Reference Books

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS, ed. Frederick L. Hoxie (hardcover) $95; 1996 Houghton Mifflin, 215 Park Avenue S., New York NY 10003. 756 pages, maps, indexes, photos. 0-395-66921-9

This single-volume encyclopedia, unlike the Garland which is separately reviewed bears many signs of haste in preparation. Its entries are very uneven in quality. Sad to say, some of the worst are by Indian authors, who should have received them back and been told to put in some current facts, in addition to what the elders say. A direct comparison of similar entries -- for tribes, and for delimited topics -- usually (but not always) shows up the H-M as inferior to the Garland encyclopedia as a source of knowledge. Here are some examples of that:

In the H-M, there is a very short article on the Pomo tribe, by Kathleen Smith (who is a Pomo historian) and Beverly Ortiz, who has written a great deal about Native Californians, and herself been involved with basket weavers, land struggles, and much else this tribe have been leaders in. The article simply maunders on aqbout spirituality being a part of everyday life, and when getting down to names and facts mentions a high school named after basketweaver (and author) Elsie Allen. By contrast, th4e Garland Pomo entry (by Victoria Patterson) runs 2 and a half tightly, clearly written pages. It includes -- as the H-M entry does not -- a real thumbnail history, including the Pomo land situation, Pomo leadership in Indian rights litigation, the Tillie Hardwick lawsuit which refederalized 17 terminated California rancherias and set percedents for all of them, and several current enterprises, including the Ya-Ka-Ama native plant nursery and ecological research center, founded on land eventually gained by the tribe after they occupied an abandoned CIA spy base once located there in 1970.

When I first saw the H-M Pomo entry, by two women whom I know (from many other writings) to be highly informed, closely involved, and (usually) good writers, I thought the editor might have chopped it. But after seeing others of the same inadequate, lazy, maundering top-of-the-head generality, I think it is more likely that the non-Indian editor was buffaloed by these Indian contributors, whose first drafts should have been returned to them immediately for adequate work.Those who couldn't cut it on a second draft should have been dumped for others who could. I found a number of other unfortunate entries by Indian-identified writers whose other work I'm not familiar with, so I can't tell if it's real incompetence or laziness they got away with. Peer review is necessary to identify error when such a wide variety of knowledge is required that nobody can really know about most of it whether or not it's accurate. Peer review should not be necessary to immediately identify unacceptable top of the head maunderings and babble.

There are a great many anonymous short entries (for the most part accurate and factual). These are editorially identified as having been researched and written by a team of graduate students, and are not signed even by initials. Unlike the longer pieces, these anonymous shorties do not provide bibliographies or further reading lists. I don't think anonymous entries belong in encyclopedias of general reference works at all. Keeping the authors honest and at the top of their abilities is in part done by public identification. Anonymae can get away with anything. I also do not agree with the editorial judgement that all of the short anonymae were unimportant bits of trivia that might be turned over to the grad students. Dawes Act. Deganawidah. Keetowah (the name of a society, band, and federally-recognized Cheroikee tribe). Kinzua Dam. NCAI. Pictographs. Sand painting. Those are a few anonymae picked at random paging.

Maps are one of the best ways to follow history, and for Native history, they are crucially important. The H-M has only 9 (to 28 in the Garland) and those 9 are often small and comparatively uninformative, though at least there is a map index.

Where something is uneven as this is, there are highs as well as lows. The Lumbee Tribe entry (the largest U.S. tribe which is not recognized by th3e federal government, despite years of legal maneuvering) is overwhelmingly better in the H-M than in the Garland; it is written by two of the leading Lumbee legal activists and scholars. Curiously, the Garland has another of these scholar-activists -- but only on the Garland's advisory board, not author of the Garland Lumbee entry, to which she could have contributed a great deal.

In the H-M, the article on Native architecture is confined to archaic housing: tipis, wikiups, various kinds of grass houses and dugouts -- straight out of Driver and Massey, but without the drawings. The Garland has less to say about that, writing instead of modern buildings where Indian architects combine tradition in appearance with modern construction, and often strive for energy-efficient buildings as well, exploring principles and methods used in older times that may be usable in modern times.

The H-M has it over the Garland in JoanAllyn Archambault's entry on beads and beadwork. She wrote that entry for both the H-M and the Garland. In the Garland, she sluffed the job, named only one friend as an example of modern bead artistry (with a picture of a neat but undistinguished medallion by this friend her only illustration). Perhaps she resolved to do better, or perhaps it's that in the H-M, Archambault was also on the advisory board. Whatever, her treatment (though still inadequate in illustrations -- but that's characteristic of the H-M in comparison to the Garland) is more extensive and informative.

