Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Native American History and Culture (Christopher Savio)

Native American History and Culture
Christopher Savio
Nonfiction, History
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: From the Bering land bridge migrations through Christopher Columbus's "discovery", from Pocahontas to Hollywood stereotypes in teepees, the average American learns very little about the indigenous cultures of North America, and what they do learn is riddled with prejudice and errors. The author attempts to set the record straight, starting with misconceptions on how humans first arrived on the continent, through the often-tragic tale of European rediscovery and exploitation, and up to present-day issues facing Native American populations.

REVIEW: My memories of history classes in school are of dull lists of names, events, and dates; so long as one could draw the requisite timeline and pass the test, there was no incentive to learn anything more, or even to remember what one had already learned. Being aware that this is a serious deficit in my education (admittedly one of many), I thought I'd try patching at least one of my knowledge holes with this book, which promised a look at a side of history rarely mentioned in schools. At first, I found it interesting, as the author debunks the old tidy explanation of a single migration across the vanished Bering land bridge. It then touches on the vast array of cultures in the so-called New World, including the often-overlooked Mound Builders. But then this book degenerated into the sort of lifeless, scattershot lessons I remembered so well from history class, interspersed with rants about how schools don't teach real Native American history. I think the problem lies in trying to cover too much - too many cultures and too much history - in one book. In the process, Savio glosses over huge stretches of material, ironically doing what he accuses the modern education system of doing: oversimplifying Native American culture and history. A lack of proofreading doesn't help, as homophones and sound-alike errors abound in the text. It wraps up on a vague note, mentioning how mistreatment has persisted into our presumably more enlightened modern times, and how some tribes are using gambling to rebuild revenue and power over their own destiny (while conveniently omitting the troubles that casinos often bring to communities, and the tribal infighting they can trigger.)
I learned a few things here and there, while reading this, but overall I was disappointed.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Sky Coyote (Kage Baker) - My Review
Voices of the Winds: Native American Legends (Margot Edmonds and Ella E. Clark) - My Review
The Encyclopedia of the Ancient Americas (Jim Green, Fiona Macdonald, Philip Steele, and Michael Stotter) - My Review

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