am 25. Januar 1996
Densmore was liked and trusted by Native people, and had the advantage of Marry Warren English, an extraordinary Native woman living on the White Earth reservation as her interpreter and in many respects, co-author.
Her book reflects information from (mostly) women of the White Earth, Mille Lacs, Red Lake, Cass Lake,Leech Lake reservtions of Minnesota, Lac Courte Oreilles, WI, and Manito Rapids, Canada, over a period of more than 20 years.
Densmore had recorded many songs, including songs of the Midewewin (Grand Medicine Lodge) and explains that "Songs having been recorded, the Indian were willing to bring in the plants (that were sung with for healing) and to explain the manner of their use." Unlike male ethnobotanists, she developed a close relationships with the women, and participated on cooking, crafts, and ceremonies. The Native women found her another practiucal woman who was interested in recipes, sewing techniques and patterns, and how the day-to-day lives of families were lived.
"The majority of the informants were women, and they became interested in describing the former methods of preparing vegetable foods" as well as uses for dyes, fibers, and medicines. Densmore got qwuite specific info (unlike most ethnobotanists) about such things as "scraping the bark away from the root," how long it was to be driend, how uch water to steep it in (informants brought her their pails, to measure).
On the more technical side, Densmore got something most of the ethnobots don't bother with: the native names. She took info gathering about as far as you can go without computers, ith cross-referenced tables. (I am computerizing this for native students now). For each plant, she got a specimen and had it IDed by a botanist. Many plants were also analyzed, but the techniques of that period do not provide vbery good phytochmeical info.
For those not interested in these aspects, still this book gives a very thorough and interesting picture of Anishnab eg (lakelands wooland peoples) way of life, recording many tnings that still happen here today.
Fancxes Densmore, a musicologist rather than an anthro, had a strong feeling for the people and the places. She writes "In June the air is sweet with wild roses and in midsummer the fields are beautiful with red lillies, bluebells, and a marvelous variety of color. In autumn, the sumac flings its scarlet across the landscape, and in winter, there are miles of untrodden snow. The northern woodland is a beautiful country, and knowing it in all its changin seasons, one can not wonder at the poetry that is so inherent a part of Chippewa thought."
This well expresses the spirit in which she approached her researches among Indian people, and it is quite a different attidue than male anthros (and scientific ethnobotanists) have. Yet this book is an outstanding example for its time, and up to the easy avilabity of computers to ordinary people, of scientific, as well as literary, work. A bargain at Dover's pric, even though there are mail order sources offering it $1 cheaper. Very highly recommended to anyone interested in real (rather than fantasy) Native traditional life.
I don't hve time to write reviews of her other books (I have msot of them), but recommend them all very highly, not only the "Chippewa" (Ojibwe, Anishinaabeg) ones. She brought the same spirit to all of them, and learned and preserved many details of the beauty of native life at those times, things no one else in the white world was interested in then, and perhaps they still aren't.