05_Reviews

Book Reviews

RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage reviews books, reports, new periodicals, databases, websites, blogs, and other electronic resources, as well as exhibition, book, and auction catalogs pertaining directly and indirectly to the fields of rare book librarianship, manuscripts curatorship, archives management, and special collections administration. Publishers, librarians, and archivists are asked to send appropriate publications for review or notice to the Reviews Editor.

Due to space limitations, it may not be possible for all books received to be reviewed in RBM. Books or publication announcements should be sent to the Reviews Editor: Amy Cooper Cary, Raynor Memorial Library, Marquette University, 1415 W. Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53233-2221, e-mail: amy.cary@marquette.edu, (414) 288-5901.

Gerald Vizenor. Native Provenance: The Betrayal of Cultural Creativity. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2019. Hardcover, 199p. $29.95 (ISBN 9781496216717).

This is a critical moment for those who care for Native American and Indigenous archives. After much discussion, debate, and years of tireless advocacy, the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials has finally been endorsed by our leading professional organizations. The Association of College and Research Libraries, following the request of the Rare Books and Manuscript Section (RBMS), endorsed the Protocols in August 2019. In 2018, the Council of the Society of American Archivists unanimously endorsed the Protocols, accompanied by an apology for the many years of inaction. Following these endorsements, the next step for us is not only to continue its promotion and implementation, but also grow our understanding of what it means to be responsible stewards of items in our care. The Protocols articulate foundational concepts for our professional practice, including notions of cultural sensitivity and reciprocity. We can further expand our thinking and practice in this area by engaging with the works of prominent thinkers. Among these is Anishinaabe cultural theorist, writer, and scholar Gerald Vizenor’s most recent book, Native Provenance: The Betrayal of Cultural Creativity.

Native Provenance is composed of 12 essays drawn from Vizenor’s lectures, journal articles, and presentations. The book touches on wide-ranging issues relating to Native history, knowledge, artistry, and literature. But most pertinent to archivists, librarians, and curators are the author’s thoughtful and insightful perspectives on Native American stories and narratives, many of which were compiled by ethnographers and others, that are now part of archival collections of ethnographic field notes, government reports, and scholarly writings. Vizenor points out that the scholarly processes of transcription, translation, and interpretation, which fix otherwise mutable stories of creation, trickster tales, dream songs, and other oral traditions, often miss the ironies expressed in those stories. Thus, scholars have frequently betrayed or ignored Native cultural creativity and agency. Western knowledge about Native cultures is thus based on inferior and inaccurate depiction of Indigenous oral traditions.

Vizenor deftly wields charged and evocative new terms that those of us less familiar with Native Studies might find challenging. For instance, survivance, victimry, and transmotion are interrelated terms that are deployed throughout the book, which are used to expand and challenge depictions of Native sovereignty, persistence, and resistance in archival and scholarly sources. He claims, “Survivance creates an actual sense of native presence over absence, over nihility, and denies the reductive themes of victimry that are all too common in journalism and popular literature” (31). Here, Vizenor confronts the tired and hoary characterizations of Native communities as victims under threat of extinction; instead, he shows that these communities are fully capable of exercising agency and self-determination. Transmotion is a concept he uses to interpret movement and motion in sacred objects, stories, art, and literature to uncover the continuing presence and survivance of Native Americans. These concepts may be useful to stewards of Native collections, especially in terms of applying the principle of provenance and contextualizing access and uses of Indigenous archives. Additionally, these ideas may be helpful for archivists to work with and understand the perspectives and motivations of Native users who may want to access and use archival materials.

From an archivist’s point of view, Vizenor’s definition of provenance is most poetic: “Native provenance is visionary and ceremonial, more than the history of ownership and custody” (137). This idea helps to expand and to reclaim provenance as a concept beyond the European definitions centered on collecting, which we generally assume in the field. This concept would make archives more vibrant, perhaps connected to the visions and ceremonies that, for Vizenor, are the very sources of the actual creation of traditional objects, artistic works and literary expressions. Indeed, this book contains ideas that will expand our understandings and perspectives on the knowledge embedded within archival sources. Native Provenance introduces new and useful concepts that we can employ to appreciate the complexity of Native American archival materials.—Ricardo L. Punzalan, University of Maryland, College Park



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