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Spirit of Giving: Holiday Gifts for Those Dark Winter Days

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From award winners to classics in the making, a slew of books is worth putting on one’s gift list at holiday time. Here are some favorites reviewed by Indian Country Today Media Network this year, and a few we will showcase soon.


Some of our choices illuminate the contrast between so-called mainstream perceptions of Indians and Indian actuality. Though some are written by non-Indians, all manage to bridge this often gaping chasm by actually speaking to Indians.

Alison Owings’s Indian Voices: Listening to Native Americans does not tell Indians anything they don’t already know, but it does provide an amusing, if sometimes frustrating, glimpse into Middle America’s perceptions of Indian identity. Some people actually “do not realize that Native Americans still exist, much less speak English, have cell phones, use the Internet, and attend both pow wows and power lunches,”

ICTMN wrote in introducing an excerpt from Indian Voices this year.

All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos)(University of Nebraska Press, 2011) approaches the topic from a somewhat wider, political angle. But at base is author Catherine C. Robbins’s similar determination to expose the general public’s lack of understanding of Indian affairs.

Of course, who better to bridge this gap than Indians themselves? This year saw the re-release of the classic Every Day Is a Good Day, Memorial Edition: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women (Fulcrum Publishing 2011), the well known study by the late Wilma Mankiller. She, too, interviewed women from all across Turtle Island, spotlighting their thought processes, their struggles and their dreams.

In a more political vein, The Hank Adams Reader: An Exemplary Native Activist and the Unleashing of Indigenous Sovereignty (Fulcrum Publishing, 2011), edited by David E. Wilkins, is the first book-length treatment of this iconic activist’s work.

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And now for some historical context on American Indians. Longstanding ICTMN contributor Konnie LeMay recommends Anton Treuer’s The Assassination of Hole in the Day (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2010) for its “refreshing cultural understanding and depth seldom seen in accounts involving Indian history.”

Where the Tall Grass Grows: Becoming Indigenous and the Mythological Legacy of the American West (Fulcrum Publishing, 2011), by Bobby Bridger, looks at American Indian mythology and its impact on modern-day identity and, in turn, the perception and portrayal of Indians in Hollywood. Then there is Charles Mann’s recently released 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Knopf, 2011), an engaging sequel to its companion volume, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Knopf, 2005). Both blow open modern notions of what constituted Indian life before and after Christopher Columbus’s little visit.


Mann’s work reads as entertainingly as fiction, but for the real thing, Sara Sue Hoklotubbe caught our attention with the second novel in her mystery series, The American Café (University of Arizona Press, 2011). As reviewer Lisa Gale Garrigues put it on ICTMN, “When Sadie Walela decides to pursue her lifelong dream of owning a café, she doesn’t realize she’s about to jump headlong into a sizzle of surprise and mayhem that includes one gun-toting elderly white lady, a shell-shocked war veteran, a young woman in search of her roots, a mysterious Creek man named Red and a small-town police department that to say the least has its hands full.”


Among offbeat items, some coffee-table books would make good gifts for the aficionado. Unique among these is Eeyou Istchee: Land of the Cree/Terre des Cris, about the James Bay Cree. This trilingual effort (English, French and Cree), published in 2010, was compiled by Louise Abbott and Niels Jensen for the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association.

Other books depict portraits of tribal life around the U.S. These include Arapaho Journeys: Photographs and Stories From the Wind River Reservation by Sara Wiles (University of Oklahoma Press, 2011); Southern Paiute: A Portrait by William Logan Hebner with photographs by Michael L. Plyler (Utah State University Press, 2011), and People of the Big Voice: Photographs of Ho-Chunk Families by Charles Van Schaick, 1879–1942 by Tom Jones, Michael Schmudlach, Matthew Daniel Mason, Amy Lonetree and George A. Greendeer (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2011). The latter won the 2011 USA Book News award for photography on November 29.

Carvings and Commerce: Model Totem Poles, 1880–2010 by Michael D. Hall and Pat Glascock (University of Washington Press, 2011) offers a fascinating and colorful look at these iconic items.