Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Organicism and Pikuni-Blackfeet Mythology: Paradigms of Mythographical Discourse Analysis

Dr. Jay Hansford C. Vest.

When examining American Indian and other primal mythology, scholars, students, and laymen alike, commonly find themselves lost in their attempts to determine meaning within these texts relative to their traditional worldviews. In most cases, scholars resort to techniques derived from Modernism and the meta-narrative of literacy, which relegates these texts and worldviews to a retro-analysis featuring the terminal creeds of modernity. The alternative, in most cases, has been to present the materials with little or no analysis whatsoever, while supplying a commentary centered upon modern motives and ideologies. The assumption is to suggest that the reader has the wherewithal to understand the rich and complex origins of such narratives and make meaning out of them within a relative universe. Likewise it is assumed that the descendants of those who originated the text(s) have nothing to say regarding the narratives or that they have in many cases become so complacent amid the modern worldview that their remarks are divisive to the interpretation of such texts. While these assumptions may find varying levels of validity in selected circles, there is need to review the foundations of mythographical discourse analysis and consider an alternate theory for evaluating such narratives in concert with traditional worldviews and value outcomes.
Examining selected American Indian myths, the paper postulates four paradigms of discourse characteristic to the analysis of mythology and narrative text. Reflective of world intellectual development, these paradigms are identified as 1) primal, that is identified as non-literate, 2) modern, characterized by literacy and the advent of the meta-narrative, 3) post-modern, where narrative relativism and free association are central outcomes, and 4) organicism, which constitutes a renewal of the primal organic or nature referents in lieu of terminal creeds and disassociation. In detailing these paradigms, the essay will focus upon assessing selected Native oral traditions or myths with attention to worldview association and the course of intellectual discourse analysis as constituted in the four paradigms as identified above. Special attention is given to the development and elucidation of an experientially based organic paradigm associated with the philosophy of organicism. This theorizing is designed to supply a methodology suitable for reading traditional mythologies in a manner consistent with the worldview of their primal origins.


Dr. Jay Hansford C. Vest  (United States)
Associate Professor of American Indian Studies
Department of American Indian Studies
University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Dr. Vest (B.A. University of Washington, M.A., M.I.S., Ph.D. University of Montana) is an Associate Professor of American Indian Studies specializing in Native American religious traditions, history and humanities at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. A Native American, Professor Vest is descendant from the Nansemond-Pamunkey-Powhatan and Saponi-Monacan-Tutelo peoples of Virginia. A 1992-1993 Fulbright Professor in Bamberg, Germany, he has taught in Montana, Washington, Arizona, Alberta, Minnesota, New York and North Carolina. Specializing in Native American Studies, he is also interested in Comparative World Mythology, Environmental Ethics and he has served on the executive board of the Western American Literature Association.

  • American Indian Mythology
  • Mythographical Discourse Analysis
  • Primal
  • Modern
  • Post-Modern
  • Organicism
Person as Subject
  • American Indians/ Native Americans

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)