Thursday, February 11, 2016

THE CROW'S TALE by Naomi Howarth

The Crow's Tale by Naomi Howarth came out last year (2015) from Frances Lincoln Children's Books. That's a publisher in London.

The complete title of Howarth's book is The Crow's Tale: A Lenni Lenape Native American Legend. 

In her "About the story" note, Howarth writes:
The Rainbow Crow -- a Pennsylvania Lenni Lenape Indian legend--is the perfect example of a story that was first told to explain the mysteries of the natural world. When I came across this beautiful tale, my imagination was immediately soaring with Rainbow Crow across wide winter skies and landscapes. The tale has been passed down through generations of Lenni Lenape Indians, mostly orally, and I have tried to remain true to the narrative, although I have visualized the Creator as the Sun, as I wanted to make the Sun a character in his own right.

On her website page for the book, I see this:
Inspired by a Lenape Native American myth, this beautiful debut picture book shows how courage and kindness are what really matter.

Yes, courage and kindness matter, but so do other things. Clearly Howarth felt that she was doing a good thing with this story.

I have several questions.

What is the source Howarth used for this story? She doesn't tell us, which means we can't tell if her source is legitimate, or, if it is amongst the too-many-made-up stories attributed to Native peoples. Without that information, teachers are in a bind. Can they use this book to teach students about Lenni Lenape people and culture?

Is Howarth's story a Lenni Lenape one if she changed a key part of it? She tells us that she visualized Creator as the sun. Could she (or anyone) do that--say--with the Christian God and still call that story a Christian one? Maybe, but I think most people would say that doing so would be tampering with a religion in ways that border on sacrilege. How do the Lenni Lenape people visualize Creator? Did she talk with them, to see if she could depict Creator as the sun?

By "them" I mean--did Howarth talk with someone who has the authority to work with her on this project? Increasingly, tribal nations are working to protect their stories by setting up protocol's researchers and writers should use if they're going to do anything related to their people, history, culture, etc.

As we might predict, Howarth's book is well-received in some places. This morning I read that this story is on the shortlist for a 2016 Waterstones Children's Book Prize. If you're in the UK, or if you know people in the UK who are on the committee, please ask them these questions. You could ask Howarth, if you know her, or her editor (I don't know who that is). Asking questions is what leads to change.

Published in 2015, The Crow's Tale by Naomi Howarth is not recommended.

Evangeline Parsons-Yazzie on Winning the American Indian Library Association's 2016 Youth Literature Honor Award for Young Adults

I'm pleased to share Evangeline Parsons-Yazzie's response to the news that Her Land, Her Love had been selected by the American Indian Library Association for one of its honors.


Evangeline said:

On Friday February 5th, when I was first told by my publisher, Eric Lockard of Salina Bookshelf, Inc., that my novel had been selected by the American Indian Library Association as an Honor Book in the Young Adult category, I held my breath and asked Eric to repeat the news to me.  I wanted to hear the news several more times but my memory has been doing that for me.  

A heart-felt appreciation and deep gratitude is what I feel toward the awards committee who selected my novel, Her Land, Her Love as an Honor Book. I am still in awe of the beautiful blessing that the people on the committee have bestowed upon my novel.  

Her Land, Her Love is my first novel and one that I cherished through the years as I wrote and rewrote it. To obtain the voice of Navajo elders, I began by turning toward the stories my maternal grandmother and my father told me regarding the Navajo Long Walk which is a painful time in Navajo history.  Not only has the committee blessed me, it has also blessed Navajo elders with whom I consulted to obtain the truth about the Long Walk.

I also praise and thank the Lord for the gift of writing that He instilled within me. It has been five days since I heard the news and I am still smiling!

Once again, I thank the American Indian Library Association's awards committee for the honor of their recognition for my work.  

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Lisa Charleyboy on Winning the American Indian Library Association's 2016 Middle Grade Honor Award for DREAMING IN INDIAN

I'm pleased to share Lisa Charleyboy's response to the news that Dreaming in Indian was named as the American Indian Library Association's 2016 Honor Book in the Middle Grade category: 

I am truly honoured to have 'Dreaming in Indian' recognized in the Middle School Category in the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Awards. It has been an absolute dream for me to have worked with my co-editor Mary Beth Leatherdale in creating this anthology so that more youth across Turtle Island would be able to learn about the Indigenous experience.
It was truly our goal to use this book to enlighten and empower and being recognized in prestigious awards such as this allows the book to reach more people which is truly a blessing! 

