An unblinking look at the state of Native Americans today.
“Indigenous people,” writes award-winning journalist Woodard in the introduction, “are isolated in an archipelago of deeply impoverished islands in the vast sea of American wealth.” In the narrative that follows, the author delineates government policies that have in effect robbed—or attempted to rob—Native Americans of their lands, voting rights, and culture. Compounding this sad legacy are disproportionately high rates of alcoholism, infant mortality, disease, incarceration, and suicide. Yet Woodard’s story is not entirely grim. Whether through the construction of an Omaha museum in Nebraska, the preservation of the buffalo hunt in North Dakota, or the maintenance of Pueblo agricultural practices in New Mexico, tribes across the country are determined to pass their heritage to the next generation. The author conducted an admirable amount of fieldwork, including gamely munching on raw bison liver, and her arguments are mostly persuasive. However, the book is marred by some misleading contentions. Woodard laments the disproportionately high incarceration rate for Native Americans as compared to whites, but she does not address the question of whether the former commit crimes at a higher rate than the latter. Moreover, her assertion that in 2016, Standing Rock Sioux confronted construction of the Dakota Access pipeline only through “nonviolent demonstrations” is not entirely true; there were numerous reports of violent acts committed by the protestors, including stampeding bison and hurling projectiles at law enforcement personnel. This dubious statement is particularly important, for Woodard intermittently cites the Dakota Access protests as crucial to a revival of interest in Native American affairs; as one Puyallup tribesman said, “Standing Rock helped us grab the world’s attention once again.”
“Look at our history,” one Navajo told Woodard. “It’s been survival of the fittest. We’re the smartest and the toughest anyone can be.” Despite the occasional misstep, the book effectively conveys this perseverance and optimism of Native Americans in the face of past and present hardship.