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Paula Gunn Allen Quotes

From Jone Johnson Lewis,
Your Guide to Women's History.

Paula Gunn Allen (October 24, 1939 - May 29, 2008)

Paula Gunn Allen's mother was of Laguna, Sioux and Scottish ancestry, and her father was Lebanese-American. She was raised near Pueblo reservations and influenced by Pueblo and Hispanic-American culture. Educated as a writer with a focus on Native American studies, she was a novelist, short story writer, poet and cultural historian who also taught at the university level. She was involved in feminist, lesbian and Native American causes. Her 2003 Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat interpreted the history and story of that well-known Native American figure through American Indian perspectives.

Selected Paula Gunn Allen Quotations

• Snowflakes, leaves, humans, plants, raindrops, stars, molecules, microscopic entities all come in communities. The singular cannot in reality exist.

• I have noticed that as soon as you have soldiers the story is called history. Before their arrival it is called myth, folktale, legend, fairy tale, oral poetry, ethnography. After the soldiers arrive, it is called history.

• An odd thing occurs in the minds of Americans when Indian civilization is mentioned: little or nothing.

• Western narratives feature one figure who dominates the story, one setting that frames it, and one point of view, explicitly stated as well as implied, that defines it. Certainty is the fundamental paradigm suggested by this structure, and this analysis is reinforced by the demand that all claims be "proven." Proof is defined as impartial witness and/or repeated replication with identical results -- or citation of authoritative primary sources: witnesses and/or commentators present to testify to historical events.

However, when most of the proof is in the entire quality of the pudding, when the witnesses are as likely as not to be wind, rain, extinct forests, grasslands, long-dead buffalo, deer, clams, and the like, the proving becomes a challenge.

• A part of the culture of individualism, a name is considered unchanging: it identifies one from cradle to grave; only one per customer is allowed. With many Native Nations, it was a different matter, and among many it still is.

• Hoop Dancer is a rendering of my understanding of the process by which one enters into timelessness -- that place where one is whole.

• The basis of Indian time is ceremonial, while the basis of time in the industrialized west is mechanical.

• There is a spirit that pervades everything, that is capable of powerful song and radiant movement, and that moves in and out of the mind. The colors of this spirit are multitudinous, a glowing, pulsing rainbow. Old Spider Woman is one name for this quintessential spirit, and Serpent Woman is another. Corn Woman is one aspect of her, and Earth Woman is another, and what they together have made is called Creation, Earth, creatures, plants, and light.

• The idea that Woman is possessed of great medicine power is elaborated in the Lakota myth of White Buffalo Woman. She brought the Sacred Pipe to the Lakota, and it is through the agency of this pipe that the ceremonies and rituals of the Lakota are empowered. Without the pipe, no ritual magic can occur.

• Modern American Indian women, like their non-Indian sisters, are deeply engaged in the struggle to redefine themselves. In their struggle they must reconcile traditional tribal definitions of women with industrial and postindustrial non-Indian definitions. Yet while these definitions seem to be more or less mutually exclusive, Indian women must somehow harmonize and integrate both in their own lives.

• "Off the reservation" is an expression current in military and political circles. It designates someone who doesn't conform to the limits and boundaries of officialdom, who is unpredictable and thus uncontrollable. Such individuals are seen as threats to the power structure. They are anomalies: mavericks, renegades, queers. Seen in its historical context, designating someone "off the reservation" is particularly apt. Originally the term meant a kind of "outlaw," a Native person who crossed the territorial border, called a reserve or reservation, set by the United States or a state government. In those days "the reservation" signified a limited space, a camp, to which Native people of various nations were confined. Those who crossed the set borders were deemed renegades. They were usually hunted down, and most often, summarily shot.

• And as the cultures that are woman-centered and Mother-ritual based are also cultures that value peacefulness, harmony, cooperation, health, and general prosperity, they are systems of thought and practice that would bear deeper study in our troubled, conflict-ridden time.

• Perhaps the flaw in the concept of revolution, and thus its consequences, stems from the flaw in phallocentric thinking. Perhaps the wellsprings of Western civilization are th source of the pollution that strangles our breath and our spirit until there is nothing left but the machinery of death that orders our ever increasingly futile lives. Perhaps the universal law that requires a peony to grow only from peony seed is a law as applicable to revolutions as to plants.

If this is the case, if phenomena necessarily arise out of pre-conditioning or pre-programming of inter-related phenomena, if life really is a circle that lives and breathes in circular, inexorable terms, it beocmes imperative that we examine the roots of the civilization we wish to turn, to change, and see what basic pre-conditions in that civilization crete our present and seemingly eternal miseries.

• The Indians used to be the only inhabitants of the Americas, but times change. Having perceived us as belonging to history, they are free to emote over us, to re-create us in their history-based understanding, and dismiss our present lives as archaic and irrelevant to the times.

• In the Native American tradition ... a man, if he's a mature adult, nurtures life. He does rituals that will help things grow, he helps raise the kids, and he protects the people. His entire life is toward balance and cooperativeness. The ideal of manhood is the same as the ideal of womanhood. You are autonomous, self-directing, and responsible for the spiritual, social and material life of all those with whom you live.

• For the American Indian, the ability of all creatures to share in the process of ongoing creation makes all things sacred.

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About These Quotes

Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis 1997-2013. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.

Citation information:
Jone Johnson Lewis. "Paula Gunn Allen Quotes." About Women's History. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/library/qu/blqualle.htm . Date accessed: (today). (More on how to cite online sources including this page)

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