Vine Deloria Jr.,
Singing for a Spirit: A Portrait of the Dakota Sioux
(Clear Light, 2000)

Singing for a Spirit: A Portrait of the Dakota Sioux is Vine Deloria Jr.'s rebuttal to a book written by Sarah Emilia Olden titled The People of Tipi Sapa, a book that greatly disappointed the Deloria family because it was supposed to be about the author's grandfather, but ended up omitting most of the family's biographies. This book is half the biographies of the author's great-grandfather and grandfather and half the reworked ("corrected") version of Olden's book about the Sioux culture.

Another reason the family wanted Vine to set the record straight is because his grandfather had a severe change of heart about adopting the white ways when he reached the age of 60. After devoting his life to destroying their culture, he decided to "record" the traditional ways because the white ways were not any better.

Basically, Deloria's family members were important in church and tribal government but not involved in the traditional Sioux culture. They wanted the Sioux to adopt the white ways and give up their traditional lifestyle. This great support of the white way came from a vision that great-grandfather Saswe (Francois Xavier Deloria) had, which indicated that four generations of his family would "assume religious responsibilities." It told him that he would become a great medicine man. Part of his vision has not been revealed.

At the time Saswe was baptized, he was living with three women as wives. He officially married one in Christian fashion, and sent the other two, along with their herds of children by him, packing. One returned to her parents' tribe in another area.

No mention is made by the author about whether Saswe supported those wives and kids or pioneered the first church-sanctioned deadbeat dad society. It would be interesting to know the church take on that issue, since it was common in indigenous cultures. It would also be interesting to know Deloria's family's take on that, since they were so disgruntled with Olden's book, in which, the author admits, she penned almost verbatim what Deloria's grandfather said.

Personally, I think it's ridiculous for a family to have a book written to suit their opinions at the time, and then when they change their minds and want to believe something else, they express dissatisfaction with the book. I suspect that Deloria's grandfather realized what a grand part he played in destroying the culture of his people and had to live the remainder of his life with that preying on his mind.

The first half of this book has several dry parts that left me thinking if I were a member of the family I might enjoy this, but it really does not have mass-market appeal. Less would have been better in this case. The second half of the book is fine. It is an interesting look at the life and culture of the Sioux.

Singing for a Spirit is definitely not the quality or tone that we are accustomed to seeing from Vine Deloria Jr. Do not expect it to be. Deloria is the author of Custer Died for Your Sins, God is Red and many others. He has a long list of achievements and awards. He is an awesome writer and a strong voice for all Native American people. Actually, he is a strong voice for all indigenous peoples throughout the world. I respect him and hate to give him a negative review, but I believe he was too close to write this one.

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

4 October 2008

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