Star Songs and Water Spirits: A Great Lakes Native Reader
Edited by Victoria Brehm
Victoria Brehm, a resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is accustomed to tackling far-reaching subjects for her books. She is, after all, author of The Women’s Great Lakes Reader.
But with Star Songs and Water Spirits she’s created a masterwork and an accumulated treasure.
Having a non-Indian person gather traditional stories and cultural histories can be delicate. One of the best accolades that I know for this book is that it is a strong seller at Birchbark Books, a bookstore started in Minneapolis by famed Ojibwe writer Louise Erdrich, and also that it receives high praise from the staff there.
Obviously at more than 525 pages, the oversized volume is not a weekend read, which would not be the way to comprehend and savor the narratives and histories of the 15 nations Victoria has included here.
The work gives insight using history, stories, songs, poems and illustrations.
Victoria often includes the historical context of when a piece came into being. I most appreciate references telling from where and from whom the stories were gathered. It gives authority to the book and humanity to the tales.
Readers of this book will come away more enlightened and more connected to the region and each other. – Konnie LeMay
Ancient Earth and the First Ancestors: A Cultural and Geological Journey
by Ron Morton and Carl Gawboy
Illus. by Carl Gawboy
A geologist and an Ojibwe elder team up to delve into ancient histories – geological and cultural. Written as if on a fictional road trip through real places in our region, the book takes us along for the ride and conversaton as the main characters travel across Minnesota interpreting the science and the spirits in the rock, star and other formations they visit.
Punctuated by informative or decorative graphics, and with much of the story coming through in dialogue, you don’t have to be a geo-geek to enjoy and understand the points.
This is a follow-up book to the award-winning Talking Rocks, done by the same writing and publishing team.
Carl Gawboy, who has taught at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, has contributed art and writing to Lake Superior Magazine. Ron Morton is a geology professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Both are well-versed in their subjects, delivering the factual material with comfort and confidence. – Konnie LeMay
Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community
by Brenda J. Child
Historian Brenda Child, chairwoman of the Department of Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota, is also a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa (Ojibwe). Growing up under the nurturing of Red Lake women, especially of her grandmother, gave Brenda insight into the critical role women play and have always played in Ojibwe culture.
For centuries, Lake Superior has been encircled by Ojibwe communities on both sides of the international border. Brenda’s book spans histories from North Dakota through Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and uses examples of actual women to illustrate and illuminate women’s roles in Ojibwe society across the years.
Intriguing and valuable is Brenda’s ability to review historic materials – like the journals of missionaries, fur traders and lumbermen here in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s – and interpret from their raw observations what is the more likely truth of women’s economic and cultural impacts.
This well-researched history is also well-written storytelling. – Konnie LeMay
Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life
by David Treuer
Atlantic Monthly Press
Novelist David Treuer is a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota.
In this history book, David, a professor of literature and creative writing at the University of California, turns his research, personal history and storytelling skills to the story of reservations. He weaves general history with the personal histories of people today.
It’s a daunting task to represent a full picture of reservations and reservation (rez) life, given that there are more than 310 reservations. There are 564 federally recognized tribes in the United States, which leads to David’s observation that “Some Indians don’t have reservations, but all reservations have Indians and all reservations have signs.” He tries to illuminate what life is like on the Indian side of the reservation sign.
This kind of work has to come from an “insider,” as David is, to avoid seeing only the superficial. “And what one finds on reservations is more than scars, tears, blood and noble sentiment,” David writes. “There is beauty in Indian life, as well as meaning and a long history of interaction. We love our reservations.”
Rez Life offers a rare look at a history much a part of our region. This book unflinchingly looks at the bad, the ugly and the good of life – and lives – on the rez. – Konnie LeMay
Wigwam Evenings: 27 Sioux Folk Tales
by Charles A. Eastman & Elaine Goodale Eastman
Dover Publications Inc.
Since the Dakota people once lived in this region, the reprinting of this slender book of traditional stories collected by Charles Eastman and his wife, Elaine, has relevance for our local history. Charles has a rare foot in two worlds, having grown up before European settlement. These teaching stories in a book intended for children probably are the closest we’ll find to the original telling.– Konnie LeMay