“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the Sunset.” –Crowfoot
The Native American Indian’s had a great reverence for the Earth and all it encompassed: wildlife, land, the seasons and its spirit. They were simple people, albeit highly intelligent, and each tribe had a unique culture and traditions. I was always captivated by the Native American way of life, ever since I was a child. I remember in fourth grade, my class studied a whole unit on Native Americans. I had a chance to make my own mocassins out of felt and beads; spend time in the teepee we constructed in the classroom; and make a doll out of cornhusks. Those experiences resonated with me and I carried them with me into my future studies and personal life.
The interest was there long before that fourth grade class though. Growing up I always heard my mother talk about one of her favorite people: Chief Joseph from the Nez Perce tribe. She always told me stories about his bravery and honorable actions, even when all around him there was injustice. We had a neighbor, too, who owned the farm next door to us when I was young who was part Native American himself. He once told us that in the vast meadows behind my house there was an Indian burial ground. On the many hikes I have taken through those meadows and woods I was never fortunate enough to come across anything that resembled what he described. Perhaps it had long been destroyed by natural elements, or maybe I never traveled in the right direction. I still think the idea that somewhere in those woods I know so well may be the remains of Native American Indians.
Always having had ultimate respect and awe of the natural world myself, it is no wonder I am drawn to these people. That and the fact that they are too often overlooked in not only our history but in the world today. I already knew of the atrocities committed against Native Americans, but never felt it so poignantly as when I took a class in college called Native American Literature with a wonderful professor. Stories like Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, The Lone Ranger and Tanto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie not only brought me into the depths of Native American culture, but also into their struggles and sorrows. Ceremony is honestly one of the most complex, emotional and poetic stories I have ever read (not a quick read!), I highly recommend it.
Besides these novels I was exposed to many Native American myths and fables, most written in the traditional story-telling narrative. What I learned from the class was that stories, and storytelling, were vital to the Native American culture, and they passionately believed it was through the stories that they were able to stay alive: “You don’t have anything if you don’t have the stories,” I remember reading in the beginning of Silko’s story.
I love the Native American style of beads, poncho’s, and especially turquoise. We’ve just added a beautifully written and photographed book on their clothing through history, titled Native American Clothing: An Illustrated History by Theodore Brasser (391.008 BRA). You will enjoy flipping through the pages and viewing all the hand-made clothes. You might also like to look at Native American Beadwork: Projects and Techniques From The Southwest by Theresa Flores Geary (745.582 GEA)
Full of wit and wisdom, Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence compiled by T. C. McLuhan (970.004 MCL) contains wonderfully moving, thought provoking tidbits from various Native American chief’s and tribes people.
Pop Smoke Signals (DVD SMO) into your DVD player and step into the contemporary world of Native American reservations. The movie is both fun and deep, examining how young Native Americans face the struggles and “ghosts” of their ancestrial past.
The Ways of My Grandmothers by Beverly Hungry Wolf (970.3 HUN) is a rich account of one girls cultural heritage and what she has learned from her ancestors. It tells the tale of the Blackfoot nation and recounts “personal history, tribal history, legends, and myths in a hauntingly beautiful tribute to her people.” Native Americans had a deep love and respect for their elders and those who had passed on before them. They felt a certain connection with them and believed they held much power and knowledge. I, too, think we can, and do, learn so much from our elders.
For the true adventurous cook and one who likes experimenting with various herbs and spices, I recommend checking out Native Harvests: Botanicals and Recipes of the American Indian by Barrie Kavasch (641.59 KAV). Learn how to make tea with fresh herbs and even your own natural chewing gum!
Learn about the Ihalmiut tribes of the Arctic in Farley Mowats book Walking the Land (971.958 MOW). He writes about the tribes’ life with “lyrical descriptions of their homeland” and highlights the injustices these people face when, “they are controlled by a faraway government that neither represents their interests nor understands their needs and circumstances.”
Dancing and ceremonies of all sorts were a large part of Native American tradition. I enjoyed learning about these dances and the wonderful adornment of the human body in my class. Check out Native American Dance Ceremonies and Social Traditions (394.308 NAT). Beautifully illustrated with an explaination and history of the traditional dances and ceremonies.
“Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.” —Chief Seattle, 1854
Sarai is the Publicity Coordinator/Library Assistant and is currently humming Glitter In The Air…