Reviews



(Received June 2012)
A review from
Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology
by Tony Platt

Get beyond the cutesy title and you’ll find a book that wants to be taken seriously.

Independent journalist Catherine Robbins is to be commended for taking on what most anthropologists shun: an assessment of the current state of Native American
politics, economics, and culture. Later this year, we will get the results of the first United Nations’ investigation of American compliance with standards embodied in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Some of the same subject matter is covered in All Indians, an exploration of “contemporary American Indians and how modernity and a restorative vision of the past have generated a new energy among them.”

All Indians is written in a brisk, readable style and is framed around detailed vignettes of everyday life. By aiming her book at uninformed “non-Indians” who think of Native Americans as either getting fat off casinos or being stuck in the uncivilized past, Robbins sets the intellectual bar pretty low. But despite her disclaimer that “readers might find that information is sometimes wanting or insufficient,” footnotes and a bibliographic
essay promise something more than anthro-lite.

It’s an ambitious book, organized into self-contained chapters on the status of post-NAGPRA repatriation; the place of homelands in the native imagination; the social and personal ravages of inequality; battles over science and cultural beliefs; sovereignty and gaming issues; and cultural renewal in ceremonies, music, and the arts. Robbins’ ground-level reporting on a repatriation ceremony in Pecos, the annual Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, the art scene in Santa Fe, and hybrid Christmas ceremonies in San Felipe Pueblo is sharply observed, textured, and evocative.

Robbins doesn’t shy away from such disturbing topics as historical injustice, harrowing poverty, alcohol and sexual abuse, high dropout and suicide rates, alarming health problems, and “hard evidence of despair.” But that’s not her main focus. There’s a persistently hopeful thread running through the book, emphasizing a “spirit of collaboration across Indian country” and the renewal of Native Americans as “weavers of their destiny.”

The author’s insistence on wanting to tell a positive story sometimes gets in the way of offering a more complicated and contradictory analysis. For example, she focuses on NAGPRA as a means of cultural recovery, and sidesteps how the promising legislation has become mired in bureaucratic wrangling and is a source of immense frustration to tribes and native communities. Similarly, Robbins welcomes the Smithsonian’s National
Museum of the American Indian as a high point in “Native cultural expression,” but minimizes its failure to adequately deal with the destruction by disease, warfare,
massacres, starvation, and humiliation experienced by three-quarters of the indigenous peoples of the continent.

The book opens with a map of the United States that gives an impression that Robbins’ scope is far ranging. But All Indians primarily focuses on the Southwest, especially New Mexico, the site of the author’s home for many years. Here, writing from personal experiences, she has a sure-footed feel for place and people. However, when the book moves on to other regions and national issues, it loses traction.

Vol. 32, No. 1, 2012
Tony Platt is in the Department of Justice Studies,
San Jose State University, California


A long interview from Real Change, Seattle
Feb. 1-7, 2012
Indian 2.0
Author Catherine C. Robbins explains why white Americans must upgrade their perceptions of Native American culture

By Mike Wold


Probably not that many Real Change readers know about the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which passed Congress in 1990. But in 1999, when remains of nearly 2,000 bodies were returned to Jemez/​Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico, mostly from Harvard University, Cathy Robbins, who has covered Native American issues for the last 30 years, saw a deeper significance in the event. She uses it as a central metaphor in her new book, “All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos)” (University of Nebraska Press, $26.95). As Robbins put it, “American Indians collect memories ripped out of their communities, bring them into the present, and use them to shape the future. … Repatriation has expanded the significance of sovereignty … as a basic desire to be and to live as one wishes, a longing for a place on the land and in the cosmos.”

Your book uses repatriation as a metaphor for the general cultural and economic revival of Native American tribes. Is it a spiritual revival as well?

I rarely use the word “spiritual” because that’s one of the things we want Indians to be, wearing their moccasins out in the forest and hugging trees, doing all these great environmental things. But they built a Skywalk over the Grand Canyon and they wanted to put a casino in the Columbia Gorge. Native science might have developed over a thousand years. It’s different from Western science. But it’s hard, practical stuff. Indians are very practical people. Yeah, they have a spiritual side. So what? That’s not all that there is to them.


