TO BE AN INDIAN: AN ORAL HISTORY, Edited by Joseph H. Cash and Herbert T. Hoover; Minnesota Historical Society, 345 Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102, 800-647-7827; Minnesota Historical Society, 345 Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102, 800-647-7827
This is a Borealis reprint -- some 25 years after its original publication -- of a collection made in the late 1960's of oral narratives from (mostly) elders who then were in their 70's and 80's. They are from reservations in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming -- but mostly in the Dakotas and Minnesota. The collectors were from the University of South Dakota, and the Native American oral history project was one of sevral financed by wealthy recluse Doris Duke.
The book is divided into sections (often splitting on person's narratived to several sections) titled Things that Guide the People; Reservation Life; Depression, War and Revival of Self-Government; Today and Tomorrow. The first chapter is fairly pedestrian, often a repeat of legends or bits of history much-recorded elsewhere, such as was remembered in the late 1960's, i.e. there are earlier records by Indian people closer to the events and the older culture. Much mor interesting -- to someone familiar with a literature of earlier collections -- are the recollections of the politics of the 1930's and 1940's, often seen through the eyes of representatives of different factions and of tribal people employed by the BIA. Thw collected narratives of this book end with a few speeches by younger activists such as Lehman Brightman. These don't really predict the decade of turmoil and occupations of buildings, Alcatraz, Wounded Knee and many other sites, that eventually led to a recognition of a dilute form of sovereignty. Leadership of those struggles came almost entirely from younger Indians who were living in cities, though they were attempting to return to reservation roots.
The collection is unique and gives an interesting perspective -- particularly about Native feelings concerning the New Deal, the Indian Re-organization Act, and the politics of the Depression and post-world War II period. Several interesting photo-essays have been added by Minnesota Historical Society editors in this paperback reprint. The collection is descvribed as focussing on "individual concerns of Indian identity" but it does not actually seem to me to do that. The recollections of the people interviewed provide more a portrait of a way of life on reservations, as it was just before a serious struggle for sovereignty and better lives was undertaken. The sampling is fairly broad, and a diversity of opinions and memories ar presented. The MHS presents it as a valuable source for college Native American Studies courses, and so it contiues to be. It may also be a source of teacher background material on recent history for many central reservations -- all of largr, more isolated ones, outside the southwest. Reviewed by Paula Giese
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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996
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