NWSA Journal 15.2 (2003) 123-134
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American Indian Women:
Nurturing American Indian Cultural and Political Continuance
Christopher B. Teuton
Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary edited by Gretchen M. Bataille and Laurie Lisa, 2 nd edition. New York: Routledge Press, 2001, 396 pp., $90.00 hardcover.
Sifters: Native American Women�s Lives edited by Theda Perdue. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, 260 pp., $19.95 paperback.
Te Ata: Chickasaw Storyteller, American Treasure by Richard Green. Norman: Oklahoma University Press, 2002, 368 pp., $34.95 hard-cover.
Esther Ross: Stillaguamish Champion by Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001, 312 pp., $29.95 hardcover.
Off the Reservation: Reflections on Boundary-Busting, Border Crossing, Loose Canons by Paula Gunn Allen. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999, 272 pp., $17.00 paperback.
Anti-Indianism in Modern America: A Voice from Tatekeya�s Earth by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001, 240 pp., $26.95 hardcover.
I was raised by a Cherokee mother, was mentored by an Oneida woman poet and scholar, and have worked for a Menominee woman social worker and leader. As a Cherokee man, my life has been shaped by the generosity, care, and insight of American Indian women. My experiences, however, only partially reflect the real impact Native women have had and continue to have on the survival and success of American Indian nations, people, and communities, as well as the world as a whole. And so it is my privilege to introduce several works of recent scholarship that highlight the far-ranging accomplishments of American Indian women of the past and present in fields as various as medicine, art, tribal politics, and diplomacy.
Despite their far-ranging areas of focus, the books reviewed in this essay may be classified as works of American Indian Studies. While the study of American Indians has a long history in anthropology and archaeology, American Indian Studies arose as a field in the late 1960s and 1970s. [End Page 123] Composed mainly of scholarship in the arts and humanities, social sciences, and education, American Indian Studies continues to draw upon political activism to shape both its political goals and methodological approaches. American Indian Studies contextualizes the development of new knowledge within the social and political realities experienced by American Indians today. For this reason, American Indian Studies strives to create scholarship that may be useful to American Indian people and communities. Two continuing aspirations of American Indian Studies is to recover and discuss Native intellectual and political leaders of the past and present, and to create intellectual and political conceptual models for future generations.
I offer this schematic definition of American Indian Studies to highlight how scholars in this field place a practical importance upon the elucidation and dissemination of Native knowledge. It is for this reason, I believe, that works such as biographies are important to American Indian Studies. As a young scholar I was inspired by the lives of Native leaders, and I continue to be. It is gratifying to see more biographies of Native Americans published each year and, as they are published, to see the history of Native America become at once clearer and more complicated.
One aspect of the history of American Indian Studies that may shock those who are unfamiliar with this field of study is that women have led its development. Works by two important American Indian Studies scholars, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn and Paula Gunn Allen, are reviewed in this essay. When I first read works by these two Native women, a world of intellectual possibilities opened up for me, and their scholarship continues to inform my own work in the field of American Indian literary criticism. Many other women, however, both Native and non-Native, have made important contributions to the field, including Beatrice Medicine, M. Annette Jaimes, Devon A. Mihesuah, and A. Lavonne Brown-Ruoff, to name only a few. Women scholars of American Indian Studies come from very diverse backgrounds and approach this field of study from wildly diverging intellectual and cultural perspectives. With...