Date of Award
Master of Fine Arts
Jose De Pierola
Critical Preface1.1 Scope
In Native American traditions, dreams are a significant part of their culture. They are believed to help one connect or communicate with the spiritual world. This ability is not limited to warriors or medicine men, anyone may contribute to the spiritual knowledge of the tribe. Many nations seek visions at a young age, and children are asked about their dreams. Each tribe across the country has a different way they may interpret the dreams. Typically, dreams often have a metaphorical/symbolic, literal, or prophetic meaning.
Whereas, in many non-indigenous cultures, individuals see dreams as something to be forgotten, a novelty, or simply the brain trying to file away memories. However, understanding that dreams are more than just neural pathways, they are spiritual truths that are core to understanding cosmic knowledge. Aurthur Versluis, explains in his book Sacred Earth: The spiritual Landscape of Native America: Across all of the Americas, among the whole range of tribal peoples, each individual participated in a spiritual reality, that meant anyone might receive a spiritual vision or a revelatory dream. And, in fact, the vision or dream of an individual, as revelation, might very well reveal a ceremonial context in which individual dreams and visions played a central part: each individual directly experienced a reality known to the rest of the tribe. (31) Therefore, to say that my story comes from a dream, follows the belief that dreams bring spiritual awareness. Roughly, in 2010, I had a very profound dream. It was one of those dreams where you take the time to write it down on paper. The emotions and the setting stuck with me for several days. In my dream, I saw a beautiful red rock canyon, set against a forest background. It was the only red rock canyon in the area, unlike Bryce Canyon or Zions National Park. Additionally, the main character in my dream was a strong, determined Native American women who communicated with the rocks and animals.
Following this dream, I had several experiences that verged on spiritual revelation rather than coincident. First, on a drive up a canyon I had never driven before, I saw the red rock canyon. It was so similar I made my husband turn around so we could drive past several times. The town nearest this displaced canyon was Tabiona. The next coincidence happened a week or two later, when I met a man at a bus stop from Tabiona. I struck up a conversation and he informed me that the town was named after a Ute Chief, Chief Tabiona. I was genuinely surprised to learn this because the women in my dream was Native American. This led me to do some research on the Ute tribes and I began brainstorming ideas for a story. I have pages of research, but nothing stuck, and eventually I put the story aside.
Nonetheless, dreams should not be discarded. Versulius explains that “an individual visionary experience” is intertwined with “the tribal destiny and the cosmic cycle.” He continues by suggesting that there are consequences for the “tribespeople” or “the natural world” if the visionary errs or fails to direct their people. “The individual dream or vision is not really individual at all but rather is a particularized manifestation of the transcendent power that guides all the tribes people.” (32) In no way am I suggesting that my dream will guide any tribal destiny. Rather, by ignoring my research and abandoning my vision, I was failing myself and perhaps that one person who may learn something from my story.
Ten years later, visions of the women in my dream, would stand in the way of any story I chose to write. I found, as I began my degree, that I had serious writer's block. In my first two classes, writing was a chore. So, I stopped fighting and wrote her story. Once I began writing about the women in my dream, ideas began to flow, and I felt like I was tapping into my strengths as a writer. As I began my research, I learned that Chief Tabiona was not Ute but was from the Timpanogos Nation. Born and raised in Utah, I had never heard of the Timpanogos except for Timpanogos Cave. What I discovered was that there are over 400 tribes across the U.S. that are not federally recognized. (GAO, 2012) Due to poor documentation and minimal numbers, the Timpanogos were discarded as Ute when they were moved onto the Uintah-Ouray Reservation. Knowing this was the pathway my story needed to follow, I learned more about the Timpanogos and found the tribes website.
