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Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  677 ratings  ·  88 reviews
This book leads readers through a troubled past using the author's family circle as a touch point and resource for discovery. Personal and strong, these stories present an evocative new view of the shaping of California and the lives of Indians during the Mission period in California. The result is a work of literary art that is wise, angry and playful all at once. ...more
Paperback, 217 pages
Published November 12th 2012 by Heyday Books
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Aug 15, 2013 rated it liked it
There were many things I liked about this book, including Ms. Miranda's poetry. Her cultural reclamation and correction of the historical narrative of the settling of California and the treatment of the Native tribes by these settlers is both necessary and important.

But I think I have OD'd on dysfuntional childhoods. Seemingly everyone has stories, horrifying stories, in their past and in their families. The pain and sorrow of the unacknowledged and the untold permeate countless family and cultu
i tried to finish BAD INDIANS by deborah miranda but couldn't. her book on indigenous californians was rife with shoddy scholarship and shoddy writing. i got 80% of the way through and had to abandon it.

the trap that some natives fall into is being stuck in tape loops produced by their anger regarding the history of colonial oppression. in this case, she seemed to be perpetuating the language of the oppressors in just about every page of the first half of the book. she was able to narrate some o
Enjoyed this very much, not everyone knows but the 1950's and early 60's the US Government had a program to separate out native children from their culture The Indian Adoption Project was a federal program that acquired Indian children from 1958 to 1967 with the help of the prestigious Child Welfare League of America; a successor organization, the Adoption Resource Exchange of North America, functioned from 1966 until the early 1970s. Churches were also involved. In the Southwest, the Church of ...more
Jan 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
In various memoir writings that I've read, there's rarely a straightforward, chronological narrative and this is certainly true here. The author mixes her poetry with stories told by various female elders, that sometimes have tantalizing interjections from her own story. It also includes a personalized accounting of historical abuse perpetrated upon native peoples by those involved in the California missions. The author purposes this memoir as a "correction" of the sanitation of mission history ...more
Really well done. Miranda is an Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen (Monterey Bay) who can trace her family through her father's line to enslavement in the California missions. This story reads part memoir/part history of California Indians told through letters, diaries, poems, newspaper articles, tape recording etc. Miranda does not shy away from the brutalness and horror her family experiences from not only the Spanish missionaries but also from the government. Sometimes it's hard to read, the stories an ...more
Jan 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I think I might buy this one. <3 <3 <3
Tracy Middlebrook
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Found this through Powell's Books, created a list to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. Really really loved the mixed media approach. The combination of narrative, news articles, personal memoir, poetry, history, thought was a fascinating way to compile a book. Important and powerful and heartbreaking and rage-inducing. I wish it had a deeper bibliography and a suggestion of further resources. A lot of this information (historical and her family's history) is devastating. ...more
Ai Miller
May 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An incredible read that grabs and doesn't let go. I'll say first off that you should block off time for this book--it's not something you should read in multiple sittings, and you honestly won't want to read it that way. Miranda defies genre as she mashes together archival sourced-history with personal memoir with tribal history with poetry with essay with visual work. Her rich writing--and oh my GOD is it rich, it's so beautiful--really makes the story she's telling all the more rich and vivid. ...more
Anthony Friscia
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this beautiful, tragic, elegiac, historical book. It’s the memoir of the author, but not just of her life, but the life of her ancestors - the native peoples of California. She goes all the way back to before the Missions, dispelling the myths about their founding and work, through the dispersal of her people, and up to her own life, including her personal histories, myths and tragedies, especially those relating to her father. It’s all presented in a way I don’t usually enjoy - with pro ...more
Britton Dudasko
Dec 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Deborah A. Miranda’s Bad Indians punched me in the heart with its honesty. A powerful memoir, Bad Indians weaves together poetry, history, genealogy, and prose with devastating vulnerability. Every section has something new to teach her readers. Through this book, we are delivered an intimate look into the past of not just one person, but a whole group of people through her Ohlone-Esselen heritage. If history were a house, we are invited inside to walk through the rooms. Miranda’s reconstruction ...more
Dec 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a terrific book -- and if it has been a long time coming, it is well worth it. Miranda, is an Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen who can trace her family back to the enslavement in the California missions. She peels back the layers of history, of oppression, by turning the "standard" documents -- anthropological tracts, mission records, Old West newspaper accounts, official documents, even prayers -- on their head. What did these official histories mean for the lives of the Indians who were forced ...more
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing as a history; amazing as literature. Read it, especially you Californians.

