saves other warriors in subsequent skirmish: "for a little while, I was a wanekia myself" (with connotations of the Christian Savior)
    —HISTORICAL resolution of the conflict incredibly anti-climactic: Red Cloud talks them into surrendering, making "peace," whereupon they return to Pine Ridge, to a display of power, armed U.S. soldiers arrayed "in two lines"
        —The Dakota writer (and physician, then assigned to Pine Ridge) Charles Eastman wrote his own account of Wounded Knee, from a "hangs-around-the-fort" point of view that initially presents the Ghost Dancers as lawless & irrational "unfriendlies." But by the time he describes this same military display—"no doubt intended to impress the Indians with their superior force"—Eastman is no longer that impressed, having witnessed the results of the slaughter ("The Ghost Dance War," in Eastman's From Deep Woods to Civilization).
    —EMOTIONAL climax, of "DEATH" & "ending"—final 3 paragraphs; NOTE that these paragraphs aren't in the original interview-transcripts! [JGN strikes again!]): "I did not know then how much was ended." Besides the ghost dancers themselves, "something else died there in the bloody mud . . . . A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream." BUT: "so great a vision," so "pitiful [an] old man"; "the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead."  

*Neihardt's [Author's] Postscript (170-172/219-221)  —or: "The Sky Clears"?!

    —Noteworthy: in Aug. 2016, Harney Peak was renamed to—Black Elk Peak!
    —BE's last attempt to "perform" GV, at the "'center of the earth,'" Harney Peak::::
    —weather synchronicity, encore (or rather, prophecy): BE still has the power, to bring "'at least a little thunder and a little rain'" to a "perfectly clear" sky & a time of drought
    —entreats the "'Grandfather'" one last time, speaking of "'the life of things'" (cf. Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," in which the poet speaks of his own visionary moments when "we see into the life of things") and "'the goodness and the beauty and the strangeness of the greening earth'"
    —final TONE of last page or so—despair?, or hope, even prophecy? (And/or how much of this "Postscript" is "choreographed" by Neihardt?): "'O Great Spirit . . . with running tears I must say now that the tree has never bloomed"' (oh! . . . cf. Job's wronged-and-righteous[?] words to Jehovah? even Christ's "Why hast thou forsaken me?"?) . . . Last hopeful prayer: "'It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds. [I am suddenly reminded of the tone of the finale to P. B. Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind."] Hear me, not for myself, but for my people; I am old.'" Continuing, in a "thin high wail," a "'feeble voice,'" BE becomes a Lakota Moses: "'Hear me in my sorrow, for I may never call again. O make my people live!'"
    —Coda: images of tears, and rain (rebirth?); then: "In a little while the sky was clear again." There is no question that this is JGN's editorial choice, to end on the positive "clearing" of the sky, an almost too-obvious pointing towards hope for a better day. Do you think Black Elk himself ends in such a "clearing" (in the rising sun of the East's "light of understanding")?


Purple-prosy, pathos-ridden:
John G. Neihardt's hardly hidden.

—TCG, 9/4/11

*Philip J. Deloria: [new 2014] Introduction (xxix-xxxv/---)
• The younger Deloria's own experience roughly mirrors my own; including::::
    BES's newfound 1970's popularity was based in part on the enthusiasm of New Age/hippy "seekers and aspiring mystics" (xxix)
    —DeMallie's scholarship—on, above all, JGN's incredible interventions in the text—was something of a blow to the gut for lovers of the book, "set[ting] the table for a post-structuralist crisis of meaning" for the text (xxxii); later, the book is said "to be born and bred to be unstable in its meanings," and "full of gaps of meaning" (xxxiv).
    —For the jaded/disillusioned(?!) reader—like Phil & me!—it's now the "small things" that often are of greatest interest—e.g., the porcupine episode (xxxiv)!
• Also, like a good New Historicist, PD cleverly reads the history of BES cover art as tracing a change of audiences & ideologies (xxix-xxx, xxxii-xxxiii).
• PD echoes my own feelings about the book's main self-contradiction: given JGN's rehearsal of the "vanishing Indian" stereotype/expectation, BES "insists that if Black Elk's great vision was no longer operative for American Indian people, it could nevertheless live on 'for all men.'" This is one of the "key tensions that haunt the book to this day: John G. Neihardt's willingness to simultaneously believe in both the power of Black Elk's vision and in the vision's [and Lakota people's] end" (xxx).
• PD's comments on his father bear remembering when we get to Vine Deloria, Jr.'s book: the latter does make a lot of "pan-Indian and universal claims," and indeed his father was "good at that kind of thing—the big provocative statement" (xxxi)!
Oops: PD forgets DeMallie's commentary when he talks about the "the boy" who cut off the top of the flagpole (xxxiv): this was really a more serious political act performed by young men, and PD's error repeats JGN's various misinterpretations of the dual meaning of the Lakota word hokshila (i.e., literally "boy," but often referring to young men, even warriors).
• Finally, PD tries hard to end on a positive note (convincingly?): BES is still (hell, more than ever) "fundamentally mysterious" and "a puzzle for contemplation"; it retains an "aesthetic beauty" and remains "a timeless act of pleasure." But note how much the last sentence is a faint-praise distancing from the hyperbolic praise heaped upon the book by his father Vine, Jr. (xxxv).

[Jan. 2017 add:] It's occurred to me—gradually since 2008, and well before Phil Deloria's intro—that the pre-DeMallie versions of BES ≈ a nice integral modernist/primitivist text—sure, such primitivism is always problematic but it still serves as a "whole" meaning. The DeMallie-annotated eds. are more like a disparate set of postmodern pieces, each chapter "falling apart," deconstructing itself in two or three little places.

—photo "borrowed" from Google Images

—meme by former 445N student (2019)

