Book Review: American Indian Stories & Old Indian Legends

American Indian Stories & Old Indian Legends by Zitkala-Ša– ISBN 9780486780436

This collection of autobiographical fiction and folk stories effectively conveyed the aboriginal experience of Plains people in the early 20th century. Zitkala-Ša, an activist, educator, violinist, and Sioux writer blew me away with her honest, fresh and contemporary-sounding voice. She described being torn away from her own culture and how “re-education” by settlers isolated and ostracized her from both societies. One story talked about desperation, poverty and how the government and others easily cheated natives out of land. These themes were heavy and wrenching but the stories felt personal and not dripping with self-pity.

 

The second part of the collection were the Sioux legends. These helped flesh out the painting of cultural experience: Plains morals, rituals and relationships with nature and with the Great Spirit. The spider spirit Iktomi served as a great “What Not To Do” figure and encountered many creatures and circumstances within the legend landscape.

I’d like to cheer on the publishing company Dover for their Thrift Editions series. (I’m not endorsed by them or affiliated with Dover in any way). I really believe in the freedom of information and especially stories; thus I appreciate Dover’s effort to make classic literature and thought available to the masses. This particular title (ISBN above) costs only $4.50. The hardcover letter-pressed cloth-bound volumes of the classics are unarguably gorgeous, but unaffordable if buying-books-for-their-innards is your game.

Lastly, did you know that Native People became American citizens in 1924 with The Indian Citizenship or Snyder Act? The 19th Amendment, granting suffrage to all regardless of gender, passed in 1920. This means white women were granted the right to vote before native people were considered citizens of the United States. The Snyder Act didn’t necessarily allow suffrage. States founds ways to disallow natives the right to vote up until 1965, with the Voting Rights Act. Race and economic-based attacks on suffrage continue to this day.