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THE NATIVE EXPERIENCE IN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN, Ed. Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale, New Society Publishers, 4527 Springfield Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19143, 800-333-9093; send $3 plus price of book for mail orders. 3rd edition, 1992, 312 pages, reviews, articles, lists, bibliographies, index, $24.95 paper, $49.95 hardcover. 0-86571-213-1; Can 1--55092-165-7
The authors, one a children's librarian who is Santee Dakota-Cree, the other a long-time activist author of several anti-bias bibliographies of children's books, are part of a Berkeley group of Native artists, writers and educators called Oyate formed in the 80's to combat racism in education. Thjis book pulls together a number of short articles -- some reprinted from sources that would be impossible to find about stereotyping and inaccuracies about Native people in children's books and education generally (school Thanksgivings come in for knocks from Modoc Michael Dorris for example). There are 124 pages of book reviews -- seemingly mostly by the editor-authors -- and a 32-page checklist of how to recognize good and bad children's books on Native Americans (with examples of comparative good and bad for all characteristics) which is available separately for $8. Bibliographies are still somewhat useful, though compiled in 1972, where certain classics (mostly not children's books) are included. But the list of resources -- groups, small publishers, Indian associations -- is entirely outdated and useless, should be updated in the next edition with new organizations and contacts. See long review and catalog sources of hard-to-find books by Native authors. Reviewed by Paula Giese, ch39
FROM ABENAKI TO ZUNI: A DICTIONARY OF NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBES, by Evelyn Wolfson, illustrated by William Sauts Bock, Walker and Company, New York: 1988. Paperback, 1995. 215 pages, index, bibliography, appendix tribal listing. $9.95 paperback. 0-8027-7445-8
This reference work for children and young people has been a good seller and favorably reviewed in non-Indian periodicals on children's books. It is a weapon of cultural genocide, whose principal disgrace is not due to its ignorant and racist author, but to Harvard professor Jeffrey Brain, of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, who reviewed the whole thing and writes a foreward commending the author's historical accuracy. Read long review of this incredibly awful children's reference work, which has been well received by white educators, and after good hardcover sales now comes out also in paperback. Paula Giese
A BOY BECOMES A MAN AT WOUNDED KNEE by Ted Wood with Wanbli Numpa Afraid of Hawk. Walker and Company, 435 Hudson St., N.Y., NY 10014, (800) AT-WALKER, (212) 307-1764 FAX. Simultaneously published by Thomas Allen and Son, Ltd., Markham, Ontario, Canada. 1992, Illustrated, map. 48 pp., $6.95 paper. 0-8027-7446-6
Wanbli Numpa Afraid of Hawk, an eight-year-old Oglala Lakota from the Cheyenne River Reservation, recounts the story of the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890. On the 100th anniversary of the tragic event, the boy participates in a 150-mile journey, retracing the steps of Big Foot and braving temperatures of 50 degrees-below-zero to mend the sacred hoop. When the final ceremony is over, Wanbli Numpa is a Big Foot rider. Wood's photographs depict the riders braving the frigid conditions, offering prayers, and honoring the dead warriors. A powerful document, should be required reading in classes studying Native Americans. Ages: 10+ Grade: A. Reviewed by: Steve Brock
PG Note: There's a wonderful video of the first Wounded Knee winter Memorial ride of 1990, when the Bigfoot Riders were founded. See for more personal info about that from Arvol Looking Horse, one of the leaders. See Audio-Visual Page here for more info about it and how to order.
A second Look: Wanbli tells the story of the 6-day winter ride in his own words, which are eloquent. He goes on the l;ast of the 5 prophesied rides, the last being the 100th anniversary of the massacre. Wanbli is more sensible than I believe would be true of a white 8-year-old. "My dad and lala (grandpa) gatheed our horses form the pen where they had eaten and slept in the cold. Were they suffering like we were, I wondered?...We stayed on small dirt roads for a while because of all the fences on the farmland. We passed strange places with barbed wire and satellite dishes. My dad told me these were nuclear missle silos. It made me think of other people being killed in wars. In the beginning, Uncle Birgl told us to pray for wolakota (peace) and that masacres like Wounded Knee w0ould never happen again anywhere. When I saw those silos, I prayed." Later in the day, Wanbli's horse is spooked and he's thrown. He doesn't know if he can make it to the night's camp, " but my dad kept telling me that I could, that I had to. It was the only way to get back. Finally, far off on the plain, I saw the tepees....My uncle carried me to his truck to get warm. I stayed in there a few hours and ate, and got my strength back. Luyckily, my arm wasn't broken. I'd be able to ride again. In the evning after everyone ate, my mom, dad and I went to the big campfire to listen to stories. It was so cold we all wrapped up in one big blanket and got as close to the fire as we could." Wanbli decides without any parental pressure that he will not ride thenext day, when the riders must go down the Big Foot pass, an icy cliff trail. "If I got hurt badly, I couldn't finish the ride...it was better to rest up and be strong later. Everybody understood. I was disappointed but I wasn't ashamed." No one is hurt on the pass. Wanbli sees the small group of fasters, and the sweat lodge they are preparing. "I saw how strong our people could be and I felt honored to be a Lakota> I wanted to fast too, but I got too hungry." He checks on his horse and finds he's escaped from the field, but his dad tracks the horse 20 miles into the snowy Badlands and brings him back.
At the last night's camp, "Lakota men made big pots of Indian beef soup and fry bread. There was coffee, cake and sweet berry syrup. Usually, the women made the food for the riders, but that night the men were doing everything to honor the women for their strength and support. My mom, dad, sisters and I sat around a big fire with everybody else and ate. While we ate, uncle Birgil talked about the suffering and the honor of the women in the Lakota culture and the world. He talked about Grandmother earth too. He said the earth was suffering because we haven't taken care of her. He said we have to respect the earth, like our mothers. The earth was the very first woman, he said, the mother of us all After Birgil spok, every woman told a story about being a woman. Some were funny, some were sad, but all were honorable.
It's hard to stop quoting from this wondrful book. I should mention the photos by Ted Wood, co-author. These are in color, and appear on every page of the horizontally-designed 8 x 12 book. They give a good feeling for the cold on the snowy ride -- Wanbli's face mask is entirely crusted with ice in one close-up. What I most wish for, for this book is that, now that 6 years have passed since the last of the 5 Wounded Kne memorial rides, Wanbli would write a sequel about how it has affected his life and that of others. That could be added to it, perhaps with words of some of the elders and women who participated. In the years since, the Big Foot Riders have been making a circuit of places in the U.S. and in recent years, Canada. This could be added. The resulting book might receive the serious attention it deserves. This is the best Indian book I've read, for Native people of all tribes and all ages. It belongs in every Native home and school. It is worth 10,000 of the dreary "multicultural education" books about Native people generally written by white people, though that doesn't matter. Reviewed by Paula Giese, mi211, ya 318
OJIBWAY FAMILY LIFE IN MINNESOTA: 20TH CENTURY SKETCHES, Priscilla Buffalohead et al, illustrated by Robert Desjarlait; Anoka-Hennepin Independent School District 11 Indian Education Program, 11299 Hanson Boulevard NW, Coon Rapids, MN 55433, 612-422-5500; 1991, 57 Pages, oversize paperback, black and white photos, maps, illustrations by Red Lake Ojibwe artist Robert DesJarlait, bibliography, resources for teachers. $10.95
The authors say this book is "a different kind of history book. It is not about important treaties, famous chiefs, or tribal governments. These are important topics, but excellent books about Ojibway political history are already available. Instead, this book focuses on the day-to-day lives of Ojibway families of the 20th century. National and tribal events are briefly covered to explain how these events affected family life. In the chapters which follow, you will meet some remarkable people. John Rogers tells how his family gathered snakeroot early in the century to trade to white people for sacks of white bread. Maude Kegg explains how she met her future husband at a logging camp. He got her attention by being a real pest....."
This book is unique in its combination of guidance and information from elders who lived through the events described, careful documentary and especially photo source research, and its focus on the kind of history almost never told. It is well-complemented by another secondary school publication by Buffalohead: MODERN INDIAN ISSUES -- REPATRIATION, RELIGIOUS FREDOM, MASCOTS AND STEREOTYPES, TRIBAL SOVEREIGNTY, TRIBAL GOVERNMENT, TRIBAL ENTERPRISES, TREATY RIGHTS, also available from Oyate (510-848-6700) at $10.95. Together, these give a substantial, accurate, interesting picture of 20th century Native life in the Northern U.S. woodlands, which is very appropriate for multicultural study by non-Indian youth, too. Very highly recommended. See longer review. Reviewed by Paula Giese
WAHEENEE: AN INDIAN GIRL'S STORY TOLD BY HERSELF, Gilbert L. Wilson, University of Nebraska Press (Bison Books), 312 North 14th Street, Lincoln, NE 68588-0484; 800-755-1105, FAX 800-526-2617; original 1927, Bison edition, 1981, 189 pages, many engravings, glossary of Hidatsa words, supplementary notes. $7.95 paperback. 0-8032-9703-3
Waheenee-wea (Buffalo Bird Woman) was a Hidatsa, one of the settled, agricultural tribes living on the upper Missouri River. She was born in 1839, 2 years after the devastating smallpox epidemic which wiped out most of the allied nearby Mandan tribe and about half the Hidatsa people. The survivors consolidated, and moved from the deadly site of the Five Villages some distance north where they founded Like-a-Fishook Village (now drowned by the Army's 1948 Garrison Diversion Project). Waheenee's great-grandmother, White Corn, and grandmother, Turtle, told her many stories of these times (Waheenee lost her biological mother when she was 6, but had three other mothers -- sisters of Weahtee).
Gilbert Wilson was seeking a PhD in anthropology in the early 1900's. He was sent to the Hidatsa at Ft. Berthold reservation in 1906, and returned every summer for 20 years. He became very close to elderly Waheenee and her family: Wolf Chief, her younger brother, and Goodbird, her son (who had attended the white man's schools and was a farmer cattle in the white style -- traditionally, the Hidatsa women had been the agriculturalists).
Wahenee tells many stories -- som of which I've seen elsewhere -- but differently, warmer, plainer language, and she always gives a context in which she heard the story.
Waheenee's life is a good story, filled with the details that give color and vitality to the life as it was. She ends: "I am an old woman now. The buffalo and black-tailed deer ar gone, and our Indian ways are almost gone. My little son grew up in the white man's school. He can read books, he owns cattle, he has a farm. He is a leader among our Hidatsa people, helping teach thm to follow the white man's road....But for me, I cannot forget our old ways."
"Often in summer I rise at daybreak and steal out to the cornfields; and as I hoe the corn, I sing to it, as we did when I was young. No one cares for our corn songs now," she says sadly.
Because it is simply and clearly written, young readers will have no difficulty with this book. They will get a warm and colorfully-detailed narrative of the ordinary lives of a peaceful people. Wilson says "Indians have the gentle custom of adopting very dear friends by relationship terms. By such adoption, Buffalo Bird Woman is my mother. It is with real pleasure that I offer to young readers these stories from the life of my Indian mother."
