“Don’t any of you kill him, he is a different kind of man, let’s look him over.” This was the testimony of some Native American hunters on their discovery of a European explorer. Literature lets us, like curious hunters, imagine other lives. In reading we enter a world where actual people or characters relate experiences perhaps extremely different from our own. Through that process, we may come to understand or even share some of the views or values of another. In literature is thus the power to transform. Native American literature offers that transformation to its readers—but also represents it in its pages. Whether through an ancient epic on diplomacy, an antebellum public address on Native rights, or a contemporary novel about human interaction with animals, Native literature displays a dynamic world inextricably connected to and even fascinated with other worlds. After all, long before Europeans arrived in North America indigenous peoples were neither timeless nor culturally pure. Instead for centuries, distinct Native nations interacted and transformed each other, often in response to their changing world. They adapted. When Europeans first visited, primarily to conquer and to plunder, they nonetheless entered a vast, codified network of trade not only in goods but also in ideas. Today, after more than 500 years of exchange, Native American literature both struggles and thrives at a crossroads of conflict and cooperation.
This volume relies on that truth about interaction and adaptation—from Native origins, through the European conquest and cultural destruction, and into the recovery and revitalization of indigenous communities today. Throughout their journey, Native American authors spoke or wrote not only to defend and to inspire their nations, but also in wonder for other worlds and peoples, and to reach them.