Academic journal article Western Folklore

Standing Ground: Yurok Indian Spirituality, 1850-1990

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Standing Ground: Yurok Indian Spirituality, 1850-1990

Article excerpt

Standing Ground: Yurok Indian Spirituality, 1850-1990. By Thomas Buckley. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Pp. xii + 325, acknowledgments, introduction, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95 cloth, $18.95 paper)

Thomas Buckley set out to make Standing Ground a different kind of scholarly anthropological book. He insists in the introduction that this book is about relationships, dialogue, stories and their tellers. The typical reference-laden, theory-bound, technical approach will be discarded in favor of one that foregrounds people and their interactions with each other. Unabashedly descriptive, interpretive, and even transcriptional, Standing Ground offers a refreshingly human look at the Yurok people and their worldviews.

Central to this approach is the author's relationship with the Yurok people. Buckley is not Yurok, but he lived for many years in the Klamath River region and came to know many of the Yurok people as friends. The classic scenario here would be that he was adopted by a Yurok elder and trained in Yurok ways, but even here Buckley stretches the standard tropes. Adopted, yes-by Harry K. Roberts, who became Buckley's uncle by agreement. But Roberts wasn't Yurok either. Roberts was a non-Indian man who was raised in Yurok ways by Robert Spott, a Yurok man who was adopted by Captain Spott, also Yurok, and raised to be his heir. This convoluted lineage underscores two important statements offered by this book. The first is that culture is passed from mind to mind, from heart to heart, and from soul to soul-not from platelet to platelet. Blood quantum and other biological measures do trigger social and cultural responses regarding access to information and traditions, but they do not add validation to one's culture any more than they can detract from it. Buckley offers his view of Yurok spirituality on the basis of his own familiarity with the practices, beliefs, and relationships of the Yurok people he knows well. Readers are invited to accept his position of authority or not, but he does not attempt to overstate his claim.

The second important statement of this book is that insider and outsider vantage points do not automatically bring with them clear advantages or disadvantages. Is Buckley an outsider because he is not Yurok? To some degree, yes. Is he an insider because he learned about Yurok ways from Roberts? To some degree, yes. Once again, readers are invited to evaluate Buckley's interpretations with something other than a simplistic understanding of his relationship to Yurok culture. …

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