Friday, March 10, 2017

Studying Native American Writings

George Caleb Bingham (American genre painter, 1811-1879) Om-pah-tón-ga, Big Elk, a Famous Warrior 1832

Native Americans and American History 
by Francis Flavin - US National Park Service

Native Voices 

Although Indian voices are under-represented in the literature, there are still many worthy selections available, including Black Elk Speaks, Indeh, and Jerome Green’s book on Lakota and Cheyenne views of the Plains wars—each discussed above. The works of Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa), a mixed-blood Sioux, deserve particular attention. Eastman was a boarding school standout and graduate of Dartmouth College who received his M.D. from Boston University’s medical school. To reformers, Eastman represented the ideal assimilated Indian. Despite his success in White society, he never lost his affection for traditional Indian culture and devoted much of his life to explaining its merits to White Americans. Among his many works is From the Deep Woods to Civilization (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1916), a moving autobiographical account.

Vine Deloria, Jr., was the leading Native American intellectual of the latter twentieth century. He wrote copiously on social, political, and theological issues and was a leading Indian rights advocate. Those interested in contemporary Native American issues ought to read one of his many books and essays. Among his publications are Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1969), which is a humorous yet caustic social and political commentary, and God Is Red: A Native View of Religion.(New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1973), which attempts to explain Indian religions vis-à-vis Christianity.

Other significant native histories include Born a Chief: The Nineteenth Century Hopi Boyhood of Edmund Nequatewa, as told to Alfred F. Whiting (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1993).
Charlotte J. Frisbie has edited two lengthy Indian autobiographies, Tall Woman: The Life Story of Rose Mitchell, a Navajo Woman, c. 1874-1978 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001); and Navajo Blessingway Singer: The Autobiography of Frank Mitchell, 1881-1967 (Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1978). Those interested in contemporary native histories might read Mary Crow Dog’s Lakota Woman (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990), a captivating autobiography of a Sioux woman who was born into reservation poverty and joined the Indian protest movements of the 1960s. Another contemporary native history is Where White Men Fear to Tread: The Autobiography of Russell Means (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1995). It is a riveting account, alternately humorous and unsettling, of a man the Washington Post calls “[o]ne of the biggest, baddest, meanest, angriest, most famous American Indian activists of the late twentieth century.”