A Set Course

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One major theme in most types of literature is that there is a journey. This is also true for indigenous literature. In Cogewea and Ceremony, the main characters are ranchers. They look after the cattle and they are, as part of the frontier, in a liminal space. “Like some creature born of the wild, neither fancied nor actual dangers deterred [Cogewea] from her set course.” (Dove, 16) She has a mission, and she is going to complete the mission any way that she can.

Animals can both be helpful to people and hurtful. In Cogewea, Stemteema finally sends Cogewea to school after being worried about her being attacked by a cougar. “At last, notwithstanding her antipathy to the culture of the pale face, the aged squaw was constrained to listen to the pleadings of the good Sisters, and at the age of twelve the little ‘woods-savage’ and her two sisters were placed in the convent school. This measure was resorted to only after Cogewea returned one evening, her horse bearing an ugly cut on its hip, received from the claws of a cougar. The fierce animal had leaped from a tree and the child escaped only through the agility of her mount. With a mighty bound the horse had thwarted the hungry cat of its prey, with no other injury than the knife like wound, neither deep nor serious.” (Dove, 16) The cougar was dangerous, but the horse had jumped away, leaving her unharmed.

Cogewea was also seen by the Western world in the way that the western world saw women, as less than and incapable, when in reality, “The same skills Aboriginal people used for herding and breaking wild horses and hunting buffalo or herding them into buffalo pounds were quickly transferred and used in the ranching industry. Aboriginal women were not excluded from working as ranch hands. They had always been competent at training their own horses. These skills proved to be valuable in the new circumstances facing Native people and many Aboriginal women came to be known as competent ranch hands and horse trainers.” (Baillargeon, 381) She was sent to school because of the Western way of looking at things: her grandmother was persuaded to look at the incident in a different way. She was seen as a wild savage to the colonizers, and not as a competent part of the community.

In indigenous cultures, “Our relationship with creation involves connecting with all that exists around us: plants, animals, land, water, sun. moon, and the sky world….The land is [not] a wild material resource that needs to be developed, possessed, or controlled; rather, the land is a relative with whom we have a special relationship.” (Anderson, 180) It is possible to be many things at once. In Thomas King’s talk, the world was created by several animals and a girl and a boy. One of them was right handed, one was left handed, one was dark, one was light. “In many instances [at the beginning of rodeos], especially in Cree country, the person praying is acknowledging that those gathered for competition are entering into a competition with ‘sacred beings.’ The animals are recognized for their strength and superior abilities. They might be asked to have pity on the human beings who are entering into a competition with them. An elder might pray that neither man nor animal will be hurt, because both are entering into a friendly competition.” (Baillargeon, 397) Animals do not need to be controlled, they are wild creatures, but they should be respected for what they offer the world.

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WORKS CITED

BOOKS

  1. Anderson, Kim. A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. Toronto: Sumach, 2003. Print.
  2. Baillargeon, Morgan. “Aboriginal Cowboys.” Hidden in Plain Sight : Contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to Canadian Identity and Culture. By Daniel J. K Beavon, David R. Newhouse, and Cora Jane Voyageur. Toronto [u.a.: Univ. of Toronto, 2005. 379-99. Print.
  3. Dove, Mourning. Cogewea: The Half Blood. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1981. Print.
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Science and Stories

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In Western culture, we’re obsessed with binaries. Science and stories don’t mix. Math and English do not, under ANY circumstances (except in algebra… we use letters in algebra, which just confuses me) mix letters with numbers and blend fact and fiction. Simply, there’s a right answer and a wrong answer. In science, there is just one right answer.

