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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Foundations of Tribal Society: Art, Dreams, and the Last Old Woman


The Last Old Woman is a story written in the traditional Euchee de'ela style. These de'ela, told in our language, often involved animals, usually told to children. Unfortunately, these are seldom heard any more for many reasons, not the least of which is the changing, or disappearing, structure of Euchee society. This de'ela is a parable about what can happen when we no longer tell our stories, no longer use our language, no longer gather together to remember. The story illustrates how simple structures within our traditional tribal society may require explanation to those not of our tribal society, sometimes including own people. When we discuss traditional people and their beliefs rarely do we articulate the issues using the forms to which they themselves subscribe. Forms matter, process matters.

Following the Last Old Woman an essay lays out how art, language and ceremony comprise our tribal societies. But these cannot exist individually if we wish self-determination to mean anything. Art, culture, language, traditionas, and ceremony—society—are intricately woven together. One is the other: art (for us mostly song and dance) is sacred and the sacred has life. One can look to various markers to see how this lack of coherent society impacts tribal people. Our languages disappear, ceremonies cease. Native Art is produced for outsiders. Many traditional Indigenous People face an uncertain future unless space is created for our society. Yet our traditional people still dream this future into existence. But our advocates and attorneys must help to implement this dream. Thus, we must celebrate our tribal forms, and recognize the work done by such as Rabbit and the Last Old Woman so that their end does not arrive.

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