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Book Review of “The National Council of Indian Opportunity”

Britten, Thomas A. The National Council on Indian Opportunity: Quiet Champion of Self-Determination. University of New Mexico Press, 2014.

National Council book cover

Reviewed by Faye Hadley
Online Adjunct Professor, Research Methods in Indian Law, University of Tulsa College of Law

While a bureaucratic history is hardly the stuff of the “page-turner” genre, Thomas A. Britten presents an important piece of history with clear, concise prose and a well-researched presentation of the facts as he understands them.

The facts of this relatively obscure Federal Council (established by Lyndon B. Johnson’s Executive Order 11399, Establishing the National Council on Indian Opportunity, March 6, 1968) are that it lived a short life and could easily be missed as one travels through the pantheon of Federal Indian Policy. However, this is where Professor Britten’s book demonstrates its usefulness. It reminds us or educates us for the first time of the often overlooked role that the NCIO played in several pivotal “wins” in Indian Country: in the return of the Sacred Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo (along with relatively positive outcomes for the Yakamas, Lummis, and Mescalero Apaches); in the negotiations of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act; and in the US Government loans totaling 14 million dollars that were primarily used for housing on reservations.

The author speculates about what might have been had the NCIO not suffered an abrupt dissolution in June 1974. The true value of this book is that it captures a time that was changing from assimilationist policies through termination policies to the newly-welcomed era of self-determination. That the NCIO played a significant role in these changes has now been documented and for that we should all thank Professor Britten. Thank you.

Book Review of “Skin for Skin”

Sider, Gerald. M. Skin for skin: death and life for Inuit and Innu. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2014. Narrating Native Histories: a series edited by K. Tsianina Lomawima, Florencia E. Mallon, Alicida Ramos, and Joanne Rappaport. 312 pages.

Skin for Skin cover

Reviewed by Naomi Caldwell, PhD
Associate Professor, Alabama State University

Sider, Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, City University of New York provides a holistic ethnographic analysis of the Napskapis and Montagnais (aboriginal Canadians) of Labrador and their modern health issues. The text acknowledges uncanny similarity of mutual issues and chronology of the Inuit and Innu with the Australian Aboriginals. The negative impact of the aboriginal colonial interactions with the Hudson Bay Company, Moravian missionaries, fur traders, and government officials is explained through public documents and published studies. The evolution of modern day socially constructed disasters such as the high rates of youth suicide, domestic violence, adult alcoholism, child substance abuse and infant mortality are discussed. The text written in a narrative style is engaging and well-documented.

It is apparent throughout the book that the author struggles to create a sense of order out of chaos and a sense of hope out of despair. In doing so, he addresses traditional practices, women’s rights, aboriginal land claims, and incorporate mining claims. The conclusion points to a profound schism in native communities between the elite segment, which benefits from government programs, and the majority of ordinary, disenfranchised people whose dignity and futures are slowly being eroded along with traditional ways.

However, the story of Tom Porter (Kanien’keh’ás:ka) (Mohawk) of Akwesasne brings hope. Porter is a remarkable traditional leader who along with others defended the border of Ganienkah when New York government officials sought to repossess native land. Kanien’keh’ás:ka were successful in maintaining traditional ways while defending their homelands. This book is appropriate for college and university collections focused on anthropology, Aboriginal studies, First Nations, and colonialism.

Book Review of “How I Became a Ghost”

Tingle, Tim. How I Became a Ghost. Oklahoma City, OK: The Roadrunner Press, 2013.

How I Became a Ghost cover

Reviewed by George Gottschalk, Collection Development Librarian for Rogers State University

How I Became a Ghost is the tale of one Choctaw boy’s departure from Mississippi with his family on the Trail of Tears. After suffering his own harrowing tribulations and watching several others die before him, ten-year-old protagonist, Isaac, meets his own tragic death. At this point, the action really picks up.

Now that he has become a ghost, Isaac faces serious work to pull off the heroic rescue of Naomi, a Choctaw girl enslaved as a prisoner in the Nahullo (white) soldier camp. Fortunately, plans are already underway with the help of Joseph, the panther boy, Nita, Isaac’s newfound little sister who became a ghost before him, and several Choctaw elders, both living and ghosts. Oh, and do not forget Jumper, Isaac’s faithful, Choctaw-speaking dog.

As with Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom, (illus. by Jeanne Rorex Bridges, Cinco Puntos Press, 2009) there are echoes of Choctaw storyteller and author Tim Tingle’s earlier collection, Walking the Choctaw Road (Cinco Puntos Press, 2003). How I Became a Ghost, though, is haunted by only a few paragraphs and images from the earlier tale. Tingle otherwise animates his new narrative with a compelling life of its own.

