Themes of Spirituality and Nature In Native American Literature

This week’s theme is spirituality and human connection with nature and how it’s shown in Native American literature. The works used in this section are: “The Conquest of Mexico”(from the 12th book of the Florentine Codex), “The Night Chant” from Navajo Ceremony, and “Yellow Woman” by Leslie Marmon Silko. The first shows the colonizing forces disrespect for the native cultures, thus also disrespecting their spirituality and the nature of the place they overtook. The second is a beautiful chant to invoke the thunder spirit in a healing ritual. This shows how nature and spirituality are intertwined in Native culture. The third story is a story about a woman’s encounter with a nature spirit, and also has a few examples of common stories from the culture of her tribe about how humans and nature interact. 


I think the work that best represents the theme of spirituality and unity with nature is “The Night Chant”. “The Night Chant” highlights the beauty of nature, specifically focused on thunderstorms, and interweave it with spirituality, calling on the thunder spirit for healing. In the ritual the chant is a part of, those participating are very close to nature, in unity with the natural forces of this world. While the other works focus on the relationship between people and nature, they don’t connect so directly and spiritually with it like in “The Night Chant”. 



There are a lot of ways these works could be incorporated into teaching, but here is one I suggest. After the class has read through the works, go on a field trip to a nature park, and have students try to write their own work about nature, or just talk in groups with question prompts about nature, such as “What caught your eye while we were there? Why did that catch your eye?”. 

Additionally, educate the students about the Native tribe that owned the land they are currently on, as well as some of the stories and literature from that tribe(Having someone from that tribe come in to teach a bit on this would be a great learning experience, and would ensure the accuracy of what is being taught). Since the land was historically belonging to the Native tribes, learning about the culture of the original occupants of the land is a great learning opportunity. Learning this is important for students to know, and it might also inspire them to connect more with nature and the land around them. 


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