- Yuchi Folklore: Cultural Expression in a Southeastern Native American Community by Jason Baird Jackson
In his book of collected essays, Jason Baird Jackson breathes life into what could have been a dry discussion of Yuchi ethnography. His long and close association with three Yuchi communities in Oklahoma results in a well-balanced and intimate treatment of Yuchi expressive culture. One of many southeastern tribes forcibly removed to the West during the 1830s removal era, this group has been relegated behind studies of more visible groups such as the Creeks (Muskogees), Seminoles, or Cherokees. And yet, as Jackson reminds us, the Yuchi maintained a strong separate identity. Even in the midst of these larger groups (pre–and post–removal), their language, defined as a distinct and isolated language group, remains a marker of their dynamic existence.
Jackson explores language as a cultural marker, including ceremonial ground oratory skills and ritualized speech. In addition, the author considers how contemporary dress, architecture, and dance among the Yuchi continue as vehicles of cultural identity expression even while exhibiting evidence of change over time. This is the common thread holding these essays together. Most of the book's chapters appeared as previously published articles in academic journals from 1998–2008, though Jackson does add several nuanced chapters that allow him to consider overarching themes.
First, Jackson emphasizes the long-standing continuity of the collective Yuchi worldview. Second, while his over-a-decade association with this group has passed into the 21st century and many changes have occurred within Yuchi everyday life, this author persuasively argues that even change can reinforce values and traditional practices. As he [End Page 83] states, "a diversity of genres, forms, values, customs, and practices are constantly being mixed and remixed to make actual social life work" (p. xvii). Jackson particularly presents strong evidence of this in his treatment of the ceremonial grounds and the traditional oratory skills and practices that accompany the dances. Written in the style of many folklore publications, a reader at first glance might not see this dialectical treatment of the relationship of change and continuity. However, with careful reading, even a reader not versed in anthropological or ethnographic terms can negotiate Jackson's discussion.
Another strength of Jackson's scholarship is the close association he has forged with the Yuchi communities over time. The second chapter is written as if Jackson is taking a first-time visitor to the Yuchi community of Duck Creek. As he introduces readers (the first-time visitor) to this community, Jackson provides a mental picture of the landscape, describes some of the tribe's history, and invokes a sense of place to personalize the journey through the other genres of cultural expression in the following chapters. One can quickly understand that the Yuchi have allowed, even encouraged, the author to share these insights with outsiders hoping to set right the oftentimes misinterpreted or just wrong information that the public has about their people, the People of the Fire. This is particularly important to the Yuchi because politically they have been incorporated by the federal government into the Creek Nation. Yet, Duck Creek, Polecat, and Sand Creek remain autonomous tribal towns with a separate and distinct Yuchi identity.
I encourage those with an interest in southeastern Native American peoples to read Jackson's book. It would also serve as a good classroom text to provide a perspective into a culture that, though marginalized through colonization and removal, persevered and is now a very successful example of how change and continuity is synchronized by a people in order to maintain and celebrate their separate identity. [End Page 84]