Tag Archives: native american

Sticking to the Path

Come back every Tuesday for “The Bees Knees”, where I post the best quotes from my favorite movies, TV shows, songs, and books.

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All Our Relations Book Review

All-Our-Relations

For centuries the Native Americans have been fighting “the system” to obtain control over their land and their way of life.  In most cases, it’s been a bloody exhausting struggle to a finish line that keeps disappearing.

Unfortunately, the Earth can’t speak for itself.  It can’t play the blame game or say for certain who’s right and who’s wrong; however, there are people who speak on the Earth’s behalf…a Lorax, if you will.  Winona LaDuke is one such Lorax.

In what’s come to be known has her critically acclaimed non-fiction debut, LaDuke’s narrative, All Our Relations:  Native Struggles for Land and Life, is a testimony to those few people who will stop at nothing to maintain control over their way of life.

LaDuke’s in-depth account of resistance to cultural and environmental degradation is thanks to years of experience in public speaking, testimonial analyzing, and leading her own protests and demonstrations.

All Our Relations speaks quite forcefully for self-determination and way of life.  LaDuke is a powerful, strong, and emotional voice for all of those Native Americans who, for whatever reason, were not able to have their voices heard.  Not only does she speak for her own tribe (the Anishinaabeg), but stands up for the Innu, Cheyenne, Mohawks, and many other tribes who constantly find themselves fighting for a place to live, food to eat, and a return to the cultural traditions that make them who they are.

*Thankfully, some things have changed since All Our Relations has been published…but they haven’t changed enough.  As LaDuke herself says, “Change will come.  As always, it is just a matter of who determines what that change will be.”

NEXT WEEK:  “While Eeyore frets…and Piglet hesitates…and Rabbit calculates…and Owl pontificates…Pooh just is.”

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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American Indian Myths and Legends Book Review

Stories and legends often represent the heart and soul of a culture.  They tell tale of creation of life, the supernatural, higher beings, and even explain such miniscule things as why the crow is black and why a beaver’s tale is flat.

Perhaps the greatest storytelling culture is that of the American Indian…a culture so committed and dedicated to oral history, myths, and legends.  In Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz’s colorful collection, American Indian Myths and Legends, nearly 200 stories help give reason to creation, life and death, spirits, love, human and animal relations, and thoughts on war and warrior code.  People familiar with traditional Native American stories might recognize some of these stories, and will definitely remember familiar faces like Iktome, Glooskap, and the ever so clever Coyote.

As is the case with most myths and legends, these stories are meant to teach a lesson; therefore, many of the tales in this collection deal with more adult themes, such as sexual intercourse, rape, incest, and murder.  While those tales are few and far between, the remainder of the book is filled with comical and meaningful tales meant to teach children and adults how to be good people.  Even those with no knowledge of the Native American culture will find it easy to take something away from one, if not all, of these stories.  You may even recognize themes from your own cultural history, such as mass floods, mystical saviors, and the creation of man and beast.

American Indian Myths and Legends is a great read for any story lover.  It is easily organized into major themes and each story is no more than 2-3 pages.  Since these are the tales of a culture solely based on oral history, many believe that one cannot get the full effect of a Native American legend without reading it out loud…so gather friends and family around the campfire and pass the book around.  You might be surprised at what you learn…

NEXT WEEK:  By the time Jenna Massoli was 16, she had accomplished more in her life than many 30 year olds.  She was making thousands of dollars a night performing, had numerous modeling jobs with various magazines, and had already starred in a few movies.  Never heard of her?  Well, you won’t find her movies on Netflix, that’s for sure…

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Four Souls Book Review

Few authors can really inspire me like Louis Erdrich can.  Although her novels tend to be “wordy”, her prose is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever read.

A few months ago I reviewed a more recent Erdrich novel, The Painted Drum…which is one of the most wonderful and frustrating books I’ve read in a while.  Today’s book, Four Souls, is the story before The Painted Drum, a tale of revenge, passion, and courage.

Fleur Pillager is on a mission to regain her land.  Taking her mother’s name (Four Souls) as her own, she leaves everything behind, including her young daughter, and embarks on a journey to find John James Mauser, the man who tricked her into handing over her property.

Upon her arrival, she discovers that Mauser is weak and dying.  She decides to cure him…only so he can suffer properly for his wrongdoing.  As Fleur works her way up from laundry maid to the mistress of the household, she magically cures Mauser of his ailment; however, seduction overcomes them both and Fleur and Mauser give birth to a baby.

Intertwined in this tale of revenge are the stories of three other individuals:  Polly Elizabeth, who is the sister of Mauser’s current wife, Nanapush, an old Ojibwe man who has an interesting connection with Fleur, and Nanapush’s wife, Margaret.  Nanapush and Margaret provide a bit of comic relief in this haunting tale, and are probably a true testament to those rare couples that remain in love through the golden years of their lives.

