Every season, Woodland Indian Educational Programs (www.WoodlandIndianEDU.com) suggests books just for museum interpreters and docents who teach about the Northeastern Native American People, whether historic or contemporary culture (click her to view booklist page). Although the list is for educators of the Woodland Indian Peoples, many of the books recommended have a far broader spectrum, making them relevant for interpreters of Native lifeways outside of the Northeastern cultural area. The focus of the publications may be on interpretation of content, or the content (culture, history) itself. Because Native American culture and history is a far-reaching popular subject that invites a broad spectrum of questions from the public, the interpreter must be well rounded in such a subject matter and all it relates to in order adequately answer inquiries made by their audiences.
Fall 2011 Reading Booklist:
-“Iroquois Uses of Maize and Other Food Plants” by Arthur C. Parker (can also be found in the publication “Parker on the Iroquois”)
-“How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine and Crafts” by Frances Densmore
Switching gears from the Summer Reading Booklist, this season’s assignments are focused on content rather than interpretation. Because Fall is considered the “Indian Season” (both in educational outlets and general popular American culture) and the Thanksgiving holiday tends to spotlight Native American Foods, we have picked 2 books whose content revolves around Northeastern Native American foods, dishes, & culture. Each take their study from a Native community on the opposite sides of the Northeastern cultural areas: the Iroquois of New England/Eastern Great Lakes and the Ojibwa-Chippewa (Anishinabe) of the Western Great Lakes.
These two publications are not “recipe” books marketed to the general public. Native American recipe or cookbooks tend to not be authoritative works that reflect actual historical Native American food culture. These are generally written as novelty for gift shops – these authors adding actual measurements and/or creating modern dishes from Native elements and/or creating Native dishes from some non-Native ingredients. While these recipe books are entertaining reads, exhibits and interpretive information should never be based on such works. Parker’s and Densmore’s ethnographic studies from the first half of the 20th century were intended for scholarly outlets. Central to why their studies are so authoritative are the authors themselves – Arthur Parker being Seneca and a professionally educated anthropologist which gives him very unique insight, and Frances Densmore, a ethnologist whose relationships with Ojibwa women allowed her to record their own perspectives of their own food culture, technology, and history – not just an outsider’s opinion.
Iroquois Uses of Maize and Other Food Plants
More than just citing Iroquois uses of corn and other foods, and its related material technology, the book gives examples of food technologies and dishes from neighboring Native communities. Parker describes the way Virginia Native Peoples broke the ground to make farmlands. He compares mortar styles of the Potawatomi, Ojibwa (Chippewa), Nanticoke, Mohegan, Choctaw and Cherokee, and the pestles of the Shinnecock and Munsees (Northern Lenape-Delaware). Parker quotes how the Virginia Native People dried hickory nuts, and the Lenape (Delaware) word for hickory. He cites the Abenaki for their fondness of the juice of bruised cattail roots, and the Plains Sioux for eating milkweed roots and pods. Because one tribe or community is not usually unique in their cuisine or food securing methods from their neighbors, elements of this comprehensive look at their food culture can usually be applied to other Northeastern Native American communities.
How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts
Don’t let the title fool you – this is not a novelty book. Originally published as “Uses of Plants by the Chippewa Indians” in the Forty-Forth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, it is presently under Dover Publishing and readily available through online bookstores. In contrast it its present “general” title, it focuses on the material culture and daily life of the Ojibwa People (Chippewa, Anishinabe). With a Native woman interpreter, author Frances Densmore explores and records both the processes of securing and preparing foods as well as the Native perspectives and folklore surrounding the Ojibwa food culture. Her success in interpreting and recording such processes in-depth can be attributed to her relationships to good informants: Ojibwa women who felt comfortable sharing their perspectives with the author, another woman. Especially important to our understanding of Native American historic culture is her detailed descriptions of Maple sugaring and wild rice procurement. Her accounts include both witnessed Maple sugaring and wild rice gathering activities as well as the informants’ accounts of the same activities in decades past. The Ojibwa process of turning Maple sap into sugar is relevant information to any docent or museum guide who interprets a tribe who practiced the same (with obvious differences subtracted such as birch bark sugar containers that would not be made by tribes below the birch line). As one reviewer said, and I concur, “very highly recommended to anyone interested in real (rather than fantasy) Native traditional life.” – Amazon Customer Review