Children's Books

DAKOTA INDIANS COLORING BOOK, Drawings by Chet Kozlak, Dakota language and cultural info: Elsie M. Cavendar, Lorraine Cavendar-Gougé, and Mary C. Riley, Sisseton Band Dakota (Upper Sioux Reservation), and Evelyn M. Prescott, Mdewakanton Band Dakota (Lower Sioux Reservation); Minnesota Historical Society, 345 Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102, 800-647-7827; 1979, 32 pages oversize paperback $3.50, map, historical introduction,

This coloring book has elaborate black and white drawings, not just outlines, and will be appealing to older children to color for historical projects. It has been carefully researched pictorially by Minnesota Historical Society pros, as well as by 4 women -- knowledgable elders -- from local Dakota reservations, who supplied short captions in English and Dakota-translations describing the daily activity going on, the names of plants or objects shown. Dakota (Eastern or woodland Sioux) had the original lifstyles that were later adopted by Ojibwe who migrated into the northern part of the state, lifestyles adapted to the environment, the kinds of foods that could be raised, hunted-for and fished, gathered from wild plants.

The pictures are organized seasonally, starting with the early spring move to the maple sugaring camp, showing fishing and trappintg the men were doing. A page of beadwork design-outlines divides this from Summer, where a barkhouse village, with long, multi-family rectangular lodges was the location where the women's main work -- tilling the fields, planting, tending, harvesting corn -- was done. Men hunted the still-plentiful buffalo on the prairies, and large gatherings played sports and held feasts, dances, councils, and religious celebrations. In th fall, the Dakota people, like the Ojibwe, sought the rice lakes for this plentiful grain, as well as digging teepsinna (breadroot), and gathering the starchy tubers of arrowroot and waterlily from shallow lakes, while men fished and caught wildfowl. Winter camps dispersed the people, because hunting ranges had to be large to provide reasonable support for much smaller family groups.

The coloring book includes large, botannically accurate pictures of several important food plants, drawings of clothing and other items.It ends with a picture of Ta-oyate-duta (Red Nation Leader), known to white historians as Little Crow, made from a sketch and portrait of him as a vigorous young man, rather the well-known photo of him in his old age.

I would have liked more info -- a short lifestyle essay for each full-page to-be-colored activity, which would have doubled the size of the book and increased its cost, but would have greatly increased its educational value. The seasons sections might also have included the Dakota words for Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, as well as the activity-description captions.

A bibliography of readings would have been helpful to teachers, who will find that the full-page pix in this coloring book are ideal for classroom displays created by the children as they study daily life as it once was lived by the for millennia people, before the coming of the horse, with the shorter period of life on the plains of the horse and buffalo people (Lakota). The Dakota Way is where those people came from, but the glamorous stereotypes of the Plains receive more attention as stereeotypes of Indian people and thir lifestyles.

The intro does mention, though not in the complet cite style of a bibliography -- two Historical society pamphlets for younger readers. The current versions of these are: M-29 ($1.50) GOPHER HISTORIAN LEAFLET: THE DAKOTA OR SIOUX, for age 8+, and for 12+, a 32-page booklet, (R-12-2A), THE DAKOTA, $3.50 (12+) and the 40-page DAKOTA AND OJIBWAY PEOPLE IN MINNESOTA (R-05-2), 12+..

This coloring book's elaborate illustrations, with bits of info and Dakota phrases lends itself well to a class unit studying Dakota (Eastern Woodland Sioux). The illustrations are fairly sophisticated professional line drawings, which were researched to depict accurately pre-contact Woodland Dakota life. Tribal women concerned with education helped with topics and the Dakota captions, and reviewed the pictures for accuracy, as well as suggesting subjects. At the time this coloring book was done, both Upper and Lower Sioux tribes had to send their children to the local (very racist) public schools in southwestern Minnesota (Upper Sioux still does; Lower Sioux has recently started a tribal K - 12 school). It was hoped this and some other Historical Society books for youngsters could overcome some of the racism their kids were subjected to, which did happen when parents used these books at home (but not noticeably otherwise).

