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Native American Culture/Native American Storytelling

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Question
Hi, we are attending Exploris Middle School in North Carolina. We are doing a 7th grade project on Native American stories/music. Our teacher said that we could choose any subject that we were interested in and we chose this one. We chose Native American stories because these are the people that inhabited the land before us and we feel as if we should acknowledge them. Also, we think that their stories are truthful and are an important part of our history. We feel as if we were to listen to them more we would understand our past better. We were wondering if you could answer a few questions of ours.  

What are some popular stories? Are some stories told differently in some tribes, but overall have the same meaning/moral? How are the stories told? Are they passed down by word, or written down? Is it a mixture of both?

         Thanks again for your time!
 -Ava and Sarah Grace

Answer
Ava and Sara, Your question is such a broad one, with so much nuance, it would take several volumes to answer it completely. It's going to require a trip to your library, if you want to do it justice. However, I can give you some hints that will make your research easier. First, America's indigenous people were and are at least as diverse as all of Europe and Asia combined. There were hundreds of languages in use (many still are spoken)and at least 600 distinct cultural groups, tribes or Nations. Some shared religious belief and language in common, but most had unique cultures, visions and beliefs. All of the indigenous cultures here passed on their unique cultural material and teachings as an oral tradition until the advent of Europeans brought them the concept of the written word. In many societies, to this day however, the truly unique, important teachings are never written down, but only passed orally; and what's more important, only to someone who is capable of understanding them (that usually does not include a sociologist or anthropologist with a clip board and a microphone... jus' sayin'). Writing down a deep truth weakens it or destroys its power, according to the ancient beliefs in many Native cultures, not just the ones here in North America. There is also deep commonality between similar, indigenous cultures worldwide that has grown from shared connection with the natural world, respect for all living things, and the concept of family and community.

I would recommend that you limit your research to a single geographic area at first, such as the US Southwest where many cultures persist and are still alive, such as the Navajo, Apache, Hopi, Zuni and Pueblo Peoples. Narrowing down the field and finding retold stories in these cultures may make it easier for you to find exactly what you need to complete this assignment. Good luck. I would recommend: "When Hopi Children Were Bad" by Tawa Mana, which is a retelling of an educational tale by someone whose name means female monster in Hopi. It may be available online. Also Songs of the Tewa by Herbert Joseph Spinden, which is a collection and translation of Tewa (Pueblo) songs. One non-Indian writer who uses a lot of traditional stories in his work is mystery writer Tony Hillerman, whose "Dance Hall of the Dead" I would also recommend for both Zuni and Navajo stories. Each region has their own, though and you may want to choose regional material based upon your own location. Your library will have access to all the information you need.

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Richard Sutton

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As a direct reservation trader in all aspects of American Indian arts since 1985, I've answered questions regarding cultural property issues, origins of traditional crafts, materials and techniques, collecting, authenticity, symbols and, of course, repairs! We have operated a retail gallery since that time, bricks and mortar until 2007 and online since 1996. Our online operation closed in 2/2015, to allow me to finally write full-time. My writing site can be found at www.sailletales.com I'll be adding a book or two from our trader experiences under the pen name of W.T. Durand and the rest of my fiction is under my own name. We are not "New Age" practitioners of adopted American Indian religious ceremonies or combined philosophies. If you are seeking such knowledge for spiritual reasons, we will only provide answers that address factual information on these subjects. Unless one is raised in a traditional, American Indian family with language, culture and religious belief intact, we don't believe that simply applying the trappings or cultural property of a given traditional group will give a non-Indian (Native if you prefer)any insight other than the academic.

Experience

My primary focus is on Southwester American Indian Nations and their people, but I also have experience in Plains and Northeastern traditions, having engaged in active trade and retail since 1985 and study for most of my life. I am not claiming any expertise at all in the work, techniques, lifeways or crafts that are made by the Native People of Mexico. They are not the same, either linguistically or culturally but certainly their crafts deserve discussion and appraisal by those who are able to provide real information.

Publications
I was a guest on Fox Network "Lifestyles" program, during the 1990s, to discuss how to tell forgeries, and authenticating jewelry as Native American work. I have also written extensively for our website, www.kivatrading.com and our Ebay Store.

Education/Credentials
UofO, 1970 active in the Authentic American Indian Arts business and direct Trader since 1985. Graphic Designer and published novelist.

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