Learning Outcomes

Resources/Supplemental Materials

Course Syllabus

Course Schedule/Assignments 

North American Indians 

ANTH 329

Course Learning Activities and Grading Points


This is a course in participation.  You will be expected to complete four types of learning activities: the "telling" of an "authentic" story, an interpretation of an event in which you "participated,"  three exams, and class participation with questions and discussion.  To help convey and begin to implement an Indian learning pedagogy, these four learning activities will be organized along "family" groupings.  The members of the class will be assigned a family group and attempt to assume the roles and responsibilities of a Plains Indian family.   See membership of family groupings.  While the learning activities will be organized around the family groupings, each individual student will be assessed and graded based upon his or her contribution to and resulting competency in the four learning activities.

  1. Story.  The first activity is the telling of one "authentic" story using "appropriate" techniques of telling.  In order to better appreciate Indian culture from the perspective of the Indian, you should participate in one of its critical cultural expressions – storytelling.   If Indian culture is to be appreciated, how the Indian himself acquires that cultural world must also be appreciated.  In particular, the stories, as expressed in narrative, artistic and ceremonial activity, have been and continue to be the critical means for the dissemination, perpetuation, affirmation, and creation of the Indian world. Issues of oral literature performance, techniques of storytelling, re-membering, and translation will be considered in this course and are discussed in Stories That Make the World.  But if we are to truly gain access to Indian culture, students must, to some extent, become experientially involved. Given the pivotal role of the stories, you will be asked to personally participate in becoming the storyteller and in "re-membering" an oral tradition. You can not simply read your story aloud from the pages of a book; you can not memorize your story.

    Adhering the practice followed by many tribes, Coyote stories (as either a central or peripheral character) are to be shared aloud only after the "first frost" in the fall, but before the "first thunder is heard" in the spring. Coyote's voice should not to be heard during the summer! Select your story appropriately.

    Your starting point, for each student, is selecting a story from Stories That Make the World, or some other source confirmed by the instructor (go to Resources and Supplemental Materials for other story options).  In the instance of oral traditions in Stories That Make the World these are stories that have been previously reviewed by elders for public sharing.  Some stories are not meant to be shared publicly. While accessing these oral traditions through the medium of a literacy-based format is certainly not the ideal approach, we have made a concerted effort in this collection to retain some of the oral nuances of these stories. In attempting to tell a story from an Indian perspective, it is essential that you engage the story as close as possible to its original oral presentation by the Indian storyteller. So much of the oral literature, when published in a literacy format, has been modified to fit Euro-American sensibilities.  For tribally-enrolled students, please select a cultural tradition you are not associated with.

    As you begin to practice re-telling your selected story, consider the varied techniques of storytelling discussed in class and considered in Stories That Make the World.   Practice your particular story with members of your family.

    When you feel that you ready to re-tell your particular story, partner with the other members of your family and make an appointment for a time and place with the instructor or TA to share your individual stories, in the context of your family group, with each other and with the instructor or TA.   Each individual student is to pick a specific story, that he or she will then re-tell aloud, doing so before the members of his or her family and the instructor or TA.   No single group family story, but four or five separate individual stories are re-told. 

    After you have "re-membered" and re-told your story, then reflect on any meanings or significances that you may have "discovered" or were "revealed" to you in the story's landscape during the act of telling.  This is "reflective" opportunity, and not an analytical exercise.   Limit your written comments to no more than one page of text that are then e-mailed to the instructor or TA.

  2. Participatory Project.  The second activity is for you, in consort with the members of your family, to write a participatory-interpretative paper.   You do have the option of conducting this learning activity as a full family group endeavor, or as a sub-group of your family, partnered with someone else as a two-person project, or even as an individual endeavor.  Regardless of the number of participants in any given project, there are two sections of this paper.  This activity allows each student the opportunity to engage, as if "first-hand" and experientially, in a particular cultural expression, of his or her own choosing, in much greater depth and appreciation than could otherwise be experienced in an academic course format.

    Part A.  The first part of this assignment is for you (with the members of your family) to "participate" (through your imagination) in a cultural expression, such as a setting up a lodge, a basket-making endeavor, a deer "hunt," a family give away, or a day-in-the-life.  I prefer that you do not attempt to write directly and expressly on a ceremonial tradition that is particularly spiritually sensitive, such as a vision quest or the Sundance.  But you could nevertheless integrate into your paper associated spiritual activities and significances that are embedded in any given cultural expression, such as reference to ritual observations and activities, and their meanings, i.e., and refer to the Sundance, Sweat or even a vision quest.  You can select a topic identified and discussed in the assigned readings, e.g.,  Tlingit totem poles, or a topic not covered in the assigned readings, e.g., researching and writing a paper on some aspect of Chipewyan, Natchez, or Yurok culture.  For tribally-enrolled students, please select a cultural tradition you are not associated with.  

    In any case, you are not to actually participate in the cultural expression, but to imagine yourselves "participants" 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."

    For our assignment, you (and the members of your family) will need to first thoroughly research the cultural expression you have selected, including its symbolism, structural process, and underlying values.  Divide up the responsibility among the members of your family, to research separate segments of your storyline. This first part of the assignment will entail extensive library research.  Begin early.  To assist you in your research, consult the course bibliography (as Supplemental Materials) listed on the syllabus.  In addition to published sources and if the opportunity arises, you can base your research on primary sources, such as an interview with an elder.   In any case, you must include in your research the key published sources that address your particular topic, and you must list at least five (5) primary sources (published and interview).    Internet sources are to be used cautiously and only relied upon in a very limited fashion, with URL sites fully documented as to their academic and/or tribal authenticity and accuracy.

