“I’m telling you this because you ask. Our family was not liked on the reservation. We were very powerful. My grandfather was teaching me the old ways. I was learning the ceremonies. They took me away to silence my grandfather. They wanted to be sure the old ways would die with him.” — from The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo
IT WAS ONLY BY WALKING the northwoods of the Anishinaabe and the plains of the Lakota, and connecting deeply with the original people of this land, that The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo (2013, New World Library) could ever come to be. Beautifully written, this book by noted author and oral historian Kent Nerburn reminds us that a voice exists that competently — and with heart — bridges the gap between Native and non-Native culture.
In this third book in a series that began with Neither Wolf nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, and The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows, we truly feel the heartache of America’s indigenous people. Few writers are as respected by the Native people as Nerburn, and virtually no writers on Native culture, up until now, have dared to speak of an atrocity as grievous as the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians in Canton, South Dakota.
Let’s begin this interview there, in southeast South Dakota between Sioux City and Sioux Falls, where for thirty years Native people were given life sentences in an asylum specifically created to confine any Native person deemed insane, psychotic or idiotic — and it was not uncommon for someone to be committed to the asylum for refusing to denounce their Native culture or because they were disliked by Natives working with white authorities.
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