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 tribes partial listing, glossary. $9.95 paperback. 0-8027-7445-8. Ages 8 - 16
This is one of the worst books -- of its type, the very worst -- I've ever seen. It has been denoted a "noteworthy children's trade book in the field of multicultural social studies." It has sold well since its issuance in hardcover and is now coming out in paperback. This reference work for children -- and its school reception -- is an example of still-thriving educational racism, an easy to use junior encyclopedia of sorts.
This is not so much a book review, here, as it is an essay about the racism still very prevalent in education. We can examine it -- from A to Z -- in the form of reference and instructional materials to be used with grades 3-7. Without widespread racism -- a malignant or pretended ignorance - - a book like this could not have been published in 1988 and sell so well as to be issued, in 1995, as a low-cost paperback too. If you just want to know should you buy it, No, don't, and do try to remove it, if it's in school libraries of classrooms.
The author confines herself to tribes within U.S. borders but does not include Inuit, Aleut, Athabascan natives of Alaska nor Hawai'i. Many tribes are omitted. There seems no reason why some comparatively historically unimportant tribes were picked for inclusion (Gabrielenos, Karok, Oto, Kickapoo, Tonkawa, Caddo, Catawba, San Juan Pueblo), while other tribes with important historical roles and present-day involvement in critical issues were excluded: (Apache, Menominee, Pima, Paiute, Dakota, Taos Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, San Ildefonso Pueblo, Ottawa, Puyallup, Salish-Kutenai, Makah, Wisconsin Ojibwe and a great many others).
Complementary Genocidal Themes:
Here are two themes that run all through this children's reference work, and are why I call it a genocidal weapon.
1. Obfuscatory, confusing, false treatment of native land base and national sovereignty issues and history. Land base is essential to the survival as Indian people of all real, existing surviving tribes today. It is the nexus of legal rights of sovereignty and self-government -- of nationhood -- which differentiate Indian people from "other minorities." Cultural survivals also require a land base; traditional religions and value structures kept the people in contact with the natural world, kept (and keep) everyone feeling themselves a living part of a living world. Those traditions and valus are rooted in the land.
The single most important thing for non-Indian children (and adults) to understand about Indians is the importance of our remaining land base to our people's survival, and the nature of past threats -- that reappear in different guises -- to it. Understanding this means learning about several inter-related concepts: Treaties and national sovereignty, saleable individual land allotments as opposed inalienable national lands, and termination.
If a new generation of non-Indians actually learns about this, our younger generations may perhaps have some political allies, some helpers whose sympathies are informed, not dangerously ignorant. Thus it's far more important that non-Indian young people learn about this than that their multicultural education gives them a few snippets of info about tipis, legends, ancient lifeways which are now gone. There are attacks now on the remaining land bases, so educational materials that confuse or misinform young people about these issues, at the time when their strongest impressions are being formed, are particularly dangerous, since non-Indian adults will be more easily taken in by manipulative politics that (for example) re-introduces termination under the guise of "helping Indian by moderning their treaties and giving them normal rights." This actual campaign is very politically active in Wisconsin.
2. Dehumanization: This reference book for non-Indian children consistently presents Indian people as having been originally (before white uplift and in resisting intended uplift or civilization) naked, primitive, simple, perhaps brutal, weird, pagan, heathen savages, violent and dangerous. Excesses of the historic past against the these subhumans are presented as excusable, though perhaps regrettable. Dehumanization is related to the attacks on our land base and our sovereignty. Its genocidal function is to make it more difficult, or impossible, to ever find friends and allies among this generation of young people exposed to it. To plant the idea among today's young people that all Indians in origin and present practices and values are a primitive bunch.
From "A to Z" this reference for children forwards both genocidal themes above. It distorts, destroys, omits truths, spreads confusion and lies regarding the land and sovereignty issue. It excuses and minimizes infamous massacres, lies about their size or scope. . Its treatment of varied native religions is uniformly offensive, but purposeful: to show up all tribes as weird,primitive, heathens -- savages. A host of other errors further the general themes, and show the general ignorance and arrogance of the author.
i>Land Rights, Treaties and National Sovereignty
Termination is the recent (1950's - 70's) attack on Native national land bases, national sovereignty and hence survival. There are many signs it is surfacing again, with different words and actions ("modernizing" old treaties", for instance). Termination is an end to nationhood for Native Nations. How does the reference work treat this issue?
