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Native American Literature (445N/845N)

 

Class NOTES/COMMENTARY

 
                                

 

Last Updated: 14 March 2019





        
--To the Most RECENT "Class Notes" Updates--
   IMMEDIATE ASSIGNMENTS:
• For TU, 3/26: Dwellings 29-76

• For TH, 3/28: Dwellings 77-108

• For TU, 4/2: Dwellings 109-159

• For TH, 4/4: (bring back Dwellings;) Poetic Interlude #5: Hogan_Poems.pdf


—meme by student (2019)


—got at LH's reading at Kearney, 2007

 


 

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

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

 

 

 TU, Jan. 8th::

"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. 10th::

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 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. 15th::
*Chapter 1: "The Offering of the Pipe" (1-4/1-5)—(and note Appendix 9 [291-296/---])
2011 Note: these are 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 WHITE BUFFALO CALF WOMAN Resource Page

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 (exploretheoldwest.com) 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."

*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."

 
BLACK ELK'S FOUR-DIRECTIONS COSMOLOGY
 -*-NORTH-*-
white
cleansing wind
sacred herb
white giant('s white wing)
white geese
 
-*-WEST-*-
black
wooden cup of water
bows & arrows
thunder (beings,
& Thunderbird)
"split-tail" swallows
|
|
Red

— Black -|- Road —

Road
|
|

-*-EAST-*-
red1
"daybreak star"
(and sun, of course)
sacred (red pipestone) pipe
spotted eagle
bison
"day-star-herb
of understanding"
 -*-SOUTH-*-
yellow
sacred/red/flowering stick
(=>flowering/holy tree)
sacred hoop
elk
 
    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 of 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 had 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 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
    CRAZY HORSE:
        —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 (& 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 
Blackfeet2 
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

 TH, Jan. 17th:: [Substitute: Lydia Presley]
*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.


To the Top

 TU, Jan. 22nd:: [No classes/"snow day"]


To the Top

 TH, Jan. 24th::
*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.

*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")?
                        

JGN in BES

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

—TCG, 9/4/11


—photo "borrowed" from Google Images

  RESPONSE #1—Due TUES., 1/29—CHOOSE ONE ("2-4 pp." [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, Jan. 29th::
*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.

 
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)

*[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).


To the Top

 TH, Jan. 31st::
*"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).

*"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).

*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)?!


To the Top

 TU, Feb. 5th::
*"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.

DELORIA'S CULTURAL BINARIES
Western Civ./Euro-American/Christian WorldviewNative American Worldview
analysis, divisionholism, synthesis
LINE [& SQUARE]CIRCLE
"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
individualcommunity
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")
mechanisticorganic
metaphysical/"mind"physical/"body"
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)

*[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.


To the Top

 TH, Feb. 7th::
*—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.)

*"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 . . .
    —ARE INDIANS HUMAN?!—
        —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)

*"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).


To the Top

 TU, Feb. 12th::
*[Treat:] *Treat: "Old Ways in a New World" (229-231)
    —Note Treat's reference to Black Elk Speaks and "[d]econstructionist critics" (mea culpa!) and VD's defense of BES against them (229).

*"The Coming of the People" (235-242) [1979]
    —[linearity, mechanism, progression and] speculation vs. "EXPERIENCE" (235)
    —PLACE (235-):
        —tribal origins/migrations incl. search for/finding of the "right place" (235-237)
        —when the tribe's faith falters/decays, the earth reminds them via a synchronistic disruption (volcanic activity, etc.) (239-240)!? . . . my own "superstitious" side wonders at all the strange geological and meteorological events of the last few years myself! . . .
        —uncanny resemblance of the ancient land and of "ancient" (elderly) Native faces! (241; see also 270)
        —Euro-Americans, in contrast, "restless" and placeless, detached from the "earth" itself (241)
    —SPECIES RELATIONSHIPS
        —Note how the Native relationship with other species includes beliefs similar to ecological notions of biodiversity: each species has a different "skill" to learn from, each species of bird builds a different type of nest, etc. (237)
        —Lakota parable of the origins of the "cycle of life" (between the four-leggeds and the "two-leggeds—human beings and birds" [238]—ergo the special relationship between birds and the wic[h]as[h]a wakan) . . . And that dang clever magpie!: recent ethological studies have found that corvids (crows, jays, magpies) are among the "smartest" of avians.
    —VD's rehearsal of Black Elk regarding the "circle" (240-241, 242)
    —VD's (uncharacteristic?) praise for dead white (Swiss/American/British) males: C.G. Jung, Franz Boas, D.H. Lawrence, John Collier (241-242)

*"Out of Chaos" (243-249) [1985]
    —Note the publishing context: written for Parabola, a rather New Age/Jungian journal on myth & folklore—ergo the early reference to Joseph Campbell, he of the "hero's journey" (243)
    —Native "exile":
        —actual physical/geographic exiles—the Trail of Tears, etc. (243-244)
        —but even tribes still on their longtime homelands in "exile" via government restrictions on land use, etc. (245) . . . nomadic hunting tribes, especially (246)
        **—most devastating RESTRICTIONS: 1) prohibition of traditional religious practices (246); 2) introduction of the Western "sense of time," creating a profound "alienation" (246-247) . . . also damaging: the whole notion of "individualism" (247)
    —strange use of British rationalist philosophy (Hobbes, Locke) in describing the Native relation between "men and other animals" as a "social contract" (245)!?
    —result of exile a 20th-century cultural paralysis (248)?! (What happened to Native religions' great adaptability?)
    —but NO!: rather, it may be Natives' future "new interpretation of their religious tradition" that, like the "Hebrew prophets," might well have "universal application," for the species' and planet's ultimate salvation (248), perhaps humankind's "last hope for resurrection" (249)
        —but a major problem & distraction (besides the meddling of Indian-wanna-be's): the Baudrillardian nightmare that is current mainstream culture, a "plush fantasy desert," "a wholly artificial world" (249)


—2013; my photo (Great Plains Art Museum)

*"Reflection and Revelation: Knowing Land, Places and Ourselves" (250-260) [1991]
    —rise of mainstream ecological consciousness & conscience in the wake of potential environmental catastrophe, and so a turn to "Native wisdom"; BUT: "we cannot offer much help" (250)
    —REFLECTION vs. REVELATION  (Regarding both: "The sacredness of land is first and foremost an emotional experience" [251].)
        —"Reflection"—a sensitive and "aesthetic" awareness of land, place (251—a good description of much Deep Ecology, BTW; for "aesthetic" awareness, see also 254) . . . by far the most common of the two (251) . . . "a feeling of being within something [the environment] larger and more powerful than ourselves" (251—cf. "Spiritual Ecology")
        —"Revelation"—more numinous (Moses' burning bush), communal (251-252); above all, the result of "the experience of prolonged occupation of land" (252; see also 260) . . . very "rare"—and indeed, prototypically mystical, as VD describes it: "the old categories of space and time vanish" (254); actually dreaded and avoided by the "truly great medicine men," unless the culture is in need (254-255; cf. Black Elk's own fears in this regard) . . . the feeling of "an abiding spirit of place" that is "difficult to describe" in words (255; cf. Black Elk again, whose Great Vision was primarily non-verbal in the first place) . . . similar to mystical experiences from other traditions, incl. the "transformation" of "time and place, and the appearance of a reality undergirding or transcending physical reality" . . . the result?: often "a new ceremony" (cf. Black Elk)—and such revelations "still possible" (256)
        —ergo most non-Indians can only experience the "reflective" response, since short on "historical perspective" (252); however, VD notes a strong sense of place in white American Lit.—e.g., The Grapes of Wrath (though I'm sure all of us could think of better examples) and some "Great Plains" literature (253 [see also 209]) . . . Cather obviously comes to mind here, though she seems the see the frontier more as an empty void to be built upon than anything else; Wordsworth & the Lake District seems a much better example, trust me!
    —Western "tendency to reduce the holy to a subjective category of experience" (à la Jung), versus a positive "objectification of the holy" (256-257; although realization might be a better word here)
    —but (following the thread from the essay just previous), it's now tougher for both Natives & non-Natives to experience revelation now, because of the "artificial universe" of "[c]ivilized life" . . . and the Western worldview a culprit, too, which reduces the "rest of life" to an "object" (257)
    **—"other forms of life" commonly crucial to a place's status as "sacred," especially "certain kinds of birds and animals" (again, cf. Black Elk); this includes the "special human ability . . . to communicate with other forms of life" (258); stronger yet: "there must be times when non-human forms of life perform ceremonies without the presence of human beings" (259)!
    **—another critique of environmental protection policies as "shallow ecology": "a mere balancing" of "human uses" therof that "does not credit the land and non-human forms of life with an existence in and of themselves" (259—their "intrinsic worth," in the language of Deep Ecology) . . . but still worthy of applause is the mainstream interest "in the areas of conservation and ecological restoration," giving cause for hope (260).

*"Is Religion Possible? An Evaluation of Present Efforts to Revive Traditional Tribal Religions" (261-268) [1992]
    **—appropriation of Native American ceremonialism: Richard Erdoes, Ed Gaa, and other "lesser luminaries in the New Age/Indian medicine man circuit"!; incl. Deep Ecologists, to the point that "one would wonder whether the tribes did not in fact win the Indian wars"; at last, Native "religious affairs are a complete disaster area" (261) . . . (and cf. conclusion: the fear that Native tenets & practices might "become another workshop topic in the California New Age circuit" [268]!)
    —new proselytizing "contrary" to "tribal tradition" (262)
    —TWO main appropriations: 1) "a body of teaching" so general as to have "little impact" on actual behavior (so no big deal); 2) specific ceremonies (Sun Dance, etc.—we can thank those "ever-present Sioux" for that! [but hasn't VD himself set up Black Elk Speaks as some pan-Indian Bible?]) . . . appropriation of #2 more serious (263): the current "strange melding[s]," via popularization and mixture with Christianity, are a travesty, and indeed, it seems like a period "between worlds" when ceremonies have "become useless" (264; cf. Alexie's "Crow Testament"—and below [267])
    —all this wouldn't be so bad if the Western privileging of individualism, zealotry, and public display weren't such a thorough betrayal of the ceremonies' nature (265; vs. traditional tribal privacy: 265-266)
    —WORST of all, such cultural appropriation can be seen as one final act of Western colonization of "a conquered people" who have been left with nothing of their own (265)
    —on a POSITIVE note: Natives' very "revival" of ceremonies, their protest of appropriation (266-267)
    **—BUT: "ancient prophecies" of "planetary destruction" may be coming to fruition, and maybe all this Native stuff is a good thing, then: for such Native "ancient truths" among the general populace would be remedial—that is, it'll be good that the survivors "might be inclined to believe that Mother Earth is indeed more powerful than human science and technology." . . . in sum, "fragments" of the "Native" worldview might "serve as focal points around which people can someday rally and renew themselves" (267; see also 268)
    —(the usual) problem, however: "the state is supreme" (267), the policy of which reflects "the belief . . . that we do not have to pay attention to the rest of creation" (268)

 • Regarding the "New Age/Indian medicine man circuit" (261): White Shamans & Plastic Medicine Men (YouTube)

*"Introduction to Vision Quest" (269-272) [1994]
    —[intro to recent collection of contemporary Lakota/Dakota/Nakota photographs]
    —this people's "great strength": an expansive view of "larger historical experiences" (269)
    —But PAST (19th-c.) photos reveal a "wonderful calmness" and transcendent "distant look"—while NOW—contemporary photos reveal the "trauma and pain" of the struggle between "two conflicting ways of living" . . . reference to Black Elk's vision of the four generations as prophetic of this troubled present (270)
    —Good news: a convergence of "paths," as some non-Indians are joining the cause towards a greater understanding of "the perils of treating the earth as a disposable object" (270-271)
    —But as for the future of the "Sioux" themselves?—intermarriage way well obliterate the "genetic heritage" . . . but at last, it is the "tribal traditions" that define the tribe, and the best one can do is to serve as "culture-carrier" (271).
    —Such a sad tone to the last few paragraphs!: an elegy to his own early tribal activism, it would appear, with his denial of any "possibility of Indian nations achieving a real sense of nationhood again" (271). . . . (but this a planet-wide problem, after all, in the wake of global capitalism & consumerism [272]) . . . and a hopeful finale: as long as they "live on the land . . . there will always be a Sioux people" (272)

