lecture notes





Declaration of Independence

human divisions frustrating but not senseless

frustrating that humans can get along with each other in some ways but not others

or get along with some people but not others













What to learn about American Indians: 1. You never stop learning

Indians not monolithic group

300 different cultures / groups

mostly grouped by languages > dialects, sometimes by shared history as with 5 Civilized Tribes



Ojibwe call North America "Turtle Island"



need to overcome two contending and equally dehumanizing images from past:

early North America: Indians = terrorists

Romantic era (late 1700s, early 1800s) = noble savage (Last of the Mohicans, Dances with Wolves)

2nd is kinder, but maybe as dehumanizing as first

Both images have negative implications for dominant culture


American Indian identity elusive b/c essentially so different

"American Indian" doesn't mean one ethnic culture but many; however, some "pan-Indian" qualities . . .


spoken culture X written culture of dominant culture (compared to African American minority literature, American Indian literature is slower to emerge in print; native languages persist longer than African languages)


traditional, past-modeled culture X modern or revolutionary, future-modeled culture


identification with place, land X time, history, immigration


world or nature in perpetual creation X Biblical Creation as finished, completed, final (though evolution differs)

implications of last:
Anglos idolize or fantasize Indians who might have been long ago, but ignore Indians of today. (Houston has 4th largest urban population of census-identified American Indians, but who knew?)

Indians respect the past but don't expect to stay there.




Iroquois Origin Stories (all earth-diver)

1.1 Skyworld, Celestial Tree (+ earthly correspondent)

1.2 Skywoman, baby, dream, tree uprooted

1.3 fall, seeds

1.4 birds and animals help

1.5 [earth-diver], tiny muskrat = she

1.6 life on earth had begun

1.7 birth to a daughter > twin sons: Bad Mind (Flint) and Good Mind; cf. Genesis 3.12, where Adam blames Eve?

1.8 daughter's head > Grandmother Moon; body > three sisters (corn, beans, squash)

1.9 Good Mind makes beauty, Bad Mind envious

1.10 Bad Mind banished to caves beneath earth


2.1 Skyworld, beings +- human beings, power to make things happen by thinking

2.2 Tree of Life

2.3 not to disturb tree; woman pregnant asks for drink from roots; Mature Flower; tree falls, woman falls

2.4 water birds catch her

2.5 Turtle Island

2.6 needed dirt [earth-diver]; seeds, land and plant-life

2.7 daughter walks west, male-being West Wind, 2 crossed arrows > twin boys

2.9 right-handed and left-handed twin; body of mother > corn, beans, squash

2.11 Sky Woman's head > Grandmother Moon, regulates monthly cycles of all female life

2.12 human beings = caretakers but keep forgetting; web of life


3.1 recorded by John Norton 1816; Scottish & Cherokee parents, adopted by Mohawk

3.2 country above the sky, Superior Beings; Great Spirit, daughter, pregnant; Great Spirit orders earth-diver

3.3 spirits in human form, two arrows

3.4 twins argue, one kills mother

3.5 Holder of Heaven & Flinty Rock

3.6 Father as Protector; gives corn; IDs as Great Turtle

3.8 wicked brother imprisons animals in cave

3.9 liberates animals

Good twin as clever, cunning, learns stronger twin's secrets or weaknesses

13.16 kills brother > many languages


[twins in Round House]


oral culture, many versions of basic story

contrast Genesis, "it is written" > stable, enduring, unchanging truth rather than evolving truth




related by So-Son-Dowa [oral culture]


1 where swarmed many people


1 preacher of queen's religion


2 volumes hidden in chest [written culture; writing survives time]


2 no right to read the book


2 a great man who had been a prophet and the son of the Great Ruler. He had been born on the earth and the white men to whom he preached killed him. Now moreover the prophet had promised to return and become the King. In three days he was to come and then in forty to start his kingdom. This did not happen as his followers had expected


3 chief preacher: seek him out [i.e. pope?]


