2009 Introduction by Joseph M. Marshall III


By Joseph M. Marshall, III

Life teaches us, or will, that if anything is predictable in an unpredictable world it is change. Indeed, change has been a fact of life for those of us who are indigenous to North America, and too often it has been difficult and even traumatic. But, as the multitude of nations and cultures we are, we prevail. Not unchanged, however, but perhaps enough of an essence of what we all once were to present a unique identity to the world.

As far as I am concerned, one good and strong change that has come out of generations of change is the emergence of Native literature. It is, I believe, the natural consequence of the importance and necessity of storytellers or story keepers within and among our multitude of nations and cultures. A consequence born of the need to survive as identifiable peoples within a world that tried to homogenize us. Now our storytellers and story keepers are writers and poets who use the written word to continue the ancient tradition of connecting, whether that connection is to each other in the here and now, or with our ancestors.

The 11 writers and poets who have contributed to this year’s TCJ Student Edition offer insights into coping with and living in the contemporary world as who and what they are. They offer glimpses into their experiences, and of their individual and cultural connection to the past. They continue to define Native literature, the feelings carried by words from the Native experience and spirit, whether that experience is good or bad or whether that spirit is strong or still growing. They’ve reaffirmed, for me, that Native literature is about being Native by Native writers and poets; no more, no less.

The written word is important, but we must not forget that it replaced the oral storyteller–that man or woman who could draw us into his or her story by the power of voice and words, igniting imaginations, touching hearts, and uplifting spirits. Therefore, the challenge for Native writers and poets today is to live up to that heritage- by using the written word.

One of the other consequences of change is that now Native peoples are connected as we have never been before. It is one of the good things about technology; therefore we can write our thoughts and stories and share them in ways our ancestors never imagined. We must use that connection to our advantage, to enrich and strengthen one another.

I have had the privilege of running, walking, driving, dancing, and racing with this year’s student contributors through the places, people, and events they gave form and substance to with their words. I saw the moon in a different light, as it were, and felt the strong and very personal connection to family and ancestors, and felt the struggles of being Native in a non-Native world. But I also felt perseverance. Most of all, I felt connected.

I hope and pray that never changes.

Joseph M. Marshall, III (Rosebud Sioux) is the author of 13 books of fiction and non-fiction, with three more due out in 2010 and 2011. He is one of the founders of Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation. As a speaker and lecturer, he has spoken to audiences in this country and abroad. He has also written screenplays and appeared in television documentaries and television movies; the most recent was Into the West in 2005, the Turner Network Television/DreamWorks mini-series. He is a first-language Lakota speaker and hand crafter of primitive-style Lakota bows and arrows.

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