Having something to claim as your own, whether that be land, a child, or even a name, is the central theme in this novel.  Not only that, but what has to be lost in order to obtain what’s rightfully, or maybe not so rightfully, yours.

NEXT WEEK: The perfect book for every young girl on your shopping list.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Growing Up Native American Book Review

I originally started reading Growing Up Native American for a Native American culture class in college.  We only had to read one essay in this collection of 22…and the remaining stories went unread throughout my collegiate years…which was quite unfortunate.

When you are learning about a people, a culture, a way of life, there’s no better way to do it than to take lessons from the source.  Every book I read for my Native Studies degree was a personal account (or something similar) that not only touched the reader emotionally, but mentally and spiritually as well.

Through the rubble of the questions left open by our history books comes a collection of 22 personal accounts from Native writers, both famous and not so famous, of what it was like to grow up “Native American”.  These are tales about boarding school, family life, conflict of traditions, life, death, children, growing up, and letting go.  These are stories by the people for the people.  These are the tales passed down from generations of storytellers.  These are the true stories.

Growing Up Native American is a collection of personal essays, broken down into four parts: the nineteenth and twentieth century make up two parts, while the other two are divided into moving forward by using the lessons of ages past and life in the Native educational system, whether that be at home with parents or away at boarding school.

Many of these accounts are truly awakening.  “The Middle Five:  Indian Schoolboys of the Omaha Tribe” by Francis La Flesche, for example, is as touching and beautiful as it is sorrowful and unfortunate.  These stories will make you think.  They will invoke familiar emotions and not so familiar ones.  These stories will teach you, inspire you, captivate you, and stay with you for quite a while.

Contributors include Black Elk, Louise Erdrich, Linda Hogan, N. Scott Momaday, and Simon Ortiz.

Growing Up Native American is not just a book for natives, but for those of us who are inspired by their teachings.  This is a book for people who love storytelling and tradition and a book for those of us who can appreciate the importance of culture and history.

NEXT WEEK:  IT’S HARRY POTTER WEEK!!! AAAAHHHHH!!  Okay, I’m okay.  So here’s a thought:  What if we could find a way to bring Harry Potter to life?  What if we could find a way to really play Quidditch?  Can owls really be reliable mail service carriers?  Can I get an Invisibility Cloak at Macy’s?  These answers may surprise you…

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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3 Amazing Native American Books to Read Now

Storytelling.  It’s the core of so many cultures, the essence of so many people.  It’s meant to entertain us during celebrations, to teach us during times of confusion, to inform us of what’s to come, and to remind us of what once was.

I took a class in Native American storytelling when I was in college.  Here’s a group of people that prides itself on its storytelling abilities, and rightfully so.  Many tribes have members who are “the storytellers.”  These are the keepers of all the stories…the wise ones.

This week I read three books of stories like this…the stories that define a people.  Each one is a collection of stories, both personal and traditional, that helps build the history of these ancient people.

While each one reads fairly quickly, the reader can’t help but slow down and enjoy each story for what it is:  a lesson.  Gather your children, family, friends, and read these stories out loud.  Act them out.  Most, if not all, of these stories are meant to be read out loud.  Unlock them from the page.  Give them life and teach someone, teach yourself, something new.

LIES TO LIVE BY

By Lois Beardslee

The best way I can describe this book is to say that it’s like sitting down to dinner with Lois Beardslee and listening to her tell you stories about her people…in her own way.  Lies to Live By is a collection of ancient Anishnabe (Ojibwe) wisdom told from the perspective of this colorful and lovely author.  Her writing style is so comfortable, so relaxed, that it feels as if she’s sitting there with you, telling you about her day.

As casual as the writing may be, Beardslee does not forget to instill the traditional wisdom of these ancient tales.  The lessons are still the same; she just takes us on a more “updated” path to get there.

Lies to Live By is required reading for anyone who decides to take on a Native American minor at Northern Michigan University.  It’s one of the first books you read in the program and much of the introductory class is spent discussing this book.  If you are a fan of Native literature or enjoy the lessons taught by Native American storytelling, I highly suggest that you add Lies to Live By to your collection.  It’s one of those books that may have the potential to completely change your life.

NATIVE AMERICAN STORIES

By Joseph Bruchac

These are the real stories.  These are the stories that give reason to everything from creation to the changing of the seasons.  These are the stories that answer “why do…” and “how come…”.  The stories that teach.

Drawn from various Native cultures of North America, Native American Stories uses stories from the Zuni, Hopi, Cherokee, Inuit, and many other tribes, to teach us about Mother Earth, Father Sun, and how we’re all brothers and sisters with the animals.  These stories weave together to pass on the lesson that we, as humans, are entrusted with a very important mission:  to maintain natural balance and take care of the Earth.