  RESPONSE #1—Due TUES., 2/4—CHOOSE ONE (2 pp. minimum; no maximum, especially for option h):
        Don't worry about MLA formatting, headers, etc.; but do indicate which option you're doing, please.
a) "Dear Reader": Write a Preface for Black Elk Speaks from BLACK ELK's point of view, in which the meeting between the two men, the motives of both, etc., are imaginatively reinscribed via the voice of the Native "Other." (Assume that Black Elk has struggled through Neihardt's entire prose text, and thus knows its contents. Also, your tone may be humorous-satirical, tragic-poignant, or—?) . . . [Later add:] Another "genre" option: feel free to frame it as a letter from BE to JGN.
b) "Interpret" (such a loaded, rotten term!) Black Elk's Great Vision, either seriously, from an Anglo sociological/psychological/comparative-religion/literary perspective—OR, as a tongue-in-cheek satire, pretending that you are a completely well-intentioned but misguided (Indian-wanna-be?) social scientist or literary scholar. (Importantly here, it should be clear which sub-option you've chosen!) References to other parts of BES may well be appropriate.
c) Despite my general "trickster" attitude evidenced in the two previous prompt choices, I still find Black Elk's Great Vision beautiful, moving, and "true." And I can relate his vision to several intuitive-"mystical" experiences during my own early years, although these were hardly so incredibly mythically coherent, or pregnant with meaning for "my people." Feel free, then, for Response #1, to relate an experience from your own life that seems to possess some parallels to BE's Great Vision, and perhaps to his attempts to actualize it.
d) "Final Impressions" of BES—possible considerations: from a literary viewpoint, is the book an aesthetic success (why/how)? In a grander sociological scope, how would you negotiate the two seemingly contradictory conclusions, BE's final thoughts of being a "pitiful old man" of a failure and JGN's and Deloria's later, more positive (re-)visions of BE's message "spreading across the world"? And/or finally, who is the real "hero" of the book—Neihardt? Black Elk? (Or Crazy Horse?!) ([new add:] Or DeMallie?!)
e) Discuss at least two of the poems on our "Poetic Interlude #1" PDF vis-à-vis BES, going beyond the class discussion.
f) [Later add:] How about a discussion of the two "main"(?—at least named) women in the narrative—White Buffalo Calf Woman & Queen Victoria? They seem to beg for some connection (and of course contrast), as cultural leaders, and even in terms of ritual & ceremony.
g) FREE RESPONSE: your own topic-choice focused response on some aspect or related aspects of BES. This option is aimed at "more earnest scholars" who may find that many of the prompts above are pretty touchy-feely-subjective-response-y—and who perhaps have guessed that Tom spent way too many years teaching Comp 101 and probably wants to teach creative writing, too.
h) Finally, as declared on the syllabus, a do-your-own-thing/anything-you-want "READER'S JOURNAL" that addresses a "goodly" range of our assigned readings to date is an alternate to the specific prompts above; but be as "comprehensive" as possible (see "final note" below), and avoid simple plot summaries or a simply rehashing of ideas brought up in class or on the course web notes. (Feel free to object to/expand upon these, of course.) [This last caveat applies to all response choices.]
* Finally, to quote the syllabus as reminder: "graduate students—and undergraduates who want a high score—should also incorporate at least one 'outside' [non-assigned] reading in their responses." (See the texts on reserve on the syllabus; check out the auxiliary .pdf files on Canvas [under "BLACK ELK&Neihardt"]; DeMallie's concluding essay in the 2008 & 2014 eds. also qualifies.)

To the Top

 TU, Feb. 4th::
Poetic Interlude #1
* Momaday: "December 29, 1890" [1992]
    —A Native poet's modernist formalism meets memories of Wounded Knee
* Ortiz: "Four Poems for a Child Son" [1976 (1972)]
    —Ortiz's "eco"-naturalism: parallels in Black Elk Speaks?
* A. C. Louis: "The Intellectual in Pine Ridge" [1992]
    —A novel (even irreverent?) reaction to (and example of!) Black Elk's warring "winds of the world"
* Alexie: from "The Unauthorized Biography of Me" [2000]
    —How can Alexie's jabs at the industry of "Indian" book publishing & authorship be related to Black Elk Speaks?

Own Brief Intro to Vine Deloria, Jr.


In the Popular Mind:* Incendiary radical rhetoric of Custer Died for Your Sins (1969; recall P. Deloria's comment on his father's "big provocative statement[s]" [BES xxxi]!); his association with "Red Power" and even A.I.M. (whom he defended at trial at one point; but note his great—uh—reservations regarding this organization . . .)
    * Siberian land-bridge controversy (Native oral traditions support a much longer presence in North America, VD contends, than current Western scientific theories allow. . . .) [in Red Earth, White Lies (1995)]
More "Academic" Notions/Contributions:* Deloria's "Great Cultural Binary" [see table below; and for starters, see the culturally contrasting conceptions of "time" on p. 39]
    * concept of "sacred land" (at least VD was the most well-known Native spokesperson for the term)

 * CANVAS Alert: Under "Files"=>"02 DELORIA, V" is a PDF file that has two more essays from Custer Died for Your Sins, "Indians Today: The Real & the Unreal" and "Indian Humor"—as supplement to the single (& truncated) essay from Custer in the Treat collection ("Missionaries & the Religious Vacuum"). I've also added a PDF of my review of VD's last book (published posthumously), C. G. Jung and the Sioux Traditions: Dreams, Visions, Nature and the Primitive (2009).

* Deloria's 2005 OBITUARY (Washington Post)

*Vine Deloria, Jr. (1933-2005)
**For This Land: James Treat's "Introduction" (1-18)
* 1974 Time article: Deloria "a 'Sioux Indian Lawyer' who 'says flatly that he is no longer a Christian at all'" (1; see also 3)—but how did he get there? . . . [also note his sense of humor, right away: claims to be a "Seventh Day Absentist"!] (1)
* Family/cultural background:
    —family "Yankton Sioux" (Nakota)—and/or "Santee Sioux" (Dakota); later "adopted" into Hunkpapa Lakota band (Standing Rock Reservation) (4-6, etc.)
    —Christian theological heritage: great-grandfather visionary "medicine man," later convert to Christianity (Episcopal Church) (5-6); grandfather, Episcopal priest (6); father, Episcopal priest, too, eventual member of National Council of the Episcopal Church; but father increasingly disillusioned by ecclesiastical bureaucracy, perhaps planting the "seeds" of his "son's radicalism" (6-7); summary of Vine's heritage (5): includes "a healthy suspicion toward colonial institutions, a preference for reformist activism, a sense of religious purpose, and the articulate voice of a prophet" (5; though this last far different from Black Elk's "articulation"!?) . . . another Black Elk connection: VD claims that visiting the Wounded Knee massacre site was "the most memorable event of his childhood" [7].)
    —ergo Vine raised an Episcopalian, in rather well-to-do circumstances (Kent School!); early interest/studies in technology & science (crucial later); then, to the seminary, and a "graduate degree in theology" (7-8)
    —Radical beginnings: becomes prime mover & shaker in the National Congress of American Indians (1964-), for whom he writes political editorials; perceiving "the beginning of a revolutionary era in Indian affairs," he enrolls in law school (9); and yet!: "elected [in 1968] to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church" (9-10)
    Deloria, the Author (selected works)
        Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969)
        —Deloria's own summary thereof: "'the central message of this book, that Indians are alive, have certain dreams of their own, and are being overrun by the ignorance and the mistaken, misdirected efforts of those who would help them, can never be repeated too often'" (13-14).
        We Talk, You Listen (1970)
        —D. noted for the "militant edge" of his early books, especially his diatribes against "Christian missionaries still disrupting tribal communities"; his seminal question: "'why not let Indian people worship God after their own conceptions of Him?'" (10-11). [But isn't Deloria's very phrasing here a rather limiting, Christian-based notion of who/what "God" is? Or does he have his (often) Christian audience firmly in mind?]
        God Is Red (1973; rev. ed. 1992)
        Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence (1974)—regarding tribal sovereignty
        A Sender of Words: Essays in Memory of John G. Neihardt[!] (editor) (1984)
        Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact (1995)
—Law degree, 1970; defense attorney for A.I.M. in the wake of the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation (11)
{{ The Legacy of Wounded Knee
  —a thorough set of articles on AIM's 1973 insurrection (Sioux Falls Argus Leader) }}

