Native American Stories

Native American stories have always been about much more than mere entertainment, and served as a way to transmit faith and culture from generation to generation. While certainly interesting and entertaining, there is always much for the listener to learn, whether that listener is a Native American child learning the proper way to interact with elders and other moral and cultural values, or an anthropologist seeking to better understand indigenous peoples.

As the Europeans seized control of the continent, often they expended a great deal of effort on converting the native peoples from their own faiths, and all too frequently the concept of conversion by the sword or other coercive means was used, making Native American stories essential to the preservation of indigenous culture. Preserved by oral traditions that reached back for generations, Native American stories were able to keep ancient ways of life alive, helping these traditions to survive the constant assault of the continued pressure from the Europeans and the changes they wrought. 

However, not all Native American stories were about the past at first telling. Many took current events and placed them within a context that fit the Native American culture, presenting happenings from the indigenous perspective, rather than what became the prevailing European point of view. Native American stories served an important role in recording events and in passing news.

And, like many stories in many cultures, Native American stories also served as a means of instructing children in right behavior, presenting heroes and heroines modeling ideal behavior in often difficult circumstances. From Native American stories, children learned the values and customs of their culture, like children everywhere do through the stories they are told.

Native American stories offer a fascinating glimpse into a culture that endured great stresses and hardships, and still managed to survive, even to grow and blossom with the passing years. Serving as the guardians of faith and tradition, Native American stories have a special place not only in indigenous culture, but also in the American culture as a whole.

Joseph Paige 2006

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