N. Scott Momaday, fully Navarre Scott Momaday

N. Scott
Momaday, fully Navarre Scott Momaday

Native American Kiowa-Cherokee Pulitzer Prize-winning Writer, National Medal of Arts

Author Quotes

He used both hands when he made the bear. Imagine a bear proceeding from the hands of God.

It was not an exclamation so much, I think, as it was a warding off, an exertion of language upon ignorance and disorder.

The events of one?s life take place, take place. How often have I used this expression, and how often have I stopped to think about what it means? Events do indeed take place, they have meaning in relation to things around them.

Hold hard this infirmity. It defines you. You are old. Now fix yourself in summer, in thickets of ripe berries, and venture toward the ridge where you were born. Await there the setting sun. Be alive to that old conflagration one more time. Mortality is your shadow and your shade. Translate yourself to spirit; be present on your journey. Keep to the trees and waters. e the singing of the soil.

Lola Bourne bought one of his paintings, an acrylic on paper entitled 'Night Window Man.' It was a strange piece, even to Set, and it was powerful. It was a bright green frame, a window, in which was a roiling blue and gray background, a thick, ominous depth; and from this there emerged a figure, a grotesque man with red hair and red dress, approaching. Set had begun with nothing but color in mind; it had taken form quickly and of itself, as it were. He thought well of it, but he supposed it would not sell.

The horse Dog bolted, and butterflies sprang from the grass. They rose to spangle the sky, to become the prisms and confetti of the sun, to make a wide, revolving glitter, an illumination on the air like a magnified swarm. He beat his hooves into the rosy earth, throwing up clods like hail. He raced along with his head and tail high, making a streak like smoke on the skyline. Then, dispassionately, he returned to the girl on the knoll and began to graze.

Houses are like sentinels in the plain, old keepers of the weather watch. There, in a very little while, wood takes on the appearance of great age. All colors wear soon away in the wind and rain, and then the wood is burned gray and the grain appears and the nails turn red with rust. The windowpanes are black and opaque; you imagine there is nothing within, and indeed there are many ghosts, bones given up to the land. They stand here and there against the sky, and you approach them for a longer time than you expect. They belong in the distance; it is their domain.

Loneliness is an aspect of the land. All things in the plain are isolate; there is no confusion or objects in the eye, but one hill or one tree or one man. To look upon that landscape in the early morning, with the sun at your back, is to lose the sense of proportion. Your imagination comes to life, and this, you think, is where Creation was begun.

The journey began one day long ago on the edge of the northern Plains. It was carried on over a course of many generations and many hundreds of miles. In the end there were many things to remember, to dwell upon and talk about. "You know, everything had to begin. . . ." For the Kiowas the beginning was a struggle for existence in the bleak northern mountains. It was there, they say, that they entered the world through a hollow log. The end, too, was a struggle, and it was lost. The young Plains culture of the Kiowas withered and died like grass that is burned in the prairie wind. There came a day like destiny; in every direction, as far as the eye could see, carrion lay out in the land. The buffalo was the animal representation of the sun, the essential and sacrificial victim of the Sun Dance. When the wild herds were destroyed, so too was the will of the Kiowa people; there was nothing to sustain them in spirit. But these are idle recollections, the mean and ordinary agonies of hu- man history. The interim was a time of great adventure and nobility and fulfillment. Tai-me came to the Kiowas in a vision born of suffering and despair. "Take me with you," Tai-me said, "and I will give you whatever you want." And it was so. The great adventure of the Kiowas was a going forth into the heart of the continent. They began a long migration from the headwaters of the Yellowstone River eastward to the Black Hills and south to the Wichita Mountains. Along the way they acquired horses, the religion of the Plains, a love and possession of the open land. Their nomadic soul was set free. In alliance with the Comanches they held dominion in the southern Plains for a hundred years. In the course of that long migration they had come of age as a people. They had conceived a good idea of themselves; they had dared to imagine and determine who they were.

A single knoll rises out of the plain in Oklahoma, north and west of the Wichita Range. For my people, the Kiowas, it is an old landmark, and they gave it the name Rainy Mountain. The hardest weather in the world is there. Winter brings blizzards, hot tornadic winds arise in the spring, and in summer the prairie is an anvil's edge. The grass turns brittle and brown, and it cracks beneath your feet.

