LITR 5731 Seminar in Multicultural Literature: American Minority 2010

Discussion-Leader Presentation



Omar Syed

LITR 5731

North American Indian Origin Stories

1C 3B 5A

1c. To observe alternative identities and literary strategies developed by minority cultures and writers to gain voice and choice:

·        “double language” (same words, different meanings to different audiences)

·        using the dominant culture’s words against them

·        conscience to dominant culture (which otherwise forgets the past).

3b. Native American Indian alternative narrative: "Loss and Survival"
(Whereas immigrants define themselves by leaving the past behind in order to get America, the Indians once had America but lost it along with many of their people. Yet they defy the myth of "the vanishing Indian," instead choosing to "survive," sometimes in faith that the dominant culture will eventually destroy itself, and the forests and buffalo will return.)

5a.  To discover the power of poetry and fiction to help "others" hear the minority voice and vicariously share the minority experience.


Provisional Questions:

1- What Objectives can be seen in the various Iroquois creation stories and how does this differ from the Good Word story?


2- What other comparisons can be made between the Native American Creation stories and other genres of text we've read thus far- African American Slave Narritives, Song Of Solomon, etc?


From Arthur Parker, The Code of Handsome Lake, the Seneca Prophet (1913)



Now this happened a long time ago and across the great salt sea . . . that stretches east. There is, so it seems, a world there and soil like ours. There in the great queen's country where swarmed many people--so many that they crowded upon one another and had no place for hunting--there lived a great queen. Among her servants was a young preacher of the queen's religion, so, it is said.

Now this happened. The great queen requested the preacher to clean some old volumes [books] which she had concealed in a hidden chest. So he obeyed and when he had cleaned the last book, which was at the bottom of the chest, he opened it and looked about and listened, for truly he had no right to read the book and wanted no one to detect him. He read. It was a great book and told him many things which he never knew before. Therefore he was greatly worried. He read of 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 and so they despaired. Then said one chief follower, "Surely he will come again sometime, we must watch for him."

Then the young preacher became worried for he had discovered that his god was not on earth to see. He was angry moreover because his teachers had deceived him. So then he went to the chief of preachers and asked him how it was that he had deceived him. Then the chief preacher said, "Seek him out and you will find him for indeed we think he does live on earth." Even so, his heart was angry but he resolved to seek.

On the morning of the next day he looked out from the opening of his room and saw out in the river a beautiful island and he marveled that he had never seen it before. He continued to gaze and as he did he saw among the trees a castle of gold . . . that he had not . . . before. Then he said, "So beautiful a castle on so beautiful an isle must indeed be the abode of him whom I seek." Immediately he put on his clothes and went to the men who had taught him and they wondered and said, "Indeed it must be as you say." So then together they went to the river and when they came to the shore they saw that it was spanned by a bridge of shining gold. . . .  [the other two men flee]

[The young man] knocked at the door and a handsome smiling man welcomed him in and said, "Do not be afraid of me." Then the smiling man in the castle of gold said, "I have wanted a young man such as you for some time. You are wise and afraid of nobody. . . . Listen to me and most truly you shall be rich. Across the ocean that lies toward the sunset is another world and a great country and a people whom you have never seen. 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."

So then the young man took the bundle containing the five things and made the bargain. He left the island and looking back saw that the bridge had disappeared and before he had turned his head the castle had gone and then as he looked the island itself vanished.

Now then the young man wondered if indeed he had seen his lord for his mind had been so full of business that he had forgotten to ask. So he opened his bundle of five things and found a flask of rum, a pack of playing cards, a handful of coins, a violin and a decayed leg bone. Then be thought the things very strange and he wondered if indeed his lord would send such gifts to the people across the water of the salt lake; but he remembered his promise.

The young man looked about for a suitable man in whom to confide his secret and after some searching he found a man named Columbus and to him he confided the story. Then did Columbus secure some big canoes and raise up wings and he sailed away. He sailed many days and his warriors became angry and cried that the chief who led them was a deceiver. They planned to behead him but he heard of the plan and promised that on the next day he would discover the new country. The next morning came and then did Columbus discover America. Then the boats turned back and reported their find to the whole world. Then did great ships come, a good many. Then did they bring many bundles of the five things and spread the gifts to all the men of the great earth island.

