Friday, February 27, 2009

Oglala ceremony for fallen Marine

This story was linked to The Rocky Mountain News' website this morning. It tells of the ceremonies for a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq in 2006.

The wake for Corporal Brett Lundstrom was on on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, and it combined a mixture Oglala Sioux traditions. The newspaper story is powerfully written, and it shows a lot about the Oglala people. It was featured as one of the Rocky Mountain News' best. After 150 years of publication, the Rocky is going out of business. It prints its last issue today.

Monday, February 23, 2009

HUM 221: Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) links and assignments, Wed., Feb. 25

Wednesday we'll take up some of the most important peoples of the Woodland cultural area, variously known as the Iroquois Confederation, the Haudenosaunee or the Peoples of the Long House in eastern Canada and what is now upstate New York. It was an alliance of five, later six, tribes -- the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations, and later the Tuscarora. They lived in large multifamily dwellings known as longhouses (click here for pictures and a description of a londhouse), and they used them as an analogy for their confederation. There's a good, brief history of the Peoples of the Longhouse on the website. Link to:

What's in a name?
Here's something we'll see time and time again: The Europeans used a name for these people that they got from their enemies. In this case, the enemies were Algonquin. Lee Sultzman's Iroquois History page explains:
Iroquois is an easily recognized name, but like the names of many tribes, it was given them by their enemies. The Algonquin called them the Iroqu (Irinakhoiw) "rattlesnakes." After the French added the Gallic suffix "-ois" to this insult, the name became Iroquois. The Iroquois call themselves Haudenosaunee meaning "people of the long house." Other names: Canton Indians; Confederate Indians; Ehressaronon (Huron); Five Nations; Massawomeck (Powhatan); Matchenawtowaig (Ottawa "bad snakes"); Mengue (French); Mingo, Minqua, Mingwe (Delaware); Nadowa, Nadowaig, Nautowa (Ojibwe "adders"); and after 1722, the Six Nations.
Typical. We'll see this time and time again.

As far as we can tell, the Iroquois Confederation dates back at least to the 1500s and possibly a thousand years; it still exists today, and the Peoples of the Longhouse, unlike other Indian nations, never submitted to tribal government by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. It was one of the inspirations for Benjamin Franklin's proposal that the British colonies in North America form a confederation during the Revolutionary War. Link to a story in the student paper at the University of Pennsylvania at

Music and dance

We'll follow the "Earth Songs" link from
and listen to a couple of songs by Art Johnson & Lyle Anderson, of the Six Nations of the Grand River in Canada. Among others, we'll listen to the chicken dance. Often traditional dancers will imitate the animals

In this YouTube clip, Haudenosaunee cultural leaders teach the American Indian Dance Theatre some of the social dances of the Iroquois Confederacy.

There's an important distinction between different types of Native American music and dance, and it has given rise to controversy. Some, like those we've been hearing and watching, are social dances. They can usually be freely shared with anybody, including non-Indians. Others are part of religious or healing rituals. Often they are considered sacred, private. Many Native American peoples, including the Haudenosaunee, restrict the rituals to people who share their heritage and beliefs. (One objection to "Chief Illiniwek" was the belief by some Lakota people that the "dances" performed at Illinois ballgames were irreverent parodies of Lakota religious rituals.) According to Orrin Lewis and Laura Redish of the Native Languages website, "... Indian spirituality is not evangelistic like Christianity, it is private and entirely cultural."

One controversy we should be aware of is over the "False Face" masks worn by traditional healers who belong to the False Face Society. The Snowgoose art gallery in Toronto, Canada, has an overview of the False Face healers' belief system ...
The significance of the masks to the Iroquois lies not in their artistic value, but in their power. The beings they represent instruct people to carve likenesses of themselves. They say that supernatural power to cure disease will be conferred on the human beings who make the masks when they feed the masks, invoke the beings' help while burning tobacco and sing a curing song.
While some Iroquois believe replicas of the False Face masks can be made, others strongly object to the practice. Wikipedia, as usual, has both sides of the story. And Lewis and Redish put the False Face controversy in a broader context in their introduction to Native American masks on the Native Languages website. Highly recommended.

HUM 221: Fixing a dead link (and it's about something that's on your midterm, too)

Both contemporary accounts of the "first Thanksgiving" in 1621 are available on line at

The link to this Web site in your syllabus doesn't work and will be replaced.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

African American hymnal from GIA

African American Heritage Hymnal: 575 Hymns, Spirituals, and Gospel Songs (Hardcover), edited by Rev. Dr. Delores Carpenter Jr. and Rev. Nolan E. Williams.