White Americans often seem to think that Native peoples are not being authentic if they use modern ideas or technology.

In my chapter on the arts, one of the artists [Joanna Bigfeather] says, “We demand to be seen as contemporary people.” They’re modern, and they always have been.

When the Spaniards brought sheep, the Navajos learned how to take the wool and weave fabulous artworks that are in museums now. Obviously, they made the blankets for practical purposes, but they learned that they could sell. The same thing with the horse: The horse was a new technology. The Plains Indians learned to use the horse in ways that American cavalry couldn’t touch. The one thing that the Army was afraid of was the Indian mounted on horseback with a rifle.

We want to put them in a pickle jar, put them on the shelf, and then they’ll never change. That’s not going to happen. I love putting on my Navajo storyteller bracelet; I can look at it and see all the familiar symbols of the reservation: the hogan [a traditional Navajo home], the corn stalks, the horses, the wagons, and there’s even an outhouse. But this is very traditional stuff. There are [American Indian] artists who are way on the cutting edge of art — that propels all of us forward.

In Portland, at the talk I gave, I had the director of the Indian Education Project at Portland Public Schools on with a 16-year-old kid who was Navajo and Paiute. These kids, as they gather the ancestors, are reaching back into incredible cultural assets in science, in communication, in medicine, and they’re bringing them into the present. It’s not nostalgia for the past, it’s not sentimental.

The Forest Service is bringing the Indians into forest management. When the Forest Service tried to do a controlled burn in northern New Mexico a few years ago, they almost burned down Los Alamos labs. When you burn when you haven’t had a fire in the forest for 30 years — that’s not the way the Indians did it. It’s not just controlled burn, it’s a whole protocol.


So, you’re saying, it’s not a different kind of science. It’s things that our science hasn’t gotten to, that Indians already know about.

They join it with Western science. So many Native Americans have illnesses and conditions that are strictly lifestyle: obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, domestic violence — these are actual diseases and conditions that are happening because white culture has impinged on their Native culture. So what the healers are doing is using Native culture to help patients to get off junk food and into their traditional diets. I really worry that mainstream Americans will see this as some kind of nostalgia bit, and it isn’t. What we get out of it is another way of looking at healing and taking care of the body and the soul.


How would that work in terms of alcoholism or domestic violence?

There are clinics in which traditional healers work with Native substance abusers and use healing ceremonies. The clinic in Gallup [in New Mexico] has gotten awards because it’s been very effective. The White Bison program is sort of a 12-step, but with Native metaphors and stories and methods. These are traditional Indians who are doing this, not physicians.

The other part that seems absolutely intractable is the appearance, for example, on the Navajo Reservation of methamphetamine — it’s a scourge. And that is a symptom of the breakdown of the traditional social support system on the Navajo Reservation — the kinship system, which isn’t just the nuclear family: It’s mother, father, uncles, aunts, grandparents, elders and then the extended tribe.


That leads me to think about urban Indians — Native Americans in Seattle that are from Arizona or Dakota or wherever. How does that sort out?

It’s not sorting out: There are pathologies in Indian Country. For urban Indians who come in from the reservation, for the kids or the children, it’s total culture shock. Again, there’s a breakdown of the traditional kinship system; the kids end up wearing baggy pants and hip-hop stuff, which has no connection to their culture, but because they’ve lost so much, they’re latching on to something else. And the healthcare system for urban Indians — [George W.] Bush tried to wipe out all Indian health care. That has stopped. Obama has restored and increased it. It’s still woefully inadequate.

There’s a terrible misconception white Americans have that Indians are sitting back and raking in the dough. Indians paid for health care and education with their land and their blood. The amount of Indian land before contact was all of the contiguous United States. The amount of land that’s left is about the size of the state of Minnesota. That [land] is what we’re paying for when we fund health care or scholarships for Indian college students.


Still, as a first generation Italian American writing about American Indians, you have an interesting perspective on Columbus.

