- The Turtle's Beating Heart: One Family's Story of Lenape Survival by Denise Low
The American Indian Lives Series of the University of Nebraska Press continues its outstanding growth with each new production, with now approximately forty titles in print. While the majority of the productions are standard biographies and autobiographies by and about American Indian (or Native American) people, and the authors or subjects are generally well known or well placed within their tribal milieu, Denise Low's The Turtle's Beating Heart: One Family's Story of Survival, the latest of the [End Page 110] press's offerings, is somewhat unusual. While the book is indeed both two biographies (of the author's maternal grandfather and her mother) and an autobiography (the author's), it is also a much-welcomed work of newly synthesized historical knowledge of the Lenape (Delaware) people, of their vast and numerous diasporas from the North Atlantic coast (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware) to places as widely apart as Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas—places where to this day Lenape (Delaware) people live on reservations or in rural and small-town communities. A map of the United States, drawn by the author, illustrates the numerous exoduses of Lenape people to the afore-mentioned states and provinces and thus provides excellent insight into these movements.
Denise Low's examination of three generations of her family's life in Kansas in the first half of the twentieth century is amplified with numerous photographs not only of her grandfather, her mother, and herself but also of numerous other relatives. The Bruners (her grandfather's generation) and the Dotsons (her mother's and Low's generations) are representative of a group of Lenape people who were and still are not legally Native American but who were and are nonetheless Native American and are undeniably so, now well into the twenty-first century. Low's depiction of her family members through her writing and photographs thus documents this group of Lenape people in excellent fashion. As well, the abiding notion of diaspora can also be seen in the depictions of the various moves within Kansas that her grandfather and his family experienced in the first half of the twentieth century and that is also evident in the lives of the author and her mother.
This, then, is a very important aspect of The Turtle's Beating Heart—the very well-presented depiction of a people who yet remain in various shades of tribalism, and most often without the sanctity of federal or state recognition. Sadly, too many people today, and most often Native Americans, base their criteria for Indian identity on legal recognition only while ignoring or disregarding other criteria such as blood, the social, and the traditional. Low's book makes a strong statement on behalf of the social and cultural categories, and for this it is to be strongly commended.
And the heart of the turtle—the universal symbol of the Lenape people—beats on within present-day tribal members, still on their various lands—or not—but above all, not vanished, still beating. [End Page 111]
geary hobson (Cherokee–Arkansas Quapaw), recently retired from many years of teaching on the university level, is a novelist (The Last of the Ofos), short story writer (Plain of Jars and Other Stories), and poet (Deer Hunting and Other Poems, From Deep Woods, and The Road Where the People Cried) and the editor of anthologies (The Remembered Earth and The People Who Stayed). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.