When I was in college, most of this book was read while the class sat in a circle.  We went around the room and each read a story out loud, which made it all the more interesting.  These stories are meant to be orated.  They are living things that have to be given a voice.  Read Native American Stories outside with your family and children.  Get them involved in the storytelling and help teach them how important and crucial it is that they help save the Earth.  The time is now.

IN THE SACRED MANNER I LIVE:  NATIVE AMERICAN WISDOM

Edited by Neil Philip

“To live in a sacred manner is to live with respect for the environment, for the community, and for oneself.  It is a way of looking at life that was shared by all the Indian nations.”

This book is raw power.  As if the poetry and speeches weren’t enough to tear my heart out, they had to add beautiful and heartbreaking images to the mix.  TISSUE!!

In the Sacred Manner I Live is a gorgeous book of Native wisdom, poetry, art, prayers, and speeches.  Through the words of famous chiefs and leaders, we hear their views on war and peace, teachings, betrayal, life and death, and much more.  It’s a haunting look into the way life once was…and what’s to come if things don’t change now.

In their honest simplicity, the words of these various leaders beg the reader to consider changing their ways, helping when they can, and doing their best to improve the situation today so our children may live in a better world.  This is the raw wisdom of the Native people.  If you’re going to read any of these three books, read this one.

SUGGESTION:

Lies to Live By:  If you live in or have traveled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, read it.  Every story in this collection takes place in the UP…and probably in locations you may know and love.

Native American Stories:  Unless you’re a fan of Native lit, I’d say SHELF IT.  If you’re interested in Native lit, this is a great one to start with.  It will give you a good idea of how many of the stories are laid out.

In the Sacred Manner I Live:  READ IT.  Just do it.  I bet your views on at least one thing will change after you read the book.

NEXT WEEK: Next week is as much a surprise to you as it is to me…because I haven’t had time to pick a book yet!  That shall be my weekend project.

I hope all of you have a great weekend and I’ll see you on Monday!

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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The Painted Drum Book Review

I love Native American literature.  It’s the reason I decided to study Native American culture in college.  I find it honest, raw, and emotionally and spiritually powerful.  I love the connection they have with nature, with their families, with their history, with their stories.  Usually I’m physically engulfed in Native lit; however, I’m sad to say that this wasn’t the case with book number four, The Painted Drum.

Summer Reading Book #4

Louise Erdrich’s 11th novel begins in present day New Hampshire, where a mother and daughter team work as estate appraisers searching for Native artifacts.  When their neighbor suddenly dies, Faye Travers (the daughter) is hired to catalog the Native artifacts he has lying around his house.  Amidst the clothes, dolls, and boxes, Faye finds a mysterious drum.  Faye, who has been emotionally removed from the Native way of life, feels an immediate connection to this drum and believes she hears it beating.  In a moment of shear panic, she steals the drum and watches over it, eventually traveling to an old Ojibwe reservation to find the original owner.

At this reservation, Faye meets an old storyteller by the name of Bernard Shaawano.  In a beautiful lyric, Bernard tells Faye about the history of the drum…how it came to be, why it exists, and what had to happen for the drum to be created.  His story is one of passion, betrayal, unthinkable sacrifices, and survival.

The third and final string in this braid opens with a little girl named Shawnee desperately trying to take care of her younger siblings in the dead of winter.  Their mother is absent, having gone to town to try to find help for her children by bartering sex for money in order to buy food.  Back home, Shawnee has no choice but to haul her brother and sister through an icy night when she hears a noise in the distance…dah dah dah!!

These three stories intertwine the lives of Native women from the past and present to help tell the story of this mysterious painted drum.  While I was rooting for this book the whole time, having loved the plot, I found it to be overwritten and near impossible to read at times.  My mind wandered with the narrative and I found it difficult to focus my attention on this book.

On the other hand, I did find parts of this novel intellectually moving.  For example, wolves play a huge part in this book, both as characters and as tools of symbolism, and Erdrich’s description of them is nothing short of honorable.  She’s obviously aware that wolves are highly respected in Native culture and she’s careful not to disregard them, however savage they may seem.

The drum itself is also extremely symbolic both in this book and in the Native culture.  I found it poetic that these stories all revolved around the drum, all gave the drum a beat, just as those who are chosen to play the drum at pow wows and ceremonies are circled around the instrument, bringing it to life.

When all is said and done, I really wanted to like this book.  I loved the idea of it and was maybe expecting something more than what was given.  Though the messages in the book are heartwarming and hopeful, I found that they were overshadowed by the words, the descriptions, the fluff—if you will—that comes with making a visual novel.

SUGGESTION:  Eh, I’m torn.  I really loved the idea of this book but I had a hard time getting into it.  If you don’t mind a slow start, give it a shot.  If anything, read it for the second segment to learn about the creation of the drum.  It’s obviously written to a Native audience, so if you’re unfamiliar with their culture/customs, I’d say SHELF IT.

NEXT WEEK:  Get ready to go down the rabbit hole, but not with Alice…and we’re definitely not going to Wonderland…

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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