Chapter Two: On Indigenous Storytelling Traditions & Sustainability

Outcomes and Skills Practiced

  • Identify context of featured storytelling traditions of Indigenous communities

  • Apply key concepts to featured creation and origin mythological stories as cosmogony

  • Textual analysis of theme, literary tropes, & ideology that intersect with sustainability


                                            Our stories were us, what we knew, where we came

from and where we were going. They were told to remind

us of our responsibility, to instruct, and to entertain.

There were stories of the Creation, our travels, our laws.

Larry Hill, Seneca

An illustration of a Seneca Totem Raven: Raven is in dark brown and sits in a dark brown canoe, rowing and white, with blue water underneath and a red sky above and at the horizon.Antaensic, Sky Woman is descending two toward the turtle.Transformation Mask with human face in the center of a circle surrounded by four more faces 90 degrees apart.

Seneca Totem Raven, Haudenosaunee Antaensic (Sky Woman), & Transformation Mask (1865) by Nuxalk or Heiltsuk. CC

Introduction to Chapter Two

For over 20,000 years, the Indigenous communities of Mesoamerica and throughout the Western Hemisphere represent a direct link to the world’s “cradles of civilization,” of early agriculture-based societies with architectural and scientific advances during the Bronze Age of human history (OER on Geology of Hemisphere). The Incas developed a complex accounting system by 600 C.E. The only known human civilization to independently create a writing system is the Maya, who developed a writing system by 900 C.E. Mayan artisans also refined porcelain. By the 1400s, the Aztecs built pyramids comparable to the Egyptians. And, by the early 1600s, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy engaged in treaties to consolidate and expand territory.

Today, the ancestors of the Maya, Inca, Aztec, and of the descendants among many surviving global Indigenous communities – of ancient peoples from cultures comparable to Mesopotamia, China, Egypt, and the Indus Valley – continue to persist within environments known to their peoples for millennia (OER on History of Indigenous in Americas). Caribbean islanders also presently strive to persist and preserve ancient sustainable means of living throughout the West Indies, like the descendants of the Taínos and hundreds of social groups throughout Brazil (OER). While facing concerns over sustainable governance, Indigenous communities all around the world to this day, continue “using their knowledge and understanding of reciprocal relationships with the environment to demonstrate a more sustainable approach”(UN). Their concerns demonstrate twenty-first century storytelling traditions directly connected to legacies of sustainability situated both in the present and past. “As Earth’s original stewards, the lives of Indigenous peoples are rooted in sustainable development processes” (UN).

How Do Indigenous Stories Include Humanity in the Web of Life?

Outcomes and Skills Practiced

  • Gain practice with origin stories by Indigenous communities to continue to identify key concepts anTo build textual analysis on representations of nature

Throughout the northern region of the eastern seaboard of North America, the literature of its ancient cultures has had a vast oral storytelling tradition. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and the Tuscarora and the Anishnaabe are several examples of these northern Indigenous communities, whose mythological storytelling oral cultures continue in ritual and writing. Other Indigenous communities are the Cherokee, Seminole, Sauks, Navajo, Hopi, Chumash, Lakota, and Laguna Pueblo people, among many many many others who have resided in the American Midwest, the South, and Southwest for thousands of years (OER on Indigenous History of North East).

A map that has a color scheme to identify the Indigenous community that correlates to their native lands and territories.

Map of the land of Indigenous communities throughout Canada, Northern Mexico, and the U.S. OER

Efforts to save, collect, and write down the knowledge and stories of Indigenous oral traditions were initiated in the early 1600s, at the advent of European colonialism and again in the 1800s, at the advent of American territorial and economic expansionism when expulsion became the norm. “Native identity was easily erased because Native peoples’ conceptions of themselves are closely tied to their conceptions of their land and their communities (Basso 1996, 67 qtd. in Michalec).” As an anthropological practice witnessed since the early 1900s by other ethnographers including Black author, dramatist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, more recent efforts to save the oral texts of Indigenous traditions gained momentum in the 1970s when members of the Indigenous communities themselves worked to preserve the knowledge of the spoken word traditions of the elders (OER on Indigenous expulsion). The work of storyteller and postcolonial scholarship and recipient of the MacArthur Laguna Puebla Leslie Marmon Silko demonstrates how this knowledge informs on current climate concerns and gender.

We, as a class, have come to the conclusion that Mary Shelley’s depiction of Victor was not as the traditional protagonist, and Le Guin wrote Don Davidson to bash the masculine hero trope, and so Silko’s views on the binary between men and women can help our own understanding of our prejudices and biases…(OER CUNY).