****"Afterword: Contemporary Confusion and the Prospective Religious Life" (273-282) [1998]
    —An autobiographical apologia of sorts (a "defense" of his life & thought)
    —SoDak childhood: "uncritical" acceptance of both Christianity and "old Dakota religion" (273) . . . cf. religious precedent of great-grandfather (& his traditional Native vision); then grandfather (Episcopalian convert); then father: a "dual participant" in both, though he "reverted" to Native traditionalism under greatest stress, even consulting "Black Elk on several occasions" (273-274)!
    —then college, and a social-science approach to explaining religion (274) [though: "the more I learned about world religions, the more respect I had for the old Dakota ways" (275; see also 280)] . . . until a reaction against science itself as a myth, "the folklore of materialist industrialism" (275)
    **—but religion still problematic: now both a "half-hearted" renunciation of Christianity and the acknowledgment that "much" Native "ceremonial practice was simply foreign" to him (276) . . . ergo another acknowledgment: "I am not bothered when people say that I have no standing among some traditional groups because, indeed, I do not" (276)!
    —books: Custer Died for Your Sins; God Is Red (276-277) . . . and the (new or greater) realization that "religious writing about Indian traditions had to emphasize land and sacred places" (277) . . . critique of mainstream ideology continues, with the perception that Western/U.S. law and theology are actually two sides of the same discursive coin (277-278) . . . critique of New Age appropriation and Native poseurs/fakers (278)
    **—Black Elk Speaks: ooh—reference to the "subtle" Catholic "posture" that the book "is actually good Jesuit teaching," with "very little" of "the old Sioux ways" (278)!
    **—recent work/ideas (1990's): main argument, "that tribal ways of looking at the world were[?!] part of a viable tradition that made sense," as a "non-materialistic non-mechanical understanding of the world" (279); including two new "additional categories" for explaining the oral traditions: 1) as veritable "historical" memories (cf. land-bridge controversy) and as 2) manifestations of "unusual religious experiences in which" Western "time-space concepts were possibly violated" (279)
    ****—summary of own evolution away from (mainstream?!) Protestantism: a rather touching elegy of sorts for his old friends, the Protestant clergy?—whose "paradigm" has almost no "relevancy for our time" (as if their own "sacred hoop" has been broken!?); ergo VD feels "an almost infinite sadness for them" (281) . . . Protestantism's main trouble vis-à-vis Natives: its emphasis on the individual and "inner truth" (281-282)  [A lit-crit aside: M. H. Abrams has read Western Romanticism itself as an extension of Protestantism, via this very characteristic (in Natural Supernaturalism); and thus the Romantic artiste is the prototypical individual creative genius, in head-on opposition to—and detached from—the "community."]
    —a final dig at the appropriational synthesizers: "Bishops in Sioux headdresses are not Indian or Christian or religious—they are just silly" (281)!!
    ****—FINAL 2 paragraphs: "Most" of his work, again, has aimed "toward the revival of traditional forms, be they Indian or Christian" (282) . . . he ends, like Voltaire's Candide, with a gardening metaphor, in which he is trying to plant "new seeds" for new and "good plants," and offering "new ways of planting and harvesting" (282).
    NOW HE TELLS US: finally, his defense of those interminable blanket-statement over-generalizations: "The most common complaint" among readers has been that call that he "qualify" such assertions by "saying 'some' people do this and 'some' people do that"; then his fairly brilliant defense, that this allows any such people the easy denial of responsibility by simply saying "I am not part of that 'some'" (282)!


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


To the Top

 TH, Feb. 14th::
Poetic Interlude #2
* Sherman Alexie: "Crow Testament" (One Stick Song, 2000)
    —Section 1: in the Koran (as a student has informed me), the crow helps Cain dig, in the furtive burial of Abel; and I think Alexie's point is that the crow has been thus "used" thruout Western Civ. as some "evil Other" bent on death and mayhem; the NatAmer view of crows, vultures, etc., is much more positive, in general: they are the eco-cleansers, who keep the biosphere in order, via their "disorderly" ways (a truly Trickster characteristic, by the way)
    —Section 3: hilarious satire on "Holy Books," on God-made-in-one's-own-image: "Damn, says Crow, this makes it / so much easier to worship myself."
    —Section 6: more hilarity, as Crow plays his role of eco-cleanser by collecting beer bottles on the Res—with the marvelous final religious pun: "redemption / is not easy."
    —Section 7: the most "serious" section, as the Trickster deity shows up among his people (at the "powwow") . . . by all rights, they should "panic," in religious awe; instead he is ignored: "Damn, says Crow, I guess / they already live near the end of the world." Sad. And funny. But sad. (cf. Deloria 264)
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.
* Adrian C. Louis: "Jehovah Calls in Sick Again" (Bone & Juice, 2001)
    —the God of the Old Testament lords it over the "shackled and starving" God of the New World. . . .
* Adrian C. Louis: "Red Blues in a White Town the Day We Bomb Iraqi Women and Children" (Among the Dog Eaters, 1992)
    —Epigraph/quot. of Iraqi widow: the tables turned, the Orientalization of the Native American by "Orientals"! . . . middle section of poem: the bullying of the Native boy by three white boys—note the "muddying" of the history book!—until he fights back, to the admiration of the narrator . . . then the political shift in the final strophe, a protest against U.S. policies during the first Iraqi war; by "Long distance killers with college degrees," and the clear parallel between such a war and government policies towards the Native American: they are a "sand tribe," after all; and the strange conclusion—what/which "God" is this, when "a sand tribe's blood splashed up / to white clouds / to blue sky / to God's face" (invoking again the red-white-and-blue mock-patriotism of the poem's title)
* Tiffany Midge: "Mount Rushmore and the Arm of Crazy Horse (Outlaws, Renegades and Saints: Diary of a Mixed-Up Halfbreed, 1996)
    —Juxtaposed to the "stone-white faces" of Mount Rushmore—and the "colonial freedom fighter" and the narrator's "amway-loving friends"—is the "simpler truth" (and irony) of the still-in-progess Crazy Horse Monument (also in the Black Hills): and that final stunning image of "just an arm . . . pointed toward / battle. Just an unfinished tribute to an unfinished war." (No further commentary necessary?!)

* N. SCOTT MOMADAY—1934-
Major Works::::
Novels:
    House Made of Dawn (1968)
    The Ancient Child (1989)
Poetry:
    [[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)

*Preface (1-3)
    —note the leap to the Formalist notion of the "organic whole" right away: this apparently random set of essays forms a "unified design" (1)
    **—LANGUAGE: "that miracle of symbols and sounds" (1); "We exist in the element of language" (2; see also 87; 103; 111—pretty much the same thing that such postmodern theorists as Lacan or Foucault have said—though without the far darker conclusions regarding discourse as a "prison"). . . BUT homocentric hubris?: thought (via language) "distinguishes us humans from all other creatures" (2)?!
        —Language includes "thought" and "imagination", another key term in Momaday; this latter "enables us to realize a reality beyond the ordinary" (2; see also 10, 85)
        —the STORY (2-3), which is always "true" because it expresses a reality "lived and believed" (3); the STORYTELLER (3), who (via the imagination) "creates himself" and also "creates his listener" (3; some thought required to understand what he means by this!)

*Introduction to Part I: "The Man Made of Words" (7-8)
    —English = NSM's 1st language, never really learned Kiowa well; but the "sound" of the Kiowa language "is like a warm wind that arises from my childhood" (7; see also 1-2, 16).
    —What can he mean by saying, "much of the power and magic and beauty of words consist not in meaning but in sound" (7; see also 16)?! (T. S. Eliot has said something very similar about his early listening to French; and NSM's statement also mirrors one of Joy Harjo's main aesthetic "tenets.")

*"The Arrowmaker" (9-12)
    [—1st publ. 1971, as last part of a longer essay, "The Man Made of Words" (which = "An American Land Ethic" [42-] + [intervening "academic-lecture" stuff on the oral tradition] + "The Arrowmaker")]
    —the story of this "'man made of words'" fascinating because it is a "story about story" (9; see also 10, 11)  [—in other words: meta-fiction, as in postmodern stories like Barthelme's "The Balloon," in which the "balloon" is actually the story, or fiction-writing, itself]
    —the story itself (9-10)—as NSM reads it—similar to the Biblical one regarding the pronunciation of "shibboleth/sibboleth": about one's membership, at last, in the discourse community
    *—the story as example of the ORAL TRADITION (10)
        —extremely "tenuous" nature of ~, dependent as it is on oral transmission (10, 12)  [One thinks of the survival of the Iliad and Odyssey, which would not have survived if the probably many bards whom we now group under the name of "Homer" had all somehow perished in the same shipwreck!]
        —Oral trad. = the "origin" of "literature," that point when "language becomes most conscious of itself" (10)
    **—LANGUAGE as ALL (again, see the contemp. French theory notion, developed from Nietzsche, that we are inextricably stuck in discourse as our sole "reality"): the arrowmaker's "reality is stuck in discourse" . . . "there is no other" world (12) . . . "Language determines the arrowmaker" (12)
    ****—IS Momaday's reading of the "ominous unknown" outside the tipi as the "enemy" (11) the only possibility? Could it be that this "unknown" and uncanny cannot, or was not meant to, speak!? And/or represents some abject "minority" outside of the Kiowa discourse community?!
    —story also emblematic of the "risk and responsibility" inherent in writing and art (11; see also 169)
    —HUMANKIND as preeminent language-maker, with "consummate being in language" (11; see also 82) [homocentrism again!]

  RESPONSE #2—Due TU, 2/19, 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 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.]
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), 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. . . .
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?
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.


To the Top

 TU, Feb. 19th::
*"The Native Voice in American Literature" (13-20)
    —the first "prehistoric" man chipping into stone with conscious aesthetic(?!) intent: "All literatures issue from his hand" (13; see also 129-130) . . . and such ancient art part of many of America's "sacred places" (13; cf. Deloria) . . . such works, indeed, "are the very essence of language, the language of story and myth and primal song": "the origin," at last, "of American literature" (14)
    —and so: "the native voice in American literature is indispensable," and "no true literary history of the United States" should ignore it . . . and the oral tradition itself?: "the foundation of literature" (14)
    —as an aside, note that Momaday, in contrast to Deloria, seems to assume the Asian origin of Native Americans (14; see also 85)
    —written vs. "oral lit." debate infused with Western cultural bias in favor of the former, of course; but the modern privileging of writing actually fosters an insensitivity to words themselves (15; see also 55)
    —the efficacy of language—"powerful," "magical"; can in fact cause "physical change in the universe," and partake in the supernatural (15-16; see also 18; 104)
    —the oral tradition based in part on the magical eruption of sheer sound out of silence; non-semantic "expression, rather than communication, is often first in importance" (16)
    —aesthetics/"beauty": NSM's explanation of the emphasis on "beauty" in the "religious" ceremonialism of the Navajo. Pueblo, et al.—ah, it's an apt recognition of the "beauty in the physical world" (17; see also 33). However, it is perhaps symptomatic of NSM's modernist aestheticism that he reads the Navajo refrain "It is done in beauty" by assuming that "beauty" is largely aesthetic in meaning. The Diné (Navajo) word hozho means, above all, balance—in the sense of cosmic and eco- and psychological health; aesthetically pleasing might be the fourth or fifth most important meaning of the word. (Thus NSM's later phrase, "well-ordered being," is ultimately a better translation than "beauty" []17].)
    —words can "transcend their merely symbolic value" and "become one" with reality; then "they [words] are at once the names of things and the things named" (18)!? . . . This is perhaps the great language controversy of the book—and the 20th century, for that matter: do/can the "names of things" and the "things named" have such an identity & correspondence? One might best frame the debate via the old Medieval Scholastics' controversy between the "realists" and the "nominalists." The former believed that words, even abstract terms, had a one-to-one correspondence to the "real" world, and this "naïve realism" is no doubt the common-sense (and even Modernist) stance that has persisted to this day. The "nominalists" claimed instead that words are indeed mere names, an argument roughly analogous to the 20th-century European linguistic theories (Saussure, Derrida) that led to postmodernism/poststructuralism—the counter-intuitive (but obviously true upon reflection) notion that words (signifiers) have only an arbitrary relationship to "things" (the signified).
REGARDING TWO NATIVE "POEMS" (Momaday 18-19)
    ** Momaday's use of the famous Chippewa (Ojibwe/Anishinaabe) song, "A loon I thought it was," is problematized by the literary history of this "poem," which began with Frances Densmore's literal transcription in her Chippewa Music (1914):
    Verse 1:A loon / I thought it was / But it was / My love's / Splashing oar.
    Verse 2:To Sault Ste. Marie / He has departed / My love / Has gone on before me / Never again / Can I see him.
    Verse 3:A loon / I thought it was / But it was / My love's / Splashing oar.
    —For starters, this is a song lyric, and few print versions that I have seen actually reproduce the third repeated verse, thus erasing the intended circularity of the aesthetic form. (Momaday rightfully retains the repetition, but his lack of line breaks occlude the A-B-A verse pattern.) Worse yet, many early anthologies omitted even the 2nd verse, ending the "poem" with "oar" (—for greater dramatic effect & concision?). And no doubt "concision" is the key word here, for this poem was revived and oft-"translated" (that is, re-written) and anthologized in the early 20th century as an example of how Native "poetry" was much like the contemporary Anglo-American poetry of the time: that is, Imagism, which was itself symptomatic of the general high regard for specific concrete images that yet imparted a certain mystery and suggestiveness (cf. the haiku). And this was one the keys of Modernist poetry, suggestion rather than direct Romantic emotionalism, culminating in the anti-Romantic New Criticism of Momaday's mentor, Yvor Winters. Now, how much this literary history influenced Momaday's appreciation I leave to you to decide. (One must at least admit that what Momaday especially admires about both this Anishinaabe lyric and the Lakota lyric [see next] are their suggestiveness and concision.)
    —But my biggest gripe is that this is a song LYRIC, here divested of its musical context. I ask you to take your current favorite song, print the words out on a page, give it to a group of "literary" people who have never heard the original words-set-to-music: I suspect that the majority of your audience would deem the "poem" insipid and/or silly and/or didactic and/or . . . . And finally, rhythm/metre becomes completely beside the point since the true rhythm is based—again—upon the musical beat.
    **—And this last is my main complaint, too, against NSM's quotation of the "Sioux" lyric—also from Densmore originally (Teton Sioux Music [1918]). Here a good three-quarters of the song is an "instrumental"—that is, a long series of "nonsense" (or phatic) syllables (e.g., "he-ye") in which the singer's voice is purely non-lingual, or outside of words. (Cf. Momaday himself: "much of the power and magic and beauty of words consist not in meaning but in sound" [7].) Then the brief seven-word lyric rounds out the piece. At last, I would claim that NSM's quot. of this part of this integral work of art is much like—well—the following example. Imagine a Jimi Hendrix song in which the first three choruses consist of this incredible blues-rock-acid-rock extended lead-guitar solo; then Jimi sings some perfunctory final verse with the usual "baby" and "gone" and "wind" signifiers. Now imagine a critic-scholar quoting those words in print as an example of the Hendrix genius. (I'm done. And apologize for this long harangue—but as a lifelong writer of both poems and songs, I've forever excruciated over the vast difference between the two. . . . I think it all started when this high school student-teacher brought in Paul Simon's words to "The Sound[s?] of Silence" on a handout—and asked us to find the metaphors! . . .)  (Get a blog, Tom.)
But the original Lakota is beautiful (especially the sheer sound of the last line):
akicitaah-KEE-chee-tuhsoldier(s)
nayapapinah-YAH-pah-peenapa: to run away (from a fight); ya + pi: you + plural
kin wanbli kayesh t'e yelokee(n) wu(n)BLEE kah-YESH-T'AY yeh-lohthe eagle him/her/itself dies [yelo = end of declarative sentence]
(Note, finally, the possibility that the literal translation, "itself" rather than "even," allows for an alternative reading of the lyric: instead of "Why do you coward warriors run from the battle? Even the (noble) eagle dies," how about—"When you coward warriors run from battle, the eagle himself—that being closest to the gods—[metaphorically] dies"?)
—But note (again) Momaday's very modern-"aesthetic" appreciation of the lyric (19-20), as if it were an Imagist poem; and so his final question—"What was lost or gained in the process of translation and transcription?"—becomes more crucial than Momaday himself may realize (20).

