Here is an excerpt from the great panel Kathryn Kysar, Shannon Olson, Morgan Grayce Willow & I presented at the Iowa City Conference "Nonfiction NOW." Great conference, and thanks to the organizers.
...Native thought, as I understand it, is this: Metaphor is very close to, almost identical with, reality. “The Earth is a mother” is a literal, not figurative, sentence. Every day, water and food—grains, fruits, and meats—go through my system. I breathe. I am the same substance as the earth, and I undergo the same processes as any other aspect of this creation. Leslie Marmon Silko writes about this literalness of the Earth’s matrix: “The dead become dust, and in this becoming they are once more joined with the Mother. The ancient Pueblo people called the earth the Mother Creator of all things in this world. Her sister, the Corn Mother, occasionally merges with her because all succulent green life rises out of the depths of the earth….A rock shares this fate with us and with animals and plants as well” (Yellow Woman and a Beauty of Spirit 27). The emergence of new life from old is a real, fundamental law of our planet.
A second understanding from Native philosophers is that visible and invisible experiences are one. So the present and the afterlife; this world and the world of spirit; physical reality and imagined reality—all these have equal valence.
And another is: time is exists in its own incomprehensible dimension, without being sorted into past, present, and future linear grammar.
And finally, a fourth thought from Native tradition: transformation is continuing motion—seasons, personal identities, social movements, global trends. Nothing is static. This may be the fundamental theme in all Native literature.
All these descriptions from Native writers describe my personal experiences with my mother more closely than any other worldview. First: Metaphor is more an elaboration of reality than a parallel shadow. The British literature idea of metaphor that I learned in graduate school collapses, as I look at literal creative energy in a more encompassing way.
I literally began life as my mother. I was a tiny bead of her reproductive body tissue, an egg, deep within her torso, where I grew. I was born out of her body, and for months did not understand myself as separate. My immature brain could only perceive my body as an extension of hers. Indeed, that separation of bodies and consciousness has not been complete. I look very much like my mother, except for coloring. In many ways, I am still my mother. I speak her dialect of American English, my mother tongue; I have her body type; I cook her recipes—and indeed use some of her pans, spoons, and jars; and in my garden are her sage, lemon balm, mint, daylilies, and iris—offspring of her plants from forty years ago. Of course I have struggled with this overlap in our identities. Of course I have had different education and life experiences. Yet at my core, pieces of me are still my mother, in a very literal sense. Some of these are not immediately perceptible. . . .