USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Native American?’
Folk Beliefs

Dream Catcher

My informant here brought up the notion of a “Dream Catcher”, and began to tell me about her dream catcher that she had growing up as a kid. She told me that the basis of her dream catcher was that it was a round piece of wood with leather bands webbed inside of it, with feathers coming out of the top and hanging from the bottom. She said that her parents had bought it for her at some point when she was in elementary school in Pennsylvania. She remembers her mom telling her that if she placed it on the outside doorknob of her room, it would catch all of the bad dreams and nightmares that she would have, and would only allow her to have good and sweet dreams.

My informant said that she believed in this notion completely, and left it on her door for years until she moved out of her house in high school. “I don’t think I would have been able to sleep without it” my informant said. She found solace in believing that it was there to protect her, even though she “knew it probably didn’t actually do anything real”.

My informant tells me that her parents told her that it was a longstanding Native American tradition to use dream catchers, and that it had protected them from nightmares for centuries. “It was just something I believed and didn’t think about too much”, she said, “after a while it completely just blended in with my door, it’s like it was supposed to be there”.

I believe that this piece of folklore may have truly been started by the Native Americans years ago, and transferred to many parts of our culture because it is a nice idea and a good way to find solace in your sleep. I feel that it has lived on through parents giving them to their children, perhaps because the parents truly believe in them, and perhaps because they feel that it is a good part of growing up. I would believe that it is mostly children that use dream catchers, but believe that many adults do as well, as a part of keeping a tradition that they have had since childhood.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

A Burning Ring of Fire

In the mountains of North Carolina, there is still a presence and reverence for Native Americans.  Pieces of folklore are still retold today including the tale of fire.  My informant for this story was my friend’s mother who told it to us on the way to school one day.  The tale starts at the beginning of the world when the bear owned fire.  He used it to warm his people through the cold nights.  One day, bear set part of a forest on fire to roast some acorns for his people.  The fire soared for a while, but then began to die down and called out to Bear to feed it so it could go on burning.  Bear didn’t hear the fire’s cries, but someone else did and he fed it all kinds of sticks and wood.  Bear came back to get fire, but fire was mad that bear had left him to die and he was now owned by man.

My informant recalls hearing this story from her relatives as a child.  She thinks it may serve as a form of remembrance as to how we treat the Earth and how we came to “own” nature and everything it entails.  This Native American tale is certainly unique among the others I’ve heard as it doesn’t appeal to someone’s logic as much as other pieces of folklore.


Lost But Never Forgotten: The Ghost of St. Boniface Indian School

Lost but Never Forgotten: The Ghost of  St. Boniface Indian School

            You are going to laugh at me because this is super lame, but my dad made me go to it. It was junior year of high school and my dad’s friend who is a professor at University of San Diego for American Studies was hosting a retreat at the Morongo Indian Reservation in Banning, California. I have like 1/1,000,000 percent Native American from my dad’s side, but he said this was an enlightening experience to learn more about who I am…blah blah blah! He went to the casino that week when my sister and I were at the retreat, so I think that was his real reason. However, I never even knew there was a place called Banning. The retreat was a four-day trip, in which we visited the Malki Museum and then camped out at the St. Boniface Indian School. The first day we were at some harvest event with the Malki Museum [called Fall Gathering] and then the last night we camped out at the former grounds of St. Boniface Indian School.

            It was fun especially because I got to interact with a college professor as a junior and USD was a school I was looking into. However, my favorite part of the retreat was the last night when we were camping. After a couple days of stereotypical activities such as weaving baskets and watching a dance performance at the museum, it was a bit weird to go to a quiet, abandoned school. The professor was telling us that the school was a boarding school for Native Americans during the early 20th century when Americans were trying to civilize the indigenous Native Americans. I was taking AP US History that year, so I did learn some practices that were used against the Native Americans. We were gathered around a campfire before going to bed and one of the graduate students told everyone a ghost story that is linked to the St. Boniface Indian School.  The story begins…

            There was a boy from the neighboring Morongo reservation who was sent to the boarding school here at the age of 12 and had to leave his mother and aunt who were the only members of his family that he knew of. Coming from a traditional family, he did not know any English and did not wear any western clothing. The first few months he attended the school, he was abused and badgered by the Catholic missionaries and instructors. If he ever spoke his native tongue, he would have his mouth washed with soap and he had his hair cut off. If he was caught ever practicing anything related to his native culture, he was beaten and one of the punishments was to stay in a cubby with a dunce hat on at the back of a classroom. One day the instructor in charge of his punishment forgot to open the crack for oxygen and the boy died from suffocation. The supervision changed after this incident, but people say that if you are quiet enough… you can hear a young boy talking in a lost language, yelling to go home to his family.

            This was my favorite story that I collected because I am currently enrolled in a Latin American culture course and we just discussed Indian boarding schools and the period of Americanization. I asked Leanne, “How did this change your outlook on your heritage or this issue?” Leanne said, “I always considered my Native American roots to be such a small part of who I am and joked about how it was a way for me to get into college! But that ghost story is something that sticks with me even now.”  The context of the story was with a campfire on abandoned camp grounds near a school with roasted corn in the fire, which is the picture perfect Hollywood image that we all have seen or can concur an image of… but it does not make the story any less authentic.

The retreat Leanne attended was for educational purposes and the activities at the Malki Museum were culturally enriching, but this ghost story was the keystone of her experience. It functions not only as a story to conserve the history of a people who were for the most part eradicated, but as a link an individual can connect to with his or her past, present, and future. This simple story of a young anonymous boy’s death speaks so many words as it gives a face to the injustice that was forced upon a group of humans and America is still in a period of healing.  One of the things that I found the most interesting was how the voice of the young boy is still crying out in his native tongue (which is now lost as many aspects of indigenous cultures due to a massive history of cultural eradication) to be able to go home. It is oddly heartwarming, but gives me goosebumps

Malki Museum website:


Folksong – North Carolina

‘The River, she is flowing, flowing and growing

The River, she is flowing back to the sea.

Oh, Mother carry me – a child I will always be.

Oh, Mother carry me, back to the sea.

Back to the sea.”

The informant learned this song at a summer camp called the Green River Preserve in North Carolina. It was a song that they would sing on the bus on the way to a hiking site or sometimes in the evening around the camp fire. It was “theoretically a Native American song” though she wasn’t sure about that. She said that if her friends ask her to sing a song and she’s not warmed up she would sing this song because “it’s an easy song and it sounds nice”. She said it was “rather haunting and almost relaxing.”

I think it makes sense that this folk song was a song from a summer camp, as they are typically for children and the line, “Oh, Mother carry me – a child I will always be” is clearly relevant for children. For a young adult to be singing this song also makes sense as being college aged is this interesting time, that some refer to as emerging adulthood, where one is in a liminal stage between adulthood and childhood and this song expresses a resistance to growing up. I also think it is particularly suited to a young woman who moved across the country from North Carolina to Los Angeles to miss her home state and the land there. The East Coast actually has rivers that are not paved in concrete and so an organic notion of a river would likely remind the informant of her home, as this song clearly references as the river in it is “flowing and growing back to the sea.” The folkness of the song, in that it seems to be a song written by the people of her home state would also suggest a certain nostalgia is at play here.

Folk Song, CN