In San Francisco I was asked to speak to a high school class on Columbus Day. There were a lot of seniors raging against Columbus. I said, “Columbus wasn’t like Jean-Luc Picard on the Starship Enterprise. He didn’t have the Prime Directive.” And the guys just immediately connected. The Prime Directive is about non-interference with other cultures, especially cultures of a lesser technology. Columbus had just the opposite. His objective was to conquer, convert, capitalize and sometimes kill.

More recently, a new book came out on the hundred horrible things in history. The New York Times had a chart of the greatest slaughters of all time. Genghis Khan slaughtered 11 percent of the globe’s population in 20 years. The conquest of the Americas took an estimated 15 million lives over about 200 years. This is not to say that the conquest of the Americas was nothing. It was absolutely genocide, but let’s get a grip on this. Columbus was brought back to Spain because of his cruelty and his avarice. So there are nuances here. For the victims, of course, there are no nuances; they were beaten to death and starved to death.

And forget about this business of Columbus being Italian. [Giovanni da] Verrazano was Italian. He never beat anybody. He sailed up New York Harbor and was just amazed at the Native people who lived there. The first explorers would describe the Indians as strong and handsome people, beautiful people, whose skins were vibrant. It was later, when we got greedy, we needed the gold fields, we needed the timber, we needed the grazing lands or land for settlers, that’s when they became savages or whatever we wanted them to be to get rid of them.


A lot of the money tribes are getting today comes from casinos. In the book you seem ambivalent about that.

I don’t like casinos, period. But I have also seen what the money has done if it’s used properly. I was taking a visitor up to Acoma when I was living in New Mexico, a muckamuck [a high-ranking official] from a European government. We met with the governor and a couple of members of the tribal council, and I asked one of the tribal councilmen, “What are you doing with your casino money?” He said, “The first thing we did was put in a sewer system.” You can’t deny that this casino is doing a lot of good.

The Sycuans down in San Diego County built a community college. They have a preschool and an early childhood education facility, to which surrounding white kids go. These are out in the boonies in San Diego County, not in the city. They’ve restored a great old hotel, they’ve bankrolled the San Diego Symphony. The money’s good.

There have been situations that have been quite ugly, where there’s been talk of disenrolling members. For those tribes that are giving money back monthly to their members, the fewer members you have, the more money those members get. But that’s so rare — it’s not happening on a grand scale.


Then you think Indian casinos are here to stay?

Yeah, but I think it’s muted; the casino business is bad all over. The Sycuans have even pulled back on some of the stuff they’re doing. The Navajos have voted twice to reject casinos, but the tribal council did an endrun on the vote. A lot of tribes don’t have casinos in part because they’re so isolated. Who’s going to come to your casino if you’re a hundred miles from the nearest highway?


That brings up the contemporary conflicts within tribes. I was really taken by your story about the Navajo zoo, where two traditional women reported “a sighting of Holy People – sacred deities – who had issued a warning … that the Diné were not living according to tradition and that they were upsetting the natural order by keeping animals caged in the zoo. … Some tribal members pressed for the zoo’s closure … letters about the zoo began to arrive … from children wanting it to stay open … In the end, the Navajo Nation kept the zoo open … Its website … explains that animals in the zoo cannot be returned to the wild because either they are injured or they came as orphans.”

That was one of my favorite stories, because that also taught me it’s not about conflict, it’s not past versus present, not traditional versus modern. It’s people living on that entire continuum. The [Navajo] kids want the zoo. They want to learn about the animals. They’ve got science classes at the reservation school. And the traditional people have their agenda.

What was great was [Director of the Center for Diné Studies] Harry Walters’ response: In Western society, when somebody has a vision of the tortilla with Christ’s face or seeing the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, the first reaction is “they’re nuts.” Navajos don’t do that. They say, “Well, what is the message here?” It’s not that people are crazy, it’s reflecting some incredible stress that they’re feeling. The unemployment rate’s 50 percent, the gangs are showing up, the kinship system’s breaking down, young people are leaving the reservation, Bill Gates has wired the reservation so there are computers everywhere, and the kids’ parents are saying, “Our kids have these growths in their ears.” Harry said, “We’re experiencing a culture shock.” That gave this difficult dispute a much greater significance.

