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Book Report: Telling quotes humanizes this story

Julie L. Davis, professor of history at the College of St. Benedict and St John’s University, has a done a masterful work of scholarship in “Survival Schools: The American Indian Movement and Community Education in the Twin Cities” (University of Minnesota Press, $22.95 paper). 

It’s a story of how Indian leaders conceived of creating their own schools to help students reclaim their heritage after years of government and educational agencies trying to whip it out of them.

It’s a scholarly work, with a long bibliography, but it’s also human. Davis isn’t afraid to quote controversial figures that tend to make the reader’s blood boil when reading quotations from leaders like Dennis Banks:

“I began to hate myself for being Indian…My white teachers (at the Indian Boarding School) and their books taught me to despise my own people. White history became my history because there was no other.  When they took us once a week to the movies…I cheered for Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and General Custer. I sided with the cavalry cutting down the Indians. In my fantasies I was John Wayne rescuing the settlers from ‘red fiends.’ I dreamed of being a cowboy.”

Or Banks’s associate Clyde Bellecourt:

“(At her boarding school) my mom was actually crippled for life, because when they caught her speaking Indian, she would have to scrub floors all day on her hands and knees with a toothbrush and a bucket of water…and toward the end they actually tied sacks of marbles to her knees, and made her do that and that crippled her for the rest of her life. (She told him to) forget about the past. Go to school, learn English, someday you might be president.”

And out of this cauldron of grief was born schools like Heart of the Earth and the Little Red School House, which taught its students to honor their heritage.


It hardly seems possible, but I guess that’s the price one pays for getting old. “Jaws,” by Peter Benchley has just been re-issued by Ballantine, ($15, paper) on the 40th anniversary of its appearance.

It’s more fun than the movie, which Benchley, the grandson of humorist Robert Benchley, had reservations about. In an afterword these reservations are recalled in Benchley’s letters to producer David Brown.

Also in the afterword is the brainstorm list cooked up to give the novel its title. Here are a few losers: “The Shark of Shimmo,” “The Grinning Fish,” “Adrenalin,” “Ripple,” and “Off the Beach.”

I sort of liked “The Grinning Fish,” because I was grinning when the shark finally ate Robert Shaw for overacting.


Speaking of wildlife, here’s a handsome volume that should reside in every traveling nature lover’s glove compartment.

It’s “Travel Wild Wisconsin,” by Candice Gaukel Andrews (University of Wisconsin Press, $24.95 paper).

Andrews explains that she never got to travel very far from her childhood home in Wisconsin because her father had enough of travel on his way to the D-Day invasion in France. Subsequently, she became a travel writer and journeyed to the four corners of the earth.

Today, she lives in Sun Prairie, and has learned there’s a lot to look at in her native state, including wildlife. The book is chockfull of pictures of bald eagles, prehistoric fish like sturgeon, prairie chickens, gray wolves and where you can go looking for them.

Some displays are near big cities, others one can encounter up north. I’m an idiot when it comes to Badgerland fauna, but was happy to find my old neighborhood along the Upper Mississippi is swarming with Tundra Swans, where to look for them, when to look for them and how to look for them.

I’d also travel a bit further afield to watch the species Acipenser fulvescens spawning near the dam at Shawano Dam. For you tenderfeet that’s a sturgeon, a monster from prehistory.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 715-426-9544.