The literacy of Indigenous peoples of America underwent extreme transformations as the tedious attempts by descendants of colonizers to integrate aspects of white American life into Indigenous customs continued. Native American literacy exclusively consisted of oral traditions prior to the arrival of British colonizers in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. These oral traditions were, and still are, key elements of Indigenous culture as they serve to distribute cultural lessons, record histories, and share religious legends through the generations and amongst others. As the basis of Indigenous culture these traditions were one of the primary features of Native American life that scholars and missionaries devoted themselves to exploring and further altering in order to forcibly conform Indigenous peoples to white lifestyles. European ideals strongly differ from those of the Indigenous Native peoples of America but notably regarding written language. European ideals emphasized the importance of written language and disregarded the spoken aspects of literacy that Indigenous people utilized for generations. The lack of a written language was further reasoning for Europeans to conclude that Native Americans had no tangible history and were lesser people. These reasonings, amongst others, resulted in the initiative for the development of written Indigenous languages and forced education across America. Native American literacy expanded throughout the 1800s in the form of the development of written languages and spread of English as a result of mission work, the need for government involvement, and the threat of a disappearing culture, as a result of European views on Indigenous lifestyles.
Lawhorn, Alyssa, "Impacts on Native American Literacy Throughout the 1800s" (2023). Undergraduate Research Awards, Hollins University. 70.
Alyssa Lawhorn 2023 Interview.pdf (125 kB)
Alyssa Lawhorn 2023 Interview
Undergraduate Research Awards - 2023 Finalist, FY/Sophomore category