Product Description
Eight years of inspired work by a committee of more than 30 musicians and pastors, all leaders in African American worship and gospel music, have resulted in this compendium representing the common repertoire of African American churches across the United States. For the first time in an African American hymnal, traditional hymns and songs are notated to reflect performance practices found in the oral tradition of the black church in America. At a time when such traditions are falling victim to modern technology, this book strives to preserve this rich heritage for future generations. Presented are litanies for “Fifty-Two Sundays of Worshipful Celebration” outlining an African American church year, including such special days as Martin Luther King Sunday, Elders’ Day, Mother’s Day, and Men’s Day. Also included are 52 responsive scripture readings from the Old and New Testaments and an extensive index that includes scriptural and thematic cross-references.

About the Authors
Rev. Dr. Delores Carpenter is professor of religious education at Howard University School of Divinity and senior pastor of Michigan Park Christian Church in Washington, DC. Nolan E. Williams Jr. is the CEO of NEWorks, a music production, publishing, publications and consulting company. He also serves as Minister of Music at Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Hardcover: 1104 pages
Publisher: GIA Publications (September 1, 2001)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1579991241

Also links to a 2-CD set of more obscure songs from this hymnal, and books on spirituals by James Weldon Johnson, John Work, etc.

Midterm * Humanities 221 * Spring 2009

Below are three essay questions – one worth fifty (50) points out of a hundred, and two shorter essays worth 25 points each. Please write at least two to four pages (500-1,000 words) on the 50-point essay and one to two pages (250-500 words) on each of the 25-point short essays. Use plenty of detail from your reading in the textbook, the internet and handouts I have given you, as well as class discussion, to back up the points you make. Your grade will depend both on your analysis of the broad trends I ask about, and on the specific detail you cite in support of your analysis. Due in class Monday, March 2.

1. Main essay 50 points). “All cultures,” according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, “have developed over time their own myths, consisting of narratives of their history, their religions, and their heroes.” Myths also embody the values of a culture. One favorite American myth is the story of the “first Thanksgiving,” in which the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians shared a harvest feast in 1621. What values of American culture are reflected in the Thanksgiving myth and holiday? How do those values compare to the values of Native American cultures we have studied (e.g. Dakota, Alaska Native)? How are they the same? How are they different? What were the Pilgrim's values expressed in historical fact in 1621, in the legend as we tell it today? What were/are the Wampanoag people's values regarding Thanksgiving? What purpose does the myth serve in helping us sort out our values now as 21st century Americans?

2A. Reflective essay (25 points). What have you learned about Native American cultures in this class so far that you didn’t know before? Consider what you knew at the beginning of the course and what you know now. What point or points stand out most clearly to you? What points are still confusing? What has surprised you the most – i.e. what have you learned that was really unexpected? In grading the essay, I will evaluate the relevance of your discussion to the main goals and objectives of the course; the detail you cite to support or illustrate your points; and the connections you make. So be specific!

2B. Short essay (25 points). In September 1838 a group of 1,000 Potawatami Indians went through Springfield on the “Trail of Death,” as they were marched from their ancesteral homeland in northern Indiana to Kansas. What does the march tell you about the culture, religion and values of the Potawatami people? What did The Sangamo Journal say about the event? How were the Potawatami received in Jacksonville and other points along the way? What does all this tell you about the attitudes of European-Americans at the time of the march? What has been done in recent years to commemorate the Trail of Death? How well known is it today? How have attitudes changed since the 19th century? What does this history tell you about America as a multicultural society?

Instructor: Pete Ellertsen, 211 Beata Hall

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


To Native Americans who continue to depend on natural resources, subsistence is more than eking out a living. While it is important to the economic well-being of their communities, the subsistence lifestyle is also perceived as the basis of cultural existence and survival. It is a communal activity rather than an individual pursuit. It unifies communities as cohesive functioning units through collective production and distribution of the harvest. Entire families participate, including elders, who assist with less physically demanding tasks. Parents, rather than educational institutions, teach the young to hunt, fish, and farm.

by Rosita Worl The Case for Subsistence: Essence of Identity, Symbol of Survival

Preservation On The Reservation [And Beyond]
Fall 1999 Common Ground

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

HUM 221: Woodland Indians, Pilgrims and Thanksgiving

We'll take a virtual tour of a Woodland village of about 1550 A.D., which would be 75 years before the English started settling New England.
Important tangent: Notice what garden crops they grow: corn, beans and squash. They are known as the "three sisters," and they are basic to the economy of the Woodland Indian nations. A couple of questions: Which two of the "three sisters" are represented in Illinois' main export crops today? If you drive from Springfield to Havana, Ill., on State Route 97 in the early fall, what plants do you see growing in the fields along the roadside, and what vegetables do you see for sale in the roadside stands next to the highway?
Among the first American Indians encountered by English colonists were the Wampanoag, who lived in what is now Massachusetts south of Boston.

