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The CanadianReview of American Studies, Volume 12,No. 2, Fall 1981 Reasoning Together KarlKroeber (Columbia University) writes: Iwish to clarify and amplify issues raised in David Brumble's essay "Anthropologists , Novelists and Indian Sacred Material" in the Canadian Review of AmericanStudies (11/1). I take this liberty because two of the authors he comments on were my father and mother, Alfred and Theodora Kroeber. Also Iameditor of Studies in American Indian Literatures, the only scholarly journal devoted exclusively to Native American literatures, both contemporaryand traditional, and the topics Brumble touches on are familar to my readership. I hope I may help readers of CRevAS appreciate how complicated andsignificant are the nature and causes of changing attitudes (of both Indiansand Whites) toward the religions of native peoples. Sincemypersonal relation is to the anthropologists Brumble speaks of, I'll commentonly briefly on his presentation of Native American novelists. It is unfortunatethat he concentrates on Frank Waters rather than better literary artistsand important Indian figures. An obvious choice would be D'Arey McNickle,especially because a comparison of his two superb novels, The Surrounded(1936) and Wind from an Enemy Sky (1978), provides marvelous insight into the persistences and changes in both Indian and White attitudes towards the sacred core of Native American cultures,the thematic center of both novels.1 Anyone seriously interested in either twentieth-century Native 254 KarlKroeb 2, American literature or the leading Indian spokesmen and activistsinth United States should attend to McNickle rather than Waters. In the 1950s~ incidentally, McNickle published a book suitable for children, Runnerinthe Sun, which could illuminatingly be compared with Theodora Kroeber·s children's version of the Ishi story, Ishi, Last of His Tribe, for both McNicklt and my mother were conscious of the dangers, but not indifferent tothe possibilities, of fictionalizing authentic Indian history, and, even trickier. authentic Indian imaginings. Though it is understandable that Brumble concentrates on N.Scott Momaday among more recent artists, he oversimplifies Momaday's complex relation to his Kiowa heritage with statements such as "He is like a stand-up comedian who must explain his every joke'' (p. 44). Two crucial issuesfor Native American writers Brumble overlooks are those of "the breed" andof cultural survival by change. The fine Native American poet Paula GunnAllen has delineated the special intricacies of ''full blood-half blood" definitions. which distinguish Indian ethnicity from that of most other minorities inthe United States. Leslie Marmon Silko from the Laguna Pueblo in her splendid novel Ceremony along with other excellences presents a subtly intelligent dramatization of how and why Indian cultures persist by changing. 2 Brumble's essay, inadvertently, gives an uninformed reader no sense of either the esthetic richness of Native American literary accomplishments nor ofthe remarkable sophistication of contemporary Indian sez{·analyses. A special warning needs to be sounded, however, about Brumble's casual dismissal of Black Elk Speaks, along with Jshi in Two Worlds, the best knmrn and most influential book by or about Indians of the past fifty years.Ican best illustrate why by quoting from the preface to a recent edition byVine Deloria, Jr., himself a Sioux, and probably the leading Indian intellectual spokesman today. Of the part John Neihardt played in his editing of conver· sations with Black Elk, Deloria observes: "can it matter [if we are talking with Black Elk or John Neihardt'?] ... The very nature of great religious teachings is that they encompass everyone who understands them andper· sonalities become indistinguishable from the transcendent truth whichis expressed.' So let it be with Black Elk Speaks. That is speaks to us with simple and compelling language about an aspect of human experience and encourages us to emphasize the best that dwells within us is sufficient."It should be noticed that Deloria does not equate the sacred significance ofthis work with "secrecy," but, to the contrary, with its general accessibility. noting that it "has become a North American bible of all tribes. They [young Indians of all tribes] look to it for spiritual guidance, for sociological identity, for political insight, and for affirmation of the continuing substance of Indian tribal life."3 All this does not, however, invalidate the importance of the questions Brumble poses: "If one...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 253-270
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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