Middle School (9 - 14) Books

WHY THE NORTH STAR STANDS STILL AND OTHER (Paiute) INDIAN LEGENDS, William R. Palmer, Illustrated by William I. Palmer and Ursula Koering, Zion Natural History Association, Zion National Park, Springdale, UT 84767, 801-772-3256; 1946; 1978. 114 Pages, black and white illustrations, glossary of Paiute words, names, place names; Pauite Astronomy; Paiute time measurements; paperback $5.50, ages 8 - 16

Dr. Palmer in the 1930's became close to the Coal Creek Band of Paiutes. He helped thm regain some land and get some decent housing by negotiating with the federal and state authorities. For this, he says, he was adopted and "was permitted to sit around the campfires under the desert stars and hear the narro-gwe-nap (official storyteller) tell the sacred legends to the silent, reverent tribesmen in the um-pug-iva-Shinob (talks about god). These legends, many sacred, were given to me only after my solemn pledge that I would not make a book of them. The Paiutes did not want their traditions held up to ridicule. They did consent to my telling these legends to school children. Some of the Indians went with me to these gatherings and found that the reactions to the stories were good and that they made friends for the tribe. Finally, the Paiutes said I might make a book of them."

Dr. Palmer thanks a great many people for the stories and mentions "many of the younger ones, who, speaking better English than their parents, have served me as interpreters." They would be elders, now.

The stories come across as strong, interesting, literate, and genuine. These are not "retold" homogenizations and not even the "as told to" sketches that one Canadian elder years ago described to me as "what we tell those anthropologists if we think they are sincere -- it is kind of like a library index card." These are the stories as actually told by and for the People, at sacred storytellings, around campfires. They have been translated with great care and fidelity by someone who just loved them for what they were -- not an anthro, not a Children's Book Author. Details of action, characterizations of animals, people, and deities, real plots, humor. The stories often "explain aspects of nature" that's true, but they usually have a human behavior teaching function as well. But this is not drawn out as a pointed moral, it is implicit in the story.

Palmer was a physician, not an anthro. He likes the stories and tells them "in all their freshness and charm" because he thinks they are being "overtaken by oblivion as the young Paiutes(of the 30's and 40's) lose interest in the beliefs of their people". That was true in the 1940's - '60's period, but the cultural recoveries began in the '70's, so today's elders -- yesterday's impatient youth -- have this cultural reserve to draw on. This book is very highly recommended. It's good reading, and the small piece on Paiute astronomy and time at the end is alone worth the bargain price. Sales of the book go to support educational activities at the park; the book was made over to the Association after Dr. Palmer's death by his children (who have illustrated it).

This is one of those obscure books that is not easy to find; I came on it in a second-hand bookstore, but checked and found it is still in print, and available from the Zion Park Association. If it is ever reprinted, I would like to see a better bio on Dr. Palmer giving some info about what happened with the Paiute Band's land; a map; some star maps correlated to the star stories and better and mor complete diagrams for the timekeeping system outlined at the end. A preface by some Paiute of the Coal Creek Band, bringing tribal history up to date would also add to the book's value. But without any of this, it is still the best collction of one tribe's stories that I've seen -- and I've seen quite a lot of them. Very highly recommended for schools and individuals. Reviewed by Paula Giese

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

Last Updated: Monday, March 25, 1996 - 4:35:49 AM