Amateur historian and genealogist Duane A. Cline's history of the Pilgrims has detailed -- and surprising -- information. Historically sound, too. Scroll down to the heading "MEETING OF THE TWO CULTURES" for the story of Squanto and the Pilgrims.

There's a lot of good background on the Wampanoag in this profile of the Wampanoag tribe from Minnesota State University. As always, we'll want to visit today's website of the federally recognized Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts.

The "First Thanksgiving" myth, including (a) an overview in The Christian Science Monitor at, (b) a newspaper story on at what Alaska Natives eat along with their turkey at and (c) an essay by folklorist Esaúl Sánchez at suggesting one thing the myth does for us.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Links & notes: 'Amazing Grace: A Day of Spirituals'
Several local choirs will perform at the Old State Capitol from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The choirs will then travel to Lincoln Tomb for a 2:45 p.m. program, where they will combine into a single choir under the direction of Pastor Mike Harney and conclude with three songs, including “Amazing Grace.” Local historians Kathryn Harris and Dr. Wesley McNeese will speak during the Lincoln Tomb program.

Musical groups scheduled to perform include the Singing Senators, Old Capitol Chorale, Voices in Praise Choir, Lutheran Choir, West Side Christian Church Choir, and Baptist Pastors’ Fellowship.

Quote found in Google book search from Virgil Thomson" on working-class music w/ long catalog of musical styles including "the syncopated Scotch-African / spirituals" at the bottom of page 26 and top of page 27.
Virgil Thomson: Selected Writings, 1924-1984
By Virgil Thomson, Richard Kostelanetz
Edition: illustrated
Published by Routledge, 2002
ISBN 0415937957, 9780415937955
290 pages

The Funeral of Booker T. Washington
by Isaac Fisher
Tuskegee, Alabama, Nov, 18, 1915


At twenty minutes after ten Wednesday morning, a procession line composed of trustees, faculty alumni, visitors, honorary and active pall bearers, and students began to move slowly from "The Oaks" toward the chapel. The line was long and moved to muffled drums; but the procession ended at last. Inside, the building was packed to suffocation. Chaplains John W. Whittaker and Dean G.L. Imes of the Phelps Hall Bible School conducted the exercises.

Softly the choir began singing a Negro melody: "We Shall Walk Through the Valley and Shadow of Death in Peace." No songs were so sweet to Dr. Washington as these melodies of his race. Before the sweetness of the song had dissolved, the chaplain was intoning the simple words of the most simple burial service. A pause, and the school was singing "How Firm a Foundation." More reading of the burial service and the choir rendered Cardinal Newman's deathless classic - "Lead Kindly Light Amid the Encircling Gloom."

Here prayer was made by Dr. H. B. Frissell, president of Hampton Institute and one of Dr. Washington's former teachers. Once more the choir sung a melody, this time two in number, "Tell All My Father's Children Don't You Grieve For Me," and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and the tears were falling fast.

How Firm a Foundation by Bill Dagle

First published in 1787 in a hymnal, "Selection of Hymns," the song was mistakenly credited to the publisher, Dr. John Rippon. The true authorship is still a mystery, as well as the composer of the music, even though the tune is of the sturdy folk tunes of the South. Dr. Rippon's hymnal became very popular to the extent that an American edition was also printed by the Baptist churches in Philadelphia in 1820. By the time of the Civil War, "How Firm a Foundation" was a favorite in the North and the South.

What I find to be most interesting is that this song had a real impact on some important people. Because the hymn had been a favorite of his wife, Rachael, President Andrew Jackson requested it to be sung at his bedside shortly before he died, saying he wanted only to join his wife in Heaven. Robert E. Lee requested the song for his funeral "as an expression of his full trust in the ways of the Heavenly Father." Even Theodore Roosevelt rcognized the importance of this song during a time of great need.

