Patterns of Exchange: Navajo Weavers and Traders

May 15th, 2010 | By | Category: 21-4: Native American Studies, Summer 2010, Media Reviews

University of Oklahoma Press (2008)

Review by Deborah Kelley-Galin

Teresa J. Wilkins’s Patterns of Exchange: Navajo Weavers and Traders reconciles the “inherently biased” Euro-American historical perspective with the traditional knowledge of the Navajo people. She offers a meticulously researched account of how longestablished patterns of Native American trade were manipulated, first by the Spanish, who required “tribute” payments of woven mantas from the Puebloans, and later by the United States government, which sought to convert Native people into consumers who participated in the capitalist economy.

Thus, early trading posts offered necessary food and other products to those who had experienced devastating relocations and forced internments in exchange for cash or goods. Silverwork and weavings were traded, and eventually, Navajo blankets were modified and sold as rugs. Eventually, enterprising traders such as Hubbell, Cotton, and Moore found success in the “anti-modernist” Arts and Crafts Movement, marketing Navajo rugs to those Victorian Americans who valued the spiritual qualities of the designs in these “primitive” works.

But this, Wilkins reminds us, is only half the story. The author also provides a synchronic context of “relational time,” emphasizing the experiential dynamics surrounding each historic milepost. She delves deeply into the thoughts and motivations of traders and of the weavers themselves, whose wisdom and steady focus allowed their art to grow.

Winner of a 2008 New Mexico Book Award, the success of Wilkins’s approach owes much to her ability to integrate well-documented history, anthropology, and her extensive knowledge of textiles into one comprehensive work. Placing herself at the “crossroads” where these disciplines converge, Wilkins offers readers a panoramic view.

Deborah Kelley-Galin is an artist and research assistant who teaches English for Southwest Colorado Community College in Durango, CO.

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