Writing on Women Writers

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Native American Identity – Pass it on through Writing

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We have been reading a lot about identity in the past few weeks. Identity is what a person can relate to, what makes them who they are. In most of our readings we have dealt with personal identity and with cultural identity. Cultural identity is the identity of a person’s heritage and how they express that identity. Many of our authors have come from mixed heritages, sometimes having the heritage they grew up with stripped away and replaced with one that the government feels is more appropriate, as is the case with many Native American’s identities and other tribal people. Assimilation into American society nearly killed the identity of all Native Americans. It was taken away strikingly and violently and left a hole in Native American’s which may never be filled. Many of the writers we looked at shared the loss of their culture through writing so that it may never be forgotten. Gertrude Simmons Bonnin who goes by Zitkala-Sa shared a Native American tale which would have been passed down orally within the tribes. Beth Brant gave us insight into the loss of a child during assimilation when the children were taken from the Native’s home. Paula Gunn Allen expresses her anger and resentment in a poem titled Molly Brant, Iroquois Matron, Speaks.

The oral tradition was very important to Native American’s. They would pass down stories to their people as well as history orally. These stories would be told by a storyteller in the tribe and this person was very well respected amongst others in a tribe. Zitkala-Sa wanted to share the stories of her childhood so that she could spread understanding about her people. “Later essays….pieces frought with tension between her anger at the government’s maltreatment of Indians and her desire to promote cross-cultural understanding” (976). The story The Tree Bound is filled with cultural references, especially the native’s love for animals and the Earth. She shared these and other stories so that others might relate to her people. She wanted people to understand the Indians so that they might treat them better.

Beth Brant talked about a more serious issue in A Long Story. She pairs the loss of a child during assimilation with the loss of a child in a more modern sense. Both of the stories, told in pieces one after the other, reflect how certain classes of people are judged harshly by society and how those judgments turn into maltreatment. The native woman in this story loses her child to the government. The government, and a lot of society’s citizens at the time, thought that Native Americans would be better off being educated. During education they assimilated the Native’s children. This included teaching them to be ‘proper’ or ‘civilized’, in other words stealing them from their homes and beating their own culture into these poor children. The children were not allowed to see their parents for a long time. They were taught to speak English and to lose their own Native tongue and all the other culture that went with their birth.

Paula Gunn Allen expresses her grief and anger about the loss of her culture in Molly Brant, Iroquois Matron, Speaks. She uses graphic language to show her disgust saying “the carrion birds that flew upon the winds of Revolution to feed upon our scarred and frozed flesh” (1028). She talks about the destruction of the tribes across the United States when the land was stolen from the Native’s. The end of the poem is angry and vengeful, as the woman in the poem is angry and vengeful. She waits for the end of the Earth so she can laugh at the people who destroyed it. “Maybe when the last blast goes up you will hear me screaming with glee, wildly drunk at last on vindication, trilling ecstatically my longed for revenge” (1030). Many Native American’s are angry about the loss of their people, their culture, and the way that that loss came about. Their land was stolen, their people murdered, and their culture diminished to a fraction of what it once was.

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