I am a member of the Kiowa Gourd Dance Society; I visit sacred places such as Devil's Tower and the Medicine Wheel. These places are important to me, because they've been made sacred by sacrifice, by the investment of blood and experience and story.

Most Indian people are able to see in these terms. Their view of the world is peculiarly native and distinct, and it determines who and what they are to a great extent. It is indeed the basis upon which they identify themselves as individuals and as a race. There is something of genetic significance in such a thing, perhaps, an element of being which resides in the blood and which is, after all, the very nucleus of the self. When old man Cheney looked into the sunrise, he saw as far into himself, I suspect, as he saw into the distance. He knew certainly of his existence and of his place in the scheme of things. In contrast, most of us in this society are afflicted with a kind of cultural nearsightedness. Our eyes, it may be, have been trained too long upon the superficial, and artificial aspects of our environment; we do not see beyond the buildings and billboards that seem at times to be monuments of our civilization, and consequently we fail to see into the nature and meaning of our own humanity. Now, more than ever, we might do well to enter upon a vision quest of our own, that is, a quest after vision itself. And in this the Indian stands to lead by his example. For with respect to such things as a sense of heritage, of a vital continuity in terms of origin and of destiny, a profound investment of the mind and spirit in the oral traditions of literature, philosophy, and religion?those things, in short, which constitute his vision of the world?the Indian is perhaps the most culturally secure of all Americans.

The journey herein recalled continues to be made anew each time the miracle comes to mind, for that is peculiarly the right and responsibility of the imagination. It is a whole journey, intricate with motion and meaning; and it is made with the whole memory, that experience of the mind which is legendary as well as historical, personal as well as cultural. And the journey is an evocation of three things in particular: a landscape that is incomparable, a time that is gone forever, and the human spirit, which endures. The imaginative experience and the historical express equally the traditions of man's reality. Finally, then, the journey recalled is among other things the revelation of one way in which these traditions are conceived, developed, and interfused in the human mind. There are on the way to Rainy Mountain many landmarks, many journeys in the one. From the beginning the migration of the Kiowas was an expression of the human spirit, and that expression is most truly made in terms of wonder and delight: "There were many people, and oh, it was beautiful. That was the beginning of the Sun Dance. It was all for Tai-me, you know, and it was a long time ago."

A word has power in and of itself. It comes from nothing into sound and meaning; it gives origin to all things.

I am an Indian and I believe I?m fortunate to have the heritage I have. "I grew up in two worlds and straddle both those worlds even now. It has made for confusion and a richness in my life. I?ve been able to deal with it reasonably well, I think, and I value it.

Most is your name of this dark stone. Deranged in death, the mind to be inheres forever in the nominal unknown, the wake of nothing audible he hears who listens here and now to hear your name. The early sun, red as a hunter's moon, runs in the plain. The mountain burns and shines; and silence is the long approach of noon upon the shadow that your name defines-- and death this cold, black density of stone.

The spiritual reality of the Indian world is very evident, very highly developed. I think it affects the life of every Indian person in one way or another.

And suddenly he had the sense of being all alone, as if he were already miles and months away, gone long ago from the town and the valley and the hills, from everything he knew and had always known.

I have a pretty good knowledge of the Indian world by virtue of living on several different reservations and being exposed to several different cultures and languages.

My father was a painter and he taught art. He once said to me, 'I never knew an Indian child who could not draw.'

The valley was gray with rain, and snow lay out upon the dunes. It was dawn. The first light had been deep and vague in the mist, and then the sun flashed and a great yellow glare fell under the cloud.

As far as I am concerned, poetry is a statement concerning the human condition, composed in verse.

I have deep roots in this Oklahoma soil. It makes me proud.

My grandmother had a reverence for the sun, a holy regard that now is all but gone out of mankind. There was a weariness in her, and an ancient awe.

There was a house made of dawn. It was made of pollen and of rain, and the land was very old and everlasting. There were many colors on the hills, and the plain was bright with different-colored clays and sands. Red and blue and spotted horses grazed in the plain, and there was a dark wilderness on the mountains beyond. The land was still and strong. It was beautiful all around.

Author Picture
First Name
N. Scott
Last Name
Momaday, fully Navarre Scott Momaday
Birth Date

Native American Kiowa-Cherokee Pulitzer Prize-winning Writer, National Medal of Arts