Menominees, (like many other important tribes of today), don't exist in the A - Z tribes info section. This means that Ada Deer, current head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, comes from a non-existent tribe. But it also means that the long Menominee struggle against termination, which Ada Deer was a leader of 30 years ago, is left out. Even in a couple of summary pages about the Menominee, termination could have been illuminated. Because the Menominees were the tribe who rolled it back. Termination makes only one sly little appearance, for the other tribe that was fully terminated as the start of terminating all:
"The Klamath and their neighbors the Modoc, traded horses for slaves along the Columbia river. [No they didn't; sticking slaves in here is an attempt to portray them as bad guys wayback.] White settlers in wagon trains destroyed many of their wild foods, scared away their game, and left them sick with strange diseases. Survivors signed a treaty in 1864 ceding most of their land in exchange for a small reservation. Later, they sold the reservation land and divided the money among tribal members."
That's it, termination, that sly little "sold the reservation land", those improvident Klamaths. Their timber was more immediately attractive to large corporate interests (because of its location), so they were subjected to more pressure, and lacked the leadership and creativityof the Menominees' long political struggle against the Menominee forced termination. This incorrect and misleading little Klamath reference is the only reference to th official U.S. termination policy about reservations that got underway in 1950, and remains an ever-present political threat to tribes today.
What was or is termination? It is genocide. An end to the remaining national status of all tribes who have it. That means an end to a (tribal) national legal ability to protect remaining land bases in any way, and an end to all legal rights of self-government that are still exercised, tied to that land base, the Native nations. These national aspects of continued native existence -- particularly the continuing legal struggles involving them -- are often tied closely to treaties.
Land cessions a part of U.S. "nation-building" from the end of the 18th century onward, were by treaties -- which are nation-to-nation agreements, that legally acknowledge the national existence of the seller, and a parcel of national rights in international (and U.S.) law. Those rights of acknowledged national existence form the basis of the most important continuing legal struggles, and of much of the tribal financial development that has recently occurred, and is generally under Congressional and local attack today. A few treaties get mentioned (in entries for a few tribes) within the exposition of the A - Z tribal muster. Just what they are is left unclear for the youngsters. That's reserved for a glossary at the end of the book.
There, "ceding of land" is defined as: "The Indians were made to sign papers that transferred the title or ownership of their land to the United States government or its agents. Most Indians did not understand what owning land meant, however, and even if they had, the land could not have been surrendered without approval of the entire tribe -- something that never happened."
Our ancestors were not so stupid that for 200 years they didn't know what was going on. The concept of land ownership as real property, with individual and alienable (sellable) title, was not accepted by any tribe, for a variety of reasons, and many cession treaties, presented via interpreters were not well understood. But what's really wrong here is this "sign papers" business. Those papers were treaties. Cession treaties were signed by some fake "chiefs" and so on. But the reason most treaties were signed was that there was a perceived exchange -- however unfair. Dispirited, disease-decimated and massacre-reduced tribes generally saw they could no longer survive in traditional ways. Treaties supposedly guaranteed them some land base to live upon, as nations, and some help -- educational, financial, technological -- in adapting to new ways of survival that they would have to learn.
Treaty, frequently mentioned in A-Z's entry text, also shows up in the glossary: "A formal agreement between two or more nations, relating to peace or an alliance. From 1835 to 1856, the U.S. signed 52 treaties with Native Americans to acquire 174 million acres of land -- and broke every one of them [the treaties, not the acres, presumably]."
Actually 372, not 52, treaties were signed by Congress (and there are quite a few that never got ratified) until Congress specifically said it would make no more treaties with Native Nations, in 1871. Even here -- disconnected from everything that gives it its modern historical and legal sense -- the author doesn't get it. Treaties are not signed "with Native Americans" (individuals) but between nations, which carries many legal implications. In addition to the U.S. treaties, treaties between other nations are relevant to Indian rights.