Do take time to watch this video. In it, Lisa and her co-editor, Mary Beth Leatherdale, talk about the ideas, development, and reception to their book. In personal conversations with librarians, I can say that it is a big hit in their libraries.

Dreaming in Indian was reviewed on AICL on September 8 of 2014. Click on over to the review to get a peek of what is inside this terrific book. Congratulations, Lisa and Mary Beth! This book is a feast.

Debby Slier's LOVING ME

Debby Slier's Loving Me is a delightful board book! Published in 2013 by Star Bright Books, it is definitely one I'll be recommending!

Here's the cover:

The very last page in the book tells us the woman and baby on the cover are Shoshone Bannock. Indeed, with that page we learn that the other photographs in the book are of children and family members who are Lakota Sioux, Navajo, Iroquois, and Potawatomi.

On the first page, we see a mom and baby. The text is "My mother loves me." That pattern is repeated over the rest of the book. A dad, a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a grandma, a grandpa, and a great grandma... embracing a child. They're clad in a range of clothing, from jeans and t-shirts to traditional clothing, but all of it in the day-to-day life of the individuals being shown. Slier's photo essay is a terrific mirror for Native kids, and, it'll help children and adults who aren't Native see us as in the fullness of our lives as Native people.

I heartily recommend Slier's Loving Me, published by Star Bright Books.

Sunday, February 07, 2016


When I learned that Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's The Smell of Other People's Houses has Native characters in it, the title took on a dark connotation. Central to European and US racism towards Native peoples was their characterization of Native peoples as primitive, dirty, and in need of "civilizing."  Thanks to a friend who was at the American Library Association's Midwinter meeting last month, I was able to read an advance reader's copy of it.

Most of Hitchcock's story takes place in Fairbanks in 1970. Here's the synopsis:

In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. This deeply moving and authentic debut is for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. Intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare talent.
Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.
Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This unforgettable book is about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed. 

The story is told in alternating chapters, by Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank. This review is primarily about Dora.

The book starts out with Ruth. Her little sister is named Lily. They live with their grandmother. I believe they are white. Nothing in the story tells me they are not white. As the story begins, Ruth and her friend Selma, and Lily and her friend Bunny (Lily and Bunny are 11 years old) are about to sit down to eat together. Bunny gets to talking about the fish camp her family goes to. Lily asks Gran why they don't have a fish camp, and gran says "because we aren't native."

To that, Bunny says (on page 17 of the ARC):
"I'm not native, I'm Athabascan." 
Clearly, she objects to being called native. Ruth and Selma laugh at her. Lily (Ruth's little sister) responds:
"What's so funny? She is Athabascan," says Lily. "Natives are the people like Dora's mom, the ones who hang out all day at the bar--they're too drunk to even bother fishing."
Remember--Lily is eleven years old, but she apparently holds some rather stereotypical ideas about Native people. Maybe because she's eleven, we're meant to excuse her remark.

Later on that page we learn a little more, from Ruth:
Fish camps are pretty much handed down from family to family, but maybe Gran shouldn't have lumped all Alaska Natives together. It didn't seem to make Bunny very happy. Especially because Bunny and Dumpling actually have the nicest parents in Birch Park. 
Are there tensions in Alaska between different Alaska Native groups that would cause Bunny to be upset that gran would use "native" to describe her and her family? Are her objections specific to the alcoholism of Dora's mother? Are we to understand that "natives" in Alaska are more likely to be alcoholic than Athabascans? From Dora, we learn that most people in Fairbanks "lump all native people together" and that she (Dora) is Eskimo or Inupiat, while Dumpling is Athabascan, or Indian (p. 27-28).

As the synopsis indicates, Dora is one of the main characters in the story. Her escape is from her own home. Her dad, we read, drinks, too. But there's more: her dad sexually abuses her, and her mother knows about it. Near the end of the story, he beats up her mother and threatens to shoot Dora. By then, Dora has been living next door with Bunny and Dumpling's family for awhile.

When Dora wins some money, her mother pesters her for it so she can buy more beer. When her dad gets out of jail for shooting up the bar, he wants her money, too.

There are characters in the story that might be Eskimo or Inupiat (not sure what Dora's preferred term is). George, the old guy who works at Goodwill, knew Dora's great grandparents, but I can't tell if he's Eskimo/Inupiat or not. Nick, the bartender with nice teeth might be, too. Dora's mom dated him for awhile. If these two men are Eskimo/Inupiat, that would be cool, because they're likeable. But--we don't know.