The oral traditions of Indigenous communities also show a sophistication of rhetorical technique and a reverence for the spoken word unheard of in modern Western storytelling culture. Pulitzer prize winner Indigenous Kiowa of the Great Plains (Oklahoma, U.S.) and scholar Navarre Scott Momaday explains the reverence Indigenous communities have for the spoken word.

Words are spoken with great care, and they are heard. They matter, and they must not be taken for granted; they must be taken seriously, and they must be remembered….At the heart of the American Indian oral tradition is a deep and unconditional belief in the efficacy of language. Words are intrinsically powerful.

The oral tradition of the Indigenous Seneca shows a reverence for the spoken word. Being the largest community of the Six Nation (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy, the oral narratives of the Seneca were written down in the twentieth century, but the collection only represents a fraction of their tradition (OER pdf of collection). “According to John Bruno Hare, ‘This huge (500 page) book of Seneca myths was collected by Jeremiah Curtin at the turn of the 20th century. Curtin also wrote Creation Myths of Primitive America, Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland, and Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World’” (OER on Seneca).

Map of New York and regions

The Haudenosaunee people resided in the Northeast region of the modern United States CC

The mythology of the Seneca also demonstrates a reverence for the spoken word through a philosophy that understands humanity’s interdependence of the web of life, in that the Seneca attributes fauna and flora as contributors of their peoples’ identities and survival. In turn humans show a respect toward nature by reciprocating with an offering of tobacco, an indigenous ritual later acculturated by European colonialism (Lemire 2021). Seneca mythology asserts an intimacy with nature by relating the cosmos to all of their people, including those who endure exile.

In the Seneca mythological story The Origin of Stories the past links with the present by a spirit that emerges from the immediate geological region; a cliff. This spirit also emerges to represent an ancestor. For the Seneca, this expression of the cosmos represents an instance of anthropomorphism that does not depend on a human-centered reality, which contrasts geocentric worldviews throughout Western tradition. In this cosmogony, nature for the Seneca represents an actual known landmark that connects the present community with their past through storytelling. This treatment of the land reveals how the Seneca identify with the web of life (OER “The Origin of Stories”). For example, the hero of The Origins of Stories is Gaqka, an orphan who is forced into exile. Alone, Gaqka learns to become a storyteller when he listens to a speaking cliff that tells him stories. In return Gaqka offers the speaking cliff tobacco.

The first night he sat on the edge of the cliff. He heard a voice saying,

“Give me some tobacco.”

Looking around the boy, seeing no one, replied,

“Why should I give tobacco?”

There was no answer and the boy began to fix his arrows for the next day’s hunt. After a while the voice spoke again,

“Give me some tobacco.”

In this story, the current generation learns to honor the past through a speaking rock, whose stories link the Seneca to their oral tradition. Its philosophy of the interconnectedness of the web of life attributes nature with the past, present, and future. This philosophy grounds humanity with the elements, even while Gaqka faces a possible existential dilemma; how does one survive without a people as an exiled orphan? When the speaking cliff informs Gaqka that is his own deceased grandfather, the youth’s present dilemma dissipates. Gaqka continues to train in Seneca storytelling tradition and matures.

The ideology of the Seneca relies on negotiations and interactions among its people, nature, and the past. This is all accomplished through engaging with and honoring their surrounding; the land. Themes include how to be human through representations that acknowledge the primacy of the web of life, where relatives teach younger generations about how to engage in reciprocal relationships with nature.

Seneca mythology also shows how this Indigenous community experiences time and plans for an existence beyond survival. Like an omniscient present, the Seneca understand storytelling as a medium to establish and build a sense of place and permanence for their community. Being part of nature means humans experience change and transformation, like the cyclical phenomena throughout nature.

Origin stories in the mythologies of Indigenous communities, like those of the Seneca, advocate for and inform on what we call today sustainable communities, which is Goal Eleven in the United Nations list of Sustainable Goals (UNSDG). Efforts to address hunger and poverty are also addressed in UN Goals One and Two on sustainability.

On Identifying Literary Tropes in Mythological Emergence Stories

Outcomes and Skills Practiced

  • Gain practice in textual analysis of a creation mythological storyTo identify and engage in close reading on key terms and literary tropes which represent nature.

Creation stories by the Indigenous communities of the Haudenosaunee known as the “People of the Longhouse” and by the Anishinaabe and the Ojibwa known as “The People Who Live upon the Earth in the Right Way” and “Spontaneous Beings” reflects literary tropes on the 1) Emergence of a new world, 2) Initial appearance of humans, 3) A miraculous birth, and 4) The hero’s journey.

