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This book begins with a simple question. Where did Native Americans come from? I know I was given an answer when I was just a child, before I had learned enough about the world, and enough about how we learn about the world, to eve ask the question for myself. This answer was a comfort to immigrants and the children of immigrants as they broke ground, built towns and cities from one end of the hemisphere to the other, and muscles aside the descendants of people who were in the Americas before them. It often popped up before the question could be formed, particularly in those scarce moments of moral hesitation when new immigrants came face to face with those they had displaced, and recognized that Native Americans were suffering and dying even as they, the newcomers, prospered. For more than a century this answer was ready for anyone who needed it: Native Americans came from somewhere else—from Asia. All are descendants of the same immigrant people.
I was born in the middle of the twentieth century on the Great Plains—in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I am the grandchild of immigrants from Eastern Europe who arrived there when it was still a frontier called the Northwest Territories. The government of Canada promised free land if my grandparents would go to the Prairies and bust the sod. And so they left the wars and racism and religious hatreds of Russia and Romania, migrating halfway around the globe to the New World. They helped to colonize the beautiful and frigid prairies. Their first homes were sod houses, built of the thick squares of turf they cut out of the ground. They were known as pioneers, as if no one had ever been therebefore them.
If they had regrets about being part of a process that ended the ancient and complex relationship between Native peoples and their lands, I never heard them discuss it. By the time I came along, they were city folk with their own businesses (although my mother’s father held fast to his northern farm for many years, not letting go even after his tractor fell on him, when he was eighty-five). Native people had been pushed so far to the margins of society that my contact with them came mainly at fairs and parades and multicultural festivals where ethnics of all sorts came forward, in costume, to sing their foreign songs and dance their foreign dances. We were all immigrants together in the New World and therefore in my mind we were equivalent: we came from Eastern Europe, they came from Asia. I did the hora, they had their powwows, their drums and their fancy dancing. We came on boats and built the railroads. Exactly how they came was a matter to be determined by science because they had no written histories, just stories about their origins, encased in languages that no one but the old people spoke anymore. Governments and church schools tried to wipe those languages away because they interfered with the process of making Native Americans just like everybody else. If the Native people were unhappy about that we didn’t hear of it. (How could they complain? Status Indians in Canada only got the right to vote in 1960.) It was up to science to dig up the Truth — and teach it to them.
|1||Asian Origins?: Clovis First Across the Bering Strait||11|
|2||Bones 101: A Sordid History Begets a Compromised Science||27|
|3||Found and Lost: The Misplaced Remains of the Accepted Path||51|
|4||The Battle for Monte Verde: Rewriting the First American Story - by Committee||71|
|5||The Founding Mothers: The Spectral Trial of Mitochondrial DNA||102|
|6||Virtual Bones: Are Reburied Remains Hard Evidence?||130|
|7||The Kennewick Chronicles: Science, History, Politics, Religion ... and the United States Army||153|
|8||Excavating the Museum Shelves: Weaving a New Image of Ancient Americans||185|
|9||We were Always Here: Some Native American Histories||206|
|10||Pendejo Cave: Indiana Jones Digs Down to the Foundation||226|
|11||Beneath the Southern Cross: The Road Leads Back in Time||255|
|12||Lunch with Luzia: The Fine African Features of the Oldest Woman in the Americas||262|
|13||Proof Parasite: A Wormhole in the Bering Strait Theory||280|
|14||Revisionist Prehistory: Bones Beyond the Bounds of Accepted Theory||291|
|15||Brazilian Edens: The Sheltered Finds of Minas Gerais||314|
|16||Science Contender: Dispatches from the Most Ancient Trenches||351|
|17||Pedra Furada: Ancient Arts of the Little People||378|
|18||Science under Fire: The Inquisition of Karl Reinhard||399|
|19||The Kennewick Shuffle: Dancing Around the Hard Questions||417|
|20||The Reverse Migration: North, by Boat||448|
|21||The Corridor That Wasn't: The Cold Facts Behind the Absence of Evidence||470|
|22||Hard Science, Hardball Politics: Kennewick Reevaluated||497|
|23||Going Home: Burying the Bones, Treasuring the Past||519|
Posted August 7, 2002
Dewar has attempted to combine an investigation into the peopling of the Americas with a consideration of whether the researchers or the Native Americans should control the relics of the past. Unfortunately, the book is very uneven in quality, even disjointed, and if one might say that life is disjointed, it would still have behooved Dewar to examine the disconnects. I found it worth reading since I'm interested in the topic and she presents information that I haven't encountered before, but I did have to keep reminding myself not to grind my teeth. I really agonized between giving this a 3 or a 4. Both because of her attempt to catch the process of science as well as the results (which I applaud) and her many, many digressions (which I hated) I wouldn't recommend it to someone who just wants to know what the present thought on the topic is. -- I almost put the book down around page 10. In the first place, I wish authors would not attempt to sneak autobiographies into their books; even after Dewar's research gets going she tells us more than I care to know about her airplane flights and the places she eats. More significantly, it makes no difference to me if Native Americans came to this continent 99,999 years BP, or in 1450 AD or evolved here from Homo erectus migrants. They were here when the ancestors of anyone else living here came and were barbarously pushed aside. Even if they were just as violent as their supplanters, the point is that we are trying to create a new ethic against shoving aside people just because we can, similar to the attempt to abolish that other ancient and nearly universal human custom, slavery. -- The book was fascinating for the next 300 pages or so as Dewar talks with various researchers about their own and other people's work often, admirably, allowing for rebuttals. (She was rather unhappy when James Chatters turned the tables and grilled her.) If that makes some of them look bad, well maybe they'll learn to stop shooting their mouths off. There is a world of difference between inquiring whether one's learned and esteemed colleague checked to make sure that there is no evidence of a forest fire that might have produced surprising ancient charcoal and making vicious accusations of incompetence and fraud when one has never actually examined the evidence. It is very significant to consider, in weighing the claims of researchers versus Native Americans, the care that scientific institutions have taken of the remains that they have in their hands already. I'm not learned enough in the subject myself to really judge her competence, but she sounded knowledgeable most of the time and the bibliography was impressive. There were one or two questions that made me wonder if she was bluffing, and she wasn't always entirely even-handed, but on the whole, she was pretty impressive. The book flags serious during her account of her trip to Brazil, largely because she spends more time recounting her trip and less recounting the research that I picked up this book to read about. At one point, she becomes fascinated by some ancient paintings and spends a great deal of time arguing about the intended subjects with her hosts. The argument strikes me as a waste of time, and potentially exasperating to her hosts, and it was utterly boring to read about it since with the exception of the cover and the dingbat, we can't see the pictures in question. This is especially frustrating: since I only read English this research is much less available to me than US or Canadian studies. -- Her attempts to consider Native American sensibilities, on the other hand, while well-meaning, are a combination of arms-length sentimentality and New Age fuzzy thinking. Dewar does very little to seek out Native American informants, with the exception of a couple of story-tellers, and the information that she picks up from incidentally encountered informants makes it clear that their attitudWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.