Written Assignments

Interpreting Native American Stories, Part Two


Web Resources for This Assignment

The Native American Anthology
A collection of texts: religious, creation stories, and mythology from traditional Native American cultures.

The Process of Interpreting Non-Western Stories   We have done two processes so far in understanding Native American stories. First, you came up with a set of questions that you could ask of a story and justified those questions by referring to the overall world view of the Native Americans. Second, you tried your hand at answering those questions in class. What you found out in trying to answer those questions is that you set up a stable point of reference: your own world view. You started with what you knew about the issue (individuality, good and evil, etc.) and compared that to what you actually read in the text. In the process of this comparison, you found that the Iroquois Creation shows you some tremendous differences between your world view and the Native American world view.
   Now we're going to take it one step further and have you work independently on a similar project. I want you to look over one of the stories in the Native American Anthology or select a story of your own from the library and use the narrative to answer one of the following questions about world view:
a.) what is the nature of society?
b.) what is the nature and experience of the individual?
c.) what is the relationship between the human and nonhuman worlds?
d.) what is the relationship between the genders?

The Steps   In order to do this assignment, I want your submission to follow three steps over the course of two submissions.
   In your first submission, I'd like you to submit two to three questions that you're going to answer about the text you read and how answering those two to three questions will help you answer the larger question about world view above.
   In your second submission, I want you to write the essay itself. This essay will have three parts. The first part will outline what you plan to answer about the story, both the specific questions and the larger question involving world view. The second part will outline your world view on the matter by using one of the texts we've read from the Reformation or the Enlightenment. For instance, if you deal with the "individuality" question, then you should write a one or two paragraph explanation of our view of individuality—the ideal reading for that would be Tocqueville, for instance. The third part will show how the story presents the Native American world view on the matter by examining the story. Throughout this third part, I want to see you comparing your analysis of the question with your discussion of the European view of the question. Does that make sense?

The Next Step   There is a method to this madness, for our next quiz will deal with the single most vexed question of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century: can Native American culture and European-American culture survive together and in an integrated way? For the answer to that question, debated on both sides, resulted in the official policy towards Native Americans for over two centuries—in fact, we still live with these policies. In order to answer this question, though, you need to be able to represent the world views of the contending parties. This quiz and the last quiz are meant to prepare you for one of the most difficult questions you can imagine.


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