English: A cow icon

English: A cow icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leroy Little Bear says that science depends on who is doing the defining. The importance of the cattle in Ceremony to Tayo and Josiah does not depend on what type of cattle they have, even though “[Josiah] read about cattle breeding in the books… loaned to him…Scientific cattle breeding was very complicated, he said…The problem was the books were written by white people who did not think about drought or winter blizzards or dry thistles, which the cattle had to live with. When Tayo saw Ulibarri’s cattle, he thought of the diagram of the ideal beef cow which had been in the back of one of the books, and these cattle were everything that the ideal cow was not.They were tall and had long thin legs like deer; their heads were long and angular, with heavy bone across the eyes supporting wide sharp horns which curved out over the shoulders. Their eyes were big and wild.” (Silko, 69) The animals are thought of solely in terms of production in Western culture; something that is so different from Josiah’s way of life that it is difficult for him to understand. Rocky to some extent tries to understand. “‘Those books are written by scientists. They know everything there is to know about beef cattle. That’s the trouble with the way the people around here have always done things-they never knew what they were doing.’ He did not hesitate to speak like that… because the subject was books and scientific knowledge-those things that Rocky had learned to believe in.” (Silko, 69-70) however, in understanding the Western way of looking at animals, “Tayo knew that what village people thought didn’t matter to Rocky anymore. He was already planning where he would go after high school; he was already talking about the places he would live, and the reservation wasn’t one of them.” (Silko, 71) In thinking in Western terms, Tayo feels that Rocky is eagerly abandoning their own culture. The people doing the defining do not have the same view of animals as Tayo does: he needs to think of his own way of defining cattle according to his culture.

Spider web

Spider web (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Leroy Little Bear says that “If everything is animate, then everything has spirit and knowledge, If everything has spirit and knowledge, then all are like me. If all are like me, then all are my relations.” (Bear, 30) Tayo makes a distinction between the Western way of viewing animals and the indigenous way of viewing animals in one section, remembering the stories told to him and the view that science classes had on it.”The spider came out first. She drank from the edge of the pool, careful to keep the delicate eggs sacs on her abdomen out of the water. She retraced her path, leaving faint crisscrossing patterns in the fine yellow sand. He remembered stories about her… [Tayo] knew what white people thought about the stories. In school the science teacher had explained what superstition was, and then held the science textbook up for the class to see the true source of explanations. He had studied those books, and he had no reason to believe the stories anymore. The science books explained the cause and effects. But old Grandma always used to say, “Back in time immemorial, things were different, the animals could talk to human beings, and many magical things still happened.” He never lost the feelings he had in his chest when she spoke those words, as she did each time she told them stories; and he still felt it was true, despite all they had taught him in school- that long long ago things had been different, and human beings could understand what the animals said.” (Silko, 87) Animals and people coexist on earth. They work together to create harmony in the world. In Cedar Sings by Lee Maracle “Raven’s point… is to alter the direction of relationships between the people and other living beings.” (Maracle, 75) She plays a crucial role in allowing every creature to share the land: when Cedar cries about the trees being murdered, (they also “talk” (Maracle, 73)) Raven is able to shapeshift and work with the humans to drive the loggers out of the forest.

An immature Common Raven (also known as the No...

An immature Common Raven (also known as the Northern Raven). It was playing in a tree with an adult raven nearby. Photographed at Gualala, Sonoma Coast, San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA. It was in dark trees, so light levels were adjusted followed by noise reduction, which caused a bit of smoothing of the feathers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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WORKS CITED

VIDEOS:

  1. “Native Science and Western Science: Possibilities for a Powerful Collaboration.”YouTube. YouTube, 09 May 2011. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.

BOOKS:

  1. Leroy Little Bear. “Jagged Worldviews Colliding” in Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision, edited by Marie Battiste, pp. 77-85 2000. UBC Press
  2. Maracle, Lee. “Cedar Sings.” First Wives Club: Coast Salish Style. Penticton, BC: Theytus, 2010. 69-75. Print.
  3. Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York, NY: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Raising special cattle

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A horned Hereford cow in Nevada.