Young people won't learn of the real importance of treaties (acknowledgement of tribal-national status) in this reference work that forms a foundation of young people's understanding of Indians, what is most important to us, to our nations, for our survival, is just not there to be understood.
What of the land Allotments policies? As indicated for the Klamaths, for tribal termination, the modern version, A-Z doesn't deal adequatly with either the allotment concept or its specific 19th-century legal implementation: the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887. Once you have terminated national status, you parcel out the remaining land to individuals. And then it gets sold or tax-forfeited.
In this children's reference, Dawes shows up only in the glossary: "The Allotment Act (Dawes Act) was designed to reduce the size of reservation land given to Indians west of the Mississippi River. It gave tribe members parcels of their reservation land and the government the right to sell the remaining land to white settlers."
What's missing here: First, the Dawes Act destroyed nations and national sovereignty; legal rights were simply rejected by it. Second, in addition to taking various nationally held communal lands within then-existing reservation boundaries, it allotted the rest of the land to Indians as individuals, as real estate parcels, which could be (and were) readily taken from the allotees by trickery, forced sales, tax forfeitures, or even plain need of an desperately poor Indian family to sell their little parcel for some money for immediate survival.
Dawes attacked national, collective rights: not only of those Indians then, but of the entire future. This attack was plain violation of both U.S. national laws (regarding treaties) and international law. Dawes was politically forwarded with disgusting rhetoric about "giving Indian people their rights to their land." I.e. individually, so they have the right to sell it, it is no longer nationally protected, by Native, U.S., or international law.
This same rhetoric -- giving Indian people their rights -- supported Termination in the 1950's - 1970's. And this very same rhetoric is found today among those who want to extinguish Indian Nations and their remaining rights as nations and who talk of "modernizing" treaties in order "to help the Indian people get up to date." Ther is a very active political movement working on this right now.
This is not beyond the grasp of 10 - 14 year-olds. But every related matter in this so called reference is treated in a manner that conceals and distorts beyond possibility of recognition the real roots of a current situation vital to continuing U.S. Native survival.
Understanding this aspect of Indian history is the single most important aspect of "multicultural education" (as Indian people see it) for non-Indian youth today. What non-Indian youth, a numerical majority, come to believe and know of these matters as they become adults is of critical importance to the continuing possibilities of U.S. Native survival. A good understanding of land base, nationhood, and sovereignty issues might actually create some allies among today's non-Indian youth. At a minimum, it could dispel well intentioned "helpers" whose ignorance destroys our nations, and hence our people through supporting notions like "giving Indian people all their rights" (termination; individual allotments; destruction of national sovereignty), as it has happened before, and as most of us believe will come round again.
The absence of truthful non-confusing history incorporating these issues is made worse by the presence of much that is relevant to them and is deceptively presented. This shows up in many ways within the context of most of the A - Z tribal info entries.
Part II: Dehumanization
The second theme of a more overt racism, portrayal of Indians as subhuman savages, is accomplished by excusatory whitewash of U.S. massacres, ignoring very famous events and people or treating them in such a distorted way they are unrecognizable. All Indian wars are treated as the Pueblo (Popè) war was: with a sickly-sweet false sympathy, and no indication that the tribes were capable of planning, strategy, intelligence, in defense of very broad multi-tribal homeland areas such as the Plains. Nor is there any attention to the white strategy of developing and using traitors, playing off tribes against each other, destroying plants and animals needed for life, introducing poison (alcohol), and disease, etc.
Racism in Portrayals of Infamous Massacres
Sand Creek, and its followup, Washita, are exemplary infamous massacres, the first even leading to a formal reprimand and removal from command of the officer in charge, the second to the start of his military rep for an officer most have heard of: Custer.