*"To Save a Great Vision" (21-29)
    —on Black Elk Speaks—pretty interesting that Momaday quotes many of the same passages we highlighted in class?!
    —like Deloria, Momaday is all too happy to conflate Neihardt & Black Elk: "we need [not] concern ourselves with the question of authorship or the quality of translation or transcription[?!]" (22); NSM more "interested in the universal elements" thereof (23)
    BES as a fine example of the language of oral tradition—as "risk," as "creative" (imagination), as efficacious, as "sacred" (23)
    —"parallel" oral-trad. story from Kiowa tradition: note that Tai-Me (as you who have read The Way to Rainy Mountain know) is the sun-doll/god sacred to the Kiowa (24)
    —a formalist reading of BES!: as a fine work of art, it has foreshadowing ("prefigure," "anticipate") (25)
    —(referring to the famous Black Elk passage on the "circle":) "language, too, is circular" (26); NSM notes the same circular return-to-the-beginning pattern of BES that was discussed in class (26) . . . [Later ADD:] Post-DeMallie, of course, NSM's assumptions here are just plain wrong, since JGN wrote the opening (1st 6 par.) and closing (last 2 par.) frames himself.
    —final praise of Neihardt, he of a "poet's sensibility": "we cannot doubt[?!] . . . that he discerned quite readily the rhythms, the inflections and alliterations of the holy man's speech" . . . ugh—NSM's perception of the alliterative s's—always dangerous in a formalist/critical reading, because the s phoneme is so common in English (28) . . . AH: in BES, the poet of the written tradition transcends himself, in this "realization" of the oral trad. (29)(?!)

*"A First American Views His Land" (30-41)
    —[the "poems" sprinkled thruout (30, 33, 38-39, 40-41) are, in order, the four sections of Momaday's "New World," from The Gourd Dancer]
    —10,000 B.C.: long description of the Paleo-Indian hunter (30-32)
    —c. 1500 A.D.: "latter-day" Indian now conscious of the people's relationship to (the "sacred") land & animals—"this man is a conservationist" (32) . . . given current environmental circumstances, this consciousness is now both "a blessing and an irony" (34)
    —ancient spear tip = "beauty" and functionality combined; later arts, crafts, ceremonies similar in combining form & function (33-34), rendering the divisions of "art," "work" (e.g., hunting), and "religion" moot, all aspects of a holistic, coherent lifestyle (cf. Deloria's critique of Western compartmentalization)
    —the "peculiarly native" (34) view of the world is holistic and integrative, as in the perception of the "sound that integrates the whole of the atmosphere" (35) (—and the "whole" of the Modernist poem?!)
    —long anecdote regarding Jemez Pueblo (36-38)
    —(one of the many appearances in Momaday of) the "old Kiowa woman" Ko-sahn, whose voice at last seemed to issue "from the land itself" (38; see also 36, the "woman in the dress")
    —Native view of the land "spiritual" and "ethical" (39; see also 35; 47-48), no doubt . . . note how Momaday considers this entire view to be enabled by the "imagination"; then the intriguing statement: "We are what we imagine ourselves to be" (39; see also 81)!?—Is this merely an empty truism (ready for co-optation by the military & the draft!?), or a statement that boldly subverts some Western assumptions?
    —versus Western ideology of land ownership; ergo we need something, some remedy; and so, à la Deloria: "It is this ancient ethic of the Native American that must shape our efforts to preserve the earth . . ." (40).

*"An American Land Ethic" (42-49)
    —[1st publ. 1971, as first part (and the bulk) of a longer essay, "The Man Made of Words"]
    —[NSM must have been aware that the phrase "land ethic" was coined by Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac (1949).]
    I: NSM finishing TheWtoRM . . . thoughts on the Leonid meteor shower of 1833 (42)—and of Ko-sahn (43ff; see also 21, 38), who becomes an archetypal earth-mother figure who has ("imaginatively") seen those meteors and—indeed—incorporates all Kiowa experience in her (and the tribe's, and Momaday's) "racial memory" (42, 48)
    —NSM's own GREAT VISION?!: the amazing "imagined" dialogue with the old woman, who has leapt from the page, as it were (44-45)—who teaches him that the phrase "it's only your imagination" is a poor attitude, indeed, regarding perhaps the "best of all kinds" of being; now NSM truly realizes the "magic of words and of names"; when she is gone, finally, his attitude is far different: "then I imagined I was alone in the room" (45)!!
    —question: what does this whole section have to do with a "land ethic"?
    II: note—the opening "epigraph" (45) is Momaday's own, and is not indented in the original 1971 essay; but I guess if we could write such sentences as "Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth," we'd be quotin' ourselves, too? . . . description of the Wichita Mountains, as a "sacred place" (46) . . . the poem finale, to his grandmother Aho (46-47), is titled "Rainy Mountain Cemetery" (from Angle of Geese)
    **III**: the land ethic per se: "None of us lives apart from the land entirely," and we consider our relationship to it in "moral terms"—especially today; and NSM's call for an "American land ethic" is above all a call to the "imagination" (47—what does he mean by this?). . . . "Our whole experience as a nation in this century has been a repudiation of the pastoral ideal"; technology, moreover, has "uproot[ed] us from the soil," causing a "psychic dislocation" (47—a theme that will be more fully developed in Linda Hogan) . . . as a clarification of ecology as an imaginative act: "Like the wilderness itself, our sphere of instinct has diminished in proportion as we have failed to imagine truly what it [the land] is" (48).
    IV: the answer to my question about section I: "Ko-sahn and her people" exemplify this land ethic (49; see also 38; compare NSM's diction/discourse ["deep, ethical regard for the land" (49)] w/ the Public Service Announcement below::::)

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


—pun based on a former Native American lit class discussion

*"On Indian-White Relations: A Point of View" (50-56)
    —a central Indian-White "dichotomy": the two "perceive the whole in different ways" (50) (cf. Deloria, bien sûr!)
    —as opposed to white author La Farge's writing about Natives, NSM can write of "'the thing experienced' [i.e., viewing the Indian from within] as well as of 'the thing observed [viewing from outside]'" (51)
    —part of the Native "way": the perception that "All things are alive in this profound unity in which are all elements, all animals, all things" (51-52)
    —memory of Koi-khan-hodle's prayer to the sun = example of the "efficacy" of language NSM has written about, as the old man "'pray[s] the sun out of the ground,'" "his words" making "one of the sun and earth" (52; see also 165)
    —the Native perception of the world as a "whole" through "belief" is neither "philosophy" or "religion" (which are false Western compartmentalizations—cf. Deloria again); it is "not an idea, but a perception on the far side of ideas" (52; cf. Deloria's distinction between "ideas" and "visions," between the abstract and the experiential)
    —greatest difference: LANGUAGE
        —including TIME: the great many tenses in English reflect a linear time of separated moments (52; versus, say, Lakota, which, like many "primitive" languages, is relatively tenseless) . . . indeed, "Indian time" is really more an "extended present," and "time itself is an illusion" (53)! . . . some Native lyrics, in fact, partake of a "stillness like that of the stars" (53)!! . . . Anglo "history" vs. Native records (e.g., the Lakota winter count, the pictographic representation of the year's single crucial event) (53-54)
        —language differences largely explain "the fact that the Indian has been effectively silenced" in matters of "Indian-white diplomacy" (54-55)
        —(as NSM has argued before,) "the written tradition tends to encourage an indifference to language," vs. the oral trad.'s necessary "respect for words" (55) . . . concluding contrast of the two, the first an incredibly verbose & vacuous example of the white-bureaucrat "language of diplomacy," the second, the "plain style" of Native oratory (55-56)


—my 1st attempt at a schmaltzy college-dorm-room-poster meme
(my photo: Branched Oak Lake, 2012)

*Afterword to "The Morality of Indian Hating" (76)
    —This was assigned, 1st, as an explanation of why the rest of the essay wasn't (one of NSM's youthful, "no longer timely" efforts, c. 1963). 2nd, as a reminder of the wide range of dates of these essays, most of which are much more difficult to deduce than this one. (Question: why is NSM usually more casual and/or even obfuscating regarding their various dates of composition?!) 3rd, the self-described thesis of this essay smacks again of Deloria, NSM's conviction that "sacrilege, the theft of the sacred" (including the beliefs themselves, creating Deloria's "spiritual vacuum") is the worst aspect of colonialism (see also 91).


To the Top

 TH, Feb. 21st::
*"A Divine Blindness: The Place of Words in a State of Grace" (80-88)
    —Borge's blindness as a segue from books to the oral tradition (80-81)
    —Oral trad. "more nearly universal than writing"—and is, moreover, "the seat of the imagination," which is a "divine blindness[!] in which we see not with our eyes but with our minds and souls, in which we dream our world and our being in it" (81)
    —Dickinson's "My Cricket" (81-82) as an illustration of "the absolute separation between man and nature," the "loneliness of a species evolved far beyond others" (see also 201, 208): except for the strange word choice "evolved" in this context, this sounds very much like the (neo-)Deep Ecology of Linda Hogan; but then an oddly positive recuperation of this "loneliness"?, via language: this plight is actually a "state of grace," since words attest to "the highest realization of human being" (82; se also 169).
    —Oral trad. encore: now endangered (82-83) . . . NSM pauses to praise the book, even give us a brief history of the alphabet! (83-84)—to return at last to that "something else" in "America," the"great matrix of oral tradition," of the "human voice" and "holy dread" and the "imagination" (84-85).
    —NSM's own quoted poems: 1) "At Risk" (86): the last poem in In the Presence of the Sun; 2) "The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee [NSM's Kiowa name]": one of NSM's most (justly) famous/anthologized poems, from Angle of Geese
    —Coda quot.: "Paradise is a library. [But] It is also a prairie and a plain . . ." (88).