And then there's Dora's mom's friends, Paula and Annette. Paula has a beaded wallet, so maybe she's Eskimo/Inupiat. The three woman are loud and drink together, a lot. Paula seems nice enough but the vibe I get of them is not good. In that scene in which Dora's father threatens to shoot her, Paula and Annette came running out of the house, abandoning Dora's mom.

The contrast between the Bunny and Dumpling's Athabascan family and Dora's Eskimo or Inupiat family, is striking. In the Athabascan home, Dora feels safe and cared for. Dumpling's family may be shown that way so that we'd have more than one image of Native peoples, but I wish that we were given more information about Dora's parents so that we might understand them as more than the stereotypical drunken and violent Indians. Why do they throw pictures across the room, cracking the glass and putting them back on the wall, with that cracked glass? What is the backstory on them? Without it, I think this story confirms troubling stereotypes. I'm also unsettled by the sexual abuse. Sexual abuse of Native women is rampant, and while there's no doubt that incest is part of that, I wish that wasn't part of Dora's story.

I'd also like to know more about Indigenous peoples of Alaska. Hitchcock gestures to complexities in terms used but I'm reading and re-reading those passages trying to make sense of it. Due out in 2016 from Random House, I'm marking this as not recommended.

Update, Feb 9 2016:

My social media feeds yesterday carried news about a research study comparing alcohol use across Native and White populations:

The researchers analyzed data from a survey of more than 4,000 Native Americans and 170,000 whites between 2009 and 2013. Called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the survey was administered by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The UA study also used another nationally representative survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to measure how often Native Americans and whites engaged in excessive drinking in the past month. Again, findings for the two groups were comparable.
About 17 percent of both Native Americans and whites were found to be binge drinkers, and about 8 percent of both groups were heavy drinkers. Binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks on one to four days in the past month. Heavy drinking was five or more drinks on five or more days in the past month. Sixty percent of Native Americans reported no alcohol use in the past month, compared to 43 percent of whites.
“Of course, debunking a stereotype doesn’t mean that alcohol problems don’t exist,” Dr. Cunningham said. “All major U.S. racial and ethnic groups face problems due to alcohol abuse, and alcohol use within those groups can vary with geographic location, age and gender.
“But falsely stereotyping a group regarding alcohol can have its own unique consequences. For example, some employers might be reluctant to hire individuals from a group that has been stereotyped regarding alcohol. Patients from such a group, possibly wanting to avoid embarrassment, may be reluctant to discuss alcohol-related problems with their doctors,” he said.

I think it was being shared in Native networks because we are keenly aware of the stereotype which is, I believe, reflected in Hitchcock's story. 

Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett on winning the American Indian Library Association's 2016 Picture Book Award

I asked Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett for a response to the news that their exquisite board book, Little You, had won the 2016 Picture Book Award from the American Indian Library Association.

Richard said:
 "I've always wanted to work with Julie Flett so I'm honoured to receive this high honor with her and our team at Orca Books!"

Julie said:
It's really exciting to hear that Little You is being honored along with the other books listed. Wow, thank you, committee!"

Congratulations to both of you, Richard and Julie! 

Several books by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett are amongst AICL's Best Books lists, so do click on over there and see what else they've done.

I hope they work together on additional books!

Before hitting the upload button for this post, I want to point readers to another huge plus for Little You. At Orca's blog, I learned that is available in South Slavey, Bush Cree, and Chipewyan:

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Tim Tingle, on HOUSE OF PURPLE CEDAR winning American Indian Library Association's 2016 Youth Literature Award in Young Adult Category

Yesterday (Feb 6 2016), the American Indian Library Association (AILA) announced the winners of its 2016 Youth Literature Awards. Recipients of the awards will be formally recognized at the American Library Association's Annual Conference this summer, in Orlando, Florida.

The winner in the Young Adult category is House of Purple Cedar, by Choctaw writer, Tim Tingle. I asked him to tell me about the book and his thoughts upon hearing the news. Here, I share his generous and moving response.


