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Biography 26.3 (2003) 490-492

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Theda Perdue, ed. Sifters: Native American Women's Lives. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 260 pp. ISBN 0-19-513081-2, $19.95.

This is a volume of biographies that captures the experiences of Native women's lives from the period of encounter to the present day. The editor is Theda Perdue, who brings to life women long consigned to the shadows of historical anonymity. The way in which the individual authors within this volume have sifted these stories from the available evidence "serves to personalize and feminize the story of Native America." Consequently, reading about the fourteen women described in this book should appeal to both scholars and the general public. The editor and authors are to be particularly commended for the lively writing style that characterizes each of the bio-histories in Sifters. It will serve as stimulating reading for students across a variety of disciplines: Indian history, United States history, and Women's Studies.

The biographies of this volume are compelling, and demonstrate that women faced a broad and often devastating range of experiences that forced them to sift through their own indigenous upbringing to uncover the strength and strategies required to function as forceful figures in a white world. Some of the women are celebrated public figures from early American history: Pocahontas, Molly Brant, and Sacagawea. Others, like Gertrude Simmons Bonnin and Ada Dear, became vocal spokeswomen for Native people in the twentieth century. What comes across so clearly from encounter to the present day is that way in which these women used their experience and knowledge of the non-Indian world to promote Indian persistence, and often, during this century, to win significant victories for the rights of Native people.

Each of the women in this volume can be traced in the historical record. In many ways this makes them quite unique; most women remain invisible because they have left no record in the literature by which they can be identified. Theda Perdue has devoted a significant amount of attention to figures from the colonial period of American history, where records of women are [End Page 490] infrequent and are often difficult to access. Much of this difficulty is further complicated by the fact that many of the Native women who lived during the colonial period were often shrouded in myth. For instance, Helen Rountree's discussion of Pocahontas reveals how past depictions have stereotyped her as part of the nation-building process, and have obscured the reality of her life. Consequently, Rountree's essay deconstructs the stereotypes in order to reveal an alternative narrative about the process of encounter. But if Pocahontas is one of the most familiar colonial female figures in this book, the least well known is Mary Musgrove, who has long merited broader scholarly attention. Michael Green has insightfully incorporated the rich dissertation material of the late Doris Fisher to construct an engrossing narrative about a woman who was just as comfortable in English society as she was among her Creek relatives. Yet, as Green so aptly demonstrates, she retained her Creek identity. Mary moved into English society and sought comparable standing to what she was accorded by her Creek people. Consequently, she sought to acquire the symbols by which the Anglo world measured success, and was particularly assertive in her demands for property and wealth. In pursuing those goals, Mary's litigious activity secured her a permanent place in the public record.

Female obscurity is not confined to the historical record of the early period of United States history. The recording of history has generally been the province of men, and nowhere does this become more apparent than in histories written about the American Indian Movement, where men have obscured the activity of their female counterparts. Devon A. Mihesuah provides a long-neglected and much-needed biography about Anna Pictou-Aquash. This is an insightful analysis of Anna's activities, and more importantly, Mihesuah reveals the tragic price that an activist like Anna paid for her involvement with AIM. Anna Pictou-Aquash was murdered in the "reign...


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