Feraca, Stephen E. 1934-1999

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FERACA, Stephen E. 1934-1999

PERSONAL: Born 1934; died June 29, 1999, in Washington, DC.

CAREER: Civil servant and author. U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, member of staff until 1985.


Why Don't They Give Them Guns?: The Great American Indian Myth, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1990.

Wakinyan: Lakota Religion in the Twentieth Century, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1998.

SIDELIGHTS: Stephen E. Feraca, a longtime civil servant with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), published two works related to his experience in dealing with Native Americans. The first, Why Don't They Give Them Guns?: The Great American Indian Myth, published in 1990, is a passionate treatise on Indian relations in America, particularly during the period since the 1960s. In 1998, Feraca produced Wakinyan: Lakota Religion in the Twentieth Century, a work based on a 1963 report he had written for the Department of the Interior. The book examines the various religious practices of the Lakota, a Western Plains tribe better known in the white world as the Sioux. Critics welcomed the two books as evidence that Feraca was one of the most knowledgeable writers on the status of the Native American community in the late twentieth century.

Before retiring from the BIA in 1985, Feraca had grown disenchanted with much of what he witnessed in his dealings with Native Americans. However, because he was an employee of the government, he could not openly express his opinions concerning a host of Indian issues, including the BIA's handling of this group of people. After he retired, Feraca was no longer handcuffed by his obligations to the BIA, and he began to speak freely about his difference of opinion, expressed clearly in Why Don't They Give Them Guns? Not only does Feraca question certain BIA policies, he also attacks the traditional myths about Native Americans that have developed over the course of centuries, beginning with the idea of the "noble savage" espoused by early Europeans.

Feraca also questions the notion that in every situation "we took their land." In addition, he sheds doubt on the belief that the federal government has not done enough to help Native Americans combat social problems. In fact, he believes that because the government has done so much to help them, a devastating sense of dependency has developed that has become a major hurdle in Indian-white relations. Feraca calls this relationship a "hostile dependency."

Why Don't They Give Them Guns? drew generally good reviews from critics. A contributor to Booknews appreciated Feraca's passion, calling him "an original" and "a bit of an eccentric." Referring to the work as "an angry discussion," M. C. Mangusso of Choice believed it to be "provocative and worthy of consideration."

When Feraca released his 1963 report, it was immediately considered a groundbreaking study on Lakota religious thought and practices. Wakinyan includes most of the original text from the study, and Feraca later added endnotes to it in an attempt to make the book more up-to-date. The book explains various Lakota rituals, including the Sun Dance, Yuwipi, the vision quest, the use of peyote, and the religious significance of the sweat lodge. Feraca's new notes show how these practices evolved in the late twentieth century, particularly because they have been popularized and possibly even romanticized by the general public. "Lakota Sun Dances in the 1990s involve large numbers of young people," Feraca writes in the book, "including non-Sioux Indians, whites, Hispanics, blacks and still others, including Chinese and Japanese." As a result of these dramatic changes, many Lakota elders and traditionalists have attempted to restrict outsiders from any participation in the ancient rituals. Feraca writes that this denial goes against the ancient Lakota tradition of accepting others into their ranks, particularly through the means of adoption. Critics, such as Mark Abley of the Times Literary Supplement, felt that Wakinyan provides a "useful" look at Lakota religion.



Booknews, September 1, 1990.

Choice, November, 1990, p. 549.

Times Literary Supplement, May 7, 1999, p. 8.*