American Indians were the first inhabitants of this land now called United States. There presence existed in a time before the United States was actually created or even a possibility. With the arrival of the "white man" many things changed for the indigenous people of this land. However, the Native American's influenced the white men in more ways than many realize. Through their culture, beliefs, and traditions Native Americans influenced the arrival of the new man, including modern American literature.
There were more than two thousand tribes in the Americas when Columbus first came to the West Indies in 1492. In the next five hundred years, due to European settlement, many of the tribes were destroyed or threatened by disease, war, and government policies. There are about five hundred tribes remaining in the United States today (Harvey 11). The destruction of these tribes means not only the demise of lives but also the demise of a culture.
Even though the indigenous people suffered great loss in land and culture their pride and traditions live on. It is through these surviving traditions stories of early times are salvaged. Most of the Native American traditions distinguish between songs and narratives. Many also consider prayer as another group of expression (Niatum 30). Contemporary Navajo singer Andrew Natonabah, for example speaks of how "the stories, the songs, and the prayers come together to form a literature," (Ruoff 2).
Original Native American stories were performed orally in the native language of their tribe. They were passed down from generation to generation: grandparents told grandchildren, dances or songs were performed, and designated orators told the tribal community (Bierhorst 3). .
The oration of stories and legends was very important to Native American writers. These stories told Natives how to live their daily life and how to treat others. The parents play a major part in Native American writing, showed in the poem "A story of How a Wall Stand", written by Simon Ortiz.