The American Indian Experience (USA Today Cultural Mosaic)
By: Liz Sonneborn
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
Publication Date: August 2010
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: October 2010
The American Indians slowly began their migration from Asia “tens of thousands of years ago.” Culturally not all tribes were the same and the Indians who did settle around the country banded into more than five hundred tribes. Statistically speaking, the five major Indian groups in the United States today include the Cherokee, the Navajo, the Choctaw, the Sioux, and the Chippewa. In this book you will get to see a “snapshot” of their populations and where they now live. One of the most important ways that the American Indian was able to preserve their heritage was through the art of Storytelling as “most American Indian groups did not have a written language.”
Literature did not appear on the scene until “non-Indian languages” were learned. You’ll get to take a look at several writers, including one you may be familiar with, Louise Erdrich from the Ojibwe tribe. Unfortunately, because the American Indian was forced to assimilate into the American culture, many of the languages were lost. Helen Ceder Tree, a Northern Arapaho who did not mince words, told her tribal council of elders, “Look at all you guys talking English . . . and you know your own language[!] It’s like the white man has conquered us.” You’ll get a glimpse at how the younger generation is stepping forward to preserve their languages.
Art forms, traditional and nontraditional, are a very important means of expression for the American Indian. When we think of Indian art, our minds often envision such objects as pottery, baskets, and ceremonial objects, but their art encompasses much more. You’ll meet singers, musicians, sculptors, and actors. Did you know that there is such a thing as the Native American Music Awards, “Nammy’s for short? A historical glance at the more traditional art forms shows us that “The Navahos are particularly revered as artists.” Did you know that some basket makers can actually weave “some as small as a thumbnail?” Amazing!
For anyone interested in sports, the history of the American Indian participation will be of high interest. You’ll learn such interesting things such as how “Traditional American Indian ball games inspired the modern sport of lacrosse.” You’ll meet great athletes like Billy Mills, Jim Thorpe, and Naomi Lang. Did you know that Indians have their own version of the Olympics? They do. In this cultural mosaic you will also learn about how “American Indian religions honor nature, how religious traditions were blended, you’ll learn about sacred sites, special ceremonies, holidays, you’ll learn about the Gathering of the Nations, foods, and many more interesting facets of Indian culture and life.
This “cultural mosaic” of Indian life is a fascinating overview of their history, traditions, spirituality, and much more. This book does not attempt to cover everything about the American Indian, but rather as the title of the series suggests, presents us with a mosaic. It’s not easy to present an incredible amount of diversity in one book, but it was quite well done. There was no focus on any one particular tribe, but rather the book touches on several different aspects of Indian life. I appreciated portraits of many individuals I was unfamiliar with. For example, I was very touched by the courage of young SuAnne Big Crow, a Lakota Indian. There are numerous sidebars, many quite informative, especially the reproductions of actual USA TODAY News articles. The recipes in the “Native Foods” chapter were of especial interest. In the back of the book is an index, a glossary, portraits of famous American Indians, instructions on how to research one’s heritage, source notes, a selected bibliography, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore.
Quill says: This is a fascinating overview of the place the American Indian has had in the making of our country. The reader will get a glimpse at the Indian experience in the arts, their stories, sports, foods, religion, and many other things of importance in their tribal culture.