CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2006
Children in Grades 5 and 6 often study the early history of North America. They can use these two books to understand the workings of and rationale for the daily life and culture of Native people before European encroachment changed their way of living. The books acknowledge the logic of the Native way of life within their environment and point out that European explorers and settlers would have perished without the assistance and instruction of the Native people. To some extent, the books allude to the racial and social prejudice inflicted on the Native people, but neither book honestly discusses the devastating results of their unjust treatment.
The information is organized in Crabtree's recognizable format. Each book is 32 pages long and has a Table of Contents recording the names of each self-explained two-page chapter. A glossary of terms and an index appear on the last page of the book. Illustrations with useful captions draw the reader's eye on each page, and the pages are bordered with drawings related to the chapter topic. Frames and background colours and images enhance the appearance of the text.
The content of these books is not specific to one region or group. A useful map in Native North American Foods and Recipes shows the territory of the ten nations of aboriginal peoples who lived throughout North America. Each group had unique customs based on its situations and beliefs, but, since survival was based on what they could draw from the land and water, there are some commonalities.
Native North American Foods and Recipes outlines how people obtained different kinds of food - fish, meat, fowl, grains and fruits, and points out that family groups or tribes, by working together, were more successful. Larger gatherings also created a social milieu from which grew different customs. The climate and resources dictated how food was prepared and stored. The chapter entitled "Food and celebrations" points out that the modern North American holiday of Thanksgiving comes from a harvest ritual celebration of the Wampanoag people who hosted the first Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621.
This book includes some recipes that children of the target age group can easily make.
It is in addressing the modern situation of Native people where these books are weak. The truth is far more complex than is presented:
In Native North American Wisdom and Gifts, Native nations are credited with having a positive attitude towards conserving nature as opposed to the European notion of using resources in whatever way is expedient and profitable, no matter the consequences. Native attitudes toward problem-solving, toward healing, toward women, etc. are now considered to be superior to those imposed by the European conquerors. Colonists learned how to survive harsh winters from Native groups who taught them about the best foods to eat, clothing to wear and ways of keeping warm. Colonists also adopted many sports invented by different Native nations, including lacrosse and hockey.
But mentioning that Native wisdom was not "appreciated" enough is hardly an adequate explanation for the misery that was inflicted on an entire race. Many native traditions were banned, and extreme punitive measures were taken against those who tried to practice them, especially in the United States. The residential school system punished children who spoke their languages, and, as a result, many languages were virtually extinguished. Because children were separated from their families in residential schools, their identification with their culture was lost. In recent years, efforts have been made to regain and teach young children to speak these lost languages and practice their traditions.
A book that claims to offer a survey of a topic should offer complete information and proper explanations. It would make all children more understanding of the situation of others.
Recommended with reservations.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.