From 1998 to 2013 I worked almost every day on “House of Purple Cedar.” That’s what happens when you’re a 50 year-old man writing in the voice of a 12 year-old girl. Don’t ask me why, I might say something like, “She was the ghost talking to me.” And it might be true. A life changes over 15 years, and many eye-opening events worked their way into the narrative; theft from an old man with dementia, which I witnessed. A major theme throughout the book, alcohol and the accompanying spousal abuse, I saw first-hand growing up.   
In truth, I know and love every character in HOPC. Roberta Jean, the teenage girl with four bratty brothers, is my real-life sister Bobby Jean. Samuel, the quiet son of the preacher, is my brother Danny, who flipped his kayak and drowned a few years before I began the book. One-legged Maggie was a combo of my 7th grade history teacher, Mr. Beeson, who limped on a wooden leg; and his stubborn and hilarious counterpart, my reading teacher Mrs. Deemer. And as all Choctaws know, the Bobb brothers honor Bertram Bobb, our esteemed Choctaw chaplain.
As I reflect on where I was and why I included certain scenes and characters, I realize that so many of my friends are gone. Jay MacAlvain, a retired prof from Seminole State College, nurtured and coached me through my M.A. thesis, and a late-night story of his inspired the book. He told of a drunken sheriff in small town Oklahoma who, after an argument with his wife, boarded a train and shot dead the first Indian he saw. The dead Indian was Jay’s uncle, whom he never met. The sheriff knew no one would report him or complain. Until 1929, it was against the law in Oklahoma for an Indian to bear witness against a white man.
Reports of the suspected arson of New Hope Academy on New Year’s Eve, 1896, gave this story a home: Skullyville, once a bustling city in eastern Oklahoma. Skullyville became my second home. I walked the nearby railroad tracks for miles, sat amongst the gravestones, sang Choctaw songs—and listened.
My gone-before Choctaw friend, storyteller/writer Greg Rodgers, and I spent many days at Robber’s Cave, near Wilburton, OK, as I wrote and he revised at a furious pace. We walked over so many graveyards I felt more at ease among their residents than in town. I grew to trust my flying fingers.
I so longed that the stories I carried from these excursions would finally be told. I wanted the little girls of New Hope Academy to be honored, a century later. I wanted every woman who suffered from abuse to know they did not bring it upon themselves.
And I wanted non-Indian readers to experience the world from the viewpoint of the persecuted; the bruises on Amafo’s cheek, the tender touch of Pokoni….oh how I love those elders. The power and strength to forgive.
Yea though I walk through the valley of the sometimes heartless, I will walk the road of goodness, wave the light of forgiveness, and smile warm jokes along the way, as so many of my Choctaw kinfolks did. 


This is the sixth set of books the American Indian Library Association has selected for its awards. The committee members change each time. In nearly every year, Tim's books are amongst the winners. Crossing Bok Chitto won in the picture book category in 2008. Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light was selected as an Honor Book in 2012. In 2014 his How I Became a Ghost won the Middle Grade Award, and his Danny Blackgoat: Navajo Prisoner won the Middle Grade Honor.

Friday, February 05, 2016

2016 Winners of the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award

I am thrilled to see the winners of the 2016 American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Awards!

Here's the graphic with the award winning books:

Picture Book Award Winner
Little You 
Written by Richard Van Camp
Illustrated by Julie Flett
Published in 2013 by Orca Book Publishers

Picture Book Honor
Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People
Written and illustrated by S.D. Nelson
Published in 2015 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Middle School Award Winner
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
by Joseph Marshall III
Written by Joseph Marshall III
Published in 2015 by Amulet Books

Middle School Honor
Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native Voices
Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
Published in 2014 by Annick Press

Young Adult Winner
House of Purple Cedar
Written by Tim Tingle
Published n 2013 by Cinco Puntos Press

Young Adult Honor
Her Land, Her Love
Written by Evangeline Parsons Yazzie
Published in 2016 by Salina Bookshelf

From the announcement:
"The American Indian Youth Literature Awards are presented every two years. The awards were established as a way to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians. Books selected to receive the award will present American Indians in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts."

The jury for the award:

Naomi Bishop (Akimel O'odham) Chair
Grace Slaughter (Cheyenne of Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma)
Jolena Tillequots (Yakama)
Linda Wynne (Tlingit/Haida)
Melanie S. Toledo (Navajo Nation)
Sunny Real Bird (Apsaalooke Crow Tribe)
Angela Thornton (Cherokee Nation)

Congratulations to the winners! 


Update: Feb 9 2016

Of the six, I've read four, and heartily recommend them. AICL's reviews of them are as follows:
Little You, reviewed on Feb 21, 2013
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, reviewed on May 5, 2015
Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Indian Voices, reviewed on September 8, 2014
House of Purple Cedar, reviewed on December 11, 2014

Reviews of Sitting Bull and Her Land, Her Love are forthcoming.

And--I've asked writers and illustrators for a response to the news that their book was selected for AILA's awards. Here's what I've received:
Tim Tingle's response
Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett's response
Lisa Charleyboy's response


A reader sent me some photos of Eric Carle's Have You Seen My Cat? First published in 1973 by Little Simon, it looks like it may have first been published in German, in 1972. It is a Ready To Read book. It is also available as a board book. You can also get it in Dutch. Or Afrikaans.