*"The American West and the Burden of Belief" (89-107)
    I: the West as myth & "mirage"
        —imaginative conflation of landscapes as example of "the essence of art and literature" (89-90); but segue to the downside of this "narcissism": such "overlays" & "impositions" also resulted in the myth of the West . . . emblematized in Custer's prairie mirage (90)
        —Thus, to the colonizers, the West was "infinite," "wild," "beautiful and hostile"—and inhabited by a people "savage and unholy—and who were perfectly at home"; [positive spin on colonizers?:] "the Euro-Americans' "intrusion must have occurred to them as sacrilege"—ergo conscious of the "unfortunate position[!] of robbing the native peoples of their homeland"!  [C/C NSM's tone on such a subject with Deloria's; NSM much more—uh—conciliatory?!] . . . But more so than Deloria (and Neihardt), NSM is explicitly aware that the Ghost Dance itself was the result of an "imposition of a belief"—especially the concepts of "a messiah and immortality, both foreign, European imports" (91)  [yet ironically, the essay ends with two Native lyrics from—the Ghost Dance!]
    II: Custer
        —ugh—Custer's order of the slaughter of 875 horses, and his wretched rationale (92-93) (probably the worst thing he ever did, in my mind; see Sherman Alexie's Lone Ranger for Thomas Builds-a-Fire's vision of being one of the horses in a similar episode in Pacific NW history!) . . .
        —Historical note: the Cheyenne chief Black Kettle and his people were the unfortunate victims of two famous massacres: 1) the Sand Creek Massacre (Colorado, 1864); 2) the Washita River massacre (Oklahoma, 1868, in which Black Kettle died). . . . the Cheyenne women's revenge at the Little Bighorn (93): now he'll hear!
        **—"Imagine that Custer dreamed that night" (94-95)—amazing imagined passage in which Crazy Horse appears in Custer's dream! . . . but at last Custer's real dreams were hardly as redeeming, much more illusory: "the West is other than it seems" (95)
    III: Buffalo Bill
        —likewise William Cody a study in self-deception via the mythic West
        *—part of the recuperative colonizing impulse: "to reduce the American landscape to size, to fit that great expanse to the confinement of the emigrant mind," as compensation for "our fragile presence" (97)
    IV: Plenty [Many] Horses
        —[epigraph poem "December 29, 1890" (98-99) from In the Presence of the Sun]
        —Sitting Bull's death; Wounded Knee—"the end of a culture" (99—geez); pathetic tale of Plenty Horses: educated at Carlyle (in English [="ethnic cleansing" (102; see also Silko 54)!]), loses his idiomatic knowledge of Lakota, kills army officer as a futile attempt to "return" to his people; but at last, in "limbo" between the two cultures, above all because of the "theft of his language" (101-103)
        —and so LANGUAGE, again, as all-determining, or at least IDENTITY-determining, shaping "our most fundamental selves" (103)
        —and NAMES: "Without names . . . we cannot truly claim to be" (103; later: "Words are the names of Creation" [104])
        —linguistic differences = cultural/worldview differences (103-104) . .  oral vs. written traditions again, the former "closer to the origin of words" (104)
    V: Summary/Coda
        —the "sacred" (land) closely related to "sacrifice" (105-106; see also 114); NSM & VD both cite the same example: Wounded Knee . . . the colonizers' "mirage," or "distortion," was ultimately "the failure to see the West in terms of the sacred" (106); e.g., Custer could get off on the flowers of the "plains, but he could not see the people who inhabited them" (106); and poor Plenty Horses: he wanted only a return "to the old deities," but "he had lost the words," and "without language he could no longer bear the burden of belief" (107)  [—oh!—]
        —Again, both the concluding songs (107) are manifestations of the Ghost Dance Religion (see above).

Rather than drag Custer's My Life on the Plains to class, here are the relevant passages I was going to share wrapped into a draft of the first chapter ("Getting Over Custer") of my next book project (Sins of the Mission: A Memoir of Hybridentity):

The horses screamed.

    Speaking of "wild beasts" takes me to the tenth chapter of Custer's autobiography, which he calls the "Battle of the Washita," although Custer's troops' massacre of Chief Black Kettle's band of Southern Cheyenne at the Washita River in 1868 was hardly a "battle," however commonly it is still referred to as such. As a tribal leader, Black Kettle seemed especially cursed, since he was involved in two of the most infamous massacres in the history of the West, of the Indian Wars. First, he and his people were the objects of the Sand Creek Massacre, in 1864, perpetrated by the U.S. Cavalry under Colonel Chivington; four years later, as I've indicated, Custer had them in his sights. And at this dawn ambush, Custer had his band play his signature piece, an Irish-jig of a tune called "Garry Owen." (The inanity of such an upbeat and up-tempo tune in such a context still strikes my warped funny bone to this day.) I'm especially interested in one immediate outcome of said encounter; the fact was, well, Custer and his men now found themselves with a whole lot of horses:

By actual count we had in our possession eight hundred and seventy-five captured ponies, so wild and unused to white men that it was difficult to herd them. What we were to do with them was puzzling as they could not have been led had we been possessed of the means of doing this; neither could we drive them as the Indians were accustomed to do. And even if we could take them with us [. . .] it was anything but wise or desirable on our part to do so as such a large herd of ponies, constituting so much wealth in the eyes of the Indians, would have been too tempting a prize to the warriors who had been fighting us all the afternoon, and to effect their recapture they would have followed and waylaid us day and night with every prospect of success until we should have arrived at a place of safety. [. . .] We had achieved a great and important success over the hostile tribes [. . . .] The Indians had suffered a telling defeat involving great losses in life and valuable property. Could they succeed, however, in depriving us of the train and supplies and in doing this accomplish the killing or capture of the escort it would go far to offset the damage we had been able to inflict upon them and render our victory an empty one. (350-351)

    So there Custer is, "burdened" with "nearly nine hundred [Indian] ponies," and his decision is cold and calculating: "We did not need the ponies, while the Indians did. If we retained them they might conclude that one object of our expedition against them was to secure plunder, an object thoroughly consistent with the red man's idea of war. Instead, it was our desire to impress upon his uncultured mind that our every act and purpose had been simply to inflict deserved punishment upon him for the many murders and other depredations committed by him in and around the homes of the defenseless settlers on the frontier" (355-356). (Many of these "settlers" were actually there illegally, given the provisions of the signed treaties of the time.) Custer's rationalizations for his eventual decision are long and tortuous here, as if he were semi-conscious of how reprehensible that decision would be. And so—he finally concludes—"[i]mpelled by these motives, I decided neither to attempt to take the ponies with us nor to abandon them to the Indians, but to adopt the only measure left—to kill them. To accomplish this seemingly[!]—like most measures of war—cruel but necessary act, four companies of cavalrymen were detailed [. . .] as a firing party" (356-357). Almost ten pages later, after some of the horses were culled from the herd to "transport" the "prisoners,"

[T]he work of destruction began on the remainder and was continued until nearly eight hundred ponies were thus disposed of[!]. All this time the Indians who had been fighting us from the outside covered the hills in the distance, deeply interested spectators of this to them strange proceeding. The loss of so many animals of value was a severe blow to the tribe, as nothing so completely impairs the war-making facilities for the Indians of the Plains as the deprivation or disabling of their ponies. (365-366)

What strikes me here is how Custer can only understand these horses and their loss in terms of their use-value; he is incapable of comprehending that the Native observers may well have been "deeply interested" in this mass murder for other—dare I use the word humane or even familial?—reasons—in sum, that they might have deemed all this a very "strange proceeding" for reasons other than mere utility.

The horses screamed.

 
("The horses screamed" is a refrain from Alexie's novel Reservation Blues, and it's related there to a similar event in Spokane tribal history, the Indian-horses-slaughter by a certain Colonel Wright.)
 

*Introduction to Part II: "Essays in Place" (111-112)
    —"words" + "place" = "the sacred" (111; see also 124)
    —NSM reiterates his key point that "we are determined by our native language," but unlike French theorists, he claims that we aren't "prisoners of language in any dire way" (111); rather, storytelling (for instance) possesses the "freedom of infinite possibility" (112).


*"Sacred Places" (113-117)  [—cf. Deloria]
    —initial anecdote and poem linking NSM and grandfather "and the sacred earth" (113-114; see also 163-164; the poem is called "Carnegie, Oklahoma, 1919," from In the Presence of the Sun)
    —"sacred places," like Medicine Wheel [WY], Bear Butte [SD], and Barrier Canyon [UT] (114-115; see also 13, 128 for Barrier Canyon; see next essay for Medicine Wheel)
    —as for the sacred itself: "the [cognitive/rational] mind does not comprehend it; it is at last to be recognized and acknowledged in the heart and soul" (114)
    —but the "sacred" also entails the "theft" thereof—"box of [horse] bones" anecdote (116; see also 76, 165)
    —final call to action: not only 1) conservation of the "forests and rivers and animals," but 2) "the spiritual centers of our earth" (116)

*"Revisiting Sacred Ground" (118-123)
    —"returning to a landscape" (118)
        —the Bighorn Medicine Wheel: NSM & friend—and Jurg! . . . on the mountain heights, they cross "the line between civilization and wilderness [ugh]," are greeted by deer, who evince neither "fear [n]or alienation" (119)
        —the Black Hills (Paha Sapa), incl. Bear Butte (Mato Paha) (121-122)
        —finally, Devil's Tower (Lakota: Mato Tipi[la]), and NSM's oft-rehearsed story of the seven sisters and their bear-brother, from The Way to Rainy Mountain: and so the anonymous storyteller has "related his people to the stars" (122-123) . . . [N.B. typo (122): the SD town is spelled "Belle Fourche" is the actual spelling.]
    —Coda reference to Jurg as a "pilgrim" (on a journey to "sacred places," of course) (123)

 

Devil's Tower, Wyoming
(TCG, 2009, 2011; click photos to enlarge)

*"Navajo Place Names" (124-126)
    —NSM's long infatuation with the Navajo tongue, from the sheer "sounds" to the "great grammar" (125)
    —language = the land encore, and anecdote of Navajo hitchhiker who knows the (Navajo) names of every place: "this man was indeed at home" (125-126)
    —final vision of two Navajos on horseback in the distance, "in place" and outside of time—"going in slow motion toward story, toward a memory that would keep to my mind forever" (126)

*"Sacred Images" (127-131)
    —prehistoric "rock paintings and engravings" encore—here, a visit to the Altamira caves in Spain (127; moi: imagine aliens arriving on earth—"All these different animals. . . . Wait, one species is drawing pictures of the others—on the walls!")
    —story of Don Marcelino & daughter (127-128), their—or rather, her—discovery of those "strange animals, grazing in eternity" (128)!
    —through such art, the ancient artist "extended his human being to the center of wilderness, of mystery of deepest life itself" (128) . . . and this art entails stories, of course, though it is "not wholly intelligible" to us what those stories are: but we recognize them as "sacred" (129; see also 130-131)
    —"language is child's play"; Lewis Thomas's notion that language developed first among the children . . . all in line with NSM's perception of this art as the beginning of "the evolution of literature," the "dawn" of "human being" (130); at last: "To behold them is to see into the spiritual caverns of our evolution" (131)  [& the assumption that it's a good thing we did evolve, that Shakespeare & Tolstoi are better?!]


To the Top

 TU, Feb. 26th::
*"New Mexico: Passage into Legend" (154-162)
    —example of NSM's fascination with Billy the Kid (part of his "traipsing after legends," being a "Lengendstalker" [154, 157]); the poem excerpt (154-155) is from NSM's own sequence of poems on Billy (poem #13) . . . Billy as an emblem of the "Wild West" that "defines the American imagination" (154)
    —Billy's (and Momaday's!) story: 155-162 . . . note NSM's novelist's imagination of the details, e.g., " I imagine Mathews and Olinger passing tortillas. . . ." (157)
    —Billy's "mixed-up" character: "He was always looking for a home" (159; and Momaday?!)
    —Billy's cemetery: a "sacred place," too, because of "blood and sacrifice" (160)??!!
    —reference to the Navajos' forced march to Bosque Redondo and the Navajo "Long Walk" (160-161—now THAT's sacrifice!)
    —strange, if moving, ending: at Billy's gravestone, NSM hears no "dirge," but rather the "soft, distant sounds of revelry . . . the contented voices of the dead" (162)

*"The Homestead on Rainy Mountain Creek" (163-166)
    —memories of Kiowa homestead & childhood near Rainy Mountain: grandfather Mammedaty's unlikely skill (for a Kiowa) in farming (163) . . . love for grandmother Aho, to whom the Intro to The Way to Rainy Mountain is a tribute, which thus has made that work his "favorite" (164; and at essay's end, NSM can still "hear" her "voice" [166]) . . . the Kiowa "extended-family" get-togethers, and his appreciation, especially, for the "old people" (164-165)
    —most of the Kiowa were Baptists, although they brought the Kiowa "oral tradition" and music fully to bear in the service! (166—cf. Deloria on Christianity & music)

*Introduction to Part III: "The Storyteller and His Art" (169)
    —reiteration of theme that human language is both an evolutionary blessing & a curse: "Because of language we are, among all the creatures in our world, the most dominant and the most isolated. Our dominance is supreme, and our isolation is profound."

*"When the Stars Fell" (170-171)
    —another "repeat" of the 1833 Leonid shower story (170-171); do these frequent "returns" reflect NSM's belief that "language is circular," or does all this eventually seem like an older relative repeatin' himself?!
    —but here the event-turned-myth is imagined through the persona of Pohd-Lohk, who gave NSM his Kiowa name (Tsoai-talee—"Rock Tree Boy" [cf. Devil's Tower]) and who continued the Kiowa calendar via his own journal (170) . . . the event itself is a cataclysm fraught with the potential for meaning ("myth") for the Kiowa, "all one moment" lived over and over (cf. Ko-sahn) "on the edge of time and beyond" (171)

**"The Indian Dog" (172-173)
    [—one of my favorite essays of this section, in its experiential acknowledgment of another species' "right" to volition—and "place"]
    —the tale of the 12-yr.-old NSM's purchase of an "Indian dog" for $5; but the dog is "independent and resourceful," has to be dragged "from its previous owner" (despite its "tail happily wagging"!), and escapes that very night from NSM's garage—as "he knew it would" (172); NSM "crushed," but understanding, for this dog "had behaved exactly as it must, had been true to itself[!]. . . . It knew its place in the scheme of things," and that place was following its original—uh—"master." And so NSM imagines it, now "miles away . . . contemplating the wonderful ways of man" (173)!?

