Tradition and Renewal in
American Indian Literature


        English 233 is an introduction to North American Indian verbal art. This course is designed to satisfy the General Education literary studies ("FSLT") requirement. FSLT courses are supposed to concentrate on textual interpretation; they are supposed to prompt you to analyze how meaning is (or, at least, may be) constructed by verbal artists and their audiences. Such courses are also supposed to give significant attention to how texts are created and received, to the historical and cultural contexts in which they are created and received, and to the relationship of texts to one another.
        In this course you will be doing all these things as you study both oral and written texts representative of emerging Native American literary tradition. You will be introduced to three interrelated kinds of "text": oral texts (in the form of videotapes of live traditional storytelling performances), ethnographic texts (in the form of transcriptions of the sorts of verbal artistry covered above), and "literary" texts (poetry and novels) written by Native Americans within the past 30 years that derive much of their authority from oral tradition.
        The primary focus of the course will be on analyzing the ways that meaning gets constructed in these oral and print texts. Additionally, in order to remain consistent with the objectives of the FSLT requirement, you will be expected to pay attention to some other matters that these particular texts raise and/or illustrate. These other concerns include (a) the shaping influence of various cultural and historical contexts in which representative Native American works are embedded; (b) the various literary techniques Native American writers use to carry storyteller-audience intersubjectivity over into print texts; and (c) the role that language plays as a generative, reality-inducing force in Native American cultural traditions.
        FSLT courses are also supposed to pay some attention to competing critical methodologies, that is, to the idea that how we see and think often influences, and sometimes even determines, what we see and think. In this course you will be encouraged to adopt an emic [i.e., "insider"] rather than etic [i.e., "outsider"] perspective when analyzing and interpreting Native American texts. To do this you will probably have to learn to identify, and set aside at least temporarily, many of the values and "truths" that you have perhaps been encouraged to take for granted until now, because many of the most common and ordinary Western assumptions and beliefs about the nature of culture and history (assumptions and beliefs which also undergird Western critical methodologies) are incompatible with those that inform much of Native American literature.


Consistent with the University's policy I'll expect "each student . . . to attend all meetings of all classes" (2004-2006 Undergraduate Catalog, p. 36). In order to honor "official notification[s] from the appropriate dean that a student is to be excused for participation in a University-sponsored event" (36) as well as to accommodate the occasional genuine emergency that requires absence from class, I'm allowing for the possibility of three unpenalized (including "excused") absences; however, in any case, if you miss 4 or more class meetings, your final grade will go down by .33 GP per absence after the third absence.

I'll be taking roll at the beginning of class; if you get to class late, you risk being counted absent, and it will be your responsibility to inform me at the end of that class of your presence.


I am also required by University policy to require you to pledge all written work submitted for credit in this course. I hereby require you to do so. I'll expect you to write out your pledge on all written work submitted for credit; I will not accept for credit any work that is not pledged; and I promise to be absolutely intolerant of cheating of any kind in this course.


You'll be writing at least six fairly short (2-4 pp.) essays, which may be either "response"-type essays (responding to one of the supplemental readings, responding to one of the daily texts, or responding to a particular class discussion of one of the texts) or exploratory essays (focused on a short text or a short passage of a longer text) or even argumentative essays. Essays must not be mere rehashes of class discussion or mere plot summaries of a text.

I'll expect least one of these papers on each of the following (the date in parentheses is the last day I will accept a paper on that topic for credit):
        1. on the relevance of one of the supplementary readings in unit I (2/3);
        2. on one of the poems from the first 2 weeks of unit II (2/20);
        3. on one of the poems from the second 2 weeks of unit II (3/3);
        4. on some focused topic in Ceremony (3/24);
        5. on some focused topic in House Made of Dawn (4/14);
        6. on one of the poems or supplementary readings of unit IV (4/28).

Taken together, these papers will account for 60% of your final grade.

DAILY ASSESSMENT: Your participation in class discussion and debate will account for 20% of your final grade.

FINAL EXAM: There will be a final examination, and it will be a comprehensive one. It will be administered on Sat 6 May 9:00 - noon, and it will account for 25-33% of your final grade.

FINAL GRADE: You'll notice that there is some slush in these numbers. This is to give me leeway to weight things in your favor. It also gives me leeway to raise your final grade if your class participation has been especially good (or to lower the grade if participation has been especially poor).


("c&t" = "key concepts and terms"; "sr" = "supplemental reading"; "RE" = The Remembered Earth)


M 16 intro
W 18 the idea of a "Native American literature"


During this phase of the course we will approach the idea of Native American literary tradition by treating the term "literature" as Native American cultures have used it these past 30,000 years: as a term referring to oral performance rather than to printed text. Using Andrew Wiget's categories of traditional Native American literary performance, we'll begin to consider the relationships between two sets of values: (a) the cultural traditions and values that many Native American artists wish to preserve and renew, and (b) the values that underlie most non-Native readers' expectations and assumptions about verbal art, whether they're contemplating works from their own cultural tradition or from someone else's. Our primary "texts" during this phase of the course will be videotapes of storytelling performances by three different performers in three different languages--Hopi, Apache, and Navajo.

