A Cheyenne Voice: The Complete John Stands In Timber Interviews

May 1st, 2014 | By | Category: 25-4: Nation Building, Media Reviews

A Cheyenne Voice: The Complete John Stands In Timber Interviews By John Stands In Timber and Margot LibertyBy John Stands In Timber and Margot Liberty
University of Oklahoma Press (2013)
495 pages

Review by Richard E. Littlebear

What a memorable experience it is to read A Cheyenne Voice. As youngsters, we heard Ma’taa’ohnee’estse (John Stands In Timber’s name in the Cheyenne language) speak at meetings. But with youthful dismissiveness, we did not pay attention. With this book we get a second chance.

We remember the resonant cadences of his voice, which are captured well in A Cheyenne Voice. John talks eloquently about Cheyenne culture and language. Where some may detect grammatical errors, we hear the rhythms of ancient knowledge without the limitations often imposed by an alien grammar. John’s voice clearly articulates what the Cheyenne tribe has lost since 1905.

We are often asked how we gauge losing our language and culture. All that we have lost is in John’s narrative, filled with minute detail. He tells us, “All these things that were organized, even Sweet Medicine’s teachings, the laws…are now gradually forgotten, and some of the things naturally changed going on into something else…and I think that is what Sweet Medicine had reference to when he said your history will gradually get away from you.” And it is gradually getting away from us.

There is a flaw in this book. The tribal council-approved Cheyenne writing system is not used. For instance, the Cheyenne word suhtai will now be forever remembered by a worldwide readership as the authoritative spelling and pronunciation. Phonetically, that word sounds like sah tie, which is wrong. The proper spelling is so’taahe. To respect the Cheyenne language and people, writers must use the council-approved writing system. If that means consulting the Cheyenne dictionary for proper Cheyenne language usage, then so be it. One would consult an English dictionary in a similar instance. The same respect should be given to the Cheyenne language.

Despite this flaw, I recommend this book to tribal colleges, to all readers and researchers, and to my fellow Cheyenne tribal members. I recommended that this book be read by students at Chief Dull Knife College in preparation for the AIHEC student conference competitions.

Richard E. Littlebear, Ed.D., whose Cheyenne name is Ve’kesohnestoohe (Howling Bird), is president and interim dean of cultural affairs at Chief Dull Knife College.

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