 • Regarding the occupation of Wounded Knee—the PBS film (2009) is the best I've seen on the subject: Wounded Knee (YouTube)


    —But the "theology" continues, espec. via God Is Red: about the "profound spiritual malaise in American society"; definition of religion: "'a force in and of itself' that 'calls for the integration of lands and peoples in harmonious unity'" (12)
        **Perhaps his most original idea: an "American God"; the hope of "'an emergence of white theology[?] which would be derived not from the European tradition but from an American tradition'"—from this land: at last, "a new vision of reality—one more compatible with tribal worldviews—may be emerging in American culture" (13) [ergo, his great praise for Black Elk Speaks?; and see last list-item, below]
        —specifics of his critique: Western science itself a "myth," an interpellative institution "of doctrine and dogma" (see subtitle of Red Earth, White Lies, above); and law/the legal system?: based upon "analytical categories . . . largely derived from Christianity" (15; see also 18) . . . At last, Deloria asks, "'To what degree do we do violence to non-Western religious traditions when we try and force them into pre-existing categories?'" [very close to Derrida's notion of epistemic "violence"] . . . And the crux: Deloria is both Native traditionalist and a (Western) "educated man": "'I have been in ceremonies. I have talked to spirits. [But] I'm an educated man, I have three degrees . . . I'm no damn fool'" (15).
    —Academic professorships—1978: U of Arizona; 1990: U of Colorado
    —But at last, does Deloria remain mired in essentialism?—"His historical accounts are synthetic interpretations in the tradition of the grand narrative [the postmodernist Lyotard's term for a "bad" thing, an ideology that is necessarily false], although he is motivated by a holistic [another word that is anathema to poststructuralist critics] vision of human experience rather than a craving for intellectual hegemony. . . . the seemingly[?!] essentialist arguments in God Is Red and elsewhere implicate social theories, not ethnic identities" (16-17). [But his notions of Indian "identity," in Custer Died for Your Sins, at least, remain blatantly essentialist.]
    ** Later/eventual ecological focus: The 2nd edition of God Is Red (1992) "underscores the impending 'ecological meltdown' by raising 'additional questions about our species and our ultimate fate,'" convinced as he is now "that relentless exploitation of nature will soon produce an 'earthly wasteland'" (14). . . . "At the heart of his distinctly American critique of religion is the land itself, the physical place called 'America.' . . . God Is Red ends with a prophetic challenge to 'the invaders of the American continent,' whom Deloria predicts will soon discover that 'for this land, God is red'" (17)

To the Top

 TH, Feb. 6th::
*[Treat:] "White Church, Red Power" (19-21)—hilites of key themes in the book's 1st set of essays::::
    —science as "myth," extension of Western religion (19)
    the close relationship of Christian proselytism to the colonizing view of Native lands as "property" (19)
    —mixed-feelings interest in the "Red Power" movement (e.g., Alcatraz [1969]; the Wounded Knee Occupation by A.I.M. [1973])—ultimately, misunderstandings on both sides (20)
    **—Own REVISIONARY "THEOLOGY" [though why even continue using a term so steeped in Western philosophical biases?]: "We badly need a consistent and comprehensive theology" that allows us "to see ourselves as planetary peoples with responsibilities extending to all parts and beings of the universe" (20-21; original quot. in context: 68).

*"Missionaries and the Religious Vacuum" (22-30) [from Custer Died for Your Sins (1969)]
    —great Native joke: "when they [the missionaries] arrived they had only the Book and we had the land; now we have the Book and they have the land" (22)!
    —Seriously, Christian proselytizing = negative effects on American indigenous: the "shattering" of Native communal "cohesiveness" (22; cf. the sacred hoop of BES!?), and then filling the "vacuum" with its own religion, its "sterile dogma" and "regurgitation of creeds" (23)
        —continuing (& condescending, even racist) "mission status" of "Indian congregations" (23-24)
        —TWO biggest mistakes of the missionary project: 1) heavy acquisition of reservation "buildings and property" (now no longer needed) (26); 2) blatant racism, and failure to even attempt any cross-cultural understanding (26-27)  . . correlative result: white clergy on the Res hardly the best & the brightest (27)!
    —recent Native backlash/religious revivals: Lakota Sun Dance (24; for which Black Elk was largely responsible, and in some ironic ways); the (admittedly syncretic) Native American Church (24-25): "Eventually it [the NAC] will replace Christianity among the Indian people" (25)!? (One of Deloria's many "blanket" statements offered more for their sheer incendiary nature than for their truth?)
    —Deloria's own (strangely contradictory?) solution(s): 1) "the creation of a national Indian Christian Church," with self-rule (28) [woh!—after all he's said against Christianity?]; main benefit thereof: "the movement toward ancient religions [especially by younger Natives] might not be so crucial" (29)!?  . . BUT!—2) "I personally would like to see Indians return to their old religions whenever possible"—because "Christianity has been a sham to cover over the white man's shortcomings" (29) . . . and yet (returning to solution #1), "an Indian version of Christianity could do much for our society," though the prospects thereof don't look good (29); short of that (solution #2 encore), indigenous religious revivalism may "introduce religion to this continent once again" (30)! [My initial reaction: to even consider that both options could be good things smacks of William James' philosophy of religious PRAGMATISM: whatever religion "works" for the people in a society is good (with an implicit understanding that most are superstitious fools, anyway?!)—and the rigid idealist in me finds such a stance difficult to stomach.]

 * Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman's "Missionaries," the lyrics of which seem to have been ghost-written by Vine Deloria, Jr.!