A horned Hereford cow in Nevada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Ceremony, cattle are clearly symbolic even though “These are not animals from traditional Pueblo mythology or storytelling tradition. However, by emulating Native American syncretic traditions, Silko created them to represent the hybridization of Indian culture. Indians in the southwest are not a dying race. They select certain desirable elements from the dominant white culture and incorporate these into their own culture to keep it alive and vigorous. Even though the Native American culture in the Southwest often appears in the midst of cultural crisis, it endures and survives. Betonie describes this attitude when he tells Tayo: “She taught me this above all else: things which don’t shift and grow are dead things.” (Blumenthal) They are used symbolically to represent the two cultures, the indigenous culture and the white people’s culture. “[Tayo] felt proud when Josiah talked about cattle…They would breed these cattle, special cattle, not the weak, soft Herefords that grew thin and died from eating thistle and burned-off cactus during the drought. The cattle Ulibarri sold them were exactly what they had been thinking about. These cattle were descendants of generations of desert cattle, born in dry sand and scrubby mesquite, where they hunted water the way desert antelope did.” (Silko, 68)

The two types of cattle vary not only in appearance but in behaviour as well. “When they went to go check on the cattle, they didn’t find them around the windmill where they had unloaded them. Ordinary cattle would have stayed near the water unless there had been rain or many other places for water….[The cattle had] left the windmill, so they would have to travel until they found more water. Herefords would not look for water. When a windmill broke down or a pool went dry, Tayo had seen them standing and waiting patiently for the truck or wagon loaded with water, or for riders to herd them to water. If nobody came and there was no snow or rain, then they died there, still waiting. But these Mexican cattle were different.” (Silko, 72-73) Later “The Mexican cattle settled down and moved more slowly but they… had little regard for fences.” (Silko, 73)

“In essence the spotted cattle are a cross between domesticated cattle and wild animals. The Indian people survived on wild game for thousands of years but contemporary white society restricted use of that food source. Native people turned to livestock as a means of maintaining self-sufficiency. Unfortunately ranch-bred livestock are poorly suited to the harsh environment of the reservation. Survivors, such as Tayo’s uncle Josiah, must constantly seek ways to overcome even the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of cattle that die during drought. ” (Blumenthal) The cattle are “special” because they are a hybrid. They are neither domesticated nor wild. They are both. That is why the cattle are so different compared to the other “ordinary” cattle. “They had not bothered to brand the cattle because they had a bill of sale which acknowledged their Mexican brands. But when they saw how the cattle kept moving Josiah got worried and decided to brand them in case they got off reservation land…It took almost the entire day to round [the cows] up because they were so wild.” (Silko, 73) While they can brand the cows to keep track of them, ultimately they can never control them. After “they add… Auntie’s brand…on the left shoulder of the cows and calves, and let them go,” (Silko, 73) the cattle “galloped away, kicking up red clay dust, they were still going south.” (Silko, 74)

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WORKS CITED

BOOKS:

  1. Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York, NY: Penguin, 2006. Print.

WEBSITES:

  1. Blumenthal, Susan. “Spotted Cattle and Deer: Spirit Guides and Symbols of Endurance and Healing in Ceremony.” American Indian Quarterly 14.4 (Fall 1990): 367-377. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter and Deborah A. Schmitt. Vol. 114. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.

“Scared Animals die off easily”

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In Ceremony, the characters spend a long time with cattle. Tayo and Josiah feed them, take care of them, and when they have to sell them, they sell them to people who will take care of them. “Part of the five hundred dollar deal was that Ulibarri would deliver the cattle. Tayo helped Josiah separate the best ones from the rest of the herd…Whenever Josiah cut a cow away from the rest of the herd, Tayo swung the gate open wide and stepped back to let it run into the holding pen. Josiah cut out twenty cows; he looked for the youngest and strongest ones. They didn’t want Ulibarri to try anything funny, like substituting a crippled cow for a sound one or sending one with runny eyes; so before they left, they walked around the pen slowly, memorizing each cow- the shape of the long curved horns, the patterns of the brown spots on their ivory hides, their size and weight. The last thing Josiah did was lean out of the window of the truck and tell Ulibarri, ‘Don’t starve them to death.'” (Silko, 67-68)  and Josiah teaches Tayo an important lesson about them: “‘Cattle are like any living thing. If you separate them from the land for too long, keep them in barns and corrals, they lose something. Their stomachs get to where they can only eat rolled oats and dry alfalfa. When you turn them loose again, they go running all over. They are scared because the land is unfamiliar, and they are lost. They don’t stop being scared either, even when they look quiet and they quit running. Scared animals die off easily.'” (Silko, 68-69)

