Texts by and about Natives: Commentary

1. Jarold Ramsey, Joshua Creation Story

Jarold Ramsey stands among the most distinguished students of Native American stories in the Pacific Northwest, and his anthology Coyote Was Going There (Ramsey 1977) belongs on any short list of essential publications on regional literature. For Reading the Fire (1999), Ramsey combined Northwest stories with stories from other regions to depict “the traditional Indian literatures of America.” Ramsey is more than a compiler of native narratives, however; his work also probes the nature and significance of myth and legend. Ramsey analyzes the creation tale told by Charlie Depoe of the Joshua band (on the southwestern coast of present-day Oregon) alongside two other creation stories—one from the Klamath of south-central Oregon, and one from the Blackfoot of northern Montana. To explain the Joshua story, Ramsey refers to the Bible, Homer’s The Odyssey, the plays of Samuel Beckett, and the work of anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. He thus links a quite unfamiliar kind of tale to the somewhat familiar landmarks in the thought of western civilization. Readers need to ponder how well his efforts help them to understand the non-western world view of the Joshuas.

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Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest