Native American Peoples: A Journey of Self-Discovery
The importance of my book collection has been the result of a long overdue self-discovery. I thought I might simplify my explanation for having accumulated the collection by simply saying I have an uncle in the used book business, but too many people around campus know me too well. The truth is I am making up for lost time, not only in understanding myself by learning about Native peoples, but also the value of reading. I have picked up books at yard sales, used-book sales, pow-wows, museums, various university book stores, including Winona State, as well as the usual places like Barnes and Noble. I have traded a fishing pole for books and many of my close friends and some of my family members have been helping me along the way by giving me books as gifts, for which I am very grateful. The reason for this book collection is the result of both my experiences and my desire for knowledge in being a Native American. These books have helped me understand myself, others, the past, the present and the future. They have given me direction and a purpose in life.
Having grown up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I learned that identifying myself as being Native American was not cool, and, although it was difficult for me to escape, I largely shied away from it. My parents divorced when my sister was three and I was four years old. When my father remarried, none of our relatives from my Anishinaabe mother’s side of the family were allowed to visit us, including our own mother. We continued to live in Chicago, and occasionally I would see people who looked like me or I recognized as being like me, but the things I knew about Native Americans were only the negative stereotypes. My father and stepmother had only negative things to say about “Indians,” what I learned from school books was also negative, and so, I grew up ashamed and fearful of my own people.
I suppose I must have surprised a number of people throughout my life by my lack of knowledge about who I am. Until the late ‘80s, I had no idea what tribe I was even from, or that there were any distinctions between Native American tribes. Then, while living in Maine, I became friends with a group of archaeologists, studying and working at the University of Maine at Farmington, who were interested in Native American peoples. Shortly after meeting them I started having a repeated dream, which caused me to look for my birthmother in 1991.
At first, I spoke to my grandmother who was living on the St. Croix reservation in Wisconsin. She told me that it did not surprise her that I had these dreams because, she said, the Anishinaabe are dream people and it runs very strong in our family. My grandmother gave me my mother’s phone number in Chicago and since then we have gotten to know each other. It seemed the more I learned, the more I needed to learn, and there is a lot that continues to go unspoken. In 1997 I moved from Maine back to Illinois and since then have been getting to know my family, but I really began acquiring these books in 2001 just prior to moving to Winona.
I made a significant change in my life and it became important for me to learn about Native American religion or spirituality. During the summer of 2001, I went on a trip for Habitat for Humanity to the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota. One day we went to the bookstore at the Sinte Gleska University and I found numerous books on Native Americans, especially the Lakota and Native American spirituality. I bought a couple books, Vine Deloria’s God is Red: A Native View of Religion, and John Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks but realized there might be books specifically about the Anishinaabe. Back at home in Illinois, I stopped by a friend’s to let her know I was moving to Winona, and she said she was moving as well and wanted to know if I wanted some books on Native Americans. Of course I said yes and received a Time-Life series called The American Indians and a half dozen or so others. Then I went up to the St. Croix reservation to visit my mother and while there connected with a cousin. We wanted to do some fishing, but she did not have a pole nor did she have the money to buy one, so I offered to give her one of mine but she said, “How about we trade?” She gave me three books, Beet Queen, Mishomis, and Dream On, in exchange for the rod and reel. We did not catch much. I went to Indian Fest in Milwaukee that same summer and bought History of the Ojibwe People, and Chippewa Customs. Now, when I go to the larger pow-wows I look for books I do not have.
Toward the end of the summer I moved to Winona to be around my sister who had just moved here, and I decided to go back to school. Before coming to WSU, I had hardly read any books since high-school, and I had only skimmed through my recently acquired ones. I read two books just prior to starting at WSU in the spring of 2002. I had no specific direction except that I wanted to help Native American children succeed in school and give back to the Native American community because I receive scholarships and grant which partially pay for me to go to school. My first semester I took English 111 and Professor Kavadlo recommended I consider English as a major. I am a CALT major, which I have found to be challenging but interesting. Needless to say I do not have much time for reading all the books I am acquiring, but I still continue to pick them up when I can. Usually, when I come across books I do not have, I have to choose only one or two over several because of my financial situation as a student. My favorites tend to be fiction by Native American authors and Native American spirituality over books about Native Americans by Non-Native authors or histories which tend to be emotionally difficult to read.
I especially like to see Native American authors when they come to the university and usually will get one of their books, which they often sign. I have some books from having taken the Native American Literature class and always check out the books that English department professors are using for their classes like Indian Killer, Lakota Woman and Ceremony, and if I can, I buy them. I have acquired even more books through working for a group of professors: the Original Peoples of the Land Learning Community.
Throughout the time I have been accumulating this collection, I have been learning about other Native American peoples, their experiences, ways of life, traditions, values, religions, writing styles, humor and sorrows. I have learned why the negative stereotypes continue to exist and, through understanding what Native Americans have historically survived, has been empowering to me. Native American authors are important today because they are rewriting our history from their perspective. The knowledge the collection provides me is not only useful to me in the present, but it will help me in teaching, inspiring and empowering Native American children in the future. I have my sight set on a few more books already and who knows what will be written in the future.