Just down the road are the Zunis, who are doing just the opposite: They’re caging birds — of course, these birds can’t fly. The Zunis aren’t really Christianized, they’re deeply traditional, but they still were able to do this project that brought together their tradition of bird husbandry and science.


This was the project to raise eagles that had been injured and were “nonreleasable,” so they could gather sacred feathers without going through a long bureaucratic process.

The eagles molt and they [the Zunis] get their feathers. It solved a problem they had. They use modern methods of eagle husbandry, but they [raised eagles] long before any European contact.


What do you see as the future of these cultures within the American melting pot? Or do we need a different metaphor?

They are not a subculture. They are not an ethnic minority. They are a protected group in the sense that the treaties that we signed with them protect them. They’re in the Constitution as sovereign entities. So there has to be a different way of looking at Native Americans. They are modern people.

This young 16-year-old I talked about who won the National Indian Association speech contest got up and talked about how much she had learned in programs in her school that had nothing to do with her culture: geography, sports camps, whatever.

But every summer she went to the Navajo Reservation to visit her grandparents. Whenever there was a meeting of elders on the Navajo Reservation, she made sure she went and listened so that she understood what elements of her culture she was bringing back into her life. She said, “It makes my brain strong” or “my brain gets stronger.” She said it a couple of different ways. I wish I’d been able to say something that wise at the age of 16 or 17.

That’s the future I hope for. “Making my brain strong,” not [just] because she’s going to go to University of Oregon or Portland State or whatever, but because she’s going to learn from her Navajo and Paiute families and put all that together.

You saw in the book the “think Indian” ad campaign. Wieden+Kennedy is the company that does that pro bono. If you’ve never seen the ads, they’re brilliant. They’re in the New York Times, they’re in the New Yorker and other national magazines. There’s a girl learning to do rebars out of Native woods. They had another one about five years ago: “Have you ever met a real Indian?” Same idea, full-page ad or quarter-page ad in the Times. They’d have a picture of Lori Alvord, the Navajo surgeon, then there was a picture of a man who was a federal judge.

These people are not turning their backs on their cultures. This is what we expected them to do 60 years ago. That’s what termination and relocation were: to shatter those cultures, obliterate them by breaking up reservations and scattering people to the winds. That’s not happening and that’s great.

There is a good future, but we and the rest of the country have to allow that future to happen.

A review from High Country News
Searching for the truth about American Indians: A review of All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos)

by Cherie Newman

"This is a personal book," Catherine C. Robbins writes in the preface to All Indians Do Not Live In Teepees (or Casinos), a collection of her journalistic essays. Robbins is not Indian, but she is also "not an Indian wannabe," she says, and is "neither 'going native' nor finding salvation in Indian life." Rather, her goal is to document the mistreatment of American Indians -- something she often witnessed during 25 years as a journalist -- while revealing how contemporary Natives are generating new energy and vision from their turbulent past. Robbins does more than simply report facts; she provides cultural commentary through her personal experiences, and infuses present-day events with well-researched historical context.

Robbins focuses largely on the tribes based in her home territory, the Southwestern United States. She begins with a detailed account of an eight-year repatriation process that ended in 1999, when Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology returned 2,000 ancestral remains and artifacts to the Jemez/​Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico. According to Robbins, that repatriation "united and strengthened" the Pueblo people and inspired other tribes to make formal requests for the return of artifacts. Another chapter chronicles the brouhaha over a zoo on the Navajo Reservation. Some tribal members viewed caging wild animals as a violation of their sacred relationship with nature, while others envisioned the zoo as a teaching facility for students. "Tribal members," Robbins writes, "debate about the proper proportion of traditional to modern as noisily as classical philosophers in Athens might have argued their own issues."

No single book can do more than scratch the surface of the complex contemporary lives of Native peoples. But Robbins has helpfully provided nearly 60 pages of detailed notes, along with useful lists of books, places and websites -- a plethora of resources readily available to anyone willing to look beyond the popular culture's stereotypes of American Indians.
© High Country News
Feb. 6, 2012


Not quite a review--from the San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 5, 2012:

Cathy Robbins: Setting story straight on Indians
Louis Peitzman, Special to The Chronicle

For many of us, learning about American Indian culture ended in elementary school. Our knowledge is limited, which is part of why journalist Cathy Robbins wrote All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos).

