Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Green Books Campaign: Medicine Trails by Mavis McCovey
This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.
This memoir tells the story of Mavis McCovey, a Karuk medicine woman and health care advocate. It also tells us much more than the story of McCovey offering broad discussion of her life and land. The result is a fascinating look at Native American spirituality, community, life and labor in northwestern California. Stretching from the early-nineteenth century, we learn the long and broad history of McCovey's family. As the subtitle suggests, McCovey is a woman who has lived in many worlds: through her family, in which her ancestors married and raised families with European partners, to her own marriage, in which she relocated to her husband's Yurok community. Perhaps most importantly, McCovey has also occupied the world of the medicine woman, a role for which she was singled out in childhood, and trained from a young age. By no account has Mavis McCovey had an easy life, physically or emotionally. After losing her own parents at age six, McCovey also lost two of her five children. Work is a constant theme in this memoir, and we see all of the residents of McCovey's community working, and working hard, almost constantly. As a spiritual leader, McCovey has hardly been absent from this labor, and her spiritual leadership is well-grounded in a hardworking community. The tremendous wealth of information on the process of becoming a medicine woman is surely one of this book's strengths. As a woman who lives in many worlds, McCovey does an excellent job of highlighting for the reader the spiritual differences among the communities in which she has lived, showcasing for the reader the significant variety in Native American religious practices, even in close geographic proximity. This book will likewise be valuable to those interested in women's studies, as McCovey reflects on her role as a medicine woman, and as a wife, daughter, and mother in the Karuk and Yurok communities. This text is narrated by McCovey, literally, in that it was told to the anthropologist John Salter (McCovey's co-author), who offered annotations. Salter has presented McCovey's words as they were told to him. This presents certain benefits, clearly in that we hear directly and mostly unmediated from McCovey. It also presents challenges. As a spoken history, the style of narration is somewhat different from what most readers may be accustomed to- this is a book that sometimes begs to be read out loud, to offer full appreciation of the style. In sum, this is a very interesting book, which offers information not necessarily available elsewhere. Blurbers described this book as a "definitive text," and I would agree. I would use this book in the classroom without hesitation. McCovey's story has taught me a great deal.