Like all storytellers, Tingle speaks with an authentic voice given resonance through his authentic ear. Drawing on years of careful listening to the tales of others, How I Became a Ghost presents a genuine and holistic Trail of Tears tale. Tingle maintains a storyteller’s vigilant focus on the deep humanity of Isaac and those around him. Against the epic sweep of history, the storyteller offers tender moments of humor and delight, as well as lyrical moments of sadness and reflection. Even the character best positioned to become a stock villain is saved from one-dimensionality by the end of the book, as Tingle refuses to yield to a simplistic cliché.

Ostensibly geared to a middle school audience, How I Became a Ghost includes discussion questions at the end for use in classrooms or book clubs. Readers of any age will profit from reading this book for enjoyment, and may find several engaging questions to ask. As such, Tingle’s book affords a fantastic opportunity for cultural learning discussions. As one of many examples, some might ask, “Do Choctaw people really believe in ghosts, panther people or even talking dogs?” To this last, perhaps the best reply may be from Jumper, the dog in the book, who quips, “What? You never heard a dog speak Choctaw before?”

As the 2014 AIYLA Middle School Award winning book, it will come as no surprise that Tim Tingle’s How I Became a Ghost receives a rousing endorsement. It deserves a place in any collection that serves audiences interested in either American Indians or great stories. In pragmatic terms, even those with the tightest budgets can rest assured knowing that this book deserves to be at the top of your purchase list.

Book Review of “Thieving Forest”

Conway, Martha. Thieving Forest.. San Francisco: Noontime, 2014. 407 pages. Print.

Black Slaves, Indian Masters cover

Reviewed by John Baken
Head Librarian, Willmar Public Library (Pioneerland Library System in MN)

I really like the conceit of Martha Conway’s novel Thieving Forest. The novel is historical fiction and details an incident from 1806, in which four sisters are kidnapped by a band of Potawatomi Indians while the fifth sister, 17-year old Suzanna Quiner, sets out to rescue them. The story takes place in Northwest Ohio, in the area of the Great Black Swamp near the village of Severne. The young women’s parents had recently succumbed to “swamp fever,” which, given the setting, was rather common of the area.

I thought the framework of the novel was good. I liked how it was set in the early nineteenth century, had a strong female protagonist, and the way it detailed such a daring but foolhardy rescue. But still, the book didn’t move me or strike me as very convincing.

For one, I was bothered by the author’s treatment of native people. It was obvious the author had done her research—detailing the Indians’ clothing, living quarters, and so on. Yet sometimes when the native characters spoke, the language seemed wooden or lifeless. Sure, English was not their first language so it would have been somewhat broken English, but this is where a fine line comes into play. Making a native character sound like Tonto on The Lone Ranger is clearly not the right approach. Also, Conway often quotes single Indian words in a language, Delaware, for example, that seemed misplaced in the narrative and awkward without an entire sentence or phrase being uttered. It may have been she felt those words would add a certain credibility to the scene when really it raised red flags to this reviewer.

Additionally, the sheer number of tribes and cultures the author included in the narrative—Shawnee, Wyandot, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Sauk, Delaware, Menomonie, Chippewa, Tawa, Miami—seemed like too many! Yet I wonder how a native reader would view the novel, as this reviewer is a non-native. Perhaps I am being overly critical because I have also attempted writing from an American Indian point-of-view and have failed. Indeed, it is a very difficult thing to do.

The unconvincing dialogue was not the only problem for me in Martha Conway’s novel. Even sections of the novel that did not deal directly with native culture needed revision to avoid over-writing, nonsense similes, and over-the-top symbolism. Consider the following line—

“He wipes the blade of his knife on his trousers and looks at her with what she takes to be sadness or maybe fatigue. She cannot understand why it makes her heart billow out like a muscle made out of impossibly thin fabric.” (369)

A muscle made out of impossibly thin fabric? Really? Is that what love feels like to the protagonist?

Still, it was fun reading Thieving Forest, a book about the forest with a telltale name that stole four sisters and changed their lives forever. The historical context drove the story for me—I love period pieces—and in the end I thought this a good genre novel, either Young Adult or Romance. I would not recommend it for inclusion in a tribal library or Native American collection.

About the Author

Martha Conway is the author of 12 Bliss Street, for which she was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Her short stories have been published in The Iowa Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Epoch, and other literary journals. She is a writing instructor for the Online Writer’s Studio at Stanford University.

