DRUMBEAT. . .HEARTBEAT: A CELEBRATION OF THE POWWOW, written and photographed by Susan Braine.1995; Lerner Publications Company, 241 First Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55401, 800/328-4929. Illustrated, map, bibliography, glossary. 48 pp., $6.95 paper, $19.95/$14.95 hardcover.0-8225-2656-5 SLJ(hardbound), 0-8225-9711-X (paperback); Middle School
Susan Braine, a member of the Fort Peck, Montana, Assiniboine tribe, has been a writer and photographer for many years, though her present career centers on radio. She was born on the Crow reservation, grew up mostly on the Northern Cheyenne. Writing runs in the family, through a great-grandmother (Josephine Waggoner, Hunkpapa Lakota from Standing Rock reservation), as turn-of-the-century writer, poet and artist.Despite her tribal enrollment, it's the Northern Cheyenne rez she considers home, and the 4th of July powwow she goes home to,tells about, and shows. As she explains, her family and friends are all going to meet there -- driving from far parts of the continent. "There are many, many Indians like me who choose to live and work away from the place where our families and hearts are. Many of us make it a priority to go back home to visit and replenish the soul."
Her book explains with vivid, poetyic language and many good color photos, how that replenishment happens at the big powwow. She weaves in bits of history (where the word comes from, its changed meanings; the origin, nature and meanings of various types of dances. Other things b3swides dancing and friend-family gettogethers happen at powwows. She tells about camping, food and crafts booth sales, honor guard veterans, horse parades, and gives a good sense of the conduct and progress of the doings from well before it starts through grand entry, and the various dances and drum groups.
One family, the Littlesuns, who live in Lame Deer (the Northern Cheyenne tribal headquarters town) have 6 dancing children. "During winter evenings, the Littlesuns get out their dance outfits and make repairs or design new items. The family members have their own drum group, so they also use this time to practice drumming and make up new songs they will sing during the powwow season."
There is a very nice section on giveaways -- a feature of just about every powwow. It's explained what the purpose is. I found it surprising that for this reservation today the finest gift is the "table gift"(tablecloth, dishes, silverware, cooking utensils -- sometimes complete with food inside), canned goods, fruit, bread, meat. This would be an ideal gift for newlyweds, but what of those already well-equipped? But of course the family doing a giveaway knows all the people they wish to honor with valuable gifts, and what they will like, need, can use. Braine's focus on the giveaway at the end of her book is very appropriate. Nothing seems better suited to explain Indian values, putting them in the real context of activities today.
"If you have attended a powwow, for days afterwards ... you will remember the beating of the drum in time with your heartbeat." This is an excellent book that complements several others by Lerner: Shannon: An Ojibway Dancer focuses on the life -- and dancing -- of a pre-teen girl. Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life is not part of the series (perhaps the editors felt they were getting too many powwow books in it), but is included in another series, Photo Books for pre-K - 5, i.e. younger children. More philosophical and with far more said by the dancers is the book Powwow: Images Along the Red Road by Ben Marra. Get these books and a few Canyon Records powwow tapes, and any teacher can bring some of the spirit of the powwow, and the lives of the people to whom it's very important, right into any classroom.
Like all of Lerners' "We Are Still Here" series this is not particularly agebound, but will be enjoyed by both younger and older readers than the Middle School group the series targets. Very highly recommended.
Reviewed by Paula Giese
Very highly recommended.File: mi243
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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996
Last Updated: 12/27/96