Value in Collaboration
- Barry M. Pritzker (Author)
A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Daniel David Moses (Editor) and Terry Goldie (Editor)
An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English. Oxford University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Megan A. Smetzer
By their very nature, anthologies and encyclopedias are open to criticism. They are questioned for their comprehensiveness or lack thereof, their structure, organization, and so on. While recognizing the obvious shortcomings, the reviewer must note that such publications can be skillfully executed. Both An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English and A Native American Encyclopedia provide a rich compendium of information. The difference between the two publications, one a collaboration and the other not, points to the ways in which a text can engage with current critical discussions, and as a result rise above the merely informative.
In the preface of the Anthology, author Daniel David Moses from the Delaware First Nation and non-Native scholar Terry Goldie discuss the rationale for their selections. As Goldie states: "One of the reasons for my getting involved in this was certainly the political agenda." Indeed, many of the poems, short stories, and excerpts from letters, books, and plays have a strong political edge. Other themes addressed include the trickster, healing, and autobiography. Pre-contact orations as well as documents from the eighteenth century are included, but the majority of the selections are by contemporary young writers. The editors state that this emphasis "contributes to the feeling of innovation and yet always [has] a sense of tradition." While the selections are drawn from First Nations across Canada, Ojibway and Crée authors are the most heavily represented. The book concludes with extensive notes on the authors, situâting them in terms of education, other publications and, in many cases, political stance.
One minor shortcoming of the editorial conversation is the inclusion of some rather broad generalizations that tend to essentialize the range of First Nations experience. This is balanced to some extent by the anthology itself, as many different ways of life are examined, ranging from childhood memories of berry-picking to the often difficult issues facing those living in urban environments.
The Encyclopedia, written by a non-Native scholar from the United States, also begins with a preface outlining his stance toward the material, which derives from his having "always felt a share of responsibility concerning the basic methods—thievery and murder—that brought this rich land under the control of what we now know as the United States and Canada." Pritzker wishes to assist in creating "a present and future in which people work together based on mutual understanding and respect." A general introduction to the history of Native peoples in North America precedes ten chapters organized by region. Each section begins with a synopsis of the area followed by historical and contemporary information on the First Nation located there. Two appendices listing Alaska Native villages and corporations are included for no discernible reason.
At the outset, Pritzker states that lack of space will prohibit him from including discussions of archaeological and anthropological theory. Unfortunately, his errors and omissions call into question his sources as well as his awareness of current academic discussions. The Encyclopedia includes a staggering amount of information, and errors can therefore occur easily. The Northwest Coast section, for example, often uses names given by early explorers (such as Nootka) that do not reflect the current First Nations nomenclature (Nuuchah-nulth). Pritzker accounts for this shortcoming by stating that material from Canada is more difficult to access. Furthermore, he neglects the role of nineteenth-century ethnographers, who were responsible for the removal of massive amounts of First Nations’ material culture, and the twentieth-century response in the form of the United States’ Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 and Canada’s 1992 Task Force Report on Museums and First Nations. Over the past two decades, the return of objects to First Nations communities has been the subject of intense political debate.
Most problematic of all is Pritzker’s non-reflexive inclusion of photography. In recent years, images of First Nations people have come under increasing scrutiny for their often negative role in constructing Euro-North American ideas about "the Indian." By disregarding this issue, and then titling photographs "Seminole Indian" or "Mangansutt Indian," where one stands in for all, Pritzker compounds the problem. Moreover, the inclusion of images of Iroquois False-Face masks reveals the author’s ignorance of the controversy surrounding their display outside of ceremonial events. Museums across North America have removed these masks from exhibition at the request of Iroquois people.
In academic circles dealing with First Nations issues, collaboration is increasingly used as an important methodological tool for both political and academic reasons. Collaboration allows for differences in perspective, often leading to a more complex understanding of the material under consideration. In the Encyclopedia, Pritzker attempts to include a wide range of perspectives by using primary sources, including "native-written books, articles and electronic texts as well as material culture." Unfortunately, the author’s omniscient manner negates any sense of contrasting perspectives. A glance at the bibliography also suggests that few First Nations sources were employed. It is tempting to speculate how a collaborative editorial effort might have enriched the shape and content of the Encyclopedia.
- Wages of Farming by Albert Braz
Books reviewed: The Murder of Medicine Bear by Susan Haley
- Not There Yet by Penny van Toorn
Books reviewed: Is Canada Postcolonial? Unsettling Canadian Literature by Laura Moss
- New and Not New Worlds by Ronald Hatch
Books reviewed: New Worlds: Discovering and Constructing the Unknown in Anglophone Literature by Rudolf Beck, Gabriele Christ, and Martin Kuester
- Value in Collaboration by Megan A. Smetzer
Books reviewed: An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English by Terry Goldie and Daniel David Moses and A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples by Barry M. Pritzker
- Nature's Grip by Ruth B. Antosh
Books reviewed: One Indian Summer by Wayne Curtis and Americas by Robert Mullen
MLA: Smetzer, Megan A. Value in Collaboration. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #175 (Winter 2002), francophone / anglophone. (pg. 171 - 173)
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