October 28, 2008

Tribal colleges write books

Tribes publish own stories as part of history projectNative people have a rich tradition of storytelling, but those stories historically have been written or published by people outside the tribes--until lately.

“Now you can do all that on a desktop computer,” said Bob Bigart, director of the Salish Kootenai College Press in Pablo. “The economics have changed. You don't need four or five full-time professional slots in a publishing house anymore.”

On Saturday at the Montana Festival of the Book, representatives from the Flathead and Fort Peck reservations will discuss recently completed books that focus on contemporary issues and tribal histories. The books were written for the Tribal History Project, a 2005 state-funded initiative that asked tribes to present their histories for Montana's K-12 students.

Four of the seven tribal colleges in Montana wrote books.
An example:“To begin with, no one had ever written--some attorneys involved with court cases had written things on the Fort Peck tribes--but no one had ever written a detailed history,” said Jim Shanley, who co-authored the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes' history book. “Fort Peck is interesting. We're the only Sioux Tribe in Montana. I think some of our own people were unsure of their own lineage.”

Shanley, also president of Fort Peck Community College, said he and four other authors took the opportunity to write something definitive about the tribe. “We finally have a complete document,” he said.

The 532-page volume of “The History of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana, 1800-2000,” won't be easily read by a fourth-grader, but it does cover the tribes' story, ranging from pre-European contact and federal Indian policy to economic development in the 21st century.

The book filled a wide historical gap and the Montana Historical Society is already moving into a second printed edition, said Shanley.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.

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