As a biographical work, American Indian Women fulfills a larger purpose than simply to recount the significant details of these women’s lives. The book also enlarges young readers’ knowledge about Native American culture and values, provides young women with positive examples of women’s self-determination in making personal and professional choices, and communicates the value of working to enrich one’s own community.
With its attention to the personal details of these women’s upbringing, children, and marriages, the book presents these figures on a human level, enabling readers to identify with them and thus transcend immediate cultural or temporal barriers. Many young people can empathize with Gertrude Simmons Bonnin’s girlhood experience of feeling alienated from fellow classmates, for example, or can understand Maria Tallchief’s childhood dream to become a dancer.
In her narratives, Gridley seizes numerous opportunities to underscore the personal courage and perseverance of her subjects. For example, during an early poetry recitation, E. Pauline Johnson forgot a line of poetry but saved the moment by improvising a new one; Gridley says that “she was never defeated in time of trouble after that.” At the age of fifteen, the girl Winema drew upon her courage to guide a boat through rough waters and later rallied a discouraged Modoc band into a victorious counteroffensive against enemy attackers. Drawing upon her...
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