Changing Lands: An Exploration of the Relationship Between People and Land in Native American Literature
This paper traces the transformation of the relationship between Native Americans and land in Native American stories and literature, and how the increasingly complex nature of this relationship mirrors the entangling of the many definitions of the word “land.” References to the natural land’s beauty and power can be traced back to the creation myths of many Native American tribes; here, the enlivened “land” is exalted, its forces, treated with reverence and respect. In works such as Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and Louise Erdrich’s Tracks, the tone begins to shift, and while these authors venerate the land, they also condemn the exploitative, capitalist efforts by western forces who seek to destroy the land for profit. As the meanings of “land” – the natural, the owned – begin to intertwine, feelings towards the land become more complicated. In the novel, There There,author Tommy Orange expounds on these feelings, describing the challenges and experiences of the Urban Indian in the present-day Oakland. However, while it is apparent in these stories that the relationship between people and land has changed over time, what is consistent in each is the prominence of the setting – the importance of the land, no matter the meaning. Creation myths provide stories of beginnings, of origins, of how populations and communities come to be, and through their relation, ensconce identity and history into permanence. But the same can be said of stories such as Ceremony, Tracks, and There There, which, in their existence, inlay their subjects – the Native populations being written about – into spatial-temporal settings, creating, like the myths before them, an indelible record of people in place, on land. This paper will offer a closer inspection of There There, and how, in its composition, it has created for this population a new story – not of creation, but of recreation.
Evan Miller was born and raised in Massachusetts. He attended Boston College for his undergraduate studies, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music with a concentration in Ethnomusicology. Currently, Evan attends Salem State University, where he is pursuing a dual master’s degree in Teaching and English, with a focus on literary studies and a goal of teaching English at the high school level.