You are on page 1of 4

A Cultural History of the Native Peoples of Southern New England

Voices from Past and Present
Rae Gould
The American Indian Quarterly, Volume 34, Number 3, Summer
2010, pp. 397-399 (Review)
Published by University of Nebraska Press

For additional information about this article

Access Provided by University Of Colorado @ Boulder at 08/02/10 6:17PM GMT

The authors make an important point: due to the history of contact in the
region, northeastern cultural items are more scattered than any other Native
American culture area, and only a small percentage of samples remains. In addition, textiles deteriorate quickly over time. Because of the scarcity and fragility of the collection of focus—Wabanaki textiles—a similar study as comprehensive as this one is unlikely to occur in the future. This book, then, represents
a unique and important, if theoretically limited, contribution to the study of
Wabanaki arts, culture, and history as well as to the broader study of Native and
First Nations arts and history and the dynamics of culture change and persistence. This book is useful for its raw data and compiling of documentary and
individual material culture pieces.

Frank Waabu O’Brien (Moondancer) and Julianne Jennings (Strong
Woman). A Cultural History of the Native Peoples of Southern New England: Voices from Past and Present. Boulder, CO: Bauu Press, 2007. 236 pp.
Cloth, $28.95.
Rae Gould, Connecticut College
A Cultural History of the Native Peoples of Southern New England: Voices from
Past and Present opens with a scene familiar to many Americans, both Native
American and non-Native: the 1620 landing of the Mayflower in present-day
Massachusetts, setting the tone for the book’s focus as a cultural history. The
main purpose of this book is to offer “words and perceptions and thoughts
[from primary sources] so that readers can form their own judgment in light
of modern experiences in American civilization” (15). O’Brien and Jennings
are successful in their goal of presenting the historical culture of Native people from the southern New England area and, specifically, of enhancing readers’ knowledge and understanding of the customs and language of the region’s
Indians. Using a combination of historical documents and modern-day tribal
sources, this book provides an overview of subjects such as sleeping and lodging, family and relations, the heavens and heavenly bodies, and other topics, including wampum, marriage, religion, trade, hunting, and sickness. These topics
are concisely presented in just under 150 pages. Seven appendices contribute an
additional fifty-plus pages.
The authors fittingly acknowledge that “most standard academic books read
like a clinical autopsy of a dead culture with big words few can understand” (i).
Their book offers a refreshing alternative to such inaccessible resources on New
England Native tribal peoples.
With a reliance on many of the same sources utilized in more academic
books, O’Brien and Jennings follow a format similar to that in Roger Williams’s
Book Reviews


A Key into the Language of America (1643) and rely heavily on Williams’s seventeenth-century accounts in combination with other well-known sources such as
Thomas Morton, Edward Winslow, Daniel Gookin, and William Wood. These
have long been viewed as reliable standards for English Colonial recordings
of Native customs by twentieth-century historians and anthropologists and
do provide insight into New England Indian culture in the absence of other
sources, such as Native texts from this time period.
A Cultural History of the Native Peoples of Southern New England offers a contribution by scholars with Native American ancestry who are reappropriating
their history by presenting their own version of a regional Native culture history. This book provides an excellent introduction to the subject of southern
New England Indian culture and history at the high school or upper middle
school level or for nonacademics seeking more knowledge about Indians in this
region. The language and material are both very accessible for readers of all ages
(thirteen- to fourteen-year-olds and above), and the inclusion of information
from several Native informants separates this book from similar texts. The contributions by twentieth-century New England Indians remind readers that Indians in New England are still very present and knowledgeable about their history and culture.
This book would have been further enhanced by the inclusion of even more
contemporary Native people from area tribes rather than such a heavy reliance
on the perspectives of English settlers and a focus on past culture. The authors’
goal to demonstrate that Native culture in the southern New England region
has continued into the present could only be strengthened with additional Native voices from the contemporary period and more balanced information that
makes connections between the past and present. The primary Native voice
is that of Princess Red Wing (Mary Congdon), an active New England Indian
leader from the 1930s through the 1980s well known for her publication Narragansett Dawn, her storytelling abilities, and her extensive public talks throughout the region on Native history and culture. An important acknowledgment
for the younger scholars for whom this book is suitable is that Colonial sources
are biased (which many high school students probably have not been told) yet
have long been considered “the ‘official’ history . . . [of] this land” (16). Admittedly, it is difficult to find Native voices from the contact and Colonial periods,
and notable contemporary Natives do contribute to this book, including Helen
Attaquin, Russell Peters, and Linda Coombs (Wampanoag) and Paula Dove Jennings (Narragansett). The deficit of published sources by New England Native
people reminds us that more contributions by the region’s tribal people are critical for the future and that oral history (which could have been utilized more in
this book) is a viable source for the documentation of Indian history.
Another strength of this book is the appendices, which provide additional


american indian quarterly/summer 2010/vol. 34, no. 3

resources for the reader. For example, appendices 5 and 6 (“Bringing Back Our
Lost Language” and a pronunciation guide) are useful for those working on language revitalization projects. Appendix 2, “Translation of Some Indian Place
Names in Southern New England,” provides a useful tool for those researching historical deeds and documents that reference locations whose names have
changed over time. This resource would also be useful for language revitalization projects.
In summary, O’Brien and Jennings provide a very accessible review of southern New England Native culture as it existed in the contact and early Colonial
periods. Readers of all ages, but especially those in high school or the end of
middle school, will find this resource informative and full of references to primary sources they can further research if necessary. A well-documented and
detailed text, Native Peoples of Southern New England could have been strengthened by the inclusion of more voices from the present, such as additional modern-day tribal historians and scholars, and by more explicitly reasserting that
Native peoples and cultures in this region are still present, active, and an integral component of the New England landscape. Helping young adults understand how some of the components of Native culture presented in this book are
still practiced by New England tribes—as well as how they have changed over
time—can only help increase the understanding that Indian tribes and people
continue to exist and successfully adapt to an ever-changing world.

Tisa Wenger. We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom. Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2009. 336 pp. Cloth, $59.95, paper, $22.95.
Glenabah Martinez, University of New Mexico
The terms religion and sacred are key concepts for Indigenous People in our
collective efforts to revitalize, maintain, and preserve the integrity of our cultures. For Pueblo People of New Mexico, these concepts are closely linked to the
education of our youth as they learn and apply cultural knowledge and skills
in the context of the ceremonial life of their specific cultures. As our youth are
engaged in this unique way of learning, they are reminded that these traditions
have a long history of resistance to colonial programs of religious persecution,
from Spanish colonization to U.S. government policies of assimilation. While
oral traditions are at the foundation of developing this historical consciousness
among Indigenous People, the written word in the form of primary documents
from the past has the potential to serve as an important supplement to this base
of knowledge.
In her book Tisa Wenger shares her interpretation of a select set of primary
Book Reviews