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Reviewed by:
  • Oratory in Native North America
  • Susan Berry Brill de Ramírez (bio)
William M. Clements . Oratory in Native North America. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2002. xv + 186 pp.

Within the study of Native American literatures, scholars have widely recognized the importance and relevance of those literatures' oral storytelling roots as foundational to their literary development. With this understanding, the literary critical study of Native texts has often been interwoven with early orality studies by Native and non-Native ethnographers and folklorists. This notwithstanding, contemporary rhetoricians and literary critics have directed scant attention to those highly crafted Native American oral texts that were explicitly oriented towards the purposes of information and persuasion: namely, formal speeches. In his book Oratory in Native North America, William M. Clements investigates those early forms of highly crafted, oral indigenous communications that were recorded (in one form or another) and largely directed towards an audience of non-Native listeners (e.g., explorers, traders, soldiers, government officials, ethnographers, and missionaries and members of the clergy). Clements brings to bear his combined training in literary and folklore studies, bringing helpful light to a field of study that, to date, has not received the attention it deserves. Of especial value to this project are Clements's knowledge of orality and his ethnographic rigor that point the way towards future directions in the study of indigenous oratory. In his book, he illuminates the diversity and wealth of those Native American public speeches directed to audiences that included those non-Native outsiders who either recorded the speeches or provided the reports of the given speeches. Although Clements gives relatively little attention to indigenous oratory within its own respective tribal and cultural frameworks, including scant reference to Native scholars of rhetoric and tribal storytelling traditions, this is not the direction of this book. To lament what Clements does not do in his book would be to overlook its value and the wealth of overview for a crucial area of Native literary study.

The book begins by defining the genre of oratory, delineating oratory as specific to those formal oral speeches that are delivered in public [End Page 88] settings. To understand the Anglo-American reception to Native oratory, Clements investigates the early rhetorical history of North America, noting its especially high value among the American colonists and their descendants. The role of oratory in the British colonies and later United States is described, by Clements, in terms of its Aristotelian, Cartesian, Puritan, and Jeffersonian influences, thereby providing a helpful lens and contextual framework for understanding the worlds in which Native American oratory was recorded for Anglo-American posterity. This contextualization of the Anglo-American reception provides the needed background for the critical evaluation and interpretation of those specific cases of Native American oratory in which the speeches were delivered to their Euroamerican audience. This is crucial in light of the fact that the recorded response to those speeches was largely informed by the American and European traditions of their audience. The Euroamerican literary and critical framework of oratory played a great role in the Euroamerican (generally Anglo-American) receptions, interpretations, and consequences meted out in response (whether the speeches were made as part of treaty negotiations, the artificial recording by early ethnographers, or formal communications with clergy). To review past indigenous oratory and its response by Euroamerica, scholars will need to take into account the interpretive framework of past Euroamerican response, and Clements's volume provides a strong primer for such scholarship. What is absent in Clements's book is the indigenous and tribal contextualization that would place each example of oratory within the oral and literary tradition of the orator's respective tribal and regional communities. This would be work well worth doing by scholars able to bring to bear an indigenous and tribal understanding to their work.

The one contemporary Native voice found in the volume (other than a citation from N. Scott Momaday in the preface) involves a brief mention of the work of Nora and Richard Dauenhauer, yet this occurs without reference to Nora Dauenhauer's tribal ancestry, nor any statement regarding the value of that fact for the Dauenhauers' own ethnographic work. I note...


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