Searching for the truth about American Indians: A review of All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos)

  • Celebrating a homecoming of ancestral remains at Pecos Pueblo in northern New Mexico.

    Cary Herz
 

All Indians Do Not Live In Teepees (or Casinos)
Catherine C. Robbins
408 pages, softcover: $26.95.
University of Nebraska Press, 2011.

"This is a personal book," Catherine C. Robbins writes in the preface to All Indians Do Not Live In Teepees (or Casinos), a collection of her journalistic essays. Robbins is not Indian, but she is also "not an Indian wannabe," she says, and is "neither 'going native' nor finding salvation in Indian life." Rather, her goal is to document the mistreatment of American Indians -- something she often witnessed during 25 years as a journalist -- while revealing how contemporary Natives are generating new energy and vision from their turbulent past. Robbins does more than simply report facts; she provides cultural commentary through her personal experiences, and infuses present-day events with well-researched historical context.

Robbins focuses largely on the tribes based in her home territory, the Southwestern United States. She begins with a detailed account of an eight-year repatriation process that ended in 1999, when Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology returned 2,000 ancestral remains and artifacts to the Jemez/Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico. According to Robbins, that repatriation "united and strengthened" the Pueblo people and inspired other tribes to make formal requests for the return of artifacts. Another chapter chronicles the brouhaha over a zoo on the Navajo Reservation. Some tribal members viewed caging wild animals as a violation of their sacred relationship with nature, while others envisioned the zoo as a teaching facility for students. "Tribal members," Robbins writes, "debate about the proper proportion of traditional to modern as noisily as classical philosophers in Athens might have argued their own issues."

No single book can do more than scratch the surface of the complex contemporary lives of Native peoples. But Robbins has helpfully provided nearly 60 pages of detailed notes, along with  useful lists of books, places and websites -- a plethora of resources readily available to anyone willing to look beyond the popular culture's stereotypes of American Indians.