Native American Background and Mythology

Native American Background
and Mythology
The First Americans
• Native American Background
• Before we begin, what do you already know about Native Americans
and their lifestyle?
• What have you heard about them in the past?
• What are some recent controversies surrounding Native American
Have your guided notes ready.
Basic Beliefs
• Land is sacred. It is a living entity that must be
treated with respect.
• No one owns the land.
• All things (man, animals, land) are thought to be
• Speeches and story telling are important parts of
• Stories are passed down through oral tradition.
Oral Tradition
• Oral literature- nothing was written down;
everything was passed down by word of mouth.
• Stories were told at home and at tribal ceremonies.
• Native American oral literature (epic narratives,
stories, poems, songs, and chants) was not
recognized by Western scholars until the late
• Before then, it was thought that Native Americans
had no literature.
• This misconception made it easier to view Native
Americans as “savages” and to treat them unjustly.
• A myth is a traditional story passed down through generations that is
used to explain natural events, beliefs, customs, and human nature.
• Myths were central to Native American culture and literature.
Mythology Purposes
• Stories taught moral lessons and instilled tribal values.
• Stories conveyed practical information about the natural
• Stories reflect Native American’s inclusive view of nature.
• Animals and human beings are interchangeable; humans
are not dominant.
• Stories show the power of words and love of nature
through similes and metaphors.
Four Functions of Myth
• To awaken us to the mystery and wonder of creation.
• To explain the workings of the natural world: every corner, every rock,
hill, stone, and flower has its place and its meaning.
• To pass down the moral and ethical codes that support and validate
social customs.
• To teach and to guide the people through the trials of living.
Creation and Origin Myths
• Creation myths explain the creation of man and
the world. (big-picture creation)
• Origin myths explain how aspects of the world
such as landforms, animals, bodies of water, etc.
came into being. (specific creations)
• Origin myths also explain the beginnings of
societal beliefs and customs.
• An archetype is an old imaginative pattern that appears across cultures and is
repeated through the ages. An archetype can be a character, a plot, or an
• A common archetype in Native American myths is the life giving tree.
• The coyote is another common archetype, also known as the trickster hero.
• The trickster hero breaks the rules and causes trouble while also often saving
the day in the end.
• Read “Native American Mythology” on pg. 46 in textbook
• Then read “The Oral Tradition” box at the top of pg. 47 in textbook
• Share your reactions to nature with a small group. Discuss the
• What have you experienced in the natural world, and what is your
reaction to it?
• When have you reacted positively to nature? Negatively?
Have your journal ready.
Journal Response #1
• You should now have a solid understanding of Native American
background. After reading about the “totem,” an animal or natural
object meant to represent the descendants of a family group or clan,
and after discussing nature experiences, you will create your own
totem based on the same criteria.
• Which animal or natural object would you most likely be descended
from? How would it represent your personality or spirit? Why?
Respond in 6-7 detailed sentences. Follow your written response with
a picture of what your totem would look like.
• “How the World Was Made”- Retold by James Mooney
pgs. 48-49 in textbook
• Passed down by the Cherokee people from the Great Smoky
• “The Sky Tree”- Retold by Joseph Bruchac
pgs. 50-51 in textbook
• Passed down by the Huron people from the Great Lakes region/
Eastern Woodland.
• How are the two origin stories different?
• How are the two origin stories similar?
• What do both stories say about the Cherokee and Huron people?