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Honoring the Passing of N. Scott Momaday

An image of N. Scott Momaday
“in our society as a whole we conceive of the land in terms of ownership and use.  …As an Indian I think: You say that I use the land, andI reply, yes, it is true; but it is not the first truth.  The first truth is that I love the land; I see that it is beautiful; I delight in it; I am alive in it.” - N. Scott Momaday, “A First American Views His Land”

The Aldo Leopold Foundation honors the passing, and celebrates the continuing legacy, of Kiowa writer, poet, artist, teacher, and scholar N. Scott Momaday.  Momaday was the first Native American writer to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for his debut novel House Made of Dawn (1968). Through this and other writings, Momaday inspired generations of other Native American writers and poets—a flowering of contemporary voices that continues.

From his earliest publications, Momaday drew upon his Native background in voicing his concerns over environmental degradation and the breakdown of the sacred bonds between people and the earth.  In an essay, “An American Land Ethic,” first published in 1970, he wrote:

Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe.  He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it.  He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it.  He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind.He ought to recollect the glare of noon and all the colors of the dawn and dusk.

The Aldo Leopold Foundation was honored to have featured Dr. Momaday in the documentary film Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time.  He says in the film, “We have lost sight of so much magic in the land, spiritual values. So it is time, certainly, to construct, or reconstruct, an ethic.”  His thoughtful words, and his whole body of work, frame so much of the history behind us, and the work ahead of us.  

“I believe that it is possible to formulate an ethical idea of the land—a notion of what it is and must be in our daily lives—and I believe moreover that it is absolutely necessary to do so.” - N. Scott Momaday, “An American Land Ethic.”

Aldo Leopold Foundation's Board of Directors' Kimberly Blaser also shared:

"N. Scott Momaday’s powerful writings and oral performances have impacted generations of writers, thinkers, and environmentalists. As a storyteller, he had few rivals, and he conveyed core Indigenous teachings through his stories, poems, and essays. The land knowledge and reverence for the natural world that shone through in his work inspired others to become more attentive to the animate beings and spirits all around us. He wrote: 'Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind on the remembered earth. . . to give himself up to a powerful landscape.' Momaday did that and we are all of us better for it." - Kimberly Blaeser, Founding Director of Indigenous Nations Poets | Anishinaabe activism and environmentalist | Former Director, Aldo Leopold Foundation Board of Directors

A portrait of N. Scott Momaday