Explaining Indian Concepts of Nature: Zitkala Sa and Luther Standing Bear

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

16 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents


1 Luther Standing Bear:
“Land of the Spotted Eagle”
1.1 Biographical dates
1.2 General philosophy
1.3 The genesis of the Oglala Sioux
1.4 Mother and father – the elements
1.5 The role of animals
1.6 Nature in general

2 Zitkala Să:
“Impressions of an Indian Childhood”
2.1 Biographical dates
2.2 Zitkala Să’s vision of Nature




This paper is part of the seminar “The Role of Nature in American and Canadian Writing“ and deals with the presentation of the two Indian writers Luther Stan-ding Bear and Zitkala Să. Both of them are seen as representative authors of the first generation of Native American writers at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

It is divided into two sections. Each of them focuses on one single author, the contents are discussed separately. The first step will be to give the short biography of both authors. These should help to build the authentic background considered that their works are directly related to their personal life and history. In a second step a detailed description of the special concepts and philosophies explaining the Indian vision of nature will be given.

The aim of this paper will be to introduce the reader to the understanding of life with nature. In this context special attention will be given to the earth, the elements like sun and air and, of course, to the animals. It is going to show that Luther Standing Bear and Zitkala Să often share the same view, even though they do belong to different tribes. Consequently all discussions serve as a general explanation of the Indian philosophy. In general it will work out the importance of nature to the Native Americans and basically compare the different lifestyles of Indians and whites. In the end this paper will prove what it actually means to be a ‘Native’ American.

1 Luther Standing Bear’s “Land of the Spotted Eagle”

The following explanations to the life and the work of Luther Standing Bear should help to get a general overview of the concepts and ideas dealt with in “Land of the Spotted Eagle”. It is however important to know that his work serves as a autoethnographical des-cription. The reader gets informed about the tribe, its culture, traditions and philosophy.

1.1 Biographical dates

Luther Standing Bear lived from 1868 to 1939 and was born as Ota K’Te in South Dakota. This used to be the territory of the Indians of the West, also known by the French definition Sioux. The Native Americans instead used to call themselves by their tribal names Lakota, concerning the western tribes, and Dakota, living in the eastern part of the Great Plains. Like many Indian tribes also the Oglala Sioux of which Ota K’Te was a member were one of the first Native Americans who were forced to live in reservations and leave their natural surroundings at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

At the age of eleven the traditional raised Ota K’Te is sent to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in far away Pennsylvania. (Rehaja, 1) At Carlisle, the first federal boarding school for Native Americans, Ota K’Te was not only isolated from his family and tribe but also forced to even neglect his origins. As an example for this alienation he was requested to take an European name. He chose to call himself Luther and take his father’s first name Standing Bear as surname. This fact is often interpreted as a kind of rebellion against the white Christian missionaries that came to the west. (Rehaja, 1)

Luther Standing Bear was a member of the first graduating class of Carlisle Indian Industrial School. After his graduation he went back to Pine Ridge Reservation, where he opened a dry goods store. This was the first time he got politically committed. In his own store he often organised public meetings for Native Americans in order to give them the possibility to discuss the actual political situation of the Indians.

In 1902 Luther Standing Bill becomes a member of the famous Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, where he works as an interpreter and chaperon for the whites. Due to his performing and riding skills he soon distinguishes himself as a talented actor and therefore is recruited by mo-vie companies. In his most famous movies “White Oak” (1921), “Cyclone of the Saddle” (1935) and “Union Pacific” (1939) Luther Standing Bear embodies the typical Native American. (Rehaja, 1)

Even though his literary output was a rather small one, he’s also known as story writer and excellent autobiographer. In 1928 his first autobiography called “My People the Sioux” is published. Only three years later, in 1931, he comes out with “My Indian Boyhood”. His most significant work of detailed description of nature is represented by “Land of the Spotted Eagle”, written in 1933. Two years before his death he publishes his last work “Stories of the Sioux” (1937). Luther Standing Bear dies in 1939 on the set of “Union Pacific” during a flu epidemic. (Rehaja, 1)

1.2 General philosophy

In order to understand and fully comprehend the Indian concept of nature presented in Luther Standing Bear’s “Land of the Spotted Eagle” one has to take a closer look to the philosophy, according to which the Native Americans, especially the Lakotas, live. “All this was in accordance with the Lakota belief that man did not occupy a special place in the eyes of Wakan Tanka, [...]. I was only a part of everything that was called the world.” (Standing Bear 22).

This is the very first step to explain the Lakota philosophy of life with nature. The idea of human beings as a part of nature and earth is essential to the understanding of the concept of nature in general. This statement shows that the Native Americans do not consider themselves as superior to nature or as the possessor of the world. In trying to understand this opinion it might be helpful to also include the stories telling the genesis of the Lakota tribe.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Explaining Indian Concepts of Nature: Zitkala Sa and Luther Standing Bear
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (Fachbereich Angewandte Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaft in Germersheim)
Kulturwissenschaftliches Proseminar
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ISBN (Book)
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Explaining, Indian, Concepts, Nature, Zitkala, Luther, Standing, Bear, Kulturwissenschaftliches, Proseminar
Quote paper
Gina Mero (Author), 2006, Explaining Indian Concepts of Nature: Zitkala Sa and Luther Standing Bear, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/58921


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