'very tasty, our language.' I imagine our words being crispy or salty or smooth as a ripe fig. I like the idea that our language has flavor, texture, scent, yet can never be consumed. I tell Louise about Fulgencio's comment; she tells everyone else, and we end the evening with great smacking of lips and satisfied rubbing of tummies. 'Oh that's why they make those sounds, like they're savoring each syllable!"
Zack O'Neill
Aug 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Miranda is a member of the Ohlone / Costanoan-Esselen Nation. In her introduction, she tells us her mother was white, and her father “Chumash and Esselen” (xi). Historically the Esselen have resided in an area stretching from Northern California’s Bay Area to the Monterey Peninsula. The Chumash have resided farther to the south, from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara to Ventura to Los Angeles Counties, typically along the coast. Miranda spent most of her childhood in Southern California; her fath ...more
Apr 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
I read it for a writing class in Fall. What annoyed me most about the book was that I felt that there was an attitude of blame everything on the Europeans, which are of some blame. However she seemed to say it in a way that the Native Americans were never at fault for some of their own aggressive actions like violence or alcoholism. It did bring up some interesting points but the author annoyed me.
Jul 15, 2019 rated it liked it
"Those who will not change do not survive; but who are we, when we have survived?" (xiv).

In BAD INDIANS, Miranda tells her family history and digs through the archives as a way to rewrite the colonizer's story of California Indians, brazenly on display in the statewide fourth-grade Mission project. Her collage approach serves her purpose well. How can BAD INDIANS reshape the way we tell the story in California—and across the country?
Adele Elliott
Jan 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Part historical record, part journal, “Bad Indians” is wonderfully written. Miranda is also a poet, a talent that shows in the prose. I recommend this book for anyone who would enjoy in a look at history that is not distorted by the perspective of conquers and religious overseers.
Bernie G
Very informative and gave good insight on what it means to be an Native American.
Despite having to read this for a college class, I found myself enjoying it far more than I thought I would. It is a mix of the author's experiences growing up and her family tree's history (mostly on the Indigenous side) and the history of California's Indigenous population after the Spanish arrived. Some parts of the book were difficult to read (view spoiler) ...more
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Deborah A. Miranda’s 2013 novel Bad Indians-A Tribal Memoir is a poignant life reflection of Miranda’s childhood and early adult years growing up in California. In her search for her identity, Miranda begins by looking into the past following her family tree while educating the viewer of the accurate history of California Mission Indians. The book is broken into segments of 50 to 75-year timeframes spanning the last 150 years. Each segment tells the tale of how the indigenous people of what is n ...more
Apr 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
Admittedly, I don’t love memoirs or autobiographical works, but the form of Deborah A. Miranda’s Tribal Memoir was too interesting to pass up. She had this amazing idea to place herself in conversation with a popular 4th grade project for California students where they have to learn about and recreate dioramas of the California Missions that were involved in the abuse, torture, and decimaition of the California Native tribes. Miranda offers perhaps one of the best definitions of culture that I h ...more
Mike Steele
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Written to deconstruct and debunk the California mission mythology that so often erases the violence against the California indigenous tribes (particularly in fourth grade social studies units), Bad Indians does that and simultaneously widens its lens far more. Miranda conveys this deconstruction as a story that moves seamlessly between eras and speakers and that is sometimes a memoir, sometimes a metaphor, and sometimes a history lesson, all the while moving through a spectrum of tones. Reading ...more
Lauren Rogers
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Deborah A. Miranda’s, Bad Indians, is a mixed-genre tribal memoir. Deborah is a part of the Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen clan whose relatives went through enslavement in the California Missions. She tells the history of California Natives and the brutalities they experienced in California missions through stories, letters, poems, newspaper articles, and more. Miranda tells these horrific stories in order to discount the mission project that many fourth graders are expected to complete. I really enjo ...more