Book Review of “Black Slaves, Indian Masters”

Krauthamer, Barbara. Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South.. The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

Black Slaves, Indian Masters cover

Reviewed by Ghada Kanafani Elturk
Boulder Public Library Multicultural Outreach Librarian

In Black Slaves, Indian Masters, Barbara Krauthamer examines the history of black slavery by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations in the American southeast territories from the late 18th century through the end of the USA Civil War. The territories are presented as another place of black exploitation, emancipation, and struggle for meaningful freedom and citizenship. The slaveholders were shrewd business people, whether they were Choctaw, Chickasaw, or white, who sought to maintain social and economic order. At the same time, Choctaw and Chickasaw slaveholders neither accepted Euro-Americans’ ideology of white superiority nor did they see their interests as identical to those of White southerners.
To better understand the complexity of race and slavery in the South, Krauthamer skillfully weaves the painful histories and journeys of the indigenous nations and enslaved blacks by looking at the intersecting dynamics of power and justice.

In the spring and summer of 1866, the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole Nations agreed to the final terms of their respective treaties with the USA government. The treaties did not present a unified course of action for the nations’ leaders or former enslaved, but they did map a new course for black citizenship. Following the Treaty of 1866, the United States government required the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations to abolish slavery within their territories and grant citizenship to the freedpeople.

Leaders of these nations contested freedpeople’s right of return, challenged the legitimacy of citizenship claims, and excluded freedpeople from annuity payments. They linked the issue of black citizenship to federal policies designed to undercut Indian landholdings and tribal sovereignty. In indigenous society, citizenship translated into terms of familial and tribal bonds, and members of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations saw the treaty’s provisions as a threat to their identity: “the number of freedmen being so great, if adopted, will soon control our schools and government … we love our homes, institutions and government and will not surrender them” (140-14).

The contradiction between defending black people’s freedom and rights while undermining native people’s political and territorial autonomy was very clear to the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and black leaders alike. Lawmakers enacted a series of laws imposing racial segregation, which disfranchised black voters. The national government created patrols and required freedpeople to carry written passes; in addition, they created laws that punished with lashing any individual found without a pass. This punishment could be inflicted either by the light horsemen or any citizen of the nation, bringing to mind present issues with border patrols and “Stand Your Ground” laws.

Krauthamer’s book could serve as useful material for understanding complex racial histories and foster dialogues between communities of color, and I recommend this book for adult readers, tribal libraries and colleges.

Contents Note:

Race, Gender and Power — Christianity, Colonialism and Struggles Over Slavery — Slaves Resistance, Sectional Crisis and Political Factionalism in Antebellum Indian Territory — The Treaty of 1866 and the Emancipation and the Conflicts over Black People’s Citizenship Rights and Indian Nations’ Sovereignty — Freedmen’s Political Organizing and the Ongoing Struggles over Citizenship, Sovereignty and Squatters — Allotment, Race and Citizenship in the West.

About the Author

Barbara Krauthamer is associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Book Review of Citizens Creek

Tademy, Lalita. Citizens Creek. New York, NY: Atria Books, 2014.

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Review submitted by Marsha Lytle, Book Review Editor

Lalita Tademy, author of New York Times bestselling novel, Cane River, has captured the spirit and challenges of a family of African-American/Creek Indians in Alabama starting in 1822. Cow Tom is valuable to his master because of his expertise in cattle, translation, and negotiation skills. He hopes to earn enough to buy both his and his wife’s freedom. When he gets a chance to fight the Seminoles in Florida, he has two motives—to find his mother, who was captured by Seminole raiders, and earn more money towards his freedom. He makes a friend for life, Harry, during the war and also rescues his mother.

Years later, Cow Tom has earned his freedom and runs his own farm in Indian Country, but the Civil War comes to Oklahoma. Once more, Cow Tom is forced to move on with his family, now encompassing four generations. With the shelter of a fort to protect them, they are safe from the raids, but starvation is an everyday occurrence in the vast tent city that springs up. Cow Tom is valuable to the leaders and is able to provide for his family better than most.

Rose, his youngest granddaughter, is most like him. She admires her grandfather and the respect he receives. At their new ranch in Oklahoma, they prosper with many cattle, but Cow Tom is getting old and won’t live much longer. Eventually Rose leaves home to work for a family in town, where she meets her future husband. Rose’s growing family prospers, but with the discovery of oil and the impending statehood, new challenges arise when whites arrive to try to trick Indians into selling their land.

This historical fiction novel covers years of events that affected the Native American population in the South and Midwest. A great story.

Book Review of The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band

Washburn, Frances. The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band. No ed. Vol. 77. Tucson: U of Arizona, 2014. 178. Print.


Reviewed by John Baken
Head Librarian IV at Willmar Public Library, which is a part of Pioneerland Library System in Minnesota.

