January 20, 2010

Momaday on cultural change

Writing His World

Literary pioneer N Scott Momaday discusses culture, history and the writing life

By Charlotte Jusinski
What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in Indian culture?

I think the Indian people have become more equal, if I can put it that way, more competitive with people outside the Indian world. And that’s all to the good. We want them to give a good account of themselves, to be responsible citizens of the world. And they are certainly moving in that direction. Things are moving so quickly. I remember when I first went to Jemez Pueblo, where I spent some of my most impressionable years, there was no electricity, no plumbing, no automobiles in the village; and all of that changed during my time there, and it changed very quickly. I saw things that no one would ever see again. I was there at the right time. I saw the old world of the pueblo, and then I saw it change, and it became another world. The fact that it happened successfully, that people did adjust to that kind of revolution, was very inspiring. It’s still going on. I’m pretty excited about the future of Native American people.

Have you had a sense of a shift in the way in which American history is taught and perceived?

We’ve changed a lot in our view of American history. For the better. Books like…Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee [by Dee Brown] really gave us a new perspective on American history, and we’ve been moving in that direction ever since. We’ve become aware that our idea of history has been largely misrepresented in early histories of the country, and it hasn’t been so long ago that that change really began to take place. I would say in the 1950s, maybe.
Comment:  For more on Momaday, see Another Award for Momaday and Momaday to Get Medal.

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