Deciding that my character would be descended from Tabby-to-Kwanah (Tabiona), I needed permission to write her story. On the Timpanogos website was listed the Chief Executive of the Tribe, Mary Meyer. Here was another coincidence that I felt I couldn’t ignore; the tribal leader had my same last name. “If we have no sense of the spiritual powers perpetually revealing themselves in nature, we simply cannot recognize the truths written in the world around us.” (Versluis, 92) I decided to e-mail Mary and was thoroughly surprised when she responded. Nervous yet excited, I was able to interview Mary on July 6th, 2021. During our time, she told me the story of the Timpanogos Nation and why they feared for their lives to even speak their tribal name. Mary radiated dignity and compassion when I told her my story and asked if I could have permission to write my story. Not because of Mary, but due to my own insecurities, I felt unworthy to be asking such a question. Because indigenous people have been misrepresented time and again throughout history, the media, and fiction, I did not want to add to this misrepresentation. Mary emphasized that my dream was important, and that indigenous people saw dreams as connections to the divine. And since the story was fictional, I would not be doing any harm as long as I did my research and stayed true to the culture. Finally, at the end of my interview I asked Mary how she was able to continue to fight for her people. She pointed to a page in Phillip B. Gottfredson’s book, My Journey to Understand Black Hawk’s Mission of Peace, that I had brought, which she was quoted saying: Our desire for the future is for our children to remember these things. That they grow strong in the knowledge that their ancestors must be remembered, and our people must continue to keep their ways. They were kind to newcomers, and we should honor that. Though we were made to walk knee-deep in the blood of our ancestors, we must forgive and free our souls. (285) This was my final answer to continuing my story because it was about remembering. Remembering forgotten tribes. Remembering that Earth is divine. And even though it is a fictional story, hopefully others will learn about the Timpanogos Nation, and not allow the name to only be associated with a cave, a school, a Morman temple, or businesses in Provo, Utah.
With Mary's permission, I began writing my story. Using names from the Timpanogos Ancestral webpage (timpanogosnation.com) I decided on a name for my character. Her name would be Nettie, named after Nettie West and Pernetta Sweet Murdock. Like her namesake, she would become resilient after the loss of her family and forced to assimilate into a culture that would not accept her.
Because the heart of Native American culture is storytelling, I chose to write a young adult novella. It would have been more traditional to write several short stories, perhaps different ways in which Nettie overcomes adversity. In the preface to the collection Native American Myths and Legends, edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz, point out that: “Stories are told for adults and children alike, as elements in solemn ceremonies and as spontaneous creations. Rather then being self-contained units, they are often incomplete episodes in a progression that goes back deep into a tribe’s traditions.”
But short stories are over quickly, and I want my audience to connect to Nettie and her experiences. Adolescents need time to connect to characters. As a 9th grade English teacher, I find that students become more involved in a character's story when we read a full novel then when we read a short story. Teens will not connect to a story unless they see that the character in the novel and their own self have a future together, something that will create a long relationship. (Coyle) In an article from Education Week, Ariel Sacks argues that: When we identify with a character, we experience their story as an extension of our own life experience. (Neuroscientists have found that these virtual experiences are stored in our brains in the same way that real life memories are!) This is one of the huge draws for young people to read and hear stories. Take that away, and you immediately alienate some readers who need to spend time identifying with characters in order to feel reading is a rewarding activity. (EdW, 2017)
Furthermore, I needed to write a novella to tell Nettie’s full story. I wanted to write about a strong female protagonist. And, she had to be Native American. A core meaning in many indigenous stories show how “female forces”, or women, are so strong that they can “change the course of the world” and “once they take a stand, they change their own lives and the lives of those around them.” (Hazen-Hammond, 2) In Spider Woman’s Web: Traditional Native American Tales about Women’s Power, author Susan Hazen-Hammond explains, “Native American women grew up hearing tales about the powers and strengths of women. They hear stories about women healers, women warriors, women artist, women prophets. But above all, they heard stories of woman as the divine creator, a woman as supernatural power, woman as a force of transformation in the universe.” (2) Nettie’s story may only be a very small piece of the universe, but she is able to transform herself and her universe to protect what she values.
For this reason, Nettie is from the Timpanogos nation and lives with her mom and grandfather. Nettie lost her father and brother within the same year. Her brother, Colin, is her best friend and mentor. Nettie must overcome the loss of her brother and learn how to survive without him in a place that neither accepts her in mainstream culture or in the local indigenous tribes. To do this, she must confront her grief and protect nature by saving Tabby canyon which is sacred to her family because it was where their ancestor Tabby-to-Kwanah took their people when they were forced to relocate. However, since the federal government does not recognize her tribe, she cannot claim the land as culturally sacred like the local Ute tribes. So, she must make a stand, which will change her and her small part of the universe.
