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Tell Me, Grandmother: Traditions, Stories, and Cultures of the Arapaho People
ISBN: 0-87081-785-X

By Virginia Sutter
Review by: Moira Richards


Virginia Sutter uses an interesting technique to write the history of her people, the Northern Arapaho Indian Nation. She constructs her work as a series of conversations between herself and her paternal great-grandmother, Goes In Lodge and these two women who never actually met during their lives, chat back and forth over the 100 or so years that span their respective stays in this world, and tell each other their stories.

Through this device, the history of the Arapaho peoples is traced from the early nineteenth century years when the buffalo ran aplenty and the prairies were boundless, through present day living conditions in American Indian tribal reservations. Grandmother Goes In Lodge shares snippets of information about her nomadic lifestyle like how a thirty-pole teepee could be set up in fifteen minutes flat. Or about the role assumed in the tribes by those ‘manly-hearted’ women who chose to hunt buffalo with the men rather than process the carcasses along with the other women. In turn, Virginia tells her grandmother about the racial discrimination she experienced as child in twentieth century America, and how it was that she grew up and away from reservation life only to return many years later to work in social and administrative areas to improve the lot of her people.

My favorite fragment from Grandmother’s memories must be her description of how a strategically placed eagle’s feather was used to help a birthing mother to accomplish her labor more efficiently – I wish I’d packed a feather for my trips to the maternity hospital! Most touching of all these conversations was to learn about the Sun Dance, the Arapaho’s most sacred tradition. This annual community meeting with all its attendant rituals of prayer and celebration were banned by the US government in 1904 as an ‘Indian Offense’ that would land participants with a jail sentence. But then we hear from Virginia later in the book that now the Sun Dance is once again observed every year by the Northern Arapahos on the Wind River Reservation.

It was a rare pleasure for this reader to be invited to eavesdrop upon Virginia Sutter’s chat with her great-grandmother.

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