Student Feature: Native American Literature

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Editor’s Note: This post has been written by Ryan Arciero, a student in Dr. White’s American Literature class at Lewis University.  Dr. White’s students were to submit one of their public posts for the class to the Jet Fuel Review Blog as an assignment. Ryan has provided his post on Native American creation stories

Public Post 1: The True Founders of Early American Literature: Native Americans

Many Americans consider themselves to be the honest originators of this great country—that all works of classic “American Literature” must of course first come from the colonists’ wise and witty tongues.  What we do not realize is that there were Americans present here far before us, with their own rich culture and grand literary history.  These were the Native Americans, indigenous people with a strong sense of community, spirituality, and connectedness with nature.  Unlike the current American philosophy, which so often searches for a single, undeniable truth, Native Americans were both accepting and appreciative of different versions of oral traditions.  One particular aspect of this cooperative spirit between the indigenous peoples concerns religion and the sacred commencement of mankind.

Faith played an important role in Native American life.  Two religious accounts that hold significance to the indigenous peoples were the Iroquois Creation Story (recorded by native David Cusick), and the Pima Stories of the Beginning of the World (translated by J.W. Lloyd from native Thin Leather).  According to the Iroquois Creation Story, a celestial woman eventually “conceived and fell from the upper world… down into the dark world [earth]” that was filled with “monsters.”  She bore twin sons on the back of a giant turtle, an “island of earth” that would soon become the ground itself.  One son, Enigorio (“the good mind”), became the power of good and created many wonderful things, such as the sun and moon, the creatures of sea, sky, and land, and male and female “real people.”  The other son, Enigonhahetgea (“the bad mind”), attempted to thwart his brother’s good plans and waged war against him.  Enigorio was ultimately victorious, casting Enigonhahetgea (now the “Evil Spirit”) into “the eternal doom,” and now righteously reigns over his “real people” on earth.

According to the Pima Beginning of the World Story, the first Person, Juh-wert-a-Mah-kai (“The Doctor of the Earth”), was “wandering empty Darkness” when he decided to create.  He created mountains, animals, food, water, and the sun and moon.  After several mistakes and revisions, Juh-wert-a-Mah-kai even created another Person, Noo-ee (the Buzzard).  However, the Doctor of the Earth was not pleased at how violently mankind continued to treat one another, and “let the sky fall to kill them” four times—until at last he was satisfied with his work.  While both of these accounts have their apparent differences, it is worthwhile to note that there are still essential parallels between them and even the Christian creation story.  In all of these descriptions, the authors (and readers, to an extent) remark that a supernatural being crafted the world and its inhabitants, errors may occur in the formation of a new world, as well as the point that good versus evil in humanity is a struggle that still persists today.

Now how, you might ask, does this apply to current American society?  This discourse indeed has deep resonance and relevance to current America.  Despite its citizens’ dissimilarities, the United States was founded on the basis of distinct states integrated as one under a single, just democracy.  Similarly, if we are ever able to truly value the great “melting pot” of diversity that defines this country, individuals must realize that they are part of a greater whole.  Contextually, there may be different versions of how this world was made, but all lend themselves to unique traditions and the knowledge that the world exists, no matter its roots.  This respect toward fellow mankind is a lesson that the Native Americans had already learned, and one that we might also grasp if we allow ourselves to be taught it.

— Ryan Arciero

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