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Introduction to Native American Literature

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  1. Introduction to Native American Literature

  2. Background • It is thought that the first Native Americans arrived in what is now the US approximately 20-30,000 years ago. • It is believed that they came by a land-bridge across the Bering Sound, from Siberia into Alaska.

  3. Map of Native American Tribes

  4. From this poem, what can you tell about Native American values and spirituality? A Sioux Prayer Translated by Chief Yellow Lark - 1887 Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the windsWhose breath gives life to the world, hear meI come to you as one of your many childrenI am small and weakI need your strength and wisdom May I walk in beautyMake my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.Make my hands respect the things you have madeAnd my ears sharp to your voice.Make me wise so that I may know the things you have taught your children. The lessons you have written in every leaf and rockMake me strong--------!Not to be superior to my brothers, but to fight my greatest enemy....myself Make me ever ready to come to you with straight eyes,So that when life fades as the fading sunset,May my spirit come to you without shame.

  5. Native Commandments Jasper Saunkeah, Cherokee Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.Remain close to the Great Spirit.Show great respect for your fellow beings.Work together for the benefit of all Mankind.Give assistance and kindness wherever needed. Do what you know to be right.Look after the well being of mind and body.Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good.Be truthful and honest at all times.Take full responsibility for your actions.Let us greet the dawn of a new daywhen all can live as one with natureand peace reigns everywhere. Oh Great Spirit, bring to our brothersthe wisdom of Nature and the knowledgethat if her laws are obeyedthis land will again flourishand grasses and trees will grow as before. Guide those that through their councilsseek to spread the wisdom of their leaders to all people.Heal the raw wounds of the earthand restore to our soul the richnesswhich strengthens men's bodiesand makes them wise in their councils. Bring to all the knowledge that great citieslive only through the bountyof the good earth beyond their paved streetsand towers of stone and steel. From this poem, what can you tell about Native American culture?

  6. Background • Although most Native Americans did not come from India, the name “Indian” was given to them by Christopher Columbus who mistook North America for islands in the Indies. • When Europeans arrived in North America (16th – 17th Century), there were approximately ten million Native Americans living here.

  7. Background • The Europeans started to push Native Americans off the land and take “ownership” of the land for the rich resources. • Many wars were started in which the Native Americans were disadvantaged because of their lack of adequate weapons. This led to the Indian Removal Act by President Andrew Jackson in 1830.

  8. Indian Removal Act • The Indian Removal Act gave Jackson the right to negotiate removal treaties with tribes living east of the Mississippi River. • Many tribes were forced to relocate to land west of the Mississippi River to “make room” for white settlement and slavery.

  9. The New Reality • The wars ceased at the end of the 19th century with the battle at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1890. • During the growth of the European population in North America, many Native Americans were exposed to new diseases to which they had no immunity. • Many Native Americans were forced onto reservations and many children were to go to boarding schools in which their culture was devalued and forbidden.

  10. Reservations • Native American Reservations are defined as tracts of land set aside for the ownership or use of particular Native American tribes. The term comes from the 19th century agreements, in which the tribes’ lands were seized by the US government except for the portions ‘reserved’ for their own use.

  11. Boarding Schools • Boarding schools were started in 1879 by Captain Richard A. Pratt whose goal was to “Kill the Indian, save the man.” • Pratt wanted to assimilate Native American children into white European culture and did this using brainwashing tactics. • Children were usually taken far away from their homes and were refused communication with their families.

  12. Video Clip

  13. Results • Although many Native American reservations are considered key to the survival of Native American culture, they are homes to some of the most impoverished people in the US. • About 26% of students drop out of school. • 30% of Native American Youth have thought about or attempted suicide. • Alcoholism is one of the major issues on reservations today. • In 1928, the Meriam Report was issued, that exposed and condemned the inadequate education and conditions of Native American Boarding Schools. • This initiated a process of replacing boarding schools with day schools closer to the reservations. • The last boarding school was closed in 1968.

  14. Native Americans Today • Native Americans today are struggling to overcome a long history of degradation and abuse. • There are many Native American writers and activists that are working to educate people about Native American history, culture, and what it means to be Native American. However, stereotypes still exist…

  15. Look familiar?

  16. Stereotypes Common stereotypes: • “Savage”: Considered uncivilized and animalistic • “Squaw”: A derogatory name used towards Native American women • Having Red Skin: Used towards Native Americans, classifying them by their skin color • Wearing Feathers: Not all Native American tribes wore feathers or head dresses • Living in a tipi: Not all Native Americans lived in tipis • Making whooping sounds: Often associated with celebration or war victories Four main “Indian” characters portrayed in pop culture: • The wise elder • The drunk or savage • The Indian princess • The loyal sidekick

  17. Native American Literature • Primarily oral, passed down from generation to generation by storytelling and performances. • Includes creation myths (stories that explain the beginning of the world), tales of heroes and tricksters (who transformed the world to its present state), and the ritual songs/chants that were part of ceremonies. • Much of it emphasizes the importance of living in harmony with the natural world.

  18. Why study Native American Literature? • We must remember that Native Americans are a part of our history as Americans. Their stories remind us of the importance of equality, freedom, and justice in the United States. • They had complex religious beliefs, sophisticated political systems, and strong social values; all reflected in their literatures. • Their stories, experiences, and culture deserve to be heard and respected.