Native American Introductions
January 27, 2005 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Native American scholars : I'd like some recommendations for good introductory books on Native Americans and their cultures. More inside...

I would prefer books on traditional culture, as opposed to contemporary life. Bonus points for books that focus on traditionally East Coast tribes, such as the Iroquois, Mandan or Delaware. Ethnologies would be fine, academic is fine, I just don't want to start with something overly specific. Thanks!
posted by Slothrop to Society & Culture (11 answers total)
Maybe this book is a little north for you, but there is some information, IIRC, on the Iroquois.
Jenness, Diamond, 1886-1969. The Indians of Canada, University of Toronto Press.
posted by philfromhavelock at 6:06 PM on January 27, 2005

How traditional and indian-centric do you want to get? You might like The Indians' New World by Merrell, it's a pretty good history of the Catabwa tribe (North Carolina area). That's the only real, straight up Indian tribe history I can recommend. If you're at all interested in Indians and their interrelation with European colonists, I've got a few more things I could suggest.
posted by absalom at 7:28 PM on January 27, 2005

Prairie Edge in downtown Rapid City has a very nice books department that, when I visited, seemed to be managed by a Native guy for a primarily Native clientele. They seemed to know their stuff; if their online book list doesn't have what you're looking for, maybe they'd respond to an e-mail.
posted by gimonca at 7:29 PM on January 27, 2005

500 Nations is the companion book to a 1995 PBS series. DVD available, too. Definitely not overly specific.
posted by dmo at 7:54 PM on January 27, 2005

Thomas King is great. I'd recommend "the truth about stories"
posted by joelf at 9:33 PM on January 27, 2005

Vine Deloria's work is a good read, especially Custer Died for Your Sins. Not sure it's exactly what you're looking for, but was an eye-opener for me.
posted by jaysus chris at 1:23 AM on January 28, 2005

Thanks for asking, slothrop. It's a topic I've been meaning to learn more about too. 500 Nations looks good, dmo, and my public library has both the book and the videotapes.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:14 AM on January 28, 2005

Absalom, the interaction between Natives and Europeans would work well. I've read Daniel Boone's biography and a fair amount about Lewis and Clark and the pioneer era in general. I've also recently read 'The Deerslayer.' I've been starting from the Euro/pioneer side (my family is interconnected with Boone's family) and would like to fill in the Native side better.
posted by Slothrop at 7:30 AM on January 28, 2005

Bruce Trigger:

Children of Aatetnsic is a fantastic book that rides the boundary between traditional ethnography and social history. It is about the Huron and their interactions with Iroquois.

also see his more general book:

Natives and Newcomers

Both are fabulous, readable, scholarly: a rare triad ...
posted by Rumple at 12:36 PM on January 28, 2005

I highly recommend the books of Francis Jennings:
Sometime during the 1950s he discovered American Indian history and the appalling way historians had treated native people. Fittingly, his first published article, "Francis Parkman versus his Sources," was a meticulous dismemberment of the nineteenth-century historian's description of Native Americans (Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography , 87:3 [1963], 306-23). Encouraged by Dunn and Wallace, Jennings persisted. His dissertation, "Miquon's Passing: Indian-European Relations in Colonial Pennsylvania, 1674-1755," was a tour de force. It demonstrated the centrality of Indian people and Indian diplomacy in eighteenth-century colonial life, and poked large holes in the reputation of more than one of Pennsylvania's founding generation...

Despite his innovative scholarship, Jennings was not embraced by the academic establishment. As he continued to teach at local, undergraduate institutions--Moore College of Art (1966-1968), and Cedar Crest College (1968-1976)--and to write in relative obscurity, he published essays in Pennsylvania History, the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, American Quarterly, and Ethnohistory...

Jennings's career took another unexpected turn in 1975 when, at the age of 57, he published his first book, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest. A collection of essays on specific topics in colonial history--Indian population, the Pequot war, popular images--the book was a frontal attack on the generations of scholars who, he argued, had internalized the racist language of the seventeenth century and overlooked the violence and brutality of European settlement. By insisting that America began not with "discovery" but invasion, Jennings set himself apart from those who viewed the fate of the continent's indigenous people as somehow inevitable or natural. Jennings's angry, forceful prose still touches readers a quarter century after its publication.

...Jennings embarked on what is probably the most productive retirement in our field. He first completed two books on the Iroquois in the eighteenth century which he believed with Invasion completed what he called "the Covenant Chain Trilogy": The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire (1984) and Empire of Fortune (1988). Following his wife's death in 1989, he returned to Chicago to become a Senior Research Fellow at the Newberry. From that perch he wrote The Founders of America and Benjamin Franklin, Politician. He tried moving south for a time, but he missed his Chicago community too much. In 1995 he returned to take up residence at the King Home, a unique retirement residence for men, in Evanston. Despite occasional ill health, Fritz quickly settled in and became a leader in his new home. He interspersed trips down to the Newberry with a growing list of King Home activities: a daily crossword puzzle group, a play reading group, and conversations with new friends. They called him "the professor" and watched in awe as he sat in the common room, working on a new book. The Creation of America: Through Revolution to Empire was published a few months before his death.
posted by languagehat at 5:11 PM on January 28, 2005

Hey! I work on this stuff and could send pages and pages of recommendations! All of my recommendations are literary but I think this is a fantastic way of approaching aboriginal cultures (especially in North America where aboriginal cultures are rarely granted recognition of possession of culture).

Here are a few books that I have are particularly good starting points:
Thomas King - The Truth About Stories (as above) and Green Grass, Running Water (this book is AWESOME!)
Leslie Marmon Silko - Ceremony
Arnold Krupat (ed) - New Voices in Native American Literary Criticism is a wonderful (and readable) volume covering current scholarship in Native American literary studies

If nothing else, though, read King. His books are witty, insightful, and heartbreakingly well written. Seriously.
posted by lumiere at 5:11 PM on January 28, 2005

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