Native American Expressive Culture Term Paper

Pages: 15 (4153 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 15  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Native Americans

Native American Expressive Culture

The Native American tradition can be seen as an evolving cultural tradition that encompasses countless expressions of creativity, from many varied cultures and expressions of culture. Native American cultural expression has been at various times subverted and reformed. During the 19th century and into the 20th century there was a large movement to force assimilation of Native Americans, in white English speaking culture.


Allison, and Vining 193) the circumstances of this change were developed as a series of boarding schools, where children were taken from their homes and subjected to English only learning environments, where they were barred from speaking in their native languages and barred for the most part from participating in Native American cultural expressions.

Spack 120) This period had two and possibly more effects on the culture, one an entire generation of Native American children were exposed to white society and culture and forced to assimilate and two their elders at home as well as the children themselves were became the subject of a sort of cultural martyrdom that created within them the desire to rebuild and relearn the ways of their ancestors. This backlash to forced assimilation demonstrates the historical precedence for the revival and re-conceptualization of Native American culture, in many of the 500 sovereign nations that constitute the rich Native American landscape of the United States.

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Einhorn 6) the thematic recurrence of individual and collective "vision" will be explored through this work, as it recurs continually in the Native American tradition of creativity and across media of expression.

Holding on to the old ways and the old stories of heritage was exceedingly difficult during the period of forced assimilation and many would argue that much tradition and culture was lost. Indians from this point forward (late 19th century) have been to some degree at the mercy of the dominant culture and have had to become dichotomous individuals, expressing cultural creativity in various ways as well as attempting to build a new sense of self, culturally.

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Scheckel) Some Indian nations retained their oral traditions and handed down the seeds of this information to the later generations through its traditional forms, while others lost much and had to regain such information through arduous searching and development. What has evolved is a Native American tradition expressed in many varied ways, including horizontally, in the traditional folkloric style, the vertical model in the form of print materials and even films, and in a conglomeration of creative outlet mediated horizontal, utilizing global digital communication, i.e. The internet. Against significant odds the many variety of nations have developed a manner of transmitting culture through any or all of these means, and through individual and group creativity. Each nation has made attempts to rekindle the expression of their cultures. This work will provide a brief exploration of how Indian nations have attempted to maintain these traditions, in these three venues.

Individual Indians seek to define who they are through culture in varied ways, and are frequently challenged by distance. The revival of culture is centered around reservation life. Reservations schools attempt to transmit the traditions of the past, along with language through native reservation schools that teach language through a bilingual system or through submersion programs and yet many Native Americans live far from home and family, as a result of the pressures of modernization and the fact that economic and higher education opportunities are limited on many reservations. To many Indians it is a challenge to meet the goals of a highly connected social network of family and nation as distance creates change that challenges their ability to meld their historical culture with the white culture they frequently live within. Yet, it is also clear that individual definitions of self are strongly associated with family and cultural connections and traditions. It is for this reason that Native American creativity is expressed in novel ways through many avenues and medias as well as the reason why individual and collective vision become a constant recurring theme in many of these interpretations.

One of the most moving of expressions of the changes that have been undertaken by the Indian nations of America is the work, Black Elk Speaks. Though Black Elk Speaks, can be identified with print material and can therefore be lumped into the vertical model of expression, the intentions of the ghost writer, and interviewer was to create a print record of an oral tradition and therefore for the purpose of this work, Black Elk Speaks will be viewed as an expression of horizontal creativity. Neihardt interviews are truthful and he as a transcriber more than a contributor gives light to the narrative oral tradition of the Native American experience. The author with only limited interjection, (mainly footnote explanation) allows the Native speakers to utilize their own style of speech and explanation that though it later became a product of print assimilated the oral tradition almost completely through these waving stories of triumph and tragedy. The thematic resurgence of Black Elk's vision quest and subsequent later visions is foundational to the message of the stories as well as to the oral tradition, as culture is transmitted through the retelling of stories and the assimilation of individual and group vision of coming events. The translation of these visions is essential to the individual's ability to rebuild tradition and understand change.

A as I stood there looking, a vision broke out of the shouting blackness torn with fire, and I saw the two men who had come to me first in my great vision. [likely his vision quest] They came head first like arrows slanting earthward from a long flight; and when they neared the ground, I could see a dust rising there and out of the dust the heads of dogs were peeping. Then suddenly I saw that the dust was the swarm of many-colored butterflies hovering all around and over the dogs. By now the two men were riding sorrel horses, streaked with black lightning, and they charged with bows and arrows down upon the dogs, while the thunder beings cheered for them with roaring voices. Then suddenly the butterflies changed, and were storm-driven swallows, swooping and whirling in a great cloud behind the charging riders. The first of these now plunged upon a dog's head and arose with it hanging bloody on his arrow point, while the whole west roared with cheering. The second did the same; and the black west flashed and cheered again. Then as the two arose together, I saw that the dogs' heads had changed to the heads of Wasichus; and as I saw, the vision went out and the storm was close upon me, terrible to see and roaring.

Neihardt 184-185)

The theme of the vision is one of great fear, interspersed with an understanding of the events that would transpire in, from and around the prophetic man. Vision in many ways is a thematic representation that transcends all media, as the vision of the individual is the manner in which many Native American's interpret tradition and change. Throughout the work there is a clear sense that vision, drive Black Elk to action and interpretation and his remembrance of it brings him clarity, as he is involved in the everyday and spiritual events of his life.

Then he tied my hair up to look like bear's ears, and put some eagle feathers on my head. While he was doing this, I thought of my vision, and suddenly I seemed to be lifted clear off the ground; and while I was that way, I knew more things than I could tell, and I felt sure something terrible was going to happen in a short time. I was frightened. The other boys were painted all red and had real bear's ears on their heads. Hairy Chin, who wore a real bear skin with the head on it, began to sing a song that went like this:

At the doorway the sacred herbs are rejoicing." And while he sang, two girls came in and stood one on either side of the wounded man; one had a cup of water and one some kind of a herb. I tried to see if the cup had all the sky in it, as it was in my vision, but I could not see it. They gave the cup and the herb to Rattling Hawk while Hairy Chin was singing. Then they gave him a red cane, and right away he stood up with it. The girls then started out of the tepee, and the wounded man followed, leaning on the sacred red stick; and we boys, who were the little bears, had to jump around him and make growling noises toward the man. And when we did this, you could see something like feathers of all colors coming out of our mouths.

Neihardt 107)

Black Elk, recounting his boyhood as well as the monumental fights he was involved with, occurring between nations as well as between… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Native American Expressive Culture" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Native American Expressive Culture.  (2007, December 6).  Retrieved October 26, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Native American Expressive Culture."  6 December 2007.  Web.  26 October 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Native American Expressive Culture."  December 6, 2007.  Accessed October 26, 2021.