Young Adults Books

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 resistanc to the whites -- because these are found in the Spiritual Leaders book, reviewed separately here.

Her theme for these leaders is that all or most (not Winnema) were dedicated warriors fighting white encroachments, as long as they felt this was possible. They then turned to negotiation and diplomacy to try to win the best deal they could for their outnumbered and outgunned tribes. And, as she also shows, they were generally betrayed in whatever they thought they had established in such negotiations. Although Sherrow does have some idea that Native Nations did have both the right and traditions of dealing with traitors, she does not always reflect this. In the John Ross chapter, for example, she says that a group of men murdered Treaty Party leader John Ridge and others, but this was a formally-voted execution of leaders who had enriched themselves by signing the sell-out treaties the Nation had as a self-governing body rejected. So the bios of these so called peace leaders are very much from a non-Indian perspective. She is aware of this bias, in a way:

The career of Chief Ouray [who got a $1,000 per year payoff -- extremely high wage for an Indian in the mid 1800's] shows the difficult balancing act that many Indian leaders felt they had to do to enable their people to survive. Ouray was sometimes criticized by othr Indians for being friendly with the white settlers and the U.S. government. Yet his careful negotiations enabled the Southern Ute to gain better treatment and a more desirable reservation than many other tribs received during the tumultous 1800's." Yes, that's th general way of payoffs, but they lost it all soon after, as Sherrow also indicates.

Sherrow got bio info for Wauneka, Deer, and Mankiller, contemporary women leaders, from the women, or from tribal history offices. In many respects I find these chapters least satisfactory. All the color and life that is available for contemporary people and events is missing; it is the same kind of rather abstract documentary-sounding prose as is forced upon the non-fiction historical-period writer. They are reasonably accurate (as told from the viewpoint of each leader -- there is an internal opposition view for ach of them which isn't mentioned).

If this book stood alone, I would be highly critical of its choice of subjects, as almost entirely (for the 19th century) quietists, looked on with favor by white authorities, and remembered in history because the whites liked them. However another book in the series -- SPIRITUAL LEADERS -- deals with many who either led or provided a spiritual foundation for, resistance to the whites. Obviously the known historical figures of the past were divided up, probably by the publisher, among this series's authors. In most cases, there is a fairly good coverage of earlier activities of the peacemakers, that helps explain why most of them are in fact regarded as "patriot chiefs" by today's Native people. I can't feel anything but irritation at Winnema, though. Reviewed by Paula Giese

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

Last Updated: Friday, April 19, 1996 - 5:43:57 AM