Here's the synopsis:

In Eric Carle’s charming and popular story, Have You Seen My Cat?, a little boy worries about his missing cat and travels to different places in search of his pet. The boy encounters numerous feline counterparts as he searches, including lions, leopards, and tigers—but it isn’t until the last page that he finally finds his missing pet!

Is this kid a time traveler?! Or, is he going to Hollywood movie sets?! What I'm getting at is this: the illustrations depict people--who are not like the, shall we say American white boy--as exotic. This is just like we saw in 2015's much acclaimed Home, by Carson Ellis.  Remember that?! I wrote about them, and so did Sam Bloom at Reading While White. 

Here. Take a look at some of the illustrations in Have You Seen My Cat? This is a page from the Chinese board book edition:

Here's two pages from a video of someone reading the Ready to Read edition:

I'm going to be a bit snarky here...

Have you seen this book? Is it on your shelf?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016


Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin submitted this review essay of Paul Goble's Custer's Last Battle: Red Hawk's Account of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Slapin uses quotation marks around the name "Red Hawk" because that is a fictional character. Slapin's review may not be used elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved. Copyright 2016. Slapin is currently the publisher/editor of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children.

Goble, Paul, Custer’s Last Battle: Red Hawk’s Account of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, with an introduction by Joe Medicine Crow. Wisdom Tales / World Wisdom, 2013.

Each year on June 25, Oglala Lakota families at Pine Ridge gather to celebrate the Lakota people’s victory at the Battle of the Greasy Grass, where, in 1876, as Oglala author and activist Debra White Plume says, “Custer wore an Arrow Shirt.”

“Warriors get ready,” the announcer calls. “Be safe, and thank your horse when you’re done.” The warriors, mostly teens, race off to find and count coup on the white guy who’s volunteered to stand in for Custer. No one knocks him off his horse, but they take his flag. “Our ancestors took that flag from the United States of America,” White Plume says, smiling. “We’re the only people who ever did.”

“I think it’s important,” she continues, “for the young men and young women to receive the training of the Warrior Society as our ancestors lived it, because that’s where the important values are played out, like courage and helping your relative and taking care of your horse and taking care of the land. All of that was important to us then and is important to us now.”[1]

How different the people’s reality is from “Red Hawk’s” lament at the beginning of Goble’s story:

We won a great victory. But when you look about you [sic] today you can see that it meant little. The White Men, who were then few, have spread over the earth like fallen leaves driven before the wind.

Goble’s new edition of his first-published book contains a revised “narrative,” a new Author’s Introduction, and a short Foreword by Crow historian Joe Medicine Crow, whose grandfather had been one of Custer’s scouts. According to Goble himself, “The inclusion of the Foreword by Joe Medicine Crow… gives the book a stronger Indian perspective.” Of the 20 sources in Goble’s reference section, only two are Indian-authored—My People, the Sioux and My Indian Boyhood—both by Luther Standing Bear, who was not at the Greasy Grass Battle (because he was only eight years old at the time).

In the two previous editions of Red Hawk’s Account of Custer’s Last Battle, Goble acknowledges the aid of “Lakota Isnala,” whom one might presume to be a Lakota historian. He was not. In this 2013 edition, Goble finally discloses that “Lakota Isnala” was, in fact, a Belgian Trappist monk named Gall Schuon[2], who was adopted[3] by Nicolas Black Elk. Custer’s Last Battle, writes Goble, is his fictional interpretation of Fr. Gall Schuon’s interpretation of John G. Neihardt’s interpretation of Nicolas Black Elk’s story. (And there has been much criticism by scholars—and by Black Elk’s family—of Neihardt’s exaggerating and altering Black Elk’s story in order to increase the marketability of Black Elk Speaks.)[4] In other words, Goble’s book is a white guy’s interpretation of a white guy’s interpretation of a white guy’s controversial interpretation of an elder Lakota historian’s oral story, which he related in Lakota.[5] Finally, at the end of his introduction, Goble writes, “Wopila ate,” which is probably supposed to mean, “Thank you, father.” Except it doesn’t. “Wopila” is a noun and means “gift.” So, “wopila ate” would mean, “gift father,” which is just a joining of two unrelated words. “Pilamaya,” which is a verb, means “thank you.”