I may not be Native American, but a drum circle makes me cry because I feel the power deep in my soul. I believe everything has a spirit, and I feel that the Earth is a reminder of the divine. “We must see the Earth around us again the way it was meant to be seen; we must recognize the spiritual meanings of the sky and earth and waters of the mountains and rivers and rocks. We must again become grounded on this Earth.” (Versluis, 5) This is why writing this story is so important to me. In a way it is pre apocalyptic in the sense that if Nature is not heard she will find a way to heal herself.
However, humans have already broken a dam that cannot be contained, yet we can slow the flow of destruction by working with Nature instead of fighting her. In creating a story based on a dream and following the coincidences, I have learned more about Native American history. I would have never discovered the Timpanogos Nation and learned that their story is not the only story of tribes that are not federally recognized. If I can create the same curiosity I felt, and send people on a journey of discovery, then I have reached my desired impact.
How people perceive the world around them and then interpret what they see is a complex structure that requires a writer to use specific writing techniques so that the reader has access to the complicated reality of the character. From Descarte, to William James, to Maurice Merleau-Ponty the idea of what constitutes consciousness has been analyzed and helps us understand the nature of individual experience. In “Transparent Minds”, author Dorrit Cohn, quotes Schopenhauer by saying: “The more inner and the less outer life a novel present, the higher and nobler will be its purpose… Art consist in achieving the maximum of inner motion with the minimum of out motion; for it is the inner life which is the true object of our interest.” (9) These ideas are essential when building character, as a writer must understand the internal self of a character to be able to present them to an audience. Yet, what happens when an author is unfamiliar with the culture of a character which limits their ability to present the internal self of that character? This is the question that has constantly plagued my mind since I began writing my novella. This internal conflict is the foundation for the different techniques I used throughout the text to try to create a character that is genuine and respectful to Native American culture. By incorporating dual narration and shifting focalization, personification, flashbacks, and ethnic dialect, I have tried to limit the narrative distance that comes with writing a character that is ethnically different from myself. Rather than limit my story to one perspective, I chose to write my story with a dual narrative, which was not a form I had expected to use. The story follows two main characters, Nettie and Ryan. Originally, Ryan’s story was only meant to be used in the prologue to set a foundation for personifying nature and creating an emotional connection to the destruction of natural resources. However, during my Thesis 1 class, my peers loved Ryan’s character and they wanted to know more about him. I had created too much of Ryan’s internal conflict that emotionally connected with the reader.
However, by using dual narration, I can present a more holistic approach to situations that follow the indigenous mindset of “collectivistic thinking.” Doe A.S. Hain Jamall suggested that Native American’s learn through “experiential learning” which recognizes “that no two people will have the same experience; therefore, knowledge acquired by two children in the same situation will be different.” (15) Ryan sees nature as destructive, unpredictable, and something to fear, reminding him of his own vulnerability. Whereas Nettie views nature as inspiring, grand and something that guides her in healing from the loss of her brother. Both perspectives are “true” to that individual. In fact, we even see that Ryan struggles to grasp the “truth” of his reality when Dugan suggests on page 134, “The cracks. I saw the cracks before I felt the quake. You saved my life because you knew what she was about to do. Don’t you remember?” Ryan did not see the crack but instead he saw “skeletal hands” that “moved across the walls of the cave like wisps of smoke toward the drill hole.” (26) But Nature cannot be summed up in one perspective, she is all things. “This mindset allows for ambiguity and seemingly contradictory “truths,” thereby enabling holistic thinkers to consider other perspectives as equally valid.” (Hain-Jamall, 15)
