Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir

A Tribal Memoir

This beautiful and devastating book–part tribal history, part lyric and intimate memoir–should be required reading for anyone seeking to learn about California Indian history, past and present. Deborah A. Miranda tells stories of her Ohlone Costanoan Esselen family as well as the experience of California Indians as a whole through oral histories, newspaper clippings, anthropological recordings, personal reflections, and poems. The result is a work of literary art that is wise, angry, and playful all at once, a compilation that will break your heart and teach you to see the world anew.

Editorial Reviews

Miranda is a poet and English professor whose father was a member of the Ohlone Castanoan Esselen tribe of California Indians. She realized early on that the history traditionally taught to California fourth-graders, the “California mission mythology and gold rush fantasy,” described California Indians only through their conquest, subjugation, defeat, and disappearance. This clarifying compilation of old government documents, BIA forms, field notes like those written by Smithsonian ethnologist J. P. Harrington in the 1930s, diaries of explorers and priests, family stories, photos, and newspaper articles, all tied together with Miranda’s own poems, is her attempt to correct that one-dimensional, untrue depiction of what her ancestors experienced. She begins with the missionization years, 1770 to 1836, the “great holocaust,” when the indigenous population in California dropped from one million to 20,000. The years 1836 to 1900 bring reports of slavery and bounty hunters; then, throughout the twentieth century, California Indians gradually lost their language, culture, and identity. Miranda’s is an emotional, powerfully told story that contributes greatly to her goal of “killing the lies” about her people. –Deborah Donovan

”Essential for all of us who were taught in school that the ‘Mission Indians’ no longer existed in California, Bad Indianscombines tribal and family histories, tape recordings, and the writings of a white ethnologist who spoke with Miranda’s family, together with photographs, old reports from the mission priests to their bishops, and newspaper articles concerning Indians from the nearby white settlements. Miranda takes us on a journey to locate herself by way of the stories of her ancestors and others who come alive through her writing. It’s such a fine book that a few words can’t do it justice.”–Leslie Marmon Silko, author of Ceremony and The Turquoise Ledge

Bad Indiansbrings the human story of California’s indigenous community sharply into focus. It’s a narrative long obscured and distorted by celebrations of Christian missionaries and phony stories about civilization coming to a golden land. No other history of California’s indigenous communities that I know of presents such a moving, personal account of loss and survival.”
–Frederick E. Hoxie, Swanlund Professor, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

”For so long, Native writers and readers have opened books of our tribal history, archaeology, or anthropology and found that it is not the story we know. It does not include the people we know. It does not tell the stories of the heart or the relationships that were, and are, significant in any time. When we write our own books, they do not fit the ‘record,’ as created by and confirmed by outside views. From the voice of the silenced, the written about and not written by, this book is groundbreaking not only as literature but as history.”
–Linda Hogan, author of Rounding the Human Corners and a faculty member for the Indigenous Education Institute.

About the Author

Deborah A. MirandaDeborah A. Miranda is an enrolled member of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation of California, and is also of Chumash and Jewish ancestry. The author of two poetry collections—Indian Cartography, which won the Diane Decorah Award for First Book from the Native Writer’s Circle of the Americas, and The Zen of La Llorona, nominated for the Lambda Literary Award—she also has a collection of essays, The Hidden Stories of Isabel Meadows and Other California Indian Lacunae, forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press. Miranda is an associate professor of English at Washington and Lee University and says reading lists for her students include as many books by “bad Indians” as possible. Visit Deborah Miranda’s blog, BAD NDNS.

Deborah has been interviewed on Native Voice TV and can be seen on Native Voice TV‘s Youtube Channel (Click Here).