Interest in Native American or Indian religions has increased among some non-Natives, usually in connection with the New Age movement. This book is not for New Age followers, though. It is for Indians and students of their religious beliefs. It does not, however, encompass everything about the Indian religions, as the editors state. The authors are Natives and non-Natives, and the unique aspect of this three-volume set is that it uses the first person instead of third person. Some of the entries are based on individual Native elders as authoritative sources instead of relying on non-Native sources. The editors wanted to be as inclusive of Native sources as possible, but at the same time they wanted to be “sensitive to and reflective of the political and ethical concerns of the Native communities.” There is a custom among some tribes of not writing or picturing some of their religious customs, rituals, sacred objects, and other items for the public, which the editors have honored in this encyclopedia.
The encyclopedia starts with an introduction by the editors, then another introduction is given that looks at various sections of the United States with maps showing where tribes used to be or still are. This ends with a very unreadable map - it is too small - of the United States that shows where the tribes are now. After the introductions come the entries of various lengths in the A-to-Z format. Some individual tribes or sections of the country are featured, like in the case of the topic “Ceremony and Ritual,” which is subdivided into entries on the Arapaho, Apache, Nez Perce, Southeast, and so on. This is usually done when a topic is a major one.
There are short biographies on certain people, like Chief Seattle. Other topics of various lengths include dance, dreams and visions, female spirituality, the Native American Church, oral traditions, reservations, and others. Each entry has see-also references and bibliographies that include books, articles and some have Internet sites cited. There are many black and white illustrations. The index is in the back of volume three.
Suzanne J. Crawford received her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She is the author of Native American Religions (2005) and is currently an assistant professor of Religion and Culture at Pacific Lutheran University. Dennis Kelley is a visiting lecturer at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
The set is a great addition to reference works on Native Americans. It is recommended for any library with a Native American collection. It is a unique set since many of the authors of the entries are Native Americans.