4 [dream?] morning, river, island, castle of gold


5 handsome smiling young man; across ocean another country, virtuous people


5 Those people are virtuous, they have no unnatural evil habits and they are honest. A great reward is yours if you will help me. Here are five things that men and women enjoy; take them to these people and make them as white men are. Then shall you be rich and powerful and you may become the chief of all great preachers here."


6 bundle containing the five things and made the bargain


6 castle and island vanish


7 a flask of rum, a pack of playing cards, a handful of coins, a violin and a decayed leg bone.


8 a man named Columbus and to him he confided the story. Then did Columbus secure some big canoes and raise up wings [sails]


9 the evil one


10 he said, "I think I have made an enormous mistake for I did not dream that these people would suffer so." Then did even the devil himself lament that his evil had been so great.



[individual characterization becomes blurred in traditional culture]






1.1 wigwam, Missouri River


1.2 mother sad, silent, hard bitter lines, tears [loss]


1.4 wild little girl, free as the wind

She taught me no fear save that of intruding myself upon others.


1.5 I was not wholly conscious of myself, but was more keenly alive to the fire within. It was as if I were the activity, and my hands and feet were only experiments for my spirit to work upon.


1.6 I admired my cousin greatly. So I said: "Mother, when I am tall as my cousin Warca-Ziwin, you shall not have to come for water. I will do it for you." [extended family]


1.7 "If the paleface does not take away from us the river we drink."


[I.9] "My little daughter, he is a sham,—a sickly sham! The bronzed Dakota is the only real man." [self-other\


1.11 the hill where my uncle and my only sister lay buried. [place over time, mobility]


[I.12] "There is what the paleface has done! Since then your father too has been buried in a hill nearer the rising sun. We were once very happy. But the paleface has stolen our lands and driven us hither.


1.13 driven, my child, driven like a herd of buffalo

the Great Spirit had forgotten us!



2.4-2.5 oral-spoken culture, legends, uncle's reputation


2.5 observe this very proper silence, a sensing of the atmosphere [not school but apprenticeship]


[2.6] The old folks knew the meaning of my pauses; and often they coaxed my confidence by asking, "What do you seek, little granddaughter?"


2.9 "What were they doing when you entered their tepee?" This taught me to remember all I saw at a single glance. [gossip]


2.10 "What is your mother doing?" [gossip]


2.11 Iktomi story [*Iktomi = trickster in Sioux folklore]


[2.12] Soothing my impatience, my mother said aloud, "My little daughter is anxious to hear your legends."


2.13 the old women made funny remarks


[2.14] The distant howling of a pack of wolves or the hooting of an owl in the river bottom frightened me


[2.15] On such an evening, I remember the glare of the fire shone on a tattooed star upon the brow of the old warrior who was telling a story. I watched him curiously as he made his unconscious gestures. The blue star upon his bronzed forehead was a puzzle to me. Looking about, I saw two parallel lines on the chin of one of the old women. The rest had none. I examined my mother's face, but found no sign there.


2.17 secret signs [writing?]




3.1 dwelling opens to nature


3.2 beads cf. palette; I felt the envious eyes of my playmates upon the pretty red beads decorating my feet.


3.3 mimesis


3.8 impersonating our mothers





4.2 a tall, broad-shouldered crazy man, some forty years old, who walked loose among the hills. Wiyaka-Napbina (Wearer of a Feather Necklace)


4.3 the belief that an evil spirit was haunting his steps; such a silly big man


[4.4] "Pity the man, my child. I knew him when he was a brave and handsome youth. He was overtaken by a malicious spirit among the hills, one day, when he went hither and thither after his ponies. Since then he can not stay away from the hills," she said.


4.8 an old grandfather who had often told me Iktomi legends.  [*Iktomi = trickster in Sioux folklore]


4.13 During this performance I felt conscious of being watched.


4.15 neither she nor the warrior, whom the law of our custom had compelled to partake of my insipid hospitality, said anything to embarrass me. They treated my best judgment, poor as it was, with the utmost respect.