*"The Theological Dimension of the Indian Protest Movement" (31-35) [1973]
    —more concerted call here for a "truly native theology" & "tribal ideology" (31)
    —a study in misunderstandings:
        —Christianity's ideology of the "brotherhood of man" at a loss to deal with, or even understand, cultural diversity in the guise of the various minority-group "Power" movement's of the 1960's and 1970's (31-32)
        —Euro-American society unable to "get beyond" the land question (because Native claims/activism ultimately religious-based) (32; see also 34); in sum, the "Christian religion had little to say concerning land and nature" (32).
    —socio-historical EVENTS: 1) the taking of Alcatraz (1969); 2) general revival of Native traditionalism—and examination of treaties; leading to 3) the Trail of Broken Treaties march (1972; led in part by Oglala Lakota Russell Means), and subsequent occupation of B.I.A. headquarters in Washington, D.C. (33; the Snyder Act referred to establishing the B.I.A., in 1921, actually): rationale for protest, again, "completely misinterpreted by Indians and non-Indians alike" (33); 3) Wounded Knee occupation (1973)—also misunderstood: the "issue" was really "a moral one involving the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868" (cf. BES)—a moral call that the U.S. govt. couldn't respond to, without admitting that "it is and always has been made up of pathological liars" (34)!
    —the CRUX: the Native insurgency in question based upon an "Indian theology" that privileges "communities of whole human beings" living upon the[ir] "sacred places of the earth" (34); AND the demonstration that—oh, no!—"the white man's religion and his government are hollow" (34)  . . final call for a "new religious understanding," a "more universal sense of justice" (35) [N.B.: Treat defends VD against charges of essentialism at several points; but VD's own penchant for words like "universal" doesn't help Treat's case.]
    —Note D.'s Ghost Dance analogue here: "There was Ghost Dancing at Wounded Knee in 1890 and also in 1973" (35).
—See also Gerald Vizenor's essay in Shadow Distance, "Avengers at Wounded Knee," in which the A.I.M. leaders Russell Means, Dennis Banks, et al., are mocked & lambasted as "poseurs."

À propos to "Red Power,"
here is my version of the
popular bumper-sticker/t-shirt
slogan (replacing an armed
Geronimo et al. with
Tatanka Iyotanka)::::

*"Religion and Revolution Among American Indians" (36-43) [1974]
    —A.I.M.'s Wounded Knee occupation of 1973 redux: again, misunderstandings abounded (36-37):
        —liberals/"New Left" (37-38): attempt to co-opt Indian activism under own umbrella of the "oppressed" (i.e., neo-Marxist "third world ideology"); hilarious digs at Marlon Brando (cf. Neil Young's song "Pocahontas") and Jane Fonda  . . failure to understand (again) that the Native worldview of religion = land (even more "radical") . . . later dig at liberalism, and the "universalistic viewpoint of Third World ideology" (41; but VD's own talk of "universal" truths and "pan-Indian" ideology also an over-generalizing rubric?)  . . regarding Western (global) liberalism again: "The shape of the Indian future cannot be imported" (42; but Western terms & concepts like "theology" certainly can be!?)
        —but Native Americans themselves very divided regarding efficacy/validity of A.I.M.'s goals (38, 41 [Natives who are "good Middle Americans"!] 42)
        —"Indian" books of the time also often "misunderstandings" (39; cf. Alexie's poem on this very theme)
    —"recent" (1970's) Native visionaries with apocalytic/millennial ("eschatological": "end of the world") messages (38-39); VD relates these religious manifestations to the Ghost Dance, noting its own "end-of-the-world" theological underpinnings  . . [However, Deloria could (more fully) acknowledge that such an eschatology is a direct Christian influence, the Euro-American privileging of "history"?]
    —VD's seminal (but essentialist?) distinction between Western & Native worldviews: the former stresses time & history, the latter, a (timeless) "place" and "space" and land (39; see also 246-247)
    —another VD binary: traditional "treaty Indians"—who want the return of stolen land, etc.—and "Indian Reorganization Act Indians" (the I.R.A. [1934] gave reservations greater self-rule via tribal governments, with an eye towards better economic[?!] development), who are more comfortable with the Reservation system—and more interested in $ than the "land"? (40)  . . VD finds the attempts at economic improvement to be a general failure [but this before—casinos!? (cf. 43)] (40-41)
    —(combining the last two points,) VD calls traditionalists to task for being so ahistorical, so stuck in a past of Native "forms" and "ceremonies"; most original notion in essay?: the strength of THE TRUE Native way/religion is ADAPTABILITY, ergo the need to fashion "new forms and ceremonies to confront new situations"!  . . However, "tribal religions do not depend upon the teachings of a messiah, savior or central religious teacher" (42 [see also 82]—though, as we have seen, syncretic meldings of Native traditionalism & Christianity certainly have: cf. the Ghost Dance, and the Native American Church)

*[Treat:] "Liberating Theology" (69-71)
    —Deloria would liberate "theology" itself—versus well-meaning liberal Liberation Theology, which he sees as still "dependent upon Western philosophical assumptions" (69).

*"A Violated Covenant" (72-76) [1971]
    —VD blames Christianity for Natives' (& Nature's) plight:
        **1) the Biblical notion of "Covenant" long perverted, ergo broken TREATIES = broken ("violated") "covenants" (72-74)
        **2) Genesis' dogma of "dominion" over other species & nature also lamentable (73-75); "destruction" of both environment & indigenous peoples "justified as part of God's plan to . . . dominate an untamed wilderness" (74); at last, current threat of eco-ruin/human extinction (75). . . . [White historian Lynn White, Jr. makes a very similar argument regarding Christianity's historical role in eco-ruin, in the famous essay "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis" (1967).]
    —ergo VD's (initial) call to action: "Let them fulfill these treaties and covenants" (76).

—2013; my photo (Great Plains Art Museum)

*"An Open Letter to the Heads of the Christian Churches of America" (77-83) [1972]  [—a heady rhetorical task, eh?!]
    *—Euro-Christianity's "Doctrine of Discovery" (each colonizing nation's "ownership rights" regarding conquered lands & people) (77-78, 82; 168); + U.S. Manifest Destiny: (78-79); + Genesis (see previous essay) (79, 81-82)
    —Christianity a forcing of "myths, and superstitions" upon Native Americans (79; audience!?)
    —In contrast to the eco-egalitarianism of Native worldviews: land ownership bogus; & other species, even "rivers, mountains, and valleys," have a "right" to their own existence (79); "We watch as species after species of wildlife is destroyed by man. We always considered the birds and animals as brothers, joint creatures of one creation. But you have told us that this is not so[!]" (81).
    —Indeed, U.S. govt. policies have been based on Christian underpinnings (79, 82); in fact, "In every era of man's existence religions have acted to give to political institutions the justification, incentive, and heart to exist"—and, usually, to do bad things (82)!
** Regarding the title's rhetorical situation, it's an intriguing contrast to Martin Luther King's "Letter from the Birmingham Jail": of course; the latter is a much more suave treatment of a similar white-clergy audience. But for better or worse, Deloria might be the closest thing contemporary Native culture has to a religious figure of King's stature: an essay idea?

