In American Indian Stories, University of Nebraska Press Lincoln and London edition, the author, Zitkala-Sa, tries to tell stories that depicted life growing up on a reservation. Her stories showed how reacted to the white man’s ways of running the land and changing the life of Indians. “Zitkala-Sa was one of the early Indian writers to record tribal legends and tales from oral tradition” (back cover) is a great way to show that the author’s stories were based upon actual events in her life as a Dakota Sioux Indian. This essay will describe and analyze Native American life as described by Zitkala-Sa’s American Indian Stories, it will relate to Native Americans and their interactions with American societies, it will discuss the major themes of the book and why the author wrote it, it will describe Native American society, its values and its beliefs and how they changed and it will show how Native Americans views other non-Natives. Before the introduction of the “pale face” Native Americans lived a calm and serene life. They lived in big communities and help one another in order to survive.
They had a form of religion, poly-theistic, that would be their main form of salvation. They had chiefs and warriors. They had teepees that would allow them to quickly pack up and move. The Native Americans were a nomadic, primitive people that did not live up to the whiter man’s view of “civilization.” However, the white man, pale face, felt the need to change the Native Americans barbaric ways of life. The Americans were smart in their efforts in trying to convert the Indians. They would go after the kids because they were still young and gullible.
“Yes, my child, several others besides Jude win are going away with the palefaces. Your brother said the missionaries had inquired about his little sister… “Did he tell them to take me, mother” (40). The children were impressionable.
In this first story, the daughter gets hooked on going with the missionaries because they said they had apple trees and being that she has never seen an apple tree, she begged her mother to go not knowing that her mother did not want to send her away. Some Indians enjoyed leaving with the Americans; others did not because of what the Americans had done to the Indians. The mother in this story had told her daughter stories of what the paleface had done and how they had killed most of her family. “There is what the paleface has done! Since then your father too has been buried in a hill nearer the rising sun. We where once very happy.
But the paleface has stolen our lands and driven us hither. Having defrauded us of our land, the paleface forced us away” (10). Having knowing this, the little girl still persisted and wanted to go with the paleface. Many of the Indians that left with the missionaries were gone for many years and did not know how much had changed back at home.
In the story The Soft-Hearted Sioux a young man comes back home after receiving an education from the missionaries. He had left before he was taught how to survive out in the wild. He came back to dying and starving parents. He was brainwashed by the missionaries because he went against his family’s customs and told the medicine man never to come back and that God will save his father. He started preaching God’s words to his people and they left the community. His father was growing sicker and sicker and he needed food.
His son went out everyday trying to get something but had no skills in hunting. His father had told him to go two hills over and he could find meat. With no concept of ownership, the son went and killed a cow that belonged to an American. Upon leaving with the meat he was chased down and attacked by the “owner” of the cattle. The son accidentally killed the man and fled back to his father’s teepee only to realize that he was too late and that his father had died. He was so conditioned by the white man that he had forgotten his ancestors’ ways of survival.
The book suggests that Native Americans were not savages and that they had a normal lifestyle before the Americans came in and changed everything. Their society was based upon helping one another out. It was also based upon mobility. They would have to make homes in such a way that they could just pack up and leave whenever they needed to. The Native Americans had a values based on nature, life and death.
The believed that you must respect nature, respect the living and put a special emphasis on the dead. In The Dead Man’s Plum Bush the little girl walked by a plum bush that had just blossomed out beautiful plums. When the girl had reached to grab one of the plums her mother had told her not to and explained that “the roots are wrapped around an Indian’s skeleton. A brave is buried here. While he lived he was so fond of playing the game of striped plum seeds that, at his death, his set of plum seeds were buried in his hands. From them sprang up this little bush” (32).
The fact that the bush was there because of a man’s fascination with plum seeds and that no one can enjoy its fruits shows how much respect for the dead is played through the Native Americans’ beliefs. Zitkala-Sa’s main motives for writing this book was to show “one of the first attempts by a native American woman to write her own story” (back cover). Another main motive was to inform people of the way that the Americans came and took over the Indians’ land and people; the land was taken by force and the people by bribing little kids. The main theme for the book was to show how the Indians felt about the Americans. Going by the book, there is no set way of showing how many people liked or disliked the Americans. However, it is noticeable that the parents clearly did not like the Americans because they knew what the Americans had done to them in the past and what they are doing to them presently.
They knew that the Americans came in and killed their ancestors and forced others to leave their lands. They knew that they were taking their children away and brainwashing them into thinking that their families were savages and that the Americans had more to offer them. They knew that the Americans were making their kids forget about their ways of living and their beliefs. The children, however, saw the Americans invitation as a way to better themselves and their families. The children would happily go away with the American strangers thinking that everything would be better for them. Zitkala-Sa tried to show how her people were treated by Americans in her book American Indian Stories.
She showed how the Indians life was before the Americans and how it had changed after the introduction of the Americans. She proved that not all of the Indians liked the white people. She proved that most of the children that left did not remember their family’s way of life. She proved that when the Americans came they not only took the Indians’ land, they also took their people.
Works CitedZitkala-Sa. American Indian Stories. University Of Nebraska Press. Lincoln and Lo.