Oral Tradition In Native American Culture Essay

, Research Paper

The oral tradition in Native American culture, and it’s affect on modern native writers. “We are Cranes on the rise in new tribal narratives”Wrote Gerald Vizenor in his book, Interior Landscapes. Vizenor is Chippewa, and a descendant of Crane. The crane is a powerful symbol in chippewa tradition. Vizenor’s quote, to me, exemplifies the trend in modern native literature, towards the resurrection of tribal folk lore taught through the oral tradition. More and more native writers are using the folk tales and legends of their tribes to tell their stories and find strength in their heritage. The legend of the gambler is present in the lore of many tribes. According to chippewa stories, the Gambler is an evil character who takes the lives of those who lose to him. Gerald Vizenor’s father, Clement was murdered after he took a symbolic “gamble” and moved away from the “tribal web of protection” into the city where he lived the trixter life. in the following quote Vizenor compares his fathers death to a loss against the gambler. “Clement William Vizenor lost the game with the evil gambler and did not return from the cities.”Maria Campbell, in her story, The Little People, directly describes the oral tradition of native cultures. “We were taught to weave baskets from the red willow, and while we did these things together we were told the stories of our people.”The native peoples, most with out written language, found story telling the best way for their history and culture to be kept alive. These stories not only helped in that aspect but at the same time they also bred a sense of pride in who they were and what they had done. These stories were told not to adults but to children and these children found pride and honor in them. This effect, of the Native American oral tradition is poignantly shown in Roger Jack’s short story, The Pebble People.

“Ben Adam finished his silent song and again spoke to the pebbles. His message contained a prayer of thanksgiving that his people were alive to see another day and that they had chosen this day to come together in celebration of tribal customs. He thanked all the dancers, drummers, and spectators. He asked the Creator to bestow special blessings upon them throughout the evening as they traveled back to their homes. Ben Adam asked for blessings on behalf of people who were sick and could not attend the dance. He prayed for those imprisoned by steel bars and by personal weaknesses. And he asked the people to remember those people who had died since the last time they had gathered. Ben Adam’s words were very well selected and delivered for an eight year old.”Many of the stories by today’s nation writers are about getting back to their roots in one way or another. Joy Harjo is one such writer, as evident in her story Northern Lights. Harjo describes a ragged Vietnam veteran that she met at a pow wow. the story of his life is a sad one. Wounded in Vietnam, he returns to a country where his people are being destroyed “by laws” he turns to alcohol and on his last leg is met by the spirit of a relative he never met, which forces him to wake up to the life that he is living. Harjo ends the story by telling us that while they were dancing at this pow wow, northern lights appeared over head. In step with the lore of the Creek Indians she describes the lights this way… “After the dance we all ran out onto the ice to see the northern lights. They were shimmering relatives returned from war, dancing in the sky all around us.”In conclusion the Native American oral tradition is very evident in the writings of today’s native authors. This resurgence is helping to keep the pride, and heritage of an almost dead cultural group known as the Native American Indians, alive.


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