The Indigenous

Integrated Seminar 101

Learning Activity C: Family Quest - Group Participatory Project


As Indigenous rites of passage and pilgrimages are on of the focuses of this seminar, it is essential that you take your own journey as a member of a family.  This seminar learning activity is for you and your family group to write a participatory-interpretative project.  The first part of this assignment is for your family members to "participate" (through your imagination) in a journey of your choice in one of the Indigenous community.    Select from community that is being considered during the course of the semester, or an Indigenous community closely related.  Key: you are attempting to convey the meaning and significance of a sacred journey from the perspective of a member of that indigenous community from which that sacred journey emanates.

Critically, you are not to actually participate in the journey, but to imagine yourself a "participant" within it.  Actual personal participation can entail critical ethical issues, e.g., it is unethical to participate in someone else's traditions without proper guidance and permission, and such participation can be "harmful."

The family-based research project should be divided into three separate sections:

1.  First Section: Narrative Story.  For our assignment, you will first need to select a sacred journey from one of the Indigenous communities we are studying this semester, a particular ceremony, rite of passage, initiation, healing, mortuary ceremony or pilgrimage, or other significant event or set of experiences.  You can elect to focus on a series of events and associated rituals that mark a particular day, or even season, such as summer or winter, for a family.  You might relate a story involving the same rite of passage, but from differing perspectives, e.g., the neophyte, an elder officiate, a younger sister, a father.  On selecting a topic.

As you construct your story, focus on framing your narrative with any one of the various types of sacred journeys (a specific ritual) considered during the course, such as a rite of passage, a pilgrimage, or a world renewal ceremony (or set of these if focusing on a single or a seasonal round).  As you construct your story, also focus on developing a narrative that incorporates and illustrates key spiritual, social and aesthetic teachings of the community you have selected.  These would be the "bones" - the mi'yep and teachings identified and discussed in class, and as based upon our textbook readings.  And as you construct your story, do so by coloring your narrative with passion, emotional sensitivity, and ethos.  We do not want a descriptive travel log, but a story that captures a transformative sacred journey and the underlying religious values that bring meaning to that journey.  The use of primary sources helps bring authenticity and accuracy to your story.   Consider using a verse from a poem or segment of a narrative text, as well as art and other illustrations. 

Then dividing up the responsibility among the family members equitably, thoroughly research the sacred journey you have selected, including its symbolism, aesthetic expressions, ritual processes, underlying religious values, associated oral traditions, as well as the historical and cultural context out of which it emanates.   Also research relevant material culture (tools used, clothing worn, shelters constructed), family and kinship roles and relationships, the ecological and economic contexts, the political and intertribal relations, etc.    

This segment of the assignment will also entail extensive library researchBegin early.  This is a project that can not be done during the last two weeks of the semester.   A proposal of your project will be due around the time mid-term grades are submitted.  See the proposal format.  To assist you in your research, consult the seminar resources page and the Library Guide specifically designed for this seminar, the Sacred Journey.  You must include in your research the key published sources that address your particular topic, and you must list at least five (5) major sources (books, journal articles, book chapters), excluding on-line sources.   Internet sources are to be used, but cautiously and only relied upon in a very limited fashion, with URL sites/dates fully documented as to their academic and/or tribal authenticity and accuracy. 

Become very familiar with our library, as it will become a second home.  To become more familiar with and fully utilize the resources of the library, take the Information Literacy Tutorial.  You can also schedule an appointment with a library who will assist you in your research project.  Submit the following form to begin the process.  Student Assistance Research Form.   While doing your research, be able to critically evaluate your sources and judge what resources are valuable and valid.  This is especially important in evaluating web site resources.  Go to the following site to assist you Critically Analyzing Information Sources.  Use the CRAAP test to evaluate your particular sources.   You will be adding an annotated bibliography to your project.

Having thoroughly researched your sacred journey, you will then write a fictional narrative story text, grounded in the religious and ethnographic detail, as well as reality of the ceremony you are presenting.  This is an exercise in "creative non-fiction writing."  In this story text, develop fictional storylines, scenarios and characters which authentically illustrate the meaning and significance of the sacred journey, all attempting to do so from the perspective of the participants of the journey.  While the story you write is a fictitious account, the narrative should be fully grounded in solid, factual, authentic ethnographic and religious scholarship - ritual details, religious roles, art, architecture, music, dance, family life, etc., and overall perspective (Indigenous).   This descriptive write-up is known as a "story text."  