Wilson's adoptive people speak to us across time in graceful, natural voices and great detail of daily lives. Other books about the culture and lives of this family of Hidatsa people are published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden a fascinating story by Waheenee of food, agriculture, and even recipes; a coloring book of pictures of Hidatsa - Mandan traditional life, by Waheenee's son, George Goodbird, and several others. Waheenee's own life story -- which is also the story of a typical life of a woman of the Hidatsa/Mandan people who lived peaceful, agricultural lives on the plans for over 1,000 years, is very highly recommended. See longer review. Reviewed by Paula Giese
GOODBIRD THE (HIDATASA) INDIAN: HIS STORY AS TOLD TO GILBERT L. WILSON; Edward Goodbird, as told to Gilbert Wilson, illustrated by Frderick N. Wilson; Minnesota Historical Society Press, 345 Kellogg Boulevard West, St Paul, MN 55102; 800-647-7827. 1985 reissue of 1914 edition; 78 pages, map, index, illustrations, new intro by Mary Jane Schneider. Paperback, $5.95. 0-87351-188-3
Goodbird was the Hidatsa Buffalo Bird Woman's son, born in 1870, who lived until 1938, through the forced move from like-a-Fishhook Village tyhrough th period of alottment and land loss on the Three Affiliated Tribes reservation. Via Wilson, his mother tells her own story, and the most complete story of precontact traditional agriculture ever recorded. Goodbird is in the transition: born around 1870 (during a buffalo hunting journey), he becomes a successful rancher for a time, then the first Indian Christian minister on the reservation. Wilson, an unusual anthro who's been ignored by profssional scientific types, originally thought of what h was doing, spending 20 years in North Dakota with the Hidatsa clan that adopted him in 1906, as preparing a trilogy of real stories, actually told by Indian people themselves, for young people. The only publisher he could find (in 1914) for the first one -- Edward Goodbird, son of Buffalo Bird Woman, whose life spanned the old ways and the new -- was a women's missionary society. Wilson was very angry that the church removed part of Goodbird's story of his vision quest which (for the Hidatsa) included a form of piercing -- a self-sacrifice of suffering and endurance -- like that of the Lakota Sun Dance. Schneider comments on this, and on the fact that the title is also most likely that supplied by the missionaries:
"Nowhere in the narrative is Goodbird presented as 'the Indian'. He is always Goodbird, one man doing his best to cope with the upheaval of social and economic changes. Furthermore, although the title pages of both Goodbird and Waheenee (his mother's autobiography) indicate 'as told to' Gilbert Wilson, in neither book is Wilson an active presence. That is the charm and strength of the books -- there is reality and immediacy to the subjects' lives."
It does appear that there was considerable church editing or censorship on Goodbird's personal religious history. But the reality of Goodbird's story still comes through, in a non-artificial way. Goodbird was a strong character; he became a leading rancher (farming the allotted lands was not possible, everything always died). He even made up a posse and retrieved some Indian cattle a local white rancher had stolen. At this time, although the treaty payments were paid in head of cattle andequipment), the Indians didn't own them, the government did. Goodbird describes how as Assistant Farmer for the Indian agent, he goes around inspecting what his neighbors are doing: have they built a barn as prescribed? Have they laid in two tons of hay per head of cattle? But `in taking the northeastern rangeland of the reservation and giving it to white ranchers,, the government thought they would put the Indians out of the cattle business, anda bolished Goodbird's job of assistant farmer. Goodbird, a Christian by then through school and perhaps choosing some religion over none (all demonstrations of Indian religion were being heavily surpressed) took a job as a missionary at Independence.
Nowhere in this book does Goodbird mention that he likes to draw (Wilson got him notebooks, charcoals, and colored pncils, and Goodbird completed one book of sketches a year for about 5 years.) Some of these -- redrawn to solid outlines are in the MHS A COLORING BOOK OF HIDATSA INDIAN STORIES, which is a very simplified summary of the early part of Goodbird's life, with charming pictures he drew himself. More about the life of the period will be found in THE WAY TO INDEPENDENCE the artistic-historical book prepared by MHS for the travelling Hidatsa exhibit, done in 1987.
Goodbird's autobiography, despite the occasional bits of church-imposd censorship, and the tilt toward Christianity it had to have given the only publisher for it Wilson could find (as well as by Goodbird's own adaptation to the enforced white man's road) is still interesting reading for older Middle or YA young people, and for many adults. Supplementation with the coloring book provides not only material for younger ones, but for classroom exhibits and illustrations. The large, well-illustrated MHS Hidatsa history exhibit book will provide a great wealth of material for high school teachers to draw on. Highly recommended. Reviewed by Paula Giese
NAVAJO CODE TALKERS, Nathan Aaseng, Walker and Company, 435 Hudson St., N.Y., NY 10014, (800) AT-WALKER, (212) 307-1764 FAX. Simultaneously published by Thomas Allen and Son, Ltd., Markham, Ontario, Canada. 1992, 114 pages, Index, bibliography, photo illustrations, map. Hardcover, $14.95. 0-8027-8182-9
Aaseng, a microbiologist, has written more than 90 books for young people, most of them on scientific or mathematical subjects. There is a mathematical aspect to most codes, but not to this one. Still, most readers will be surprised (as I was) to realize that most military info that has to be broadcast and received rapidly often under battlefield conditions has no equivalents in the Navajo language, or only talk-arounds that would be too lengthy and ambiguous. There are other criteria of military broadcast codes that didn't fit the language-as-spoken: it must be clear and unambiguous over radios that are not themselves clear or easy to hear, and critical info must be so sharply differentiated that even unclear hearings with parts of messages inaudible do not cause confusion. This governs the choice of word-sounds that should be used in the oral codes for broadcast. I had vaguely thought, prior to reading this, that the code-talkers just talked Navajo to each other, and the Japanese couldn't understand the difficult language as they intercepted the communications. Not so.
The result of the military communications necessities was that the Navajo Marine code-talker recruits themselves devised a whole set of extensions of their language that in fact form the codes. They reduced their ideas to memorizable lists. They conducted self-teaching, and teaching of new code-talker recruits. Aasen's book focuses first on recruitment of volunteers, training, and attempting to build trust to actually use the code-talkers among the military hierarchy, most of whom were skeptical of their worth.
In the Pacific war, fought on jungle-covered islands, the code-talkers faced another kind of peril: being shot by their own side as Japanese soldiers, whom they often physically resembled (or anyway in the eyes of blonde freckle-faced Midwest Marine soldiers and officers). In non-battle situations, the code-talkers reported that they got along well with the Marines.
Aasen mentions Dinè traditions of fear of the after-death chindi or hostile ghost of the dead as one of the greatest difficulties the code-talkers faced in the horrendous Pacific island war. He notes that "A key source of their ability to stay calm in the midst of terror and anxiety [of deadly battles, as well as swarming chindi] was the Navajos' religious beliefs...
".The Enemy Way ceremony [which they did not have to be present at] was immensely reassuring to them....In May, 1944, relatives on the reservation held a combined Enemy Way rite for 150 Navajos stationed in the Pacific. For this particular ceremony, photographs of the soldiers were gathered and laid out in front of the Enemy Way singer. Christian Navajos were invited to add their own prayers and songs to the traditional ceremony, which went on all night. The Navajo community tried to contribute in other ways to the safe return of its soldiers. Throughout the war, many planted prayer feathers, decorated with turquoise, to help protect the servicemen."
Aasen has researched this book mainly from military records, press clippings, and other written sources, supplemented with occasional interviews of such contacts as he was able to find, some 50 years later, so there is an impersonal quality that might have been lessened if he had been able to find a code-talker as co-author, or included more personal memoirs. Nevertheless this is a fascinating book that Native youths, in particular, will find interesting reading. Language teachers might want to read it too, then think of how you and your students might devise such linguistic "codes" to meet the military communications conditions Aasen describes. This book was a 1992 Junior Literary Guild selection. Reviewed by Paula Giese
THE SUCCESS OF THE NAVAJO ARTS AND CRAFTS ENTERPRISE, by Lenora Begay Trahant photographs by Monty Roessel, Walker and Company, 435 Hudson St., N.Y., NY 10014, (800) AT-WALKER, (212) 307-1764 FAX. Simultaneously published by Thomas Allen and Son, Ltd., Markham, Ontario, Canada. 1996. 78 pages hardbound, illustrated, index, glossary, lists of Native Associations.$15.95 hardbound. 0-8027-8336-8
This very fine book whose writer and illustrator are both Navajos, belongs in every Native school library, and can be profitably read by many business-minded Native adults. Receently I was asked if any curriculum materials for Native business development courses were available; I had to say ther were not. Now there is: this one. It's writyten at a level high school students can readily follow, but the facts it chronicles are suitable for reading by anyone concerned with the development of tribal economic enterprises.
NACE is an enterprise of the Navajo Nation, whose reservation is as large as the state of West Virginia, though most of it is rugged desert with long, poor roads to reach many isolated communities. In 1977, the tribal enterprise was nearly bankrupt, had lost more than $1 million, and there was discussion of clolsing it. Instead, they asked Raymond Smith, a rtired Navajo, to take over from a succession of bigtime white management experts who had driven it into the ground, with assembly-line techniques and ignoranc of both quality of jewelry and rugs and of the craftspeople and main customers (Navajo people themselves).
I told them there were a lot of people who had MBA degrees to pick from. But they insistd on someone who had experience with tribal government." That was probably one factor in the success of the growing enterprise which almost immediately was hit by a crisis: the price of silver escalated rapidly fgrom about $4/oz to $50/oz in the early 80's, a crisis for all the jewelers, forcing many out of the business. It's clear that Smith's unique capabilities as a team-builder, who insisted on quality, and who has built a team of Native people (almost all except the comptroller -- a Hopi/Acoma -- are Navajo) have been a major cause of success.
But it's also clear that the Native team itself has unique qualities that white managers wouldn't see. Most of the major managers have experience in the crafts of silversmithing or weaving, and therefore know quality and can explain to craftspeople how to improve their products, or why a product is being rejected. The managers must also negotiate with the craftspeople, because the entrprise has to buy at wholesale so they can sell at retail, and much of this talk is in Navajo. Finally, expansion plans are now undertaken with intelligent knowldge of conditions -- not only abstract studies and business plans, though those are also done.
For example, it is important to the craftspeople that they can get supplies -- silver, turquoise, tools, wool, dyes -- through NACE. But to shorten the travel, since many live in distant, isolated communities, and reduce craftspeople;'s costs, NACE's first expansion was a mobile supplies store, in a van, which was also able to sell to Navajos living in Gallup, a dreary off-reservation town, which is the capital of the wholesale southwestern jewelry trade. This service was needed and appreciated, and has helped to build a loyal group fo crtaftspeople, willing to maintain the quality that NACE wants to be known for, though they cannot compete for the top artists, since those command very high prices on commissioned work to individuals and classy boutiques.
