What the Eagle Sees: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal
What the Eagle Sees: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal
Slavery and disease almost wiped out the Indigenous peoples of North America. Imagining the destruction is almost impossible: 90 percent of the population died. Nation after nation disappeared. The survivors had to find ways to replace them. And they had to do it fast, if they were going to stand up against European invaders. The stories of Deganawidah the Peacemaker, Wahunsunacock, Tecumseh, and the Red Sticks tell us about just four of the very different confederacies that formed on Turtle Island.
What the Eagle Sees: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal is a well-written, attractively-presented, informative book about Indigenous tenacity and resilience in the face of often overwhelming challenge and opposition. Eldon Yellowhorn and Kathy Lowinger previously collaborated on the impressive Turtle Island: The Story of North America's First People. What the Eagle Sees is an even better book. The book consists of nine chapters and contains numerous colour and archival black-and-white photographs, other illustrations, text boxes containing further information, maps, a glossary, index, and a list of sources. There is a lot of information presented in the 120 pages, yet it is presented in a digestible, understandable fashion.
One of the many valuable inclusions within the book is the “Imagine” textboxes. Within these boxes, various scenarios are described, and the reader is asked to imagine what it would be like to find oneself in the situation being described. The Imagine textbox scenarios include such things as the following: imagine what it might be like to prepare to fight against an invading enemy who has recently killed many of your companions; imagine being captured and locked in the hold of a Spanish ship to face transportation to a foreign land for a life of slavery; imagine the trauma of plagues of disease killing almost everyone you love and leaving fewer people alive than those who have died; imagine the sense of displacement borne of being forced to attend residential school; imagine having to frantically flee your home to escape certain death at the hands of attacking enemies, knowing you would never again see your home and hurriedly-abandoned belongings. The scenarios give one pause, contemplating the brutal experiences Indigenous peoples have endured in North America.
Elsewhere, textboxes contain such information as explanations related to counting coup and wampum. Textboxes contain discussions of Indigenous code talkers during World War II, the real Pocahontas, Tecumseh’s confederacy, Wovoka the Paiute and the Ghost Dance he inspired, and the 1870 Battle of Belly River in Alberta.
Eldon Yellowhorn is from the Piikani Nation in Alberta. Given that he is the book’s first author it is interesting—and rather unusual—to see that he is identified as being the one who has granted permission for the inclusion of a number of traditional stories from the Blackfoot Confederacy that he has written for inclusion within his book. Indeed, despite there being two authors, the book is told from the first person perspective of Yellowhorn. Stories such as how the sundance was given to the people, how horses came to the Blackfoot, how Katoyis outsmarted the fearsome Windsucker, and how rabbit brought fire from the east are among the traditional stories included in the book.
All of these items—the Imagine scenarios, information textboxes, and traditional stories—augment the main narrative that tells of atrocities committed against North America’s Indigenous peoples. The tone adopted by the authors is reflected in the following excerpt:
Indigenous people still struggle to understand why so much hatred has been directed toward us. Didn’t the explorers who claimed to “discover” our land see our ancestors who were their hosts and their guides? What caused all the violence and brutality? All my ancestors wanted was to live on the land that had been theirs forever. Why wasn’t that possible?
The nineteenth century was an especially terrible time for us. White people believed that to build new nations in North America, they had to conquer the Indigenous people who already lived here.
Reconciliation necessitates education and information. With these requirements in mind, What the Eagle Sees is a valuable addition to Canadian children’s literature.
Given the breadth of the book (the dates of the introductory matter are identified as 10,000 years ago to the present time), few things are covered with depth. For instance, while whole books have been written on the topic, a mere 14 lines are given to Wounded Knee and the massacre of 1890. Key personalities like Crazy Horse and Red Cloud of the Oglala, the Apache Geronimo, Hunkpapa Sitting Bull, and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce are not even mentioned. However, as an overview, there is a good introduction to perhaps lesser-known people and things as Ishi—the so-called “last wild Indian”—the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and Canada’s 2019 Indigenous Language Act.
Despite what is overall an attractive book design and presentation, the authors have been let down by the presentation of a number of maps. The Trail of Tears map on page 67 needs a legend to explain the different colours of the marked routes. The map on page 72 is unnamed and includes no legend. Given the two sites marked on that map—Fort Sumner and Fort Defiance—are not mentioned in the associated narrative and do not appear in the index, there is no way of knowing what that map is intended to show. An untitled map of Canada and the USA on page 60 has three locations pinpointed: Tadoussac, Quebec is mentioned on page 52; Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, is mentioned on page 55; Lethbridge, Alberta, is mentioned on page 59. But with these things scattered on various pages, one has to search to understand their inclusion on the map on page 60. However, one wonders why the St. Mary River dam in Alberta (mentioned on page 54), the Grand Banks of Newfoundland (mentioned on page 52), and Glacier National Park, Montana, (mentioned on page 61), are not included on that map given that they are all from the same chapter. With these sorts of examples, I found the maps confusing and distracting. Unfortunately, they detract from what is a worthwhile and valuable book.
The title of What the Eagle Sees is explained in part at the beginning and end of the book. At the end, it says:
Eagles hold a very special place in Blackfoot mythology because they can fly to the sky country. We believe they carry messages up to Sun and bring Sun’s teachings down to us. Studying history is like the view an eagle sees when in flight because the higher it soars, the more it can see, and so it has a clearer perspective.
What the Eagle Sees contains a valuable overview of Indigenous stories of rebellion and renewal. This is an interesting, informative, attractively-presented book.
Dr. Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. He specialises in literature for children.