PLAINS INDIANS DIORAMA TO CUT AND ASSEMBLE; Kalmenoff, Matthew; Dover (1985), 14 color plates, assembly diagrams, map, 32 pages (printed one side, oversize stiff paper), $5.95; ISBN 0-486-24919-0. Grades 5-6

Some books you just can't figure out why anyone did it; this is one such. Considering price vs. print cost, can't have been the money.

Dover has made a good thing out of reprinting material whose copyrights have expired. This has kept some good works available at low prices. Here Dover decided to get into original publication. Unfortunately the project is one most kids (who have the necessary dexterity to make cutouts with Exacto knives) will find stupid. You must do a lot of work (conscientiously I made the thing in order to review the sourcebook) for ugly, unimpressive results which convey pseudo-information.

The book consists mainly of a lot of color cutouts printed on stiff paper. Some are to be cut, glued to oak tag board, folded, and glued together to form a little box 11 1/2" wide, 8 3/8" high, and 4 1/2" deep, with a proscenium-arch stage formed by a rectangular opening in the front, a floor, back and interior sides painted to resemble the U.S. plains of the 19th century, and a backdrop showing a Plains village. This has uncharacteristically colorful tipis, uncharacteristically crowded together. A second backdrop -- a distant buffalo herd -- can be slid in, at least if you shave its sides down a bit and hold it on with tape. The little box's top is open, for putting in the, ah, Indians. Cutouts, I mean -- they tend to fall over.

The Plains tribe involved is, in Kalmenoff's artistic rendition, representatives of the little- known Grim, Glum, Hairless Gorilla Tribe. Of dozens of people represented in cutouts and backdrop village, no one is smiling. No faces look relaxed. Square, lumpy, with pushed-in, flattened wide noses, they are a mean-looking, glowering lot. Even kids appear zombie-like with peculiar, recessive chins.

Accompanying text -- the learning material -- is full of racism and misinformation. There are many linguistic clues that Kalmenoff is one of those romantic (about his notions of Plains Indians) Germans -- a modern Karl May. He tells us "The Plains chieftains...are imprinted on our memory, as are the tragic debacles at Little Bighorn ('Custer's Last Stand') and Wounded Knee...." Wounded Knee is not a "battle" or "debacle". It was a massacre of a band who had surrendered and were being brought in to imprisonment on the Pine Ridge reservation. Similarly, many of us consider Greasy Grass a brief moment of triumph, caused by the arrogance of an officer notorious for the second massacre conducted against the survivors of Black Kettle's peaceful Cheyenne band.

"Their very names -- the Cheyenne, the Blackfeet, the Comanche, the Crow, the Arapaho, and, best known of all, the Sioux (or as they called themselves, the Dakota)..." Um, yeah. The Dakota as they call themselves are the eastern Woodland Sioux, not out there on the plains. Plains Sioux call themselves Lakota. We also get a sprinkling of random Indian words, such as "Calumet" (from the Eastern Seaboard) to describe the "peace pipe". According to Kalmenoff "Inhaling its smoke was supposed to clarify one's thoughts and impart divine power." (Actually the Pipe is an altar, the smoke a connection between the people and the spiritual.)

Kalmenoff's mini-history ends with this: "As the buffalo itself has been rescued from near- extinction, there is reason to believe -- it certainly is to be hoped -- that the remarkable culture of the Indians of the Great Plains of North America will not be permitted altogether to vanish." Hey, thanks, guy.

--Paula Giese

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

Last Updated: Tuesday, October 29, 1996 - 12:53:47 AM