‘Words From a Bear’ celebrates Native American storytelling

Joel Thompson

The fourth annual ACT Human Rights Film Festival concluded with “Words from a Bear,” a documentary about the widely acclaimed and highly influential writer Navarre Scott Momaday.

Momaday is a novelist, short story writer, essayist and poet of the Kiowa Tribe. His seminal novel, “House Made of Dawn,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. Momaday is seen as one of the leading forces behind the Native American Renaissance.


The film takes a look at many different aspects of Momaday’s life such as his heritage, key moments that influenced him and most of all his love for storytelling. While Momaday is the focus of the film, the overall message expands to larger concepts of Native American culture and storytelling.

There is only one story, but there are many stories in the one. – N. Scott Momaday

The director, Jeffrey Palmer, combines animation and panoramic landscape shots with the traditional documentary format during readings of Momaday’s writing. The animation style tends to be simple, reminiscent of ancient drawings, which allow the focus to remain on the writing while also adding to the pieces.

There are also numerous photographs from Momaday’s life and other important moments in Native American history. These photos help ground the often lofty nature of the film by contrasting the work of fiction with relics of real life.

Along with Momaday, the filmmakers interview a plethora of people including the likes of Jeff Bridges, and Momaday’s daughter, Jill Momaday. Each of the interviewees sing endless praise of Momaday’s writing. By the end of the movie, Momaday stands as not only a literary giant but also as a man of character.

The documentary also provides perspectives on many facets of Native American culture and life. In order to understand the immensity behind Momaday’s storytelling, it is essential to know not only his history but his tribe’s as well. Different moments in Kiowa history are discussed in ways American history class would never touch on. These stories add to understanding the intricacies of  Momaday’s work.

After the documentary was a Q&A with Navarre and Jill Momaday. Following it was a reception for Momaday to meet with members of the audience.

“There is only one story, but there are many stories in the one,” said Navarre Momaday. “We all live in story, I believe, we have our part to play in the story of ourselves, and we must be true to the story.

“Words from a Bear,” is a holistically inspiring documentary, that intrigues and enlightens almost every part of one’s mind and emotional range.

Joel Thompson can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @probably_joel.