Native Americans practice some of America's most spiritually profound, historically resilient, and ethically demanding religions. Joel Martin draws his narrative from folk stories, rituals, and even landscapes to trace the development of Native American religion from ancient burial mounds, through interactions with European conquerors and missionaries, and on to the modern-day rebirth of ancient rites and beliefs. The book depicts the major cornerstones of American Indian history and religionthe vast movements for pan-Indian renewal, the formation of the Native American Church in 1919, the passage of the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act of 1990, and key political actions involving sacred sites in the 1980s and '90s. Martin explores the close links between religion and Native American culture and history. Legendary chiefs like Osceola and Tecumseh led their tribes in resistance movements against the European invaders, inspired by prophets like the Shawnee Tenskwatawa and the Mohawk Coocoochee. Catharine Brown, herself a convert, founded a school for Cherokee women and converted dozens of her people to Christianity. Their stories, along with those of dozens of other men and womenfrom noblewarriors to celebrated authorslare masterfully woven into this vivid, wide-ranging survey of Native American history and religion.
In this account of Native American religion, Martin says at the outset that, "If you pull on the thread of 'Native American religion,' you end up pulling yourself into the study of Native American culture, art, history, economics, music, dance, dress, politics, and almost everything else." This is not an encyclopedia-style book with faiths outlined and labeled, nor is it focused on myths, though a number of inserts tell stories and describe rituals. It is more a political history of Native American religion, an effort to fit the reader's understanding of it into the context of the times during which it has existed. The shape of the Native American religion changed amid diseases, broken promises, language change, and battles over the uses of land. The author deals in depth with the coming of Christianity, with the effect of "forced and voluntary conversion," and how elements of Christianity and Indian religion have been combined: "many American Indians found ways to reconcile tribal traditions and Christian teachings." An especially interesting story is that of Cherokee Catherine Brown, who chose to become a Christian; how, with the help of a dream, she was able to see in both her traditional faith and in Christianity many of the same concepts and symbols. Readers will be interested in the chapter on the use of peyote in Native American rituals and the battles with the U.S. government, during which even the Su-preme Court equated it with drugs of abuse. The author gives us a picture of an incredibly rich faith life. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Oxford Univ. Press, 156p. illus. bibliog. index., $9.95. Ages16 to adult. Reviewer: Edna M. Boardman; Minot, ND , September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)