Several of the artisans are interviewed by the author, all prefer to speak Navajo, and some of the elders don't really speak much English. All express concern that these arts and crafts continue to live "But if we forget the history and all the stories that go with it (weaving), it will just be another moneymaking venture." This attitude is something the white managers never caught on about and helps to account for their failures. Main store saleswoman Lottie Nez is in her 70's. Speaking good Navajo is essential, because the on-reservation store's biggest customer base is Navajos, "tribal employees and elderly Navajos who are interested in items used in ceremonies: wedding baskets, mocassins, buckskins, sash belts, and Pendleton blankets," as well as a great deal of personal and gift purchases of turquoise. "People are willing to help me improve my skills," she says. Another part of management is in the comptrollers office, where they ar gradually becoming computerized. Dennis Wyna knows the real secrt in business success: he watches the cash flow extremely closely. That is often ignored in management training, but cash: liquidity and cash flow is the most critical factor to be watched on a daily basis for any enterprise.
NACE is now moving into wholesaling, and has intelligntly chosen a method of mass production which will both keep uyp quality of jewelry and allow production of a catalog of some 250 designs. The comm7unity of silversmiths chosen as the start of this operation wanted it, for good reasons. They have opened a wholesale store in Gallup, and are prparing the catalog. Perhaps at the next powwow you attend, jewelry from one of the vendors will come from the Navajo enterprise, rather than the more slipshod assembly lines operated in Gallup. This book is very highly ecommended for Native high schools, colleges, and training seminars. Reviewed by Paula Giese, ya338
AMERICAN INDIAN MYTHS AND LEGENDS, selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz, 1984, Pantheon Books (Random House) and Random House of Canada, Ltd. $17 paper. 527 pp, Appendix with brief descriptions of each tribe; myths bibliography; tales index; 0-394-74018-1
On everyone's list of must-have, must-read collections. Many of these tales were collected by the authors (generally Erdoes) during his travels in the 1960's on Plains reservations (mostly Lakota), as an artist, and sometimes accompanied by wonderful companions, such as Lame Deer (whose autobiography he wrote) and through visits by friends to his New York apartment. The tales told to Erdoes by lively elderly friends and younger ones have a vividness and gusto (especially about sex -- there is one whose section called "tales of love and lust") not found in prim anthro collections. Other tales were taken from such collections and given a little writerly polish (both editors are accomplished writers). The live tales are overwhelmingly Lakota, but overall there is a selection representing the Southwest, woodlands, and desert, 160 tales in all, some very short. For the live-told tales, Erdoes introduces the teller and explains the circumstances in which the tale was told. There has been nothing really comparable to this collection, before or since. What sets it off from countless others is that most of the stories crackle with life. They weren't collected for anthro purposes, and it shows. Only an artist and storyteller, travelling in Indian country, could do it. Nowadays, such a person would be pointed to the tribal casino hotel, rather than welcomed to log homes, old trailers, with the generosity of the poor. Reviewd by Paula Giese
Books by Alfonso Ortiz available from Amazon.com.
TALES FROM THE GREAT TURTLE, edited by Piers Anthony and Richard Gillam, Tor Books, c. 1994, Tom Doherty and Associates, 175 5th Avenue, NY 10010. 500 pp, afterword, author bio notes, $5.99 US paper, $6.99 Can, 0-812-53490-5
Only 9 out of 29 stories in this book of fantasy tales are by authors with some kind of Native ancestry -- in most cases, pretty remote and tenuous. Where it appears to be real, unfortunately the stories are not competitively with those of the pro writers whose tales comprise the bulk of the book, though they are on a par with the tales by non-Indian amaturs. The remainder are fantasies upon some sort of Native theme, by some well-known sci-fi and fantasy professional authors and a lot of unknowns. The book began as a project of editor Gilliam -- Anthony (who has written hundreds of fantasy and a few sci-fi books, and one reconstruction of Native life from an ancient burial mound -- top sellers, many -- was taken aboard for the recognition his name would bring. Gilliam publicized the project in tribal newsletters and journals, receiving little response. But he seems to have met and launched on a writing career Owl Goingback (whose tribe is not identified). I was interested in this book -- I'm a sci-fi and fantasy fan reader from early childhood, I hoped for a lot. Unfortunately, these are mostly tired, stilted tales (with little plot or point) heavily influenced by a mish-mash of anthro transcriptions of Native tales for children -- legends and myths. As pastiches, imitations, they lack cultural content that is gained from knowing tribal historical contexts. Though there are a handful of good stories, the majority are not good as either Native stories or within the genere of science fiction - fantasy that Anthony has made his own career writing. Regrettably -- no one was more interested in this anthology than I -- I must say it is a failure. Reviewed by Paula Giese
THE RAIN DANCE PEOPLE : The Pueblo Indians, Their Past and Present, Richard Erdoes. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. (Grades 6+)
This book is an excellent example of detailed research of both documented print sources and personal interviews, photographs and sketches. Erdoes traces the history of the Pueblo Indians from prehistoric times to the mid-1970's and provides information about their unique lifestyle and how they have struggled to maintain it. His straightforward retelling of how the west was "won" serves to dispell the myth of the winning of the wild west as a glamorous event. Careful and detailed coverage is given to the invasion of missionaries who traveled to Pueblo land to stamp out the ancient native religion. Readers are informed of the boarding schools that young Pueblo children were required to attend where they were forbidden to speak "Indian". The strengths of the Pueblo communal and governmental structures are examined in great detail. Throughout the book Erdoes weaves an explanation of the the significance of art in Pueblo culture. An extraordinary work. Highly recommended. Reviewed by Lisa Mitten and Naomi Caldwell-Wood
THE ANASAZI, Eleanor H. Ayer; Walker and Company, 435 Hudson St., N.Y., NY 10014, (800) AT-WALKER, (212) 307-1764 FAX. Simultaneously published by Thomas Allen and Son, Ltd., Markham, Ontario, Canada. 1993. 124 pages, map, index, bibliography, black and white photos, hardcover, $14.95. 0-8027-8184-5
This book covers the fascinating southwest Anasazi civilization -- which built cities and extensive road systems, and developed pottery to a high art -- through its abandonment (probably because of a long drought near the end of the 13th century) and sketches the migrations and resettlements of people of this culture, the "ancient ones" into today's southwestern Pueblos, Zuni, Hopi, and on the Rio Grande. The author's sources are entirely archaeological, she has not consulted elders of the Pueblo tribes, who are finally being consulteed by archaeologists for their continued knowledge of this ancient past. But as a presentation of this civilization from the "dug from the dead past" viewpoint, it is well-written, and unlike most such works does not say the people mysteriously vanished. She makes it clear they resettled and continued their culture and history in new areas, adapted to the drier climate that prevalied, and she deals with the coming of the Spanish, the Pueblo revolt led by Popé, the American takeover of their lands, and in a final chapter, daily life (centered on crafts and subsistnce farming) in Pueblos today -- actually, as it was about 20 years ago. The book's biggest disappointment is the muddy black and white photos. While this reduces publication cost, it is not suited to reproductions of any Native arts, nor the buildings and desert scenery. Color photos would have made an altogether more attractive book, and been clearer also. Reviewed by Paula Giese
WATERLILY, Ella Cara Deloria, University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London, 1988 (hardcover), Bison Book paper, 1990, $8.95. 244 pp, Long bio of Deloria by Agnes Picotte, afterword critical appreciation by Raymond DeMaille. 0-8032-6579-4
Ella Deloria, born near the end of the 19th century Yankton Dakota, was the aunt of well-known contemporary Dakota scholar Vine Deloria. She went to collge, and became a research assistant to the famous anthro Franz Boas, who praised her to the skies privately and took credit for her work publicly. Waterlily is a novel, a lifestory of the Dakota people -- those who had moved somewhat west to the prairie, out of the Dakota woodlands of Minnesota -- as their lives were beginning to be disrupted by waschichu. Told from the woman's viewpoint, it emphasizes the network of obligations and relationships that formed cultural unity. Although the domain of scholarship was almost exclusively male until near the end of her life in the 1960's, Deloria felt that omitting the personal vitiated the life of the culture and reduced human emotion to statistical patterns. Waterlily is therefore her kind of native-centered science monograph. It's a good story, and woven into it are the solidly-based facts of actual plains life. Waterlily is a good story, and the book's afterwords make good reading too, Deloria is a fine role model of a native scholar for today's young women. The manuscript -- apparently finished in 1947 -- was not published during her life, perhaps bcause of the death of Ruth Benedict, whose professional support was needed to imprss publishers. Reviewed by Paula Giese
Books by Ella Cara Deloria available from Amazon.com.
A YELLOW RAFT IN BLUE WATER, by Michael Dorris, 1987, Henry Holt (hardcover), paper, 1988, Warner Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, NY, 10103. 372 pp, Critics' Circle Award. $8.95, 0-446-38787-8
A best-seller in its time, this book by a writer of Native ancestry married to the best-selling Turtle Mountain Ojibwe writer Louise Erdrich won the National Book Critics' Circle Award. Unlike most Indian novels especially by Indian writers, it didn't sink into instant obscurity and go out of print. Dorris tells the story from 3 viewpoints: Grandma (the reservation traditionalist), mother (the city woman who married and was deserted by a black man) and daughter (mixed-blood offspring). All women are real individuals not abstract types. Returning to the reservation, Raymona faces racism there as well, for her dark skin, nappy hair, and city ways. Reservation life, chronicled by weaving back and forth in time from about the 1930's to the present (without casinos) will be readily recognizable as any reservation of the Plains, though it is fictionalized it is neither generic nor abstractly presented. Though it's an adult book, and long for classroom use, it held the attention of Native juniors and seniors, especially young women. Most students were upset at its ending, which leaves problems of the main characters unresolved. The book ends literally up in the air, with Ida (grandma, back in time to mother Christine's very young teenage days) sitting on the roof with the reservation priest. Students were asked to write continuation stories as resolutions to those parts of the novel that had caught their interest, and did so working in small groups and discussing parts of the book at great length. Reviewed by Paula Giese
Books by Michael Dorris available from Amazon.com.
LOST BIRD OF WOUNDED KNEE, by Renee Sansom Flood. 1995, hardcover $24.50. Simon & Schuster; 800-223-2336 (credit card orders), 0-684-19512-7.
