The Indian has a special relationship with the land.
Oklahoma Centennial Poet Laureate N. Scott Momaday shared his perception of that relationship through a reading of some of his work during Monday’s opening plenary.
“In our society as a whole, we conceive the land in terms of ownership and use,” Momaday said. “It is a lifeless, medium exchange. It has no more spirituality than an automobile or a refrigerator. We can buy and sell the land, and exclude each other from it.
“That way of thinking is alien to the Indian,” he said.
The fundamental difference, he said, is ownership rather than use. The Indian does, and always has, used the land.
“Use does not indicate in any real way his ideal of the land.”
From his work about Indian perception of the land, Momaday read: “You say I use the land and I say that is true. It is not the final truth. The first truth and the final truth is that I love the land and I see that it is beautiful. I delight in it. I am alive in it.”
Momaday said the Indian has developed a deep regard for the land, a regard he’d like to see translated to society in general.
“I believe that the land is intrinsic in our definitions of ourselves, our ethical and moral definitions of ourselves, especially,” he said.
Momaday is “very much interested in conservation, matters of heritage,” he said.
He founded Buffalo Trust, an organization designed to help young indigenous people take hold of their heritage.
“American Indians are very much at risk because they have lost ties with the elders,” he said. “Many more people are moving into urban areas. Languages are falling away and there is a sense of loss, a sense of the loss of identity.”
—Mary Branham Dusenberry