Native Americans share stories in 'First Person, First Peoples'

by Hank Leukart | 11/26/97 6:00am

Could a book containing stories written by successful Native American college graduates about their life struggles be any more politically correct?

This question, although debatable, is not important. Associate Professor of Education Andrew Garrod's and his colleague Colleen Larimore's book "First Person, First Peoples" is full of poignant narratives by Native Americans that are more than just political correctness.

To make the book, Garrod and Larimore solicited autobiographies from current and graduated Dartmouth students, telling them to "think about sources of their deepest joys and greatest fears" and "discuss profound learning experiences."

Garrod and Larimore received 40- to 60-page manuscripts, which they then edited with the authors to shorten and put into the book.

Garrod said he and Larimore felt that because of the huge amount of literature about Natives' hardships, they wanted to look at the world of Native Americans in a more positive light.

"We wanted to look at the resiliency factors that contribute to the success of Native students," Garrod said. "We wanted to examine what the journey was like for students from different tribes and from various parts of the country -- how they were able to retain the tribal values of their communities and adapt to a primarily white institution. The stories speak of challenge and ultimate triumph."

According to Garrod, the uniqueness of "First Person, First Peoples" comes from the writers of the narratives. Generally, writing about Native Americans is done by Caucasians and Natives do not get a chance to listen to their history as told from a Native point of view.

This book allows this to happen. "Stories like this have not been collected before," said Garrod.

"Here is an opportunity to ponder Natives' lives on their own terms. It is a tribute to the students and is inspirational to Native Americans pondering furthering their life goals and education."

But, do not just take it from one of the book's editors.

Diandra Benally '00, a current Native American student, read the book and found it to be of immense value.

"Having someone who has experienced what I am experiencing now is valuable. It gives me a sense of hope that I too can succeed here at Dartmouth," she said. "I was able to relate to a lot of the experiences in the book. I saw myself in the same position and state of mind that the [narrative] writers were in."

Benally thinks the book has value to non-Natives as well. "The book makes them more aware and answers some of the questions they might have been afraid to ask Native Americans here." She hopes the book will remind people of the plight of previous graduates so that stereotypes and prejudices can be eradicated.

The narratives cover a plethora of topics, including divorce, Dartmouth's Indian symbol, life with a Native tribe and college graduation. The wonderful thing about the essays is that, although Natives wrote them, they are not specific to any one minority. Instead, they are stories about any person's life and the hardships and wonderment he experiences. Granted, some of the essays ("Web of Life" comes to mind) are painful to bear. The reader cannot believe that any human would be forced to endure some of the hardships described. Others, such as "I Walk in Beauty," will make Dartmouth students laugh at the similarities to their own life. In the end though, the book is refreshing because the essays are success stories.

The writers, who include a doctor, a baseball player, a producer, and a lawyer, are all extremely honest. Some narratives lack the flavor of others, but all are interesting.

In short, the themes are universal and not just politically correct. Davina Ruth Begaye Two Bears, one of the autobiographers, writes, "Why not try to make life better for yourself and others? Why waste our time hurting ourselves or others? Just live your life in a good way, the way you want to live it, and be happy. Enjoy it while it lasts."

Obviously, she is not speaking only to Natives.