A journalist’s report “about contemporary American Indians and how modernity and a restorative vision of the past have generated a new energy among them.”
In her debut, freelance writer Robbins draws on reporting for the New York Times and other publications to trace the forces affecting the lives of the nation’s four million Native Americans. The main force has been the repatriation of remains and cultural artifacts taken from Indian communities during centuries of European American occupation. Under a process established in 1990 by federal law, many Indian tribes are retrieving artifacts from museums and other agencies, and essentially “gaining sovereignty over their stories and their lives.” In 1999, for example, Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology returned 2,000 skeletal remains that archaeologists had removed decades ago from a Pecos Pueblo burial mound in New Mexico. In recounting emotional ceremonies held to celebrate such returns, Robbins explains that repatriations are helping tribes regain identity and cultures lost long ago. With income from gaming and other sources, many tribes are able to pursue claims regarding sacred sites and other matters. There are now about 125 American Indian cultural institutions, many of them museums. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, established in 2004, further exemplifies the drive for Native cultural expression. At the same time, an ongoing migration to cities, especially by young Native Americans, has become an important (and somewhat countervailing) trend. Most Indians now live in cities and suburbs, writes Robbins, not on reservations, and the author discusses the difficult problems facing them. With their emphasis on human connection, repatriation efforts are becoming a way to help these urban migrants reconnect with the past and preserve their cultural identities. Robbins suggests the same quest for connection can be a useful model for non-Indian Americans, many of whose family members are scattered across the country.
A solid, insightful overview of the way American Indians live now.