Returning to Goble’s introduction, there’s this:

Because no single Indian account gives a complete picture of the battle, Indian people telling only what they had seen and done, I added explanatory passages in italics to give the reader an overview of what might have taken place…

In truth, Native traditionalists in the 1800s[6] did not offer linear recitations of events. Rather, they narrated only those events in which they had participated. Sometimes historical records consisted entirely of these narratives. Sometimes contemporaneous Indian historians, such as Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa)[7], assembled credible historical records. Sometimes persons from outside the culture, who knew and respected the Indian traditionalists, successfully assembled written records of oral narratives.[8] And there certainly is, today, a wealth of material, much of it put together by descendants of those who fought in the Greasy Grass Battle.[9]

In the same paragraph, Goble writes,

[T]here were no survivors of Custer’s immediate command, and there has always been considerable controversy about exactly what happened.

By limiting his discussion (and the story) to the casualties of Custer’s “immediate” command, Goble sidesteps the reality that, although five of the 12 Seventh Cavalry companies were completely destroyed, there were many survivors in the other seven. And, according to the histories passed down by Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho traditionalists, there was never any “considerable controversy about exactly what happened.” In one of the major battles, for instance, it’s said that as the fighting was coming to an end, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse saw no sense in continuing. Rather, Crazy Horse posted snipers to keep the surviving Blue Coats behind their barricades—watching helplessly as he and his thousands of warriors returned to camp to help take down their lodges and move south.[10]

So, to be clear, there is nothing in Goble’s fictional Indian narrator’s voice, accompanied by Goble’s explanatory passages—even if they were accurate and appropriate, which they’re not—that might add anything of value for children or anyone else.

Piling romantic metaphor onto romantic metaphor appears to be Goble’s way of trying to imitate “Indian” storytelling style, which it doesn’t. Toward the beginning of the story, for instance, “Red Hawk” describes Crazy Horse: “A tomahawk in his hand gave him the power of the thunder and a war-bonnet of eagle feathers gave him the speed of the eagle.” Goble’s magical tomahawk stuff notwithstanding, Crazy Horse never wore a headdress. Following instructions given to him in an early vision, Crazy Horse wore the tail feathers from a red-tailed hawk at the back of his head, and a reddish-brown stone behind his left ear; his battle paint was a lightning mark across one side of his face, and blue hailstones on his chest.* 

Besides being mired down with cringe-worthy metaphor and misinformation, Goble’s fictional narrative paints the Lakota people as “brave yet doomed.” Here, for instance, “Red Hawk” relates the camp’s panicked response to an impending cavalry attack:

In an instant everyone was running in different directions…. The air was suddenly filled with dust and the sound of shouting and horses neighing. Dogs were running in every direction not knowing where to go…. Warriors struggled to mount their horses, which reared and stamped in excitement, while women grabbed up their babies and shrieked for their children as they ran down the valley away from the oncoming soldiers. Old men and women with half-seeing eyes followed after, stumbling through the dust-filled air. Medicine Bear, too old to run, sat by his tipi as the bullets from the soldiers’ guns already splintered the tipi-poles around him. “Warriors take courage!” he shouted. “It is better to die young for the people than to grow old.”

Goble’s melodrama notwithstanding, the Indian camps were extremely well organized. In times of war, everyone knew what to do. Children were protected, as were elders—not abandoned, helplessly sitting around “splintered tipi poles” or “stumbling through the dust-filled air.” Compare Goble’s fictional “narrative” above with a piece from Joseph Marshall III’s In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, in which Grandpa Nyles explains what happened to his grandson:

It was customary for Lakota wives and mothers to hand weapons to their husbands and sons. And they had a saying that gave them encouragement and reminded them of their duty as warriors…. The women would say, “Have courage and be the first to charge the enemy, for it is better to lie a warrior naked in death than it is to run away from the battle.”…It means that courage was a warrior’s best weapon, and that it was the highest honor to give your life for your people.

And. Goble’s description of “shrieking” women is taken from the many outsider accounts of “wailing” women. In reality, the camp women were singing Strong Heart songs to give their warriors courage as they rode off to battle.

And. “Red Hawk’s” recounting of what Medicine Bear said seems to have been “borrowed” from Luther Standing Bear’s Land of the Spotted Eagle. But what Standing Bear really wrote was this:

When (I was) but a mere child, father inspired me by often saying: “Son, I never want to see you live to be an old man. Die young on the battlefield. That is the way a Lakota dies.” The full intent of this advice was that I must never shirk my duty to my tribe no matter what price in sacrifice I paid…. If I failed in duty, I simply failed to meet a test of manhood, and a man living in his tribe without respect was a nonentity.

More misinformation: Toward the end of “Red Hawk’s” story, he says, “White Men have asked me which man it was who killed Long Hair. We have talked among ourselves about this but we do not know. No man can say.”

