Songs and Water Spirits: A Great Lakes Native Reader
the pre-Columbian contact era, indigenous peoples of Turtle Island,
now known as North America, passed their stories, poetry and songs
down from one generation to the next through oral history. Using
their own tribal language, their creation stories established a
sense of belonging to Mother Earth and their prophecies guided them
for the future.
these oral histories were compressed and concise. Once transferred
to written form as the result of Euro-American technological influences,
these stories were still in their native language; thus, leaving
the translation to ethnologists to ensure proper translations into
those of us contemporary American Indians who remain,
these stories written by our ancestors provide us with a means to
retain our cultural and tribal identities. It is always better for
any one cultural group to provide their own histories than to have
others write them. Otherwise, it leaves room for slants others can
put on their history.
recently published book, "Star Songs and Water Spirits: A Great
Lakes Native Reader" is an anthology of stories, songs, poetry,
autobiographies, and speeches from the Great Lakes region. Some
of these works reach back to the times of oral history and were
put into written words; then translated by ethnologists.
book was edited by Victoria Brehm, who is a former professor of
English literature at Grand Valley State University.
history forces us to remain as tourists," Brehm states. "We have
to rely on the ethnologists to translate for us. They have to make
the works look modern to a culture that is not dead."
genesis of "Star Songs and Water Spirits: A Great Lakes Native Reader"
was a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She spent
12 years researching, compiling, verifying and editing Great Lakes
American Indian material. In the end though, Brehm produced a thick,
Brehm did extensive work on other books relating to the Great Lakes
region. Her other works include, "Sweetwater, Storms, and Spirits:
Stories of the Great Lakes" and "The Women's Great Lakes Reader."
She also edited, "A Little History of My Forest Life: An Indian-White
Autobiography" by Eliza Morrison.
"Star Songs and Water: A Great Lakes Native Reader" the earlier
writings heavily rely on mythical animals which played a key role
in the stories. The book provides a bridge from historic American
Indians, such as Tenskwatawa, Tecumseh's brother, to contemporary
American Indian writers, such as Basil Johnston and Louise Erdrich.
entry taken from "I Know What You Mean, Edrdupps MacChurbbs: Autobiographical
Myths and Metaphors" by Gerarld Vizenor, a mixed-blood Ojibwe, provides
an inside look at a meeting of American Indian Movement leaders
who went to the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota to assist local
tribal members in the their fight for fishing treaty rights. Vizenor
ends up becoming Dennis Banks' chauffeur. Banks co-founded the American
Indian Movement in 1968.
treat in the book is taken from "Queen of the Woods" by Simon Pokagon,
an educated American Indian, who eventually became the keynote speaker
on Chicago Day at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Pokagon writes: " . . . I had attended the white man's school for
several years, I had an innate desire to retire into the wild woods,
far from the haunts of civilization." One has to wonder about the
true meaning behind "the haunts of civilization" from the Native
perspective. Pokagon further in the discourse argues even non-Indians
would want to return to the woods, as well.
Songs and Water: A Great Lakes Native Reader" should be savored
one writing at a time. Readers should allow the writings to simmer
as they enjoy the deep rich history of Great Lakes American Indians.
Rickert, a tribal member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation,
is the former executive director of the North American Indian Center
of Grand Rapids.