Princeton Nature

Birds through Indigenous Eyes: Native Perspectives on Birds of the Eastern Woodlands

An intimate and personal account of the profound roles birds play in the lives of some Indigenous people


Published (US):
Apr 30, 2024
Published (UK):
Jun 25, 2024
5.5 x 8.5 in.
9 b/w illus.
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For many hours over a period of years, white anthropologist Dennis Gaffin and two Indigenous friends, Michael Bastine and John Volpe, recorded their conversations about a shared passion: the birds of upstate New York and southern Ontario. In these lively, informal talks, Bastine (a healer and naturalist of Algonquin descent) and Volpe (a naturalist and animal rehabilitator of Ojibwe and Métis descent) shared their experiences of, and beliefs about, birds, describing the profound spiritual, psychological, and social roles of birds in the lives of some Indigenous people. Birds through Indigenous Eyes presents highlights of these conversations, placing them in context and showing how Native understandings of birds contrast with conventional Western views.

Bastine and Volpe bring to life Algonquin, Ojibwe, and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) beliefs about birds. They reveal how specific birds and bird species are seamlessly integrated into spirituality and everyday thought and action, how birds bring important messages to individual people, how a bird species can become associated with a person, and how birds provide warnings about our endangered environment. Over the course of the book, birds such as the house sparrow, Eastern phoebe, Northern flicker, belted kingfisher, gray catbird, cedar waxwing, and black-capped chickadee are shown in a new light—as spiritual and practical helpers that can teach humans how to live well.

An original work of ethno-ornithology that offers a rare close-up look at some Native views on birds, Birds through Indigenous Eyes opens rich new perspectives on the deep connections between birds and humans.