[touching, moving, but strange?]



5.1-5.5 feast to recognize warrior's successes


5.3 a custom for young Indian women to invite some older relative to escort them to the public feasts. Though it was not an iron law, it was generally observed. [see 3.12 in School Days]


[5.7] "My child, learn to wait. On our way to the celebration we are going to stop at Chanyu's wigwam. His aged mother-in-law is lying very ill, and I think she would like a taste of this small game."


5.8 momentary shame


[5.11] "Never pluck a single plum from this brush, my child, for its roots are wrapped around an Indian's skeleton. A brave is buried here. While he lived he was so fond of playing the game of striped plum seeds that, at his death, his set of plum seeds were buried in his hands. From them sprang up this little bush."


5.12 forbidden fruit, sacred ground [western idiom, Indian concept]



6.1 older aunt, jovial and less reserved


6.2 string of large blue beads around her neck,—beads that were precious because my uncle had given them


6.4 the sacred hour when a misty smoke hung over a pit surrounded by an impassable sinking mire.


[6.6] From a field in the fertile river bottom my mother and aunt gathered an abundant supply of corn. Near our tepee they spread a large canvas upon the grass, and dried their sweet corn in it. I was left to watch the corn, that nothing should disturb it. I played around it with dolls made of ears of corn. I braided their soft fine silk for hair, and gave them blankets as various as the scraps I found in my mother's workbag.


[6.8] When mother had dried all the corn she wished, then she sliced great pumpkins into thin rings; and these she doubled and linked together into long chains. She hung them on a pole that stretched between two forked posts. The wind and sun soon thoroughly dried the chains of pumpkin. Then she packed them away in a case of thick and stiff buckskin.


[6.11] Some missionaries gave me a little bag of marbles. They were all sizes and colors. Among them were some of colored glass. Walking with my mother to the river, on a late winter day, we found great chunks of ice piled all along the bank. The ice on the river was floating in huge pieces. As I stood beside one large block, I noticed for the first time the colors of the rainbow in the crystal ice. Immediately I thought of my glass marbles at home. With my bare fingers I tried to pick out some of the colors, for they seemed so near the surface. But my fingers began to sting with the intense cold, and I had to bite them hard to keep from crying.


[6.12] From that day on, for many a moon, I believed that glass marbles had river ice inside of them. [cf. metaphor, known to unknown]



7.1 first turning away


7.2 they had come to take away Indian boys and girls to the East.


[7.3] "Mother, my friend Judewin is going home with the missionaries. She is going to a more beautiful country than ours; [cf. immigration]


7.4 my big brother Dawee had returned from a three years' education in the East,

buffalo skin > canvas > cabin of logs


7.7 the Wonderland


7.9 not yet an ambition for Letters that was stirring me.


7.10 [As an inversion of the Genesis story, the missionaries and by proxy Judewin tempt the protagonist with forbidden fruit?]


7.17 [As in Genesis, the human protagonist listens to an outsider instead of listening to the parent or parental God]


7.23 She will need an education when she is grown, for then there will be fewer real Dakotas, and many more palefaces. This tearing her away, so young, from her mother is necessary, if I would have her an educated woman. [assimilation]








1.2 Red Apple Country; throngs of staring palefaces


[1.3] On the train, fair women, with tottering babies on each arm, stopped their haste and scrutinized the children of absent mothers. Large men, with heavy bundles in their hands, halted near by, and riveted their glassy blue eyes upon us. [grotesqueness, strangeness of self]


1.4 bold white faces


1.5 telegraph poles


1.9 strong glaring light, large whitewashed room, harsh noise, woman tosses up



2.1 loud metallic voice, clatter of shoes


2.2 immodestly dressed


2.3 Among our people, short hair was worn by mourners, and shingled hair by cowards!


2.6 squeaking shoes, crawled under bed


2.7 I resisted, tied in a chair


2.8 cold blades, lost my spirit, Not a soul reasoned quietly with me, as my own mother used to do; for now I was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.