Although there may not be written narrative accounts of who killed Custer, Indian people know it was Rain-In-The-Face. Besides the oral stories that have been handed down, there exist Winter Count histories in pictographs, which are at least, if not more, reliable than histories written by outsiders.[11] On one particular Winter Count, the pictograph detailing the most important event of that specific year, or winter, shows Rain-In-The-Face (along with his name glyph, or signature tag, of rain falling in his face) firing a rifle (with smoke coming out of it) directly at Custer (who is shown with long hair, falling backwards).

For the most part, and for cultural and pragmatic reasons, Indian people at the time did not have a lot to say to white people about their participation in the Battle of the Greasy Grass. Dewey Beard, for instance, said only that: “The sun shone. It was a good day.” But Goble chose to rely on the easily available written versions, rather than on the oral and pictograph versions—which he probably would not have understood or respected anyway.

In what has come to be known as ledger art, the Indian artists used basic media of whatever was available—crayon, colored pencil, and sometimes ink—on pages torn out of discarded ledger books. What they created was art of great beauty. Early ledger art related the histories of the great battles, the buffalo hunts, and other scenes from their lives. In the battle scenes, there were iconic name glyphs over the heads of individual warriors to identify them. There were handprints on their horses—coup marks—to show that these horses were war ponies, that they and their riders had previously seen battle. There were horses of many colors—reds, yellows, purples, and blues—because people who really knew horses could see their many shades. There were hoof prints at the bottom of the pages to denote action. The warriors shown often carried the prizes of war that they had taken from the enemy—US flags, cavalry sabers and bugles—that represented power. And often, there were wavy lines coming out of the mouths of the warriors as they charged, to symbolize that they were “talking” to the enemy—“I’m not afraid of you!” “I’m coming to get you!”

Although the details were generally the same or similar, techniques varied from tribe to tribe. According to Michael Horse, a talented contemporary ledger artist and historian, Cheyenne and Lakota styles, for example, were mostly stick figures, while Kiowa and Comanche styles were more realistic.

Even after people had been incarcerated in the prisons and on the reservations, these ledger paintings represented freedom and bravery.

On the other hand, Goble, as a European transplant, has transplanted his European aesthetic and style onto his “Indian ledger art.” It’s clear that he has looked at—maybe even studied—the old ledger paintings, taken what elements or designs he considers important or typical or romantic, and discarded the rest. His paintings are devoid of the historical and cultural content that were so important in the originals—they have no story and no spirit. All of Goble’s warriors are decked out in regalia and carrying weaponry—much of it unbelievably cumbersome—yet none of the warriors is identified by a name glyph, so we don’t know who they are. The warriors are not shouting at their enemies—they don’t even appear to have mouths. There are no symbolic, brightly colored war ponies—Goble’s “Indian” ponies exist only as blacks, browns, roans and an occasional gray. None of the ponies has a coup sign. There are no hoof prints, so there is no motion—just ponies and their riders suspended in space and time. They are indistinguishable, with a lack of identity, a lack of action, and a lack of Indian reality.

It would not be a stretch to say that Paul Goble does not know—and probably does not care to know—how to read Indian ledger art. Rather, it would seem that he perused actual direct statements from the original artists and saw only “decorative motifs” to be kept or discarded. I would also opine that Goble does not regard Indian ledger artists—traditional or contemporary—as artists.

Speaking at a conference a few years ago, Joseph Bruchac coined the term, “cultural ventriloquism,” to refer to the many non-Native authors who create “Native” characters that function as dummies to voice the authors’ own worldviews. So it would not be a stretch to imagine that Goble’s “using the voice of a (fictional) Indian participant” and “illustrat[ing] the picture pages in the style of ledger-book painting” are to showcase his own art by pretending to make this whole thing authentic. As such, Custer’s Last Battle can in no way be considered an Indian perspective of an historical event. It’s not even a well-told story that approximates an Indian perspective. It wasn’t successful in 1969 and it’s not successful now.

Returning for a moment to Goble’s introduction. He writes,

I grew up believing that Indian people had been shamefully treated, their beliefs mocked, their ways of life destroyed. I tried to be objective in writing this book, but for me the battle represented a moment of triumph, and I wanted Indian children to be proud of it. (italics mine)

Plains perspectives of the Battle of the Greasy Grass are not difficult to understand and do not need to be interpreted by someone from outside the culture. Plains traditional narratives are not incomplete and do not need to be rewritten by someone from outside the culture. Plains traditional and contemporary ledger art forms are not primitive and do not need to be fixed by someone from outside the culture. The children at Pine Ridge, against all odds, are holding on to their traditions, histories, arts, and cultures. The last things they need are fake narratives and fake art, combined with a cultural outsider’s arrogance and sense of entitlement—to “give” them pride.