For example, these literary tropes are demonstrated by Sky Woman Antaensic in the Iroquois Creation.

Sky Woman realized she was going to give birth to twins….In the center of the island there was a tree which gave light to the entire island since the sun hadn’t been created yet…Far below she could see the waters that covered the earth….She fell through the hole, tumbling towards the waters below. Water animals already existed on the earth, so far below the floating island two birds saw the Sky Woman fall. Just before she reached the waters they caught her on their backs and brought her to the other animals…The Sky Woman gave birth to twin sons.

Antaensic represents the interconnection between the cosmos, Earth, and Turtle Island, while the representation of nonhuman life forms play a central role in the creation.

This creation mythological story, as cosmogony, reveals a less hegemonic ideology. An acknowledgement of a cyclical and interconnected reality is presented in this myth where nonhuman deities, the significance of life-forms, and the role of reproduction are all located within a single physical material environment; the web of life. Expressions of anthropomorphism are also less anthropocentric.

As you begin to realize that you are building on prior knowledge and on your critical reading skills by identifying elements of fiction, key literary terms, and annotating beyond summary, you should also practice identifying emerging themes and sources of conflict. To gain more familiarity and practice with mythology, let’s turn to Taíno storytelling.

Taíno Storytelling

Outcomes and Skills Practiced

  • Gain practice in textual analysis of a Taíno creation mythological storyTo identify and engage in close reading on key terms like symbolism and theme, which represent nature.

Like the creation mythological story by the Haudenosaunee, the creation myth by the Taíno also begins in a place before humans emerged. A journey also takes place by parentless brothers – the common literary trope of ‘orphan stories’ manifests in this cosmogony, too (

In the Taíno’s creation story the elders tell stories about the mother of the brothers, about the fertility goddess Cahubaba. She died giving birth to them, just like Antaensic Sky Woman in the early Indigenous creation story by the Haudenosaunee – another common literary trope. The role and the plight of the god Deminan in the Taíno creation story shows a desire to establish a link between the cosmos and the earth in order for humans to emerge.

This Taíno mythological creation story becomes much more complex once its symbolic and cultural worldviews are investigated. The idea of water as a source of creating new lands and seas is one example of an aspect of the story that can be understood symbolically. Also, the transformation (shapeshifting) that Deminan experiences is another example where symbolism can be investigated to learn more about the ideology behind this story and of the culture of the Taínos

In early mythology and in more developed narratives like the epic, we are also challenged to learn about the plot and its characters in terms of symbolism. To develop understandings beyond literal ones of this Taíno story, go to recommended sources at the end of this chapter.

Topics relevant to twenty-first century sustainable goals from Diné Lyla June, the Haudenosaunee, and the Taíno like those outlined by the United Nations (UNSDG), include Life on land and below water, gender equality, reducing inequality, sustainable communities and cities, quality education and peace and justice.

How Do Storytelling Traditions Vary in Indigenous Communities?

black and white portrait of Jane Johnston SchoolcraftThis is a cover of the newspaper The Phoenix, in black and white.A picture of a museum piece of a leather Anishinaabe shoulder bag 1860s

Jane Schoolcraft (left), 1828 Cherokee/English Newspaper, Leather Anishinaabe artisan shoulder-bag 1820 CC

Those of us who are not part of an Indigenous community are challenged by their storytelling traditions. Many members of these communities have and continue to live closer to nature and their stories reflect this relation to their environment. A sampling of their mythological stories began to be told and published by tribe members, especially those who married people from other cultures and languages from Europe. In the United States Anishinaabe-British Jane Schoolcraft and Cherokee-Irish John Rollin Ridge became prominent bilingual authors by the mid-1800s.

“Many members also suffered injustices that caused cycles of trauma due to ‘reeducation’ programs of the early 1900s. ‘It was during the Indian Wars that the US Cavalry rounded up the Natives, successfully homogenized them into Indian Country, and put them in boarding schools to take away their spirit’. To work with their literary works means to also learn about their value systems” (Nez 2011).

