Most helpful positive review
67 of 69 people found the following review helpful
The life and philosophy of a wise man
on April 2, 2000
I once lived on the Yakima Reservation for a couple weeks, back in 1964. This constituted my entire experience with Native Americans until thirty years later I met a few Navajo and Pueblo people on a trip to the Southwest. So even though I worked as an anthropologist for many years, I had absolutely zip to do with Native Americans. I was aware that there is a huge amount of junk written and shown in movies about them; that they have been either lionized or demonized out of all proportion in America and in the world beyond. I always felt that "ethnic cleansing" was not invented in the Balkans. Only when such writers as Silko, Momaday, Alexie, and Erdrich emerged did I discover the other world of the Indian people, only the film "Smoke Signals" rang true to me. So, I wasn't sure, when I picked up LAME DEER: SEEKER OF VISIONS, co-authored by John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes, whether I was getting some kind of phony, "awesome-dude !" worshipful portrait of a Lakota "medicine man" or not.
Not to keep you waiting any longer---this is a wonderful book on several levels. First, it contains the life story of Lame Deer, a Lakota man born in South Dakota in 1903 at the absolute nadir of Lakota history. It tells how he grew up, surviving relentless hostility by local whites, went through many ways of life, had numerous escapades, and finally turned towards the traditional wisdom of his people, becoming a wise elder, knowledgeable in many aspects of life. He has that wry Indian humor, so different a personality to what was always presented by Hollywood. Nobody can read this book and not be impressed by this man. The second level of this book is that it presents Lakota culture from the point of view of a Lakota steeped in it over many decades, not the interpretation of it by an outside scholar. You will find chapters on the sacred sweat bath, on the holy pipes of red stone, on the meaningful symbols, on the yuwipi ceremony, the sun dance, the peyote church which came from elsewhere, the heyoka (sacred clowns) and more. Lame Deer wanted to tell the world about Lakota ways and get this all written down to preserve it for the generations to come of his own people. On a third level, this book reflects a very attractive cooperation between two people from backgrounds that could not have been more different: a Lakota man from the prairies of South Dakota and a Vienna-born refugee from Nazism, an Austro-Hungarian in the true sense of that multi-cultural empire. Richard Erdoes only introduces himself at the end; Lame Deer talks throughout the whole book.
The editing and proofreading could have been tighter in my 1972 edition-a lot of passages appear twice or more, for example-and that's why I gave this book four stars, but it is a five star book for students who want to read about the inside view of the world of another culture, it is a five star book for someone particularly interested in knowing Lakota culture and thought, and for anyone who still thinks that Indians were or are "primitive" people. This is a book that speaks to the common humanity of all of us under the four corners of the sky.