—Beverly Slapin


There are many excellent sources of information about the Battle of the Greasy Grass; biography, fiction and nonfiction about the people who lived in that time period; and historic and contemporary ledger art. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

An outstanding short film, produced by the Smithsonian and from an Oglala perspective, is “The Battle of the Greasy Grass,” and might be a good beginning for study (grades 4-p). 

An important documentary, from American Experience and produced by James Welch and Paul Stekler, is “Last Stand at Little Big Horn—Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse Battle Custer”

For information about the Battle of the Greasy Grass or that era, see:

Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains

Edward and Mabel Kadlecek, To Kill an Eagle: Indian Views on the Last Days of Crazy Horse

Joseph Marshall III:
The Day the World Ended at Little Big Horn: A Lakota History (2007)
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse (2015)
The Long Knives are Crying (2008)
Soldiers Falling Into Camp: The Battles at the Little Rosebud and the Little Big Horn (2006)

Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle

James Welch and Paul Stekler, Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Big Horn and the Fate of the Plains Indians

For examples of, and information about, traditional ledger art, see:

Howling Wolf and the History of Ledger Art by Joyce M. Szabo (University of New Mexico Press, 1994)

Keeping History: Plains Indian Ledger Drawings (Smithsonian, November 2009-January 2010). 

Ledger Narratives: The Plains Indian Drawings in the Mark Landsburgh Collection at Dartmouth College, by Colin G. Calloway and Michael Paul Jordan (University of Oklahoma Press, 2012).

The Schild Ledger Book: Drawing a Culture in Transition, in Texas Beyond History, University of Texas.

For examples of, and information about, contemporary ledger art, see:

“Ledger Art: Looking Between the Lines” by Gussie Fauntleroy, in Native Peoples Magazine, September-October 2011.

“This is Not Your Great-Great-Grandfather’s Ledger Art” by Wilhelm Murg, In Indian Country Today, 10/25/13.

Women and Ledger Art: Four Contemporary NativeAmerican Artists by Richard Pearce (University of Arizona Press, 2013).

[1] Quotes here are from the short video, “The Battle of the Greasy Grass,” produced by Smithsonian Magazine. 

[2] Goble writes, “Father Gall spoke Lakota fluently and was steeped in all things related to Lakota people. While working on the book many letters passed between us to verify one thing or another.”

[3] While Father Gall Schuon appears to be an interesting character, we don’t know in what sense he was “adopted.”

[4] The full title of this book is Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of an Oglala Holy Man, as told through John G. Neihardt (Flaming Rainbow).

[5] As Black Elk told his story, his son, Ben Black Elk, translated.

[6] On both sides of the Greasy Grass Battle, these might include Lakota traditionalists Sitting Bull, Two Moon, Gall, Crazy Horse, as well as Cheyenne, Arapaho and Crow traditionalists.

[7] See, for example, Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains, vivid biographical sketches of people Eastman knew well: Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Rain-in-the-Face, Sitting Bull, Little Crow, Chief Joseph and others.

[8] See To Kill an Eagle: Indian Views on the Last Days of Crazy Horse by Edward and Mabel Kadlecek, who lived near Pine Ridge and listened to the stories of Indian elders who had known Crazy Horse.

[9] Some of the best accounts of this historic battle, in fiction and nonfiction, include: Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Big Horn and the Fate of the Plains Indians by James Welch (Blackfeet / Gros Ventre) and Paul Stekler (1994); Welch and Stekler also collaborated on the important documentary, “Last Stand at Little Bighorn.” There’s also The Day the World Ended at Little Big Horn: A Lakota History (2007), The Long Knives are Crying (2008) and Soldiers Falling Into Camp: The Battles at the Little Rosebud and the Little Big Horn (2006) by Joseph Marshall III (Sicangu Lakota), as well as Marshall’s new children’s book, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse (2015).

[10] See a description of this maneuver, for example, in Marshall’s In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, pp. 120-121.

[11] Each Winter Count pictograph portrays the most important event that occurred in a particular winter, or year. It could be a major battle, or an outbreak of disease, or the death of a leader, or something else. The pictograph that represents 1876 shows the killing of Custer at the Battle of Greasy Grass.

*Edits to this paragraph made on Feb 8 2016 at the request of Beverly Slapin.