History can be told through dates, battles, political figures; you'll find all those here. But this history is told through the sad life of one Lakota woman. Not only is there a perspective on events of the 19th century, but there is a strong resonance with current problems of removal of Native children from their relatives and tribal cultural heritages. Zintkala Nuni (Lost Bird) as an infant survived the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890, only to be adopted by a white general as a political stepping stone for his ambitions, tjhen later abandoned to a miserable life of harsh Native boarding school, being passed among many men, abandoneed and betrayed, and dying at age 29 of diseases she had no immunity from. The book is a story of how Lost Bird body was traced by Pine Ridge Lakota relative and reburied at the Wounded Knee Massacre memorial cemetery on Pine Ridge reservation in SD. It has very great interest for Native children who were adopted away from their relatives and cultures, and also as a different look at the history of Lakota people and the dispossession of their lands. See longer review by Cherokee writer Brooke Craig. Marie Fouche has started a Lost Bird web page whose main theme is support for Native people in relation to cases involving the Native American Child Welfare act, and the practice of removing Native young people from their relatives and homes. This book is very highly recommended, especially for older Native youth who, for reasons perhaps more subtle than those of Lost Bird, feel removed from their culture and relatives. The book was nominated for a 1995 Pulitzer Prize. Regrettably it is at poresent available only in hardcover -- priced for school libraries, but not classroom use as a paperback version might be. Reviewed by Paula Giese
THE SHADOW BROTHERS, A.E. Cannon. New York : Delacorte Press, 1990. (Grades 6-10)
A well-done novel of a Navajo teen as told by his adoptive (non-Indian) brother. Henry Yazzie has been sent to live with his father's white friend's family so that he can attend good schools. An excellent student and athlete, the arrival of a second Native boy to the school has Henry questioning his identity as a Navajo. Deals with issues many Indian kids face as novelties in their schools. Reviewed by Lisa Mitten and Naomi Caldwell-Wood
HAPPILY MAY I WALK: AMERICAN INDIANS AND ALASKA NATIVES TODAY, Arlene B. Hirschfelder. New York : Scribner's, 1986.
Excellent summary of Native American life and activities today. Very up-to-date, going far towards lifting Indian people out of the nineteenth century where they've been stranded in many books. Very useful for adults, too, and as a reference tool. Reviewed by Lisa Mitten and Naomi Caldwell-Wood
SPIRIT WALKER, poems by Nancy Wood, paintings by Frank Howell. Doubleday Books For Young Readers, 1540 Broadway, N.Y., NY 10036, (800) 223-6834, (212) 492-9862 FAX. Illustrated, index of titles.80 pp., $19.95 cloth. 0-385-30927-9
Dwell for a moment in a single blade of grass. Discover the secret of snowflakes. In these patterns lie harmony, my child. In harmony, the universe. -- Mother's Words
These forty-four poems and short stories are special messages that echo through the boundless cosmos and into the heart of the reader, striking spiritual chords that evoke reverence for the land and its inhabitants. The luminous, flowing hair of Frank Howell's Native American women could easily be clouds that are "ten thousand winters old." One of the best books of the year and a wonderful gift for all ages, this book will be much-praised and much-honored Reviewed by Steve Brock.
GROWING UP NATIVE AMERICAN: AN ANTHOLOGY, edited by Patricia Riley. William Morrow and Company, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, N.Y., NY 10019, (800) 843-9389, (201) 227-6849 FAX.
This is a potent "coming of age" collection that embraces childhood memories from frontier life to the city streets, from boarding schools to urban rat packs. Each of the twenty stories, both personal histories and excerpts from fiction, depict children and the highly individual ways that they master life's lessons. The authors include Leslie Marmon Silko, N. Scott Momaday, Louise Erdrich, Linda Hogan, and Simon Ortiz. Highly recommended. Reviewed by: Steve Brock
THE WHIPPING BOY, by Speer Morgan. Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company, 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116. Map. 326 pp., $21.95 cloth. 0-395-67725-4
Oklahoma Territory in the 1890s is the setting of Morgan's fourth novel, and it's his best, involving a flood, a hanging performed in front of a group of orphans, land grabbing, issues of Indian sovereignty, and corruption and desperation at every turn.
The central character is sixteen-year-old Tom Freshour, a mixed-blood Choctaw Indian from the Presbyterian-administered Armstrong Academy, who is sent to work for the Dekker Hardware Company. He is assigned to Jake Jaycox, a salesman who travels the territory collecting the mortgages of small hardware stores for defaulting on their sales of Dekker stock. Freshour and Jaycox, along with Samantha King, a woman from St. Louis with a questionable past, uncover a plot to swindle land from farmers that has its greedy roots in the Dawes Commission.
"The Whipping Boy" is a superb story, rich in plot and characterization, and the whippings endured by Freshour at the Academy are a fitting symbol for those suffered by the Choctaw and other tribes in losing their land to the U.S. Government. Morgan is a writing instructor at the University of Missouri (Columbia) and is the editor of Missouri Review.Grade: A-. Reviewed by Steve Brock
NATIVE HEART: AN AMERICAN INDIAN ODYSSEY by Gabriel Horn (White Deer of Autumn). New World Library, 58 Paul Drive, San Rafael, CA 94903, (800) 227-3900, (800) 632-2122 (CA), (415) 472-6131 FAX. Notes. 293 pp., $13.95 paper. 1-880032-07-4
Horn's autobiography is filled with dreams - images of his past that would float by, reminding him of his roots and traditions, and the path he must walk to preserve them. Given up by his parents as a small child, Horn wandered through many foster homes from New York to California as each pair of foster parents tried to Anglicize him.
This book is Horn's search for his Native American identity as he tries to teach others about his ancestors and the Circle of Life. As a teenager, Horn met Uncle Nippawanock, a literature professor at the University of South Florida, who encouraged him to get an education, in addition to forcing him to decide to place both his feet in the Red World.
In a vision, Uncle Nippawanock saw a deer running through a mist singing Gabriel's name. As a result, the uncle's mother, Princess Red Wing, conducted a pipe ceremony on the day after Horn graduated from FSU, giving him the name "White Deer of Autumn." Thus began Horn's life of writing, teaching, and activism. In 1973, he joined the American Indian Movement, began teaching in Indian schools (Shoshone in Wyoming, and AIM's Heart of the Earth school in Minneapolis), and wrote several stories and poems.
At an Indian center in Milwaukee, he met his wife-to-be, Simone, Loon Song. They began to follow the path side-by-side. Their children are named after extinct tribes. Horn's acts of activism and his relationship with AIM brought denunciations and death threats, so he retired back to south Florida, where he teaches at the St. Petersberg Junior College and visits elementary school classrooms with the message: "There is a balance, and we must constantly seek it." Recommended. Reviewed by Steve Brock
DAWN LAND by Joseph Bruchac. Fulcrum Publishing, 350 Indiana St., Suite 350, Golden, CO 80401, (800) 992-2908, (303) 279-7111. Map. 317 pp., $19.95 cloth. 1-55591-134-X
Bruchac, an Abenaki storyteller, poet, and now novelist, has penned a dynamic mixture of fact and fiction that instills a belief that holding onto the past facilitates success in the future. Young Hunter, an Abenaki (the name means "People of the Dawn Land") who lives 10,000 years in the past, is sent on a journey through what are now the Adirondack Mountains to save his tribe from beings called the "Ancient Ones," a race of grey-skinned giants with cold hearts and a great hunger. He carries in his memory all of the legends of his tribe, as well as their history, in case they are wiped out in his absence. Accompanying him are three dogs.
As the hero travels toward his goal, there are many asides which could be separate stories. There is always another adventure just over the next horizon, and Bruchac keeps the tempo at a high pitch. This lyrical circle of legends and natural history is a strong beginning for this talented storyteller. Highly recommended. Reviewed by: Steve Brock
Another Look: With this work, Bruchac takes a giant leap into the much more ambitious realm of the novel. "Dawn Land" is a novel of the Abenaki tribe set 10,000 years ago. On one level this is a retelling of a classic mythological culture hero story. It tells the story of Young Hunter, who is called upon to defend his people against a quite horrible menace. But this book is more than just this story. Woven throughout the narrative is the world view of the Abenaki and their relation with the Earth. One comes away from this book with a far greater understanding of what that relationship is.
As a storyteller, Bruchac is supreme. Looking at the popular books on sale at the supermarket these days, it is evident that stories of ancient America are somehow "in" these days. I suppose there is even some superficial resemblance to "Clan of the Cave Bear". But none of these attempts comes close to what Bruchac has accomplished with this book. I recommend it most highly to anyone who appreciates the art of a master storyteller. Reviewed by Richard Darsie
Books by Joseph Bruchac available from Amazon.com.
INDIAN CHIEFS, Russell Freedman. New York : Holiday House, 1987. (Grades 5+)
Freedman has accomplished a well-balanced collective biography of six western Indian chiefs: Red Cloud (Oglala Sioux), Satanta (Kiowa), Quannah Parker (Comanche), Washakie (Shoshone), Joseph (Nez Perce), and Sitting Bull (Hunkpapa Sioux). The short biographies of twenty pages each contain actual quotes by the various chiefs within an accurate historical setting. Freedman was careful in his use of terminology. He prefaces the book by providing information on how the term "chief" was determined and used by the white settlers and government and how various tribes distinguished the many levels of leadership. This indexed book is illustrated with numerous sketches and photographs and is made complete with a bibliography of sources for further study. Reviwed by Lisa Mitten and Naomi Caldwell-Wood
MESSENGERS OF THE GODS: TRIBAL ELDERS REVEAL THE ANCIENT WISDOM OF THE EARTH by James G. Gowan. Harmony Books (Bell Tower), 201 E. 50th St., N.Y., NY 10022, (212) 572-6120, (212) 572-6192 FAX. 209 pp., $13.00 paper. 0-517-88078-4
From the Torres Strait, to the forests of Borneo, to the Kimberly region of Australia, Gowan consults with the traditional people, who tell him their guiding principle of life. In all cases it involves a reverence for the earth and its inhabitants. The islanders who consult with the earth in some way before taking an self-interested action that may harm a part of it; the Iban, who plant sacred rice that will enrich the earth prior to planting rice for human consumption; or the Australian policeman who guards against the killing of Yaada, the kangaroo, who gave law to the people, all are guided by a responsibility for the natural world.
These stories are infused with metaphysical adventure. Recommended. Reviewed by Steve Brock
THE VOICE OF THE GREAT SPIRIT: PROPHECIES OF THE HOPI INDIANS br. Shambhala Publications, Inc., Horticultural Hall, 300 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, MA 02115, (800) 638-6460, (617) 236-1563. Illustrated, maps, bibliography. 143 pp., $10.00 paper. 0-87773-602-2
Kaiser, a West German historian primarily known as the debunker of the famous environmental speech of Chief Seattle (Seattle never said, for example, that "we are part of the earth, and the earth is a part of us," although he probably felt those sentiments), wants to share Hopi prophesy with a world "on a perilous or fatal path."
His desire to inform readers about this private aspect of Hopi religion apparently overrides their objections that he refrain from doing so. Kaiser even includes his challenges to their oppositions as part of the book. Yes, the Hopi have for for many years had dissention within their leadership, but that is no reason to pilfer their religion while their attention is diverted.
While the book does outline a credible history of the Hopi, the inclusion of material that many of them vociferously do not want revealed leads me to warn readers to stay away from this book. Rviewed by: Steve Brock
A Second Look: What to do when there is division about what should or should not be published is often a difficult decision for writers. In this instance, all of Kaiser's sources have been published elsewhere -- by Hopis of one or another faction. In many case, these prophecies are published very widely indeed, by travelling speakers like Thomas Banyacya, visiting the U.S. and taking speaking ngagements everywhere. To say that a reputable historian should not use such material because others of the tribe oppose it is to urge self-censorship. If there are secrets to be kept, best not have tribal speakers taking speaking engagements and presenting them to wide and diverse audiences. Once it's out, it's out.