By 1820, the Cherokee Sequoyah became the first member of an Indigenous community in North America to create a writing system. His efforts demonstrate the intellectual superiority of the Indigenous communities, as well as their social agility to interact with different cultures and adopt technologies. Sequoyah’s invention also shows the intellectual pursuits by many of these communities to confront colonial and imperial dominion in order to protect their culture and survive. For the Cherokee, among many other social groups whose ancestral territories are located east of the Mississippi River, their efforts directly confronted a sequence of “Indian Removal” laws, from 1828 in the U.S. These acts justified the expulsion of the Indigenous communities of the region. Although the language in these acts claimed to protect the livelihoods of the natives, its underpinning ideology was one that blatantly claimed dominion over the ancestral lands of Indigenous communities to access natural resources in demand. Mythic ideals of expansionism as mandated by Christianity were also expressed to further justify expulsion. Many members also suffered injustices that caused cycles of trauma due to ‘reeducation’ programs of the early 1900s. “It was during the Indian Wars that the US Cavalry rounded up the Natives, successfully homogenized them within Indian Country, and bordered them into boarding schools to take away their spirit” (Nez 2011). To work with their literary works means to also learn about their value systems. In many cases, it is their ideals and values that sustain their culture for future generations.

How to Navigate a Piece of Literature to Learn about Ideology?

A culture’s worldview and social order are sustained by ideology, as practiced social norms and accepted beliefs reflect it.

Let’s practice close reading approaches that are more inquisitive and objective:

  • To read more objectively, try to not make assumptions, inquire instead
  • To make inquiries, ask questions like, How similar are the religious doctrines of these peoples with a Buddhist or Christian worldview? Do we share values? Which ones?
  • To build on critical reading approaches, also practice reading a literary work to identify the characteristics of its worldview. Ask, “What do they hold sacred?”
  • To build on close reading, engage in textual analysis by identifying key passages.

Working on a culture’s ideology through their storytelling tradition also supports projects on sustainability, because ideology may aggravate sustainable aims and threaten climate stability or uphold social norms that value nature, which minimize harm to its people and the web of life overall.

Close Reading Exercise 

GOAL: Build skills on the role of character and plot. This short writing activity builds on critical reading and thinking skills to succeed in the learning process of ‘interpreting’ a piece of literature with theoretical approaches.

INSTRUCTIONS: Build on Activity A. Work with mythological stories by the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe. Identify and explain the presentation of ‘conflict’ that pushes the plot. How is conflict, imbalance, established through characterization and plot? What exactly threatens ‘imbalance’ and chaos? Then, demonstrate in writing how the chosen mythological story restores balance. Ask, what problem-solving techniques does each story share for future generations? Add your initial reflections on how conflict in the stories assist the present generations to also address imbalance.

Refer to the quote below by ecocritic Scott Slavic on the importance of experiencing literary works that value the dynamics between the human and non-human.

“Ecocriticism without narrative is like stepping off the face of a mountain—it’s the disoriented silence of freefall, the numb, blind rasp of friction descent. To the extent that our scholarship begins with our experiences in and concern for the physical world of nature, we must seek an appropriately grounded, conscious language. The language of stories, charged with emotion and sensation, may be our best bet” (Narrative Scholarship: Storytelling in Ecocriticism 1995).

How to Navigate Works of Literature to Understand Ideology?

Outcomes and Skills Practiced

  • Gain practice in textual analysis of Indigenous literature and oral storytelling traditions by engaging in close reading and listening skills to identify key terms on ideology, gender fluidity, and sustainability.

To identify and witness the ideology of a social group is

  • To learn about their cultural worldviews through their artifacts – recorded texts and revered objects, for example. A people’s oral storytelling tradition is another form of artifact that reveals their philosophy, religious practices, and their social order.
  • Other cultural artifacts and practices that reveal ideology are its social institutions – like marriage, agriculture, and food production, among others.

Learning about ideology is a fruitful path when considering problem-solving methods to address today’s challenges on sustainability, including those that pertain to climate.

Activity On Note Taking to Identify Ideology in Storytelling

GOAL: To build on textual analysis of identifications in culture, such as characteristics and trends in ideology

DIRECTIONS: Download “Why We Need Gender Fluidity” (2015) TED Talk by Indigenous Nick Metcalf, Yellow Hawk of the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota: TED Talk by Metcalf, Yellow HawkListen to Yellow Hawk’s Ted Talk. Listen again and write down your observation:Write down your observations on how geography is understoodWrite down your thoughts on how gender and “two spirits” are understood by the Rosebud Sioux TribeAlso, share your observations about what you learn about their ideology, especially in reference to your own community’s cultural norm. *For more info, go to OER 2016 Interview of Yellow Hawk, at UN of Minnesota

How to Compare the Ideologies of Different Traditions?

