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39 b & w illus., 5 maps
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A Chemehuevi Song

The Resilience of a Southern Paiute Tribe

The Chemehuevi of the Twenty-Nine Palms tribe of Southern California stands as a testament to the power of perseverance. This small, nomadic band of Southern Paiute Indians has been repeatedly marginalized by European settlers, other Native groups, and, until now, historical narratives that have all too often overlooked them.

Having survived much of the past two centuries without rights to their homeland or any self-governing abilities, the Chemehuevi were a mostly "forgotten" people until the creation of the Twenty-Nine Palms Reservation in 1974. Since then, they have formed a tribal government that addresses many of the same challenges faced by other tribes, including preserving cultural identity and managing a thriving gaming industry.

A dedicated historian who worked closely with the Chemehuevi for more than a decade, Clifford Trafzer shows how this once-splintered tribe persevered using sacred songs and other cultural practices to maintain tribal identity during the long period when it lacked both a homeland and autonomy. The Chemehuevi believe that their history and their ancestors are always present, and Trafzer honors that belief through his emphasis on individual and family stories. In doing so, he not only sheds light on an overlooked tribe but also presents an important new model for tribal history scholarship.

A Chemehuevi Song strikes the difficult balance of placing a community-driven research agenda within the latest currents of indigenous studies scholarship. Chemehuevi voices, both past and present, are used to narrate the story of the tribe's tireless efforts to gain recognition and autonomy. The end result is a song of resilience.

About the Authors

Clifford E. Trafzer is Distinguished Professor of History and Costo Chair of American Indian Affairs at University of California, Riverside. He is the author of several books, including Renegade Tribe: The Palouse Indians and the Invasion of the Inland Pacific Northwest and Death Stalks the Yakama: Epidemiological Transitions and Death on the Yakama Indian Reservation, 1888–1964; and coeditor of The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue: Voices and Images from Sherman Institute.


"A well-written and illustrated, carefully documented, masterful contribution to the overlapping fields of ethnohistory, ethnomusicology, Native American and American studies, myth, and folklore. Essential."—Choice

"[A Chemehuevi Song] represents the highest level of academic and community collaboration. . . [It] is the embodiment of an intellectual and cultural relationship that combines an astute analysis from the historian/ethnographer with a melody of rare tribal voices sharing the lived realities—both past and present—that Chemehuevi people experienced, survived, and relied upon to create the cultural resilience they are experiencing today."—Theresa L. Gregor, Southern California Quarterly

"The sound historical research, sources, and extensive employment of oral history interviews makes this account of the history and persistence of the Chemehuevi an impressive work."—William D. Rowley, Montana Magazine

"Trafzer's book is a wondrous portrayal. . . . Compelling historical discourse. . . . A Chemehuevi Song is a song, and a story, that we should all make time to hear."—David Martínez, The Journal of Arizona History

"Clifford E. Trafzer has produced a thorough history of the Chemehuevi people. . . . This work will appeal to a wide audience. It is certainly an important work for California Indian scholars. . . . This book is a song with a very clear message and chorus, and Trafzer makes very clear that the song continues."—Rebecca Bales, Western Historical Quarterly

"Some academics are good scholars and a few are good storytellers. Clifford Trafzer is both. . . . Trafzer presents a nuanced view of the community's culture, especially their songs as methods of dealing with sorrow. . . . A Chemehuevi Song is a testament to their songs as metaphors for the Chemehuevi's adaptations to adversity and relative prosperity."—Ronald L. Holt, New Mexico Historical Review


"Trafzer should be congratulated for his nuanced rendering of Chemehuevi history, which stems from his longstanding relationship with the tribe . . . I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone interested in learning the 'true history' of California, the conquest of the U.S. West, and the survival of Native People in the Americas."—Jeffrey P. Shepherd, author of We Are an Indian Nation: A History of the Hualapai People

"In this deeply compelling book, Trafzer provides a fascinating account of how one Southern California tribe navigated through federal and state government policies to preserve and practice its right to self-determination. Written by a master storyteller, A Chemehuevi Song is the first comprehensive analysis of the Chemehuevi of Twenty-Nine Palms. It is a captivating story that gives voice to the people, and offers a rare glimpse into their history and culture."—Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, author of Education beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902-1929

"What makes this monograph particularly meaningful is how Trafzer skillfully places the Chemehuevi people as the center of the story—using their voice and their perspective."—Joel R. Hyer, author of "We Are not Savages": Native Americans in Southern California and the Pala Reservation, 1840-1920

"A considerable achievement using extensive archival sources and the voices of Southern Paiute people that analyzes the sweep of Chemehuevi history. This is a significant contribution to indigenous studies and American history, a model for future works on American Indian people."—Larry Myers, Native American Heritage Commission

"Through Trafzers interviews with contemporary Chemehuevi, we understand why these people are still here, still maintaining a culture that by all the 'laws' of history should have disappeared decades ago."—George Phillips, author of Chiefs and Challengers: Indian Resistance and Cooperation in Southern, California, 1769-1906

"Driven by oral history interviews and in-depth research, Clifford E. Trafzer, a senior indigenous scholar is at his best in masterly historicizing the Chemehuevi Way, connecting people and the past in rhythm with nature. This holistic approach is a luminous model for understanding the longue duree of native peoples."—Donald L. Fixico, (Sac & Fox, Shawnee, Muscogee Creek and Seminole) Distinguished Foundation Professor of History, Arizona State University

"Like the versatile healing properties of Salt Songs themselves, this book remembers, honors, cures and I hope will foster a new generation of too-long-ignored culture histories from the panoply of southern California's first nations. A stunning, exciting and intimate portrait orchestrated by a sensitive and wise scholar who lets the people and their places speak for themselves."—Peter Nabokov, World Arts and Cultures and American Indian Studies, UCLA

9780295742762 : a-chemehuevi-song-trafzer-myers
Paperback / softback
328 Pages
$30.00 USD
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328 Pages
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