PIGS IN HEAVEN by Barbara Kingsolver. HarperCollins Publishers, 10 E. 53rd St., N.Y., NY 10022-5299, (800) 242-7737, (800) 822-4090 FAX. 343 pp., $22.00 cloth. 0-06-016801-3
In this perceptive and entertaining sequel to "The Bean Trees" (1988), Kingsolver catches up with Taylor Greer three years later, as she and Turtle, the now six-year-old Cherokee child abandoned in Greer's car in the previous book, visit Hoover Dam. Turtle is the only one to see a man fall into a spillway pipe, and she insists that he be rescued, even though the dam has closed and virtually everyone has left.
The media get wind of the rescue and play it up. Taylor and Turtle appear on "Oprah" in a segment titled "Children Who Have Saved Lives." When the show airs, however, Annawake Fourkiller, a young Cherokee lawyer in Heaven, Oklahoma, recognizes that Turtle is Cherokee and hears Taylor say that she is adopted. Fourkiller wonders if the adoption was within the edicts of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which stipulates that adoptions cannot take place without permission of the tribe.
When she investigates the adoption and visits Taylor in Arizona, she finds cause to begin proceedings to invalidate the adoption and bring Turtle back within the tribe. After the visit,Taylor flees to Seattle with the child, leaving her boyfriend, Jax behind to serve as a go-between.
Kingsolver uses this conflict to weave several threads through her story. In "The Bean Trees," Taylor gave the child the name "Turtle" because of the way she held onto her new mother, a tight grip that could not be broken. The strong emotional and physical ties between the two are skillfully illustrated in both books. Just as strong, though, are the legal and spiritual ties that link Turtle to her tribe, and the reader is torn between both compelling arguments as to which situation is in her "best interest."
Also compelling is the myth that guides Fourkiller and is also the source of the book's title. To the Cherokee, the stars that form the Pleiades are the Six Pigs in Heaven. Long ago, there were six lazy, ungrateful boys who whined that their mothers were treating them like pigs. The boys complain to the spirits, and the spirits side with the mothers, turning the boys into pigs. In a panic, the pigs run around so fast that they rise into heaven. The moral of the tale is recited by Fourkiller: "Do right by your people."
While I won't give away the ending, I will say that Kingsolver ties things together with several contrivances that are a bit too tidy for me, including Taylor's mother, inventive bloodlines, and an explosive event that leads to a day-saving marriage. But it's all in good fun, despite the serious issues that must be resolved. Part of the fun of reading "Pigs In Heaven" for me is that I think I know the attorney that Kingsolver has patterned Fourkiller after. The clues from the book are very short hair and an affiliation with the American Indian Lawyer Training Program.
My reaction to "Pigs In Heaven" can summed up by the last line of the book: "It's all over now but the shouting." I'm shouting for more from this talented, sensitive, and enjoyable writer, who has done right by her readers.
Other books by Kingsolver are: Fiction - "Homeland and Other Stories" (1989), and "Animal Dreams" (1991), Poetry - "Another America" (1992), Nonfiction - "Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983" (1989). Reviewed by: Steve Brock
RISING VOICES: WRITINGS OF YOUNG NATIVE AMERICANS edited by Arlene B. Hirschfelder and Beverly R. Singer. Ballantine Books (Ivy imprint), 201 E. 50th St., N.Y., NY 10022. For ages 12 and up. Index. 131 pp., $3.99 paper. 0-684-19207-1
Hirschfelder and Singer have assembled a compelling collage of heartfelt sentiments in this collection of essays and poetry, most from the writer's class assignments in middle and high school. The book is divided into several classifications: Identity, Family, Homeland, Ritual and Ceremony, Education, and Harsh Realities. Every selection includes a biographical profile of the writer. >From the pride of "We Are The Many" to the resentful "Going Into Space" (a two-and-a-half billion dollar camping trip), these voices ask us in unison to hear their message. A masterful and evocative work. Reviewed by: Steve Brock
GIVING VOICE TO BEAR: NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN MYTHS, RITUALS, AND IMAGES OF THE BEAR by David Rockwell. Roberts Reinhart Publishers, P.O. Box 666, Niwot, CO 880-544-0666, (303) 652-2921, (303) 652-3923 FAX. Illustrated, index, bibliography, notes, map. 224 pp., $25.00 cloth, $14.95 paper. 0-911797-97-1 cloth, 1-879373-48-3 paper.
This entertaining and instructive examination of the bear as a symbol to Native Americans has been recently published in a paperback edition. Rockwell investigates bear symbolism in hunts, initiations, healing, shamanism, as guardian spirits, and in dances. He also describes the correlations between European and Native American bear rituals, such as the bear dreams collected by Carl Jung in the 1940s, and the honoring of the bear after a kill. Missing, though, is the Bear symbolism used in the Cub Scouts.
Altogether, this is a lively and engaging profile of the "One Who Owns the Den." Recommended. Reviewed by Steve Brock
THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN by Sherman Alexie. Grove/Atlantic Monthly Press, 19 Union Square West, N.Y., NY 10003, (800) 645-1267, (212) 727-0180 FAX. 223 pp., $21.00 cloth, $12 paper, 0-87113-548-5
"Survival = Anger X Imagination. Imagination is the only weapon on the reservation." -- Sherman Alexie
If the first book published under the newly combined Grove/Atlantic Monthly Press imprint is any indication, this new affiliation is off to an energetic start. Sherman Alexie's "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" is an introspective and amusing tour of life in and around eastern Washington's Spokane Indian Reservation that shines with wit, wisdom, irony, and a fine prose-poetry style.
The twenty-two intertwined stories in the book outline the difficult lives of Alexie's "cousins," both on and off the reservation, whose existence continues solely by the effort of enduring multiple hardships. Alcoholism, poverty, and diabetes combine with depression, despair, and disappearances, in a place where there are no high school reunions because classes have "a reunion every weekend at the Powwow Tavern."
The book begins with a harrowing scene, as nine-year-old Victor wanders through his house while a night-long party swirls around him like a hurricane. A fight erupts between two uncles in the front yard, and the boy watches. "...they had to be in love," he presumes. "Strangers would never want to hurt each other that badly."
In "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," Victor, older now, must retrieve his father's body. With Victor having no money for the trip from Spokane to Phoenix, Thomas Builds-the Fire, the shunned storyteller who talks to birds and rusting cars, steps in and offers to help him. "How did you know about it?" Victor asks. Thomas replies, "I heard it on the wind, I heard it from the birds. I felt it in the sunlight. Also, your mother was in here crying." Several times in the past, Victor has treated Thomas cruelly, now he has no choice but to accept. In a scene reminiscent of Buddy and Philbert in "Powwow Highway," they retrieve the body and drive back to Spokane in the father's pickup truck, with gas money from the father's meager savings account. Thomas tells stories, including one involving seeking a vision at Spokane Falls and encountering Victor's father, but when they return to the reservation, they cannot be friends. As a token, Victor gives Thomas half of his father's ashes.
Some of the stories will leave the reader a bit confused. Those having a better understanding of tribal history will comprehend more of the inner meanings associated with feelings about the BIA, commodity supplies, the struggle to stay sober, and taking responsibility for the actions of those not related to you. In a poignant scene from "Witnesses, Secret or Not," a teen gives a dollar to a drunken acquaintance lying in a doorway. To the teen, it's a comic book and a diet Pepsi. To the other it's much more, it's enough for a jug. "One Indian doesn't tell another what to do," he says to himself.
It takes courage to write stories such as these, and yes, anger. It's even hard to tell in the photo of Alexie, whether that's a shy smile on his face or a smirk. If it's a shy smile, the anger shows through in stunning passages such as this: "James must know how to cry because he hasn't yet and I know he's waiting for that one moment to cry like it was five hundred years of tears. He ain't walked anywhere and there are no blisters on his soles but there are dreams worn clean into his rib cage and it shakes and shakes with each breath and I see he's trying to talk when he grabs the air behind his head or stares up at the sky so hard." Alexie is a talent with a clear voice. His lyrical stories entertain, teach, and will be remembered.
Other works by Alexie are "I Would Steal Horses" (Poetry, date not available), "Old Shirts and New Skins" (Poetry, 1993), "First Indian on the Moon" (Poetry, 1993), and "The Business of Fancydancing" (Poetry and Stories, 1992). Grove/Atlantic Monthly Press will publish his first novel early next year. Reviewed by Steve Brock
PG NOTE: It's been published. Reservation Blues, clothbound only unfortunately, has the Native rock group Coyote Springs exploring life on the Rez and in New York City. 290 pages, also available from AISES, $21. Reviewed in Adult Books here. See long reviews, controversy.
Books by Sherman Alexie available from Amazon.com.
NAVAJO: PORTRAIT OF A NATION, photography by Joe Grimes. Westcliffe Publishers, Inc., 2650 S. Zuni St., Englewood, CO 80110, (800) 523-3692, (303) 935-0903 FAX. Illustrated (150 color and black-and-white photographs). 192 pp., $45.00 cloth, $24.95 paper. 0-929969-70-7 cloth, 1-56579-005-7 paper.
The sparkling photographs and portraits of this remarkable volume depict the Navajo in many guises: craftspeople in their studios, ranchers herding sheep on an ATV, a bull rider on the rodeo circuit displaying a championship belt buckle, a retired medicine man contemplating the future, a mother and her young son posing below a wall decorated with patriotic emblems.
The differences between the young and old is very distinct.
Most of the elders are in traditional dress and are dignified, showing little outward feeling. The teens, especially the boys, are dressed in the clothing of the popular culture and appear rebellious and defiant. A high school drummer in a band wears a "Motley Crue" T-shirt, while Kerry Begay of Big Mountain wears his baseball hat backwards, arms crossed, and won't look at the camera. Along with these intimate portraits are breathtaking landscape photographs: an ethereal sunset over Monument Valley, a dreamlike image of rain clouds over Marble Canyon, or hallucinatory sandstone formations in Antleope Canyon.The spell of these photographs is intensified by the excerpts of Navajo songs, interviews by Navajo journalist Betty Reid, and a concise history of the people by ethnohistorians Garrick and Roberta Glenn Bailey. Grimes chose not to photograph the most important part of life to the Navajo, their sacred dances (there are photographs of dances at a Fourth of July Fair, but these are more festive than reli- gious) and religious rites. What he does capture are a proud people who walk in beauty. Highly recommended. Reviewd by: Steve Brock
THE NATIVE AMERICAN SWEAT LODGE: HISTORY AND LEGENDS by Joseph Bruchac. The Crossing Press, P.O. Box 1048, Freedom, CA 95019, (800) 777-1048, (408) 722-2749. Illustrated, index, bibliography. 145 pp., $12.95 paper. Available from The Mail Order Book Catalog, 800-695-2241. 0-89594-636-X
The prolific Bruchac (Abenaki) has written a respectful and respectable treatise on the sweat lodge - describing its history (sweat lodge ceremonies were banned by the U.S. government in the late 1800s), different designs, and its place in the myths (creation, testing, trickster, and healing) of several different tribes. I wonder, though, about Bruchac's intended audience. If this is meant to be an anthropological treatment of the subject, he goes over old, yet welcome, terrain. If it is a guide for non-Indians to understand the traditions and religious aspects of sweat ceremonies, this may be a constructive summation. To his merit, Bruchac, while cautiously encouraging non-Indian sweats, states his opposition to the ommercialization of Native American religious practices, such as the paying of "purportedly Indian teachers" to lead sweats. The book, for either audience, is recommended. Reviewed by: Steve Brock
Books by Joseph Bruchac available from Amazon.com.
