Heritage, Volume 9, Number 4, Fall 1991 Page: 25
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By John Peterson
Western Apache Heritage:
People of the Mountain
Richard J. Perry, University of Texas Press,
Austin. Paper $17.95, Cloth $37.50.
From years of exposure to Hollywood
westerns and True West lore we have created
an American image of the Indian. We
have made a romantic fantasy of the Plains
Indians who by historical accident and
hegemonic pressure from a relentlessly expanding
frontier were pushed onto the
Plains from the north and east. That occurred
late in the long Native American
occupancy of North America, as early as
the 17th and 18th centuries, after the
French and English pushed woodland
peoples from their traditional homes.
The Great Plains of the 18th and 19th
centuries were a melting pot of native
peoples who were forced by circumstance
to adopt new food sources and different
subsistence practices. They adapted to a
Plains lifeway that was distinctively new
and well-fitted to the cyclic migration of
the Great Plains bison herds. Like the
buffalo, they drifted into small bands during
the winter and spring, but reunited in
the late summer. The bison congregated
for the fall rut, the Indians for the autumn
hunt and for the re-unification of the tribe.
Another group of native peoples also
entered the middle of the continent late in
prehistory. The Apache and Navajo, who
first appeared in the Plains and Mountain
regions as late as the 15th or 16th century,
were collectively known as Athapaskans
from their common linguistic stock. Historians
have predicated their origins in
Canada and Alaska for some time, but the
dates and the mechanism of their migration
have long been mysteries.
Now author Perry has provided a compelling
ecological history of Athapaskan
emergence from the Northwest. He exam
ines the caribou "food quest" of the northern
Athapaskan, and, piecing together
ethnohistorical, and ecological perspectives,
depicts the process of migration through the
North American cordillera. Perry argues
that the caribou hunting pattern of the
northern Athapaskan was well-suited to
dispersal in small bands who were flexible
and had developed highly adaptive lifeways.
Perry presents not only a cogent culture
history of the Athapaskans, but also he has
grasped the dilemma of our recent anthropological
analyses. Anthropology has
traditionally encompassed both present and
past through its distinct disciplines: ethnographies
focused on slices of the present,
while archaeological studies provided the
time depth against which to assess traditional
histories. But the "new" archaeology
drifted toward ahistorical "scientific" studies
and has sometimes relinquished its role
in interpreting deep histories. Some archaeologists
now may be more obsessed
with analyzing carbon isotopes in bison
bone than with doing anthropology. These
studies all contribute, of course, to our
broader understanding of people, and are
all parts of a rich and various research
This book is a welcome contribution to
an anthropology that is newly aware of
itself and of the role of history in framing
the contexts for human choices and serendipity.
Perry interweaves historical
context with the ecological origins of the
Athapaskan speaking peoples and provides
an analysis of how changing environments
through time and migration
affected the lifeways of a mountain people.
HERITAGE FALL 1991 25
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 9, Number 4, Fall 1991, periodical, Autumn 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45425/m1/25/: accessed May 26, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.