In an entertaining and often engaging narrative, which begins on the Fourth of July in 1969 and ends some four months later, author Frances Washburn allows readers a unique glimpse of contemporary American Indian life on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian Reservations in rural South Dakota. The novel’s protagonist, Sissy Roberts, is a smart, articulate, and attractive young Lakota woman who always finds herself on the receiving end of whatever it is people have on their mind. Normally, being the recipient of the town’s gossip is not a problem, but when local resident Buffalo Ames turns up dead next to the railroad tracks, after a rowdy Fourth of July night of drinking, dancing, and romancing at the Longhorn Bar in Scenic, Sissy Roberts’ life suddenly becomes more complicated than ever.

When she’s not waiting tables at the local greasy spoon cafe, Sissy plays a mean lead guitar and belts out songs for The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band. As the band’s name implies, Sissy and the boys perform at a different venue every weekend. But talented and beautiful young women like Sissy are not always content to bide their time on the reservation. In fact, more often than not, they find themselves pregnant and single with lousy options to choose from, like Sissy’s friend Speedy, who lives with Sissy and her family.

In a novel rich in detail and smart about the lay of the land on and around the rez, Washburn’s novel is both compelling and educational, especially for non-native greenhorns. To find out what happens to Sissy and Speedy and the many other fascinating characters, including an FBI agent with an eye out for Sissy Roberts, you should read this novel! I highly recommend it for inclusion in any tribal or traditional library.

Frances Washburn (Lakota/Anishinabe) was born and raised on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She is the author of two previous novels, Elsie’s Business and The Sacred White Turkey, and is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the American Indian Studies department at University of Arizona.

Book Review of Hungry Johnny

By Cheryl Minnema. Illustrator Wesley Ballinger. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014.

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Review submitted by SaraJane Tompkins
Reference Librarian/Pre K-12 Collection, Olson Library, Northern Michigan University

In Hungry Johnny, Minnema presents a believable character throughout the story. Johnny is like many children: a busy, hungry little boy who must learn patience from his family members, but I sensed that the story is both ordinary and special because it includes reminders of the traditions and generosity of Native Americans. Ballinger’s colorful illustrations bring life to each page. The details of Johnny’s moccasins, his little plastic buddy, Grandma’s beaded earrings, and the community that Johnny is part of today reflect Ballinger’s understanding of life from Johnny’s point of view.

I had the pleasure to read this to my 5- and 3-year-old grandchildren. Two things stood out for me. First they enjoyed Johnny’s repetition, “I like to eat eat eat” (a lot). Second was their discovery of Johnny’s Community Centre. “Look, we have a community center, just like Johnny”. I can imagine Johnny sharing other stories with readers.

As the story and illustrations were created by tribal members, I applaud the publisher and hope to see more support for books from and about Ojibwe children. The glossary even includes an invitation to the Anishinaabe language. I would recommend this book as an addition to any collection.

Book review of Xiipúktan (First of All)

Bryant, George and Miller, Amy. Xiipúktan (First of All): Three Views of the Origins of the Quechan People. Cambridge, UK: OpenBook Publishers, 2013. DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0037

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Review submitted by Naomi Caldwell, PhD
Associate Professor and Coordinator, Library Education Media Program, Alabama State University

First of All is a remarkable collaborative work by George Bryant, a fluent native Quechan researcher, and Dr. Amy Miller, linguist, University of California, San Diego. Their combined expertise enables the reader to examine three traditional stories: two previously recorded in English by J.P. Harrington (1908), and one extended recalling by Bryant (1995). Notably, Bryant’s perspective differs from Harrington’s. The Bryant version synthesizes his childhood memories and the results of his research. Bryant tells of the Bering Strait migration of the Quechan people, elaborates on early events of creation, and fully integrates Quechan language rhetorical devices such as repetition, syntactic parallelism, and narrative time. In many ways, Bryant’s recalling completes the Harrington stories by infusing more Quechan cultural perspectives into the narrative. All three views of the origin of the Quechan are printed in parallel Quechan and English formatted text. The meticulous transcript review process is evidenced by notes at the end of each retelling. This single volume is made complete by providing a practical orthography along with pronunciation tips and grammar. The elegance of the three retellings illuminates the copious ingenuity and progression of Quechan literature. First of All is the fifth volume in the World Oral Literature series and is available in print, PDF, and digital eBook and mobi formats. It was made possible by National Science Foundation and Institute of Museum and Library Services Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum Services grants. Highly recommended for Native language and traditional story collections. First of All is freely available to read on-line.

Editor’s Note:

OpenBook Publishers is a non-profit organization committed to providing open access to high-quality research internationally. All manuscripts are peer-reviewed by at least two subject specialists in the relevant field. Published works are available in hardback, paperback, PDF, and ebook editions and are also available to read and download—for free—on their website.