THE SOUL OF AN INDIAN, AND OTHER WRITINGS FROM OHIYESA (CHARLES ALEXANDER EASTMAN), edited by Kent Nerburn, Ph.D. New World Library, 58 Paul Drive, San Rafael, CA 94903, (800) 227-3900, (800) 632-2122 in California, (415) 472-6131 FAX. 128 pp., $12.95 cloth. 1-880032-23-6
"...the God of the civilized and the God of the primitive, is after all the same God; and that this God does not measure our differences, but embraces all who live rightly and humbly on the earth." -- Ohiyesa
Ohiyesa, a Santee Dakota, lived a frustrated life in both the Native and white worlds. As a child, Ohiyesa was educated in the traditional teachings. His father, however, saw the Native way of live being extinguished and sent him to Dartmouth and Boston University to learn medicine. The student changed his name to Charles Alexander Eastman. After experiencing the corruption of Indian agents upon his return to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Eastman spent the rest of his life trying to bring Natives and whites to a greater understanding of each other. This small gift book contains short inspirational passages from Ohiyesa's writings, from the love of nature to the moral strength of women to the Indian sense of rightness and justice. This is an appropriate gift for an occasion where encouragement and strength are required. Reviewed by Steve Brock
You can download or read this on-line in the typo-laden large files of the University of Virginia's etext (for out-of-copyright) book project. I disagree with Brock's contention that Ohiyesa's life was frustrated in either world. He livd a life of great accomplishment, through his writings and his medical work. He was the only doctor available to the survivors of the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890, for example.
Add: Wigwam Evenings ($10)), Old Indian Days($9) both also available from AISES. All the books are available as on-line-readabl or downloadable etext. Memoris of an Indian Boyhood (Dover, $5). All but Memoirs of an Indian Boyhood are available from AISES.
Books by Charles Eastman available from Amazon.com.
WOUNDED KNEE 1973: A PERSONAL ACCOUNT by Stanley David Lyman. University of Nebraska Press (Bison Imprint), 901 N. 17th St., Lincoln, NE 68588-0520, (800) 755-1105, (402) 472-6214 FAX. The University of Nebraska Press online catalog is available on the Internet by telneting to CRCVMS.UNL.EDU, username INFO, choosing UNIVERSITY PRESS, and ONLINE CATALOG. Illustrated, index, map,
Lyman was the Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent at Pine Ridge when members of the American Indian Movement began a seventy-one-day occupation of the small town of Wounded Knee, a symbolic gesture that harkened back to the 1890 massacre of 150 tribal members by the U.S. Cavalry. Lyman's personal account is in the form of a diary, which details his frustration with those on both sides of the conflict. This is a well-written, if not entirely unbiased, narrative of the events that began with impeachment proceedings against Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson, grew into an armed standoff, and ended with the deaths of two Indians and the serious wounding of a U.S. marshal. Recommended. Reviewd by Steve Brock
A second Look: Not entirely unbiased, wow what an understatement. Lyman was a participant in events -- on the U.S. govenrment side. He manipulated the press as per orders, covered up brutal atrocities by the GOON squads then, and the dozens, perhaps hundreds of murders of AIM supporters that occurred during the following 3 years on Pine Ridge. He supported the corrupt tribal council all the way; after all, it was the BIA they were puppets of and the BIA (mostly) who corrupted them. This book is the self-protecting appology of a U.S. government operator who did his appointed best to surpress the struggle for Native rights and sovereignty going on in his balliwick at that time, and decades afterwards, Lyman hopes to be seen as an impartial historian. Too many of us involved in that struggle are still alive for him to make this plausible. This is U.S. government propaganda, posing as history, by one of the government functionaries. Reviewed by Paula Giese
TOUCHING THE FIRE: BUFFALO DANCING, THE SKY BUNDLE, AND OTHER TALES by Roger Welsch. Fawcett Columbine, 201 E. 50th St., N.Y., NY 10022, (800) 638-6460, (212) 572-6030 FAX. 295 pp., $10.00 paper. 0-449-90869-0
This are the stories and myths of a fictional tribe called the Turtle Creek Nehawkas, loosely based on those of several Nebraska tribes (notably the Omaha, Pawnee, and Lakota). Welsch, adopted into the Omaha tribe in 1967 as Tenuga Gahi - Bull Buffalo Chief, relates the unwritten Nehawka history, the tribe's religious beliefs, and its sacred bundle: the artifacts, songs, and dances, which give the tribe its identity, the sanctity of which Anglos continue to violate. Some of the stories are tragic, some are uplifting, some are bursting with satiric wit, and all have been going on forever. Highly recommended. Reviewed by Steve Brock
TWO OLD WOMEN: AN ALASKA LEGEND OF BETRAYAL, COURAGE, AND SURVIVAL by Velma Wallis. Epicenter Press, 18821 64th Ave. N.E., Seattle, WA 98155, (800) 452-3032. Illustrated, map. 159 pp., $16.95
The winner of the 1993 Western States Book Award in the creative nonfiction category, Wallis recounts the Athabaskan Indian legend of two elderly women who are abandoned when their tribe experiences an unusually harsh winter and run low on food. The tribe barely survives until spring, and the next winter is just as bad. When the tribe finds itself back in the place where they had abandoned the women, they send out scouts to find traces of them. When found in good health, the women must now decide whether to save those who had betrayed them. A penetrating story, perfect for reading aloud. Reviewed by Steve Brock
Books by Velma Wallis available from Amazon.com.
A CIRCLE OF NATIONS: VOICES AND VISIONS OF AMERICAN INDIANS, edited by John Gattuso. Beyond Words Publishing, 13950 NW Pumpkin Ridge Road, Hillsboro, OR 97123, (800) 284-9673, (503) 647-5114 FAX. Illustrated, notes. 128 pp., $39.95 cloth. 0-941831-90-6
This striking combination of essays, poems, and photographs by a who's who of Native American writers and artists is a celebration of life from a unique and creative viewpoint. These are the words and faces of pain, oppression, survival, and endurance. The authors include Leslie Marmon Silko (who provides the forward to the book), Simon Ortiz, Joy Harjo, Paula Gunn Allen, Michael Dorris, Linda Hogan, Gabriel Horn (White Deer of Autumn), Debra Calling Thunder, and the photographers include Joe Martin Cantrell, David Neel, Nancy Ackerman, Larry Gus, Greg Staats, and Kenny Blackbird. This warm and spirited volume is an exquisite work, sure to be an award-winner and perfect as a gift. Highly recommended. Reviewed by Steve Brock
SELU: SEEKING THE CORN-MOTHER'S WISDOM by Marilou Awiakta. Fulcrum Publishing, 350 Indiana St., Suite 350, Golden, CO 80401, (800) 992-2908, (303) 279-7111. Illustrated, index, notes. 352 pp., $19.95 cloth. 1-55591-144-7
There is no higher compliment than having a Cherokee Indian offer to share corn with you. To them and many other tribes, corn isn't just the grain that is eaten, but a spiritual entity that gives the people strength to survive. In order to grow it, people must cooperate. In order for the harvest to be abundant, they must maintain a balance and harmony of water, soil, and sun. Cherokee poet Marilou Awiakta blends stories, poems, and essays to apply Selu's wisdom to contemporary issues such as the Tellico Dam controversy ("Arrow of Warning and Hope"), nuclear power ("Baring the Atom's Mother Heart"), gender and sex ("Selu and the Sex Expert"), and politics ("Cooperation and Government"). Awiakta gives readers a sometimes not-so-gentle poke in the Adam's rib, reminding us that only in balance is life sustained. Eye-opening and splendidly written. Reviewed by Steve Brock
2nd Look:: This is really an adult book, but so well written and intresting that Native high school youth will find their attention held by it. I don't want them to miss it, so it is included here. Most youth should be able to handle the reading, only the length may pose a problem for teachers of some classes. Essays on topics of interest can be selected. Oyate recently announced a 1995 3-hour audiotape of Awiakta reading from her book, not in their main catalog. Oyate, 510-848-6700. $16.95, Paula Giese
Books by Marilou Awiakta available from Amazon.com.
DANCING TEPEES: Poems of American Indian Youth, selected by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. New York : Holiday House, 1989. (All ages)
A thoughtful and sensitive collection of poems from the oral traditions of Native Americans and contemporary tribal poets compiled by a Lakota woman who grew up on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. The illustrations accurately reflect traditional Native American art forms and serve the text well. A welcome addition to any poetry collection. Reviewed by Lisa Mitten and Naomi Caldwell-Wood
Second look: Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve is a Brule Sioux, born on the Rosebud, SD, reservation in 1933. She has written 5 novels -- all in the early and mid-70's -- for young adults, all of which focus on read histories and real, living culture of the Lakota people. These books, published by small presses, are difficult to obtain now. They are: HIGH ELK'S TREASURE; JIMMY YELLOW HAWK; WHEN THUNDER SPOKE; BETRAYED; and THE CHOCHI HOOHOO BOOGEYMAN. These -- at the time -- were very well liked by city Indian students at Red School House, the AIM Survival School in St. Paul. It is to be wished that a commercial children's publisher would arrange for their reprinting with good native-artist illustrations. Paula Giese
Books by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve available from Amazon.com.
THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE DANGEROUS: DIALOGUES WITH THE ZUNI INDIANS by Barbara Tedlock. Penguin USA Books, 375 Hudson St., N.Y., NY 10014, (800) 253-2304, (212) 366-2666 FAX. Illustrated, index, bibliography, discography, notes. 349 pp., $12.00 paper. 0-14-017812-0
Anthropologist Tedlock (SUNY Buffalo) lived with the Zuni for extended periods over the last 20 years. In this "narrative ethnology," her dialogues are personal, and the reader comes to feel that they are also present, listening to Zuni discourses on myth and religion, art, medicine, and the natural world, as well as alcoholism and domestic violence. This is a valuable work, a rare glimpse into the contemporary lives of the Zuni. Highly recommended. Reviewd by Steve Brock
POLITICAL LEADERS AND PEACEMAKERS: AMERICAN INDIAN LIVES, Victoria Sherrow; Facts on File, Inc., 460 Park Avenue South, N.Y., NY 10016, (800) 322- 8755, FAX: (212) 213-4578. 1994, 146 pages, index, annotated bibliography, photos. Hardcover, $17.95; 0-8160-2943-1
This is part of the FoF Native biographies series. Sherrow is an accomplished writer of numerous young adult and children's non-fiction books, including books on Indians of the Great Plateau, Great Basin, Iroquois, and Hopi. This book contains chapters on:
Deganawidah and Hayenwatha: Architects of the great peace IIroquois Confederacy); Seathl: Diplomat of the Pacific Northwest (Salish); John Ross: Leading a displaced people (Cherokee); Washakie: Quest for a new Shoshone homeland (Shoshone); Black Kettle: Betrayal of a peace chief (Cheyenne); Ouray: the changing frontier (Ute); Crowfoot: Last days of the buffalo hunt (Blackfoot/Blood); Spotted Tail: A Sioux Warrior works for peace (Brule Santee Dakota); Winema (Tobey Riddle): Brave mediator in the Modoc war (Modoc); Annie Dodge Wauneka: Navajo Health Crusader (Navajo/Dine); Ada Deer: A Menominee Leader heads for Washington (Menominee); Wilma Mankiller: Fiorst woman chief of the Cherokee (Cherokee).
