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New and Notable—National Museum of the American Indian Library

Here are selected new books from the National Museum of the American Indian Library.

Image001 Visualizing the sacred: cosmic visions, regionalism, and the art of the Mississippian world, edited by George E. Lankford, F. Kent Reilly III, and James F. Garber. E99.M6815 V57 2011 Imprint: Austin : University of Texas Press, 2011.

The prehistoric native peoples of the Mississippi River Valley and other areas of the Eastern Woodlands of the United States shared a complex set of symbols and motifs that constituted one of the greatest artistic traditions of the pre-Columbian Americas. Traditionally known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, these artifacts of copper, shell, stone, clay, and wood were the subject of the groundbreaking 2007 book Ancient Objects and Sacred Realms: Interpretations of Mississippian Iconography, which presented a major reconstruction of the rituals, cosmology, ideology, and political structures of the Mississippian peoples. Visualizing the Sacred advances the study of Mississippian iconography by delving into the regional variations within what is now known as the Mississippian Iconographic Interaction Sphere (MIIS). Bringing archaeological, ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and iconographic perspectives to the analysis of Mississippian art, contributors from several disciplines discuss variations in symbols and motifs among major sites and regions across a wide span of time and also consider what visual symbols reveal about elite status in diverse political environments. These findings represent the first formal identification of style regions within the Mississippian Iconographic Interaction Sphere and call for a new understanding of the MIIS as a network of localized, yet interrelated religious systems that experienced both continuity and change over time.

Image002 The myth of indigenous Caribbean extinction: continuity and reclamation in Boriken (Puerto Rico). Tony Castanha. F1619.2.T3 C37 2011 Imprint: New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

One of the greatest myths ever told in Caribbean historiography is that the indigenous peoples who encountered a very lost Christopher Columbus are “extinct.” This book debunks that myth through the uncovering of historical, ethnographical, and census data. The author reveals extensive narratives of Jíbaro Indian resistance and cultural continuity on the island of Borikén. Since the epistemological boundaries of the early history and literature had been written through colonial eyes, key fallacies have been passed down for centuries. Many stories have been kept within family histories having gone “underground” as the result of an abusive past. Whole communities of Jíbaro people survive today.


Image003 Native American art. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. E98.A7 M952 2010 Imprint: Boston, Mass.: Museum of Fine Arts Boston; New York, N.Y. : Distributed Art Publishers, 2010.

The collection of Native American artworks is one of the hidden treasures of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with some of its finest objects seldom displayed to ensure their preservation. This volume presents 100 of these little-known works, many reproduced for the first time. Although some objects were made for Native use, many reflect the interaction of Native Americans with other cultures, and demonstrate a mastery of new materials and techniques in weaving, silversmithing, beadwork and other crafts. An introductory essay traces the history of Native American art at the MFA since the late nineteenth century, which mirrors cultural shifts in attitude toward these objects in the United States as a whole. Covering a diversity of objects from across the North American continent-from the eastern and southern Woodlands to the Northwest Pacific Coast, with a particular emphasis on the Southwest-this latest volume in the MFA Highlights series demonstrates the vast richness of American Indian art.

Image004 Across a great divide: continuity and change in native North American societies, 1400-1900, edited by Laura L. Scheiber and Mark D. Mitchell. E98.S67 A26 2010 Imprint: Tucson: University of Arizona Press, c2010.

Archaeological research is uniquely positioned to show how native history and native culture affected the course of colonial interaction, but to do so it must transcend colonialist ideas about Native American technological and social change. This book applies that insight to five hundred years of native history. Using data from a wide variety of geographical, temporal, and cultural settings, the contributors examine economic, social, and political stability and transformation in indigenous societies before and after the advent of Europeans and document the diversity of native colonial experiences. The book’s case studies range widely, from sixteenth-century Florida, to the Great Plains, to nineteenth-century coastal Alaska. The contributors address a series of interlocking themes. Several consider the role of indigenous agency in the processes of colonial interaction, paying particular attention to gender and status. Others examine the ways long-standing native political economies affected, and were in turn affected by, colonial interaction. A third group explores colonial-period ethnogenesis, emphasizing the emergence of new native social identities and relations after 1500. The book also highlights tensions between the detailed study of local cases and the search for global processes, a recurrent theme in postcolonial research. If archaeologists are to bridge the artificial divide separating history from prehistory, they must overturn a whole range of colonial ideas about American Indians and their history. This book shows that empirical archaeological research can help replace long-standing models of indigenous culture change rooted in colonialist narratives with more nuanced, multilinear models of change—and play a major role in decolonizing knowledge about native peoples.

Image005 Potent mana: lessons in healing and power. Wende Elizabeth Marshall. DU627.8 .M37 2011 Imprint: Albany: State University of New York Press, c2011.

Brilliantly elucidating and weaving together the forces of indigenous sovereignty, colonialism, and personal health, Potent Mana offers a uniquely holistic and intimate portrait of the long-term effects of colonialism on an indigenous people, the kânaka maoli (Native Hawaiians). An ethnographic exploration based on fifteen months of research, the book moves the conversation on the dangerous effects of colonialism forward by exploring the theories and practices of Native Hawaiians engaged in decolonization. Decades of substance abuse, mental illness, depression, language loss, and the concomitant dispossession from sacred lands have accompanied colonialism. Consequently, healing, both mental and physical, is essential to decolonization and indigenous sovereignty in twenty-first century Hawaii. Native Hawaiian-run treatment centers and clinics, more than political rallies, are centers for healing and decolonization on Oahu today. The effects of colonialism and the measures taken to counter and move beyond it, as Wende Elizabeth Marshall convincingly argues, do not take place solely on a supralocal level but shatteringly involve the physical and emotional well-being of real individuals. Becoming decolonized is about overcoming the shame of colonialism, and requires a process of remembering the traditions of ancestors and reinterpreting and rewriting histories that have only been told from a colonial point of view. Decolonization is an indigenous perspective, and an understanding that health is impossible without political power and cultural integrity.

Lynne Altstatt


  1. The effects of colonialism and the measures taken to counter and move beyond it, as Wende Elizabeth Marshall convincingly argues, do not take place solely on a supralocal level but shatteringly involve the physical and emotional well-being of real individuals.

  2. Haden Binder

    Looking forward to reading more. Great article post. Keep writing.

  3. Jordan Shockey

    Major thankies for the article.Really looking forward to read more. Really Cool.

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