In developing your narrative story text try to isolate a specific event in time and space that is representative and significant of the larger cultural context.  Then with as much detail as possible, describe the rich texture of that setting, e.g., who, what, where, when, etc.   Pay attention to the "little things," as well as the "big picture."  But don't attempt to a too board and general.  The symbolic detail of a cultural text often reveals what is most meaningful.   Include "material culture" descriptions of what people are wearing, what tools they are using and how those tools are constructed, what sort lodges or homes peoples live in, what types of transportation peoples are using.    Include developing story scenarios that illustrate proper kinship and family roles and responsibilities.   Include the symbolism and ritual process of ceremonies presented.   Include reference to the proper plant, animal, fish and bird peoples of the landscape of your story text.

If you make reference to specific oral traditions or narratives, rephrase the story in your own words, not quoting a story verbatim, you are to "re-member" it in your own words. 

You can write either in the first person, as if you are the protagonist of the story, chronicling the event or scene, or you can write your text in the third person, as if you are viewing the story unfold before your eyes, passively describing the events as they are occurring to someone else. 

Divide up the roles among your family members, each member playing a different role in the ceremony, clearly identifying and differentiating each role and member.  In your written paper, acknowledge and identify each family member's role and contribution to the entire project.

You are also encouraged to provide illustrations and/or artwork that might help convey the character and nature of that which you are describing.  The artwork can involve photo copied materials or original work you have created.   This may even develop into "children's book" project.  It would be based upon the same level of authenticity and accuracy as other projects, but geared for the "child" in us all, with a series of wonderfully and appropriately illustrated images, and only minimal use of narrative.

Do not include citation references, footnotes or other formal stylistic notations in the narrative text section of your paper.   

Please keep in mind that I do not expect you to be ultimately and completely successful in your attempt to "see from the perspective of a participant."  But in your attempt to do so you can reveal to yourself some of the challenges in attempting to do so and also reveal your own biases and constraints in attempting to know and understand your neighbors.  The effort is worth the journey.


2.  Second Section: Interpretation and Reflection.  After you have completed writing your family's sacred journey narrative text, you are now in a position to add a more formal interpretation and your own reflection of that text.   The second part of your assignment is to interpret and reflect on the meaning of the sacred journey you have just written.  

First, analyze and interpret the significance of the sacred journey, as best you can, from the perspective of the participants.  Use the skills of the "identifying key overt symbols and underlying values, teachings and principles," of "coding and Eye Juggling" as presented during the seminar.  Try to interpret the meaning of the journey from an insider's point of view.  Acknowledging the enormous challenge and perhaps elusive goal before you, it is nevertheless a goal worth striving for.  As a family group (one response), address the following questions :

Second, once you have provided an interpretation and analysis of your narrative text, each member of the family individually is to offer his or her own reflections on the significance and meaning of the sacred journey in relation to his or her own personal journey.  Consider the meaning of the particular sacred journey relative to your own religious, philosophical and/or cultural orientation.  To reflect is to seriously contemplate and consider the cultural assumptions of a particular text relative to and compared with your own cultural assumptions.  How are your own religious, philosophical and/or cultural assumptions similar and different from those who participated in the narrative story?   Explore and discuss your own cultural, philosophical and/or religious assumptions.  By juxtaposing that which is distinct alongside that which is as hand, though often veiled, the contours of one's own cultural territory is revealed more clearly.


3. Sources and Annotated Bibliography. 

Format and Length.   The over-all length (all three sections) of this project should correspond to the intention of the task at hand and the level of skill you apply to it.  For a family group of four members, for example, you may find that your completed paper totals well over twenty-four pages in length, however.  See the three examples below.  If in a text format, the paper should be double-spaced, and all projects should include a complete bibliography/references cited section and any appendixes, as well as of any images, graphics and photos.  All projects must include a formal interpretative/reflective narrative text section, and conform to either APA (American Psychological Association), or MLA style of parenthetical documentation, including proper use of citation references, footnotes, other formal stylistic notations, and a bibliography/references cited.   If in a narrative text format, typically your descriptive narrative text will take up to two-thirds of your entire length of your paper, with your interpretation accounting for the remainder of the pages of your project.  Keep a copy of your submitted paper.  

If you are going "Cosechin," going it alone, your paper should be at least ten pages in length.

Project Proposal.  You need to get an "okay" on a "proposed topic" from the instructor prior to doing your research.   The proposal should include a paragraph outlining the topic and at least three key sources you will rely upon for your research.  See the proposal format.  The proposal of your project is due around midterm.  

The final paper is due during the last week of classes.  As your family is constructing your project, if you have any questions or concerns along the way, contact the instructor; submit a draft of the project early for review and comment.  Ask for help.

Examples of Family Projects: 

NOTE: The Humanities and Social Science component in section #2 was not required when the Inuit and Navajo projects were done, but are now required.  The annotated bibliographies in section #3 were not required when these projects were done, but are now required.



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