Elder Fred Cockrell, the song leader on "Sure Been Good to Me," is the pastor of Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Church in Eutaw, AL and the Moderator of the Sispey River Primitive Baptist Association. He and his wife Nellie are vitally interested in preserving the "Dr. Watts" style of singing as well as the spirituals sung by his ancestors. While some members of the Sipsey River Association do not believe spirituals belong in church services, Elder Cockrell remembers that his parents sang them and he sees to it that various people in his congregation start them at times during the service. He also tries to introduce other spirituals into the repertoire by inviting visitors at the Annual meeting of the Association to lead hymns and spirituals in the way they are sung in their home congregations.

The traditional song variety here, known as the "spiritual" in African American churches in Alabama, is a subject area in need of more documentation and study. While many spirituals were collected in the past there still are many individuals who remember a good number of these songs. Most were learned regionally through a strong oral tradition in an individual's church and at home from elder family members.

The form of this spiritual "Sure Been Good To Me" is strophic. Each strophe exhibits a repetition of the phrase "all of these years" between Elder Cockrell's more spontaneous interjections. After the phrase is repeated three times the end tag of "Sure been Good to Me" is sung at a concluding cadence. This simple but heartfelt poetic form is typical of many spirituals. The same formulaic device may have been an inspiration for the secular blues poetic structure.

"SURE BEEN GOOD TO ME" was led by Elder Fred Cockrell at Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Church. Recorded by Joyce Cauthen on May 12, 1996 during the field work for the recently released Alabama Folklife Association publication Benjamin Lloyd’s Hymn Book: A Primitive Baptist Song Tradition a book of essays with a CD recording documenting the history and current use of an historic hymn book.,Brett_and_Peter_Hartman.html

Brett Sutton was born in 1948 and raised in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. He was graduated with honors from the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1970 with a Bachelors degree in English. After a period of work and pursuit of his musical interests, he enrolled in the Curriculum of Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he earned a Masters degree in 1976. His thesis project, entitled "The Gospel Hymn, Shaped Notes, and the Black Tradition," focused on African American spiritual folk singing around Raleigh and Durham, N.C. In 1982, Brett Sutton went on to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology and, in 1988, he earned a Masters in Library Science, all at UNC.

Peter Hartman was born in 1959 and graduated in 1975 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.S. in business administration. Peter Hartman, also a banjo player, joined Brett Sutton to explore their mutual interest in religious folk music. In 1976, they moved to southwestern Virginia where they resided for eight months, the duration of the project documented in this collection, entitled "Religious Folksongs in the Virginia Mountains," funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). This region of Virginia, including Franklin, Lloyd, Henry and Patrick counties, was chosen because of the numerous resources in the archaic spiritual folksong style. From this research, a book and LP recording were produced, Primitive Baptist Hymns of the Blue Ridge, published in 1982 by the University of North Carolina Press.

The collecting project investigated the relationships between many rural churches involved in the Primitive Baptist tradition in the Blue Ridge Mountains region, including white and African American congregations that attended the same churches up until the 1890s. A second emphasis was on other rural churches of the area: the Old Regular Baptists and other Baptist groups, the Pentecostal-Holiness sects, and the Church of the Brethren. Sutton and Hartman were mostly interested in collecting religious folksongs that are often unwritten, sometimes unknown to scholars, and variable from church to church and from tradition to tradition. The study revealed the importance of the music's presence in the community, the spiritual values that the music conveys, and why and how the music has survived.

Friday, February 13, 2009

For HUM 221 Monday, Feb. 16: Revised reading assignments

Since we missed a couple of days this week, I want to move ahead with the Potawatami Indians. For background, read the sections on the Northeast and Woodland cultural areas in Zimmerman and Molyneaux, "Native North America," pp. 36-43. To oversimplify greatly, the Woodland Indians included most tribes in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States at the time of contact with white civilization. It's hard to realize now, but most of the eastern United States was covered by forest -- or woodland. Hence the name. The tribes or Indian nations from Virginia north tended to to raise corn, squash and beans but also relied heavily on woodland hunting.

The Indian nations of Illinois, including the Illini confederation from which the state gets its name, were Woodland Indians. For Wednesday, read on the Web: (1) the history of the Illini peoples at; (2) an account of the Black Hawk War, in 1832, put up by Northern Illinois University at

Today we'll answer the questions posted below on the diary of the Potawatomi "Trail of Death" that went through Springfield in 1838, at I assigned last week.

Monday, February 09, 2009

HUM 221: Trail of Death / links and class discussion Monday, Feb. 16

Links to some resources on the Potawatomi Trail of Death ... and on the Potawatomi people today, their culture and history. But first, the questions for today's quiz:
1. At what restaurant in downtown Springfield did people eat lunch while they were retracing the Trail of Death in 2003?

