Introduction to Native American Literature Instructions: While

Introduction to Native American Literature
Instructions: While reading these notes, highlight or underline everything of
importance. Use the book (pages 3-6) for further help. Any terms you do not
understand can be found in the index of skills. I expect you to make a valid
attempt at all parts of this assignment in order to get full credit.
History of Native Americans in the US
 Arrived across Bering Strait 30,000 years ago.
 Nomadic hunters and gatherers.
 By 1500, there were 700 distinct tribes living in North America.
 Most tribes were peaceful – settling difference through negotiation, not war.
 Complex cultures
Characteristics of Native American Literature
 Oral tradition (all stories passed down by word of mouth, nothing was
 Poems and stories (most popular genres)
 Presented in form of myths, folk tales, and song
 Short in length (easier to remember)
Purpose of Native American Literature:
 To entertain
 To teach
 To reinforce tribal customs
Storytelling & Oral Tradition
Long before European explorers came to North America, Native Americans had a
rich literary tradition of their own. Their stories, histories, and legends were shared
and preserved through oral tradition. The storyteller is one whose spirit is
indispensable to the people.
These oral stories include the following types:
 cultural information (beliefs about social order and appropriate behavior)
 historical accounts including migrations: how people got to where they are
 lessons describe how and why things are the way they are
 creation stories and the origins of societies (beliefs about the nature of the
physical world)
 legends which include exploits of their heroes
 trickster tales (an animal with magical powers works as the protagonist)
 instructions from spirit mentors and explanations on how to conduct
 descriptions of natural processes such as life cycles of plants, earth
movements, etc.
 oral maps for travel
These oral stories were chanted, spoken, sung and repeated over and over until
embedded into the memories of the next generations. The Native American oral
tradition was the only way to pass on tribal history, heritage, and cultural practices.
In order to continue hundreds of years of a tribe’s history the young must listen and
remember the stories the elders tell and then pass them on.
NOTE = While oral stories are meant to be passed down through generations
verbally, it is important to remember that written transcripts are not exactly
representative of the oral performance. But a translation/ transcription of the
stories is the closest we can come to sharing the Native American culture and
Some Dominant Themes & Motifs:
 relationships between humans and animals
 respect and reverence for mother earth and nature
 land as the strength of the people
 village/community/tribe as sovereign
 cyclical patterns: renewal and continuance
 importance of tribal traditions and history
Related Works to Study
 “The Sky Tree” (creation myth) p. 22
 “Coyote Finishes His Work” (Trickster Tale) p. 24
Homework Assignment:
Do all work on a separate sheet of paper and staple your work to this page of notes.
Read the two stories above. For each of the following complete these tasks:
1. Summarize each (This means a full paragraph with 5-7 sentences, grammatically
correct. A summary is a brief explanation of what you read about. Try to include who,
what, when, where, why, how.)
2. Determine which of the above themes or motifs are observed in the work.
Provide two examples of where that theme or motif is seen in the work.
3. Analyze the story for the following elements:
 Protagonist/Antagonist
 Conflict (Internal/External and which type)
 Point of View