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“Recovering the Sacred” by Winona Laduke


There is a book I have read recently that impressed me a lot with its content and the way it was written. It is called Recovering the sacred by Winona LaDuke. This book is about some cases when Native Americans took back their traditions, food, and lands. Reclaiming sacred objects and ecological wisdom are the main topics of LaDuke’s stories in her book.

The author answers the question “What is sacred?” On the first pages of her book, Winona analyzes the actions of our ancestors. Those actions are what we should respect and value:

How does a community heal itself from the ravages of the past? That is a question I asked in writing this book. I found an answer in the multifaceted process of recovering that which is “sacred.” This complex and intergenerational process is essential to our vitality as Indigenous peoples and ultimately as individuals. This book documents some of our community’s work to recover the sacred and to heal (LaDuke, 11).

What are the main points stated in Recovering the sacred

According to La Duke, the main problem of the American continent was the vast flow of immigrants from Europe, who destroyed many of the original American features. It is obvious that everything mixed since the European invasion: food, traditions, and religions, but the author does not point to disadvantages only, but shares some good news about what natives do now to recover their lend, food, and culture. In Recovering the sacred, La Duke describes how American citizens have started to “heal themselves from the ravages of the past” (LaDuke, 11).

Sacred lands and places

Winona’s book consists of four parts. The first one is about sacred lands and places. Here, she tells the reader about God and Universe. LaDuke describes Apache religion and tells about Mount Graham as “the most important sacred mountain” (30) in the region. She considers this mountain as the heart of the Apache homeland and tells the reader that it is a central figure of local religion. She also analyzed how the spiritual leaders of Apache appeared and described the rise of Arizona. In this part, Winona described the appearance of such an important invention of humanity as a telescope and about the Vatican’s project of building it on Mount Graham. According to the author, the telescope played an important role in proving the fact that our planet is round and revolves around the sun.

Here, she also tells about lakes, coil, and different religions such as Mormon and the ways they impacted modern society. The author paid readers attention especially to two rivers: Zuni Salt River and Klamath River. Both rivers are very important spiritual sources of the region and have a very important meaning for their productivity. LaDuke emphasized the meaning of both rivers’ basins for the environment and cited an interesting story of journalist Jean Johnson to show how harmful human’s behavior can be:

There is a story that goes something like this. “Grandmother,” said the young Indian girl, “What are those big things in the river?” The grandmother raised her eyes towards the broken blocks of massive concrete through which the river poured, “Daughter,” the old woman replied, “Those are dams the white people left” (LaDuke, 57).

By telling stories like this throughout the whole book, LaDuke shows the reader how our land can suffer from our actions and how hard it can be for our motherland to recover. According to the author’s opinion, all the harm that is done to rivers, mountains, air, and our environment, in general, will lie on the shoulders of our children.

Ancestors, Images and our lives

The second part of the book is dedicated to our ancestors, images, and our lives. Here the author pays attention to the harm that wars can bring on the planet, tells about imperial anthropology, and about the ethics of collecting:

The practice of collecting buried bodies and cultural properties finds its origins in the paradigms of imperialism, science, racism, and the bounty of war. While some of the Europeans who settled North America came for religious refuge, others came in search of adventure, bent on discovering the exotic. In the process of leaving behind their histories in the old lands, the colonists became a people in search of a history of other peoples (LaDuke, 76).

In this part LaDuke also tells about Vampires in the New World. She presents biopiracy to the reader and explains the conflict of the Bering theory with the religious beliefs of blood donors. She explains how certain people profit off of indigenous genetics. Winona also raises such issues as human genetics in general and discusses problems connected with it that appeared nowadays.

Seeds and Medicine

The third part of LaDuke’s book is dedicated to plants mostly and is called Seeds and Medicine. The author pays attention to what we eat, where we get our food, and what is our food consists of. Winona tells the reader that we are losing the biodiversity in crops and how the American people suffer from this problem today. Many new diseases appeared, the immune system is not as protected today as it used to be years ago. She also tells about recovery from traditional agriculture in three different regions and dedicates a lot of space in her book to a Wild Rice. LaDuke highlights the Ojibwe practice of harvesting wild rice and tells the reader about all the patterns of this product. In this part, she describes the real price of rice, places where it grows, and also tells about cultural property rights.

Food as a Medicine is the main idea of this part of the book. The author tries to persuade the reader that organic balanced natural food is what we should eat today instead of what we eat. In this case, our food will work as a medicine for our body and we will be healthy. LaDuke claims that if everyone will follow her advice to “eat grass”, then the whole nation will be healthy.


The last part of Recovering the sacred is dedicated to the way of life our relatives had: LaDuke told about the former American society as about “The Horse Nation” and told about People in the Great Lakes Region.

Finally, Winona discusses some global problems of mankind such as global warming and other factors of climate change. She sees the solution to this problem in restructuring the energy industry and in democratizing power production.


Recovering the sacred is a fascinating book that teaches everyone historical aspects of Native American communities. Winona LaDuke raises various problems connected with food, biopiracy, environment, traditions, and many other aspects of human life. The author is dedicated to the Indigenous traditions and respects the way of life our ancestors had.

Works Cited

LaDuke, Winona. Recovering the sacred: the power of naming and claiming. NYC: South End Press, 2005. Print.


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