This Day in North American Indian History
Phil Konstantin runs the History Web Ring and AAR is one of a thousand member sites. When LLB learned Konstantin had written a book about the history of native Americans, she thought it would be interesting to have it reviewed, particularly since so many readers ask about quality Indian Romances and decry who few seem to fit the category. In a genre wherein so many Indian heroes are oversexed half-breed outcasts named Wolf or Hawk, and Indian facts are presented as little more than badly done wallpaper, it’s no surprise that readers clamor for the few good romances written in the sub-genre.
With very few exceptions, most of the so-called Indian romances I’ve read have been mindless, thoughtless pieces of tripe that made no effort to present a true picture of American Indian culture. Instead, authors have defended their lack of honest research by claiming that such romance novels are fantasy, and therefore, harmless. I could not disagree more. Anything that supports and perpetuates a stereotype is harmful. “Fantasy” Indian romances are insulting at best and degrading at worst. Perhaps a book like This Day in North American Indian History could serve such authors in helping to illuminate the cultural richness and centuries old history of this continent’s original inhabitants.
Author Phil Konstantin is of Cherokee ancestry. In his prologue, he states that he prefers the term American Indian to that of the misleading, yet politically correct Native American (anyone born in the U.S. is a “native” American, after all). Since I personally feel American Indian is a more accurate term, I’m glad he addressed this issue. He further states that, “Even though some of my ancestors are American Indians, I have made an effort not to have too much of a bias when reporting the happenings in this book. Both the indigenous inhabitants and the nonnative colonizers have engaged in atrocities . . . Lies and schemes were perpetrated by both groups. Kind acts have been performed on both sides. It is not my goal to justify activities by any group. My personal sympathies are with the innocent of both groups.”
What follows is a calendar of events beginning on January 1st and culminating on December 31st, synopsizing particular events which happened on that date in the year noted. While this gives the reader a date-by-date view of Indian history, it’s non-linear approach might make its function as a research tool a bit cumbersome. The reader will need to know what person(s), or the month, day, or season in which an event occurred to be able to access the appropriate text (having said that, the Index is quite complete). The author doesn’t say why he chose to arrange the book in this manner; I’ve read several other historical texts dealing with American Indian history and they were always arranged either by year or topic. Since the book is mainly sets of lists and contains no personal text by the author other than the prologue, I must assume the book’s primary function is for reference.
In addition to the daily calendar of events, the book includes a couple of things I liked and haven’t seen before in texts of this kind. The first is a section on tribal names and their translations. While most tribal names mean us or people or human beings, many tribal names are eloquent or descriptive – Assiniboin (Ones Who Cook Using Stones); Chumash (People Who Make the Shell Bead Money); Dakota (Ally); Hopi (Peaceful Ones); Iroquois (We of the Extended Lodge). There is also a section on alternate tribal names. For example, the Delaware Indians were also known as the Lenni Lenape, Abnaki, Wampanoag, Munsee, Unami, and Powhatan-Renápe.
Also included is a lengthy listing of North American Indian Calendars showing the tribe, the month name as termed by that tribe, and the translation of it. These titles demonstrate a basic respect for the earth and the natural world and the very rhythm of life with which “moderns” seem to have lost touch. In Algonquin, January meant Sun Has Not Strength to Thaw, February, Ice in River is Gone, May, When Women Weed Corn. Other tribes used the moon as their point of reference: Great Spirit Moon, Snow Crust Moon, Broken Snowshoe Moon, Falling Leaves Moon, Small Spirits Moon, Moon When the Horses Get Fat, and Moon When the Wolves Run Together.
American Indian accomplishments are the heart of this text. Since history is written by the victors, textbooks (until very recently) often neglected to mention the great contributions so many American Indians have made to this country (Indians were only “granted” U.S. citizenship in 1924). Ely Parker (a Seneca Iriquois) wrote the surrender papers for General Grant that ended the Civil War in 1865. Ira Hayes of the Pima tribe, participated in the flag raising on Iwo Jima in 1945. Recently, the movie Windtalkers finally gave credit to the contributions the Navajo made in World War II (although I felt the movie dwelled not nearly enough on the interesting premise of code talking, and instead focused on over-the-top testosterone-soaked wartime violence/action).
The Index of the book is extensive – if you know whom you are looking for, the dates you can find the individual is listed. In all honesty, however, I did find the information a little difficult to access, given the basic format of the book. However, if you are simply interested in American Indian history and want to peruse the book for the information it contains, then this wouldn’t be a problem. There are about a hundred black-and-white photographs and drawings as well as the text.
I’ve read several volumes of this kind and would rate this one as being a good resource for information. Given the several thousand years the author covers, most entries are only a paragraph or two, just enough to whet your appetite to pursue a topic or individual a bit further. Will this book, or books like it, fall into the hands of some of those “fantasy” Indian romance authors out there? I don’t know. But if it will keep one more Love’s Savage Orgasm type book from being published, I sure hope so.