Then did the invisible man of the river island laugh and then did he say, "These cards will make them gamble away their wealth and idle their time; this money wilt make them dishonest and covetous and they will forget their old laws; this fiddle will make them dance with their arms about their wives and bring about a time of tattling and idle gossip; this rum will turn their minds to foolishness and they will barter their country for baubles; then will this secret poison eat the life from their blood and crumble their bones." So said the invisible man and be was Hanîsse'ono, the evil one.

Now all this was done and when afterward he saw the havoc and the misery his work had done 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.

From the Iroquois Indian Museum (



Creation Story I

Iroquois Indian Museum

Creation Story II

Iroquois Creation Myth, 1816


Skywoman, birds

Expecting a baby, dreamt Celestial Tree was uprooted. She fell into the hole, grasped seeds from the Celestial Tree.
Geese caught her and lowered her to water. She opened her hands let the seeds fall on the soil. Skywoman made her daughter’s Grandmother Moon that had power waters and corn, beans, and squash grew from her body.

Atsi’tsiaka:ion - Mature Flower- expecting a baby, Some say she lost balance and fell into hole- she knew she was destined to go through that hole and jumped, she was pushed. Grabbed seeds from Tree of Life and she fell through the hole in the sky, thus called her Sky Woman. Flock of water birds – geese/ blue heron/ swans-made a great blanket with their bodies and caught her. She put dirt on turtle’s back, stood up, sang, danced counter-clockwise and turtle’s shell grew, grains of dirt multiplied.  She dropped seeds from Tree of Life - grew right away.  She finished dancing, singing- land and plant life as far as could see. Sky Woman’s head is called Grandmother Moon-reflects light at night, helps the people keep time, controls tides, keeps company with the stars and the left-handed twin; regulates menstrual cycle

Superior BeingsGreat Spirit’s daughter become pregnant by illicit connection, Great Spirit pulled up tree, threw her through the Cavity to prevent her utter destruction,

Skywoman’s Daughter

Tekawerahkwa, a lovely woman. West Wind fell in love with her and took her as his bride.

Sky Woman gave birth to a baby girl.  - grew up, was told not to walk toward the west, but daughter walked toward the west.  As soon as she did so, a wind blew from the west and cloud moved toward the daughter-saw the outline of a male-being in the cloud.  The daughter fainted.-woke up, she found two crossed arrows lying on top of her stomach.  She had become the bride of the Spirit of the West Wind. from her head grew corn, beans and squash- .  staple foods of Haudenosaunee [Iroquois] diet. her heart grew sacred tobacco her feet grew the wild strawberry - The Big Medicine. Mother Earth

Her child was a daughter, she grew as the earth extended. - had arrived at discretion age, Spirits roved in human forms, made marriage proposals, until a dignified middle aged man, , bow in hand, quiver on back, entered the house, seated on the birth of his intended spouse- was in a birth on the other side of the fire. He not lie down all night; but taking two arrows out of his quiver, put them by the side of his bride: at dawn he replaced them in his quiver, he went out. After some time, the old woman perceived her daughter to be pregnant, but could not discover where the father had gone, or who he was.

Good Brother Twin

Good Mind soft skinned patient. Grandfather taught Good Mind to surviving on earth and set him to work making land beautiful. Good Mind made all beauty on earth—created rivers , mountains, trees, taught birds to sing and water animals to dance, made rainbows, soft rains

right-handed twin was born in the usual way. 

The twin boys created everything in the world. [opportunities for other origin stories]-rivers, flowers, animals human beings.  the right-handed twin was keeper of the day.  When finished, everything was in perfect balance

At the time of delivery, the twins disputed which way they should go out of the womb; "The twin brothers were nurtured and raised by their Grandmother; the eldest was named Teharonghyawago, or the Holder of Heaven; Teharonghyawago [Holder of Heaven] was not so successful in the Chace [hunting], and suffered from their [brother’s & mother’s] unkindness. . Teharonghyawago planted the corn, and returned home. When its verdant sprouts began to flourish above the ground, he spent his time in clearing from all growth of grass and weeds, which might smother it or retard its advancement while yet in its tender state, before it had acquired sufficient grandeur to shade the ground.

