Writing and Teaching About Indigenous Peoples

In the second of a short series of blog postings, author Robert J. Muckle discusses his experiences as an educator, and how those experiences motivated and shaped his writing of Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview.

Over the past several years I have come to enjoy writing. The most personally rewarding kind of writing is when I wear the hat of an educator informed by anthropological research. It is in this role that I wrote Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview.

As an educator in both university and public settings I recognized a niche for such a book. I have always been less than satisfied with existing textbooks when teaching courses on Indigenous peoples of the continent. These books are generally too comprehensive for my liking, and I’m not particularly keen on the way they are structured. They also tend to be costly, which puts a strain on the idea of requiring students to purchase supplemental texts.

What I envisioned, primarily, was a core book that would provide some fundamental information, as well as a basic framework for a course, but still allow instructors room to focus on areas that interest them and their students. I have found that students appreciate it when instructors include personal interests in their teaching. I have considerable experience working with Indigenous peoples, but the structure of existing texts didn’t make it easy to personalize my instruction as much as I would have liked. I have also found that  in order to make course material relevant to the lives of students, it makes sense to use experience and examples from local Indigenous groups, those with which students are most familiar, while still contextualizing those studies within a larger continent-wide framework. The low cost of a concise book such as this allows one to be relatively guilt-free in also assigning other print or web sources, including ethnographies, scholarly articles, and more.

Rather than using the common culture area framework, Indigenous Peoples of North America takes a different approach, including separate chapters on archaeology, traditional lifeways, colonialism, and contemporary times. The book also situates Indigenous peoples by providing basic data on such things as population and definitions; explores the relationships between anthropologists and Indigenous peoples in the past and present; outlines anthropological methods; and provides global contexts. Although the culture area approach does not dominate the book, it is used in some subsections.

I also believe there is a niche for a concise book such as this in the supplementary textbook market. I envision that it may be used as a supplement in introductory-level anthropology courses, especially given the hugely important relationship between North American anthropology and Indigenous peoples. The book will also be appropriate for those courses or programs that focus on Indigenous peoples from different disciplinary perspectives such as Indigenous Studies, Indian Studies, American Studies, history, sociology, human geography, and other courses in the humanities and social sciences where instructors and students often desire a broader background than their own core texts usually provide.

As a public educator, I have come to appreciate that there are many people outside of the academic and Indigenous worlds genuinely interested in the Indigenous peoples of the continent but there was no basic, easily accessible, and affordable resource they could use to educate themselves. I think this book can fill that void. I foresee that it will find a home on the bookshelves of many professionals, including other academics, K-12 teachers, bureaucrats, and others who have at least occasional contact or deal with issues relevant to Indigenous peoples. I also believe there are large numbers of the general public that want to understand more about Indigenous peoples and issues today than mainstream media usually provides. This book should work for them.

—Robert J. Muckle, Capilano University

Note: If you are scheduled to teach a course that would benefit from having this book on the required reading list, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review this excellent text for yourself!

Leave a Reply