*"The Photograph" (174-175)
    —anecdote of an "old Navajo crone"[?!] who has her picture taken by NSM's father; but she is outraged & insulted by the eventual photo, for it was "a far cry from what she imagined herself to be." And NSM finally wonders whether the camera had indeed "misrepresented her," and "had failed to see into her real being" (175).

*"An Encounter in Greenland" (176-177)
    —strange vignette of NSM in Greenland, trying to break up an iceberg "calf": "an old Eskimo hunter" with a rifle shows up to help him, thinking all the while (as NSM imagines) that this is one "'strange and futile exercise. But he is a human being, as I am too. And I shall help him if I can'" (177).
**"A Turning Point" (178-179)
    —one of the more thought-provoking essays in this section, about M's adventurer-friend Nelson, who passes on the opportunity to "challenge" a Gypsy in Spain and run off with his wife(?!), on the spur of the moment (178)—and regrets his decision for the rest of his life, apparently. NSM agrees that Nelson's true story is better than some imagined act of bravado, for it one of those that make up everyone's "daily lives" (our universal regret at missed moments of opportunity?).  [The finale, the contrast between being 25 yrs. old and "full of understanding" (ergo the inaction) and being 20 and knowing "nothing" (179) reminds me of Housman's poem "When I was one-and-twenty."]

*"Quincy Tahoma" (180-182)
    —tribute to a Navajo artist
        —Note NSM's thoughts on Indian alcoholism: at least part of it may well be caused by being "severed" from one's cultural "roots"—"not a rare affliction among Indians"—although Quincy also had some incredible personal traumas that no doubt played a role, too (180).
        —my favorite part: Quincy participating in Catholic communion (in pure ignorant bliss) because "'I was hungry'" (181—hey, that wafer used to be the culinary highlight of my own Sunday mornings!)

*"Jay Silverheels" (183-184)
    —aka Tonto (but ironically, even Jay Silverheels wasn't his real name!)
    —a strangely(?) positive/accepting reading of JS's (at last subservient) career & life—although "Hollywood's notion of cowboys and Indians" was less than "responsible" . . . "I shall remember him as Tonto, that figment of the American imagination. For it is not a bad thing, after all, to have some stake in legend. . ." (184)!? (Cf. NSM's infatuation with Billy the Kid, and the cowboy mythos in general.)

*"One Morning in Oklahoma" (185)
    —what the —??!?? (a truly "bovine" essay?) .—.—. and yet I count at least 7 of Momaday's "absolutist/transcendental" words!

**"I Wonder What Will Happen to the Land" (186-188)
    —the crucial notion of land and "place" encore, with the added brilliant analysis of the statement, "events take place": that is, "I" exist and act only within "my environment" (187).
    —But recent changes in the environment are "ominous signs of the times"—especially land development, too often "a euphemism for the manufacture of waste," and where "[p]rofit is high and conservation low"—to the point of a "state of emergency" (187).. . . [But note the overly(?) conciliatory tone of "We"?]
    —concluding recurring dream of "Mr. Greed"—whose reply to "why yu' buildin' there?" is . . . "'I was attracted by the beauty of the land'" (187-188)!  [But isn't NSM's own emphasis on the "aesthetics" of "landscape" (& art) part and parcel of this?]

*"The Toll Road" (189-190)
    —a daily jogger encounters an impasse, "a barrier across the road" (189)—until he pays the "toll," the gift of wine, to the "elderly Indian man" who simply wanted some acknowledgment of his "possession[?!] of the land" (190). . . . (gift of a "robin's egg" [190]—what the—?!)

*"Graceful and at Ease" (191-192)
    —tribute to Dineson; regarding Out of Africa, it is as if she had "entered so completely into the landscape of the place that it became at last the landscape of the spirit" (191)  [—although some postcolonial scholars have been less kind about Dineson's various moves of "appropriation" in said work, and here as elsewhere NSM seems facilely accepting of the history of Euro-colonialism.]

**"An Element of Piety" (193-195)
    —charming sketch of NSM's black Labrador, who is "good to a fault" and even develops a "holier-than-thou" notion of "piety" (193)!
    —the local priest's "blessing of the animals" (193-194)—another example of Native culture adapting Christianity to its own worldview? . . . saves them cursèd animals from the "perils of paganism" (194)!
    —final scene: our now pious canine's apparently uncharacteristic charge at a Great Dane (194-195); what does NSM mean by "perhaps Cacique has more spiritual change in his pocket than I" (195)?  [—I for one had IMAGINED a different ending. . . .]


À propos of Momaday's essay "An Element of Piety";
my modification of an actual flyer found online.

*"Chopetl" (196-197)
    —the story behind NSM's possession of a Stone Age slingshot—er—dullimer; note the characteristic coda, in which he imagines (or here, dreams) another identity—and, by the way, "seems" to finally understand at least this instance of those ancient markings that have intrigued him throughout the book (197).

*"Teresita" (198-199)
    —literary critic Edmund Wilson (of Axel's Castle fame); his role in NSM's edition of Tuckerman (198-199); then the true anecdotal/"story" touch, of Teresita, the "beautiful Indian girl" Wilson once knew at Jemez Pueblo: if NSM ever comes across her, he will "indeed remember him to her" (199). (Ugh—I'm reminded of Nelson's sexist hubris in a "Turning Point.")

*"The Head of a Man" (200-201)
    —four(?) little studies of the "Imagination" at work; highlight (and recurring theme): sight of a whale at sea, which leaves him with "a strange and unreasonable loneliness, as if some profound isolation had been confirmed forever there in the dark troughs of the sea" (201)

**"The Physicians of Trinidad" (202-204)
    —fascinating tale of a nun's two encounters with Billy the Kid (and NSM's own infatuation with "the old theme of the dying cowboy" [202; see also 209]): 1) Sister Blandina intevenes and saves the four "physicians of Trinidad" [Colorado] (203); 2) she later meets Billy in jail, where the bound outlaw wishes he could offer her a chair—leading to the rather touching ending, when NSM imagines her, now old, entering a room, where "a boy . . . smiled, spoke kindly to her, and placed a chair, gently, gently at her back" (203-204)!

*"The Dark Priest of Taos" (205-206)
    —character sketch of Padre Martinez, an historical figure NSM first learns of in Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop . . . the "dark priest" is excommunicated, sure, but NSM emphasizes his contributions of learning and "intellectual activity" to Taos. . . . such men are "pillars of our[!] civilization" (206)?!

**"The Octopus" (207-208)
    —Georgia O'Keefe and the sense of place (207; see also 210); the Navajo riders encore (207-208)
    —the octopus, "the color of bone," perhaps in "profound agony" . . . final paragraph fairly amazing reverie on the possibility of interspecies communication, as NSM imagines its "alien, ocean mind," imagines that he "had touched its deep, essential life," that "it would never lose the impression that I had made of it" . . . (and vice-versa, buddy:) "And now I wonder, What does it mean that, after these years, I should speak of the octopus? Only just now, as a strange loneliness, it has occurred to me that this creature has, for some years now, been of some small consequence in the life of my mind. And I wonder if, in the dark night of the sea, there, deep within its own sphere of instinct, the octopus dreams of me" (208). (But ultimately, more anthropocentric hubris?)

*"Dreaming in Place" (209-211)
    —one last go at Billy the Kid (via Copland?!)—as the "person in place" (209-210) . . . an Anishinaabe "medicine man," who is "one with the dark, wooded landscape of that place" (in Minnesota) (210) . . . Georgia O'Keefe encore (210)
    —final anecdote, of Anglo friend who "nods" to another cowboy: then NSM is overcome with "loneliness, a sense of exclusion and disaffection"—and "exile": "I was an Indian among Cowboys" (211).
    —WHY placed as last essay in book?! (cf. last sentence, above)


To the Top

 TH, Feb. 28th::
 Poetic Interlude #3: Momaday
—from In the Presence of the Sun (1992):
* "Earth and I Gave You Turquoise" (orig. from Angle of Geese, 1974)
    [—note: "turquoise" (1) a gift of good luck in traditional Pueblo culture]
    —note ("ceremonial"—and yet Modernist!) formalism: sestets in syllabic verse (7-5-7-5-7-7)
    —one of the most moving elegies in (Native) American lit.!—about the narrator's yearning to meet again in the afterlife, at "Black Mountain" (6); but note how all images of said afterlife in the poem are thoroughly natural (e.g., "corn," "fire," "Children" [7-9])
    —favorite line/metaphor: "There your loom whispered beauty" (21)
    —notable, too, is the trochaic rhythm of the final two lines—read 'em aloud!—as the rhythm captures/echoes the trochaic beat of a galloping horse: "I will RIDE the SWIFTest HORSE / YOU will HEAR the DRUMming HOOVES"
* "The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee" (orig. from Angle of Geese, 1974; see the video A Man Made of Words for NSM's reading of this poem: his long intro begins at 7:24, the poem itself at 11:45)
    [—note: Tsoai-talee, as you remember from MMofW, is NSM's Kiowa name.]
    —"ORAL TRAD. form: incantatory" incremental repetition thruout ("I am," "I stand"—though one might also claim the influence of Whitman here?!); and the second strophe has a circular frame, via the repetition of the 1st line as the last ("You see, I am alive, I am alive")
    —"I am" all these other various aspects/beings of nature, until the grand monistic (& Whitmanic) gesture: "I am the whole dream of these things" (18); ergo, "I stand in good relation to the earth" . . . (then the pleasingly personal penultimate line, in contrast to the general mystical expansiveness: I'm also in good with the chief's "daughter"!)
* "Carriers of the Dream Wheel" (orig. from The Gourd Dancer, 1976)
    —here Momaday carries on the Native oral tradition in his metaphorical invocation of (Kiowa) Medicine shields (via the oral-culture-bearing "Dream Wheel"), and the "aboriginal names"; note the copious circular imagery (vs. "linear" Western worldview) and the marvelous rhythm (and meaning, of course) of the climactic two lines: "Let us TELL the OLD STORies, / Let us SING the SACred SONGS."
* "Crows in a Winter Composition" (orig. from The Gourd Dancer, 1976)
    —the speaker's mental-void-of-an-aesthetic-landscape (strophe 1) is interrupted by "hard" reality, in the form of another species (strophe 2).
    —Modernist influences?: strophe 1's "snow" and nothingness is very reminiscent of Wallace Stevens' "The Snowman"; likewise the 2nd strophe reminds one of Stevens' "blackbird" poem, in which those birds are also interminable reminders of the starks realities of this world (incl. death), vs. humankind's tendency towards (aesthetic & religious) idealism
—from In the Bear's House (1999):
* "The Blind Astrologers"
    —Who are these "blind astrologers" (who seem to accompany—even "lead" [19]—humans in their "quest" [18]/co-evolution)?
    —penultimate stanza: links these—uh—beings with the human condition: "They mutter / and cry with voices like ours; / they mime a human anguish" (22-24)
* "The Corporeal Bear"
    —The formalist exceeds the bounds of the quatrain form—like the subject of the poem!
* "A Bear in Bronze"
    —a "stately," formalist quatrain in iambic pentameter—with an intentionally less-than-stately conclusion!

* Leslie Marmon Silko—1948- (Laguna Pueblo) *
Selected Bibliography::::
* "The Man to Send Rain Clouds" (1969; short story)
* "Lullaby" (1974; short story)
** "Yellow Woman" (1974; short story)
    —and subsequent "casebook": Yellow Woman, ed. Graulich, 1993
* Laguna Woman (1974 [2nd ed.: 1994]; poetry [see her youthful! photo below])
** Ceremony (1977; novel)
* Storyteller (1981; poetry [incl. some from Laguna Woman], short stories [incl. her three most famous, listed above], autobiographical & oral-trad. prose; photos)
** Almanac of the Dead (1991; novel)
* Sacred Water: Narratives and Pictures (1993; autobiography)
* Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit (1996; essays)
* Gardens in the Dunes (1999; novel)
**—from an unpublished interview (U of Arizona, 1992): partially in response to the highly charged reactions to the "politics" of Almanac, Silko thinks aloud, "Maybe I quit writing." Or instead, "I want to write about macaws and parrots and things. So I'll probably write about animals and rocks and rain, and I'll probably purposely try to—ahm—put the political [out of the picture]. . . ." But that's not possible, for "how can you write about macaws and not be political since where they live is being destroyed. But I'll try"!

Silko in her mid-twenties:

        my scan of her pict from Laguna Woman.

This is the "girl" who wrote Almanac of the Dead?!