Furthermore, by using a dual narrative, the reader sees Nettie’s cultural beliefs through a shifting focalization and gains a more accurate account of the spiritualization of nature. For example, in chapter 18, Ryan and his helper, Mike, are attacked by a mountain lion. A low guttural growl froze Ryan in place. This was directly behind him and was deep and unmistakably menacing. Ryan slowly turned his head to see Mike rooted in place holding a sample tray and panic in his eyes. Aggressively crouched under the sample table was a mountain lion. Baring its fangs at Mike it gave a guttural hiss and swatted at him making Mike back up several steps. (120) Seeing the mountain lion as “aggressive” and “menacing”, perpetuates the stereotype of fear from a wild animal with such powerful characteristics. It gives the archetype of a villain trying to destroy the work of the drillers. Yet, the reader can visualize this same event through Nettie’s perspective in chapter 19, when she is watching the situation from her hiding place as she spies on the drillers. The mountain lion bounded forward, protecting itself from the man that was going to bash it with a giant metal tray full of rocks. Nettie jumped up, ready to defend the cat. It didn’t matter that the regal creature could protect itself. Troy grabbed Nettie’s shirt and pulled her back into the protection of the juniper trees just as the cat ran away past the drillers to the safety of the night. (128) The aggressive mountain lion is now perceived as “regal” and “bounding”, changing the archetype from villain to proud victim. Yet, nature is not a victim, but more of a symbolic representation of beauty and power. It is this idea of Nature as representation of the divine that helps the reader understand Nettie’s internal narrative. Seeing nature, such as the mountain lion, as a representation of its spiritual self is a core foundation for Native American beliefs. “Spirituality is also not separate from other aspects of life. It is, in fact, an integral part of the Native-American lifestyle, not a religion. One is in constant contact with people and the natural world.” (Hain-Jamall, 16) In presenting the event through shifting focalization the reader gains a more holistic understanding of the event and gains sympathy for both Ryan and Nettie and can connect to Nettie’s view of the spirituality entwined in everyday interactions.
Additionally, the belief in everything being connected spiritually is why I chose to use personification as another form to present the inner life of Nettie. Throughout the text, Nettie can be found interacting with not only animals, but also wind, water and even inanimate objects such as fences and rocks. It is essential to establish a relationship between Nettie and the world around her. â??Native Americans do not consider themselves as separate from, much less superior to the natural worldâ?¦ Inanimate objects such as stars, stones, and the land embody the Creatorâ??s spirit which is why they are described with a form of animism, and they are respected equally with plants, humans, and animals.â?? (Hain-Jamall, 16)
An example of creating equal respect for inanimate objects is in chapter 12 when Nettie is faced with a fence that is keeping her away from hiking up a canyon that has cultural significance to her and her brother.  The poles squared-up to the trespasser, as Nettie approached, pulling the glistening silver barbed wire tighter intensely signaling that there would be no passing.  Nettie sighed, frustrated at another boundary, another wall to her cage.  She closed her eyes, breathing in the perfume of the bristly sagebrush…  ‘I guess I accept your challenge, Mr. Fence,’ Nettie said as she pulled off her over-sized blue Melvin’s Garage t-shirt. (86) To establish this form of conscious spiritual connectivity, I used Rundquist’s free indirect style and direct narration to form a way in which the reader can access the internal thoughts of Nettie and gain a better understanding of the relationship she has with the world around her. The distance between the narrator and Nettie is merge in the first example  when the narrator describes the fence’s actions in third- person perspective. The narrator personifies the fence by explaining that the fence “squared up”, pulled the wire tighter, and “intensely signaled”. Yet, the narrator’s voice becomes Nettie’s internal thoughts about the situation. Rundquist explains that people cannot verbalize what they are thinking (7). The visual and emotional understanding of an event cannot be expressed through language. In the second example  the narrator explains Nettie’s feeling as “frustrated” through her action of sighing. Then through free indirect thought the narrator suggests Nettie’s internal frustrations at feeling caged in “another wall to her cage.” Finally, by using free direct thought  to express the idea that Nettie saw the fence as challenging her instead of an inanimate object that was just in her way, the idea that all objects embody the Creator, is fully realized. This is why using personification through the novella is essential in limiting the cultural divide between myself and the internal world of my character.
