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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 3, 2003 - Issue 86


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MSU Professor writes ‘Guide' to Native American History

by SHAWN WHITE WOLF - Helena Independent Record

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Native American HistoryWalter C. Fleming couldn't find texts on American Indians written from an Indian perspective for the classes he teaches at Montana State University, so he wrote a book himself.

It's called "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Native American History."

"Basically, I thought it would be a good resource for myself, then an agent approached me," said Fleming.

Fleming is director of the Center for Native American Studies at Montana State University. He said he has taught courses on American Indian culture and history for 25 years.

"I wanted to make myself a better teacher and writing the book was a learning experience. There are many books written from a non-Indian perception, but not very many from an American Indian's perception," he said.

The diversity of the book comes from an author who also has a diverse tribal background.

Fleming is an enrolled tribal member of the Kickapoo Tribe from Kansas where, he said, he is known as "Wah-sah-suk," or "Light Lying Down."

However, he was born on the Crow Reservation, but raised on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. He said he is a traditional dancer, craftsperson and member of the Northern Cheyenne Gourd Dance Society.

Fleming said he was raised among Northern Cheyenne sons and daughters of the warriors who fought during the Battle of the Little Bighorn – a battle that Cheyenne elders say is not considered a victory, nor considered a defeat.

He said there are more than 500 tribes, each with its own past and its own history, but the purpose of his book is to provide lots of stories of a diverse group of people.

The book describes various aspects of American Indian life yesterday and today, and hopes for the next generation.

Included are chapters on who and what is an American Indian, and where and how American Indians lived.

The book also provides information regarding the last confrontations with the U.S. Cavalry, such as the Nez Perce Flight, Cheyenne Autumn: The Northern Cheyenne Flight North, Ghost Shirts and the Apache's Last Stand.

Fleming said he is planning a second edition with a focus specifically on tribes in Montana. He said he hopes it will help Montana educators in regards to having an available resource as required in the Indian Education For All Act.

Fleming's book was published by Alpha Books, a division of Penguin. The book began to hit bookstores in Bozeman earlier this month; however, he said people should be able to order it from local bookstores now. He hopes it will be in most bookstores by the end of April.

A sampling of ‘The Complete Idiot's Guide to Native American History.'

"Tribal Truths: True spiritual leaders don't make a profit from their teachings, whether it's through selling books, workshops, sweat lodges or otherwise. Spiritual leaders teach the people because it is their responsibility to pass what they have learned from their elders to the younger generations. They do not charge for their services," said Andy Smith, a Nez Perce.

"Tribal Truths: It is perhaps ironic, and certainly arguable, that Richard Nixon, so much the poster child for the corruption of American politics, probably did more for Native peoples than any other American president.

"Because of his efforts, Congress passed legislation to strengthen tribal governments, repeal termination and set aside funds to aid the preparation of Native leaders to administer programs run by the BIA."

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