 
Video (incl. transcript) w/ & about LMS: Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems (University of Arizona Radio-TV-Film Bureau, 1978)

Tribal Background Info: The Pueblo . . .
    consist of nearly twenty tribes (or bands?), mostly in New Mexico; major branches (often single towns) include . . .
        Taos Pueblo [N.M.]
        Laguna Pueblo [N.M.; Silko]
        Acoma Pueblo (AH-co-mah) [N.M.; Simon Ortiz]
        Jemez Pueblo (HAY-mez or HAY-muss or HAY-mish) [N.M.; Momaday, who himself pronounces it "HAY-muss"]
        Santo Domingo Pueblo [N.M.]
        Zuni [Zuñi; N.M./Arizona]
        Hopi [Arizona]


—photo from my only trip to the desert Southwest (2011)

* * * *

YELLOW WOMAN AND A

BEAUTY OF THE SPIRIT

* * * *

* "On Nonfiction Prose" (192-195) [1996?]
    —early NEGATIVE experiences: S. "accidentally" takes a course on Victorian prose in college, finding the essayists intimidating (192)  [Note: "Bishop Berkeley" (1685-1753) must be a "bogus" memory or mis-writing, since he wrote his philosophical treatises well before the Victorian Age. (She may have been thinking of Cardinal Newman?)] . . . then the essay exams in law school, which "suck[ed] the life . . . out of" her "writing" (193)
    —1st positive entry into non-fiction prose: letter writing (including her correspondence with the poet James Wright) (193-194); also, non-fiction reading (194)
    —rehash of her obsession with writing about rocks and rain (194-195), and with combining expository prose and photography (195)

* "Old and New Biographical Notes" (196-200)
    —"From the First Edition of Laguna Woman" [1974]
        —family background: the Marmons are a "half-breed Laguna people"; ergo "at the core of my writing is the attempt to identify what it is to be a half-breed, or mixed-blood person; what it is to grow up neither white nor fully traditional Indian" (197)
    —"Biographical Note to the Second Edition, Autumn 1994"
        —now, in her "old ranch house" outside of Tucson, she has "learned to prefer solitude" (198; but this "retreat" is totally anticipated by her childhood: cf. 16)
        —and now a rather Vizenorian deconstructionism: "while there may be a concept of the 'traditional Indian' or 'traditional Laguna Pueblo person,' no such being has ever existed" (200)

* Yellow Woman: Introduction (13-24) [1994]
    —her longtime desire, even amid the very human political issues of Almanac, to write "on rocks and on rain" (13-14, 23-24; see also 194)
    —and a concurrent fascination with combining words and photographs into a multi-genre type of essay (14-15, 20-21, 22-24; see also 195; ergo the essay on rocks, w/ photos, towards book's end) [again, ethnic hybridity => "hybid" genre!?]
    —childhood:
        **—from age 4, a lone wanderer outdoors (15ff)—because "[u]p in the hills with the birds and animals and my horse, I felt absolutely safe"; she "preferred to play alone" (incl. with her toy cowboys & Indians! [I wonder who won!]) (16; see also 102)
    **—a cultural hybrid, she "had no use for Christianity because the Christians made up such terrible lies about Indian people that it was clear to me that they would lie about other matters also" . . . Christianity versus nature & the land: "The mesa and hills loved me; the Bible meant punishment" (17)
    **—Nature vs. humankind (continued): "I have always felt safer in the hills than I feel when I am around people. Humans are the most dangerous of animals, that's what my mother said. [In contrast:] She was fearless with snakes and picked up rattlesnakes with ease" (17; N.B. the central importance of snakes to Silko's corpus, including the Great Stone Snake of the Almanac) . . . At last, "I still trust the land . . . far more than I trust human beings. I never feel lonely when I walk alone in the hills: I am surrounded with living beings . . ." (18).
** ON SNAKES: As for snakes and the Natives of the desert Southwest, anthropologist Frank Waters guesses that the Hopi Snake Dance was the earliest religious ceremony in North America; also consider Carl Jung's perception that the snake as a positive symbol of the unconscious is common to many cultures, Western Civilization (cf. Genesis!) being the notable exception; consider, too (whew!), recent studies in brain physiology regarding the human "reptilian brain," the center of instinct & emotion. (And see, finally, Silko's own contrast of this positive Native "serpent" with Christianity's "war" against its indigenous & chthonic power [147].)
    —the Pueblo land-claim suit (18-19), for 6 million acres of land: "the old folks testified with stories" (18)! They cried "as they talked about the land and how it had been taken from them" (19). The result of years of litigation? Only money (but do the math, and you'll see that the lawyers' fees exceeded the government settlement!) (19)
    —and so to law school, but soon drops out, having "realized that injustice is built into the Anglo-American legal system" (19), a "'justice'" predicated upon "money and power" (20)
    **—how seek justice, then?—via literature, "through the power of stories" (20)
    —but a Native literature it is; for example, this collection "is structured like a spider's web. It begins with the land; think of the land . . . as the center of a spider's web" (21; see also 48-49; cf. the linear vs. circular binary)
    —S.'s notes on the Aztec & Mayan oral traditions; but also a strong WRITTEN tradition—until the "great libraries" were burnt by Europeans "anxious" to demonstrate that Natives "were not fully human" (21) . . . "Soon the only books" on Indians "were written and made by non-Indians [recall Alexie's poem], who continued to portray indigenous people as sub-humans"--part of a "campaign of cultural genocide" (22)


To the Top

 TU, March 5th::
* "Interior and Exterior Landscapes: The Pueblo Migration Stories" (25-47) [1986]
*1. From a High Arid Plateau in New Mexico:
    —the dead's return to the earth—to the eco-benefit of life; similarly, the (hunted) "Antelope People" participate willingly in the cycle of life (26)
    —and even the spirits of each dead being "remain close by. They do not leave us" (a Pueblo belief crucial to the plot line of Almanac, by the way); finally, even a "rock has being or spirit" (27; see also 64)
*2. From the Emergence Place
    **—great critique of "landscape" as a reprehensible term that separates the human "viewer" and his/her environment (27)
    —traditional Pueblo representations non-realistic: why try to copy something that nature has already done perfectly? ("Only the elk is itself" [29])—therefore Pueblo art "abstract" (stylized), attempts to capture the "spiritual" nature of that being represented (28-29)
    interrelatedness in the Pueblo worldview (29)
    *—note: ka'tsina (29; see also 41; older spelling: kachina) is a mythological spirit/deity, much like the "minor gods" of the Greek pantheon
*3. Through the Stories We Hear Who We Are (Wow; what stories are 21st-c. Americans hearing?!)
    —glories of ancient Mayan & Incan astronomy (30)
    —oral tradition: its inclusiveness—"Everything became a story" (30-31)
        —Creation & Emergence stories "retold each year for four[!] days and four nights during the winter solstice[!]" (31)
        —ancient "hummah-hah" tales involved a time "when human beings were still able to communicate with animals and other living things" (31; see also 63)
        —communal nature of the ongoing oral tradition (31-35): note that the general Pueblo attitude of tolerance includes the acceptance of "alternate" versions of the same story (32; see also 133) . . . the importance of PLACE in storytelling (33-35); examples (incl. 1st mention of the kachina, Yellow Woman [33]); "Thus, the continuity and accuracy of the oral narratives are reinforced by the landscape" (35)
*4. The Migration Story: An Interior Journey
    —mythic "Emergence Places" = actual sites near the various pueblos: ergo "the [very] landscape resonates the spiritual, or mythic, dimension of the Pueblo world even today" (36; see also 128)
    —but note that Silko privileges a metaphorical/psychological reading of these Emergence stories, as "interior journeys," of the "imagination," each really "an emergence into a precise cultural identity" (36-37)—the dawn of cultural consciousness, as it were
    —story of the Pueblo emergence into the Fifth (this) World, with the aid of the antelope and the badger, with the moral that species interdependence is necessary for survival; for indeed, human culture was impossible until they could "imagine themselves as sisters and brothers to the badger," et al. (37-38; see also 42; see also 51, where the antelope & badgers are referred to as clans; see also 63-64)
    —the oral trad.'s all-inclusiveness includes matters of sexuality (38; cf. Silko's Almanac!)
    —ultimate REASON for more recent stories: as a reminder to the individual that he/she is part of the "family and clan," who have had similar experiences (especially tragic ones): "You are never the first to suffer a grave loss or profound humiliation" (39; see also 52, 91)
    —ecological/environmental reason for Hopi (Pueblo) "spirituality": the desert climate mitigates against material prosperity!—therefore the "Hopi way cherishes the intangible" (40) . . . AND each living creature—"each lizard, each lark"—"because the creature is alive in a place where any life at all is precious" (40)
*5. Out Under the Sky
    —childhood encore, incl. racism & the (more-accepting-than-humans) land (41-42)
    —spirits of the dead, "called back" by storytelling (a timeless reunion of generations) (42-43; see also 58-59); storytelling: 1) "the spirits could be present" (thus Aunt Susie's grandmother: "Go open the door" for them); 2) the "myth" is a "web of memories and ideas that create a [cultural & individual] identity" (43; see also 50, 91)
    —Taos Pueblo and Blue Lake [cf. Deloria's role in lawsuit] and uranium mining (43-44)—1st reference to the particular piece of recent history (and prophecies of "apocalyptic warning" [44]) that led to Almanac of the Dead
**6. Landscape as a Character in Fiction
    —S.'s stories often include "the presence of elements out of the landscape" that play prominent roles—as "characters"—in the plot (44); long example regarding "Storyteller" (44-47), in which the land and weather serve as the protagonist's "accomplices" (46) . . . prophetic hints of a coming ice age (45, 47; see recent claims of some scientists that the immediate, paradoxical climatic effect of global warming may indeed be such an "ice age")

*** "Language and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Perspective" (48-59) [1991]
    —a written essay on oral lit.—so S. wants her audience to "hear" it, and follow the "patterns from the oral tradition"!; not linear, but like a "spider's web" (48)   (How does this essay reflect such patterns?) . . . and "to approach language from the Pueblo perspective," one must perceive the world and "history and time" as a "whole" (49; see also 53) . . . language & story also one unending "whole," and so the people can thus feel "all a part of the whole," the web of Creation (50)
    —the Creation, via the thinking (cf. Momaday's imagining) of the Thought Woman (Tse'itsi'nako) and her three sisters (49 [= four—women—deities!]; see also 27, 29, 64)
    —important "mythic" note: the stories tell "us" that "we are a people that come from the north" (51; crucial to understanding some of her poems)
    —community, and the "clan"—note that, just as the Lakota consider the eagle, et al., as equal oyate (peoples), the Pueblo also call other species "clans" (51)
    —examples: Volkswagon & the arroyo (53; redux of 39) . . . story of the little girl who wanted her yashtoah (54-56)!; note oral-style repetitions (56); S. herself notes the repetitions ("to help you remember"), the all-inclusiveness (recipe, etc.) (57)
    —another "refrain" in Silko (incl. the Almanac): "There are a great many parallels between Pueblo experiences and those of African and Caribbean peoples"—including being colonized via the English language (57); S.'s semi-comical anecdote about migrating robins, as a demonstration of how out of touch the Boston textbooks were with the Pueblo experience . . . But upon her return to Laguna Pueblo, to Native students immersed in "Kiss and Led Zeppelin"—they still "had heard the" stories (58)
    —Pueblo advantage regarding stories and the land: "we have always been able to stay with the land" (58)
    —final touching anecdote of Aunt Susie, who speaks of her imminent "journey," of "'going over to the Cliff House'" (59; see also 137, 186; cf. the "Black Mountain" in M.'s "Earth & I Gave You Turquoise")

*** "Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit" (60-72) [1994]
    —S.'s hybridity, her "different" appearance, accepted by the old Laguna, versus modern/Euro-American racism (60-61, 64-65): to the "old-time people," "a person's appearance and possessions did not matter nearly as much as a person's behavior" (61)
    —memories of times with great-grandmother ("Grandma A'mooh") (61-63)
    —oft-repeated story of the tourist who waves her out of the picture of "Indian kids" (63; 105-106)
    —redux of Thought Woman & Creation—incl. a moral relativism: "there is no absolute good or absolute bad; there are only balances and harmonies" (64)
    —S.'s own cultural binary, à la Deloria ("There was the white people's way and there was the Laguna way" [65]):
        —Pueblo "communal" and "egalitarian"—no social hierarchy, sharing of "resources"; "beauty" based upon behavior, especially "one's relationship with other beings"; in contrast, Western "definitions of beauty" are "really codes for determining social status" (65)!
        —Pueblo women in particular: traditionally "strong" and "sturdy"; no sexism (indeed, a matrilineal culture) . . . also, no ageism (66)
        —at last, since "identity" itself "always" in "flux"[!] (66-67), all gender identities are possible—and tolerated, including cross-dressing, homosexuality (for "we are all a mixture of male and female"); indeed, differences tolerated, even "celebrated," as at last sound ecology (= biodiversity within a culture/species!): allows greater chance for the group's survival (67) . . . also tolerated: extramarital affairs, unwed mothers (67-68); at last, "To be different, to be unique was blessed and was best of all" (68)
    —other species: transformation into ~ via ceremonial clothing and masks ultimately "to reaffirm the urgent [species inter]relationships" (68-70); thus a long Pueblo tradition of eco-consciousness underlies the many human-and-animal "myths"; example: story of the Green Bottle Fly "messenger" (69)
    **—Yellow Woman (Kochininako) (70-72; "part 2" of essay):
        —"represents all women in the old stories" (70; see also 72); note: the "Yellow" refers to the "ritual color of the east," not the color of her skin (as Silko would apparently prefer!) (71)
        —most importantly, WHY Silko identifies so much with her: "she dares to cross traditional boundaries of ordinary behavior during times of crisis in order to save the Pueblo; her power lies in her courage and in her uninhibited sexuality" (70); her stories made Silko "aware that sometimes an individual must act despite disapproval [e.g., publishing Almanac!?], or concern for . . . what others might say. From Yellow Woman's adventures, I learned to be comfortable with my differences" (71)


