By Elizabeth Wroten
Rerun: Indian Boyhood: A True Story of a Sioux Upbringing by Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa)
On 01, Aug 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Imagine a childhood full of adventure. Where riding horses, playing in the woods, and hunting for food was part of everyday life; where a grizzly bear, a raccoon, or a squirrel was your favorite pet. But imagine, too, being an orphan at the age of six, being forced off your land by U.S. soldiers, and often going hungry. Such was the childhood of the first great American Indian author, Charles Eastman, or Ohiyesa (1858-1939). Carefully edited for a younger audience by multiple award-winning author and editor, Michael Oren Fitzgerald, Indian Boyhood recalls Eastman s earliest childhood memories. He was born in a buffalo hide tipi in western Minnesota, and raised in the traditional Dakota Sioux manner until he was fifteen years old. He was then transplanted into the white man s world. Educated at Dartmouth College, he went on to become a medical doctor, renowned author, field secretary for the YMCA, and a spokesman for American Indians. Eastman was at Pine Ridge during the Ghost Dance rebellion of 1890-91, and he cared for the wounded Indians after the massacre at Wounded Knee. In 1910 he began his long association with the Boy Scouts of America, helping Ernest Thompson Seton establish the organization.
The book starts off well with an interesting foreword by Charles Trimble, a registered Oglala Lakota, that identifies the specific nation that Ohiyesa/Eastman was part of. In the foreword he presents the historical context and sets the scene for the book and while not graphic, he is unflinching in how he presents the events that shaped Ohiyesa/Eastman’s life.
“In the so-called Indian Uprising of 1862 the Dakota people rebelled against white incursions onto their lands and the government’s withholding of treaty-guaranteed rations that left them starving. Ohiyesa/Eastman’s extended family fled to Canada to escape the U.S. Army, which was hell-bent on brutal vengeance…”
This foreword is followed up by an editor’s note in which Fitzgerald is upfront about what changes he has made to the original text. The story and text is adapted from Ohiyesa/Eastman’s autobiography. It seems most of the text was simplified and shortened to make it more accessible to younger readers and to fit it into this format. It appears that all involved with the project are hoping to spark interest in Ohiyesa/Eastman. In a brief footnote Fitzgerald also explains that he is using the term Sioux because it is the term in the original work. He goes on to at least acknowledge that the term is European-American and lists the Nations that fall under that category. At the end of the note Fitzgerald claims that all royalties are being donated to various American Indian causes. We’ll have to take him at his word on that.
The story itself is an interesting look at the Sioux way of life and follows Eastman through the first 15 or so years of his life. The text is fairly short which really makes it best suited to young audiences (first and second grade, probably even kindergarten). In some places I was left wanting more information and detail. That is part of the purpose of the book, but I do think there could have been a little bit more. It paints an idyllic and fun life for a child with hours of play and learning skills like tracking and hunting. But he also shares times that the families went hungry. I do wish the story had continued further and addressed some of his time being schooled in the white town he moves to with his father.
The illustrations are pretty and are reminiscent of Paul Goble’s illustrations. I am not familiar with art from those nations or that area and the similarity makes me wonder if it copies a style seen in Sioux art. There is a page of notes on the illustrations that explains what objects in the illustrations are and their significance. I’m a little put off by the last picture that, according to the notes, is an “imaginative image of Eastman”. It hits a little close to stereotypes, even if its depiction is accurate.
I have mixed feelings about them using Ohiyesa’s white name as the author and including his given name in parentheses. I am glad they included it, but I am left wondering which he would have preferred and which is more culturally appropriate (I suspect the given name).
The reason I reviewed this book, beyond it being interesting, was that I am looking for materials for our third grade class which studies the Sioux. While I am not qualified to make decisive judgements on books about Native Nations, I have to make some calls on what materials to purchase. I think for a general collection this would make a great addition. It’s a little idyllic, but taking into account the fact that it’s true and the book’s notes outside the text, it seems well rounded. I also think it would make an appropriate addition to a home or classroom library for the same reasons. I prefer something like this over presenting made up “native American” legends or stories that are told by outsiders. I am going to pass it along to our third grade teachers, but I suspect the text itself may be a little bare bones for their tastes. I would recommend using it in a classroom in conjunction with both other materials (maybe even Eastman’s original books) and being sure to read the notes and foreword together.