AOG Literature Review | “American Indian Story: The Adventures of Sha’kona,” by Jana Mashonee and Stephan Galfas

This is a Young Adult novel written by Jana Mashonee, who is also Native American musician who has won eight Native American Music Awards. In fact, one of her albums is based on this novel she co-wrote with her song-writing partner and music producer Stephan Galfas.

The title, “American Indian Story – The Adventures of Sha’kona,” sounds pretty redundant, because the cover and the blurb on the back are self-evident that this book is about a Native American protagonist. “Foreseen By The Other Eyes” I would have suggested as a suitable title, since it lures the potential buyer in to what exactly is meant by “other eyes,” as well as what they are “foreseeing.”

Plot

It is about a girl named Taylor Mashonee who reads a book about her ancestor named Sha’kona who embarks on a journey with her family and tribe. She is the main focus of the journey since she inherited her magical power from her great-grandmother after she died that enables her to have foresight and tell which course of action is beneficial.

There is a predictable Romeo-and-Juliet type of forbidden romance. The conflict between the tribes did not seem to escalate. The ending of Sha’kona’s story was quite out-of-place, inconsistent, and felt cobbled together.

Characters

The main character, Sha’kona, does a lot of growing up in this book and takes on the challenges of being a chosen one and a young girl. That part is shown very well. There are a lot of parallels between her and Taylor and even Jana Mashonee herself. I do not want to bluntly state that Taylor is a self-inserted character (because a lot of authors do see themselves in their protagonists), but it does raise a red flag when both surnames are the same. As for her power, there was a part involving a giant rock which was essentially filler and could have been condensed or just not been there at all.

Her father, Wowoka, is the chief of the tribe, and who she respects and is afraid of disobeying. Her uncle, Tokanosh, is an important character as the warrior arm of the tribe, and plays crucial roles in Sha’kona’s prescience.  Her younger brother, Tewa, constantly pesters Sha’kona, while doing some growing up himself as well as providing a glimpse of Sha’kona’s life in her free time. Her mother, Makawee, is soft-spoken and talks more with Sha’kona later in the novel.

A pet peeve of mine when it comes to reading literature is a story has a title consisting of the protagonist’s name and yet there are multiple shifts in point-of-view away from the protagonist herself.

Themes

The central theme is Sha’kona and her tribe being among the first to cross the Bering Strait and into the New World. There are also creatures from actual Native American mythology that guide Sha’kona to where her tribe should go. Such creatures are Nanuk the White Bear from Inuit mythology and the White Buffalo from Lakota mythology. I did like how Mashonee and Galfas used the types of trees to indicate which part of the Americas the tribe was located, such as cedar and deciduous trees.

There are anachronisms found in Sha’kona’s time period, such as the concept of dessert, puzzles, bone chest plates, and shields. But the most glaring example is the presence of horses in North America, which were actually introduced by the Spanish. There was an equine species that existed 10,000 years ago, yet it’s uncertain if they were used as domesticated animals since they were driven to extinction and there aren’t any other megafauna located in Sha’kona’s time period, like the mammoth.

Speaking of the mammoth in the room, a glaring hole that seemed to pervade me as the story progressed was: Where did the magic book that Taylor is reading come from? More importantly: What materials were used? I could only guess that Sha’kona’s descendants during the colonial era managed to borrow the European practice of book-binding and managed to use the skins of magical animals to create the book. Unfortunately, I did not get an answer.

But these out-of-place themes don’t come from a place of stereotyping but out of misinformation. I also do think that they are meant to be etiological within the story’s mythology, such as answering why eagles are sacred, why Native American tribes are nomadic, and why fish are used to plant corn (though it has been disproven that the Native Americans invented that).

Writing Style

There are generalities used, such as “thing” and “had had” and cliché metaphors that were used throughout the book, such as “stomach full of butterflies” and “Mr. Wonderful.” Although, I can expect such metaphors used in such a way to familiarize this YA book with its intended demographic, I did think there was one metaphor I thought was worth writing down in my notebook. It was when Tokanosh described Sha’kona’s headstrongness as:

“You are just like your father was when he was young, always dancing to his own drum.”

It would’ve made more sense if the metaphors reflected off the living conditions of Sha’kona’s tribe. In which case, the drum was used in her tribe as an instrument that the meetings sit around. The inner workings of the tribe start getting more in-depth at the middle of the story, such as the multiple uses of a hunted buffalo. As much as the importance is give to Sha’kona for being given “other eyes” after the death of her great-grandmother, there was only one part later in the novel where it actually described Sha’kona in her state of “opening her other eyes.”

I did like the witty banter between two of the chiefs. Not only did they butt heads demonstrating their authority but also through their intelligence. It was almost as though there was no animosity to begin with.

What was helpful was having a pronunciation guide in the appendix. It is a detail I would like to see in novels that deal with Native Americans and their language.

Lumbee

The Lumbee Indians are a tribe with 55,000 members located in North Carolina. They are named after the Lumbee River and are the descendants of the Cheraw tribe, although there has been controversy as to their origins, but the Cheraw tribe is an agreed-upon ancestor-tribe.

Jana Mashonee’s surname comes from a Siouan word meaning “money-pelt.” This has to do with the fact that the Lumbee Indians spoke a language from the Siouan language family tree.

Relation to Native American Heritage

Considering how all of the characters have names that derive from languages of different tribes, such as the Wampanoag, the Navajo, and the Inuktitut, they may serve an allegorical purpose of all of the Native American tribes, though I doubt that the first Paleo-Indians who crossed the Bering Strait spoke any of those languages.

I did think that Sha’kona and her tribe were meant to symbolize all Native Americans.

“Other Eyes” with Blurred Vision

It was a story with a too perfect protagonist in a faltering setting. There were plenty of opportunities to frame the realities of Paleo-Indians upon entering the Americas through the Bering Strait land-bridge, however they were not taken. Though, I can imagine a lot of Native American women would want to name their daughters “Sha’kona.”

 

Mashonee, Jana and Stephan Galfas. “American Indian Story: The Adventures of Sha’kona.” Wampum Books. 2010.

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