To the Top

 TH, March 7th::
* "America's Debt to the Indian Nations: Atoning for a Sordid Past" (73-79) [1981]
    —general misunderstanding of 1960's/70's Native protests (73; cf. Deloria)
    —1981 Federal commission report: "Indian Tribes: A Continuing Quest for Survival": "an important first step in wiping out public ignorance of Indian rights" (74)
        —the mainstream "anti-Indian backlash" really the result of the "greed [of special interests], not racism per se" (75)
        —treaties background: based on tribal sovereignty and international law; but the treaties became at last the legal garments with which "Europeans clothe[d]" their "criminal activities" of land theft & genocide (76)
        —misconception that Indian rights are based on an appeal to race; no: based on legal/political sovereignty (77)
        *—zinger finale: the "greatest outrage": the "worst violations" of Native rights perpetrated not by racist individuals, but by the "federal government itself"; in sum, "injustice [against Native Americans] has been institutionalized . . . by federal and state governments. In this regard, the United States is not so different from the racist governments of South Africa and the former Rhodesia" (78)  [Thus Walter Echohawk argues that a nation's character can been determined by how it treats its own indigenous population. For U.S. citizens to be revolted by near-holocaust events in Africa, etc., is a hypocritical stance until we decide to treat our own tribal peoples better. (lecture, Lincoln, NE, 7 March 2003)]

 

 • George Bush Speaks on Tribal Sovereignty (YouTube)

 

* "The People and the Land ARE Inseparable" (85-91) [1996?]
    —one of S.'s main themes/protests: anti-boundaries: "In the old days there had been no boundaries between the people and the land" (85); versus the recent "invisible lines of ownership" (and states & nations) (86)
    —Native peoples and "diaspora" (exoduses/removal from native lands); S.'s own "diaspora" to Tucson, where she finally feels at home when she gets to know the local rattlesnakes!—exemplifying the ancient knowledge that "the animals and other living beings have a great deal to teach us if we will only pay attention" (86)
    —the Yaqui tribe as an example of a people "beyond borders" (Mexico & Arizona)
        —the Yaqui community in Tucson (87-90): even within that city, the presence of the "people and the Yaqui universe . . . have consecrated this place" (89; cf. Deloria's & Momaday's "sacred land") . . . the "amazing scene" of all the Yaquis coming out of their houses at once (89-90): a "shared consciousness" that allows them to act as one (90)

* "Tribal Councils: Puppets of the U.S. Government" (92-95) [1996?]
    —tribal councils' allowance of strip mining, etc., deplorable (92-93); no matter, since it isn't the "traditional form of government" for the Pueblo (whose old way, in the spirit of "harmonious cooperation," called for "100 percent consensus" of all interested parties [93; see also 130]); tribal councils the result of that dang Indian Reorganization Act (1941??—no, 1934!; cf. Deloria]), which was really in favor of "mining and timber interests" (93)
        —another problem (again, cf. Deloria): most council members "progressives" who have been "assimilated"—and thus "brainwashed" by white interests (94)
    —N.B. Silko's redefinition of "sacred places," in contrast to VD & NSM: "All places . . . are sacred," and therefore to set aside some as such a travesty (94 [see also 133]; even conservationists guilty in this regard: 95) . . . S.'s TONE!: "There can be no compromises with these serial killers of life on earth," who "would like the rest of us to embrace death as they have" . . . coda: 1st ref. to the "return" of the "giant serpent messenger" at the Jackpile Mine (95; see later essays, "Fifth World" & "Notes on Almanac")
    —Silko's final provocative claim for "Mother Earth" (is this true?!): "The land has not been desecrated [by mining, etc.]; human beings desecrate only themselves. The Mother Earth is inviolable" (95; see also 125, where the earth is "inviolate"). [A wonderful sentiment, but also a good excuse for "Mr. Greed"? For those who claim there's no global warming?]

* "Hunger Stalked the Tribal People" (96-99) [1994]
    —"hunger" even in the 20th century, due to govt. policies (96)
    **—in contrast, the traditional Pueblo ways encourage sharing: "To share one's food is to demonstrate one's humanity"—versus them greedy animals!? (97). . . . (However, her examples of hawks swallowing first and regurgitating later is just bad ornithology; birds do so—most notably, pigeons and many seabirds—to half-digest the food for their young!) . . . example: Pueblo vs. Navajo raiders (97-98) . . . but then does S. contradict herself by saying that food sharing—e.g., the 1st Thanksgiving—"isn't great spirituality or generosity but simple human intelligence" (98)?  (Indeed, to extend such cynicism, Nietszche would say that all such benevolence is really a self-serving will-to-power.)
        —coda: from Thanksgiving to Halloween, and a history lesson on "the living hungry enough to masquerade as dead souls"—ergo, "Trick or treat"! . . . "Every day in the U.S. should be Thanksgiving," then, or else: "every night in the U.S. might be 'Trick or Treat,' and it won't just be hungry ghosts of ancestors playing the tricks" (98-99)!

* "Fences Against Freedom" (100-114) [1994]
    —Silko's lifelong study of "race" (100-102), and the "scientific evidence that there is only one race" and the "'one race, human race'" theory (Montagu) (100-101)
    —but still many people "under the influence of nineteenth-century notions" of several (hierarchal) races (101); e.g., Carleton Coon[!] (102)
    —Pueblo tradition supports the former view, of humankind as "one family . . . and no one is better or worse according to skin color or origin" (101); including acceptance of those of "mixed ancestry" (102-103) . . . because Pueblo cosmology "all-inclusive," incl. knowledge of "many children in faraway places" (103)
        —however, younger Pueblos looked at S. differently, having learned racism from the "outside world" (104)
    —school experience: repression of Pueblo language, and "herded like cattle" (105)
    —at last: "Racism is a constant factor in the United States; it is always in the picture even if it only forms the background" (106) . . . from Nixon on, U.S. politicians have used "race" as a "trump card" (106-107) . . . immigration policy, especially, as the term "'illegal aliens'" has become a code phrase with which "to dehumanize and demonize" those who are, for the most part, "people of color" (107; see also 112: "racist immigration policies . . . demonizing all people of color"; see also 121)
    —and so, S. turns to the Border Patrol (107): the stories on pp. 108-112 are pretty much rehearsals of the same material in "The Border Patrol" (see there) . . . racial profiling in particular: 114
    —more political radicalism: the U.S. not really a "representative democracy," given the economic elitism; it is really "'big capitalism'" that actually thrives "by keeping the people . . . divided . . . into warring factions"! (113; e.g., whites vs. the racial "Other"; "us" vs. "'foreigners'" [I would also point to the GWBush administration's playing of the "gay marriage" card.])
    —but note S.'s subsquent rhetorical appeal: "We citizens of the United States" (113)—that is, all of us—should be concerned at this infringement of basic freedoms perpetrated by the Border Patrol
    —(another) dire prediction: this descent "into further government-mandated 'race policies' . . . can only end in madness and genocide" (114)


To the Top

 TU, March 12th::
** "The Border Patrol State" (115-123) [1994]
    —Native Americans "patriotic," and "proud citizens" (115)—until the Border Patrol's new policies & tactics?
    —main anecdote, of Silko and Gus, stopped at night on way to Tucson (116-118)
        —"'looking for trouble'" attitude of officers (116)
        —comparison to Argentina's "'dirty war'" (117)!
        **—dog (female German Shepherd)—who "hated" the officers and "would not serve them" (117); S. & the dog exchange "looks" (117-118); the dog "refuses to accuse" them, since "she had an innate dignity that did not permit her to serve the murderous impulses of those men. I can't forget the expression in the dog's eyes"; even though S. had "a small amount of medicinal marijuana," the dog "refused to expose" her (118)  [Note how, as in the "Native ecofeminism" of Linda Hogan, Natives, women, and animals seem to have a natural alliance.]
    —then "THESIS": "Since the 1980's, on top of greatly expanding border checkpoints, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol have implemented policies that interfere with the rights of U.S. citizens to travel freely within our borders" (118)
    —but this all-inclusive "we" is really largely limited to people of color, or whites who fit the "profile" of political radicalism; note, too, Silko's emphasis that much of the oppressed poor of Latin America are "Native American or mestizo [mixed-blood]" (119)
    —more, 2nd-hand, examples of this injustice (120-121)—and the effective parallelism of the repeated "Never mind" (120)
    —At last: "This is the police state that has developed in the Southwest United States since the 1980's." . . . stunning statistics regarding the denizens of South Tucson (121)
    —"Manifest Destiny" has now become a closed-door immigration policy, with "'Immigration'" a political buzzword by which to scare the electorate (121) . . . unjustly, U.S. policy "has continually attempted to sever contact between the tribal people north of the border and those to the south" (121; I won't say, see Almanac!—oh, I just did. . . .)
    —irony of the "Iron-Curtain"-esque plans for a steel wall across the border with Mexico . . . but—"It's no use; borders haven't worked, and they won't work, not now, as the indigenous people of the Americas re-assert their kinship and solidarity with one another. A mass migration is already underway" (122-123) . . . that kinship a cultural one, with "shared cosmologies" that include—"Quetzalcoatl [KETzulKWAHTul], the benevolent snake" (123; aka the "plumed serpent," part snake, part bird)
    —"Deep down . . . the so-called Indian Wars . . . have never really ended. . . . The Americas are Indian country, and the 'Indian problem' is not about to go away"; and, as if in fulfillment of her prophecy, the final anecdote of "dark young men" coming north; as the old Aztec story says, "they will return" (123)


—my text/design-edit of a Facebook-shared meme

* "Fifth World: The Return of Ma ah shra true ee, the Giant Serpent" (124-134) [1989]
    —Europeans' "acclimation" to this continent is going to take a lot longer than 500 years (124-125)
    —Native prophecies of the Europeans' coming (125; see also 137)—and their eventual "disappearance" (125, see also 133)
    [—1st poem (125-126)—by Silko—originally the intro/epigraph to her novel Ceremony]
    —the "giant stone snake" at the Jackpile uranium mine (near Paguate [pah-GWAH-tay], on the Laguna Pueblo rez.) (126-128)
        —conjectures on its connection to Ma ah shra true ee, the "sacred messenger spirit / from the Fourth World below" (126-127)
        —versus the blight and affront that is the open-pit uranium mine, an inconceivable "blasting open" of the earth (127) . . . "sacrilege" to the elders, but out of economic necessity, the younger Pueblos actually begin working there—to the elders' predictions of "dire results" (128; see later high-school suicide pact)
    [—Silko poem on pp. 128-130 originally from Ceremony (47-48)]
    —subsequent community horrors: suicide pact, brutal axe murder (130-131)—elders' explanation: it's from the disruption of the environment, the ecological knowledge that the "destruction of any part of the earth does immediate harm to all living things" (131) . . . S.'s supporting example of "that single tree in the rain forest of Brazil"; "If it has taken environmental catastrophe to reveal to us" this eco-connectedness, why can't we listen "to the message of sand and stone in the form of a giant snake," which seems to have "come to remind us that violence in the Americas . . . can run as deep . . . as the deepest shafts with which humankind has pierced the earth" (132)?
    —the Laguna Pueblos' continuing fashioning of often contradictory stories about the snake, in line with the "multiple meanings" possible in Pueblo cosmological tales (133)
    —Silko's own final prophecy: "Just as the Laguna prophecies say that all things European will eventually pass away, Europeans have . . . predicted the demise of all things Native American" (133); but "What is true will persist. In spite of everything, Ma ah shra true ee, the sacred messenger, will appear again and again. Nothing can stop that. Not even a uranium mine" (134).
    [—concluding Silko poem (134) originally from Ceremony (53-54)]

* "Notes on Almanac of the Dead" (135-145) [1996?]
    —S. doesn't consciously plan & outline for her novels; rather she works by "intuition and instinct" (135—leading to the "riddle" that is the serpent in the writing of Almanac of the Dead)
    —S.'s interest in Mayan astronomy and concept of "time" (rather like "Nietzsche's notion of the "eternal return") (135-136); and their almanacs—"all incomplete" (136—and thus fragmented: like the style of Almanac, by the way)
        —and the Pueblos' similar conception of time as "cyclic" and "round—like a tortilla" (136-137)!
        —ergo the possibility of prophecy: e.g., the Mayan prediction of the "exact day" Cortez arrived (137) . . . and the first(?) character idea for the novel, of a psychic (137-138; to become Lecha, in the novel)
    —2nd interest: "the old-time Pueblo beliefs concerning snakes," of course!; her own memories of being "able to approach and talk to the rattlesnakes" (138; see also 140-141: "I'm good friends with the snakes that live in the vicinity of my house"!)
    —the great stone snake and Jackpile Mine (138-139); when the mine closes down, S. is relieved "to think maybe the mine and all that it symbolizes had not yet won" (139)
    —then "vivid dreams" of war in Mexico & the U.S. Southwest (139) . . . Cf. the real Tucson described later, with "rifle fire" and the homeless, a side of the U.S. "that no one wants to talk about" (including a corrupt "justice system") (141)
    —Style/PATTERN of Almanac non-linear, based on the Mayan almanacs, and "made of myths" (140)
    —S.'s Tucson mural, of a "rattlesnake thirty feet long," and a revolutionary text in Spanish (142-143; see 150-151 for photo of mural)
    —S.'s perceived connection between the "giant stone snake" and the "giant snake deities of the Americas and of Africa" (143; see also 147)
    **—answer of the riddle of the serpent: "I felt as if the giant snake was somehow involved with the end of the novel" (143); Ah—"The snake in my mural is a messenger." . . . "But it wasn't until . . . I wrote the last sentence of Almanac, that I realized that the giant snake had been a catalyst for the novel from the start," and "I had to write this novel to figure out for myself the meaning of" its appearance "near the uranium mine in 1979" (144)
    [—By the way, here are the last few sentences of Almanac: "Sterling [and Silko!] knew why the giant snake had returned now; he knew what the snake's message was to the people. The snake was looking south, in the direction from which the twin brothers and the people would come" (763).]