It is now common knowledge that the ideology of Western cultures can be quite hierarchical and hegemonic. This can be witnessed in the political realm and in the order of its institutions, from the religious to the secular, like education and the marketplace.

In Western cultures, the impact upon the surrounding environment follows an economically-dominated value system that coincides with the first industrial revolution in the early 1800s. Its impact is exponentially worse than older versions of urban development and has accelerated environmental destruction to alarming rates worldwide. Its cultural norm of extracting resources refuses to integrate and treat ecosystems equitably. Both people and wildlife are exploited. Understanding how hegemony operated that has resulted in rigid hierarchical social orders helps present generations to prevent and address concerns with unsustainable ideology.

For example, Lawrence Buell speculates that “[i]f, as W. E. B. Du Bois famously remarked, ‘the key problem of the twentieth century has been the problem of the color line,’ it is not at all unlikely that the twenty-first century’s most pressing problem will be the sustainability of earth’s environment” (Ybarra 2009). Yet, the social orders of non-Western cultures reflect a different, more sustainable ideology, one that is less driven by the demands and lifestyles of the industrial revolutions, and more by the rhythms of seasons and attention given to the preservation of local fauna and flora.


“These tellers are trained multi-generationally like the West African djei or what most of us may know as ‘griots’ – they perform and share stories by memory in rituals and festivals.”

The poetry of Tohono O’odham Ofelia Zepeda, a professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona, addresses the aftermath of the nuclear arms race and nuclear testing in the American Southwest. In explaining the poem “Bury Me with a Band” by Zepeda, Indigenous communities and environmental humanist Joni Adamson remind us of the role nature has to its Indigenous people. “The people in Zepeda’s landscape are connected to the ‘people before them,’ the creators of the ancient petroglyphs scattered throughout the region” (Adamson 12). Zepeda’s poem “Black Top” explains how her mother desires to return to the desert earth once she passes (OER on works by Ofelia Zepeda, 2011).It wants to carry me in all directions.

It whispers, ‘You will always see Waw Giwalik

In your rearview mirror’” (Adamson 66).

(An oral history on Ofelia Zepeda and live recording at .gov Tohono O’odhan Ofelia Zepeda’s poetry)

Zepeda espouses a less abrasive ideology, one that “humans must forge a more reverent, respectful relation to the land.” Their worldview recognizes the inherent connection between life on earth, the sky that nourishes the earth and replenishes rivers and agricultural crops, and the cyclical phenomena of the cosmos: what we know as ‘the compass’, the natives see the ‘circle’ of the earth, moon, sun, and seasons, a value system that is also demonstrated through a dance ritual by Alexander [Kipochtakaw] in a 2015 Ted Talk.

TED Talk on Hoop Dance Ritual & Living in a ‘Circle’ with Nature

Representing the Cree nation near Alberta, Canada, Alexander (Kipochtakaw) presents the multiple roles of oral tradition and storytelling traditions of a hoop dance ritual. His Indigenous community represents cultures that rely on memory and the cohesion of the community to protect their stories for generations, as pre-writing societies.

Not unlike our depositories in libraries, mythological stories are now housed and handed down to future generations through complex cultural and annual events and rituals by a social group. To better understand the role of storytelling in pre-writing cultures, just ask, where do the ideas live and are preserved – through the talents and memories of its storytellers; of community members, people everyone knows.

The value of multigenerational storytelling reflects an ideology grounded in the community. Stories performed in ritual and dance are preserved for generations. These tellers are multi-generationally trained, like the West African djei or what most of us may know as griots – to perform and share stories by memory in rituals and festivals.

How do African and African Diaspora Intersect with Storytelling?

Outcomes and Skills Practiced

  • Learn about ideological differences between Western and non-Western traditions, identify how the literary texts by African Americans and Indigenous Americans represent nature, and engage in close reading to identify key terms related to ecocriticism and intersections with sustainability.

Ecocritics have identified ideological differences of worldviews and values throughout world literature, as between Western literary tradition and the literary traditions of Indigenous communities throughout North America and those of African descent. Elaborating on Joni Adamson’s ecocriticism on the literature of the Indigenous communities of North America, Jeffrey Myers compares the ideologies of Black Americans with those from Indigenous cultures and European-Americans to distinguish sustainable worldviews, values, and treatments of nature from those that regard people and nature as inferior, with less innate worth.

“Charles W. Chestnut and Zitkala-Ša, two writers of color late in the century, imagine a more fully ecological vision of people and the land without which the environmental visions of writers like Muir, Austin, and even Thoreau remain incomplete” (Myers 2005).