*"It Is a Good Day to Die" (84-91) [1972]
    —autobiographical musings on the concept of "vocation"*—
    —VD's seminary training (85-86): "virtually useless"; law school/degree (86-87): even more so!
    —worst of all: "The relationship between law and religion, then, is a complementary one with each ultimately pointing to the other as the binding thesis of its existence" (88). [Note how this argument verges on Derridean deconstruction: Derrida critiqued the Declaration of Independence in a similar fashion, pointing out that the enunciating act of declaring independence and the (already-"enunciated," as it were) pre-assumption of an actual independence deconstruct each other.]
    —But VD is no poststructuralist preaching "an ethics of relative values. Right and wrong are generally a fairly clear choice" (89-91) [an ethical essentialist, then?]
    —*finale: VD's own redefinition of vocation: for starters, the never-ending "task of discovering oneself" (90); also, must be community-centered (even though VD admits to being perhaps his [Native] community's "severest critic and most disloyal member"!) (90); at last, then, the true "vocation" is "to ride into one's community with a challenge to its presuppositions, presuppositions which one cherishes and from which one's identity is received" (91).

To the Top

 TU, Feb. 11th::
*Treat: "Worldviews in Collision" (119-121)
    —introductory reference to VD's "history/geography" binary; defense against accusations of "essentialism" (119)

*"Religion and the Modern American Indian" (122-129) [1974]
    —"Religion permeates the lives of American Indians [even] today"; note D.'s assumption that Native beliefs involve "eternal values" (122) [not essentialist?!].
    —An example is the Plains Indian revival of the Sun Dance, "after many decades of its prohibition" (124). [Note: like most Native religious ceremonies, the Lakota Sun Dance was banned, by federal law, from 1883-1934.]
    —Then there's the Native American Church (125-126): a "pan-Indian" syncretism—like the Ghost Dance!—of Native beliefs/ceremonies & Christianity [the main written scripture, indeed, is the Bible].
    —More important than the maintenance/revival of specific ceremonies is the Natives' "old view of the world" itself (126), especially its basis in the "land." (D.'s famous notion of "sacred lands"—mentioned here [127]—will be a central theme in the book's later essays.)
    —Again, the "awakening of younger Indians" to native traditions . . . In this regard, recall D.'s foreword to Black Elk Speaks and his positive discussion here of some white scholars' contributions to Native religious revivalism, including the "Black Elk books of John Neihardt" (128). . . . (But there is also [the historical/retrospective irony of] VD's mixed reaction to Carlos Castaneda's 1970's Don Juan series [126]–a "hippie"/Indian-wanna-be Bible of sorts, later revealed to be "fake" anthropology.)
    —But the essay ends with a strange(?) call for religious syncretism, of "a combination" of traditional Native and white Christian "philosophies" (128-129)?!

*"Native American Spirituality" (130-134) [1977]
    —Native ecological consciousness: "feelings of equality with . . . other life forms" (130); "kinship" regarding "peoples, lands, and other life forms"; the "dignity of [all] other life forms," and humankind's responsibility to "learn" from them (131)
    —VD's BINARY begins [see table below]: Native "circle" vs. Western linearity (& cause/effect) (133; see also 235)

****"Civilization and Isolation" (135-144) [1978]
    —Western "provincialism" (Whitehead's definition), its "exclusionary approach to the physical world" (135)
    —HA-HA quot. (& cf. Black Elk): "Any group that frantically dug gold in the west in order to transplant it to the east and bury it cannot be quite right and their insights cannot form the highest achievement of our species" (136).
    —**the BINARY:
        —WESTERN "isolation" (137) & individualism (137, 150-151; 205; 227-228; 247); analysis (incl. classification/division) (137; see also 141) & rationalism (over emotions & intuition) (137, 138, 149, 151); compartmentalization & "fragmentation" (138; see also 143) [cf. academia!]; mechanistic emphasis & causality (138-139)
        —NATIVE holism/"synthesis"/"relatedness" (140-141, 143, 144, 153); organicism (141); lived "experience" vs. cognitive "interpretation" (141, 142; see also 235); purposiveness (vs. evolution) (142 [note the "two-leggeds"!]; 153)
    —Siberian land-bridge controversy: Natives here during the Mesozoic era, with the dinosaurs?! (142-143; 193; 269; 279)—ouch.

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
Note especially "an old Indian saying" that, according to Deloria, "captures the radical difference between Indians and Western peoples quite adequately. The white man, the Indians maintain, has ideas; Indians have visions" (FTL 105). (My question: where in this book does Deloria most approach having a "vision"?)
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/ownershipcommunal "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/aesthetic/personality divide ("Classical" vs. "Romantic") within Western civilization/art itself--]

****"Christianity and Indigenous Religion" (145-161) [1987]
    —Christianity "an imperialistic religion" (145); [more provocation!:] indeed, "Christianity is the chief evil ever to have been loosed on the planet" (146)?!? [How's that for maybe the best example of son Phil's statement that his dad was prone to the "big provocative statement" (BES xxxi [2014 ed.])!?]
    **—the BINARY continued ["redundancies" referenced in outline of previous essay, above]:
        —WESTERN: the universe ("Nature") "evil and hostile" (147); emphasis on the other world (ultimately to the detriment of this one) (147)—this world a "pale imitation" (153); "the Christian universe is dead" (148), and its worldview "resent[s] deeply any interspecies communication" (148); MUSIC: they have "no music" in their souls [to paraphrase Shakespeare] (148); end-of-the-world eschatology (149) [for a better world? VD asks "why the deity could not have simply created a workable world in the first place" (149)!]; alienation from nature (152)—"no feeling that they [Christians] are a part of the world" (160); social HIERARCHY of power; ultimately "materialist" (153); emphasis on "doctrines and dogmas" (155; see also 153); Christian "revelation": a "closed" book (157); intolerance for other peoples/religions (159)
        —NATIVE: the universe "good" (147); emphasis on this world, the here-and-now (147); pan-vitalism ("everything is alive") (148); anti-homocentrism: "The human being is not the crowning glory of creation and certainly not its master" (148; see also 158); MUSIC: the rhythms of the universe epitomized in the ceremonial drumbeat, in chants & songs (148); the CIRCLE/cycles (149; 257); COMMUNITY, the "extended family" (Lakota: tioshpaye) (150; 205; 227-228)—incl. species interrelatedness (150)—indeed, a universe wherein "interspecies communication becomes possible" (157); faith in the epistemological veracity of "dreams and visions" (152-153); rather than "good" v. "evil," a balance (154); the quaternity explained (154; = "balance"/"wholeness and completion"); "revelation" still open, available (157); tolerance for other peoples/religions (158; but: Deloria?!)
    —VD also brilliantly deconstructs the psychology of one version of the "13th Commandment": "The Christian teaching is to love others as one loves oneself. This requirement suggests that the individual is completely at peace with himself or herself, although this situation cannot possibly occur since the individual is part of nature and yet alienated from it" (152).
    —problem?: given all that VD has said about science, why then appeal to it in his favoring of the Native over the Western worldview (149, 150)?
    —another provocative over-generalization!?: "Human experience within the Christian context is always an adversarial situation" (151 [including "the devil, others as pagans," and "the animals" (but what about, say, Francis of Assisi?)]; see also 159). . . . And another: "The Christian environment is always[?!] a ruined and destroyed, a totally exploited environment" (159).
    —well-known (and hardly original) distinction between the Native as a (communal) "shame" culture, the West as an (individual) "guilt culture" (156)