One of the problems of studying performances as texts, as we'll be doing during these two weeks, is that if you miss the performance, you've missed it forever--there's no printed text to read later in order to catch up. On the other hand, there's not a lot of required preparation for these two weeks of classes. Therefore, I'd strongly recommend you use these weeks to do your first reading of both novels, as well as to do as much background reading on Native American lit as you can. In particular I'd recommend reading in Spicer, The American Indians (esp. the general background info in pp. 1-19 and the chapter titled "Federal Policy Toward American Indians," pp. 176-203) to get some historical/political context.


F 20    Wiget, Native American Literature chapters 1-2
            c&t: genres of oral literary performance: oral narrative, oratory, lyric poetry, ritual poetry

M 23 - secular oral narrative
W 25   text: Helen Sekaquaptewa, "Iisaw" (videotape)
            c&t: Hopi; coyote stories; age and authority; clan identity; performance cues
            sr: Wiget, "Telling the Tale: A Performance Analysis of a Hopi Coyote Story"

F 27 -  sacred narrative
M 30   text: Rudolph Kane, "Origin of the Crown Dance" (videotape)
            c&t: Apache; narrative/ritual poetry connection; story/event re-happening; transformation motif; gaan
            sr: Tedlock, "The Spoken Word and the Work of Interpretation"; Toelken, "Life and Death in the Navajo Coyote Tales"


W 1 -   ritual poetry
F 3       texts: Andrew Natonabah, "By This Song I Walk" (videotape); "By This Song I Walk" (online)
            c&t: Navajo; songchant; incremental repetition; hataali; hozho; yei; oral texture and textual translation


During these three weeks we will consider some representative Native American texts--mostly recent poems, but also some essays--to see how contemporary Native American writers work to transform oral texts, along with some of the more common conceptual motifs informing traditional oral texts, into written poetry.

sr for unit II: Jaskoski and Apodaca, "Bird Songs of Southern California"; Nelson, "Place, Vision, and Identity in Native American Literatures"; Allen, "IYANI: It Goes This Way"; Harjo, "Oklahoma: The Prairie of Words"; Bruchac, "The Many Roots of Song."

M 6     Bruchac, "The Geyser" (RE 35)
            c&t: Emergence motif; sipapu; World as series of "migrations"/evolutions

W 8     Hogan, "Celebration: Birth of a Colt" (RE 56)
            c&t: sipapu/emergence/sunrise/(re)birth complex

F 10     {t.b.a.}

M 13   Harjo, "3 AM," "Too Far into Arizona" (RE 109-10)
            c&t: "Indian country"; identity with the Land

W 15   Ortiz, "To Insure Survival" (RE 271)
            c&t: Acoma; katsina; Event as transition; Fifth World

F 17    Ortiz, "Heyaashi Guutah" (RE 264-65)
            c&t: shiwanna (Cloud People); north-south vs east-west orientation

M 20   Bruchac, "Birdfoot's Grampa" (RE 34); DeClue, "Ijajee's Story" (online)
            c&t: age and authority; anecdote as winterstory

W 22   Bruchac, "First Deer" (RE 33); Hobson, "Deer Hunting" (RE 96-97)
            c&t: spirit helpers and animal forms

F 24    Conley, "The Rattlesnake Band" (RE 70)
            c&t: "embedded text" as "informing" nowaday oral narrative

M 27    Silko, "Toe'osh: A Laguna Coyote Story" (online)
             c&t: Coyote as trickster/transformer; story chain

W 1      Kerr, "Notes to Joanne LXIII" (RE 119-121)

F 3      Silko, "Story From Bear Country" (RE 209)
            c&t: transformation (transformative power of place/language)




During the next two weeks we will examine some of the ways Silko combines Anglo conventions of fiction (such as unity of plot, character, setting, and theme) with traditional Native American story elements (such as multiple voicing, "circular" or "spiral" rather than linear plotting, allusion to oral traditional pretexts, and precise location of events in Place a well as location of events within the context of cultural tradition) to produce a culturally multidimensional work of art.

You need to pre-read the whole novel before the end of Spring Break. For M 13 carefully re-read pp. 1-4; for W 15, pp. 1-106; for F17, pp. 106-170; for M 20, pp. 170-215; for W 22, 215-235; and for F 24, 235-262.

sr for III.1: Nelson, "Chapter 1: The Function of the Landscape of Ceremony." See also the special Ceremony help materials created for the Core course at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/mapping/>.

