Adult Reading Level

SPIDER WOMAN'S GRANDDAUGHTERS: TRADITIONAL TALES AND CONTEMPORARY WRITING BY NATIVE AMERICAN WOMEN, ed. Paula Gunn Allen, Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1989. Paper, 280 Pages, glossary, bibliography. $12.50; 0-449-90508-X

This is an anthology of writings by Native women, with a few traditional stories that tell of women's roles in myth and legendry -- a theme Allen (Laguna Pueblo) has explored at more length elsewhere. In her introduction, she analyzes the problem that all Indian writers face, in being recognized by western aesthetics, and in beiung told (by anthros) what is and is not Indian, i.e. what they should confine themselves to writing for the anthros' ideas of authenticity. She discusses some characteristics she feels define a Native aesthetic, but says that Nativ women face a further problem: Indian women are nonexistent in history and art to the mainstream society, and to a considerable extent to the Native men who define culture today. Her book is divided into 3 major thematic sections:

The Warriors explores situations -- from the viewpoint of Native women, mostly of the 19th century, both traditional (talking to anthro who is willing to record it, as Pretty Shield does) and educated (like Gertrude Bonin, Zitkala-Sa, Ella Deloria, and E. Pauline Johnson). The women warriors whose widely different stories are recounted here are fighting to save what may be saved against the white invasion and racism. Several traditional stories show the ancient values that are going down under this onslaught.

In The Casualties, the onslaught is heavier, things are altogether worse. Stories here tend to be those of daily life: Mary Joe's children are taken from her (with the collaboration of her village elders); Green Blanket Feet tells how she made the mistake of loving a white man and hopes her grandaughter won't make the same mistake; a young girl who is being shunted around orphanges and foster homes almost achieves a happy family with an old Indian couple -- but is then removed by caseworkers, just as she has found love (for me the most powerful and sad story in this book).

In The Resistance, there is a beginning of Native women's explorations of ways to survive physically, personally, and culturally in the white world that has rolled over and crushed their nations and continues to crush (especially) the men. This is sometimes by trickery, sometimes by a stolid-seeming survival-resistance that focuses on something very small in which a tiny spark of hope can be invested. Allen herself contributes a story where a native woman is exploited for her "color" as a token in a women's movement struggle, where white women are actually seeking power and are seen as thoroughly oppressive of other women of color.

There's a broad range of themes and styles here, and the several oral tradition tales included give a necessary background and perspective on continuing values. Allen's initial long analysis, is also a valuable introduction for those not familiar with native literature. Some of the stories can be enjoyed by high-school students. Won an American Book Award in 1990. Highly recommended. Reviewed by Paula Giese

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Thursday, April 04, 1996 - 10:04:03 AM