The Book of Elders: The Life Stories of Great American Indians

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9780062508379: The Book of Elders: The Life Stories of Great American Indians
From Kirkus Reviews:

An amateur ethnographer's attempt at recording the life stories of various aged Native Americans. Novelist and writer Johnson (Walk on a Winter Beach, 1982) was at a low point in her life when an unforgettable incident set her on a spiritual quest that resulted in this volume. Her brother and father had both recently died; writer's block prevented work on a novel; she was financially strapped; and she was having second thoughts about her then-current project--the biography of a nun who worked with Indians in the last century. Then, in a waking dream, she saw a wizened Indian face beckoning her. To what? She had to find out. Thus began a three-year journey through Indian country, interviewing tribal elders. As it turned out, she claims, the face she had seen was that of Pete Catches, a noted Oglala Lakota medicine man, whose interview leads off the volume. Those represented give a fair cross-section of Native experience in the 20th century. Some persons are familiar. Martin Gashweseoma and Thomas Banyacya discuss Hopi prophecies about humanity's impending destruction of the world. Janet McCloud, a Tulalip, discusses those who fraudulently peddle Native spirituality and also the fights over fishing rights that brought her to prominence. Others profiled are less well known. Mike Haney, half Seminole and half Lakota, is described by Johnson as one of ``tomorrow's elders.'' He discusses his involvement with the American Indian Movement and his battle with alcohol. An epilogue tells of Pete Catches's funeral. Dan Budnik's black-and-white photos are beautiful but add to the author's romanticized, white vision of what constitutes the authentically Indian. Although there is much of interest here and the pieces appear to be in the words of those interviewed, the fact that Johnson says nothing about her methods in gathering and recording the stories should make readers wary. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

With graceful and sure prose, Johnson relays 31 extremely moving Native American stories she collected during a three-year cross-country journey and personal odyssey that began in 1989 after she had a "vision" in her New York City home. Johnson is a perfect conduit for the voices of the elders she interviews, giving her work immense credibility and spiritual resonance. An elder is defined not by age or gender, but as "one who carries the knowledge of the tradition and wisdom of the heart, one who walks in truth and dignity no matter how poor, in humility no matter how revered." The varied tribal voices telling these stories, which span the history of relations with the federal government as well as Native American spiritual and cultural practices, are essentially the voices of the past, present and future brought together. These people clearly touched Johnson's life. She beautifully records in words the same nobility that Budnik captures so well in his candid portraits.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Sandy Johnson, Sandy Johnson (Editor), Dan Budnik (Photographer)
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