Indian Country Hardcover – 1 May 1984
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Top Customer Reviews
A series of articles on the exploitation and pollution of various lands still owned by or near Native American people, with outsiders doing mining, uranium extracting or water removing and so on, giving a meagre payment for usage and with no thought of a cleanup.
The environmental campaign was just getting started when this was written and not many of us knew about all that was happening. The author has brought such indignities to our attention for years and the book includes a few follow-ups such as whether an endangered fish that stopped a dam construction had recovered in numbers.
Anyone interested in environmental health and safety, any nature lovers or anyone concerned about industrial exploitation, should read this book.
Then keep it and read it again.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Along with all the hard-hitting research that Matthiessen brings to his writing, he's also at home with the natural history of Indian lands. He is subtle in the way he takes you with him on a walk through a working village or a ride to Black Mesa to get a truckload of household coal. Matthiessen spends time among the people living on the reservations, observing the slow encroachment of capitalism into their traditional ways of farming and trade, and ultimately seeing tribes divided into progressive and traditional factions.
Matthiessen is guided by the self-described, "half-baked detribalized Mohawk...," Craig Carpenter. Carpenter serves in many instances as the ambassador between Matthiessen and the locals on the reservations. And because of Carpenter's national reputation many doors that are generally closed to white writers are opened for Matthiessen.
Indian Country covers some dozen or so reservations in the United States. The sad revelation when you read through this book is every one of those reservations is confronted with a serious threat to the land they call home and a way of life they have know since being put on this earth.
And how could anyone, journalist or not, remain disinterested in the face of such things? More journalists and writers should have Matthiessen's courage and conviction.
The stories are depressing, but they can't all be taken at face value. Matthiessen consistently seeks out disgruntled people in each tribe, and treats them as if they alone were the true representatives of the tribe's rights. Sometimes that's true, since the elites and other "progressives" get bought out in various ways. But it isn't *always* true - - and sometimes disgruntled people are just generally annoyed for whatever set of personal reasons. Matthiessen's biases lead him to side with these people uncritically in every case.
This selection of informants means that Matthiessen treats the leadership of the Eastern Cherokee favorably because they fought development, but treats the leadership of the Miccosukee poorly because they didn't. Similarly, Hopi who choose to have running water and electricity get short-shrifted in Matthiessen's worldview compared with those who choose not to have those things. I think it's clear what Matthiessen's ultimate agenda here and, despite what he wants us to think, it isn't necessarily solidarity with the tribes.
As always, he writes very well. Matthiessen has also covered a very nice range of the challenges facing Indian Country, from Florida and North Carolina to the Pacific Northwest. The book represents a good follow-up to Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," but the author's selective choice of informants should give the reader pause.
Matthiessen's book is flawed in that, unlike Bartram, who mostly wrote about what he saw himself, Matthiessen often writes about what he's told, and he doesn't think for himself as much as he should. Liberal guilt seems to have impaired his critical faculties. So much of the book is dogma that may or may not be true. Another flaw from the literary viewpoint is the book's journalistic origins-- the environmental problems he describes in often exhausting detail were important then, and most are important now, but some aren't. The political stuff also tends to eclipse Matthiessen's personal relationships with the people he's writing about, the most consistently interesting part of the book. Craig Carpenter, Matthiessen's guide to traditional culture, is a fascinating figure and there should be more about him. Too bad Matthiessen didn't do a revised edition before he died instead of writing long, derivative novels.