To the Top

 TH, Feb. 13th::
*—Some Crucial LEGISLATIVE & LEGAL DECISIONS regarding Native Religious Freedom—*
1883-1934:Federal ban on the Lakota Sun Dance (comparable restrictions on other tribes' major ceremonies standard during this same period) (cf. 173, 222)
1887:Dawes Act: allotment (division) of Natives' lands in Oklahoma; similar laws regarding other Indian lands soon followed, the negative ramifications of which included a de facto repression of Native traditionalism (e.g., 173)
1892:Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States: U.S. Supreme Court decision that included the declaration that "this is a Christian nation"
1934:Indian Reorganization Act: as with the Dawes Act, this restructuring of reservation tribal governments further diminished Native traditionalism (e.g., 40)
1978:American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA, which Deloria claims is toothless: e.g., 165, 196, 204)
1978:Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
1988:Lyng decision: Supreme Court rules against Native rights to sacred/ceremonial sites on public lands (in favor, instead, of land developers [or rather/supposedly: the "greater good" of the public interest]) (204, 218, 225)
1990:Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) (see "A Simple Question of Humanity" [187-], written the year before)
1990:Oregon v. Smith: Supreme Court ruling that state laws override any purported Native rights to use peyote for religious purposes (ergo illegal) (e.g., 215, 221)
1993: [after/in the wake of almost all the essays in our text:]Supreme Court allows/protects Native religious use of peyote; 1994: Congress agrees/"ratifies"—(I don't have the whole background on this one, but I imagine that some version of the government's "proof of [Native] faith" prescription that Deloria often discusses has rendered this legalization nearly as problematic as the 1978 legislation.)

*[Treat:] "Habits of the State" (163-165)
    —Treat establishes the intellectual background of Robert Bellah's notion of "civil religion," to which VD's subsequent ruminations on U.S. secular statism as a "closet" Christianity are responses (163-164).

*"Completing the Circle: Civil Religion in America" (166-174) [1976]
    —present U.S. government "the latest denominational expression of the Christian religion" (166; see also 167, 172, 174)
        —incl. the Declaration of Independence & Constitution (167-168): "does anyone really doubt that it was the Christian God . . . who appears in the Declaration of Independence?" (169—and cf. "In God we trust"?)
        —examples thruout U.S. history of Christian justifications for the treatment of the savage & barbaric indigenous, incl. Andrew Jackson (171), and a 1923 official document with a telling call for "careful propaganda[!] [to] be undertaken" against Native ceremonial dances (173)
    —colonizing ideology of the New World as "an empty continent . . . merely a subconscious wish" to control & conquer both land & peoples without any moral scruples (167)
    —to one scholar's contention that the Mormons were the sole example of religious prosecution in the U.S., VD reminds us of—Wounded Knee (169)
    —incredible statement (to me, at least) by a "prospective juror" at Leonard Crow Dog's A.I.M. trial, regarding Crow Dog's ceremonial pipe: "'My God, he doesn't believe in our Lord Jesus Christ'" (174)
Finally—in the wake of Deloria's argument regarding the U.S. as nearly a Christian theocracy—a student has alerted us to the following web site of interest:
        The "Christian Nation" Decision [1892] (U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brewer: "These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.")

—Of course, Vine Deloria, Jr., has priority here!

—Yes, I know; VD died in 2005.

*"A Simple Question of Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of the Reburial Issue" (187-202) [1989]
[incl. a Swiftian "modest proposal"!]
    —controversy regarding the return of the remains (& burial offerings) of some "two million Indians" (187)
    —N.B.: UNL one of the first enlightened "major institutions" regarding this issue (187-188)
    —in contrast, for U.S. government agencies and anthropologists, such remains are a "resource" (188; see also 187 and thruout), bringing up the question . . .
        —example of children's reader with animal pictures, including an "Indian mother" & child; sports-team mascot names (189)
        —famous 1550 debate between Catholic clergymen Sepulveda (who divided humankind into the "civilized" and the "brute or barbarian") and Las Casas (whose more empathetic view included "cultural relativism") (189-190) . . . But Sepulveda carried the day, for the most part, and the "genocide" of Natives were henceforth continually "justified by appeals to Christianity and civilization" (190).
        —Sure: Nazi Germany's Holocaust, etc., were bad, but at last, Native Americans were the only people whose remains have been deemed official "property" (191).
    —VD's fine argument on the mainstream "schizophrenic" attitude: either "Indian religions are a real tradition" whose culture that should be "valued," even learned from—ergo anthropologists' interest in the remains; or, "if Indian religions are not valuable," then they don't need the remains: return them, then! (And by the way, his argument runs, if the first choice is true, they should also be returned, since it admits that Native religious views, including the deep regard for the dead, are "valuable"!) (192)
    **—VD's Swiftian "modest proposal": let's take scientific inquiry to its logical extreme and start "digging up the family graveyards of the first families of Savannah," etc.; "Exhumation" for all "racial, ethnic, and economic" groups (194-195)! . . . then, regarding burial artifacts, a comparably hilarious call to dig up Euro-Americans' prayer books, medallions, wedding rings, etc. (199)—for science, of course . . . "[S]cientists and museum directors," especially, should "volunteer the graves and bodies of their relatives," for the "dedication to science should start at home" (201-202)!
    —U.S. officials' unfair demand that "Indians prove that their burial practices are central to their religious beliefs and practices" (196; see also 211)—why, again, the only group to be required to do so? . . . Indeed, it is secular & Christian America that has an "impersonal, callous" regard for the dead, and a repressive attitude towards all thoughts of death (197-198).
    —a point relevant to Black Elk Speaks: scholars' reliance upon "informants"; and yet "Every[?!] scholarly writing on tribal religions is woefully incomplete" (200).
    —finally, the obvious call to action: return of remains, "the cessation of exploitation of American Indian dead" (202)