While working as a reporter, Robbins uncovered the stories of a diverse group of American Indians - reflecting a culture that was far more expansive and influential than our pop-cultural perception.

"In the words of Acoma writer Simon Ortiz, I was 'pissed off' by what I saw," Robbins says. "He also said you have to get beyond anger. So I wrote this book."

Much of Robbins' research began when she was working as a freelance journalist; she reported on politics, business and the arts. It wasn't until later, when she was organizing her story files and notebooks, that she realized she wanted to write "All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees."

"I noticed a significant number (of stories) about Indians," she says, "and began considering a book."

Although her work was eclectic, Robbins had a strong connection to the articles she wrote about American Indians. She was particularly moved by a story she wrote for the New York Times on Harvard's returning of 2,000 bodies to the Pueblo people.

"I saw that repatriation goes beyond remains and artifacts," Robbins says. "Indians are also gathering their memories and their cultures and using them to energize their communities for the future."

And while even those of us less educated about Indian culture than Robbins know there is more to it than the stereotypes on display in old Westerns, there is still much to be learned. Not to mention all that must be unlearned - a history of cultural misunderstanding.

It "grows out of our historical desire to define Indians on our terms," Robbins says. "Indians were savages, so we had to convert them, kidnap their children for boarding schools, and sometimes exterminate them."
We have a different conception now, but it's one that is still reductive and damaging.

"Nowadays, (Indians) are postcolonial heroes, tree huggers or casino thugs," Robbins says. "We appropriate their identities for university curricula, tourism and political campaigns."

While Robbins says she hopes her book helps combat these misconceptions, she would like to see a more dramatic change in our understanding of American Indians and their influence on those of us outside their culture.

"I hope readers go beyond just jettisoning stereotypes," she says. "Over several millennia, Indians have developed valuable databases, and they demand to be seen as contemporary people. We can respect that."

6 p.m. Sun. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. www.bookpassage.com.



Publishers Weekly

Journalist Robbins creates a collage of the prospects and problems faced by Native Americans in this sharp, readable blend of history, cultural commentary, and advocacy. She straddles past and present, moving from recounting her longtime friendship with an activist to the story of the activist’s father, one of the famed Navajo code makers of WWII, and on to the present generation’s proud reclaiming of their native tongue. Later sections explore efforts to get Native American parents more involved in their children’s education in the context of the devastating legacy of American and Canadian policy of forcibly removing Native American children from their homes to attend Christian schools to speed the process of eradicating indigenous languages, religions, and traditions. It has only recently come to light that along with assimilation, children at the schools were often subjected to torture, molestation, and abuse. Other essays showcase the proliferation of aboriginal art and ceremonies against the continuing alienation and discrimination that plagues American Indians as a group. While the book may not give much detail to specific historical events, it offers a fine survey of a marginalized but resilient people. As one of Robbins’s subjects says, “We’re probably the most adaptable people in the country.” As an illustration of modern Native American life, it effortlessly depicts politics, culture, and pride; as a first book it is a marvel. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/​12/​2011


Indian Country Today
Enough with the ‘Teepees’ Already!
Book Review and Interview


The term "Indian" lumps together members of myriad tribes with different languages, backgrounds, locations, spiritual beliefs and governments just to simplify matters for non-Indians.

But Catherine C. Robbins, a non-Indian herself, attempts to educate the masses about the complex issues that tribes confront today in All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos), (University of Nebraska Press, 2011). She details how the struggle to preserve a heritage while navigating the technological advances of the 21st century yields both significant success and dazzling failure.

Her description of the 1999 repatriation of 2,000 Pecos and Jemez remains to their ancestral lands, for example, shows a step in the right direction for U.S.–Indian relations. It also highlights the centuries–old disrespect toward Indians, given that archaeologists used Indian burial sites to evolve their science.

