Exploring Government Publications for Native American Heritage Month

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we here at Government Publications wanted to take some time to showcase a few documents pertaining to Native American culture. All of these items are currently available for check-out and can be found here in McWherter Library in the Government Publications department!

Written by Benjamin Clanton:

  1. The Smithsonian Institute and the Handbook of North American Indians

The Smithsonian Institute has provided a rich variety of resources that would be helpful in the historical and anthropological study of Native American tribes in North America. Perhaps the best example of their work is the Handbook of North American Indians, a multivolume encyclopedia covering a myriad of topics and fields of study. Spearheaded by ethnologist and anthropologist William Sturtevant, this proposed 20 volume work began publication in 1978 as a hope to replace other outdated studies. Sadly, the project has yet to reach completion, due largely to the combination of funding issues and the death of Sturtevant in 2007. Nonetheless, this exhaustive synthesis of Native American studies is an impressive collaboration between renowned historians, anthropologists, and linguists, among others. Growing up in Mississippi, I have always had an interest in the tribes of the Southeast such as the Choctaw, Creek, and Cherokee; this made Volume 14 on North America’s Southeast region of special interest. Like the other volumes exploring specific regions, it does a wonderful job covering studies on prehistory up to modern day, while also discussing the progression of research on Native American studies over the years. Other volumes dedicate themselves to general topics such as languages, contemporary society, and the complex history of Indian-white relations. Though incomplete overall, the individual volumes that are accessible would provide a wonderful complementary piece or starting point for Native American research of almost any kind.

2. Archeology of the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior

Government Publications has received a number of interesting documents that highlight the efforts of the National Park Service in the study and preservation of Native American ruins that date back to before European contact. In the eastern United States, ceremonial and burial mounds of the Mississippi River Valley have intrigued historians, archaeologists, and visitors alike for years. One, the massive Emerald Mound, is located on the Natchez Trace near Natchez, Mississippi, and is truly impressive to behold. Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa is located directly on the Mississippi River and contains a variety of unique structures, some of which are shaped like animals. In a study by the NPS titled Woodland Complexes in Northeastern Iowa, archaeologists provided an overview of their findings concerning the mounds and artifacts located there in hopes of better understanding a Native American culture that left no written records. In the western part of the country, national monuments such as Casa Grande, a large ancient building in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, and the cliff dwellings of such locations as Tonto, Montezuma Castle, and the Gila Wilderness offer a glimpse  of the highly developed cultures of the Southwest that predated European exploration. The efforts of the Department of the Interior, and the National Park Service in particular, to present knowledge to the American public concerning the rich lineage of Native Americans in North America is a valuable resource to our nation’s heritage.

Written by Meghan Campbell:

3. The Bureau of American Ethnology and The Horse in Blackfoot Culture

Produced by the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnology, The Horse in Blackfoot Culture suits the needs and satisfies the curiosities of those who are interested in seeing the progression of the Blackfoot tribe’s culture as horses were integrated into their everyday lives. This document provides an in-depth look at Blackfoot life, how they cared for and valued their horses, bred them, used them for travel, and even how they constructed riding gear for long-term use. This book also contains photographs and illustrations to give the reader a visual of how innovative the Blackfeet were with their equipment designs, as well as giving a glimpse into life back in the 1800-1900s. Horses helped maximize the potential for trade,  rituals, medicinal practices, and everyday entertainment. These animals profoundly changed the way this tribe managed day-to-day life, and this document provides a detailed and interesting look into how. As a horse person myself, this gave me insight as to how important horses were, and how their rise in prominence really altered daily life for the Blackfoot.

4. Guide to the Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians

In addition to these other titles, the Guide to the Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians is a 412 page resource that provides a substantial catalog of entries that describe different records involving different Native American territories, national boards and government agencies (e.g. Board of Indian Commissioners, Office of the Secretary of the Interior, National Park Service etc.). In addition to this, the histories of the records mentioned in this book as well as the locations and accessibility factors of these records are outlined in many entries throughout this book. This resource would make an excellent research companion for anyone who wanted to locate potential primary sources or their reproductions for a first-hand historical perspective on differing events in America’s earlier history. An important section in this guide also outlines the various locations and descriptions of Indian Boarding Schools as well as the probable outcome of the records maintained at each. This document would provide anyone looking to do research in this area of study with a wonderful listing of different resources of important historical value.


We invite and hope you will take advantage of these wonderful resources for your research, both personal and academic not only this month, but every month!

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