*"Sacred Lands and Religious Freedom" (203-213) [1991]
    —possible answer to my problems with VD's calls for, acceptance of the viability of, both Christian and non-Christian Native religion: "Most Indians" don't see the conflict of being both Christian and believing in "ancient [Native] rituals" (203; similar to the "dual participation" theory about Black Elk's beliefs)
    —the Binary, continued: Native "knowledge," incl. religious knowledge, part of a "common heritage" available to all; the West, on the other hand, relies on specialists to "understand the esoteric truths of their society" (206).
    —Sacred land per se ("Every society needs these kinds of sacred places"); 4-part division (note VD's caveat that such divisions are really false [207], or else he would be guilty of adopting the Western half of his binary!)
        1. Places made sacred via human historical events (e.g., Gettysburg, Wounded Knee) (207)
        2. Places of intervention by the sacred (208-209)
        3. Places of sacred revelation by "Higher Powers" (209-210) [though it seems to me that #3 is really a sub-set of #2?] . . . another quibble: isn't VD's reference to "Higher Powers" (209) a Western hierarchical notion?
        4. NEW sacred places, via "new revelations" (211)
    —relevant to Black Elk Speaks: "In the religious world of most tribes, birds, animals, and plants compose the 'other peoples' [oyate] of creation and, depending on the ceremony, various of these peoples participate in human activities" (208).
If like Thoreau one imagines animals as neighbors; if like Muir or traditional Native Americans one imagines life-forms as plant people, sun youths, or grandmother spiders, then the killing of flies becomes as objectionable as the killing of humans.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Who is more likely to treat other people like machines, a person who has trained herself to feel that plants and animals are fellow beings or a person who looks at them as convenient resources?

—Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination (1995) / photo: TCG, 2008

    —(as of 1991,) "there is no real protection for the practice of traditional religions" (212) (but see my table of recent court decisions, below)
    **—environmentalist legislation: misguided & useless, too, "unless some of the insights into the sacredness of the land derived from traditional tribal religions become basic attitudes of the larger society" (213; not far, really, from Naess's distinction between "shallow" & "deep" ecology)

* Speaking of "Sacred Lands"—the legal controversies continue: "These southern Utah sites were once off-limits to development. Now, Trump will auction the right to drill and graze there." (6 Feb. 2020)

*"Secularism, Civil Religion, and the Religious Freedom of American Indians" (218-228) [1992]
    —VD's high regard for the Medieval period in Europe, with its "synthesis" of "faith and reason" (219); but then the ungodly rise/victory of secularism in the West (219, 221)
    —worse yet, in the U.S., Native religions have been "totally outside" the purview of the debate of religion vs. the state (220)
    —the "greening of America" versus Native rights?!: from 1970's on, federal environmental legislation ("shallow" ecology, anyway, at best) often at odds with Native religious/land concerns (223); such laws based upon a "wholly secular" perspective (224), which regards other species, etc., as "merely phenomena" of rationalist analysis (225)
    —decline of role/power of religion in U.S. society (223-224), until mainstream—especially fundamentalist—denominations have become mere props of the (increasingly conservative) State (224, 226) [note date of essay: in the immediate wake of Reagan and Bush] . . . until, now, religious rights must be defended on "secular grounds" (225)
    —Psychoanalysis!: "The psychological subconscious of American society . . . is a tempestuous sewer" (cf. Freud); Americans crave some religious meaning (cf. Jung, for whom such a drive is instinctive/archetypal): ergo, the turn in the late 1960's to drugs and alternative religions (226-227) [Recall when BES 1st achieved mainstream popularity!] . . . given the bankruptcy of Christianity (another common thread in Jung, BTW), Americans now have turned to Asian religions, Wicca, New Age metaphysics—and Native ceremonialism (227) . . . difference between New Age "ceremonialism" and Native practice?: individual vs. communal (following VD's binary) (227-228)
    —thesis/final appeal to general audience: reason for govt. restrictions on Native religions: the state's attitude against religion, not Natives!—thus Christians, too, should be threatened by, and should protest against, such federal incursions on Native religious practices (228)

—The immediate inspiration/reference was Indiana's controversial
pro-Christian-business "Religious Freedom" law (2015).

• (Another) EXTRA CREDIT Opportunity:—2-or-more-page summary/response: +10 pts. (possible)
—TH, Feb. 13th, 5:30-7:00 p.m.—Sheldon Museum of Art (Auditorium)—
** Humanities on the Edge lecture: Ariella Azoulay, "Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism"

• "Professor Azoulay (Brown U) will present from her remarkable new book, POTENTIAL HISTORY: UNLEARNING IMPERIALISM. Azoulay argues that the institutions that make our world, from archives and museums to ideas of sovereignty and human rights to history itself, are all dependent on imperial modes of thinking. Imperialism has segmented populations into differentially governed groups, continually emphasized the possibility of progress while it tries to destroy what came before, and voraciously seeks out the new by sealing the past away in dusty archival boxes and the glass vitrines of museums."

• Hard copy DUE TH, Feb. 20th, 12:30.

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 TU, Feb. 18th::

To the Top

 TH, Feb. 20th::

Major Works::::
    House Made of Dawn (1968)
    The Ancient Child (1989)
    [[Angle of Geese and Other Poems (1974)]] (incorporated in->)
    [The Gourd Dancer (1976)] (both incorporated in->)
    In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961-1991 (1992)
    In the Bear's House (1999)
    Nonfiction/Autobiographical Prose:
    The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969)  [mixed-genre]
    The Names: A Memoir (1976)
    The Man Made of Words (1997)
Lit-Bio Observations::::
    —NSM epitomizes the general shift in Native American Lit from the Great Plains (Black Elk, Standing Bear, Zitkala-Sha, etc.) to the Desert Southwest (Silko, Ortiz, etc.). (Momaday: Kiowa heritage->Navajo/Pueblo culture[s])
    —father: Kiowa; mother: Scottish, French, & Cherokee; NSM?: "He is a bear"!
    —(but in contrast:) "He is a"—Formalist/Modernist "disciple," too, of one of the last New Criticism hold-outs, Yvor Winters (cf. dedication of MMofW); ergo much of his poetry is tense, restrained, & ironic (recall his poem on Wounded Knee that we've already read); lots of epigrammatic iambic couplets & quatrains, too.

