Rain_Sparrow's Book Reviews

Reviews and Commentaries on Books with Native American Content

of the

Molly Spotted Elk - A Penobscot in Paris

by Bunny McBride
Published by University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
360 pages, ISBN #0-8061-2756-2.

Molly Spotted Elk was a young Penobscot woman born on Indian Island in the early years of this century. Her life included travelling the US with various shows doing various types of Native dances, university work, and travelling to Paris, where she felt that authentic dance was appreciated more than in the US. She married an author she met there, had a daughter by him, and had to escape France without his when the Nazis invaded.

Through interviews with Molly's daughter, Jean Archambaud Moore, and access to Molly's diaries, Bunny McBride has captured a detailed narrative of the life of this remarkable woman. The dust jacket recommends the book for classes in Women's Studies as well as Native American and WWII studies, and I'd have to second that recommendation. Her triumphs over tuberculosis, during the Great Depression, searching for a forum that would appreciate true Penobscot dance rather than stereotyped "Injun" dancing, and desperately running to Portugal with her daughter to escape the advance of the Nazi armed forces are well worth reading from any of those viewpoints.

Penobscot Man

by Frank G. Speck
Published by Octagon Books, 1970.
Originally published by University of Pennsylvania Press, 1940.
325 pages, ISBN #unknown

It seems that Frank Speck is the main authority on the Penobscot that I have been able to find so far. His research dates back to the turn of the century, although this book was not published until 1940.

Speck lived amongst the Penobscot and learned many of their ways firsthand. This apparently (from some comments in the footnotes) cost him some respect amongst his colleagues for lack of objectivity. However, I feel that informs his work with much more authentic information.

Despite this supposed lack of objectivity, you will occasionally find some rather typical Western European-type biases, such as the comment on the Penobscot not having "advanced" to the point of harnessing their dogs for transportation. (Note: However, my original response of "Well perhaps they had more respect for their dogs than that" was quickly rebuffed by the accounts of frequent physical discipline including kicking. Ah well. Still, I take issue with the suggestion that lack of harnessing demonstrates lack of "advancement.")

Asides like this, however, reflect the times in which Speck was educated and did his research. While it warrants a caution about any value judgments, it does not invalidate his observations, which seem quite useful.

As you no doubt noticed on the Offline Resources page, Speck has quite a few articles and other writings to his credit. If I am ever able to track them all down, I will include my synopses and responses to them on a separate page.

The Penobscot

by Jill Duvall
Published by Children's Press, Inc., 1993
48 pages, ISBN #0-516-01194-4

This children's book would be excellent for use in a first or second grade unit on Native Americans.

It is also useful to adults, as a short and sweet starting point in learning about the history of the Penobscot. Due to the low reading level required, everything is put forth simply and directly, giving a great framework which can be filled in with the more complex historical and political issues later.

Gluskap the Liar & Other Indian Tales

by Horace P. Beck, illustrations by Arthur K.D. Healy
Published by The Bond Wheelwright Company, 1966
182 pages, ISBN #unknown

This is an excellent resource for folktales by and about the Penobscot and other Abenaki tribes. Gluskap, the Creator and main character in many of the tales (whose name may also be seen spelled Gluskabe and Koluskap), is shown to be a very "human" being, accidentally making the flounder flat by accidentally stepping on him, for example.

It does have one downside. The author's tone is sometimes quite condescending, and can become intrusive. This is not a problem in the tales themselves, but moreso in the introductions and wrap-ups.

Restitution - The Land Claims of the Mashpee, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Indians of New England

by Paul Brodeur
Published by Northeastern University Press, 1985.
182 pages, ISBN #0-930350-69-3

This book studies two separate land claims cases quite carefully: the Mashpee and the Passamaquoddy-Penobscot. Both were brought forth under the Indian Nonintercourse Act of 1790. The Mashpee case was lost due to a bizarre ruling of the dates on which the Mashpee were and were not a "tribe" by an arbitrary European definition. The Passamaquoddy-Penobscot case was won, after a long and drawn out battle.

The author has gone to great lengths to interview as many of the people involved as possible, to present a detailed account of the trial proceedings, political machinations, and surrounding commentary.

A must read for anyone who wants to understand how these land claims were pursued and why they ended so differently.

American Indian Law in a Nutshell

by William Canby, Jr.
Published by West Publishing Company, 1981
288 pages, ISBN #0-314-59473-8

This clear and concise reference provides an excellent method for researching cases pertaining to particular issues. You do not have to be a lawyer or law student to read it, although it helps to know how to look up legal citations when you've found a case that looks relevant.

I do have one complaint, which may not be warranted: it's been 16 years, please print an update! And if there already is one out there, where is it hiding?

Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

by William Cronon
Published by Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983
241 pages, ISBN #0-8090-0158-6>

This is a concise and readable history of the colonization of New England, particularly in the impact that colonization had upon the ecology due to clearcutting, the fur trade, etc.

While the focus is the impact on the ecology, the historic and political details are plentiful.

Cronon took an intersting tack in his bibliography. Rather than simply annotate it, he has strung it together as an essay on the various resources. The sources are quite useful, although it is less easy to scan through than a traditional bibliography.

Spider Woman's Granddaughters

Edited by Paula Gunn Allen
A Fawcett Columbine book
Published by Ballantine Books, June 1990
280 pages, ISBN #0-449-90508-X

This book is a collection of traditional and contemporary stories by and about Native American women. The tribes represented range from the Oneida to the Hopi to the Iroquois. The authors also come in a wide variety from the well-known Louise Erdrich and Leslie Marmon Silko to much less familiar names.

The stories are grouped into three sections: The Warriors, The Casualties, and The Resistance. They give a sense of the role women held and hold in various Native American societies. The "For Further Reading" section is also quite helpful.

People of the Silence

A novel of the Anasazi

by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear
Published by Tor, December 1996
650 pages, ISBN #0-812-51559-5

This novel has so many things to commend it from so many different angles, I hardly know where to start.

The authors have researched their subjects carefully, and have protrayed them clearly. Without being a scholar of the Anasazi, I can't speak to the precision of every detail included. However, it all rings true in terms of traditions predating the emergence of the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes. Everything seems clearly related to these descending tribes, yet also distinctive.

The characters also ring true whether they live in the twelfth century or the twenty-first. They are detailed, three dimensional human beings with flaws, strengths, emotions, and distinctive personalities. If I were an English professor, I would seriously consider assigning this book in a course on character development.

This historical novel is also a mystery. There are two youths, born around the same time, who have been hidden in foster families to hide their true parents' adultery. They become the focal points in both inter-tribal hostilities and intra-tribal struggles of succession. It is not until close to the end that the reader (not to mention several key characters) learns which child is of which union. There are also murders to be solved, warfare to strategize, and espionage to coordinate. This is done with a compelling style that makes it difficult to put this 650-page book down.

So, whether you are looking for a history lesson, a drama filled with sympathetic characters, or a page-turning mystery, I would highly recommend this book. It also has a substantial bibliography, which may be of use to anyone wishing to further research the Anasazi people.

In the weeks and months to come, I plan to include more reviews of books on various Native American topics, particularly any I can find on New England tribes.

If there are any books you would particularly like to see reviewed, please email me and I'll see what I can do. If you have a book review you would like to submit for inclusion, please send it to me and I will review it and possibly include it. Please let me know how you would like it credited and the copyright noted.

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