Margaret M. Bruchac. Savage Kin: Indigenous Informants and American Anthropologists. University of Arizona Press, 2018. 280 pp. ISBN: 978-0816537068.


In an astonishingly researched and compelling book, Indigenous anthropologist Margaret M. Bruchac reexamines the relationships between Native informants and anthropologists in the early twentieth century, such as George Hunt and Franz Boas, Bertha Parker and Mark Harrington, Gladys Tantaquidgeon and Frank Speck. Conducting "reverse ethnography," Savage Kin details how Native gatekeepers and activists attempted to manage their relations with white collectors seeking to salvage Indigenous culture – scholars whose intentions were often nonreciprocal, contentious, and savage. Bruchac argues that it is these mediations which co-created the very field of North American anthropology and resulted in the material extraction of Native culture on which today's museums of anthropology are founded.


Part of the accomplishment of Savage Kin is in how it redefines the very nature of academic writings as mythological narratives – built up over time as a result of layers of biases and conventions, rituals and memories – that continue to circulate and influence anthropological discourse. Bruchac explains that "The tellings of these stories are not (like Native myths) seasonally restricted, but they are ritualized, having long been circulated within departments, institutions, and professional recitations (including conferences, publications, and websites) that keep ancestral memories alive" (7). Tracing the remains of archival encounters with Indigenous informants reveals many early anthropologists to be unreliable narrators of their own histories and contributions.


Another key contribution is the importance of what Bruchac calls "restorative methodologies" – "cross-walking through archives to track objects and their related stories (even the false or fishy stories) through the locales and tribal nations represented in collections" (183). Intermixed within the pages of Savage Kin are many ways in which the contributions of Native informants have been erased from anthropological discourse, something Bruchac notes routinely happened to female researchers of any ethnicity. The research practices she details are an essential toolbox for anyone engaging in archival or museum research.


The first chapter describes the historical context for anthropological collecting of Indigenous knowledge and material culture in North America. Bruchac explains this work as a necessarily collaborative endeavor, which would have been impossible for the largely white, male anthropologists to accomplish without Indigenous aid. Yet contrary to the complexity and breadth of their engagements with these collectors, "Natives were positioned as ethnographic subjects, not as scholars; and as informants, not theorists," and these narrowed roles have obscured the impact Indigenous gatekeepers have had throughout the history of the field of anthropology (17).


Chapters Two through Six present case studies that each challenge the Native informant/anthropologist binary and highlight the unique strategies Indigenous peoples used to manage their encounters with outside researchers. Focusing on specific relations allows for a close-reading of these encounters which, taken together, "illuminate complex gender relations, power dynamics, and social entanglements that propelled some individuals into the light and others into the shadows" (8). Bruchac both honors the influence of Native informants while simultaneously chronicling when their choice to partner with anthropologists violated cultural protocols and threatened the political goals of Indigenous sovereignty. Despite some surprisingly salacious stories uncovered, the book avoids sensationalizing or generalizing its subjects and instead provides empathetic portraits of individuals whose actions and motives feel both authentic and grounded.


Chapter Two examines one of the more well-known and often celebrated long-term relationships in anthropology between George Hunt and Franz Boas. Savage Kin emphasizes the gendered bias of the Boas and Hunt partnership and questions the assumed status of their publications as "the primary authorities on Kwakwaka'wakw culture and language" (47). The knowledge Hunt sold to Boas relied heavily on the participation of his female relatives, particularly his two marriages to high-ranking Native women: Tsukwani Francine and Lucy Homikanis. Bruchac convincingly shows how both Hunt and Boas's work intentionally marginalized their contributions, yet would have been nearly impossible without them.


Together, Chapters Three and Four highlight the deeply interconnected social relations of Natives and non-Natives participating in early anthropology. In Chapter Three, the relationship between mixed Seneca and Scots/English anthropologist Arthur Parker and his first wife, Abenaki Beulah Tahamont, exemplifies the different ways of embodying Indigenous identity in the early twentieth century, what Bruchac calls "assimilated modernity versus cultural performance" (68). The groundbreaking archaeological discoveries of Parker and Tahamont's daughter, Bertha Yewas Parker – potentially the first professional female Native American archaeologist, and likewise the first professional female Native American ethnologist and archaeologist to work at a major museum – are described in Chapter Four. Bertha Parker worked collaboratively with white archaeologist Mark Harrington and, despite contemporary recognition of her scholarship, her successes were forgotten and much of her research attributed to Harrington in the archives.


Savage Kin also explores how the political goals of Indigenous peoples were inseparable from their relationships with early anthropologists and served as both motivators for continuing and ending partnerships. In Chapter Five, Bruchac writes about Seneca veteran and cultural expert Jesse Cornplanter, who worked closely for many years with the white academic William Fenton. Their relationship ultimately soured over the construction of the Kinzua Dam which would destroy a significant portion of the Seneca homeland. Despite pressure from Seneca peoples who called on Fenton to reciprocate the kinship they had shown to him and his family, Fenton increasingly "deployed his research and his influence as political tools to resist Indigenous sovereignty" (139).


Finally, the relationship between University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Frank Speck and his student and collaborator, Mohegan anthropologist Gladys Tantaquidgeon, while by all evidence one of the more reciprocal partnerships described in the book, nevertheless resulted over time in the same erasures of Indigenous scholarship chronicled throughout Savage Kin. Bruchac shows how the myth of Speck's Indigenous ancestry served to obscure the significant academic work Tantaquidgeon conducted and downplayed the importance of his other Indigenous collaborators.


As a whole, these stories not only emphasize the systematic erasure of Indigenous contributions, but showcase the near-ubiquity of the nonreciprocal and bad-faith relationships early anthropologists practiced with Native culture experts. Even when these collaborations went well, the choice of Native peoples to participate in anthropological knowledge and material-collecting efforts came with difficult questions of how to navigate these relationships while still maintaining ties to their communities of origin. While its academic relevance is clear, this book will be of great interest to Native and non-Native students, teachers, and general audiences alike. Savage Kin successfully showcases the agency and participation of Indigenous peoples in anthropology while never losing sight of the complexities that come with this involvement. Although this book is written about the past, Bruchac makes its contemporary relevance for Indigenous peoples and anthropologists clear in the value of cultural recovery for Native American and First Nations and the hopeful potential of repaired relations. For the discipline of anthropology, moving forward entails looking back – acknowledging wrong relations and questioning the version of North American Indigenous history still circulating in museums and academic writings.


Emily Jean Leischner, University of British Columbia