Robbins discusses how the non-Indian public, especially the U.S. government, overlooks the significance of tribal governments, often seeing them as more akin to developing-world dictatorships than as the democratic institutions that they are. While the book’s details sometimes overpower the message and drag down the subject matter, the triumphs of a person or a tribe emerge to pull the story back together.

Robbins’s ability to take the all-encompassing term Indian, once used to stereotype a myriad of peoples, and show it not as a limiting factor but as describing a larger brotherhood, is inspiring. The capacity of artists and journalists from various tribes to form alliances and bring the Indian voice to the non-Indian public is a monumental step forward in understanding today’s Indian country.

She takes a different tack than Alison Owings does in Indian Voices, which ICTMN excerpted earlier this year. But both do something of a send-up of how the so-called mainstream perceives American Indians.
___________________________
A surprising number of misconceptions still surround Indians. Journalist and author Catherine C. Robbins talks about what Indians are, are not, and how to bridge the perception gap.

Do you feel the U.S. government’s view and treatment of Indians is mirrored by the public or vice versa?
Most non-Indian Americans are generally clueless about Indian issues until someone has a land claim (like the Shinnecocks on Long Island); builds something in the Grand Canyon (the Hualapai Nation’s Skywalk); or wants a casino (fill in the tribal name). Many believe that Indians are just hanging around the reservation raking in gaming dough or waiting for “welfare” checks. They don’t know about the origins of gaming or that Indians paid for health care, education, etc. with their lands. As for the government, the picture is mixed in all three branches. Congress finally passed and President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act in 2010, after nearly a decade of work, and the Cobell suit dragged through several presidencies. The Supreme Court has cut deeply into sovereignty. No one—neither the public nor the government—wants to address outrages like the crisis in Indian health adequately. In a sense, the government and the public are in sync. They prefer that Indians stay out of sight, out of mind. But what a Hopi artist called a “galactic explosion” in the arts is happening across Indian country.

What motivated you to write this book?
My motivation was complex and driven by passion. At a lecture, the great Acoma writer Simon Ortiz suggested that non-Indians concerned about incursions into sacred sites stop apologizing and “get pissed off” enough to do something. Anger at what I saw was one motivator, but I wanted to get beyond anger. I didn’t just decide one day to do a book. I had written stories about Indians for several years, and some were unique. No other national reporter wrote about the first broadcast of KUYI at Hopi until I did, and I used that event for a long story for the New York Times about Native telecommunications. To the stories and the notes, which served as a platform, I added more research and interviews that took me from Massachusetts to Washington State. My feelings for Indian people were important drivers. I grew to respect and love my friends and acquaintances. Those feelings keep the book upbeat, but I don’t ignore the despair and human failings, like greed and vanity. I also had some doubts. I am not an Indian wannabe, and I fretted about a white person writing this book. Indians have their own marvelous storytellers. In the end, I thought my story was worth telling.

As the book progresses, each chapter seems to expand on previous chapters. What is the reason for the organization of this book?
Reporters, like historians, look for patterns in human life, and, during the Pecos repatriation story I wrote for the Times, I began to see the restorative effect of that process on Indian communities. As they gather their ancestors and sacred objects, Native peoples are also revitalizing the cultures that were always there but often submerged in the grief and loss of a cruel past. Indians know their history; most other Americans have only a vague understanding that something bad happened to Indians, and it skews their view of modern Native life. The book’s historical material illuminates what’s happening today. For instance, Indians didn’t pull casinos out of a hat. Rather casinos grew organically out of the struggle for sovereignty and self-determination, about which many non-Indians, even “educated” ones, know little or nothing. So the chapter on sovereignty traces that struggle and puts casinos into that context. All the chapters have a similar dynamic, so they reinforce each other.

If the reader were to take only one thing away from this book, what would you want that to be?
Many whites and even some Indians I’ve met do not appreciate the value of Native ways, and I hope readers will learn enough from this book to reach out and connect. My book events aren’t just signings or talks; I invite whites and Indians to come and tell us their stories.

