J.C.H. King
First Peoples, First Contacts: Native Peoples of North America

"The dilemma of relations between Indians, minorities in their own homelands, and colonial settlers was quite straightforward. The metropolitan authorities, in England as in Spain, recognized that Native polities possessed rights. However, colonial officials often found it impossible to defend those rights, because in so doing they were required to attack--militarily--their own kith and kin." -- p. 77

"in issues put to the vote, Natives, except where in a majority, as in parts of the Arctic today, may be overwhelmed by the democratic process." -- p. 79

As a curator in the British Museum, King offers up hundreds of full color photographs of artifacts mostly under his care. Along with the pictures comes a mostly historical account of Native settlements throughout North America. Much of this account deals with the 18th and 19th Centuries rather than the pre-Columbus period--the exception being the first chapter, entitled "Ancient North America", which covers only 22 pages.

The geographic regions discussed include the Northeastern and Southeastern Woodlands, California, Northwest Coast, Arctic, Subarctic, Canadian Plains, and American (south)West. The prose is generally dull and awkward. Most of the text screams out for an editor. The chapters (including the final one) end suddenly, without warning. Conclusions, summaries, and interesting insights are rare. However, the 298 figures presented make the book worthwhile--especially if you can't make it to the British Museum.

Many of the chapters begin with the creation myth of the people(s) the chapter will discuss. From there the format varies by chapter, but topics include first explorers in the area, significant collections and how they made it into the British Museum, area art, food acquiring practices, the influence of trade, etc. The paragraphs are lengthy and seem to end not because the subject has switched gears but because 20+ lines have already been crammed into the last one. Again, the text has few redeeming characteristics. There must be better narratives available for the history and peoples covered.

The major points First Peoples, First Contacts does get across though include: the devastating effect the European diseases had on the Native populations; the beauty and utility of the art, clothing, and tools; and the numerous adaptations the Natives made over the centuries from the time of first contacts. If nothing else, the perspective I had of Native North Americans was changed from King's work.

from the publisher:
From the Big-Game Hunters who appeared on the continent as far back as 12,000 years ago to the Inuits plying the Alaskan waters today, the Native peoples of North America produced a culture remarkable for its vibrancy, breadth, and diversity--and for its survival in the face of almost inconceivable trials. This book is at once a history of that culture and a celebration of its splendid variety. Rich in historical testimony and anecdotes and lavishly illustrated, it weaves a magnificent tapestry of Native American life reaching back to the earliest human records.

A recognized expert in North American studies, Jonathan King interweaves his account with Native histories, from the arrival of the first Native Americans by way of what is now Alaska to their later encounters with Europeans on the continent's opposite coast, from their exchanges with fur traders to their confrontations with settlers and an ever more voracious American government. To illustrate this history, King draws on the extensive collections of the British Museum--artwork, clothing, tools, and artifacts that demonstrate the wealth of ancient traditions as well as the vitality of contemporary Native culture. These illustrations, all described in detail, form a pictorial document of relations between Europeans and Native American peoples--peoples as profoundly different and as deeply related as the Algonquians and the Iroquois, the Chumash of California and the Inuipat of Alaska, the Cree and the Cherokee--from their first contact to their complicated coexistence today.

J. C. H. King is curator of the North American collections in the Department of Ethnography at the British Museum. He is the author of Arctic Hunters, coauthor of Aspects of Early North American Metallurgy, and editor of Imaging the Arctic.