 * MOMADAY video (UCSD, 1997)

Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday finally gets the film he deserves

  RESPONSE #2—Due TU, 2/25, at the beginning of class—CHOOSE ONE ("2-4 pp." [2 pp. minimum; no max limit, especially for option b]):
a) FREE RESPONSE: your own topic choice: a focused response on some aspect or related aspects of For This Land.
b) As declared on the syllabus, a do-your-own-thing/anything-you-want "READER'S JOURNAL" that addresses a "goodly" range of our assigned readings to date (since BES: Deloria's book, and the poems afterwards!) is an alternate to the specific prompts below; but be as "comprehensive" (or at least wide-ranging) as possible, and avoid simple essay summaries or a simply rehashing of ideas brought up in class or on the course web notes. (Feel free to object to/expand upon these, of course.) [This last caveat applies to all response choices.]
c) How can the apparently contradictory reformist "calls to action" on Deloria's part on pp. 28-29 be reconciled, in his own "theological" sense?—i.e., his call for a "national Indian Christian Church" & "an Indian version of Christianity" versus(?) his concomitant personal wish "to see Indians return to their old religions wherever possible"?
d) Treat admits that Deloria's work, especially God Is Red, "is commonly misread as an exercise in essentialist identity politics," and then defends Deloria against the charge (119; see also 17). Present your own argument on whether Deloria is essentialist (i.e., believes in "universal [philosophic & religious] truths"—and/or innate & "eternal" characteristics of Native people)—or not.
e) Many of the essays in section IV ("Habits of the State") revolve around the theme of "civil religion," the U.S. government as a latter-day incarnation of Christianity. But Deloria also contends that, in recent years, the (mainstream) Christian religion has become a mere appendage, rubber-stamp, and prop for the secular State. Assuming that both are true (and no, you don't have to assume this), which cause-&-effect sequence seems more crucial to U.S. history: i) RELIGION -> STATE or ii) STATE -> RELIGION?
f) Discuss the pros and/or cons of Deloria's famous distinction between 1) a Western worldview based on history & progress & time & linearity and 2) a Native view based on geography & "space" & "place" & "land" & the "circle" (e.g., 38-39, 119, 126-127, 130-134, 149). (You may even want to re-consider Black Elk Speaks in the light of such a binary.) [And see my "table" of the binary?]
g) Referring to passages in Deloria's essay on sacred places (203-213)—and probably to other essays in FTL!?—describe your own (family heritage's?) "sacred place," explaining how it at least partially qualifies as such via Deloria's definitions.
h) Agree or disagree?: "does anyone really doubt that it was the Christian God . . . who appears in the Declaration of Independence?" (169). After presenting your opinion, then write a brief historical scenario for the U.S. in which the deity of "In God We Trust" and the nation's originary documents actually stood and stand for a native deity (the "Great Mystery," or—whatever. I usually don't like to try to name—"IT"!). And yes, I would probably expect a tongue-in-cheek reply to the second part of this prompt.
i) Write a tongue-in-cheek(?!) satire of Deloria's confrontational/in-your-face style, in which (one of) your own cultural/ethnic identity/ies tosses out incendiary barbs against the American "cultural" mainstream.
j) One of the highlights of the book (in my warped opinion) is Deloria's "modest proposal" regarding digging up OTHER people's graves for the noble cause of science (194-195, 199, 201-202). Write your own Swiftian satire by selecting another political issue in Deloria's book, mocking a dominant cultural view by turning it on its head in tongue-in-cheek fashion, exaggerating it to the point of absurdity.
k) Discuss the dilemmas of "Democracy" that Deloria broaches (Individualism & Freedom vs. [group] Diversity and Social Justice [for "all"]) vis-á-vis Deloria. Where would he stand on recent events in which these pairs of conflicting democratic ideals seem to clash? For instance, the individual-freedom-of-speech to (cruelly) satirize another religion in a cartoon vs. the "right" to understanding of diversity, of social justice, for the targeted group. (Re-imagine the situation as a cartoon in a big U.S. newspaper lampooning Indians?! Or: can one even imagine a Disney movie being made today as racist towards Indians as Peter Pan was [1953]?) For a 2nd example, how about the Westboro Baptist Church's right to protest at military funerals? A final example, perhaps outside Deloria's purview: how about the democratic election of the "wrong" party?!—Nazis, terrorists, Islamic theocrats? (We lovers-of-democracy in the U.S. can hardly stomach that? Hmmm. What's wrong with this here "democracy" thing?) . . . 2017 add: How about Deloria in the Reign of Trump? Hmmm. And just wow. Consider especially various utterances in Deloria that are rather prophetic of the current weird & scary "amalgam" of American exceptionalism & Christianity (e.g., the middle par. on p. 224; the middle par. of p. 226). . . .
l) [NEW ADD:] Given various pronouncements by Deloria on Christianity as an "imperialistic" religion, what do you suppose VD's attitude towards ISLAM was, especially in the wake of 9/11? (He died in 2005.) (Feel free to write your response as if you were VD.)
m) [NEW ADD:] VD's "NATURE": for someone who writes a lot of Native Americans' kinship with "nature," other species, and the land, VD's various descriptions of that nature usually seem quite genetic generic!, even barren. (For instance, compare VD's "nature" to say, Thoreau's, or Dillard's, or Momaday's.) How do you explain this apparently strange (to me, anyway) phenomenon? Does it hurt his arguments regarding interspecies relationships, "sacred land," etc.?
n) [NEW(er) ADD:] "I keep 'forgetting' to assign the 'AFTERWORD' first!"—when planning out this book on the syllabus. "Or do I?" Argue for or against the merits of having students read this essay FIRST.
o) [NEW(er) ADD:] Relate at least two of the poems in "Poetic Interlude #2" to major themes in For This Land, going beyond our class discussions.
p) [NEW(er) ADD:] How might it be claimed that VD's own use/representation of the "Indian" is nearly as problematic as John G. Neihardt's? (In other words, and more generally, how might Deloria be read as a one-author version of Black Elk-meets- Neihardt?!)
q) [NEW(est) ADD:] Assuming my hypothesis that, although none of our authors after Black Elk had a "Great Vision" per se, each could be said to have gone on his/her own metaphorical "vision quest" and come to his/her own "visionary" truth—what might that experience/truth have been for Deloria?

* Finally, to quote the syllabus as reminder: "graduate students—and undergraduates who want a high score—should also incorporate at least one non-assigned 'outside' [non-assigned] reading in their responses." . . . And a reminder to all: whatever option you choose, you should go "beyond" just "rehearsing" class discussions or rehashing/summarizing what Deloria says. Also, please indicate which OPTION you're doing; but also feel free to combine options, and modify them as you see fit.

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 Course Syllabus/Schedule

 TCG's Nat. Amer. Authors & Readings Links

 TCG's Native American Lit Courses: VIDEO Resources

 TCG's Native American MEMES

 TCG's Great "Indian" Moments in Pop Culture

 TCG's Native American Reading List


ENGL/ETHN 445N/845N Class NOTES/Assignments Page--Spring 2020

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