The Encyclopedia Of Native American Biography

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9780306808708: The Encyclopedia Of Native American Biography

}This wide-ranging and reliable encyclopedia offers the most up-to-date information on prominent and lesser-known Native American military leaders, chiefs, shamans, explorers, scientists, athletes, inventors, artists, writers, and political activists, as well as on a select number of significant non-Indians (from Benjamin Franklin to Marlon Brando). Sample entries include Big Foot, Black Elk, Cochise, Cornplanter, Crazy Horse, Vine Deloria, Jr., Michael A. Dorris, Louise Erdrich, Geronimo, Louis Hall, Chief Joseph, Lame Deer, Russell Means, Osceola, Ely Parker, Leonard Peltier, Plenty Coups, Pocahontas, Red Cloud, Will Rogers, Wendy Rose, John Ross, Sacajawea, Sequoyah, Sitting Bull, Tecumseh, Jim Thorpe, Victorio, Wooden Leg, and over 550 others. Together, they comprise a startling and unforgettable mosaic of nearly four centuries of Native American history. }

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Much needed and long overdue, this reference work gathers the life stories of more than 600 Native Americans. Many of them, like Tecumseh and Crazy Horse, are familiar; many others, from Abomazine to Honayawas to Zotom, are less well known, and their histories are uniformly fascinating. Among other things, you'll learn that Geronimo was a devoted baseball player; that a thriving Indian slave market existed in Los Angeles after the Civil War; and that Crispus Attucks was not only the first African American to die in the American Revolution but was also the first American Indian to do so, for Attucks's mother was a Massachuset. One test of a good encyclopedia is whether it bears reading from start to finish, and this passes with distinction.

From Booklist:

The authors of this one-volume encyclopedia are academics who have written widely on Native American issues. They have selected 600 historical and contemporary figures who represent the time from before the age of discovery to the present day and who have made substantial contributions to Native American history and culture. They have included short biographies on writers, warriors, explorers, religious leaders, legislators, and activists. Not all of the entries are for Native Americans. Some entries deal with people such as Benjamin Franklin, Marlon Brando, or George A. Custer, who had a significant impact on relations between Native Americans and Euro-Americans. The entry on John Adams, for example, is nearly three columns long and includes a bibliography.

The book begins with an instructive introduction that details the problems the authors encountered working with linear dates and names (for example, a Native American may have as many as a half-dozen names during his lifetime) and explains that because of the differences in the names listed for tribal affiliations (due to differences in Native tribal and national names), they often had to resort to the use of linguistic groupings for tribal designations.

The articles are easy to read and nonacademic. A few have citations for additional readings on the subject, but most of these citations are to popular, not scholarly, works. The citations for Sacajawea contain a reference to a children's book by Neta Frazier, with no indication that the title is a juvenile one. Other articles show a lack of attention to detail. The entry on D'Arcy McNickle does not indicate which of his works are fiction except for Wind from an Enemy.

Since the authors do not tell us how they decided to include people, it is difficult to tell why the work seems so uneven. For example, there are no entries for Mala, the first Eskimo movie star; Andrew Jackson; Allfonso Ortiz; and Mourning Dove, Pretty Shield, Paula Gunn Allen, or Sherman Alexie. The entries on James Welch and Michael Dorris add little information to what one can find on the dust jacket of any of their books. (In fact, the entry on Dorris does not identify him as the author of The Broken Cord, the autobiographical account of his attempt to help his adopted son, born with fetal alcohol syndrome, navigate through a maze of red tape.) It seems the authors simply did not do their homework.

There are also mistakes in the entries. The entry on Leslie Marmon Silko calls Ceremony "the first published novel by an American Indian women," ignoring the fact that Cogewea, the Half-Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range, by Mourning Dove, was published in 1927.

This work has some serious flaws. None of the articles are signed, and so it is difficult to see which author is responsible for the mistakes. There are so many other good reference books on this topic, such as Native America in the Twentieth Century [RBB D 1 94] and Frederick E. Hoxie's Encyclopedia of North American Indians [RBB D 15 96], that libraries can probably skip this one.

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