What should I read to learn about Native American History?
December 29, 2007 9:48 PM   Subscribe

What should I be reading to learn about Native American history and material culture?

I want to learn as much as I can about Native American culture, history, people and objects, particularly relating to tribes from the Great Plains region, but am open to other interesting suggestions as well. I'm looking for suggestions on books, articles, researchers and writers. Can anyone suggest some reading material?
posted by pluckysparrow to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure my wife would argue for 1491.
posted by dereisbaer at 10:04 PM on December 29, 2007

Sorry about the bad link, not sure what happened.
posted by dereisbaer at 10:07 PM on December 29, 2007

You've probably heard of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. It's excellent but this really only deals with the um, interaction, between nations such as the Lakota and Cheyenne and white people through the late 1800s.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:17 PM on December 29, 2007

I really enjoyed Ian Frazier's book On the Rez. It's an entertaining, sometimes sad book about current-day Lakota Sioux. If you like Bill Bryson at all, you will like Ian Frazier.

If you can ever visit Pine Ridge, it is positively haunting.

You must also read Black Elk Speaks.

My husband is a Tom Brown Jr. fan. He has several books dealing with native American spirituality and skills. He also operates a wilderness survival school.
posted by Ostara at 10:35 PM on December 29, 2007

Best answer: 1491 is a good start. Calloway's vast One Vast Winter Count is a encyclopedic treatment of the American West before and through the earliest stages of contact. Ronda's superb Lewis and Clark Among the Indians is really more about the Indians than the expedition (he challenges his readers to put themselves on the bank, not in the boat). Utley's The Indian Frontier 1846-1890 is a fine synthesis of the key period of conquest of the northern plains. Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve's Completing the Circle is a fascinating story of three generations of Lakota Women.

Except for 1491 all the books mentioned previously are shit by the way. Tom Brown is a faker. Black Elk Speaks is a pious fraud--Niehardt spent many hours interviewing Black Elk, then threw out all the parts of Black Elk's philosophy and experiences that Niehardt disagreed with, then went and made up a bunch of stuff that Black Elk never said at all. Bury My Heart is just a bunch of sobbing, and actual Indians have excoriated Frazier's book.
posted by LarryC at 11:08 PM on December 29, 2007

I would recommend the book "Facing East from Indian Country," by Daniel Richter, it's an attempt to reconstruct Native perspectives towards European expansion/encroachment, much of it is written in a sort of first-person narrative, yet in a way that is readable and not, in my opinion, contrived or annoying.
posted by Subcommandante Cheese at 11:25 PM on December 29, 2007

The classic anthropological encyclopedia is the 20 volume Smithsonian Handbook of North American Indians. (A "Handbook", if by hands, you mean forklifts). While some volumes date to the 1980s, it is still an extremely comprehensive resource and the bibliographies contain pretty much everything. Volume 13 - Plains is 2001, which likely means the articles were written around 1995.

Vol. 13: Plains Raymond J. DeMallie, Vol. Ed. 67 chapters on the Indians of the prairie and high plains of U.S. and Canada. Parts 1 and 2 compose the one volume. 1,376 pp. S/N 047-000-00414-4. 2001. $106

For more up-to-date, and non-anthropological sources, (especially in understanding the political framework and social issues as well as the proto- and historic periods) there is a huge library of possible books. For an academic and aboriginal perspective on indigenous concerns generally, my colleague Taiaiake Alfred's books - highly political, polemical, compelling, argumentative, challenging, could open your eyes in unexpected ways. The Smithsonian Handbook is encyclopediac, yet almost Victorian in its approach -- contemporary approaches are much livelier and, while you need a gudie through a literature that is littered with half-baked shite -- it is a good idea to get a sense of what life is like today for aboriginal people.

On preview: listen to LarryC.
posted by Rumple at 11:27 PM on December 29, 2007

If you're willing to venture into this end of the country...

I thought William Warren's History of the Ojibwe People was an interesting read, once you got past the beginning. Should be noted that while Warren was himself Ojibwe, the book was written in the 1800s, and there's some "vanishing Indian" and "lost tribes of Israel" stuff--typical of the period, but sounds weird and offputting to us today--that you have to get past at the beginning of the book. Once you get past that, the roughly 1600 to 1820s stuff is fascinating.

For more recent times, Jim Northrup is an entertaining and thoughtful local columnist and commentator.
posted by gimonca at 11:40 PM on December 29, 2007

Rumple--I like the description of the Smithsonian Handbook series as Victorian! I think of them as the fossilization of the New Indian History of the 60s. Still they are often an excellent place to begin reading about native topics. I will check out Taiaiake Alfred.

OP: Also check out Indian Country Today, the not uncontroversial national newspaper of American Indians.
posted by LarryC at 11:46 PM on December 29, 2007

When I visited the book section at Prairie Edge in Rapid City a couple of years ago, there was a very friendly Lakota guy working there who was happy to make recommendations. You could drop them a mail and see what they have to say.

The bookstore itself had everything from soup to nuts, good and bad, new and used, so asking for advice seems to be in order.
posted by gimonca at 12:13 AM on December 30, 2007

From a more specifically feminist viewpoint, Paula Gunn Allen is excellent. However, she's Pueblo (Keres), not Plains.

Peter Nabokov has edited a collection called Native American Testimony: A chronicle of Indian-white relations from prophecy to present. These are mostly from the viewpoint of the Indians, of various nations.

Finally, check out Vine Deloria, Jr's books.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:17 AM on December 30, 2007

Vine Deloria is notable for his passion, which is its own truth. But I wouldn't read him for factual content.

LarryC -- I mean Victorian in the sense of "break a topic down into a million small parts, collect said small parts, assemble into a display case, dust occasionally" -- a worthy enterprise but incredibly monochromatic. As you say, fossils. Nonetheless, I still recmmend it to students because of the bibliography and because short overview articles have their own utility, but it is really essential they don't mistake the fossil for the living organism nor the display-case taxonomy for an ecology. So to speak.
posted by Rumple at 1:04 PM on December 30, 2007

Be sure to check out this previous AskMe: Where can I learn more about Native American History during the 19th. Century?
posted by ericb at 1:19 PM on December 30, 2007

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