- Call for Change: The Medicine Way of American Indian History, Ethos, and Reality by Donald L. Fixico
By Donald L. Fixico. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013. 264 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index, $50.00 cloth.
This is an awkward yet important book, as it must be when dealing with race and historiography. As Donald Fixico passionately points out, there is a critical need to change the way Native American history is researched, written, and taught. For too long, Native American history has been written by non-Indians who just don’t get it. It has focused almost exclusively on white-Indian relations, and is unable to get at the Indian ethos and worldview that must be included to understand Indian history.
The difficulty of writing about race is doing so in ways that are not sweeping generalizations. In this work, Fixico, especially early on, tends to make broad statements that sometimes seem to contradict his own arguments. Indians, whites, Americans, and historians are often described by oversimplistic stereotypes that may put off many readers. In other places Fixico calls for new ways of doing Indian history, then lists dozens of authors who have been doing this new history since the 1970s. This leaves the reader to wonder if the change in fact actually happened fifty years ago. If so, why a call for change now?
Yet these awkward moments should not conceal the important approach to Indian history Fixico advocates. He rightly points out that the majority of Indian history does not really consider Indians from their own point of view. He delineates three approaches that aim to remove cultural blinders as well as challenge some of the basic assumptions of how history should be done. He argues that ethnography, language studies, and imagination need to be more deeply developed by the researcher. Many of these techniques—such as using different sources or learning native languages—have been used in the last fifty years by a handful of historians. Indeed, the approaches he calls for would sharpen the work of historians in any field. Since these techniques are now known, again, why a call for change now? Because being known and being commonly used are two different things.
A handful of historians have adopted many of these techniques, but the majority has not. The techniques require a different approach in which not many are trained. Unfortunately, a survey of recent works on Indian history, especially popular history, suggests that Fixico is correct in calling for a change now. Fixico’s insightful book is a good place to start. [End Page 113]
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