Review: Playing Indian by Phillip J. Deloria

Publication Date: April 20, 1998

Synopsis:
History has shown what happens when Americans play Indian for their own political reason. The Boston Tea Party, the Boy Scouts, and the Order of the Red Men are only a few examples of what happens when Americans choose to step into the shoes of another race in order to gain something personal. This examines the history of being able to “play Indian” with the advantage of being able to stop the game when it becomes convenient. What happens when history is examined and revelations are made as to what Americans have really done with the Indian identity?

Date Read: January 21, 2019

Thoughts:
By no means was this actually a bad book, I just really struggled with reading it for class.

During January, I took a condensed class of Native American Cultures. My college has a thing called J-Term, which is basically a single class for three hours every day, for 3.5 weeks. It eases our normal spring semester course load and can hep us get more credits out of the way. So I decided to get my Non-Western credit out of the way by taking Native American Cultures, and this was one of the books we had to read.

The history in this book felt very dense, to the point where I was struggling to get into it. I don’t usually have a lot of trouble getting into stuff that’s historical, no matter the subject. This was just really hard for me to focus on and I found that no matter how much I read, I was coming across things that I felt weren’t well-explained or that I still didn’t understand.

There’s a lot going on in the pages and a lot of stuff to cover. The majority of that stuff has to do with large groups of people and lots of names, which was one of the reasons why I felt so lost the entire time. So many people were being referenced all the time, and each new chapter covered a different person or group, but with reference to people we’ve already read about. It made for a difficult time understanding who we were talking about when it felt like all these names were flying at my head constantly.

I wanted a more simple telling of what was going on, rather than being tossed into something that felt like an awkward mix between academic and casual. Half the time, it sounded like Deloria was just trying to prove how much he knew about a topic by cramming it into a chapter and then moving on before I understood the point of the chapter.

No doubt, this is an important book for those who are talking about how Americans have treated Native Americans and how history has shown this type of mistreatment. There’s a lot of good stuff in here that I didn’t know about, and it taught me a lot after several lengthy class decisions. But if I’m having to drag my way through a short book because it’s so dense and boring, how many people are actually going to read this? Yes, it’s a great tool for learning about things that a normal American education brushes over, but it could really use some editing to make it sound more approachable.

It’s important to talk about the way Americans decided that they could randomly adopt or shed a Native Indian identity for the sake of success, fame, or convenience. There’s no question that this should be discussed in the educational space because so many things that are now “purely American” were appropriated with the intention of adopting the Native Indian identity for self-gain. It wasn’t out of respect at all. And I think that should be brought up in a way that is easier to understand and more approachable because a text this dense might make it hard for other people to pick this up if they wanted something educational but not specifically academic.

Also, the fact that this book was published in 1998 and hasn’t been edited for republication since, makes me feel as if there should be some talk about getting a newer edition out. Maybe that one would have a more approachable voice and less dense of a text.

At the very end of the book, Deloria suddenly inserts himself into the text, which I thought was strange. It wasn’t entirely necessary for him to do so, and I felt thrown off by it. I didn’t get anything extra from him putting himself in the book.

Character(s):
I just didn’t like the voice this was written it. It felt too unapproachable for my liking and I think it needs editing.

Overall:
2 stars. While it is a really good book for the history of how Americans have appropriated Native American culture for their own benefit, it ultimately didn’t leave a big impression on me or my education.

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