INDIAN GIVERS: HOW INDIANS TRANSFORMED THE WORLD (VOL 1 OF A 2-BOOK SET), Crown Publishers, 1989, 260 pp, paperback, $9
Contributions of indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere to the world: agriculture, medicine, architecture, science. Most importantly. Weatherford shows the large amounts of (gold) extracted by several European countries at the start of their exploitations provided the substantial excesses monies -- surplus wealth -- that financed the transformation of European societies from craft-and-fief oriented to capitalistic, large enterprises, bank financing, the growth of a bourgeois middle class economy. Slave labor -- Indians were among the slaves -- financed the growth of America (treated in Vol 2) but monetary metals extracted from Mexico, central and South America financied the growth of Europe. This analysis is probably the more important contribution of this volume; however, the contributions of Western hemisphere vegetables to the growth of substantial mass agriculture, and other effects on history, are also examined. Review Note by Paula Giese, see combined review vols 1, 2
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NATIVE ROOTS: HOW INDIANS ENRICHED AMERICA, Jasck Weatherford, Crown Publishers, 285 pp paperback, $10.
This is volume 2 of Weatherford's compilation and analysis of Native America's contributions to both the growth of modern European economioes and the formation of America (mostly the U.S., though there is some Canadian material). As vol. 1 focussed outward, to what Europe gained, vol. 2 focusses inward. Perhaps the most important aspect of what was gained is philosophical, political: the concept of "United states" and later of "United Nations" which came from the Haudenosee (Iroquois) League. TYhe very idea was foreign to Europe and the orient: a stat3 or nation assimilated others by conquest. There were empires, and pacts (for musutal defense) among indpendent states, but not confederated governments, that left local concerns to the component states and governned by federation for overarching concerns of all. As with Vol 1, this book contains much else, ranging from Native medicines and physical survival helps by early settlers to the role that Indian slavery played in launching and financing colonial penetrations. Review note: Paula Giese
Review, vols 1 and 2: As Jack Weatherford examined the life expectancy rate of a population in Kah, Germany, he never thought too much about Native Americans; then he discovered that the potato greatly enhanced the health and vitality of the pople. Weathrford further realized that the potato did not come from Europe but from Natives of the Americas.
" when I realized that the potato came from Native America, I started asking what else came from America," the Macalester anthropologist said. "I went looking for good documentation, but I couldn't find anything. So I started compiling the research to fill in my own education."
Some 30 countries and 15 years later Weatherford satisfied his curiosity with a two-book volume on Native contributions. The first, Indian Givers came out in 1989 and examines the influence that natives of North and Spouth America had on the world. The second and current (1991) book, Native Roots looks inward at the impact Native Americans have had on Americans and the United States economy, miulitary, and government structure.
"I tried to show how the Indians taught the settlers to survive and how they continue to nourish us (Americans) today," Weatherford said. "What dos the world buy from us today. It's not our cars, televisions or radios, it's our agriculture goods, like Indian corn."
From the opening pags, Weatherford gives the newcomer to Native American history and culture plenty of facts to go on. He picks up where American History leaves off by tracking Native contributions from the arrival of European explorers all the way up to the use of Navajo codetalkers in World War II. Weathrford's early references ar to the services provided by Native Americans -- guides, foodstuffs, fur trading, warfare, as well as hunting and farming techniques -- which most settlers sorely needed and often demanded by force. Each chapter starts lik a travelog and uses that scene to dscribe the history of Native contributions and how they were crucial to the development of the United States.
Weatherford's straightforward facts help fill in the gaps missing in the white education system and dispel the myth that American was built solely through settlers' hard work and ingenuity. He also points out that Squanto and thousands of other Natives who helped early settlers with food eventually were killed off by fevers and epidemic diseases.
These early chapters go no furthr than the facts of the genocide and spend littl time outrightly criticizing the Europeans for their actions. Some readers will find his fact-filled objective approach a less threatening way to attain an understanding of Native Americans. But many white readers may walk away unconvinced that Natives deserve a second look. Without an emotional punch to his words, Weatherford leaves certain readers saying "so what" and having little motivation to get up and act on the destruction of Native culture and lifestyle still going on today.
