American Indian Culture: From Counting Coup to Wampum. Edited by Bruce E. Johansen. Cultures of the American Mosaic. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2015. 2 vols. Acid free $189 (ISBN 978-1-4408-2873-7). Ebook available (978-1-4408-2874-4), call for pricing.

In his preface to American Indian Culture, Editor Bruce E. Johansen outlines a highly selective approach to documenting historical and contemporary expressions of Native American cultures. Aimed at upper level-high school students and college undergraduates, this work is framed not as an encyclopedic resource but as “an introduction to a large and rich field of study” focused on “the interface of tradition and change” across cultural expressions such as art, literature, music, and dance (xiii).

Part One, which makes up less than a fifth of the text, consists of short chapters about the societies, economies, and political interactions of selected regional culture groups from pre-European contact to the present. This section also includes a general overview of forces impacting many native cultures after European invasion: disease, cultural genocide, treaties with the U.S. government, and the trade of guns and horses.

Part Two, the majority of the work, is devoted to individual essays about specific topics or persons, and has been organized around the following themes: arts; family, education, and community; food; language and literature; media, popular culture, sports, and gaming; music and dance; spirituality; and transportation and housing. Entries vary widely in scope. Broad topics such as “Pow Wows,” “Sexual Orientation,” and “Cultural Tourism,” are written through a comparative lens, drawing similarities and distinctions between individual tribes and historical versus contemporary practices. Some topics are far more narrowly focused including “Graphic Novels,” “Katsinas,” and an entry on Johnny Cash’s 1964 album Bitter Tears. Nearly forty entries are biographical, largely twentieth-century figures in literature, media, and sports.

The entries are densely fact-driven and well-written, with substantive lists of resources for further reading. Interspersed among the regular entries are “Spotlights” which focus on specific organizations, events, and works of culture (examples include the film Smoke Signals, and “The Indigenous Language Institute”).

While the entries are well-researched, the question remains as to whose research needs they might serve. The book could assist students looking for a paper topic, or just beginning to formulate ideas for research in an introductory course. For upper-level anthropology or history students, or anyone seeking information about an individual tribe or culture group, the book may be frustrating to use. While some tribes have cross-listed references in the index, many do not. The biographical entries are too few to be consulted with specific figures in mind.

Arguably, there are other books that provide this more encyclopedic view, which is outside of Johansen’s stated intent. Malinowski and Sheets’s Gale Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (Gale, 1998) is still the go-to resource for tribe-specific chapters on history, language, and culture—though by comparison, Johansen’s volume provides new coverage of contemporary literature, arts, and media. As Johansen mentions in his preface, his selective approach to cultural production necessitated the omission of content found in more comprehensive resources such as Kelly’s Encyclopedia of Native American Music in North America (ABC-CLIO, 2013) or Reno’s Contemporary Native American Artists (Alliance, 1995). More comprehensive biographical coverage can be found in Malinowski and Abrams’s Notable Native Americans (Gale, 1995), Bataille and Lisa’s Native American Women: a Biographical Dictionary (Routledge, 2001) and Johansen’s own Native Americans Today: a Biographical Dictionary (Greenwood, 2010).

Noteworthy for its examination of contemporary cultures against a solid historical backdrop, this work is still scoped for limited use, primarily in high school and introductory college research.—Madeline Veitch, Research, Metadata, and Zine Librarian, State University of New York at New Paltz


  • There are currently no refbacks.

ALA Privacy Policy

© 2019 RUSA