Here's how this popular reference for children treats Sand Creek (Washita, th follow-up, isn't mentioned) under CHEYENNE:
"The Gold Rush brought miners and white settlers into their territory, but the Cheyenne refused to sell. United States troops went to war over the land and when Chief Black Kettle and two hundred of his people finally surrendered under a flag of truce, frightened troops massacred them all. This angered the Cheyenne and their friends, the Arapaho, who banded together to attack white settlement. The raiding and fighting lasted ten years and is known as the Sioux Wars."
I shouldn't have to do anything more than show that quote to prove how profoundly unqualified this lady is to write about any Indian people. But for the benefit of the ignorant, I'll explain how deeply wrong -- in a racist way -- this passage is, by contrasting it to standard and readily-available real accounts:
Sand Creek, the first massacre of Black Kettle's band, occurred in November of 1864 (during the U.S. Civil War to the east), when Col. John Chivington (Rev; Chivington, he was a Denver Methodist minister), who had raised a regiment of volunteers during the U.S. Civil War to inflict punishments on the Plains Indians, came upon Black Kettle's camp asleep. Under a previous agreement, Black Kettle had "registered" his band as peaceables, and told the authorities at Fort Lyon where they would be camped for the winter, about 40 miles from the fort. Chivington notified the Ft. Lyon garrison of his plans, and was told to leave Black Kettle's band alone. But Chivington was on the Plains for a final solution to the Indian problem: "Kill them all, great and small, nits breed lice" had been his recruiting slogan, and "take no prisoners" was his policy. Black Kettle's band weren't Good Indians, whatever the local Army command said, because they were alive; but they also were handy for attack.
Black Kettle's camp was surrounded by Chivington's army and shelled by emplaced canons. They did try raising both surrender and American flags, to no avail. Black Kettle and about 100 people got away, the rest -- most of the band's women, children, elders -- were slaughtered with great brutality. A government investigation later actually reprimanded Chivington and removed him from command. Troops cut off the breasts and genitalia of dead Indian women for souvenirs. They killed many little children deliberately, not something doen in heat of battle, but an aftermath butchery.
Washita, the second massacre, was the follow-up. In 1868, a young cavalry officer, new to command and looking to build his military rep and get promoted, came upon the remnants of Black Kettle's band encamped for the winter at Washita River. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer deployed his men during the night, attacking the surrounded, sleeping camp at dawn, killing Black Kettle and almost all the other men who had survived Sand Creek. Custer did achieve a promotion for this effort.
"Frightened troops massacred Black Kettle's Cheyennes" is a nasty whitewash of a nasty pair of well-documented historical events. So nasty even the U.S. government couldn't manage to whitewash the first one. Sand Creek figures in every book about the 19th century Plains wars, and Washita is usually mentioned too, since it was a followup. I.e. this is not a naive, error caused by insufficient research of bit of historical esoterica. This is a whitewash.
Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn), Custer's Last Stand: This is a famous Indian victory, often presented in a racist way. In this reference work, it's not presented at all. There is no mention of Custer, as earlier there's no mention of his career-start at the Washita massacre. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse -- no mention. This is as good a place as any to say that almost no names, either Indian or European, and almost no dated specific events in the alleged tribe-by-tribe purported histories appear in this supposed reference.
Wounded Knee, a massacre that occurred just after Christmas, in 1890, is another infamous massacre, long commemorated by the U.S. as a "battle", in excusatory terms. None went so far as this lady, though, in this reference for white children.
For starters, there is no entry for SIOUX in the A - Z thing. Some fellows called TETONS have the only entry for Lakota and Dakota:
"The Teton are one for 3 major subgroups of the Sioux Indians. The other two are Yankton and Santee...they fought for almost half a century to keep their lands and signed several treaties which were never honored. In 1868 Red Cloud, a chief of the Oglala band of the Teton, accepted reservation land in western South Dakota and moved there with his people. The nearby Black Hills were sacred to the Teton, who went there to worship. When gold was discovered in the hiss, the Teton were forbidden to go into the hills to worship. Later their reservation was divided into five smaller reservations to make room for other homeless Indians."
