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.