* "Tribal Prophecies" (146-148) [1991]
    —Christian Europeans to the New World—as prophesied:
        —"Torture and death have been the centerpieces of Christianity in the Americas from the beginning" (147)
        —including other species: the burning "alive" of the Aztecs' "sacred macaws and parrots" (146)
        —an eco-disaster also prophesied: "natural catastrophes," "droughts and famines, the disappearance of the animals," until "all things European will . . . disappear," and the "tribal people . . . will regain their ancestral lands" (147; see also 153)
    **—vs.—the SNAKE:
        —Quetzalcoatl, "Divine Serpent of Feathers and Flowers": othered as Satan by the Christians (note how Q. ≈ the Pueblos' Ma ah shra true ee, and even Damballah of Africa) (147)
        ****—indeed, the Christian demonization of the serpent in Eden reflective of a general Western (the "northern tribes") ideological battle "against the religion of the Africans to the South and . . . Damballah"—and later, Quetzalcoatl and company. "Those who loathe snakes"—who are at last "spirit messengers"—"have been brainwashed by the Old Testament" (147)
        —last paragraph (147) sim. to the end of Almanac (see quot. above)

* "Stone Avenue Mural" (149-151) [1994]
    —S.'s own role in the 500-year "war of resistance" (150) continues, with her painting of the Tucson mural. . . . Note the tone of apocalypticism: "The mountains shake and fall"; "hurricane winds" and "fire and flood" sympathetically accompany "the ancestor spirits [as they] announce the time that will return" (150; see also 185, on "Great climactic changes," including the greenhouse effect)
        —at last, there "will be no peace . . . until there is justice" (151)—not to mention a good deal of retribution!? . . .

* "An Expression of Profound Gratitude to the Maya Zapatistas, January 1, 1994" (152-154) [1994]
    —a redux of some of S.'s main "themes" of her Almanac period (and of Ceremony, including the "destroyers" who existed from the beginning [153])
        —last paragraph (153-154) a "repeat" from "Stone Avenue Mural"


Speaking of Silko's Mayan prophecies, etc. . . . John & Martha #12
(TCG, 2009 [my photo: 2007])


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 TH, March 14th::
* "The Indian with a Camera" (175-179) [1990]
    —"sacred" petroglyphs (175; cf. Momaday's several takes on this subject)
    —family basket of photos (176; see also 15)
    —but 1st: white men w/ cameras: "cheap voyeurs," or worse, providers of evidence against the "outlawed . . . Pueblo religion" (176); thus the initial Pueblo appreciation of the "power" of the photograph often related to such "outrages of privacy" (177)
    —but then the adopting by the Pueblo of the photo as art form: an example of Native "inclusivity," by a people that had already combined Quetzalcoatl with Jesus!; the whites' preference for "traditional native artists," evidence of these peoples' eternal alien status (177)
    —thus the "Indian with the camera is frightening" (177); Silko's leap: the "Indian with the camera" is indicative of "the time when" the Natives "will retake their land," "announcing the twilight of Eurocentric America" (178; see also 185)!? [or—a sign of eventual assimilation?]
        —above all, the camera a new tool for the long-time Pueblo transmission of culture (178)
        —final paragraphs: reference to the 20th-century crisis of Indian Removal; but the people have survived, have returned again to the land, the "place that soaked them in" (179)

[New (2019) "Editorial":] Of course, the "disappearance of all things European" is now an impossibility, given the sheer reality of cultural hybridity. Even if all Euro-Americans died off from some sudden "white disease" or were somehow "sent packing" back to Mother Europe, the "Indian w/ the Camera" would still be a good part European in a sense—or (to coin a phrase) "Euro-American Indian." And given ongoing cultural and genetic hybridity, maybe that's where many of we "Americans" are headed?!

* "On Photography" (180-186) [1992]
    —S.'s perception, similar to Heisenberg's principle of indeterminacy, that in quantum physics the observer influences the observed—in this case, the photo (180-181)
    —recurring anecdote of her (synchronistic) photo series of car, spider web, and "shallow grave" (181-182; see also 23)
    —extension of initial "physics lesson" to relationship of "electromagnetic force" and contemporary violence and mass hysteria (182)
    —older photos of Natives (e.g., Geronimo) —even though products of "colonial experimentation"—show "visible" signs of resistance" (182-183)
        —white "voyeurs/vampires like [Edward S.] Curtis" (184)—vs. photos taken with "love" (184; again, cf. introductory "physics lesson")
    —now, versus 19th-c. photographic exploitation, "Indians are changed, but in control" (184)

* "An Essay on Rocks" (187-191) [1996?]
    —"anecdote" of a rock—or rather, its varying appearance to the narrator?
        —first, a mere "black form" (187) that S. has watched "for months" from a distance (190); finally, as she approaches it, "It is only a black rock the size of an auto engine[!]" (190-191)
        —"theme"?: "the appearance of a rock may change from hour to hour" (191)?! . . . indeed, one might well wonder what the POINT is of this entire essay, which, in the middle, teases us with some suspense and even promise of "adventure"?: but don't her minute descriptions and her very privileging of this one "mere object" relate to her "grander" ideas in a very vital and marvelous way? And the last sentence—
        —the final striking image of a "giant bear sleeping" that was actually, upon approach, "only" a "great basalt boulder" (191)  [—melting the boundaries of animate and inanimate]
        —[much later add:] I tend now to read this essay as "simply" a study in perspectivism. And/or "Imagination" meets "Reality"—as in Momaday's "Crows" poem?

Poetic Interlude #4: Silko Poems
* "Indian Song: Survival" (Laguna Woman, 1974)
    —the most obscure poem first—sorry: knowledge of Pueblo lore is in order here, as the female narrator is the katchina Yellow Woman, the archetype of female fertility (etc.!)—note the rampant rebirth imagery—and her companion (here, "mountainlion [man]"), the male-principle/katchina-deity (Jung's "divine marriage") . . . See LMS's famous short story "Yellow Woman" for more intertextual clarification.
    —and so the two play out the eternal mythic (and ultimately seasonal) journey, from south to north and back again (cf. the Greek myth of Persephone); note that, in the central story of Yellow Woman, "Winter" is YW's husband, and a male rival, "Summer" (aka "mountainlion man," etc.), abducts her: on one level, then, the two lovers in the poem are literally fleeing "Winter" (the seasonal deity)
    —most notable, in my mind, however, is how (this) Yellow Woman's "cosmic" consciousness allows for radical point-of-view shifts, as she becomes species after species: e.g., section 6, and the wonderful coda: "I am the wind . . . I am the lean grey deer / running on the edge of the rainbow"! (See next poem for a similar PofV shift, "across species.")
* "Hawk and Snake" (Laguna Woman, 1974)
    —poem's initial move—"away" from humans & civilization, "back" to sheer animal existence? . . .
    **—to "snake" (the chthonic?) and "hawk" (the ethereal?); and the final cross-species identification/merger of the human narrator with both: "I am back again"; "I sweep high" in the sky; and also "I peer out from my rocks" of low earth
    **—hmmm: note that Quetzalcoatl is a mythic animal of both scales and feathers: this poem could even be read as a similar marriage of that archetypal pair, the eagle-&-serpent. . . .
* "Preparations" (Laguna Woman, 1974)
    —the eco-"circle of life" (to employ the now-Disney cliché) is portrayed here as a sacred ritual, as the crows make careful, almost reverent, "preparations" for their sacrificial repast, as it were (note the delicous irony/pun, "attended"); they even "speak" words of ritual endings: "this will be finished"; "It is done." Amen, brothers, and hecetu yelo! And "let it be done in beauty [hozho]." (See Hogan's "Crow Law" for a similar theme.)
* "The Time We Climbed Snake Mountain" (Laguna Woman, 1974)
    —land rights/"ownership" extended to (one of S.'s favorite) other species: "The mountain is his."
    —note how the strophic shape and perhaps even the "s" consonance ("step on the "spotted"; "The mountain is his."?!) may be said to mimic the poem's subject
    —note also that many of my previous students want to read the poem as a metaphor or allegory: snake = Native American; works well, doesn't it!?—but such a homocentric emphasis also denies the sheer reality and alterity of the snake. . . .
* "Long time ago" (excerpts) (Storyteller, 1981 (130-137) [but 1st appeared in Ceremony, 1977 (132-138)])
    —Euro colonialism (& environmental rapine) told via the mythic framework of a contest between evil sorcerers
    —Question: Silko's use of "ancient" prophecies is very much in line with the notion of time as a circle (that is, if everything has already happened, as it were, it's much easier to know the future!); but doesn't this seeming inevitability & determinism also relieve humankind (espec. Euro-Americans) of political/ethical responsibility? (Not that I'm a big believer in free will myself. . . .)

*Linda Hogan  1947- (Chickasaw1)
—champion of a triumvirate of "Others"—gender, race, and species (see Dedication, first sentence of Preface of Dwellings)
—some "labels": ecofeminism; "spiritual" ecology (i.e., an emphasis on intuition—see 1st essay, "The Feathers"—and "feeling," and a New-Age-esque "inner growth" via an expansion of ecological consciousness); deep ecology [Arne Naess, 1972; vs. "shallow ecology," mainstream environmentalism]: radical (eco-) or bio-egalitarianism (also: ecocentrism); anti-anthropocentrism (aka homocentrism)—in brief, the philosophy that other species have their own integral worth (and "equal rights" to respect and survival)
Selected Bibliography::::
** Calling Myself Home (1978; poems)
* Eclipse (1983; poems)
* Seeing Through the Sun (1985; poems)
** "The Two Lives" (1987; in I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers, ed. Brian Swann and Arnold Krupat)
* Mean Spirit (1990; novel)
* Red Clay: Poems & Stories (1991)
** The Book of Medicines (1993; poems)
** Solar Storms (1995; novel)
** Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World (1995; essays)
** Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals (1997; ecofeminist essays, edited by Hogan, Brenda Peterson, and Deena Metzger)
* Power (1998; novel)
* The Sweet Breathing of Plants: Women and the Green World (2000; more ecofeminist essays, edited by Hogan and Brenda Peterson)
* The Woman Who Watches Over the World: A Native Memoir (2001)
1 "The name Chickasaw is a bird sound. It whistles when you say it" (Hausman).


—got at LH's reading at Kearney, 2007

* Preface (11-12)
    —1st sentence establishes immediately her defense of three interrelated "Others": race, gender, and species (11)
        —continuing the connection of (Native) race and species, H. employs the word "treaties" to include the "broken agreements" with "the land and with the animals" (9; see also 46)
    —this book's about "[p]eople, animals, land"—all three "live and conscious"—with the recognition "that humankind is not separate from nature" (12)

* "The Feathers" (15-20) [cf. the Dedication]
    —on the synchronistic "magic" of a particular eagle feather—
    —H. wants a feather from a live eagle because a "bird killed in the name of human power is . . . a loss of power from the world" (15)
    —dream, in which she tells herself to "Look up"; she awakens, to "a large golden eagle" flying "toward the window," and the gaze! (cf. Silko's dog)—"I could see its dark eyes looking in at me"—and so she later finds a real feather from the bird, a synchronistic "gift" to her wish for one (16)
        —without using the word "synchronicity," H. comes close to it by acknowledging that such an event is "against logic," but the work of "another force" involving the "mystery of nature and spirit" (17)
    —2nd anecdote, of granddaughter's lost umbilical cord, and the eagle feather's "aid" in finding it (17-19)
        —again, the explanation is arational: "Perhaps there are events and things that work as a doorway into the mythical world," a sort of "sacred reason . . . linked to forces of nature" (19; cf. Vizenor's "natural reason") . . . "There is a still place, a gap between worlds, spoken by the tribal knowings of a thousand years. . . . There is something alive in a feather. . . . there are simple powers, strange and real" (20)


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 TU, March 26th::


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 TH, March 28th::


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