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Native American Rhetorical Traditions

An introduction to Native American historical speeches and contemporary debates.


What is rhetoric?

One way to put it, “rhetoric” is any communication used to modify the perspectives of others (Purdue Owl)

However, for the language/communication art whose traditions go back for millennia, alternative definitions abound:  

Rhetoric is "the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion." (Aristotle)

"Rhetoric is the art of speaking well" or "...good man speaking well." (Quintilian)

The duty and office of Rhetoric is to apply Reason to Imagination for the better moving of the will.” (Francis Bacon)

All language is the language of a community, be this a community bound by biological ties or by the practice of a common discipline or technique. The terms used, their meaning, their definition, can only be understood in the context of the habits, ways of thought, methods, external circumstances, and traditions known to the users of those terms“ (Haim Perelman)


This guide introduces information resources to support learning about Native American rhetorical traditions and contemporary practices.

About this Guide

The resources listed in this guide have been chosen to illustrate major avenues of rhetorical work, understood as using words and symbols to adapt ideas to people and people to ideas. The materials sample rhetorical practices of Indigenous and Native people in oratory/speech, images, sound, and crafts. Other areas (such as dance and theatre/drama) are referenced as well. 

Using this guide as a starting point, patrons are encouraged to explore resources in the libraries, archives, museums listed here and beyond.

To facilitate a more efficient discovery of field-specific content, use a variety of KEYWORDS and their combinations:


  • Native American(s)
  • Indigenous
  • Speech
  • Rhetoric
  • Oratory
  • Oral speech
  • Address
  • Persuasion
  • Narrative
  • Story-telling
  • Discourse
  • Public discourse 
  • Public speech 
  • Argument or Argumentation
  • Reasoning
  • Appeals
  • Symbol or Symbolic
  • Tropes
  • Common topics/topoi
  • Rhetorical situation 


Although rhetorical practices of Native American peoples go back for centuries (e.g. petroglyphs, wintercounts, beadwork), this guide emphasizes contemporary rhetoric and recent history. Historical primary texts (e.g., speeches, manifestos, stories, narratives, and memoirs) are included as a background against which present-day practices are deployed to maintain identities, manage community, and enact change. 

Media discourse “about” Native Americans, such as the depiction of Native American life in the news and cinematic arts is not presented here. A large body of works in literary and film criticism that deals with representation and stereotyping falls outside the thematic scope of this guide as well. 


Most resources listed in this Guide are anchored in the collections available at the Tommaney Library or accessible free of charge online. A few items accessible in archival holdings in person only (or requiring subscription to view online) are noted appropriately. 


The work on this LibGuide has been supported by a Carnegie-Whitney grant from the American Library Association (2020).

Several students contributed to identifying and describing resources listed in the pages that follow: Madeline Fillips (master’s program, the School of Information, UT Austin), Emily V. Vernon (master’s program, the School of Information, UT Austin), and Madeleine C. Olson (doctoral program,  Department of History, UT Austin).