That's another passage which should be enough by itself to put this author into some other business than writing about Indians. Never mind the problems with the "3 major subgroups". Generally, the western division liked (and likes) to be called Lakota, and was made up of 7 Nations -- the sacred circle. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 resulted from a succession of military victories, led by Red Cloud and other important patriots. This treaty, negotiated from a position of military strength, draws a border for extensive national lands, that included all of the Black Hills and the Powder River country in Wyoming and Montana, encompassing most of the Dakotas and the northern half of Nebraska.
The Black Hills are not "nearby", they are entirely inside the 1868 Treaty reservation boundary. Also, though there were sacred sites and ceremonies, the Black Hills were also a fruitful hunting ground, for animals other than buffalo (and many fruits). They provided sheltered winter campgrounds out of the fierce winds and storms of the open plains. The idea that the "Tetons" tripped in and out to "worship" as if going to church on Sunday is silly. When gold was discovered (by an expedition led by Custer, in 1870), what the U.S. did was refuse to enforce the treaty, and keep their own citizens -- the rush of miners -- out.
Clashes with the U.S.-encouraged invaders were then held up as atrocities requiring war to put the Indians down. By now, the U.S. had recovered somewhat from its Civil War, and turned its military and financial power to subduing the Plains, and the tribes further west. The "Tetons" i.e. Lakota) were not "forbidden" to go into the Black Hills for worship (or any purpose), thy were killed if they couldn't defend themselves, and further attacked if they did.
The "Sioux" have an Eastern Woodland division (who did not migrate out onto the plains), called SanteeDakota, with 5 major tribal components. The eastern division was jacked around in Minnesota, leading to a rebellion in 1861-62, defeat, exile of all survivors, and the largest official mass execution in U.S. history, at Mankato, MN around Christmas (these things make nice Christian holiday entertainments). That's not mentioned, of course, in this reference work.
The large, treaty-determined Lakota national land was broken up in several late 19th-century phases. The last big taking, the Dawes Allotment Act, is what led directly to Ghost Dancing, and the Wounded Knee massacre. The idea the big nation was broken up and diminished to "make room for other homeless Indians" is absurd on its face and racist.
Immediately thereafter, there follows this complete description, to "the end" of the TETONS, all that is said about "the Sioux" (Lakota, Dakota):
"In the late 1800s the Teton began to hold a celebration called the Ghost Dance with the hope that these celebrations would, through supernatural means, bring an end to white settlers, who were taking Indian land and destroying the environment. Descendants of the Teton live on several small reservations in South Dakota."
That's it. There is no reference either to the famous defeat of Custer or the massacre at Wounded Knee in what passes for "Sioux" reference history, i.e. TETONS. There is a bit more about the Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee in the back of the book glossary, as a definition of "Ghost Dance". It's even worse. Once again the religious activity born of desperation is called "a celebration" (a bizarre racist characterization): "Ghost Dancing ended in 1890 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, because the United States Army did not understand why the tribes had assembled, and killed most of the dancers."
That's another of the direct quotes whose presence should not require any explanation of why it's not only totally wrong but racist. This time I am not going to explain that, but will refer anyone who is so ignorant as to need such explanation to Dee Brown's Bury My heart at Wounded Knee to start their education about U.S. Indian history. Suffice it the quote is entirely sufficient evidence this woman should not be writing anything about Indian people or history.
I've chosen these examples because they are all so generally known among white writers, historians, etc., that the peculiarity of this woman's reference presentations for children can be explained only as inventive racism at work. There is no body of conflicting historical authority she might have stumbled upon to turn into her naive-appearing racist historical garbage for children. Her garbage is machined by herself.
These are fundamental errors -- big ones -- wrong both factually and morally, on a par with (say) a German historian who prepared a history reference for German children that presented Hitler as a great friend, admirer, and helper of the Jews.
There are similar racist treatments for earlier notorious incidents. Cherokees will be outraged to learn that supposedly only 1600 of them were death-marched on the Trail of Tears, which "cost the lives of almost five hundred of them along the way."
