UT professor’s classic book brings Iroquois history to life

. June 1, 2017.

“In Native American circles, it is traditional for the grandparents to tell the ‘rising generations,’ their grandchildren, tales of the Old Times. When a child is ready to learn, she will come to a trusted Elder, respectfully requesting that Elder to tell her of times past.” –Barbara Alice Mann, PhD, introduction to “Land of the Three Miamis”. 

Over a decade ago, University of Toledo Press began to compile a collection of works dedicated to the histories of various ethnic groups in the Toledo area. Dr. Thomas Barden, director of UT Press, wanted to include a book about the area’s Indigenous people, so he approached Dr. Barbara Alice Mann, UT associate professor, whose volumes of work on Native American history are widely respected.

“At first, in full historian-mode, I was planning to use research, footnotes, and a bibliography, but Tom wanted just a recital of oral traditions. Thus, I wrote up the traditions that applied to this area,” Mann explained.

Passing along history

The end result, “Land of the Three Miamis,” is a fascinating and engrossing read, as Mann adopts the voice of an Iroquois elder, passing along the history of their culture to her granddaughter. Though it has the feel of an incredibly personal tome, in contrast to her previous scholarly work, Mann said the structure and language of the book came quite naturally.

“It was no challenge at all,” Mann said. “In fact, one of my first books (‘Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas’ [New York: Lang, 2000]) was done in this style, and it became one of the publisher’s most successful books, so I knew already that it worked, although in ‘Gantowisas,’ I did, indeed, use endnotes and a bibliography.”

The book tells the history of the Iroquois people from the dawn of time through present day, though as Mann herself notes, the nature of these traditional narratives is complicated. Beyond the heavily gendered roles in Iroquois verbal traditions, meaning there are different variations on these histories for both men and women, the most dramatic impact on the cultural history was caused by the invasion of European settlers. (Mann minces no words in referring to it as genocide.)

Too many Indigenous people today fall into the Western trap of thinking that there is only one ‘right’ version of tradition, with any other version debased or downright fraudulent, whereas the actual Indigenous attitude is that all versions of tradition are simultaneously true.”

Out loud, again

The end result of “Land of the Three Miamis” is a work that remains engaging and important, and stands as part of a growing interest in the passing of Native American traditions — which, Mann noted, were actually outlawed in America until the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act in 1978.

“Once it became legal again for American Indians to claim and tell their own traditions, a lot of people who knew them in whispers started telling them out loud, again,” she said.

For more information on “Land of the Three Miamis,” to read a preview or order a copy, visit: http://www.utoledopress.com/Land_of_Three_Miamis.html