The logo for AICL incorporates the avanyu, which is the Tewa (Nambe's language) word for water serpent. Avanyu figures prominently in stories of our river and people, and water is important to our ways of being at Nambe. Designed by my daughter, Elizabeth Anne Reese, the logo also reflects the act of storytelling and passing of knowledge from one generation to the next.
1. History and Purpose of AICL
2. Who is Debbie Reese?
3. Who Reads, Links to, and Cites AICL?
4. Why AICL Matters
1. History and Purpose
I launched AICL in May of 2006. By then, I had become an avid reader of a new form of expression--weblogs (blog for short)--and was keenly aware of their potential for impacting change.
As a relatively new assistant professor at a "Research I" university (the height of the "publish or perish" institution), I knew it was important that I publish my research in academic journals and books, but as a Native parent and former schoolteacher, I knew that those academic journals are not easily accessible or available to people who work with children on a daily basis...
I was raised at Nambe Owingeh (a federally recognized tribe) and I am tribally enrolled there. At community gatherings, our elders never failed to tell us that what we do with our lives must be for the well-being of our community. In American Indian Studies, leading scholars tell us the same thing. How, they ask us, will the work we do in the academy help people? The guidance I received from tribal elders and Native scholars frames and supports my commitment to publishing American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL).
Through AICL, I share a lot of information that I think will help readers learn about and understand the 500+ federally recognized Native Nations in the United States. Most people know about the federal government and the state governments, but very few know about tribal governments. Very few people know that American Indians in the United States have a status that marks us as distinct from minority or underrepresented populations (such as African Americans).
A common phrase used to describe minority or underrepresented populations is "people of color." American Indians are not, to quote Elizabeth Cook Lynn, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe and founding editor of Wicazo Sa (a leading journal in American Indian Studies), "people of color." Cook-Lynn writes:
Native populations in America are not "ethnic" populations; they are not "minority" populations, neither immigrant nor tourist, nor "people of color." They are the indigenous peoples of this continent. They are landlords, with very special political and cultural status in the realm of American identity and citizenship. Since 1924, they have possessed dual citizenship, tribal and U.S., and are the only population that has not been required to deny their previous national citizenship in order to possess U.S. citizenship. They are known and documented as citizens by their tribal nations. (1)She goes on to say that placing us within a multicultural or ethnic studies category has a negative effect because those categories obliterate our political difference. The political dimension she refers to is our status as sovereign nations, a distinction based on treaty and trust agreements made between early European nations who came to what we now call the United States, and, later agreements made between the United States and Nation Nations. Those agreements are diplomatic negotiations that take place between heads of state.
Diplomatic negotiations?! That idea might not make sense to most people who were taught to think that American Indians were primitive nomadic peoples who roamed the earth (just like animals) and didn't "properly" use the land they lived on! In fact, Laura Ingalls Wilder says precisely that in Little House on the Prairie, when the character named Mrs. Scott says on page 211:
All they [Indians] do is roam around over it like wild animals. Treaties or no treaties, the land belongs to folks that'll farm it.Truth is, Native peoples--including the Native Nations in Indian Territory that Mrs. Scott derides--had been farming for centuries. And after being removed to Indian Territory through the Trail of Tears, the Cherokees built "the finest system of public education in all America, for men and women." (2)
These diplomatic negotiations took place amongst the Pueblo Indians, too. The nineteen Pueblo Indian tribes of what is now known as New Mexico had agreements with Spain in the 1500s, Mexico in the 1820s and then the United States in the 1840s. Leaders of each one (Spain, Mexico, U.S.) marked their recognition of our sovereignty with a silver headed cane that symbolized that recognition. The last cane was from President Lincoln. Today, the three canes at each Pueblo are held by the individual who is serving as the current governor. (3) You can see a 1936 photograph of the governor of Zia here. He is holding the three canes.
Generally speaking, none of this sovereignty is taught to students in school. Native children, however, who grow up on their reservations, know a lot about such matters. They know, for example, that we elect our leaders and have our own police force and court system.