Actually, the number of Cherokees forcibly removed from their developed homelands was in the tens of thousands. Here's what one standard expert (Grant Foreman) said in his major multi-volume history, done in the 1930's:
"No report was made of the number of Cherokees who died as the result of the removal...the Government did not wish to preserve any information touching the fearful cost to the helpless Indians....From fragmentary official figures, it appears that more than 1,600 just of those who removed under the direction of John Ross died on the journey. It is known that the rate of mortality was higher among the previously removed parties....Hundreds died in the stockades, and the concentration camps, before the forced marches. Hundreds of others died soon after arrival in the new Indian Territory from sickness, exposure, and starvation. Only a very small percentage of the old, the infirm, or the very young survived. At least 4,000 Cherokee died in the removals....". Another estimate puts the figure much higher, i.e. "at least one-third of a nation" whose total recorded population at the time of the removals was about 26,000, i.e. around 9,000 people. The figure in most history and reference books is 4,000, but the "one-third" is usually given also, and "much larger but unknown" gets mentioned too.
There can be no excuse or accident, for this racist minimization, i.e. the Trail of Tears is not some historically esoteric, little-known event, hard to find out about, even if you are some dumb, arrogant ill-educated incompetent researcher preparing a reference work for children. You can't find the false minimization, you have to make it up. What's actually worse then the racist minimization of the death marches is this:
"In spite of their pain and hardship, the survivors prospered in the new land. They became one of the Five Civilized Tribes, which included...[the others]."
This is more outrageous than the excusatory treatment of the death marches. The "Five Civilized Tribes" were called that when they were on their own original lands. Which they had developed, farmed, and on which they'd built houses, printing presses, schools, community halls, government centers, roads, boat landings, etc., in the process of adapting to a new way of life that offered comforts and enjoyments many liked, while others saw it as necessary if they were to survive among the increasing power of the white invaders. This is why white people wanted to oust them. All this land was nicely developed, and didn't require the sort of effort and financial investment that clearing a forest or even breaking farms out of prairie wilderness does. To suggest that the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole became "civilized" after their removals seems to be said (falsely) here as a justification of the (minimized) "pain and hardship" and death: well, geewhiz! they learned something from it! so it wasn't all that bad!
From A to Z, less infamous incidents are glossed over. Sly intention to whitewash, rather than ignorance, is suggested by this little architectural note:
"It is not known if the Pequot always palisaded their villages, but in 1637 at last one group lived in a large palisaded village in Mystic, Connecticut, possibly to prevent other tribes from invading their village."
How does she come by this "at least one palisade" factoid? She knows it because the one recorded palisaded Pequot village (on the Mystic River) was surrounded in the early morning hours of May 25, 1637 by Captain John Mason's forces, who burned the sleeping village inside its palisade, and cut down awakened villagers trying to escape the flames, who were trapped inside the palisade. It seems likely the village was palisaded against the whites because the attacks on Pequod villages in what's now Connecticut had begun several years earlier, under Captain John Endecott's attack-and-burn-the-sleeping-village expeditions. Whether other Pequod villages were palisaded by 1637 or not is unclear, since no one was interested in their architecture. The palisade at Mystic River was recorded because the massacre showed a new and successful strategy against other native fortifications of their home villages -- trap them inside while sleeping and burn them up, women and children too of course. That's the only rason the Mystic Pequod palisade made the history books: as a military strategy tip.
So Wolfson's description of "Pequod culture -- shelter -- at least one palisade" is a whitewash by omission. The omission can't be just due to ignorance, because if you know about the 1637 Mystic River Pequod palisade at all, you know about the massacre (which subsequent historians have tended to think rather shameful) -- except for children who read about it in this reference, of course.
The knowledgeable reader will find dozens of other instances of that kind of racism: mini-histories that cover up the worst atrocities of the whites, yet provide enough sidebar facts so the knowledgeable reader (but no one else) can tell she knows what she's doing, covering up these atrocities. The palisade gets in, so to speak, a bit of architectural color, but the families trapped and burnt alive inside it -- what any actual history records -- do not get in.