The last 3 are 20th-century women contemporary leaders who in various ways have devoted their lives to various efforts to overcome the harm done to their people by the white destructions. The first -- founders of the 5 Nations confederacy -- invented a new form of government, prior to any white presence. In between, all the leaders are 19th century figures who (some may feel) are actually various forms of traitors to their people; indeed, Spotted Tail was executed (not murdered) by his people for this reason (as Sherrow notes). Winema, a Modoc woman, refused the tribal marriage arranged for her and married a white colonist, spending much of the rest of her life attempting to nfluence the Modocs to peacefully submit to the continued takings of their land, and saving a white man's life in a Pocahontas-like bodily intervention. Sherrow was probably told she could not use other leaders -- of resistance to the whites -- because these are found in the Spiritual Leaders book, reviewed separately here. See long review of Political Leaders. Reviewed by Paula Giese
SPIRITUAL LEADERS: AMERICAN INDIAN LIVES, Paul Robert Walker; Facts on File, Inc., 460 Park Avenue South, N.Y., NY 10016, (800) 322- 8755, FAX: (212) 213-4578; 1994, 144 pages, index, annotated bibliography, photos. Hardcover, $17.95; 0-8160-2875-3
Part of th FoF American Indian Lives series, biographis for YA readers (and schools). In the introduction, Walker says: "Th most basic spiritual truth among American Indian tribes is this: Religion was an integral part of their daily lives. They did not go to church on Sunday and forget it the rest of the week. Every action -- from household chorse to politics, hunting, and warfare -- had spiritual significance." As this indicates, most of the spiritual leaders included here were actually leaders of resistance to white incroachments, or prophets and others whose visions lent support and strength to such resistances. The exception is the 20th century people. Black Elk had a great vision, but believed he had failed, and "the people's hoop is broken and scattered; there is no center any longer; the great tree is dead." The two women included in the book, apparently for PC-ness are not spiritual leaders in any sense. Onee is the pragmatic Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Mountain Wolf Woman (who would hav chuckled at such a designation) and the other is a Cahuilla curandera, or doctor. In the sense of war laders, or spiritual support for them, there are no records of native women in such roles.
Chapters of this book are: Passaconway: Son of the bear (Western Abenaki, 1630's); Popé: Prophet of the Pueblo revolt (San Juan, 1675); Neolin: The Delaware Prophet (Lenni Lenape, 1760); Handsome Lake: prophet of the Good Word (Seneca, 1799); Tenskwatawa: The Shawnee Prophet (Shawnee, 1805); Kenekuk: The Kikapoo prophet (1820); Smohalla: the Washani prophet (Wanapum-Yakima, 1850); John Slocum: The Shaker prophet (Salish, 1881); Zotom: Warrior, artist, missionary, seeker (Kiowa, 1874); Wovoka: The Ghost Dance prophet (Nummu/Northern Paiute); Black Elk: Lakota holy man (Lakota Sioux, 1930); Mountain Wolf Woman (Ho-chunk/Winnebago, 1958); Ruby Modesto: Desert Cahuilla Medicine Woman (Cahuilla, 1976).
This book seems to have been written entirely from published sources. In the case of the 2 women, only 1 autobiographical source is cited for each, but although these women are both survived by relatives who might have been consulted to flesh out the stories they earlier told of themsleves to anthropologists. Reviewed by Paula Giese
ARTISTS AND CRAFTSPEOPLE: AMERICAN INDIAN LIVES, Arlene Hirschfelder; Facts on File, Inc., 460 Park Avenue South, N.Y., NY 10016, (800) 322- 8755, FAX: (212) 213-4578; 1994, 150 pages, index, annotated bibliography, black and white photos. Hardcover, $17.95; 0-8160-2960-1
This is the most disappointing of the FoF American Indian Lives series. Judging by her treatment of artists in the American Indian Almanac (reviewed under References here), Hirschfelder has no feeling for the visual or plastic arts, "tin eye". She must have taken on a task she neither liked nor is suited for for the money. The publisher must take some of the blame for this lame book too. A book about Indian artists must reproduce several artworks -- in color -- for each artist. Their art is their lives after all. This book is illustrated (usually) with one muddy black and white photo, usually of the artist standing or sitting by one of his or her works -- in some cases not even an appropriate work, since some of them have done very famous and well-known pieces that are owned by museums. In most cases quality color photos could easily have been obtained (although most museums charge a substantial publication fee to commercial publishers). And of course quality 4-color printing requires both more money and better paper than these books are printed on. All of these artists have been written up in various art peiodicals, with many fine color illustrations of their works that would have been available, too. So this is an ugly little book about the makers of beauty.
Artists included are Dat So Lee, Washo basketmaker; Nampeyo, Hopi potter; Plains (mostly Kiowa ledger -- here called pictographic -- artists of the 19th century); Maria Martinez (san Ildefonso pottr); Alan Houser, Apache sculptor; Oscar Howe, Lakota (not Dakota) painter; Helen Cordero (Cochiti Storyteller potter -- not dollmaker); Pablita Velarde, Santa Clara painter; Bill Reid, Haida carver (metalworker); Charles Loloma, Hopi jeweler; Stanley R. Hill, Mohawk bone carver; Jimmy Todd (beatien Yazz), Navajo paintr; Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne jeweler); Lawrence Beck (Inuit sculptor); Jaune Quick-to-see Smith (Salish painter); Harry Fonseca (Maidu painter); Rhonda Holy Bear (Lakota doll artist).
A tilt to the southwest is apparent in the artist selections here, as is the absence of beadwork, leatherwork, wood carving, metalwork, quillwork, weaving, all crats except one metalworker (who is depected standing next to an uncharacteristic large carving). There are very few quotes from the artists (most of whom have had a lot to say about what motivates their work, and in particular how they try to serve their peopleand represent traditions through their -- often artistically innovative -- creations). But the big absence is the actual works, in full color, which would make any book valuable, however clunky the context it was embedded in. Instead of this book, the The Native American Fine Art Movement Resource Guide is recommended. Reviewed by Paula Giese.
SCHOLARS, WRITERS, AND PROFESSIONALS: AMERICAN INDIAN LIVES, Jonathon W. Bolton and Claire M. Wilson; Facts on File, Inc., 460 Park Avenue South, N.Y., NY 10016, (800) 322- 8755, FAX: (212) 213-4578. Illustrated with black and white photos, , index, selected annotated bibliography. 1994, 146 pp., $17.95 hardcover. 0-8160-2896-6.
This is the most successful and interesting of the FoF Indian Lives series, most likely because of the nature of its subjects: scholars, writers, professionals, all had a good deal to say of their own life histories during them, and most left substnatial bodies of written work for biographers to draw upon. The result is more fully 3-dimensional life portraits with interesting angles and shadows on these creative, hard-working, but ultimately often frustrating lives. The frustration usually didn't come from non-recognition of their considerable talents. It arose from the fact that almost all the 19th-century intellectuals were committed to using their talents and educations to help their people, who were suffering great hardship, loss of land, and personal devastations, and for the most part, in spite of great efforts, the ameliorations they could help to provide were not much. Corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs is noteworthy in most of the chapters, and opposition of the BIA to the efforts of these Native reformers was usually constant.
Chatper contents: Squoyah (George Guess): Inventory of the Cherokee syllabary (alphabet), 1760-1843; John Rollin Ridge: Cherokee Poet, novelist, historian, journalist;l Sarah Winnemucca: Paiute educator, writer, interpreter, and activist (1844-91); Soaring Arrows: The LaFlesche family (Omaha) -- Susette (activist, 1854-1902); Francis (Ethnologist, 1857-1932); Susan (physician, 1865-1915); Charles A. Eastman (Ohiyesa): Santee Dakota physician and writer, 1858-1939; Alexander Posey: Creek Poet and journalist, 1873-1908; Native American Ethnologists: Caretakers of culture (James R. Murie, Pawnee; Jesse Cornplanter, Seneca; John Joseph Mathews, Osage); N. Scott Momaday: Kowa author and poet, 1934- ; Companions Through Every Page: Michael Dorris (Modoc, 1945-) and Louise Erdrich (Chippewa, 1954 - ).
Neither of thehusband-and-wife team authors appear particularly well-qualified to write this book, one having a background in marketing and English, the other in anthropology and neither with any substantial writing experience. So it must be a combination of real love and interest in the subject and the fact that the subjects themselves left such substantial writings and traces of their own lives that has resulted in such an interesting and readable book (in comparison to the others of these series, all of which ar wooden and lifeless by comparison).
I do object to one misleading distortion of fact. The chapter on Cherokee John Rollin Ridge starts out with a horrible description of murders of his family by brutees in the night. In fact this was a nationally-sanctioned execution squad. Th Ridges had made themselves secure and very, vry rich in Oklahoma by sigining -- in defiance of their National government -- the land cession treaties for Cherokee land. They did not go on the Trail of Tears Death march, they were in Oklahoma years ahead, with the best land claimed and farmed, and the money they got from the sellout. Ridge actually lived most of his life as a white man in California, and his undisgintuished, untalented writings were not done for his people, but for money. Here's a sample of his poetry:
Let all mankind rejoice! for time nor space Shall check the progress of the human race! Though Nature heaved the Contienets apart, She cast in one great mould the hman heart.
Ridge played a substantial part in a post-civil war betrayal, too. He strongly supportd partitioning of the Cherokee Nation, It was his argument that if this wasn't done the followers of John Ross would be too strong in the united nation -- what was left of it. He used the story of the executions of the traitors from the Treaty Party as propaganda. Just as in this book, he prsented them in lobbying activities as fearsome murdering savages out in the night after civilized, nearly-white (rich) law-abiding folks like himself. The authors' main failure here is that they apparently read only materials from this rich, slave-keepingl sell-out faction, the elite who catered to the invaders and mediated for them and served white interests against those of Cherokee (except for themselves of course) in any ways they could. As a literary figure or scholar, this is a rich playboy with no talent, looking out for No. 1, in contrast to everyone else in the book. Oh, well, it's a type still too much to be found around Indian Country today, but it is as well to identify and correctly characterize this 19th century specimen of opportunist for what he actually was.