    You will then write your narrative text, developing a single storyline, with distinct scenarios and specific characters.  You might integrate the research and writing of all family members into a single narrative text, or you might assign each person different roles to research and write out, as if a script for a play.  You might have each member of the family assigned a different activity, among many that would go on during a single day, and have them write the script for that day.  There are other ways you might integrate the research and writing of all members.  But all members must hold their own and contribute equally.

    The narrative you develop and write should illustrate the key cultural meanings and significances, key ontological principles and values, we've been discussing all semester, and seek to do so from the perspective of the Indian.   Thus embedded within this narrative text should be consideration and presentation of one or more of the key cultural values identified and discussed in the course. 

    While a fictitious account, the narrative should be fully grounded in solid ethnographic scholarship, thus an example of "creative non-fiction."  This descriptive write-up is known as a "text." In developing a 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," such as material culture, kinship roles, subsistence activities as well as the "big picture."  But don't attempt to a too board and general. The detail of a cultural text often reveals what is most meaningful. 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. You are also encouraged to provide illustrations, photos, 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.  If you make reference to an oral tradition or story (from another published source), rephrase the story in your own words, not quoting it verbatim, as if you are "re-membering" the story.   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 the Indian."  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.

    Part B. Having laid out the cultural territory in your descriptive text, you (and the members of your family) are now in a position to add a more formal interpretation.   The second part of your assignment is to reflect on the meaning of the text you have just written, interpreting its significance as best you can from an Indian perspective.  What might the event you just described mean to an Indian participant? Acknowledging the challenge you have before you, the goal is nevertheless worth striving for.  As part of your interpretation, ground your text in its historical and cultural context.  For example, provide when the event typically takes place, who are the primary actors, under what circumstances does the event occur, and a brief history.  In order to conduct good interpretative research, the context of a text must be fully appreciated.  The focus of this section is, however, on your actual interpretation.  To interpret is not to summarize, but to seriously contemplate and consider the cultural assumptions of a particular text.  The interpretation should focus on the meaning and significance, and/or the role and function of the event described in the text.  An interpretation should always seek to represent the perspective of the participants being described and avoid being overtly biased and ethnocentric.  In this sense, there can be no "correct" or "incorrect" interpretation of a text. It is as if you are traveling a landscape (the descriptive text), are you carefully listening to the call of the hawk and whisper of the wind as it rushes through the trees, or wearing darkened sunglasses with the volume of your boom box cranked up?  It's a matter of how and where you position yourself in the landscape.  Each member of a family project is expected to write and present his or her own interpretation of the full-narrative text or that section he or she may have written.

    For projects done by an individual, the length of the paper should be a minimum of twelve (12), double-spaced, typed pages of text (excluding and in addition to a bibliography and any appendixes), but inclusive of any graphics and photos.  For projects done by family groups of two or three members, the paper/script the paper should be a minimum of twenty-one (21) typed pages of text.   And for projects done by family groups of four or more members, the projects should be a minimum of thirty (30) pages.   It is not uncommon that these projects to exceed these minimum suggestions.   Focus on getting your story fully developed and as authentic, yet appropriate as you can.  Typically your descriptive narrative text will take up to two-thirds of your entire paper, with your interpretation section comprising the remaining part of your project.   

    The formal interpretative section of your paper must conform to either APA (American Psychological Association), AAA (American Anthropological Association and required for anthropology majors), or MLA style of parenthetical documentation, including proper use of citation references, footnotes, other formal stylistic notations, and a bibliography/references cited.  Typically your descriptive narrative text will take up to two-thirds of your entire paper, with your interpretation comprising the remainder of the paper.   Keep a copy of the submitted paper.  You need to "okay" a "proposed topic" with 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.   The proposal of your project is due around midterm (check schedule).  The final paper is due during the last week of classes.


  4. Exams.  The third activity involves taking four exams, covering lectures, readings, and projects.  Use your family group to a study group for the exams, helping each other learn the materials.  The exams will be essay in nature, and neither "objective" nor cumulative. As a learning experience, a grade will be assigned to your exam, but you have the option of accepting the grade or of re-taking all or part of the exam. If you elect to re-take part or all of the exam, you will be asked to respond to a different set of questions. The exams must be taken at their assigned times and dates. In the event of a documented emergency, a make-up essay exam must be take within one week of returning to class. You must notify the instructor prior to an absence from an exam date (by phone or e-mail, or in person).

    Please note that the Exam Study Guides: One, Two, Three, Four (as linked from the course syllabus) have been prepared to assist you in your preparations for the exams.

  5. Reflective Writes and Class Attendance. Class attendance is expected. Ask questions, add to the class dialogue, engage the materials.  In addition, you will be periodically asked  to respond in writing to a specific question posed by the instructor on a given assigned reading or class presentation.  These responses will ask you to reflect on the significance and meaning of a specific passage or idea conveyed in the reading or presentation.  There are no right or wrong responses, only a thoughtful reflection.  The reflective writes will be a timed exercise, lasting no more than five minutes and will be turned in.  Keep in mind that the materials presented during class presentations and through the films are essential for successful completion of this course, and its exams and paper.  Repeated absences and/or late arrivals will lower your grade.  For each unexcused reflective write, you will forfeit three (3) points from your total grade score.  

    Grade Distribution: The first assignment, "storytelling," is worth 10% of your grade and 20 points. The second assignment, "participatory-paper," is worth 30% of your grade for 60 points.  And the third assignment, the four exams, are worth a total of 60% of your grade or 15% and 30 points each.  A total of 200 points can be earned during this course.

    As a guide,  180 - 200 points = A

                        160 - 179 points = B

                        140 - 159 points = C

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