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Indian Voices

Indian Voices: Listening to Native Americans

Alison Owings
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Indian Voices
    Book Description:

    InIndian Voices, Alison Owings takes readers on a fresh journey across America, east to west, north to south, and around again. Owings's most recent oral history-engagingly written in a style that entertains and informs-documents what Native Americans say about themselves, their daily lives, and the world around them.

    Young and old from many tribal nations speak with candor, insight, and (unknown to many non-Natives) humor about what it is like to be a Native American in the twenty-first century. Through intimate interviews many also express their thoughts about the sometimes staggeringly ignorant, if often well-meaning, non-Natives they encounter-some who do not realize Native Americans still exist, much less that they speak English, have cell phones, use the Internet, and might attend powwows and power lunches.

    Indian Voices, an inspiring and important contribution to the literature about the original Americans, will make every reader rethink the past-and present-of the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5096-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xx)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xxi-xxvi)

    A cartoon reprinted in the bookDo All Indians Live in Tipis?shows Christopher Columbus arriving on an island, and a bright-eyed Native man and woman looking at him.¹ The man says, “We’ve thought and thought, but we’re at a loss about what to call ourselves. Any ideas?”

    A perhaps apocryphal account that could also be funny, or not, reports that when Columbus and his men first made western landfall, the local people bowed their heads, brought gifts, and otherwise behaved in a manner they thought proper to guests. Columbus and company regarded the behavior as evidence of submission.


  5. CHAPTER 1 A Man of the Dawn
    (pp. 1-17)

    On the first day of the Passamaquoddy blueberry harvest, Darrell Newell slept until two a.m. or so, tossed and turned for an hour, then gave up on sleep. He left the Northeastern Blueberry Company’s ranch-style house in Columbia Falls he uses at harvest time, walked down the driveway into Northeastern’s warehouse, and got to work.

    Around seven a.m., he was consulting his clipboard and assigning the last drivers and loaders their areas. The men nodded and left. Darrell went into the adjoining office, spoke with two women working there, including his eldest daughter, Nakia, got some paperwork, and climbed into...

  6. CHAPTER 2 “Indians 101”
    (pp. 18-36)

    In her sparkling office at Homer Law, a few steps off Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Lohah Homer was having her standard lunch of “roast beast” sandwich, as she calls it, Diet Coke, and a small bag of Utz potato chips. Resplendent in a black-and-pink-pinstriped power suit that perfectly complemented her black hair and pink fingernails, Elizabeth, an attractive and hearty woman with a dimple in her chin and a voice that carries, was talking between bites and sips about myths—not myths that figure in tribal creation stories, but myths that non-Natives believe about Natives.

    As she talked,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 A Trio of Lumbees
    (pp. 37-61)

    What is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi, the largest least-known tribe in the country, and the largest tribe the United States government does not recognize?

    The Lumbees.

    “A ballpark figure” puts the population at around 56,000, says Dr. Stanley Knick, who heads the Native American Resource Center at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The commercial and social hub of Lumbee country, Pembroke lies about two hours inland from North Carolina’s southernmost coast and is surrounded by expanses of flat farmland. Beyond that are swamps, treasured in part for having kept centuries of marauding Europeans, and European...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Elders of the Haudenosaunee
    (pp. 62-91)

    The two-row wampum belt, created four hundred years ago to straighten things out with Dutch traders, explains a lot.

    The pattern, made by stringing together shell beads, consists of five rows. The top, bottom, and middle rows are white, the other two purple. The white rows represent the river of life. The purple rows represent two vessels floating on the white. In one purple row travel people of the Iroquois Confederacy in their canoes. In the other row travel Europeans in their ships. That the rows do not touch is significant. The meaning is, we know you have arrived, Europeans,...

