The Book of the Vision Quest – Steven Foster

The Book of the Vision Quest: Personal Transformation in the Wilderness
Steven Foster with Meredith Little
Bear Tribe Publishing, 1983
170 pages

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. On the one hand there’s some really useful information in it. On the other, it smacks of wannabe Indianism. Let me elaborate on each.

The Good: The book is a good guide to what we’ll call vision questing, for simplicity’s sake. The second chapter of the book in particular is basically a handbook that seems designed for people that the author would guide out into the desert for their experiences. It has good practical information, though it should not be taken as your only source for this material. The bulk of the book involves anecdotes from various peoples’ experiences, used to illustrate different aspects of the quest. It’s well-written, and with a good balance of voices.

The Bad: It basically reads like “white people trying to be Indians”. Indigenous people are spoken of in the past tense, and in romanticized terms. While I understand that there are plenty of people trying to reconnect with the land, with each other, with themselves, too often people try to copy from other cultures without taking their own cultural contexts into account. There’s no real distinction made between the context of a society for whom vision questing is an integrated part of one’s life cycle, and a society for whom it is an alien experience. While the detachment of mainstream Americans is made clear, the manners in which we may experience our quests differently are not made so clear. Additionally, the use of the term “vision quest” may lead people to believe that the book is indigenous in origin.

I do see what the author was trying to do, and I think it’s a noble effort to try to get people reconnected. I just wish it weren’t in such a romanticized manner.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

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1 Comment

  1. Sara Smith said,

    August 19, 2008 at 9:33 am

    Chiefs and members of the Paiute indian tribe have indeed worked directly with Foster and those who came to do work in the desert to make their lives better. Often, Steven would have tribal elders sit in a circle with those who had just fasted in the desert to mirror their stories back to them and give them further insight.

    Steven Foster has also absolutely taken his own cultural context into account when helping people fast in the desert. He passed away three years ago, but he always worked with people for days in advance before sending them into the desert for a fasting solo to help them determine what their intentions were for being in the desert. Often, those on a fast worked on an intention in a very modern, non-Native American way.

    I would suggest reading “The Roaring of the Sacred River,” and “The Four Shields” as well. He was an amazing, non-judgmental, enlightened person who will be greatly missed by those whose lives he touched and members of the Paiute tribe alike. He was humble, and never claimed himself to be an expert Native American wannabe. He simply wanted to help people.


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