This distinction is helpful for literary studies geared toward understanding “our cultural and historical differences,” as Dr. Joni Adamson asserts (American Indian Literature, Environmental Justice, and Ecocriticism 2001).

What Ecocritical Approaches are Represented by Ethnic Writers?

In a literary studies course, literature encompasses both our familiarity with its forms and styles and also with the cultural trends of its people. Cultural Studies, Black Studies, and Postcolonial Studies are just a few literary theories that acknowledge the cultures from which a literary culture represents. Once we address intersections of a literary culture with its communities and environment, interpretative approaches are eco-critically focused.

Ecocriticism serves as a navigating interpretative approach in this journey. By identifying social and environmental injustices, for example, understandings of ideology emerge to inform all learners about more sustainable worldviews.

“The more holistic relationship between humanity and other beings in the natural world characteristic of Native American and West African cosmologies subverts the dominant culture’s alienation from nature and desire for mastery over it” (Myers 2005).

Hence, ecocriticism enhances other literary approaches like Feminism and Postcolonial Studies. Our role is to learn to identify and recognize a sustainable ideology, even if we ourselves come from cultures whose ideologies view the nonhuman as inferior.

Topics relevant to twenty-first century sustainable goals from Jane Schoolcraft, John Rollin Ridge, Sequoyah, Nick Metcalf, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ofelia Zepeda, Alexander (Kipochtakaw), Charles W. Chestnutt, and Zitkala-Ša, like those outlined by the United Nations (UNSDG), include gender equality, reducing inequality, preserving life on land, quality education and peace and justice.

How Does Western Ideology Differ from Non-Western Ideology?

View diagram on family tree and evolution: Visual aids demonstrate differences – what are they?

This drawing is from "Ramon Lull's Ladder of Ascent and Descent of the Mind, first printed in 1305.

Paleontologist Bonnan’s old vs. science-based ‘the web of life’(left), Bonna’s scientific view (center), & medieval view (right) cc

Some of us may come from cultures that form the Western tradition with a Western ideology. An ideology that reflects Western values and traditions encompasses a hierarchical sense of social order, worldview of ‘the web of life’, and even of the cosmos. For example, Christianity views the ‘web of life’ as hierarchical. Yet, we may hold personal values and world views that reflect a more heterogeneous ideology, as earlier classical cultures also understood a dynamic view of life on earth.

“The idea of a continuous scale of differences between entities, as opposed to discrete classes of entities” (Egan 2011).

The ideology of the Indigenous communities of the Americas contrasts Western ideology, as Gabriel Egan suggests. Expressions of the web of life by Indigenous communities resemble the cyclical quality of the seasons, the planet, and the cosmos.

How do Indigenous Communities Explain Ideology?

The storytelling culture of the Indigenous communities throughout North America originates in oral tradition. Their creation and origin stories are quite wondrous because these early forms of narratives reflect worldviews and ideologies with values not common in the oral traditions from other geographic regions and continents.

The mythology and folklore of the Indigenous communities throughout North America are complex and integral to a culture’s sense of community, place, and memory. The form and episodic plots and characters in their mythological stories and folktales reflect aspects of the narrative known in world literature.

Two early forms of mythology are the emergent and origin stories. They establish the tribe’s ideology through episodic plots, heroes and villains and literary devices like the epithet and theme. Early mythology also addresses topics that we care about today, including aspects of sustainability, which initiate critical thinking inquiries. For example, Navajo [Diné] Indigenous Community storytelling, as is shown in Diné Lyla June 2022 TED Talk 3000-Year-Old Solutions to Modern Problems:

Diné Lyla’s presentation challenges present audiences to witness different ideologies and perspectives that inspire effective problem-solving techniques, which in turn guide us to face the sustainability challenges of our times.

Her effectiveness may be due to several factors:

  • One major factor is that the ancient storytelling traditions throughout the Americas were mainly smaller social groups, few civilizations consolidated to develop into empires.
  • Another reason may be that most of these stories come from social groups and cultures that subsisted with nature.
  • And lastly, they relied on the cycles of seasons.

Key Points

  • Early origin and creation mythological stories have distinct ideologies yet share literary tropes

  • Ideologies by Indigenous communities contrast Western versions & inform ecocritical readings

  • Taíno mythology contributes to world literature and informs on sustainability

  • Twin Heroes in origin stories as symbols restore order to complete cycles of seasons


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Literary Studies For A Sustainable Future Copyright © 2024 by Lisette Helena Assia Espinoza is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book