Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo by Kent Nerburn

The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo: A Child, an Elder, and the Light from an Ancient Sky by Kent Nerburn

New World Library (October 1, 2013) 410 pages

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Thoughts:

A note before my thoughts:

One: There was lots going on in my head while reading through this book, so it's a long post. It's for me to remember more than anything, though. :)

And, two: There's one issue that will keep me from being able to completely recommend this book to you. The profanity! Oh, how I hate that it was in there. The author uses a tape recorder during his interviews and/or discussions with other people. Therefore, he quotes them exactly. While I still didn't like it in there, I DO understand his reasons. Still, you won't hear me say that a book is "worth" the profanity. It doesn't matter how good a book is and how much I like it/would like it, profanity is profanity!

Most of the profanity seemed to come from one person. I read longer than I typically would, thinking that if this one guy would move along, the profanity would go with him. At one point, I finally decided to skim, but after two pages, I realized it was "all or nothing" for me with this book. Thankfully, it did slack off greatly after the 2nd part of the book. Part 1 is perfectly clean. Part 2 has high profanity, and Part 3 has mild profanity.

Aside from the profanity, this could be one of my favorite books of the year! Paired with my reading from last year, it very well could have grabbed my #1 spot.

Now that I got that out of the way!

When I first started reading this book, I actually didn't know whether it was fiction or non-fiction. I soon learned that it IS non-fiction. Apparently, Nerburn is one of the very few White people who can write a book about Native Americans in a way respectful enough to earn their approval. Do you understand how difficult that is, and what a special author that makes him?

Several years ago, I was honored to attend several powwows and meet many Native Americans. It is a whole new world of beliefs and traditions, and it is SO very easy to do something wrong. Yes, I found myself embarrassed and shamed a couple of times due to doing something Native Americans found offensive or wrong. It's a learning experience, and I don't think it's possible for a White person to enter the Native American world and NOT do something wrong occasionally. I worked hard to learn and "obey" the rules. (Note: I do have Cherokee in my lineage. My great(X3) grandfather (on my momma's side)was the last full blooded Native American. It's enough to make me drawn to the Native American culture, but not enough to "claim" myself as Native American. I'm still so very ignorant to Native American ways!)

During my time at powwows, I danced(both traditional and fancy). I practiced each week with a group of others, and I was invited into the circle to dance. It's through reading this book that I finally realized I had no business, whatsoever, dancing in that circle! I'm a Christian! I don't share the beliefs of most Native Americans, and for me to do something so spiritual to them, and something that I didn't think about at the time or agree with, was wrong! Believe me, that was a tough conclusion to accept. I've always looked back at my time in that world with fondness. I have many great memories. But, I did it for fun, and nothing else, and it wasn't right.

Back to the book!

I truly fell in love with Nerburn's writing style. I've heard others say that a non-fiction book reads like fiction before, but it wasn't until this book that I was able to understand that. There were times I had to remind myself that the events were real.

Nerburn adds a touch of mystery to his writing. He's honest, and doesn't hide his mistakes. There are times when he's shamed and embarrassed, and I FELT it with him. There are times when he's angry at the Native Americans, particularly one named Grover. Sometimes he's angry at the ignorance of White people. Sometimes he's skeptical and/or questioning. He's writes it like it is. I loved that! The more I read through this book, the more I wished I had read the first two books before picking this one up. (Due to the profanity, I won't read them now, but understand how much I desperately want to!)

The book is divided into three parts. The first part was more of a historical learning experience for me. In it, I learned about the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians. We, as Americans, are SO VERY IGNORANT as to what our history with the Native Americans was really like! We are doing our children NO favors by hiding that. I imagine very few, if any, of you have heard about that place. I hadn't before reading this book. It's not something I learned about in school, I can tell you that. It makes me FURIOUS that a place like this existed in the United States. We all agree that Hitler was a horrible man, and the Holocaust concentration camps are horrible places that should never have existed. Don't think, for one second, I'm aiming to downplay the horrific-ness of those events just because it took place outside of the US, but what we don't realize is that places similar were right here in the United States. Native Americans were tortured and abused and neglected RIGHT HERE! Yet, most of us don't know about it. It's mostly hidden from us, and we go on teaching our children a false version of the "Thanksgiving" holiday. What makes me even madder is that the people over these places claimed to be Christians(THAT is not a Christian!), and abused these children, and these adults, as a way to "teach" them the way to Christianity. Can you tell how my blood is boiling just thinking about it?!

In parts 2 and 3, Nerburn continues his journey, and I got the chance to "meet" more Native Americans. I learned more and more about their beliefs and lifestyles, along with some of their struggles and anger. I'm grateful that this book opened my eyes more to the issues that Native Americans face(d). I appreciate that the author helped me to understand just why so many Native Americans have issues with White people. I've struggled with that in the past, but I better understand that pain and anger now.

*IF* profanity doesn't bother you, I can't recommend this book enough! It's had a huge impact on me!

^Thanks to Amazon Vine and New World Library for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest opinion!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Sorry! 3rd times a charm right?

    -What a great review darling. Perhaps one of your best ever.

    -How cool that you danced at a Powwow. I've been to a powwow a few times and I loved it each time.

    -It's nice that you think of it with fondness. And the fact that you feel back shows me how deeply you respect them.

    -I'm sure they wouldn't hold it against you. If you did it with ill intent, that would be one thing. But you did it not meaning any harm. I'm sure that counts. What's in your heart counts.

    -What a gorgeous cover and title. Wow.

    -I'm soooo going to have to look this up. I'm fascinated with N.A. culture.

    -You are so very right about the average American being ignorant of what truly happened. The way N.A. were treated breaks my heart.

    -The sad thing I think is how few people want to know.

    -I try to visit reservations whenever the opportunity arises. I know it isn't much, but I feel that if I can spend some of my travel money learning, respecting, and visiting reservations I can at the very least help by putting my pocketbook in the right place. The last time I was there (it's been years now) I gave away my coat (to a seriously awesome lady) and only purchased gifts directly from the craftsmen and women.

    -Great passionate review.

    1. Thank you, Juju!

      I met several Christians while at powwows, too. Everyone was always sweet to me! My background and beliefs were pretty well known and I was still invited in the circle, so I don't think anyone felt anger towards me. I still wish I'd thought more about what I was doing, though.

      One of my favorite memories from that time in my life was an older Native American man teaching me to play pool and how to help a headache(without medicine). I still think back fondly of all of it! :)

      That is great that you visit reservations and sweet that you support them!! It's been too long since I've been to one! I need to change that, and bring my boys along.

      Also, even with all my time with Native Americans, and knowing that our history with them wasn't as great as we're taught in school, I'm still ashamed at how little I knew.

  4. I loved reading this review! Your honest feelings come out and I could relate to many of them. I did not know about the asylum but I must say I'm not surprised. I'm sure things like that occurred here in Canada too with our native Indians. I love narrative non-fiction because I feel I learn so much from it. Too bad about the profanity. It sounds like it wasn't gratuitous though. I will make a note of this book.

    1. Thank you, Laura!

      I'm ashamed at how little I knew about our history with the Native Americans. I knew it wasn't as pretty as we'd like to imagine, but this book was a big wake-up for me!

      I'm definitely keeping my eye on this author for future works!

  5. Thanks for your honest review. I do have a question about the profanity. Is the Lord's name taken in vain?

    1. Yes. "G**d***" is used more than once(2or3times, I think), and lots of "My G**" or something similar. The F-word is used 2 or 3 times, along with scattered mild profanity.