2. Why was the Trail of Death called by that name?

3. What were the Indians promised if they looked presentable when they marched through Springfield?

4. Who was Fr. Benjamin Petit? Where and when did he die? What does he tell you about Potawatomi culture of the 1830s? Why is he important to the story of the Trail of Death?
Post your answers as comments to this blog post.

Now, here are the links ... in no logical order (unless Google has some logic to its directory that escapes me at the moment). You'll find answers to those questions on these websites.

The Prairie Band of the Potawatomi Nation has a map and a list of historical markers commemorating the Trail of Death. Look for markers near Springfield and nearby cities.

The Fulton County (Ind.) Historical Society's diary of the Trail of Death has a brief, but detailed account of the journey. Read it from start to finish to get an idea of the hardship involved. What do you make of the treatment the Potawatomi received in Jacksonville?

An educational project from Urbana School District 116 has several first-hand or primary sources on the Trail of Death. Read especially the story in The Sangamo Journal (which is misspelled on the website, incidentally). What does the Journal's description of the Potawatomi and their fear of the Cherokee tell you about white attitudes toward Indians during the 1830s?

Indiana's Fulton County Historical Society has posted an account of its commemorative caravan across Illinois in September 2003. The historical society's website also has accounts of the caravan in Indiana, Missouri and Kansas.

For the rest of the story, we'll also look at the official website of the Prairie Band and follow the link to the pages on their history culture. When we look at the history of an Indian Nation, it's always a good idea to look at today's website and see what they're like today.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

HUM 221: Dispossession, Sherman Alexie and defining 'what an Indian can be'

Instead of reading Sherman Alexie right away, even though I assigned "Unauthorized Biography of Myself" for today, I want us to do little groundwork first. Alexie is angry. He has a right to be, of course. But he doesn't let his anger define him. We read an article about him last month on the BookPage website, in which he said:
I love museums, but for me the greatest part of all this is I'm a completely active member of the culture. Forgive the immodesty, but I think it's much more important for an Indian like me to be in The New Yorker magazine than it is for me or an Indian to be in a museum [so that] we join the culture rather than become a separate part of it. It's great to talk about traditions and to see them represented and to get a sense of history, but I think it's more important to change the possibilities of what an Indian is and can be right now.
Now there's a new article out in Sadie, a new magazine of the arts headquartered in Brooklyn. It's titled "The Absolutely True Interview with Sherman Alexie, an Amazing Part-Time Indian" (a play on a recent title of his). Money quote (one of several):
... I think the United States forgets it colonized the Native Americans, and, you know, I should say, by and large, it's white liberals that forget that. I think white conservatives are happy they colonized Native Americans, but white liberals forget that and don't think of themselves as being colonial.
Question: What does Alexie mean by "colonial?" What do I mean by "dictionary?" Serious answer: One of the key concepts we're going to use in HUM 221 is called "post-colonialism." It is defined on an Emory University website on postcololialist studies as the "study of the interactions between European nations and the societies they colonized in the modern period," especially in the former British and French empires in Africa and Asia. Deepika Bahri, author of the Emory website, argued, "the United States might also be described as a postcolonial country, but it is not perceived as such because of its position of power in world politics in the present, its displacement of native American populations, and its annexation of other parts of the world in what may be seen as a form of colonization." I would argue the displacement of Native American populations, and cultures, makes their literature and art, in important ways, post-colonial.

A second money quote from Alexie's interview in Sadie magazine, and one that has to deal with the aftermath of colonialism. Magazine editor Jesse Sposato asked Alexie if he celebrates Thanksgiving. His answer:
Yes! ... You know, white folks brought me Custer, but white folks also brought me Bruce Springsteen, so I'll be giving thanks for Bruce Springsteen.
For more on the displacement of American Indian populations, the Global Policy Forum has a brief survey of displacement titled "Making of The United States: Westward Expansion 1783 to 1890" by Geoffrey Barraclough, professor of modern history at the University of Oxford. We'll look at the map in class; a lot of the time maps are pretty dull, but this one isn't. It shows the historical background of dispossession and colonization that writers like Sherman Alexie work out their vision of what an American Indian can be in contemporary society.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Lynn Stokes & Sol Surfers

Finally ...

One of those sample CDs in Relix magazine features a band that's worth finding out more about ... Lynn Stokes & the Sol Surfers of San Antonio, Texas, playing "Sacred Moon's Light."