Jaqueline Martinez
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This memoir combines various forms of writing and even photographs and newspaper clippings, to tell the history of both the California Mission Indians as well as the author’s own personal history. Although the author does a phenomenal job of organizing the different writings in the book, it can still be difficult to read because of all the elements incorporated into it. In order to really analyze the concepts within this book, I would say it’s worth taking the time to read over a longer period o ...more
Mar 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book, a potpourri of history, personal essay, poetry, old news reports, photos, and diaries is INTENSE. It absolutely shreds official histories (still taught in grade schools!) that downplay the California Missions' role as agents of genocide, providing graphic and heartrending descriptions of the Missionaries' brutality. It also shows how that brutality still echoes within indigenous society today, most disturbingly in the person of the author's alcoholic, abusive, rapist father. The issue ...more
Leila Bathke
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was the first book I read in the Interracial Dynamics class at UCLA. It was super eye opening about the extent of history's erasure of Native peoples' history, particularly in relation to California Indians and the genocide that occurred around the time of the Gold Rush. I loved how anecdotal it was, too, because it helped me connect with it even more. Especially her relationship with her dad was very relatable to my life. Also, her being mixed (half Chumash, half European-descent white), w ...more
Mar 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
"In California schools, students come up against the "Mission Unit" in fourth grade, reinforcing the same lies those children have been breathing most of their lives...Intense pressure is put upon students (and their parents) to create a Mission Project that glorifies the era and glosses over both Spanish and Mexican exploitation of Indians, as well as the American enslavement of those same Indians during American rule. In other words, the Mission Unit is all too often a lesson in imperialism, r ...more
Apr 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
This memoir is divided into 4 parts. The first 3 cover Californian Indian and Missionary/Padre/Christianisatopn starting in 1776 until 1961, when the author is born. This history is covered via several individuals to whom she sets the context around and also examines the way Indians are taught as history rather than present in Californian school. She writes poetry about historical events, writes letters to individuals who existed, writes texts that read like gruesome instruction manuals or infog ...more
Michael Haase
Mar 28, 2018 rated it liked it
For what it is, the book is eloquent, vivid, and diverse, but, like much post-colonial literature, it suffers in its attempts to reconcile the past by revitalizing previous injustices. It belongs among those most aggressive and scathing post-colonial texts which overflow with exaggerated hatred and frustration. It is by no means an impartial or analytical text, and begs the reader to wonder what the point of it all is. Are we, the readers, expected to share these emotions, reviling the colonizer ...more
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Bad Indians by Deborah A. Miranda (Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen) is a unique blend of personal stories and historical facts. Miranda presents poetry, pictures and charts as well as her own family lineage and childhood memories. Through these different perspectives, she aims to tell readers the true stories of missionization from 1770 to present day. Additionally, Miranda points out how the effects of the missions are still impacting Native American families today. She even tells her own testimony an ...more
Dana Berglund
Jan 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
I don't know that I've read a book like this before. Parts of it were personal memoir, letting us peer into her childhood full of addiction-soaked abuse and terror, and occasionally love and learning. Parts of it were poetry, both personal and with a bigger lens. Parts of it were history lessons, including scans and passages from historical documents from the California mission system and ethnographers’ attempts to catalog the stories of the indigenous people who had been colonized (tortured, en ...more
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