JACK WEATHERFORD is not an American Indian. He doesn't even
consider himself to be a scholar of Indians.
But this Macalester College anthropology professor has become a
sort of intellectual cult hero for those who feel that native
Americans have been ignored by people in the United States and
What Dr. Weatherford is saying - and what he has said for the
past three years - is that American Indians played an important
role in creating the world's economic, political, and agricultural
systems. His 1988 book, "Indian Givers: How the Indians of the
Americas Transformed the World," sold more than 100,000 copies. And
with the publication last month of his latest book, "Native Roots:
How the Indians Enriched America," Weatherford continues to promote
the achievements of Indians.
In a recent interview in his college office in St. Paul,
Weatherford recalled that he first became interested in Indian
culture in 1976 while working on his PhD in Germany, where he was
studying the technological history and social organization of the
village of Kahl, near Frankfurt.
"I was surprised at the impact of Indian crops on this village -
of potatoes, corn, and cotton. Even though I was born in South
Carolina on a very small farm where we grew cotton and tobacco as
cash crops, I had specialized in European culture and civilization.
And suddenly, when I was in Germany, I realized I knew nothing of
my own world," he says, glancing at one of the three large world
maps on his office walls. "I didn't even know that cotton was an
"When I got back to the States I wanted to read a book about the
influence of Indians on the world. But the book wasn't in the
library," Weatherford says. "When I couldn't find the book, I wrote
Weatherford says that despite the many contributions Indians
have made to US and world cultures, relatively little literature
has been produced by native Americans. But he maintains that the
reason for this apparent lack of creativity is easy to understand.
"By living in isolated areas, Indians are the least urban of all
Americans. They thus have little access to the media," Weatherford
says. "This rural concentration makes it impossible for them to
have the access they need to be productive writers," he adds.
Weatherford sees a "renaissance" of interest in Indians. This
rebirth has occurred in just the past few years, and is unlike the
previous interest in Indians throughout the 1970s and early '80s,
where much of the writing about native Americans was politically
oriented, often stressing only "the horrible damage being
inflicted" on Indians. …