- Indian Voices: Listening to Native Americans
Writer/oral historian Alison Owings does an outstanding job of just what this book promises to address in the title, Listening to Native Americans. Owings is a recognized journalist, and her work as an oral historian observing, listening, and sometimes participating in day-to-day American Indian life makes this book a welcome and must-read addition to the small number of books that focus on contemporary American Indians.
This book represents an eight-year involvement with American Indians from all across the United States. It begins with a Passamaquoddy man preparing for the tribe’s annual blueberry harvest on the East Coast of the United States and finishes with a Native Hawaiian man explaining his Native traditions in Hawaii. It is because of the author’s commitment to reaching across the breadth of Native America that this manuscript is not just another book that looks at Indian Country from the outside looking in. Instead, Owings spends days and nights with her subjects in American Indian communities from large cities to small reservation communities. She is accepted by the Native people she has found for this book, and she is invited into the personal daily lives of each of her subjects. They in return share some of the most personal aspects of their daily lives, including private family issues with high points and low points, or they openly share some of the most important issues that they face with their tribal nations today that an outsider to the community could only understand if explained by an American Indian. The result is that readers are given access to a deeper understanding about the similarities and the differences of American Indian life to their own lives in the United States in the twenty-first century.
In a recent study about contemporary American Indians, one question [End Page 377] posed was, What do you think about when you think about American Indians? The number one answer returned was American Indians in buckskins, beads, and feathers. Ownings addresses just these types of stereotypes, as in chapter 2, “Indians 101,” with Elizabeth Lohah Homer (Osage). Elizabeth is an enrolled member of the Osage Nation and a lawyer in her own law firm in a very prestigious area of Washington, DC. Owings writes that Elizabeth was “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 voice that carries, was talking between bites and sips (of her lunch) about myths—no myths that figure in tribal creation stories, but myths that non-Natives believe about Natives” (18). This chapter is one of the best that Owings has in this book, and it addresses questions about Indian gaming, Indian military service, who lives on Indian reservations and who does not, and whether American Indians are able to live tax free and get free money from the US government. Elizabeth Lohah Homer does an excellent job of dispelling these myths, and Owings does a great job of listening to Elizabeth. The result is “Indians 101” and a clearer understanding of American Indian issues and about what is myth and what is fact—directly from an American Indian point of view.
Another very interesting chapter is chapter 6, “The Drum Keeper Rosemary Berens (Ojibwe).” This chapter finds Rosemary Berens at the Bois Forte Reservation in northern Minnesota. Rosemary works as the manager of the Bois Forte Heritage Center and Cultural Museum, and “one of her major responsibilities is the daunting work called repatriation” (110). Owings very correctly writes that “the word repatriation . . . generally draws blank looks from non-Natives . . . and emotions close to tears from Natives” (110). This chapter looks at the work of finding and then repatriating American Indian cultural items, burial items, and human remains, including many sacred items that belong to the Bois Forte Ojibwe. These Ojibwe items are usually found in American Indian Collections in museums across the United States. Most museums would rather...