With the numerous examples in this book of the stereotyping of Indians by non-Indians, do you think the term “Indian” itself helps promote that stereotype when there are hundreds of tribes?
In several parts of the book, I talk about the number and cultural diversity of Native groups. But terminology generally is unsettled. I strongly support efforts to respect Indian names, but then I see a Navajo codger wearing a Redskins cap. Some organizations use Native American (Native American Rights Fund), others American Indian (Association of American Indian Physicians), yet others just Indian (“Indian Country Today Media Network”). As I explain in the book, some tribes use their Native names—Diné, Ashiwi, Keetowah, etc. I use the term “Indian” for two reasons. First, I follow the lead of the people I’m with, and most Native people I know—ordinary people—call themselves Indian or use their tribal names. Secondly, American Indian is the standard journalistic rule. For variety I also use Native American, Native, Indian and certainly group names. By the way, I had a small tussle with editors over the word white. Go figure.

Nov. 26, 2011
Melvin Jordan (Keetowah Band of Cherokees, Oklahoma)

Kirkus Reviews

A journalist’s report “about contemporary American Indians and how modernity and a restorative vision of the past have generated a new energy among them.”

In her debut, freelance writer Robbins draws on reporting for the New York Times and other publications to trace the forces affecting the lives of the nation’s four million Native Americans. The main force has been the repatriation of remains and cultural artifacts taken from Indian communities during centuries of European American occupation. Under a process established in 1990 by federal law, many Indian tribes are retrieving artifacts from museums and other agencies, and essentially “gaining sovereignty over their stories and their lives.” In 1999, for example, Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology returned 2,000 skeletal remains that archaeologists had removed decades ago from a Pecos Pueblo burial mound in New Mexico. In recounting emotional ceremonies held to celebrate such returns, Robbins explains that repatriations are helping tribes regain identity and cultures lost long ago. With income from gaming and other sources, many tribes are able to pursue claims regarding sacred sites and other matters. There are now about 125 American Indian cultural institutions, many of them museums. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, established in 2004, further exemplifies the drive for Native cultural expression. At the same time, an ongoing migration to cities, especially by young Native Americans, has become an important (and somewhat countervailing) trend. Most Indians now live in cities and suburbs, writes Robbins, not on reservations, and the author discusses the difficult problems facing them. With their emphasis on human connection, repatriation efforts are becoming a way to help these urban migrants reconnect with the past and preserve their cultural identities. Robbins suggests the same quest for connection can be a useful model for non-Indian Americans, many of whose family members are scattered across the country.

A solid, insightful overview of the way American Indians live now.


Library Journal

Every few months I meet with representatives of many academic presses and, a glutton for learning, I come away excited—even feeling more intensely alive—by their offerings for the next season. Yet, as a serious general reader, I have small patience for academic jargon or pretentious language that excludes. Among the hundreds of books that are coming soon from university presses I've chosen these, below, that will entice, inspire, and enrich serious general readers as well as specialists. Most are non-fiction; almost all are available simultaneously in electronic format. They're an invigorating bunch, and remember: you can always seek out more from where these came!—Margaret Heilbrun, Senior Editor, LJ Book Review
Social Sciences


Catherine C. Robbins. All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos). Journalist Robbins, through interviews and up-to-date historical context, reminds readers of the complexity of Native American life in contemporary America.

New Mexico Magazine

Author Catherine C. Robbins drew the title of this book—All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos)—from a conversation with Zonnie Gorman, a Diné. From the outset, this title establishes the trajectory of the book: A casino may have supplanted a teepee as the icon of Native America, but neither stereotype is entirely accurate, nor does either represent the diverse mosaic of Native life. This look inside contemporary Native culture begins with the 1999 repatriation of ancestral remains to New Mexico’s Pueblo peoples. (More than 2,000 bodies were excavated during an archaeological expedition at Pecos Pueblo; the return of these remains marked the largest repatriation in American history.) Central to this process were issues of identity, relationships of Native peoples to outside cultures, and their ability to carry on ancient practices today. The event launches Robbins’ exploration of economic development, urbanization, arts, and health care in Native communities. Her writing bears all the hallmarks of a seasoned journalist—deep background research conveyed in a compelling manner, a well-constructed narrative, and, above all, a devotion to portraying accurately the stories and voices of the people she interviewed.

