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Plateau Indians

ANTH 422/522, AIST 422, RELS 422 - Fall 2014

Course Syllabus - Tamálwit

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Steller's Jay - 1998

Welcome to our course entitled, Plateau Indians.  I am your instructor, Rodney Frey.  My office is in Phinney Hall, Rm. 116, with office hours on Mondays and Wednesdays 9:00 to noon, or by appointment.

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Class Days/Times and Location:

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Course Description: There have perhaps been no people more misunderstood nor more misrepresented than the American Indian. Stereotypes abound, from being labeled "primitive heathens" to that of "noble savages." And in the instance of Plateau Indians, even less is understood and appreciated. While history has witnessed the considerable cultural assimilation and physical genocide of the Indian, today we observe a vibrant culture, persisting and flowering into the twenty-first century. The overriding question asked throughout this course is who, in fact, are the Indian Peoples of the Plateau?

If our ultimate intent is to allow a better appreciation of the rich and dynamic culture of the Indian, it is critical we approach the world of the Indian, as best we can, from the perspective of the Indian, devoid of bias and preconceived ideas. Critical to our goal will be the presentation of a methodology that can convey, with integrity and authenticity, the voice and heart of the Indian. There is thus an acknowledged relationship between what is taught (Indian culture) and how it is taught (teaching methods). Certainly, a vast and well-developed inventory of anthropological and historical approaches can contribute to this endeavor. But we shall use these approaches sparingly. We also must acknowledge the constraints imposed on the "how" given the delivery format for this course, e.g., "textbooks," "classrooms," and "lectures." But in acknowledging the impact of such constraints we have taken the first steps in compensating for them.

Our focus is on an appreciation of the "traditions" that have anchored Indian identity and have continued to find expression throughout history and into the contemporary world. The approach taken in this course, the "how," is thus simply but with great effort and sensitivity to appreciate and incorporate, as best we can, an Indigenous epistemology. We must ask ourselves, "how would an Indian elder come to know the world, and, in turn, convey his story to his own grandchildren or share it with us?"

As our approach is anchored in the world of the "First Peoples," such as Coyote and Chief Child of the Yellow Root, our journey begins by an appreciation of the oral traditions. It is from the First Peoples that the world was first created and all that would be needed for Human Peoples to thrive brought forth. From the First Peoples the various ways to relate to the Spirit, Animal and Human Peoples were instituted, in prayer and song, and through the Sweat House or Give Away, for example. In continuing to tell of the First Peoples these ways of relating and the world itself are perpetuated. In turn, it is with the oral traditions that an elder would seek to teach and pass on to a grandchild that which is most vital to the Indian, or even attempt to educate a stranger to the Indian ways. Through the "stories" and "storytelling" of the Indian we can better understand the voice and heart of the Indian. From a foundation built upon the oral traditions, we can then explore aesthetic expressions, rites of passage, health and healing practices, ceremonial life, family and kinship, social organization, and ecological relationships. It is an approach to appreciating the world of the Indian, the "what," that attempts to more closely parallel an Indigenous ontology. These will be among the topics considered during this course.

Yet today, the world of the Indian is, in fact, the confluence of two pervasive yet very distinct worlds - the mythic world and historic world. Who the Indian is is to a significant extent an expression of the ongoing oscillation, coalescing and reconfiguration of these two vital ways of defining time and space. The mythic is anchored in the world of First Peoples, such as Coyote and Chief Child of the Yellow Root, while the historic originates out of the contact with Euro-American peoples. Both worlds find expression in the religious, social and economic structures, as well as in the character of Euro-American and Indian contact with fur traders, missionaries and the U. S. military, and in treaties and reservation life today. These will also be among the topics considered during this course.

In our desire to better appreciate and understand the Indian experience, there are also obligations to do so in a respectful manner with consideration of "cultural property rights." A good-faith effort has been taken in the construction and delivery of this course to utilize only those methods of instruction and present only that content (lectures, activities, field trips, textbooks, etc.) that are deemed "authentic" and "appropriate" by representatives of the Indian communities. Those representatives include elders, the Cultural Resource Management Office, Department of Education, and Tribal Councils of Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce Tribes.

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