For example, Weatherford says eloquently how the great pyramids of Cahokia, in southern Illinois were overlooked by early explorers because they lacked the grandiose style of Europe, saying:
"The continent did not speak to the newcomers because the civilizations of North America did not always speak in a loud tone. They spoke in earth and wood, in fiber and textile, in bead and shell....Even the stone buildings at Chaco canyon in New Mexico or Mesa Verde in Colorado spoke in a softer tone, without the triumphant arches, expansive domes, soaring pillars or other modes of imperial adornment and ostentation."
However in describing the white man's destruction of most Native American architecture, he lacks the necessary emotion that many Native Americans must feel when seeing their tribe's sacred structures turned into farms and parking lots. In trying not to offend, he forgets that many people still need to hear that the white man's actions were plainly wrong.
Weatherford says he taks a subtle approach on issues like the fur trade or Native architectur because you cannot argue about these points. He expects the reader would be more receptive to harder-hitting parts like the harsh treatment of mixed-vblood Native Americans who were often treated no bettr than prostitutes. "I'm really trying to convince pople, and you don't convince people by attacking thenm," he says. He is an outspoken advocate of treaty rights and abolishing Clumbus Day.
"I don't want the reader to feel like an outsider," he said. "I try to stress more of the positive than th negative. As a writer, I never say the most important things. I let the reader do that."
The facts do take on a more controversial turn, as Weatherford moves onto such issues as Indian slavery and the use of American Indian intellectuals like Ojibwe Jane Schoolcraft and Mohawk Ely Parker for the benefit of early explorers and anthropologists. Here the rader senses the voice of Weatherford, as he describes the disgusting antics of settlers and, more so, early European explorers in search of gold and jewels. The most emotional and saddening of these is the chapter depicting Indian slavery. Taking us to a Santa Barbara mission, Weatherford describes how erly Franciscan missionaries enslaved most Chumash, and eventually, through disease and maltreatment, killed them off in the name of Christianity. This slaughter, Weatherford said, was coimmon through the newly colonizd nation, as settlers depended on slavery to build diffrent parts of America. The pioneer of Indian slavery, Christopher Columbus, took back the first 25 Native Americans to Spain, only to make it a practice by selling Caribbean Indians in the Portuguese Azores to fund his travels.
"Columbus pursued a deliberate policy of using Indian slavery and Indian labor to finance the conquest of the new lands. Within the first decade of Columbus's arrival, the Spaniards had shipped out at least 3,000 Indian slaves and as many as 6,000 ...Columbus set a precedent that virtually every explorer followd in th succeeding years."
Weathrford closes his book with the message that it's time Americans, primarily the Europeans, learn from the harshness of their forefathers and take care to support Native culture as thy would the Great Tree. If thy don't, both will suyrely wither away. "I think Native American civilization is one of the great civilizations of th world," said Weatherford as he sat surrounded by maps of the world and blowguns from Natives of Bolivia. "I think Native civilizations will have a great role to play in the 21st century. We're starting to see the beginnings of a Native American Rennaissance."
Weatherford's message has been warmly received by most Native communities. Many native tachers are using these books in their classrooms. The award-winning author has also spoken at many native functions, ahd thge Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota clebrated his new book by having a powwowo in its honor. In the near future, a Native American film team will produce a 5-part documentary for PBS based on the books.
Responding to Native critics who complain that cultural anthropologists studying them give little in return, Weatherford said he has given profits from his books to both the American Indian College Fund and Native American Rights Fund. In the past, he gave th entire profits of a book on Bolivia to Bolivian street kids displaced by the drug wars there.
Mainstream media have responded positively to both books. But Weatherford said it will take a tremendous effort to overcome th stereotypes of Natives as blood-thirsty savages and settlers as a people who took an empty continent and turned it into the United States. (PG Note: especially since Canada and Mexico fit in there somewhere, too.) But as people gain access to new materials on Native Americans and question the stereotypes learned in school, attitudes and actions can change, Weatherford said.
Reviewed by Michael Casey, Minneapolis Circle Indian Newspaper, January, 1991
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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996
Last Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 1996 - 2:37:50 AM