Fill ‘er Up: A review of Spirit Car

by Jun 15, 2010A&E0 comments


“I discovered a new truth: I was searching for the stories that had been lost from our family,” writes Diane Wilson.  The Dakota descendent continues, “In traditional Dakota culture, stories are handed down from one generation to the next.”   Spirit Car is the chronicle of Wilson’s attempts to access and recover her family’s stories.

“The loss of that oral tradition and the breakdown of communication between generations had set my family adrift,” Wilson realizes, “floating aimlessly without history and all its accumulated experience to guide us.”  

Spirit Car organizes family photos, historical events, oral history and Wilson’s own research into a fascinating personal and spiritual journey.  Wilson’s explorations lead her to surmise that “As human beings we need our stories surrounding us.”

Wilson’s tale starts with the conflict between Dakota natives and settlers from the outside. The 1862 Dakota War and its aftermath frames Wilson’s evocative memoir.  “We need context, we need myths, we need family legends in order to see the invisible legacy that follows us, that tells us who we are,” Wilson discovers.

Her mother’s reluctance to divulge her family background raises Wilson’s curiosity, initially. Finally, her revelations alter Wilson’s personal reality. Wilson’s family tree includes Dakota ancestors, and the family is birthed between the intersections of race, war and personal identity.

Once Wilson finds out about her Dakota heritage, she pieces together the puzzle of her tribal connections.  Spirit Car contains the stories of Wilson’s family, placed in their cultural and historical contexts. As a result of her research, Wilson chooses to honor her ancestors and to celebrate her Native heritage. 

Spirit Car is an intriguing memoir, filled with insights and information that appeals to all who are interested in reclaiming and sustaining their family ties and tales.

Book info:  Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson.  Saint Paul:Borealis Books, 2006, 220 pages, $22.95 cloth, ISBN#:978-0-87351-570-2.