New Mexico Magazine
December 2011


Albuquerque Journal

"an important book"

"sharply focused and rich in detail"

Catherine Robbins discusses, signs “All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees Who are the Native Americans? What are their lives like? What values draw them together?

Longtime independent New Mexico journalist Catherine Robbins provides some answers in her important book, skewering familiar stereotypes and misconceptions. It presents a mosaic overview of challenges and opportunities confronting Native Americans in New Mexico and across the United States. Robbins begins with an account of the 1999 ceremony of repatriation that returned Native ancestral remains to the site of the ancient Pecos Pueblo.

Archeological digs nearly a century earlier had excavated more than 2,000 bodies at Pecos for removal to museums and university study collections. In the largest repatriation action in American history, and through united and energizing efforts of the Pecos and Jemez people, the ancestors were now coming home.

A dozen years have passed since that day, and repatriations of both human remains and historical artifacts have continued and accelerated across Native America. These repatriations, Robbins writes, are typical of the ways that Native people are beginning to assume significant roles in telling their ancient stories, no longer filtered through the interpretations of a dominant, marginalizing culture.

Their new stories are unfolding in the areas of economic development, politics, communications, urbanization, the arts, science and health care. In dozens of interviews with both leading and grass-roots citizens, Robbins gives personal voices to Natives striving for a thoughtful balance between change and tradition.

“Are we going the way we should?” is a question Harry Walters, director of the Center for Diné Studies at Diné Community College on the Navajo Nation, often ponders.

The Church family seems confident that they are. They live on Albuquerque’s West Side in a modern subdivision not far from the Petroglyph National Monument. Casey Church, a Michigan-born Potawatomi and his Navajo wife, Lora, are Christians.

But they and their four children also revere Native spirituality and don’t separate their beliefs. They participate in Native ceremonies and distance themselves from mainstream America’s “clutter.” They rarely watch TV or go to the mall. The Churches have not let go of being Indian, writes Robbins.

Sharply focused and rich in detail, Robbins’ book reveals that essence. It’s a window into the lives of what one of her subjects aptly calls “probably the most adaptable people in the country.”

Reviewed 11/​6/​11 (Robert Woltman)

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Hello Denise, First thanks for your comment. It is not trivial. I have received many comments about the title, mostly good ones. A few nit-pickers have been unhappy with the syntax. But the title is a quote from a Navajo woman, which is included in the book. She meant it as an ironic comment on the stereotypes that white Americans cling to; I added "or Casinos," which is the new stereotype. (By the way, for the grammarians, she is now a doctoral candidate in history!) Of course, some American Indians continue to live in their traditional dwellings; they use them for ceremonial occasions too. I describe that in the book, too. But the vast majority of American Indians live in cities and towns, not even on reservations. So I think I've given a pretty good picture of where and how American Indians live.

I hope this doesn't seem too trivial. But I am a cataloger in a community college library, in Oregon, where many tribes exist. I'm puzzled by your title. It seems your book aims to dispel the stereotypical ideas and judgments often placed, by ignorant people, on Native Americans. But by stating "All Indians do not live in teepees..." you're being a bit counter-productive. I know of Indians who do spend a lot of time living in Teepees, to experience life as their ancestors lived. In the past,some Indians, of course, lived in huts, longhouse type structures, etc., and not in teepees at all. But still, many Native Americans did, and still do, live in Teepees. Perhaps the title, "Not All Indians live in Teepees, or casinos," would have been more appropriate. If another edition is ever published, you might consider a different title entirely. Thank you for your time. Denise R. B.



A humanist slides into Geekdom.

In the newsletter of the Institute for Historical Study, a group of independent scholars in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On the Blog

About the family dinner hour, from the San Francisco Chronicle
On the Blog

Robbins’ byline has appeared in national and regional publications, including The New York Times, High Country News, San Jose Mercury-News, as well as in local publications in New Mexico, such as the Albuquerque Journal, the Albuquerque Tribune,, Crosswinds Weekly, and voiceofsandiego.org"