Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Great Circle

A History of the First Nations, by Neil Philip. Clarion Books, 2006. Grade 7 and up.

I have had this book sitting on my desk for a couple of weeks. I keep dipping into it and being deeply moved and then having to pull back to work on something else for a while. It is so well researched and beautifully written there is just no leaving it. The photographs are stunning.

This is a selected history of the First Nations in North America. The author has chosen dramatic moments across a broad range of historic movements and events. First contact with Europeans, Tecumsah, Chief Joseph, and Sand Creek are among them. Certainly no one book could cover all the First Nations or all the significant experiences. The unifying theme of this book is the contrast between the European view of progress and conquest of the land (moving in a straight line) with the Indian outlook of the world being a great circle. The Lakota holy man Black Elk said "The power of the world always works in circles and everything tries to be round." It is the contrast between trying to control creation and trying to understand it.

Philip says, "It would be easy to write a history of the Native Americans that was simply a long list of atrocities. Indeed, their story is blighted by terrible tragedy and injustice. In this book I hope to show how that history was shaped by the clash of worldviews between the Indians and the whites - most obviously in the two conflicting ideas about the ownership of the land."

This is a really fascinating and challenging book. I am just delighted to have it in my library and I am savoring reading each chapter. I would love to hear what you think of it as well.

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