Monday, September 18, 2006
In the last few days, more than one Internet listserv has carried a post about the U.S. Dept of Education's "What Works Clearinghouse." It prompted me to visit the pages for the clearinghouse, and then to post my thoughts on the contents of the Character Education page. Below is what I wrote. This is important to me because of the lack of content regarding American Indians.
On Sunday, September 17, 2006, I went to the What Works Clearinghouse web page, interested specifically in the Character Education component. This was my first visit to the site, which is maintained by the US Dept of Education.
It was interesting (though not surprising, given the Bush administration's NCLB program and focus on "accountability") to see the Clearinghouse's emphasis on testable, measurable outcomes for a student's development of moral ways of thinking and acting. Morality and character, apparently, can be measured by tests.
Of equal interest to me was the topics in the "Facing Our History" portion of the Character Ed pages. In this module, students "examine historical events, in particular the events that led to WWII and the Holocaust."
There is some material on slavery, too, but as far as I am able to determine, not a single reference to moral questions regarding the treatment of American Indians. There is some material regarding the Eugenics programs, but it looks like it is limited to Hitler, when there was a very active program here (in the U.S.) as late as the 1970s.
It appears to me that the program, which "aims to promote core character education values and to help middle and high school students develop moral reasoning skills" deliberately uses events that make other countries the "bad guys" while avoiding immoral actions of the U.S. government, especially with respect to American Indians.
I've heard back from an individual who works in the Dept of Ed. He is going to forward my remarks to people in Washington responsible for the site, and he will let me know if he receives a reply. Frankly, I won't hold my breathe. I doubt the gatekeepers in the Bush Administration cares what I think. They have an agenda that has no room for challenge to their vision of America. Under his administration, they also developed a program at the National Endowment for the Humanies that is also, from my point of view, anti-Indian. I'll blog about that another time.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
At UIUC, I am involved with the Youth Literature Interest Group, a group of faculty and doctoral students in Education, English Studies, Library and Information Science, and (me) in American Indian Studies from UIUC, Illinois State University, and Eastern Illinois University.
On October 20-22nd, we are hosting a conference called "Family, Youth, and Literature."
On the program for the conference, you can see that I will be on a panel on Saturday morning (Oct. 21st). My presentation is "American Indian Families in Fact and Fiction." A brief look at some of what I will present:
In fact, there are over 500 distinct federally recognized tribes in the United States today. Is this diversity present in popular works of fiction?
This is stating the obvious, but oftentimes the obvious is ignored... Today and in the past, we have mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts who love and care for children and other members of the community. Are they included in popular children's books?
As a Pueblo Indian whose people speak Tewa, I called my grandmother "sa?yaa" (note that I am unable to use diacritic marks in the Blogger software) or "gram." The same is true across tribal nations. We use our own language (or English) to refer to women, men, babies, etc. We did not use the words that predominate in popular children's books: "squaw" or "brave" or "papoose."
In a nutshell, I will talk about the ways American Indians and their families are (are not?) portrayed in classic and popular children's books. I will also highlight books like Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer, that do a better job of presenting us as we are.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Two weeks ago, I shared a little history about UIUC's American Indian Studies program, and I talked about LeAnne Howe, a member of our faculty. I noted her books (Shell Shaker and Evidence of Red) and mentioned her upcoming film, "Spiral of Fire." Today I want to call attention to the film.
Viewing films like this one can help you become better informed about American Indians. Being more informed will help you evaluate children's books, media, and lesson plans about American Indians.
To learn more about Indian Country Diaries, go to their website. There you will find a synopsis of the series, a screening toolkit, viewer's guide with questions for discussion, high resolution images and screen captures (lower resolution) of "Spiral of Fire." Here's the first paragraph of the synopsis:
“Spiral of Fire” takes author LeAnne Howe (Choctaw) to the North Carolina homeland of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to discover how the mix of tourism, community, and cultural preservation is the key to their tribe’s health in the 21st century. Along the way Howe seeks to reconcile her own complex identity as the illegitimate daughter of a Choctaw woman, fathered by a Cherokee man she never knew, and raised by an adopted Cherokee family in Oklahoma. Howe’s search leads the viewer on a journey of discovery to one of the most beautiful places in America where Cherokees, living on lands they’ve inhabited for 10,000 years, manage their own schools, hospitals, cable company, tourist attractions and multi-million dollar casino. Yet, despite these successes, diabetes threatens 40% of the population, racism undermines self-confidence, and greed threatens to divide the community. “Spiral of Fire” reveals the forces at work to restore health, prosperity and sovereignty to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.-----
In addition to LeAnne's "Spiral of Fire," Indian Country Diaries includes a second documentary, "A Seat at the Drum" featuring journalist Mark Anthony Rolo (of the Bad River Ojibwe nation). "A Seat at the Drum" starts out at Sherman Indian School in Riverside, California. Riverside was one of the last boarding schools created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (see previous posts to the blog on children's books about boarding schools). Rolo spends time in Los Angeles, which, due to government relocation programs, has the largest urban Indian population in the U.S. (over 200,000 as reported on US Census).
The films will be broadcast nationally on PBS in November.
"Spiral of Fire" will premiere at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian on Friday, September 29 at 7:00, and on Saturday, September 30, at 1:30. LeAnne will at the premiere on Friday evening for a follow-up discussion.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
One young woman remembers the phrase in the book "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" and another remembers feeling worried that Laura and her family were in danger.
Along with the book, the students read Michael Dorris' essay "Trusting the Words," in which he describes the joy with which he set out to read Little House to his daughters, only to be taken aback by the negative portrayals. He tried to edit them out as he read aloud, but eventually gave up. His essay first appeared in Booklist 89 (June, 1993) and was reprinted in his book of essays, Paper Trail, published in 1994 by HarperCollins.
I suggest you take a second look at Little House. Note the ways that Native peoples are described, and consider whether or not the book ought to be set aside and used, perhaps, in contexts where readers are able to think critically about racism and colonization.
If you are interested in books and articles that critique Little House, there are several, including these two by Native people.
"Burning Down the House: Laura Ingalls Wilder and American Colonialism," by Waziyatawin Angela Wilson, in Unlearning the Language of Conquest: Scholars Expose Anti-Indianism in America, edited by Four Arrows (Don Trent Jacobs), published in 2006 by University of Texas Press.
"Little House on the Osage Prairie," by Dennis McAuliffe, Jr., available on line at the Oyate web site.