  9. CHAPTER 5 City Kid
    (pp. 92-108)

    One brisk Chicago morning, twenty-seven-year-old Ansel Deon set about his job within the tribal hall of the American Indian Center, or AIC. Around and above him, cultures clashed. Banners comprised of tribal flags hung from a high ornate molded plaster ceiling. A mural of three Native women extended over a Corinthian pilaster. A grand stage filled one side of the room, opposite it a soft-drink machine. Ansel, barely looking up, made his way down a row of folding tables. Reaching into a tattered cardboard box, he selected two small balls of different-colored yarn and positioned them next to a slim,...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Drum Keeper
    (pp. 109-127)

    “When I was really little, I used to walk on this dirt road to my cousin’s house and look up a long, sloping hill. It was just a big field all full of grass and trails going across. There’d be clouds going by and looked like they were at the top of the horizon. I used to think, if I go up there, I’ll fall off, because that’s the edge of the earth. I’ll never be able to get back on. That’s what I thought the world was, the village I lived in and the people I lived with.”


  11. CHAPTER 7 “How’s everybody doing tonight?”
    (pp. 128-141)

    Along Route 51 in northern Oklahoma’s Pawnee tribal territory, forests rolled by and snow fell lightly as disparate questions wafted. How had the Pawnees, who originally lived hundreds of miles to the north, survived past winters? When would the cell-phone dead zone end? Which of two available radio stations was preferable? Choice A: golden oldie country. Choice B: even older Deuteronomy. Neither seemed likely to play Native son Marcus Frejo, the rapper Quese IMC.

    He has performed live for Pawnee audiences near here, as well as for audiences from New York to North Dakota, Florida to Hawaii, and at a...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Tales from Pine Ridge
    (pp. 142-167)

    “We got along well enough,” Karen Artichoker said of her white dorm-mates decades ago at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. “I even went home with one girl. She was really young. She was sixteen, really smart.” The girl’s parents invited Karen and another friend to their home in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for a holiday weekend, and picked them up at the college. “All the way her mother told me about the big Indian [statue] in the Wisconsin harbor. The whole trip. These girls actually were a little bit better than their parents. ‘I told my mother not to be...

  13. CHAPTER 9 “Get over it!” and Other Suggestions
    (pp. 168-187)

    “When we had our winter ceremonies,” said Patty Talahongva, one January afternoon in her Albuquerque office, “our schedule was like this. My dad was a baker. That’s the wonderful job”—she raised her eyebrows with “wonderful”—arranged for him after the Talahongva family relocated to Denver. “King’s Bakery,” she recited. “He would get off at, say, two in the afternoon. My mom would have the car packed. He would come home, load up, we’d jump in the car, and start driving. We’d come all the way down through here, cross over into Arizona, and go to Second Mesa. We would...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Former President
    (pp. 188-208)

    Claudia Vigil-Muniz suddenly jumped to her feet.

    She was among a hundred or so Native women attending a conference at the Gila River Indian community’s Wild Horse Pass Resort and Casino outside Phoenix. For days, the women had gone to workshops such as “Understanding Tribal Budgets” and “Rising Impacts of Meth” in Indian Country.¹ The stated theme changed each year, but the unstated one remained constant: Native women are wonderful.

    Accordingly, at today’s conference luncheon, a designated woman from each table extolled her tablemates in particular and Native women in general. At the table of Claudia Vigil-Muniz, though, something else...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Practicing Medicine
    (pp. 209-232)

    “I’ll formally introduce myself, as is tradition in Navajo. My name is Harrison Baheshone. I am of the Rock Gap clan. Tsédeeshgizhnii is my mother’s maternal clan. My father’s clan is Kin Yaa’áanii, Towering House clan. My grandfather on my mother’s side, they’re Chishi Dine’e, which is the Chiricahua Apache clan. Then on my paternal side it’s the Tl’aashchi’I, Bottoms Red People clan, which are closely related to the Many Goats and the Many Mules clan. I am originally from a place called Coalmine Mesa, which is about thirty minutes east of Tuba City, Arizona.”

    The ceremony would take place...

  16. CHAPTER 12 The Kin of Sacajawea
    (pp. 233-253)

    “I remember my dad telling us pretty much all our lives, from when I was like six years old, ‘Don’t you forget who you are. You come from chiefs. Chief Tendoy is your great great grandfather. Your ancestor is Sacajawea.’ But when you’re young, you go, ‘Okay Dad, yeah, all right.’”

