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'The Sacred Wisdom of the American Indians' takes readers beyond stereotypes

In "The Sacred Wisdom of the American Indians," IUPUI Professor Larry J. Zimmerman delicately articulates present-day issues against a mosaic of ancient traditions, bringing an anthropologist's contextual fervor to the tragic events but defining inspirations of the North American Indians.


A father and daughter at a powwow. The father's regalia is that of a traditional dancer, and the daughter wears a jingle dress .

"The Sacred Wisdom," newly released by Watkins Publishing, an imprint of Duncan Baird Publishers of London, is not an art book but a literary quest illuminated with visual signposts guiding the reader toward an understanding of North America's indigenous heritage.

Hardback, with more than 150 images in 320 pages, this new book is the fourth on North American Indians written for general audiences by Zimmerman, a professor of anthropology and the public scholar of Native American representation in the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

While wisdom is always handy, Zimmerman would like his book to provide clarity about the history, art and beliefs of the indigenous peoples of North America. Writing for a general audience remains a challege for Zimmerman despite the success of his "Native North America" (15 years in print, published in 14 languages). But it has been "personally rewarding."

Larry Zimmerman

Larry J. Zimmerman

Print-Quality Photo

"People contact me from all over the world with questions, which is fun, especially when they find out that Indian cultures are still around and are really starting to flourish, with people living tradition-based but fully modern lives," Zimmerman said.

Below are snippets and images from the book, along with the preface. To read a news release about "Sacred Wisdom," visit

From "The Sacred Wisdom of the American Indians"

From the chapter "Native Media": American Indians have sought to break the cycle of negative stereotyping of themselves by non-Indians and to resist the pressure to assimilate by developing radio, television, newspapers and other media to produce their own Native-centered versions of life and history.

From the chapter "Space, Time & the Divine": Indian cultures were not timeless and unchanging. As with any living culture, changes took place in reaction to different natural and social environments, and over millennia populations flourished creatively wherever the environment allowed.

The preface


Detail of the bone breastplate, turquoise jewelry and eagle feather fan worn by a dancer from San Juan Pueblo, N.M.

Dipping into any book about the native peoples of North America, you are more likely to come across stereotypical fantasies than contemporary realities. Even this book, in looking at traditional cultures, runs the risk of appealing to those who entertain the stereotypes and surround them with a rosy glow of nostalgia. However, I hope that most of my readers will soon come to a clear understanding of my mission: to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the history, art and beliefs of the indigenous peoples of North America, not as relics of the past but as a distinctive and diverse part of the contemporary world. As I tell my students, "Indians are from now, not just back then!"

We have a responsibility to understand the origin of particular stereotypes and the processes by which they continue to exist. As a reader you have the right to know that although the title of this volume may imply a backward glance (it is a book that traces roots, among other things), the content certainly does not. Although this book contains a great deal about the past, there is also a significant proportion of material about contemporary Native Americans, and a great deal of effort has been made to reveal their immense cultural diversity. Many Indians feel that non-Indians should not be writing about their religions, which they see as being no one's business but their own. They consider those who do so to be exploiters following in a long tradition of colonialism. Especially exasperating are followers of so-called "New Age" religion who take the religious beliefs and rituals of other cultures out of context, and even try to practice the ceremonies. As some Indians say, "Our religion is not for sale!"

In this book complex religious beliefs are put into appropriate cultural contexts, and at no time is it suggested that the author is anything other than an outsider and an academic, whose knowledge is different from that of a Native American. My previous book, "Native North America," has been remarkably successful, selling well internationally to a wide range of publishers: it has been reviewed as balanced and sensitive by Indians and non-Indians and has been used in school and university classrooms as a text. I am proud of "Native North America," and much of its content has been reproduced here. If some of its editions veer towards the stereotypical (a Plains Indian) in their choice of cover image, that reflects the realities of commercial publishing: covers, I'm told, need to be eye-catching to the uninitiated.

The reality is always going to be more complex than a cover alone can suggest. The popular image of the Indian is of a tipi-living, horseback-mounted, buffalo-hunting, ecological Sioux warrior -- like the Indians portrayed in the movie "Dances With Wolves." In this oversimplified formula, native religion is mostly Mother Earth, thunderbirds, sweatlodges, smudging with sage and smoking peace pipes. These are at best partial truths. Read this book, enjoy it and learn about Native American realities -- forget the stereotypical fantasies that lock Indians in the past.

"The Sacred Wisdom of the American Indians" is available through, Watkins Publishing and other booksellers.