By organizing the book in this way and by including certain information, it is clear that Liptak wants to dispel the stereotype of American Indians as belonging to a monolithic cultural group. Although she occasionally speaks generally about all American Indians, for the most part Liptak distinguishes not only among various tribes but also among the various regions in North America that these tribes inhabit. Thus, she makes reference to the kachinas and prayer sticks of the tribes from the Southwest as well as the buffalo robes and sun dances of the Great Plains tribes and the wood carvings and potlash ceremonies of the tribes from the Pacific Northwest. Her inclusion of regional differences—she also mentions the Southeast, Northeast, Great Lakes, Eastern Woodlands, and Plateau regions—stresses that American Indians were and still are living and practicing ceremonies in many areas of America. (Despite the book’s title, North American Indian Ceremonies, Liptak makes no reference to Central American, Mexican, or Canadian Indians or their ceremonies.) Besides her focus on these regional identities, the author also mentions a dozen and a half individual tribes, making reference not only to larger, well-known tribes such as the Navaho and Cherokee but also to smaller tribes such as the Tlingit, Kwakiutl, Quinault, Tsimshian, Nootka, and Tohono O’odham that are, most likely, less familiar to young readers.
The differences among these tribes’ ceremonies resonate...
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Interest in enlightened works about and by American Indians (and other minority groups) began in the 1970’s when intellectuals began challenging the traditional literary canon, which was primarily made up of white, male, American and British writers. A substantial body of literature within this canon, including the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, celebrated the American frontier and in doing so depicted the decline of the “red man” and the triumph of the “white man.” Reenvisioning the literary canon has had two results: the publication of anonymous American Indian writings and stories (handed down orally), which have survived from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the publication of contemporary American Indian writers, such as N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, Joy Harjo, and James Welch.
This reformation of the canon eventually affected the juvenile and young adult literature. North American Indian Ceremonies, with its enlightened, nonstereotypical portrait of American Indians, is a product of the literary academy’s embracing of multiculturalism. This book and other works by Karen Liptak in this field—such as North American Indian Medicine People (1990), North American Indian Sign Language (1990), North American Indian Survival Skills (1990), and North American Indian Tribal Chiefs (1992)—mark the author as an important spokesperson for American Indians.