    Emma George, curled on her springy couch, smiled at the memory. Light through seen-better-days Venetian blinds warmed the living room of her house on the Fort Hall Reservation in southeastern Idaho. Photographs of relatives hung everywhere. Behind her, on a yellow wall, was one of her father, Wilford George,...

  17. CHAPTER 13 Indian Humor
    (pp. 254-270)

    Is there a joke within the infinity labeled “Indian humor” that Carol Craig does not know? All attempts to stump her have failed. Okay, how about this one under the heading “Don’t Mess with Indian Women,” which I forwarded from a Native Web site?

    A Native man with six beautiful children is so proud of his achievement, he starts calling his wife “Mother of Six,” despite her objections. One night at a party when it’s time to leave, he shouts across the room, “Shall we go home, my little mother of six?” His irritated wife shouts back, “Any time you’re...

  18. CHAPTER 14 Powwow Power
    (pp. 271-288)

    On a sticky August evening in Sacramento’s O’Neil Park, hard by a highway underpass, master of ceremonies Tom Phillips opened the city’s thirteenth annual powwow by invoking timelessness. “Over the year we’ve lost a lot of our loved ones. A lot of our people have left the circle,” he intoned into a microphone. “But we still want to continue on, because that’s the way they would want it. They would want us to dance and to carry forward these traditions that Creator has given us and blessed us with.”

    Tom, a man of medium height, rounded features, glasses (he was...

  19. CHAPTER 15 Relearning for Life
    (pp. 289-306)

    It seems remarkable, given the circumstances, that Henry Frank is thriving as an artist. Is it the power of art or is it the power of Henry?

    As he held up his woodcuts, Henry, generally a modest man, all but beamed. A self-portrait titledBig Bear Medicinefeatures the top half of Henry’s Buddha-like torso, his hands clasped lightly, his expression serene behind glasses. Emanating from his wide head and long hair are myriad strands, possibly of hair, possibly of light. Henry’s face and arms (“the color of copper,” he wrote in an essay for a college class) are white...

  20. CHAPTER 16 Eskimo Ice Cream
    (pp. 307-320)

    Christine Guy, a thirty-six-year-old Yup’ik, sat on the linoleum floor of her kitchen in Kwethluk, in western Alaska. A beaded barrette, one of many in her collection, held the end of her black braid, which almost reached the floor. Her back was straight, her legs in a V-shape, pinioning a huge metal bowl. On the floor around her she had arrayed various ingredients. Beside her, or on chairs, or standing, were about eight other people. They included her oldest daughter, Christina, nicknamed Pooh (a lovely teenager, who crochets while watching James Bond videos), her youngest son, Big Boy (so named...

  21. CHAPTER 17 Aloha from Hawai’i
    (pp. 321-332)

    A Hawai’ian in a book about Native Americans? But isn’t the federal government’s phrase for Native peoples “American Indians and Alaska Natives” (AI/ANs), omitting Hawai’ians entirely?

    Let me pose other questions. Did Hawai’i not have an indigenous population whose lives were radically changed by European arrival? Did European Americans not take over much of the land and the government? Did they not change the lives of the indigenous population by such efforts as adding their own religion and subtracting the other’s language, while proclaiming their appreciation of the indigenous people’s cultural output? Do descendants of the indigenous population not feel,...

  22. Conclusion
    (pp. 333-336)

    When the trips were finished, interviews transcribed, research and writing done, what stays with me most are three impressions.

    The first is the rationality and reasonableness of Native people in the wake of one imposed insult or assault or disaster after another. I was stunned less by their resilience, stunning enough on its own, than by what might be called accommodation. There was much resentment expressed, of course, but virtually no hatred, and none at the level that my fellow European Americans express toward any number of other people, including Native Americans.

    The second impression is (most) Native Americans’ very...

  23. Notes
    (pp. 337-344)
  24. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 345-346)
  25. Index
    (pp. 347-363)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 364-364)