Bad Brother Twin

Bad Mind skin hard flint argumentative and Flint impatient and cut though, forcing his way through his mother's armpit - killed her. Bad Mind lied placed the blame on Good Mind. Bad Mind set out to create the opposite of all good. He put dangerous rapids in the rivers, created destructive hurricanes and powerful tornadoes, planted poisonous roots deadly berries.

left-handed twin decided to push his way out through their mother’s armpit.  That’s how he was born, but it killed their mother

The left-handed twin was keeper of the night

wicked one said, let us go out of the side; but the other said, not so, lest we kill our mother; then the wicked one pretending to acquiesce, desired his brother to go out first: but as soon as he was delivered, the wicked one, in attempting to go out at her side, caused the death of his mother. the youngest was called Tawiskaron, or Flinty rock, from his body being entirely covered with such a substance. Tawiskaron [Flinty Rock] was the most fortunate hunter, and enjoyed the favor of his Grandmother. wicked brother caught all the harmless inhabitants of the Forest; imprisoned them in an extensive cave, depriving mortals from having the benefit of them that was original intended by the Great Spirit.


Muskrat appeared with Earth, the Great Turtle placed Earth on his back, it began to grow larger until it became the whole world.


Giant turtle put her on his back. .  That is why they call where we live, Turtle Island.


NE Indians share legend how world created on back of giant sea turtle (refer North America “turtle island”). Great Spirit ordered Great Turtle, slime on its back, and receive her on it. she began to form the earth, and by the time of her delivery had increased it to the extent of a little island.

“When Teharonghyawago was roaming alone, a human figure, of noble aspect, appearing to him, addressed him I am your father, and will be you Protector; Take this (giving him an ear of maize [corn]) plant it, and attend it in the manner, I shall direct; it will yield you a certain support, independent of the Chace [the hunt], at the same time that it will render more palatable [appetizing] the viands [foods], which you may thereby obtain. I am the Great Turtle which supports the earth, on which you move. Your brother’s ill treatment will increase with his years; bear it with patience till the time appointed, before which you shall hear further.'


Bad Mind stole all animals and hid them in cave. A tiny mouse told Good Mind and Good Mind caused the mountain to shake and split so animals could emerge. Good Mind fought Bad Mind. Good Mind won and banished Bad Mind to live in caves beneath the earth where he waits to return to the surface.

human are supposed to be the caretakers, to make sure that everything stays in balance.  human keep forgetting what they are supposed to do, forget to take only what they need and to leave the rest for the future generations to experience and enjoy, forget that everything in the natural world is connected and is part of the same web of life and so should be respected.  It is hoped that all of the people of the world will someday remember and respect their original instructions and take good care of their Mother Earth.

Teharonghyawago [Holder of Heaven] followed his brother to the Cave; but found impossible to hide himself from the penetrating [sharp-eyed] Tawiskaron. - saw, every object, yet never raised his eyes Teharonghyawago [Holder of Heaven] came to the Cave, a short time after he had [fulfilled his mission]; he set innumerable number of animals free, and returned home. Tawiskaron, visiting the Cave, discovered his captives had been liberated: said ‘Brother, what do you think there is on earth, with which you might be killed?’ Teharonghyawago answered and posed the same question back- Tawiskaron answered, ’Nothing except horn or flint.' "Teharonghyawago heard a voice singing a plaintive air: heard it name his Mother, When he came there, he saw fawn’s track which he pursued, without overtaking it, till the autumn, when it dropped its first horns; these he took up, and fixed upon the forked branches of a tree. "He continued the pursuit seven years; when horns fell, he picked them up, and placed them he overtook the stately buck- ‘Spare me, Your brother, as soon as he assaults you, exert yourself, and you will overcome him.’ “He returned home; was attacked by his brother. They fought; the one made use of the horn and flint stone which he had provided:. They fought a long time, over the whole of the island [of Earth], until at last Tawiskaron fell under the conquering hand of his brother.