3.1 shrill voice, imperative hand


3.4 severe tones [dominant culture as hard, cold]


3.7 a hard spanking


3.12 broken English


3.12 a rule which seemed needlessly binding [cf. 5.3 in Indian Childhood]


3.14 I whooped in my heart for having once asserted the rebellion within me. [internalized self]



4.1 legends the old warriors told me


4.2 a large book, picture of white man's devil


4.5 white man's papers


4.6 the Stories of the Bible


4.6 scratching out eyes [meaning? beyond us?]


V. IRON ROUTINE [modern culture, cf. comparative freedom and leisure of traditional culture]

5.1 loud-clamoring bell


5.5 our daily records, iron routine, civilizing machine


5.6 the open pages of the white man's Bible. The dying Indian girl talked disconnectedly of Jesus the Christ


5.7 actively testing the chains which tightly bound my individuality like a mummy for burial.


5.8 These sad memories rise above those of smoothly grinding school days. Perhaps my Indian nature is the moaning wind which stirs them now for their present record.



6.2 My mother had never gone inside of a schoolhouse, and so she was not capable of comforting her daughter who could read and write.


6.5 pony ride


6.9 I did not appreciate his kindly interest


6.12 They were no more young braves in blankets and eagle plumes, nor Indian maids with prettily painted cheeks. They had gone three years to school in the East, and had become civilized. The young men wore the white man's coat and trousers, with bright neckties. The girls wore tight muslin dresses, with ribbons at neck and waist. At these gatherings they talked English.


[6.14] My mother was troubled by my unhappiness. Coming to my side, she offered me the only printed matter we had in our home. It was an Indian Bible, given her some years ago by a missionary. She tried to console me. "Here, my child, are the white man's papers. Read a little from them," she said most piously.


6.17 my mother's voice wailing among the barren hills which held the bones of buried warriors. She called aloud for her brothers' spirits


6.19 drove me away to the eastern school. I rode on the white man's iron steed,



7.1 a secret interview with one of our best medicine men, bundle of magic roots


7.2 proud owner of my first diploma, college career against my mother's will


[7.3] I had written for her approval, but in her reply I found no encouragement. She called my notice to her neighbors' children, who had completed their education in three years. They had returned to their homes, and were then talking English with the frontier settlers. Her few words hinted that I had better give up my slow attempt to learn the white man's ways, and be content to roam over the prairies and find my living upon wild roots. I silenced her by deliberate disobedience.

7.4 I began anew my life among strangers.


7.5 a cold race whose hearts were frozen hard with prejudice.


7.7 my hands were tired from their weaving, the magic design which promised me the white man's respect.


7.8 an oratorical contest


7.10 bouquet of roses


7.11 first place


7.11  smile when they wished to escort me in a procession to the students' parlor, where all were going to calm themselves. Thanking them for the kind spirit which prompted them to make such a proposition, I walked alone with the night to my own little room.


7.12 college representative in another contest.


7.13 strong prejudice against my people.


7.14 a large white flag, with a drawing of a most forlorn Indian girl on it. Under this they had printed in bold black letters words that ridiculed the college which was represented by a "squaw."


7.17 The evil spirit laughed within me when the white flag dropped out of sight, and the hands which hurled it hung limp in defeat.


7.18 soon in my room.







3 When his small granddaughter grew up she learned the white man's tongue, and followed in the footsteps of her grandfather to the very seat of government to carry on his humanitarian work.


3 a strange dream one night during her stay in Washington.


 3 clean, strong and durable in its native genuineness


5 her childhood days and the stories she loved to hear


5 medicine bags


5 symbols designed by the great "medicine man,"


5 never made for relics.


6 disappointment, seeing no beaded Indian regalia or trinkets.


7 The gift was a fantastic thing


7 a vision! A picture of an Indian camp


7 dream-stuff


7 real as life,—a circular camp of white cone-shaped tepees, astir with Indian people.


8 "Be glad! Rejoice! Look up, and see the new day dawning! Help is near! Hear me, every one."