To continue, the third form I apply is the use of Shoshoni dialect interspersed throughout the text. The language is foreign to Nettie, though it is not something she has not heard. She suggests at the beginning of the book that, “the words were unfamiliar, out of reach. Sometimes she dreamt in this language, and she knew in her dreams that she was speaking fluent Shoshoni. If she could be aware but not awake, she was certain that what she was saying made sense. Yet, when she woke up, she had no clue what it meant. Hearing the words now, gave her strength.” (3) In an article published on the National Library of Medicine website, Michael C. Corballis explains that, “the rules of language are in large part overlearned and unconscious, and even linguists have not completely articulated how those rules work. They operate largely automatically; we know intuitively how to construct a sentence, but do not really know how we do it.” (2019) Nettie’s understanding of language comes from an unconscious understanding of the language. She has heard the language, though rarely, as her family has generational trauma to the point where they fear speaking the language or do so in whispers.
There are two reasons interlacing the Shoshoni dialect into the text is essential to connecting to Nettie’s cultural background. First, to present that everything Nettie sees in the natural world reflects its “celestial archetype, its spiritual Origin.” (Versluis, 19) Many times, when Nettie hears the Shoshoni language it is connected to the rock that she keeps in her pocket. The rock is “not mere matter that acts as an abode for a spirit, as we might try to conceive of it; rather, the rock is a manifestation of its transcendent origin, of its spiritual archetype, and that archetype reveals a truth…all things in nature can act as spiritual revelation.” (Versluis, 19) As it is through Nettie’s ancestral Origin that the rock provides spiritual revelation it is only fitting that Nature speak Nettie’s ancestral dialect.
The second reason that I utilize the dialectic language is centered around how “Native-American languages are described as ‘verb-based’, and it is thought that this reflects a cultural focus on action; on connections between a beginning and an end.” (Hain-Jamall, 15) Using the University of Utah’s Shoshoni Dictionary Project website, I was able to gain access to a multitude of Shoshoni words that I used in my novella. Nettie hears words such as “Ookwan”, be strong; “Iya'ih”, be alert; or “Nankasuanka”, listen carefully. Even though she may not fully understand the language being spoken to her, she automatically perceives the voice as something she is being asked to act upon. And eventually, being exposed to the language enough, she begins to understand the voices and the spiritual revelation that influence the way she thinks.
Finally, the last form I use to connect to the internal consciousness of the character and bridge the gap between cultural perspective, is flashback. As the flashback is a great tool to provide the reader with important events from the past which shape the character’s personality, and provide meaning to current events it in story, it can be overused. Flashbacks can be found in roughly thirteen of my chapters. I do not know if this constitutes overuse, but the device is essential to Nettie’s background. Foremost, it is very common to experience flashbacks when grieving. At the beginning of the text, the flashbacks are frequent and in almost every chapter with Nettie. “Sometimes one type of pain, leads to remembering other types of pain. Nettie tried hard not to let Collin seep into her thoughts. But the physical workout was breaking mental barriers not just muscle barriers.” (15) This is simply human nature across all cultures to have different triggers that remind them of those that they lost. But as Nettie begins to let go of her loss, the flashbacks become less and less. Yet, there is a larger cultural significance to Nettie’s flashbacks. Remembering events and experiences is a core belief in Native American culture. Hain-Jamall points out that “In Native-American cultures, knowledge is expected to be subjective because any learning of value is acquired through experience… Spirituality is also not separate from other aspects of life. It is, in fact, an integral part of the Native-American lifestyle, not a religion. One is in constant contact with the spirit world through interactions with people and the natural world.” By remembering Colin, Nettie is able to connect to knowledge through her experience. For example, chapter 8 is one complete flashback where Nettie remembers Colin taking her to the lake. He gives her advice, “Collin stood up slowly. ‘You need time to be with the Creator. Remember, what mom always says, ‘Listen to and follow the guidance of your heart.’ When you are ready, the Creator will provide an answer. I will be here for you too.” Throughout the text Nettie is reminded about what others said or of events that have taught her to grow. Therefore, it is not overuse of a device if culturally it is interconnected to Native American beliefs. Hopefully, by incorporating the techniques of dual narration and shifting focalization, personification, language, and flashbacks I have been able to minimize the gap between my limited perspective on Native American culture. Additionally, by utilizing these forms I hope to have been able to provide an understanding of the internal self of the character in which a strong, Native American women emerges and is able to connect the reader.