Religion and Other Savagery: Dehumanization of Indians
Each A-Z entry has a little paragraph-description of the purported "religion" of whatever tribe's being trashed. Without exception, these are offensive, wrong, demeaning. It's almost irrelevant that Indian people of any tribe will find all of this offensive, perhaps hurtful. Its purpose is to demean, denigrate, and dehumanize all Indian people, showing them up as strange, primitive, heathen, weird as regards any tribe's religion. Opening at random and quoting in full:
"The Gabrielino [a California remnant tribe] believe that crow, raven, owl and eagle are sacrad creatures, and they use eagle feathers when performing religious rituals because a dying chief once told them he would return in the form of an eagle."
"The Winnebago worship many gods, including Earthmaker, who created Sun, Moon and Water, each a spirit god."
"The Onondaga believe in Ha-Wah-Ne-U, Creator of the World. Each new year they hold a four-day celebration called the Midwinter Ceremony, when they thank the spirits for the bountiful harvest."
"The Klamath believe in shamans, who obtain special powers by fasting, praying and seeking visions from animal spirits, especially birds."
"The Creek worship the sun and believe that the Great Spirit gives them the black drink, which is reserved for important celebrations. Each year they express their thanks for a bountiful harvest by dancing, feasting and praying at the Green Corn Festival."
"The Kiowa believe the Sun is the chief god and that owls and other nocturnal birds own the souls of the dead."
"The chief god of the Assiniboin is named Wakan Tanka."
"The Omaha believe in Wakan Tanka, an invisible force that controls all living events."
"The Osage believe that Wakan Tanka, the Great Force, maintains order in the sky, and that Grandfather, the Sun, taught them to make bows of osage wood."
"The Oto believe that Wakan Tanka, their most important spirit, is in charge of the entire spiritual world."
"The Ponca worship Wakan Tanka, who is their Great Spirit."
"The deity called Wakan Tanka is regarded as a supreme force to the Teton, who employ shamans and priests to interpret their dreams and visions and to conduct rituals and herbal cures for diseases. A celebration called the Sun Dance is held each summer during which the Teton fast, feast, dance and practice self-torture."
Wakan Tanka is a phrase in Lakota language (i.e. these fellows she calls the "Tetons") for a theological concept, generally translated as "Great Mystery" though there is no exact English equivalent. Other tribes have different phrases (in their own languages) and theologically different concepts. She appears to have come across the Lakota term somewhere and attributed it to just about all the Plains tribes! "Manitou" (an Algonquian-languistic word meaning spirit) gets around similarly in the woods, he's everybody's "chief god".
Self-torture is an extremely offensive and racist way to describe the Sun Dance and other self-sacrifice customs, such as flesh offerings. "Self-torture" turns up any time the Sun Dance is mentioned, and in several other tribal religious descriptions. The concept of self-sacrifice (in any native rites) for some greater good should not be incomprehensible to white, Christian children. Self-sacrifice is is noble, awesome, admirable. Self-torture forwards the primitive, superstitious, irrational, savage, dehumanizing aspects laid onto all Indian people in this children's reference work.
Every little tribal religious description is like that -- a shallow and offensive paragraph describing a little congeries of "gods" and "chief gods." In many instances the tribe's purported religion is a few oddities that appear to have been taken out of context from a single old children's story.
Additional dehumanization is found in the image of "nekkid savages". There are entries for many tribes whose men are characterized as "often" or "usually" wearing no clothes. The women of these nekkid men are invariably characterized as wearing aprons or little skirts, their breasts are bare kids, snicker snicker.
Here, just paging through it, might have missed some, the nekkid savages include: Bella Coola, Chumash, Gabrieleno, Haida, Karok, Kwakiutl, Maidu, Miwok, Nootka, Quinault, Tlingit, Tsimishan, Wintu, Yokut. It will be observed that some of these nekkid savages lived in pretty chilly climates. In such cases, they are said to throw on some kind of crude cloak if it really gets cold. (The women apparently just go on wearing their little aprons if it's cold.) The majority of the other A - Z tribe wore "buckskin (or fiber or bark) "breech cloths", and their women just skirts (naked breasts again, snicker snicker).
