Who was Robert J. Conley, and what did he contribute to Native American literature?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of Conley's most significant contributions to Native American literature lies in his embrace of authenticity.  Conley understood that the cultural majority had its own views towards Native Americans. Conley recognized early on that if he wanted to see the voice of Native Americans represented in an authentic and meaningful way, he would have to ensure that he took a participatory role in this venture:  "I got pissed off at some of the stuff written about Ned Christie, and I decided I’d write something and fix it. That’s all I was thinking: I’ll get those sons of bitches. Boy, I killed a lot of marshals."  For Conley, being able to represent the Native American voice without filter and skewed perception was critical for him.  In works like Mountain Windsong, Conley articulated the Native American experience in American History.  He "takes the grim facts of our 'manifest destiny' and makes them come alive in a novel, which is beautiful and heartwarming as well as tragic."  His enhancement of Native American voice is extremely important to the intellectual voice of American Literature.

This becomes Conley's contribution to Native American literature.  In his works is an authentic understanding of the Native American experience.  He presents a voice that seeks to duplicate meaningful experience in what it means to be Native American.  Conley's work was recognized by his peers as embodying a sense of authentic voice, as he became the "first American Indian to lead Western Writers of America at Western Carolina University."  In such a distinction, Conley represents a significant force in Native American literature.

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rachellopez's profile pic

rachellopez | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Robert J. Conley was born in Cushing, Oklahoma. He went to Midwestern University and received a B.A. in Drama and Art as well as an M.A. in English. He started as an English instructor at Northern Illinois University and at Southwest Missouri State University. He was also director of Indian Studies at Eastern Montana College, Bacone College, and Morningside College, an Associate Professor of English at Morningside College, and an Assistant Programs Manager for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Conley is most recognized for his depiction of the old West, its history, tradition, and folklore of the Cherokee people.

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