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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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1. Native Voices   

1. Native Voices

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Using the Video

Video Activities
Activities connecting this video episode to the Guiding Questions for this Unit.

Video Authors:
Luci Tapahonso (Navajo), Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo)

Who's Interviewed:
Greg Sarris, author, professor of English (Loyola Marymount University) (Miwok chief) (Pomo); N. Scott Momaday, author (Kiowa); Simon J. Ortiz, author (Acoma Pueblo); Paula Gunn Allen, author, professor of English (University of California, Los Angeles) (Laguna Pueblo/Sioux); Joy Harjo, poet/musician, professor of English (University of California, Los Angeles) (Muscogee/Creek); Rex Lee Jim, author (Navajo)

Points Covered:
• American Indian oral traditions link people to the culture, myths, and land. Traditionally, the oral storyteller is a human individual who relates the mythological to others. Contemporary American Indian written literature draws on oral traditions even as it translates them into European forms. These stories are necessary for the culture to survive in the era after European contact. A kind of "cultural contact," this written literature deals with the interaction of Native and European cultures and identities. This video focuses on three Native American writers from the Southwest: Luci Tapahonso (Navajo), Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), and Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo).

• Luci Tapahonso's poems "They Are Silent and Quick" and "A Breeze Swept Through" draw on and are a product of Navajo language, tradition, and landscape.

• Simon J. Ortiz's writing reflects a renewed transmission of Acoma Pueblo cultural memory, as in "My Mother and Sister." It also conveys the often fractured and besieged state of being a Native American today, as in his poem "8:50 AM Ft. Lyons VAH." These poems reflect the bicultural world of contemporary Native Americans.

• Like "8:50 AM Ft. Lyons VAH," Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Ceremony deals with the post-World War II experience of Native Americans. The novel attempts to reintegrate the shattered experience of its protagonist, Tayo, with the old stories and worldviews. The Laguna ceremonies must be adapted to cope with the current world, or else the old ways will die. In Storyteller, Silko demonstrates the ways in which language does not merely reflect the world, but can directly affect it.

• Native American literature is particular to tribal people in its invocation of the concrete power of language to heal and guide, but it is also like all American literature in probing what it means to be American.

• Preview the video: Contemporary American Indian writers creatively employ and adapt native traditions even as they address contemporary American Indian life, and therefore American life in general. Luci Tapahonso, Simon J. Ortiz, and Leslie Marmon Silko are three writers who draw on their different southwestern native heritages to keep the old ideas and cultures alive in the form of new, relevant stories.

• What to Think About While Watching: What are some of the characteristics of Navajo and Pueblo oral traditions? In what sense do these writers draw on native oral traditions and beliefs? How do they speak to the experience of being American Indian? What does their written literature hope to do or achieve?

• Tying the video to the unit content: What are some specific Navajo or Pueblo oral traditions or beliefs that you can see reflected in the written literature of these writers? What do these writers seem to be doing, or trying to say, by employing these traditions? How does Native American history, and the history of the contact between natives and Europeans, affect their contemporary writing? How are their texts a combination of Native American and European literary traditions?

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