Indian Porcupine, Hystrix indica

Indian Porcupine, Hystrix indica (Photo credit: Wikipedia) When Porcupines get scared, they have their quills to protect them. The boys at the school “look like porcupines” with their hair cut off. However, they are unable to defend themselves like the porcupine.

In Porcupines and China Dolls the narrator tells the reader that “The boys are herded into a large room where a missionary takes a pair of scissors and cuts their hair. No one says anything. They just watch. After everyone’s hair is cut, they’re told to remove their clothing and put them in a pile…The missionaries are going to burn their clothing along with their hair and whatever else they brought with them… After their baths they’re given clothes and realize they all look alike. They look like porcupines: well-dressed porcupines.” (Alexie, 9-10) They not only look like porcupines, but sound like porcupines as well. “Late that night, a boy starts to cry. It is low and muffled, but it is heart wrenching. It sounds like a million porcupines crying in the dark….Even before the door opens, the crying has stopped, and so has their breathing. The missionary looks around, then mutters something that sounds like “dirty Indians,” but they can’t be sure. No one says anything for a little while. The breathing resumes, but the cries are silent. They’ll always be silent.” (Alexie, 11) They are not allowed to cry,  or not supposed to; which is not right. It is “Such a common thing, to work for peace. Such very clear things, to know that, if we injure an animal…we have caused damage. Yet, we have rampant hunger and do not know, can hardly even imagine, peace. And even when animals learn to speak a language, and to communicate their misery, we still deny them the right to an existence free from suffering and pain.” (Battiste, 120) To deny anybody the right to communicate feelings is cruel. This goes on repeatedly, they are not allowed to speak their language, and “they’ll see things they don’t understand and will not question them. Strange things will happen to them, and they’ll try not to remember. They’ll block out everything bad that happens to them and others in those hallowed halls. They’ll remember only the good things, and those will be few.” (Alexie, 12) They are scared, and as a result, block things from their memory. They also lose their language, their home, and when they return home they “Have to relearn [their] language and the ways of [the] People…Survival depends on it.” (Alexie, 16).

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WORKS CITED

IMAGES:

BOOKS:

  1. Alexie, Robert Arthur. Porcupines and China Dolls. Penticton, B.C.: Theytus, 2009. Print.
  2. Hogan, Linda. “A Different Yield.” Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision. By Marie Ann. Battiste. Vancouver: UBC, 2000. 120. Print.
  3. Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York, NY: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Introduction

Animals feature very prominently in indigenous literature. They are mentioned in stories, they are crucial in legends, they are used as descriptive terms for people, they are respected much more so than in Western Culture, and my question is: Why?

Animals in Western literature are often symbols, or if they are characters they are relegated to the realm of Children’s Literature. In indigenous fiction and using indigenous criticism they can be several things. Animals can be creators, as in Thomas King’s talk, they can be used to as symbols such as in Ceremony, and they can be what an entire community depends upon, as in Cogewea. They can also be repeatedly mentioned in a story that actually has nothing to do with animals, like in Porcupines and China Dolls.

Animals are much more than merely pets, or food sources when they appear in literature, and I’m trying to figure out what and how much they mean to a story when they appear. I believe that every character and every word in a story is put there for a reason. If it wasn’t, the author wouldn’t have placed it there or would have edited it out. This includes animals too.

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WORKS CITED

LINKS:

  1. JennPower. “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!” Web log post. It’s All Kid’s Stuff. WordPress, 2 March. 2013. Web. 16 November. 2013.