The uneven H-M also covers some items that the Garland doesn't, which are in general off-trail but quite interesting. An example is an entry on fakes -- non-Indian imposters who posed as Indians and became rather famous for a while. But the H-M's lookup tools are so poor that I can't even find that entry now. I don't recall what the editor titled it. Although I remember the names of several of the frauds, none is in the general index. There is no topic index (such as the Garland has), so if you don't remember what Hoxie titled a topic -- so you can find it alphabetically -- you're probably out of luck on a lookup. Whereas in the Garland, you can read through several pages of topic-names, and see if anything seems relevant. So: the H-M article on the imposters -- whatever it was called -- will be quite interesting if you happen across it (as I did, reading the thing cover to cover).

One of the actively annoying features of the H-M may be another consequence of the obvious haste in which it was rushed to print. The page numbers are in a very narrow center margin gutter, so you have to crack the spine to see them whenever you're looking up anything by a page reference. "Page numbers in the outside corner" is such a layout must that likely it's a mistake caused by haste -- a page was inserted at the last moment in the front matter, and it switched the numbers from outer upper corner to inner upper corner in the spine gutter. This makes the end-of-book general index (which is so thoroughly inadequate they must have done it by dumb computer, rather than a very smart, professional indexer) even more of a pain to use than the pain caused by the fact that a great many proper names (every one of which should be indexed) are not there. Haste, all signs of haste.

The same major error of judgement that mars the Garland (assigning controversial and factional Ward Churchill to write about the American Indian Movement which he did in a biassed-to-his-faction way) will be found here also,. But maybe not so many people will see Churchill's distortions, because he's buried under "Radicals and Radicalism, 1900 - present" while the very short (1/2 column) article on AIM is by one of the anonymous grad students. The entry on "Alcatraz, Occupation of" is also by one of the anonymae and similarly short and uninformative. The Garland, by contrast, has almost 2 pages, a bibliography, and provides some indication of why this first big, long-lasting (almost 2 years) occupation and land-claim was so important -- it touched off a host of similar occupations all over, and brought into being a generation of native youth determined on land and sovereignty as their first priorities.

Overall, it is to the Garland that students, teachers, and researchers should first turn for quick lookups. If it is at hand, check the H-M afterwards to see if there is a different angle on your lookup, or if an omission from the Garland is included in the H-M (in some manner such that you can find it on a lookup). The H-M may be supplementary to the Garland, but the carelessness and indulgence of inadequate entries with which it was put together make it a poorer overall reference. No encyclopedia editor can know everything his or her experts write entries about, but it is certainly easy to recognize self-indulgent top-of-the-head crap. If such entries are turned in by someone who was recommended as a native scholar, give that person one chance to get to work and write an actual encyclopedia entry, then get somebody else, because you are being had by a hype artist, or by someone too lazy or busy -- or too poor a writer -- to do this job.

Encyclopedias are reference works that see most use by schoolchildren (who have a tendency to copy their entries as a bit of research assignment fakery), teachers, and generally by scholastic novices. Their responsibility is to provide clear, accurate and succinct overviews, not to indulge any writers (even if -- as is not the case here --they happeed to be quite famous) by accepting unacceptable maunderings. Moreover, tools of access diffeernt ways to look up whatever it is you are trying to find -- are critical to encyclopedias, and this one lacks them in almost all regards.

College and university libraries should certainly have both of these works, but if a school can afford only one, Garland is It, probably at least for 6 more years of work on an encyclopedia project. For individuals, or low budgets, it's the Garland. Neither of the others is available in low-cost paperback, but if the Garland were still only avbailable as a $100 hardcover, it would still be the #1 reference of choice for home libraries and students, where most likely only one such work will be on the shelves.

Both works are poor on Canadian Native matters. All have kept costs down by omitting any color illustrations -- which is particularloy bad for all of the entries on arts and crafts, dance, regalia -- and makes many maps less clear than they could have been by the use of color. HGeneral encyclopedias manage to sell at affordable prices -- comparable single-volume ones on special interest topics or for students -- with color sections. That should be done here, too.

Summing up: Buy this if you already have the Garland and have the money for a complementary volume. Don't rely on it, except where the Garland proves up missing on something, or the H-M has an interesting sidelight -- which you are able to find.

Why did it get a thumbs-up, when I've been so critical? Because of the fact that although the Garland is a winner in any point-by-point comparison, this is a fairly extensive reference work whose uneveness means some distinctive ups as well as the easier-catalogued downs. There's no question at all which one is the must have, the Garland. But if that did not exist, I would be pretty excited about the H-M. I think it will probably be another generation (10-20 years) before the definitive and complete Indian encyclopedia -- something as authoritative as the Britannica used to be 20 or 30 years ago -- comes to light, if ever.

Reviewed by Paula Giese

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

Last Updated: 12/26/96