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N. Scott Momaday. SELF PORTRAIT. 1976. Graphite and wash, 23" x 30". Reprinted from Charles L. Woodard’s Ancestral Voice: Conversations with N . Scott Momaday. Pan-Indianism a n d T r ib a l S o v e r e ig n t ie s in H o u s e Ma d e o f D a w n a n d Th e N a m e s P . J a n e H a f e n As an American Indian (Taos Pueblo) undergraduate student, I enrolled in Anthropology 317, North American Indians, to fill my general education social science requirement. We studied social structures and kinship of the historic Iroquois. The class was a prime example of scientific empiricism and objectivism heavily applied to indigenous peoples of the past. Our only venture into the modern age was a viewing of a dated black-and-white film about Indian relo­ cation policies of the 1950s. I remember only an overview of the fed­ eral policies and generic Indians from various unknown tribes, thrown together in an alien urban environment, trained certainly not for professional positions but for manual labor. A t the end of their work week, the end of the film, these Indians, who appeared tribally nondistinct but certainly knew each other’s affiliations, gath­ ered on top of a hill outside of Los Angeles. They circled around a drum, shared their traditional songs, and came together in a union that transcended tribal differences. N. Scott Momaday closes “The Night Chanter” section of his clas­ sic novel, House Made of Dawn (1968), with a similar scene, portraying the merging of three distinct tribal traditions—Jemez (Walatowa), through the main character, Abel; Kiowa, through the priest, Tosamah; and Navajo (Dineh), through Ben Benally— in the relocation mecca of 1950s Los Angeles. Yet unlike the Native men of the film, who remain tribally anonymous, each character maintains his own tribal distinction. Although the three major characters come together in an urban setting to help one another, removed from their tribal com­ munities, like many contemporary Native peoples who have encoun­ tered mainstream education, army service, and other non-Indian institutions, each finds reconciliation by claiming his own specific tribal tradition and identity. Abel will return to his tribal home, and although the novel leaves Tosamah and Ben in Los Angeles, readers sense that they each eventually will return to their motherlands as well. Indeed, Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969) rein­ scribes Tosamah’s voice into Momaday’s own personal journey of W A L 34(1) S p r in g 1999 return and reconciliation with his Kiowa tribal past. House Made of Dawn and The Way to Rainy Mountain are land­ marks in twentieth-century American Indian literatures. These books represent a mainstream recognition of ancient literary tradition; they are not a Native American renaissance as much as a perseverance fil­ tered through Momaday s prestigious formal education. The story con­ tinues with his self-writing in The Names: A Memoir (1976). In his works, Momaday tells interconnected stories of identity that stress the preeminence of place, the influence of the oral tradition and the importance of language and voice, the blurring of temporal signifiers, and the subordination of the individual to the tribal and communal whole. Yet Momaday never subordinates the individual tribe to a PanIndian communal whole. While he creates characters with diverse tribal backgrounds who learn from each other’s traditions, he consis­ tently affirms sovereign tribal identity. Pan-Indianism, the grouping together of distinct tribal entities that began with the European nomenclature “Indian” itself, has a long tradition of failure. Ultimately it fails Abel in House Made of Dawn. Individual tribal interests supersede broad coalitions of indige­ nous peoples. Europeans, though somewhat diverse, had in common patriarchy, market economy, and a single anthropomorphic male deity, and were more racially, religiously, and ideologically homoge­ nous than the discrete indigenous populations. In their commonal­ ity, the non-Indians constructed a mirror opposite of themselves in the idea of ubiquitous Noble Savage Indians, failing to recognize cul­ tural, linguistic, and tribal diversities. Although some disparate groups federated, like the Haudenosaunee (also known...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 7-23
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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