The pictures and their captions -- in English and Dakota -- provide interesting glimpses of traditional Woodland life, almost all centering on food. The book is organized around th four seasons. In fall, for example, women are shown up to their necks in water, towing a canoe, gathering psin chincha or arrowhead tubers. There's enough info there to figure out what's going on. But perhaps it would be better explained: In October, when the tubers contain the maximum stored food to get the plant through the winter and start it growing in late spring, women gathered tubers by going in the very cold lake edges and marshes and feeling them out with their toes in the mud. Dislodged tubers float to the surface, to be tossed into a canoe. Plenty are left for the plants to regrow the following spring. Water lily roots (shown) were so important a food to some tribes of the northwest that the plant is sacred to them.

One pic is a puzzler to me. It's supposed to be muskrat trapping. It shows two men who have retrieved some dead muskrats (sinkpe). One seems to be chopping into the snow-covered rat lodge with a big ax held oddly. I went on a muskrat trapline in winter once with some Ojibwe boys from Fort Totten rez in North Dakota. Traps are staked near the runs, not in lodges. A rat lodge would be opened only in desperate times when the people needed roots the rats had stored for winter. A dog probably wouldn't be taken along on a trapline run, certainly not if he were the undisciplined type who came jumping around close to the rat lodges like the one shown. So I dunno what those guys think they are doing. There's probably no rat lodges near either present upper or lower Sioux rezzes (which are surrounded by farmland) and no recent tradition of trapping there (generally a mens' activity), so perhaps the women advisors didn't realize this picture is nonsense.

While nitpicking about accuracy, I have a gripe about the picture showing women digging tipsinna, prarie turnips. The large detail-plant shown above the pic is just plain wrong. What Dakota/Lakota call tipsinna (tipsilla further wst), has several common English names (a good reason for giving the botanical one, for IDing plants). It is correctly shown,in the Ojibway Coloring Book (IDed there as breadroot). Psoralea esculenta is tipsinna's botanical name. All sorts of wild root vegetables were called variants of "Indian turnip" by white people. Some belong to the bean family, some are related to carrots, one is most commonly known as jack-in-the-pulpit. Try eating some of the latter (unless you know the special way the root tubers are prepared) and you'll get a nasty surprise.

This is an interesting coloring book for older kids, who may use other books to research and write stories about their pictures for an attractive classroom display. In addition to the large lifestyle pictures -- one of them a double-page spread of a tribal sports gathering -- smaller pictures of traditional plants, beadwork and painted buckskin traditional designs, clothing and tools are provided. The book ends with a black and white drawing made from sketches and the oil painting of the famous war leader known to white historians as Little Crow.

What's really important is that this coloring book breaks down th stereotype of the "Sioux" as existing only in the Hollywood version of the buffalo plains warrior -- a very short period of Dakota existence. Th Dakota people farmed -- corn, beans, squash -- harvsted wild rice and many other vegetables and fruits, and made maple sugar in season. They were nomadic only in the sense of travlling to 3 major food sites at different seasons: the summer planting village (which had rectangular multi-family bark lodges and cultivated fields); the fall rice lakes (tipi rice camps) and the winter sugarbush (small portable tipis, small bark storage and shelter woods lodges for the women, children and elders), while most of the men ranged far on the winter hunt, or spear-fished through the ice during the spawning season. This is a very different lifestyle from that of the western Plains (Teton).

It may also help to explain why "the Indians just couldn't adjust to becoming farmers." in the allegd attempts to civilize the peopls while taking their land. Nonsense. From the east to the Midwest, through where arid high plains and deserts make it impossible, indigenous people were very good farmers -- the women. Not the men. But that's not the way the white man did it -- their men farmed, it was very unusual (and much frowned on) for a widow woman to take up plowing and harvesting on her dead husband's farm. Eastern Dakota, like most of the northern farming native peoples didn't just think it was women's work (only women knew the appropriate ceremonies, technologies, and methods), they thought it was sacrelige if men tilled corn.

This, like the other, coloring books is an excellent educational resource, but if it had been twice as long -- with some text explaining the "food year" it could have been a much better one, for teachers (or parents) who don't know enough to place those pictures in their contexts. Until the Dakota women focussed attention on this aspect of thir traditional lives, it was pretty uch ignored by historians. Teachers in search of such background will find it in the recent (1993) WHAT DOES THIS AWL MEAN?

Older children using this coloring book will find it most interesting if one of the local histories of the Dakota people written for their age-level is read, too. Reviewed by Paula Giese

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

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 16, 1996 - 5:44:05 AM