Deborah Davis Jackson,
Our Elders Lived It: American Indian Identity in the City
(Northern Illinois University Press, 2002)

Of the books I have read on Native American culture, Our Elders Lived It is the least readable. It drags. It bores. It goes around in a circle and comes back to the point of origin without ever establishing any clear stance on the issue of cultural identity except that there is no way to establish cultural identity. While the author played up certain aspects of the topic, she barely mentioned others.

The author explains that this book "analyzes the dynamics of ethnic identity" within one specific American Indian community in a city that shall remain anonymous in a state in the Upper Great Lakes region. Most of the American Indians in this community are Anishinaabe, which includes Chippewa, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Odawa, Potawatomi, Menominee, Miami and others speaking Algonquian.

The primary research technique was observation, although she did interview 24 adults. She relied upon "statistical and archival resources and contemporary publications such as the local newspaper and the minutes of the Birmingham County Indian Association board meetings."

The author should have traveled to major cities in other regions and interviewed the same number of natives before she penned this book. She might have learned that there are different perspectives in regions that are composed of predominantly different tribes. As she points out, one big problem is the situation with the gambling casinos and the fact that those "real" Indians feel that the "wannabe" Indians are just trying to get an annual check from the casinos -- called a "gimme, gimme, gimme."

Of course, the flip side of that perspective, which she did not bring out, is that the true spirit of the American Indian is supposed to one of generosity and if they were actually being traditional, they would not have a problem with a "giveaway." In most tribes, the person who gives away the most or is the most generous is one of the most respected. Yet, Jackson does not mention that or interview anybody that does. Perhaps she would get a different set of responses if she were in an area where the tribes are not into casinos.

I do not see anything to be gained from reading Our Elders Lived It except perhaps a good nap. It did put me to sleep.

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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