CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 19 . . . . May 26, 2006
These two titles are part of the larger series, “Native Nations of North America,” published by Crabtree. As with other books published by this company, they are 32 pages in length and contain two-page chapters with self-explained titles. A glossary on the last page offers definitions for words bolded throughout the text, and a short index follows underneath.
The books provide satisfactory explanations of the history concerning how the First Nations lived before Europeans took over their land and how the flow of European settlement affected them. However, both books come up short when it comes to honestly presenting how being forced off their land changed the way of life of Aboriginal people, and the ramifications that, in general, still inform their lives today.
Nations of the Southeast discusses the life of more than a dozen nations that inhabited the area that now comprises the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia as well as states further north and west. The Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico are natural eastern and southern borders. The geography ranges from mountainous to swamp to desert, and so the methods different groups used to gather food and survive are quite varied. The book provides brief information about many of the larger or dominant nations, such as the Chickasaw, the Choctaw, the Cherokee and Seminole. Some facts are offered to acknowledge their unique ways of life or cultures:
Similarly, Nations of the Northeast discusses nations such as the Mi'Kmaq, the Passamaquoddy, the Maliseet and others, and their ways of life, which included hunting seals in the ocean and moose, deer and bears on land.
Each book talks about family groupings, hierarchies within each nation as well as how the different nations traded, fought and related to other nations.
Members of some nations, including people from the Mi'kmaq nation in the northern part of the region and people from the Mahican nation in the southern part of the region, acted as intermediaries between nations that traded goods with one another. An intermediary is a person who mediates between two or more people. Having intermediaries helped ensure that all trades made between people were fair. For example, the Mi'kmaq were often intermediaries between the nations that were mainly hunters in the northern region and the nations that were farmers in the southern region. The intermediaries helped establish trade agreements. (From Nations of the Northeast.)
A few chapters are devoted to the changes that occurred when Europeans arrived and introduced new concepts, new weapons, new languages, new patterns of settlement, new religions, new diseases and more. The lives of the First Nations were disrupted forever, resulting over time in the deaths of a large part of the population, forcible settlement in different regions, and loss of language, culture and self-esteem. It is on these issues that both books duck the truth. They allude to the "pressures" Native people felt to "give up their languages, cultures, and traditional beliefs" when, in fact, the external pressures included stealing children and confining them to residential schools where they were punished for speaking their languages. Other pressures included being unable to leave reserves without the permission of government-appointed Indian agents, being denied the right to own property or vote, and general racial discrimination that still exists today.
While some groups have succeeded better than others, in general, First Nations peoples live shorter lives than the rest of the population because of poverty and related problems. Many of the reserves have third-world conditions and lack clean water and decent housing. The difficulties they experience relate back to the time of European advancement into their territories. Members of these nations are proud of their heritage, and they are making efforts to regain their culture and languages, but books purporting to present facts should make young people aware of how history affects the present.
These books would be best used for research into information about the lives of the First Nations before the Europeans arrived.
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.