Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues

By Smith, J. Christina | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues


Smith, J. Christina, Reference & User Services Quarterly


Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues. Ed. by Steven Danver. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2013. 3 vols. alkaline $349 (ISBN 978-0-7656-8222-2).

Our planet is home to more than 5,000 indigenous peoples, according to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA). Some 450 tribal groups live in India (622), while Papua New Guinea is home to speakers of 800 mutually unintelligible languages (656). To begin to sort out this cultural complexity, there is Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues, which profiles 394 native groups, seventy-nine countries, and forty-nine contemporary issues affecting indigenous groups worldwide. The 150 contributors to this work include an international roster of academic and independent scholars.

Brief synoptic essays on native groups, "their cultures, their histories, and their current status" (xix) comprise the first two volumes of this three-volume set. Essays are alphabetical, within six alphabetically arranged regions. Thus, "Central and South America" and "North America" are in different volumes. Signed introductory essays of five to seven pages in length preface each regional section. The signed articles average one to two pages in length, with an occasional longer essay, such as the four-page entry on the "Han" (Chinese). Articles conclude with brief bibliographies of books, journal articles, and an occasional web site. There is inconsistency in the currency of some articles and in the currency and depth of some of the bibliographies.

The third volume contains "Countries," "Contemporary Issues," and "Documents" sections. The "Countries" section includes seventy-seven alphabetically arranged articles on seventy-nine countries. In contrast, the United Nations has 193 member states. Terse essays range from a single page article on "Philippines" to seven pages on "China." These articles include "an evaluation of the historical and current importance of the nations profiled in terms of their relationships with their native populations" (xx). Other than Russia, Eastern Europe is unrepresented in the "Countries" section, although "Bosniaks," "Slovaks," and other Eastern European indigenous groups are profiled in the "Groups" section. The third volume also includes forty-nine essays on contemporary issues affecting native peoples. Longer than the articles on individual peoples and countries, these essays address global issues such as "Colonialism," "Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations," and "Water Rights. …

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