M 13   Ceremony pp. 1-4: story as context
            c&t: Spider Grandmother; contextual bracketing; plot and ceremony; traditional story as "backbone"; the community of storytellers

W 15    1st rep: return to Cubero episode (5-106)

F 17      2nd rep: Betonie and the Chuska Mtns (106-170)

M 20    3rd rep: Ts'eh and Mt. Taylor (170-215)

W 22   4th rep: Ts'eh and Pa'toch Butte (215-235)

F 24     5th rep: Ku'oosh and the kiva at Laguna (235-end)


Though his protagonist is a (Jemez) Pueblo Indian, Scott Momaday's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel goes beyond tribal tradition to explore the possibilities of "pan-Indian" cultural identity in the post-WWII era. We'll be looking at how Momaday synthesizes Pueblo, Kiowa, and Navajo healing traditions and how he orchestrates a variety of cultural "voices" within the context of ceremonial vision.

This novel is a difficult read, and you'll need to read it at least twice before it begins to make sense. You should have pre-read the whole novel before M 29 Mar, and you should be re-reading it carefully as we go along in class. We'll be spending three class periods on Book 1 of the novel, and we'll be focusing on particular chunks of Books 2 and 3 on different days (see below); this should allow you to sort, and then re-sort, the events of the text several times.

sr for III.2: Evers, "Words and Place"; Nelson, "Chapter 2 : The Function of the Landscape of House Made of Dawn."

M 27    PROLOGUE (1-2) c&t: Jemez Pueblo; Walatowa; Seytokwa; winter race

W 29    BK 1: spirit helper, spirit antagonist: Abel's pre-war quality of vision and identity

F 31     BK 1: functions of the albino, Angela, Father Olguin; el gallo

M 3      BK 2: Tosamah as Priest of the Sun; relocation (89-98, 109-114, 127-36)

W 5     BK 2: Abel's LA vision; the Runners After Evil (89, 98-109, 114-126)

F 7     {t.b.a.}

M 10   BK 3: Ben Benally as The Night Chanter; houses made of dawn

W 12   BK 3: Martinez as culebra; Angela's Bear story

F 14     BK 4: the Longhair spirit in transition


sr for Unit IV: Spicer, "Federal Policy Towards American Indians."

M 17   Conley, "We Wait" (RE 72-73)
            c&t: coercive assimilation, cultural imperialism

W 19   DeClue, "Voices" (online)
            sr: Nelson and McDade, "Spider Waits"

F 21    Durham, "Columbus Day" (online)

M 24   Revard, "Ponca War Dancers" (RE 135-39)
            c&t: helushka; Wounded Knee II, AIM
            sr: {AIM}

W 26 Arnett, "Homage to Andrew Jackson" (RE 130), "Early Song" (RE 130)

F 28 wrap-ups

(I've listed these readings in the order in which they occur on the syllabus)

unit I

Wiget, Andrew. Native American Literature, chapters 1-2. Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/233/wiget.ch1.pdf> and
< . . . 233/wiget.ch2.pdf>.

Wiget, Andrew. "Telling the Tale: A Performance Analysis of a Hopi Coyote Story." In Brian Swann and Arnold Krupat, eds., Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature, 297-338. Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/233/wiget3.pdf>.

Tedlock, Dennis. "The Spoken Word and the Work of Interpretation." In Karl Kroeber, ed. Traditional Literatures of the American Indian: Texts and Interpretations, 45-58. Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/233/tedlock.pdf>.

Toelken, Barre. "Life and Death in the Navajo Coyote Tales." In Brian Swann and Arnold Krupat, eds., Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature, 388-401. Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/233/toelken.html>.

unit II

Jaskoski, Helen and Paul Apodaca, "Bird Songs of Southern California." Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/faculty/asail/sail2/13.html#1>.

Nelson, "Place, Vision, and Identity in Native American Literatures." Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/pvi.html>.

Allen, Paula Gunn. "IYANI: It Goes This Way" (RE 191-93).

Harjo, Joy. "Oklahoma: The Prairie of Words" (RE 43-45).

Bruchac, Joseph. "The Many Roots of Song." (Library xerox)

Nelson, "Rewriting Ethnography: The Embedded Texts in Leslie Silko's Ceremony." Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/ethnography.html>.

Nelson, "Mapping the Embedded Texts." Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/mapping/ch2.mapping.html>.

Unit III

Nelson, "Chapter 1: The Function of the Landscape of Ceremony." Place and Vision. Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/PandV/ceremony.html>.

Evers, "Words and Place: A Reading of House Made of Dawn." In Andrew Wiget, ed., Critical Essays on Native American Literature.

Nelson, "Chapter 2: the Function of the Landscape of House Made of Dawn." Place and Vision. Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/PandV/hmod.html>.

unit IV

Nelson and McDade. "Spider Waits: Charlotte DeClue's 'Voices.'" Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/spider.html>.

Spicer, Edward H. "Federal Policy Towards American Indians." The American Indians, 176-203. Online at <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/233/spicer.pdf>.