When I looked back at literature in my past that influenced my own writing, I struggled to find one or two sources that I modeled my writing after. Instead, I decided to look at what might have inspired me to write a book with a Native American protagonist. When I had my dream in 2010, I was not affected by the current novels I was reading. As a junior high teacher, I read a lot of young adult literature. It was during this time that Twilight by Stephanie Meyers was being turned into a movie, the final book in The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins was released, and I was reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner. So, a dream about a Native American girl that wants to protect a canyon did not seem to fit the current genres. Yet, I had always been fascinated by indigenous cultures. One of my favorite books growing up was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’dell. I was completely engaged in the idea of a young girl, Karana, surviving on her own. The message of survival and love of the environment and animals was what I valued in my own life as a child. As my family often went camping or to the University of Utah Pow Wows. Being a child of the 80’s young adult fiction consisted of books like The Babysitters Club or Apple Paperback pre-teen books. I couldn’t stand these types of books and tried to find books like O’dell. One caught my attention titled, Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare. I can remember the book having a significant impact on my life, but when I reread the synopsis, the book is not what I recalled. The only part I can remember is that the main character is captured by Native American’s.
Later, I was introduced to books like The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, Sacajawea by Anne Waldo Lee, and Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clair Robson. I was particularly influenced by Robson because she would write about women in history who had been forgotten. I loved these types of stories, strong female protagonists that showed resilience in the face of adversity. The only issue with the specific novels influencing my writing is that every single author is Euro-American or “white”. These authors could write beautiful narratives; however, if I were to reread these novels, would I see the Euro-American mind which centers on individualistic values and “colloquial catch phrases” and “cultural metaphors” that are counter to collective, holistic, indigenous thinking? (Hain-Jamall, 13) Will my own story reflect this type of thinking? I hope that through my research and modern access to culturally correct values and beliefs, I am able to get as close as possible to an authentic Native American protagonist.
Thankfully, my education in the Creative Writing department at UTEP has exposed me to texts that have fed my creative form and given me texts in which I feel I am modeling my writing after. Knowing I was writing a book with an indigenous protagonist, I was gifted the book The FireKeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. A young adult novel, about an eighteen-year-old girl named Daunis Fontaine who is half Ojibwe. I modeled Boulley’s use of cultural language in my own book feeling that the use of cultural dialect created a more realistic narrative. An example of this can be found at the beginning of the book when Daunis goes for a run. “Ziisabaaka Minising.’ I whisper in Anishinaabemowin, which my father taught me when I was little.” (6) In my novel, Nettie is further removed from her cultural heritage. She has family but most of her tribal ancestors have passed away, leaving her with no cultural community. Therefore, the language she uses is minimal and reserved to her Shoshoni friends and Nature.
Additionally, because of Dauni’s dual citizenship as part Native American, she is shunned by many within the local tribe and counsel. She must prove she is worthy to be accepted as a strong Ojibwe woman. Nettie does not need to prove that she is Timpanogos to her family; however, she is not accepted within the local tribal community or the local townspeople because they are not federally recognized. Another book that influenced my writing was Beloved by Toni Morrison. The form of shifting focalization came from Morrison’s masterful ability to use free indirect style. By visualizing a scene through multiple perspectives and inner voice, the reader can empathize with Sethe who murders her children. Yet, the reader does not walk away judging Sethe, but pitying her and her trauma. No. No. Nono. Nonono. Simple. She just flew. (4) Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out, away, over there where no one could hurt them. Over there. Outside this place, where they would be safe. (192) But this moment is not only seen through Sethe’s point of view. To completely understand the character Morrison presents this scene through three different character’s points of view. To understand the different viewpoints of nature, I juxtaposed Ryan’s view of nature and events with Nettie. Ryan’s viewpoint is “whiter” as Nettie’s shows Native American values. Next, Manuel Scorza in Drums of Rancas brilliantly represents personification in his book. Perhaps my idea of a fence was generated by this book, as Scorza creates a living breathing creature out of a fence that continually grows and separates communities. “You could not see the end of the barbed wire even if you stood on the
Recieved from ProQuest
Jamie Rae Crowley Meyer
Crowley Meyer, Jamie Rae, "Tabby Canyon" (2023). Open Access Theses & Dissertations. 3779.