Everything positive of any importance from any tribe is absent. There is no mention of 6 Nations (Iroquois League) conceptual contributions to world order (or domestic formation of the U.S.), i.e. the idea of a multi-part governmental confederacy of equals. Agricultural, artistic, philosophic, and modern literary achievements -- gifts to the world -- are not mentioned for any tribe.
Tissue of Minor Errors
There are numerous small errors which characterize the general ignorance and incompetence of this author. A few examples:
The definition of acorn, from the glossary is really noteworthy in that apparntly she doesn't know what an acorn is at all. Too, she thinks that "acorn flour contained a poisonous substance called tannin," which had to be leached. Tannin isn't poisonous, only bitter: it's the main component of tea. Acorns were an important source of fat (oil) not only flour meal, for many tribes.
Snowshoes have "large, round frames". Actually there are many shapes suited to different kinds of snow and travel conditions.
Pemmican is a "nutritious mixture of pounded, dried meat mixed with berries and nuts." Fat was "poured over the top to make it last" like a seal or lid. Such a method of preservation would result in spoilage, and in a mix lacking in nutritional value. Meat, berries and nuts were pounded up mixed with fat, a preservative and nutrient both.
A travois is "an unwheeled sledlike cart," odd description for the useful drag formed by two poles lashed at a point and dragged on the ground by dogs (initially) and horses (later).
Assiniboine supposedly live or once lived in "Northern Minnesota" but after a lot died of smallpox "were forced to cede their lands and move to a reservation in western Montana." Though Assiniboine may have passed through Minnesota in some unrecorded prehistoric past, they lived in northern Montana and Canada throughout known history. Their only U.S. cession treaty is a piece of land in Eastern Montana (1851) in the Bighorn watershed.
Each A - Z entry has a little map that purports to show the tribe's location, either pre-contact or presently. T those little maps are generalized "culture regions" and show neither original ranges nor present locations for anyone.
Each tribal name is given a definition (highly inventive for some), but the names used are white names, often distortions of names given a tribe by its enemies. The "meanings" are thus meaningless. Most tribes had (and are trying to reclaim) their own names (none of which is even mentioned). These almost always mean some variant of "Us, We the people."
Pronunciations for the distorted names are not always correct. Thus Ojibwa (i.e. Ojibwe) is given as an alternative to CHIPPEWA, but is supposedly pronounced "ow-JIB-waw". The preferred native name is Anishinaabe (Original people), but Ojibwe is pronounced "oh- JIB-way".
Endorsement by Prestigious Scholars
Quite a few professors are "thanked for their help" on this atrocity. Only one identifiable Indian scholar gets thanked, Vine Deloria Jr. It is not believable he would endorse any part of this thing, he must never have seen it, and this is possibly true of the named white scholars -- all except one.
Jeffrey P. Brain, PhD, is a functionary at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of Harvard University, prestigious names both. He is thanked for "reading and critiquing the entire manuscript." Prof. Brain also writes a forward, stating that this book "skillfully guides the reader through the diversity of Indian peoples and their cultures. I heartily recommend this handy reference for those just beginning to explore the world of the Indian."
The reference work's actual author, Evelyn Wolfson, shows her incompetence and ignorance (and racism) everywhere from gross matters to the tiniest details. Someone with Brain's background cannot have missed the errors and racist distortions I have had to deal with at such length here. Because of the mental and educational limitations of the book's author -- she's a bad writer, and she's dumb, stupid, not just ignorant -- Brain had the responsibility to inform the educational publisher that the mss was not publishable. No amount of editing could save something like this, which is rotten in all its smallest and largest parts. It's not a question of correcting a few or a few hundred errors.
So Brain, Peabody Museum and Harvard are the ones I hold really responsible for this atrocity of cultural genocide. If publishers, reviewers, librarians, or teachers using this reference had any misgivings about its content, endorsement by a representative of prestigious scholarly institutions quieted them.
Reviewed by Paula Giese
Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996
Last Updated: Thursday, March 14, 1996 - 6:36:19 AM