Symposium Focuses on Oral Traditions

Nov 15th, 2002 | By | Category: 14-2: American Indian Higher Education Consortium 30th Anniversary, Tribal College News
By Vivian Arviso

The National Book Foundation presented a symposium in May entitled “Oral Tradition Meets the Written Word: the Role of Writing and Writers in Contemporary Native Communities.” This event held in New York City was funded through the Ford Foundation and was hosted by the National Museum of the American Indian. Meg Kearney, associate director of the National Book Foundation, organized the discourse. Attendees were educators and authors who had previously participated in American Voices, an author residency program that serves Native American students and communities.

The American Voices project was started in 1993 to address the lack of writer role models in Indian country <>. The outreach program supports visitations by award-winning authors from different ethnic backgrounds with Native American students and communities. The purpose of establishing this communication is to increase awareness of great books written by Native and non-Native Americans in the United States. Participating authors also strive to support and inspire the joy of reading and offer writing as a tool for Native Americans to tell their own stories.

In this symposium, storytelling among Native Americans and written discourse were viewed as complementary venues to shed light on issues important to Native Americans. Participants shared that children desire to learn the stories of their communities and to understand the world around them. Michael Lacapa, a children’s author of Apache, Hopi and Tewa descent, said, “English is a tool. Stories are an ongoing phenomena of who we are, and there is no connection between human beings without story.”

This unique collaboration between educators from tribal colleges and authors seeks to impact the development of new Native American literary voices in the United States. A written handbook will be produced during this next year. This guide will support the goals of tribal schools and colleges and provide a model for educators who teach literature and writing skills to Native American children.

For more information about the handbook, contact Meg Kearney <> or Vivian Arviso <>. Arviso (Navajo) is involved with teacher education at the University of New Mexico.

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