Indian Voices

Reviews | Faces & Places of Indian Voices

In Indian Voices Alison Owings takes readers on a fresh journey across America, east to west, north to south, and around again. Owings’s most recent oral history is engagingly written in a style that entertains and informs, and documents what Native Americans say about themselves, their daily lives, and the world around them.

Young and old from many tribal nations speak with candor, insight, and (unknown to many non-Natives) humor about what it is like to be a Native American in the twenty-first century. Through intimate interviews many also express their thoughts about the sometimes staggeringly ignorant, if often will-meaning, non-Natives they encounter, some who do not realize Native Americans still exist, much less that they speak English, have cell phones, use the Internet, and might attend powwows and power lunches.

Indian Voices, an inspiring and important contribution to the literature about the original Americans, will make every reader rethink the past and present of the United States.


“This is the United States of Native America at its best…[W]hether you know nothing about Indians or just want to know more, you need to read this book!” –Donald L. Fixico (Shawnee, Sac & Fox, Muscogee Creek, and Seminole), Arizona State University

“Alison Owings must be a brilliant listener. Otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to interview so many native people and have them talk about their lives, their dreams, their accomplishments with such intimacy.” –Jake Page, author of  In the Hands of the Great Spirit

“Vital voices from Indigenous peoples have long been shrouded, interpreted, misinterpreted, or just plain ignored. Owings’s humanity and journalistic instincts lead us where few non-Natives have ventured. Truly a must read.”
– Jackie Old Coyote (Apsaalooke), The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

“I loved Indian Voices. And it was great fun to read because it is about real people in contemporary times.”
– Jacqueline Johnson-Pata (Tlingit), Executive Director, Congress of American Indians

Owings (Hey, Waitress!: The USA from the Other Side of the Tray) assembles interviews with Native Americans from across the nation that achieve a remarkable level of intimacy. Subjects address everything from common myths (the Federal government showers Native Americans with “free money”) to homosexuality (among many Native Americans, it’s not a controversial issue, in fact “homosexuality is…honored in some tribes”). Owings unexplained access is a crucial part of the story, as many Native American communities reject outsiders (in fact, census workers are often kicked off reservations). Owings’s descriptions are rich in detail, her stories and statistics captivating. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, best known for Wounded Knee, the “unemployment rate is over 75%, the alcoholism rate 85%.” Many interviewees insist, “We’re ordinary people” and wish to be treated as such, but describe discrimination of Native schoolchildren and others. Given the treatment Native Americans have received (“one imposed insult or assault or disaster after another”), Owings is surprised that the people she met are not filled with hatred but, instead, show great accommodation to their situation. They have much to teach the world, Owings concludes, especially when it comes to living a satisfied life. This engrossing, affecting book should be mandatory reading in American history classes.
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“… a rich collection that is poignant, funny, heartbreaking, and very real. The vast diversity in Native America is evident. Each interviewee comes across multidimensionally, strongly and openly identifying with his or her tribe or nation, while balancing tradition, language, heritage, politics, and identity with the day-to-day business of working, parenting, creating, traveling, and living. Similarities are evident, but so are rich differences in perspective, status, circumstance, and outlook. ”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Owings’s prose is lucid and clear, and she tells the stories of her informants effectively, weaving their words together with her own observations. But the real stars here are the people themselves and the stories they choose to tell. … Ultimately, Owings’s book is aimed at a wide audience, at those Americans who are as ignorant of Native Americans as she once was. But that is not to say that it is not also a book for the people it is about. Native people of all backgrounds and opinions will find something to engage with in IndianVoices: something to laugh with, to sympathize with, perhaps even to argue with.”
—News from Native California

“An important (and entertaining!) new book on Native Americans lets the real experts do the talking. … Owings conducted long, intimate and sometimes shockingly candid interviews that touched on many topics, from adultery to haircuts to politics, but often circled back to the often staggering ignorance of non-Natives, some of whom do not realize that Native Americans still exist, much less speak English, have cell phones, use the Internet, and attend both pow wows and power lunches.”
Indian Country Today

“This is a model of what a good oral history book should be. …. She tells our stories honestly, eloquently and without her own baggage, and our people’s stories don’t pull many punches either. Survivance shines through in every chapter.”
—American Indian Library Association

“Captivating… The interviews cover a wide range of topics; told in oral history style and punctuated by Owings’ reactions and insights, the results are occasionally startling, often humorous and always thought-provoking.”
Silicon Valley Mercury News

“One of those remarkable people that’s portrayed in Indian Voices is Emma George. She’s Lemhi Shoshone, the Shoshone band that first encountered Lewis & Clark….” –Mark Trahant, Trahant Reports

Faces & Places of Indian Voices

Pamela Sweeney (Lumbee) and her children, Pembroke, North Carolina

Harrison Baheshone, Navajo Medicine man, photo from his Facebook page

Dawn at the end of the Blessingway ceremony, outside the Goldtooths’ hogan on the Navajo Reservation

Mountains outside Salmon, Idaho, where Emma George (Lemhi Shoshone) sang a song of thanks