Sacred Objects and Sacred Places: Preserving Tribal Traditions

Feb 15th, 2004 | By | Category: 15-3: English Only?, Media Reviews

University Press of Colorado (2000), Boulder, CO. 286 pages.
ISBN0-87081-579-2 Paperback $29.95

Review by Holly Ristau

“Indians have many more sacred places than do non-Indians …because of our considerably longer tenure on this continent,” according to Vine Deloria, Jr., as cited by the author. This book begins with the history of collecting and exhibiting skeletons, which led to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. It then discusses abuses by museums in the past, as well as positive modern actions. I was encouraged by stories of regular people concerned about their history who made tremendous contributions to their tribes’ cultural heritage.

The final chapter discusses “wannabe Indians” and their attempts to steal American Indian identity. A list of tribal traditional cultural places and current tribal museums and community centers is contained in two appendices. The book is illustrated throughout with black and white photographs, many taken by the author. There is an extensive bibliography and an index.

I found this book to be a comprehensive and unique resource. It includes well-documented histories of many sacred tribal objects and places all in one volume. I am unaware of any comparable titles.

The coverage is balanced, including both the problems caused by non-Indians and those caused by inter-tribal disagreements. These controversial topics are presented in an easily understood and unemotional text. The book conveys the conflict between wanting to find a sacred place and wanting to let that sacred place remain undiscovered.

Though the book is filled with stories of violence, theft, and avarice, there are also many stories of current, positive efforts to ensure the recovery of lost cultural identities. The book is a tribute to the endurance of Native American tribes in the face of overwhelming injustice. I would recommend it to all libraries but especially our tribal colleges.

Holly Ristau is the librarian for the Mark Warren Memorial Library at the White Earth Tribal and Community College in Mahnomen, MN.

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