That dude aside, the rest of the book is fascinating and accurate, because much of the info comes from the subjects and their work. Presumably that's also the reason Ridge comes out shining instead of covered with the darker, smellier substance his actual historical role and absence of any real talent fits him for. It's his own view of himself the authors relied on. He thought he was Great, of course, that type always does. Reviewed by Paula Giese
ATHLETES: AMERICAN INDIAN LIVES, Nathan Aaseng; Facts on File, Inc., 460 Park Avenue South, N.Y., NY 10016, (800) 322- 8755, FAX: (212) 213-4578. 1994, 118 pages, index, annotated bibliography, black and white photos. Hardcover, $17.95; 0-8160-3019-7
Aaseng, a microbiologist who has written many children's science books, is apparently a closet sports -- at least sports page reader -- fan. His prose is the meechanical, cliched action-writing of average sports writers, who describe teams as "romping" over one another and the rest of the jargon. However many like this style and the book will be popular with boys, no doubt. What's wrong with it is that it has almost nothing of the Indian backgrounds of most of the players -- a few bits about racism in early pro ball, and quite a bit about the tribulations of Jim Thorpe, whose Olympic Gold medal was rescinded, probably as much because of class as race. Only for one of the 2 female athletes -- the one who did not continue her successful college basketball career, but died in a car accident -- is there a little Indian personalia, describing the racism the Pine Ridge Lady Thorpes team faced:
"[SueAnne] Big Crow stood outside the gymnasium at Lead, South Dakota, and heard the taunts and war whoops of the hostile crowd. Her teammates were stunned and hurt. The senior who was supposed to lead the team in their warmup drills did not want to go on the court. Although only a 9th grader, Big Crow offered to go first. As she ran out onto the court with the basketball, th hostile whooping grew louder. At center court, Big Crow stopped, tossed the ball to a teammate and took off her warmup jacket. She wrappd it around her shoulders and bgan the Lakota shawl dance. The gym fell silent except for the sounds of her chanting. Then she took the ball, sprinted around the court and as the crowd applauded wildly, laid the ball in the bgasket. Bolstered by the courage of their young teammate, the Lady Thorpes won the game easily."
If only there had been more like that, instead of a dreary sportwriter-type summary of the plays in game after long-over game for the better-known male athletes. There is very little about family lives, personal goals other than to succeed in sports, academic problems or overcoming them. One suspects that if Big Crow had not died, but had gone on to some type of athletic success as Aaseng sees that, that short vignette would have been clipped out in favor of endless old sports press clips. Nobody except Big Crow actually comes across in this book as a 3-dimensional human being with a life off the playing field. The Indian identities of none of them are discussed, except for a brief mention of thir tribes. It is quite clear that for several, thee Indian identity aspect was very minimal, i.e. rather remote Indian ancestry of young people who grew up in white communities, and didn't want to be Indian. Because most boys -- including Indian youth -- are very interested in sports, a book like this is desirable for school libraries, but (except for a few scattered passags like the one quoted), this isn't it. Reviewed by Paula Giese
NATIVE AMERICAN LIVES: PERFORMERS, edited by Liz Sonneborn. Facts on File, Inc., 460 Park Avenue South, N.Y., NY 10016, (800) 322- 8755, FAX: (212) 213-4578. 1994, Illustrated, index, selected annotated bibliography. 128 pp., $17.95 hardcover. 0-8160-3045-6. For ages 10 and up.
From Emily Pauline Johnson and Iron Eyes Cody to Graham Greene and John Trudell, Sonneborn profiles eight of the most famous American Indian performers: musicians, actors, a humorist (Will Rogers), and a ballerina (Maria Tallchief). Included are a short history of each performer's birthplace, a biography, and a discussion of their body of work. Noticeably missing from the volume are Floyd Red Crow Westerman and Carlos Nakai. Grade: B. Also in the "Native American Lives" series: Spiritual Leaders; Scholars, Writers, and Professionals; Political Leaders and Peacemakers; Artists and Craftspeople; and Athletes. Reviewed by Steve Brock
MESSENGERS OF THE WIND: NATIVE AMERICAN WOMEN TELL THEIR LIFE STORIES, edited by Jane Katz. Ballantine Books, 201 E. 50th St., N.Y., NY 10022, (800) 726-0600, FAX: (212) 572-8700. Illustrated, index, selected bibliography, notes, map. 331 pp., $23.00 cloth. 0-345-39060-1
Katz introduces twenty-five Native American women who relate, in their own words, what life means to them, what has shaped it so far, and what the future seems to hold for them and their loved ones. Divided into themes such as "Mending the Tears, Weaving the Strands" and "Look Little Ones, All the Places are Holy," these inspirational narratives contain a common vision: preservation of culture and language are mandatory for tribes to continue to exist. Highly recommended as a supplemental text for undergraduate classes in Women's Studies. Grade: A. Reviewed by Steve Brock
A second Look: Katz has added a few "updates" other very brief essays generally published first elsewhere, and in no sense bios or life stories. This book was first issued by Katz in 1977 as a Dutton papeerback called I am the Fire of Time: The Voices of Native American Women. It was $6.95, back then. She's repackaged what she had, using different topical pigeonholes. She followed up on Ada Deer, who in 1977 had already been elected Menominee Tribal chairwoman (not reflected in the short note, then, from her college days as a DRUMS leader for Menominee land restoration). Katz now knows she's advanced in life to head the BIA. Other contemporary women -- like Laura Wittstock -- haven't ben caught up on since whatevr Katz excerpted of their writings in the early '70's. The repackaging (and re-pricing) is a double marketing target: As Brok notes, for Women's Studies. But this was a poorly-selected, shallow book in 1977. Katz made essentially no contacts with the contemporary women whose work was represented therein, even though she was then living in Minnesota where seveeral of the women were also living then. It was a cut-and-paste book then, and it remains that now, though at 3 times the price. For Women's and Native studies, I would urge one of the many fine books compiled by Native Women scholar/editor/writers, who are able to contact contemporary Native writers, and bring a sense of perspective to thir work, not just clip things. In some cases, scissors appear to have been used politically. Cherokee physician Connie (Red Bird) Pinkerman (formerly Uri) is represented by a meaningless paragraph about her joining the Native Physician's Association in the late 1960's. But by the time Katz compiled the first book, Connie had exposed the systematic genocide -- sterilization of Native women of childbearing age -- being officially practiced in BIA Indian hospitals, something that created a world scandal and exposed Connie to US government assassination attempts. Bias and shallowness marks Katz's selections. She guts powrful, active, thoughtful Native women leaders, and presents little snippets to avoid the politics of reality -- dealt with in many ways by Native women leaders over the years -- for today's academics in Women's Studies, and Native Americna Studies. A rich market. I imagine this book sells very well as a text for their students . By Paula Giese
OCEAN POWER: POEMS FROM THE DESERT by Ofelia Zepeda. University of Arizona Press, 1230 N. Park, #102, Tucson, AZ 85719, (800) 426- 3797, (602) 882-3065 in Arizona, (602) 621-8899 FAX. Afterword. 91 pp., $19.95 cloth (0-8165-1517-4), $9.95 paper (0-8165-1541-7).
Zepeda, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona, reflects on her life as a Tohono O'odham woman: stirring clouds with a harvesting stick, growing hair so long it can be worn as a dress (to be used as a pillow when laid to rest), possessing a body in rhythm with oceans and moons. Not so somber is her frolicsome version of "Under the Sea," ("It's so much better, down where it's wetter"). Many of the poems are printed in both English and O'odham, and one is entirely in O'odham. Intensely personal, remarkably accessible. Grade: A-. "Ocean Power" is volume 32 in the "Sun Tracks" American Indian Literary Series. Reviewed by Steve Brock
Books by Ofelia Zepeda available from Amazon.com.
GHOST SINGER by Anna Lee Walters. University of New Mexico Press, 1720 Lomas Blvd. N.E., Albuquerque, NM 87131-1591, (505) 277-2346, (505) 277-9270 FAX. 248 pp., $17.95 paper. 0-8263-1545-3
This is the novel the Smithsonian Institution doesn't want you to read. Walters, Otoe-Pawnee, has written a thrilling and complex story (now out in a paperback edition) about Navajo ghosts, the bodies they once inhabited stored in cardboard boxes at the Smithsonian, who haunt and murder the anthropologists studying them, as well as members of their own tribe. Grade: A. Reviewed by Steve Brock
A Second Look: No reason at all the Smithsonian should worry about anyone reading this mellerdrammer. There's no cultural authenticity in it -- that would be tribal. And tribally, Navajo people believe when the body is dead, it's done. There may be a chindi left around a while, but that's not really the dead person's spirit or ghost, it's a sort of ambinet left-behind evil.. Navajos are one of the few tribes that don't care about the shunned and abominated objects that are corpses and bones being returned, and aren't clamoring to have them back from the Smithsonian. The reasons for that lie in their own traditional culture. Walters is quite unfamiliar with this, and seems to have picked on them because for whatever reason she didn't want to deal with the issue in relation to either of the tribes she is descended from. Just because a book is written by a Native person does not mean it is in any sense authentic, and this one definitely isn't, in all its "Indian" ghostly fake Navajo trappings. She took a trendy subject in Indian country, no doubt about that. But she was perhaps afraid to present it in relation to her own tribe, and so picked on one she knows little or nothing about. Th book's so ineffective in its mellerdrayma and cultural falsity it almost seems a parody of an issue that important to many tribal peoples. By Paula Giese
Books by Anna Lee Walters available from Amazon.com.
SUNDANCE: THE ROBERT SUNDANCE STORY by Robert Sundance with Marc Gaede. Chaco Press, 5218 Donna Maria Ln., La Canada, CA 91011, (818) 952-0108, FAX: (818) 952-7267. Illustrated, afterword. 300 pp., $12.95 paper. 0-9616019-8-1
Robert Sundance (Rupert Sibley McLaughlan), born on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, roamed all over the West, was arrested over 500 times, and spent most of his adult life in an alcoholic daze. In 1975, however, he sued the city and county of Los Angeles and won his case, bringing wide-ranging reforms to the way street alcoholics were treated. Sundance's memoir vividly documents his relentless bid to be heard. Grade: B. Reviewed by Steve Brock
MOLLY SPOTTED ELK: A PENOBSCOT IN PARIS by Bunny McBride. University of Oklahoma Press, 1005 Asp Ave., Norman, OK 73019, (800) 627-7377, (405) 325-5000 FAX. Illustrated, index, bibliography, notes. 380 pp., $24.95 cloth. 0-8061-2756-2
Molly Nelson (1903-1976), born on Indian Island, Maine, adopted the stage name Spotted Elk as a teenager and danced in vaudeville and wild west shows as a means of linking her Penobscot culture with the increasingly Anglo-dominated world. She eventually achieved international fame, starring in the silent movie "The Quiet Enemy" in 1930, and was invited to perform in Paris. McBride, using Molly's diaries and extensive interviews with her daughter, has written a touching account of a little-known figure in Native American history. Grade: A-. Reviewed by Steve Brock
Webmistress --Paula Giese.Text and graphics copyright 1996
CREDITS: The eagle started life as a real golden eagle photographed as he was being released from the Minnesota Raptor Center, much worked over with graphics utilities for the iridescent abalone-shell wing effect.
Last Updated: Thursday, April 25, 1996 - 10:08:32 AM