- Re-creating the Circle: The Renewal of American Indian Self-Determination ed. by LaDonna Harris, Stephen M. Sachs, and Barbara Morris
In 1931 Black Elk commented that “the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered.” But perhaps it is as the principal contributing authors, LaDonna Harris, Stephen M. Sachs, and Barbara Morris, state in the introduction to a new book titled Recreating the Circle: The Renewal of American Indian Self-Determination: “Today the hoop, or circle, of many Native nations is in the process of rejuvenation” (x). This monumental yet digestible work on Indigenous renewal encompasses the idea of “returning American Indian and Alaska Native peoples to sovereignty, self-sufficiency, and harmony so they can be more effective as partners in American federalism and society” (xiv). More specifically, the book addresses ways Indian nations can return to traditional principles in the context of the twenty-first century in ways that enhance continuing positive development.
Linking past and present yet pointing to the future, a beautiful tapestry is woven as this collection integrates complex historical, political, and cultural information with real-life examples to create multifaceted constructs from multiple voices. Much like the circular meaning in conjunction with the Native medicine wheels, within this volume we get the sense of integrating the different directions, each with its own quality and a different way of seeing the whole, combining for the purpose of greater understanding and evolution. Today Indian nations are freer to exercise their sovereignty, including adapting political and educational structures, judicial processes, economic development, and government relations to be consistent with the changing values of their community members. While weaving the traditional Native elements of consensus [End Page 436] decision making, individual autonomy, harmony, and respect into each section as crucial to regaining successful self-determination, the authors also caution the reader not to omit anyone from the circle, as each person and every culture has its place: “Each comes from his or her own inner strength in giving support to others in a dialectic of mutual assistance” (37). Together the authors bring the reader into a meaningful dialogue synthesizing these particular issues, which are caught in the webs of colonialism, historical trauma, and true economic need.
In order to gain a holistic understanding of the process of re-creating the circle, the book has been divided into three sections; “The Harmony of the Circle and the Impact of Colonialism,” “Re-creating the Circle,” and “Completing the Circle Through Appropriate Leadership and Collaboration and an Overview of the Re-creation Process.” In part 1, the reader is introduced to Native American values and how they are applicable in today’s world for all lives and societies. This examination of traditional societies shows a relatively high quality of life due to a set of communal relationships with mechanisms to provide for those who were not well off so that everyone could find acceptance and develop self-esteem (3). Various ethnographic examples are given throughout, some actually contrasting with the general egalitarian principles previously discussed, yet all emphasizing the need for people to maintain and renew harmony. One poignant illustration involves two young Cheyenne men who were caught hunting buffalo on their own when solo hunting was prohibited. When members of the society discovered the offenders, their horses were shot, their guns were broken, and the young men were beaten. Yet once the chief and members of society felt they had learned their lesson, the young men were once again reintegrated into the group by societal members offering them their own horses and guns.
Tackling the continuing impact of five hundred years of contact with Europeans and European Americans, the authors end part 1 by summarizing advancements that have been made as well as barriers to completing the renewal of self-determination. Memories of physical and cultural genocide, widespread poverty, and inadequate services all contribute to a sense of disharmony and disruptive behavior, both of which have become serious problems. Although these interrelated issues occurring...