Becoming and Remaining a People
The power of religion to preserve individual and group identity is perhaps nowhere more evident than among Native American peoples. In Becoming and Remaining a People, Howard Harrod shows how the oral traditions and ritual practices of Northern Plains Indians developed, how they were transformed at critical points in their history, and how they provided them with crucial means of establishing and maintaining their respective identities.
This book offers a bold new interpretation of anthropological studies, demonstrating how religious traditions and ritual processes became sources of group and individual identity for many people. Harrod reconstructs the long religious development of two village peoples, the Mandans and the Hidatsas, describing how their oral traditions enabled them to reinterpret their experiences as circumstances changed. He then shows how these and other groups on the Northern Plains remained distinct peoples in the face of increased interactions with Euro-Americans, other Indians,.and the new religion of Christianity.
Harrod proposes that other interpretations of culture change may fail to come to terms with the role that religion plays in motivating both cultural conservatism and social change. For Northern Plains peoples, religion was at the heart of social identity and thus resisted change, but religion was also the source of creative reinterpretation, which produced culture change. Viewed from within the group, such change often seemed natural and was understood as an elaboration of traditions having roots in a deeper shared past. In addition to demonstrating religious continuity and change among the Mandans and the Hidatsas, he also describes instances of religious and social transformation among the peoples who became the Crows and the Cheyennes.
Becoming and Remaining a People adopts a challenging analytical approach that draws on the author's creative interpretations of rituals and oral traditions. By enabling us to understand the relation of religion both to the construction of social identity and to the interpretation of social change, it reveals the richness, depth, and cultural complexity of both past Native American people and their contemporary successors.
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