A intriguing combination of jamband, maybe a little New Age, a lot of what I'd call good commercial jazz and (on an old album by Stokes) kinda Grateful Dead-ish traditional ballads and sea shanties ... their MySpace page has video clips, downloads everything you need to get a feel for their music ... including this blurb:
The Sols Surfers were formed in 2007 by Lynn Stokes to showcase new original material. All members of the group have extensive professional experience performing live for many years. The band plays original songs with a classic rock feel blending the sounds of soul music with the rhythms and chord structure of surf-rock and new-age, retro-psychedelic.
... which turns out to be a pretty accurate description of their sound.

The sea shanties are on a 2001 disc called Off To Sea Once More ... Stokes, from the liner notes:
While researching my family’s Scottish and English heritage I came across a body of songs which captivated me to the point where I decided I had to record and perform them. The songs are ballads and Sea “Shanties” some of which date back several hundred years. The melodies are haunting, their rhythms suggesting the bobbing of the tall sail ships, and their lyrics tell the colorful stories of the joys and hardships of the men who’s lives were dependent on the world’s oceans.
The ones I heard, "Jackaroe" and "Pretty Peggy-O," were covered first by Jerry Garcia.

© 2001 Lynn Stokes (634479524288) (format: CD-R)

HUM 221: Myth, story and art forms / FOR CLASS WEDNESDAY AND FRIDAY

Assignment for Monday, Feb. 9: In "Here First," read the essays "The Unauthorized Biography of Me" by Sherman Alexie and "Ayanvdadisdi: I Remember" by Carroll Arnett, whose Cherokee name was Gogisgi.

The rest of this week, we'll go to Minneapolis Institute of Arts' website on World Myths & Legends in Art. What I really like about this site is the way the stories, the cultural values and other art forms like woodcarving and beadwork all fit together.

"Myths are stories that explain why the world is the way it is," explains a writer for the Institute of Arts. "All cultures have them. Throughout history, artists have been inspired by myths and legends and have given them visual form."

Follow the link that says "What is Myth?" And we'll find the question answered by one of the best explanations I've seen anywhere:

There is no one satisfactory definition, since myths serve many different purposes. The first purpose was to explain the inexplicable. Since the beginning of humankind's existence, myths have functioned as rationalizations for the fundamental mysteries of life, questions such as: Who made the world? How will it end? Where do we come from? Who was the first human? What happens when we die? Why does the sun travel across the sky each day? Why does the moon wax and wane? Why do we have annual agricultural cycles and seasonal changes? Who controls our world, and how can we influence those beings so our lives are easier?
People tell stories to answer these questions, and out of the stories grow religions, ceremonies and art. We'll look at four pieces in the Minneapolis museum. Click on "Art by Culture" to find a directory of different cultures, and on "Native American" for a directory of the four pieces:

  • A late 19th- or early 20th-century Haida wooden rattle in the shape of Raven, the culture hero of several Northwest Coast and Arctic peoples.
  • A sixth- to ninth-century Mayan ceramic rattle from Mexico that depicts a ball player. A game similar to handball or jai lai was part of several Meso-American religions.
  • A 20th-century Lakota dress of cotton, leather and beadwork. It shows an abstract form of a turtle sacred to the Lakota people.
  • An Navajo or Dine archer's wrist guard made about 1930. Crafted of turquoise and silver, its design reflects the Dine story of how the world was created.
In class we will follow the links, look at these works and discuss them. In addition to the questions posed by the Arts Institite of Minneapolis, here are some questions of our own. Ask them to yourself as we go through the website, and be ready to answer them ... so you won't be embarrassed when you're called on:

1. What stories do we have in our culture that are like the stories of Raven? Do we have any characters who are also tricksters? (Hint: Other tricksters in other Native American cultures are Rabbit and Coyote. Is Bugs Bunny a rabbit? What about Wiley Coyote?

2. What stories do we have about the creation of the world? (Hint: Does science tell stories? If so, we have at least two, counting the Bible.) How do the stories of creation and Noah's flood compare to the Lakota and Dine (Navajo) creation stories? How are they the same? How are they different?

3. Compare and contrast the Native American stories with our stories of George Washington, Paul Revere, Valley Forge and the American Revolution. What similarities do you find? What differences?

4. What role do ball games play in our culture? What role did athletics play in ancient Greece? Where did the Olympics come from? Is there any connection between religion and athletics in modern American culture?

5. What specific values of our culture (U.S. Midwestern) do kids learn by taking part in athletics?

6. Are there any similarities to the role of religion in the ball games of the ancient Maya people?