Book Review: The Ways of My Grandmothers

(Note: I am still getting over this two-week-plus long cold, so this may have coherency issues. ALSO: I welcome comments!)

My mother gave me this book years ago. I was just starting to be interested in my culture, which I did not get into until I was in High School. At the time, I didn’t have the patience to sit down and read this book. I was too interested in my fantasy novels and art books.

Now that I am a tad older, though definitely not more grown up, I decided to read this book that had been gathering dust on my bookshelf. I started it once, but failed to read past the very beginning of the introduction. I realize now that  I was missing out on a great read.


A picture of one of the covers of the book. This isn't the cover I have, but it is still a lovely picture used. Image thanks to (click to link)

I will start with the description on the back of the book (Copyright its respective owners), then go into my thoughts and notes about it.

In this extraordinary book a young Indian woman records the ancient ways of the women of her tribe, the Blood People of the Blackfoot nation. Beverly Hungry Wolf recounts personal history, tribal history, legends,, and myths in a hauntingly beautiful tribute to her people. She also describes special domestic skills, such as beading, tanning, quilling, and the drying and preparation of foods.

The Ways of My Grandmothers, which includes many rare photographs, makes a major contribution to our knowledge of American Indian ways. Written with love and respect by a daughter of the tribe, it is a classic that will speak to women everywhere.

It was definitely a wonderful read. It has a slower pace than many young US citizens are used to, but follows the natural pace of a good Tribal storyteller.

I also adore how the author takes the time to include so many other voices, particularly of the Elders whose voices will soon be lost.  This book, I realized upon completion, was written 30 years ago, so many of these elders may no longer be around. As I grow older, I am saddened by the fact that a lot of this knowledge is being lost as the Native people try and integrate with the current lifestyle. Not only that, but we are forgetting how to use the plants that are around us (even though many of them are going or gone now) and falling to ills that previously we could cure. We are losing the ability to do things for ourselves, relying on commercialism (like tanning hides and making craft).

Hungry Wolf spends a lot of time explaining how the society worked, then, and how it has changed. Ideas of what was proper for men and women were different then today, but perhaps the prior way of doing things was better. People knew what their places were and, despite the rigidity of the system, learned valuable knowledge and skills that otherwise they may not have pursued.

I liked the discussion on marriage, childbirth, preparation of food, and craft. It was eye-opening. I don’t think I’d like the idea of an arranged marriage, and am interested in the seemingly patriarchal manner of doing things. However, it is curious that their own legends say that woman has the last word in things, so I guess if a woman doesn’t approve that is it? I am not quite sure… I know that in my husband’s tribe the women were in charge of trade, marriage, and had a hand in overall dealings. It is interesting to see different ways of doing things. I would love to learn how to cook on an open fire like they did before. Some of the recipes included in the book are must-tries! I want to see the difference in taste between the frybread I am used to and  the fried-yeast bread recipe that was included. A lot of the food sounds really good. I also want to learn how to do different crafts from before, from bowl-making to tanning and everything in between.

The book has a repetitive quality that to some can be annoying. It is normal to me, since Native storytellers tend to do that. It is part of the cyclical nature of their timeline and stories, everything comes full-circle. I think it reinforces the importance of the idea.

This book also makes me wish I could have learned more from my Grandmothers. I am just now, at the age of 22, getting to know my tribal Grandmothers, getting to know my history and heritage. I mourn the fact that this knowledge and these wisdoms are being lost.

I do have one critique of the book, and that is the ending. I felt like after the soulful opening, an equally heartfelt closing would be coming. After discussing how different crafts were made, the book just ends. I mean it, you turn the page to the index. It felt incomplete. I wanted more and there was just something missing for me. A poor conclusion to such a riveting book.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Native American culture, and how it has changed. I would really recommend this book to anyone. It is eye-opening and educational. You just have to be able to sit through it.

I am a proud member of the Renaissance of Native American culture. I am learning the traditional crafts, medicines and prayers and working to teach others about the culture as it was, how it has changed, and how it is today.

Prayers, Good Thoughts, and Best Wishes,

P.S. This post can be found, exactly identical, on my art blog.


About N B

Artist, critic, friend, and rambly-ponderer.
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