Native American Expressive Culture the Term Paper

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Black Elk utilizes his visions to create understanding of nearly all things he is later exposed to. The discussion in closing will further illuminate his utilization of vision, to ask for help for his people in a time of crisis.

To discuss the vertical model of artistic communication it is difficult to narrow the filed to just one example, as Native American literature, and to a lesser degree film have become somewhat prolific as genres. Two authors who build upon this tradition are Scott Momaday and Alexie Sherman as they are significant and prolific writers of Indian tradition. Each has written and published several works, including a variety of genres, that all attempt to translate the oral traditions of their nations into a written form that contains the expression of the oral tradition.

In Alexie Sherman's collection of short stories, the Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven he offers a suggestion about the nature of reservation life, and the necessity of the expression of imagination. His equation is; " Survival = Anger x Imagination. Imagination is the only weapon on the reservation." (150) for Sherman and many other Indians the expression of imagination is done through variant writing that frequently challenges traditional English genres, melding in and out between poetry and prose, as well as frequently peppering phrases with oral tradition statements.

McFarland 255)

Wilson 34) Writing has therefore created a symbolic outlet for the traditional oral expressions of culture and many Native Americans seek to write the stories of their people, not only for the purpose of translating such vision to the broader culture but to rebuild a lasting tradition of vision and assimilation.

In their all but indispensable interview for the Bloomsbury Review conducted in the fall of 1993, John and Carl Bellante questioned Sherman Alexie about that equation, and he responded: "Exactly what my attitude toward life is" (p. 15). When the Bellantes asked what "precisely" about white culture so angered him, Alexie answered, "Pretty much everything patriarchal.... We've resisted assimilation in many ways, but I know we've assimilated into sexism and misogyny.... Women are the creators. We get into trouble when we try to deny that."

McFarland 253)

The value of this particular statement is significant in that anger and patriarchal systems of dominance are constant theme in Indian fiction and discussion, regarding white culture and how to meld the two cultures in a single individual, without losing sight of Indian heritage.


Sherman also brings to mind a discussion of assimilation, a concept which was forced upon many Indians of his and previous generations, and to some degree still is today, as opportunity is limited on reservations and leaving, to live in a white world is one of the only alternatives to achieve success in or outside of the respective nation of origin. An additional aspect of assimilation is the variance of culture within reservations, as many tribes were regionally grouped, or moved great distances to share space with other nations, whose traditions they learned and lived with as a dichotomous source of pride or conflict. Additionally, the blending of these cultures as well as the necessary overgeneralization of native beliefs, (as they constitute 500 independent and sovereign nations) can lead one to the idea that modern Indians are a homogenous group all believing the same things and responding to change in the same ways and this is not the case at all.

Einhorn 6)

Perhaps more than any other Native writer, Alexie is aware of the power of the media. He understands it is the new battlefield. Alexie's sophisticated internalization of films and television in these poems reveals the critical and cultural vision that would eventually push him to turn the written narratives of the Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven into the visual narrative Smoke Signals.

Rader 147)

The film is the story of two Native Americans from an Indian reservation in Idaho, one the son of an alcoholic father and the other an old man who wishes to give this son (Sherman) a more native and fundamental view of his father, as they travel to Phoenix Arizona to retrieve the mans ashes, following his death. The vision throughout the film is of remembrances of both the modern young man and his older companion. The film dissects the conflicts of the old and new generations both facing extinction on a reservation that continually calls them home but offers them no benefit of potential "success" by white standards. To be a Native American at heart one must have visions of the past and the future, and yet the modern interpretations of the life of Sherman's now dead father bring to mind a challenge that is responsible for both triumph and tragedy. ("Smoke Signals (1998)" NP) the work is a constant juxtaposition between the old and the new, and the young man's rejection and embrace of the visions he is opened to as he and his companion travel. There is a clear sense that the internal quest of the young man is to figure out which side to stand on, white culture and the demand for opportunity, along with the preconceived notions of identity (regarding his father or the Native ideals of family, respect and individual vision), that is being brought to him by his companion. The older and one would presume wiser man is demanding from Sherman an accounting of the real nature of his father, through Native American vision and respect rather than the devastated outward expression that was forced on him by the circumstances of his life, by alcohol, economic depravity and social degradation.

Skye 117) the old man wants Sherman to judge his father not for his bad deeds, his alcoholism and desertion of the family but through visions more traditional to perception and identity in his own cultural tradition. Sherman, through this process learns to love and respect his father in a completely different light, though problems are not resolved and the reservation is still a constant symbol of disparity the internal identity of this belated "vision quest" changes Sherman and allows him to move forward with anew sense of insight and respect for culture and family interspersed with modern comedy and challenges but solid and welcoming nonetheless. Sherman must seek a vision quest that builds on the tradition of his culture, assimilates the challenges of his modern life and explains what he previously identified as bad, about his home and his father into a more congruent idea of respect and failure, created by the challenges of assimilation and exposure to differing ideas of success and failure.

Alexie Momaday also expresses the nature of change and vision as well as the nature of assimilation, in his works, the most explicative of which is the Way to Rainy Mountain which is described as:

blending, in many ways of the two cultures, that clearly expresses the desire to retain tradition and reiterate its importance to the next generation. The work is describes as "a blending of personal recollections with Kiowa legends and history, [that] illustrates the power of the Kiowa storytelling tradition and the continuum between the traditional and contemporary Native relationship to place."

Wilson 33-34)

Wilson discusses the manner in which the creation story of the Kiowas is reiterated to bring to mind the oral tradition, in its retelling. Each original Kiowa was born from a hollow log, and as soon as the log was blocked by a woman heavy with child the Kiowa stopped being born, of the earth, and this is why they are so few.

Wilson 33) (Momaday 16) Momaday's works symbolize the traditions of Native American collective vision, though it speaks specifically of the Kiowa creation story, and there are other creation stories associated with other Nations, the work expresses the idea that the development of collective culture through the repetition of what likely began as an individual vision, and its interpretation into an accepted source of collective belief in the creation of a unique and common people.

A very interesting representation of the vision of the Native American culture, can be seen in a very modern venue. The definitive site, describes the tradition of a masculine "Vision Quest" and again trans- mutates the American Tradition into a format that can be easily understood by the average internet surfer. Here is the dialogue of the website, entitled "Native American Life Living Art: Native American Shields"

Dependant on the Tribe, males at various times of their lives, went on what could be called Vision Quests. There were many reasons for these quests but the common thread is where the male went either to obtain his "spiritual name" as opposed to the name given him by his people, to seek out his "spiritual guides" or both. While within some Tribes there was certain ceremonies that including what today is termed self-mutilation, the common thread again, was fasting alone, even…[continue]

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