In short, there's a lot to know, and a primary purpose of American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) is to help you know who we are. Knowing who we are can help you understand why we strenuously object to being misrepresented. Though I am certain that no author ever sets out to deliberately misrepresent who we are in his or her writing, it happens over and over again. Information is the only way to counter those misrepresentations. On American Indians in Children's Literature, I publish analyses of children's books, lesson plans, films, and other items related to the topic of American Indians and/or how we this topic is taught in school.
2. Who is Debbie Reese?
As I noted earlier, I'm tribally enrolled at Nambe Owingeh, a federally recognized tribe. Being federally recognized means that we have a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States. Being tribally enrolled means that I am on Nambe's census. If I was not on the census because I did not meet the criteria set out by the tribe, I would say I am of Nambe descent. This enrollment status is important. Just like the United States, tribal governments have the power to decide who our citizens or tribal members are. We may disagree with the ways those decisions are made, and we can take steps to have those decisions revisited, but until those changes are made by a tribal council or similar entity, we cannot correctly claim to be enrolled if we are not. This is not a minor matter. If a tribe cannot state who its citizens are, then it loses its identity as a sovereign nation.
I am from Nambe's Upper Village. I was born at the Indian Hospital in Santa Fe and grew up on Nambe's reservation, learning our dances and ceremonies from family members and elders. I went to Nambe's Day School and later, to public school. I got a teaching degree from the University of New Mexico and taught elementary school in Albuquerque before moving to Oklahoma to work on a Master's degree in school administration. During my time in Oklahoma, I taught at Riverside Indian School in Anadarko. Then I moved back to Nambe and taught at Santa Fe Indian School in Santa Fe and Pojoaque Elementary School in Pojoaque (just down the road from Nambe). Education and health care are among the services tribes receive due to those treaty and trust agreements I discussed above. We are not "given" anything by the federal government. What we receive is compensation for land that once was ours.
In the early 1990s I moved to Illinois to work on a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. At the time, the University of Illinois had a stereotypical Indian mascot. Working alongside Native students and our allies, we were able to establish the Native American House at the University, and soon after that, launched an American Indian Studies program. A few years later, the university's mascot was discontinued.
During graduate school at Illinois, I reviewed for Horn Book. I have written for library publications such as Horn Book Magazine and School Library Journal, and educational publications like Language Arts, published by the National Council for Teachers of English where I spent several years reviewing proposals for their annual conference. I am on the Multicultural Advisory Board for Reading is Fundamental, and the board for Reach Out and Read American Indian/Alaska Native. I am invited to give lectures and workshops around the country and have recently begun using technology to work with libraries and colleagues in Canada, too. If you're interested in my professional CV, it is downloadable here.
3. Who Reads, Links to, and Cites AICL?
American Indians in Children's Literature is used by Native and non-Native parents, librarians, teachers, editors, professors, and students. It is assigned reading in courses in English, Library Science, and Education in the United States and Canada.
A sampling of Native and non-Native websites and bloggers that link to AICL (updated 4/09/2011):
American Indian Higher Education Consortium, American Indian Library Association, American Indian Studies Consortium, AmoXcalli, Archimedes Forgets: Unsung YA, Book Moot, Bowllan's Blog at School Library Journal, BlogScholar, Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site, Childrenslit.com, Cinco Puntos Press, Cooperative Children's Book Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Critical Literacy in Practice, Cynthia Leitich Smith's Website, Dakota State University Library, Diversity in YA Fiction, First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies (blog), Fledgling (Zetta Elliott's blog), Humboldt State University Research Guides, Indian Country Today, Indigenous Education Resources, International Reading Association Literacy Links, International Society for Technology in Education, Karen Strom's Index of Native American Book Resources, Madison Voices, Mitali's Fire Escape, Multiculturalism Rocks: Cultural Diversity in Children's Literature, National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems, National Council of Social Studies, Native Appropriations, New Jersey Library Association, New Mexico Magazine Art Links, Northern Arizona University Indian Education, Philip Nel's Literary Links, Planetesme, Rasco from Reading is Fundamental, Read Roger's "White Man Speaks," Rough Rock Community School, Santa Ysabel Tribal Library, sarahpark.com (musings on korean diaspora, children's literature, and adoption), Shen's Books, South Dakota State Library Tribal Resources, Teaching for Change, The Miss Rumphius Effect, Tockla's World of Children's Literature, Turtle Talk Blog (Indigenous Law), University of Connecticut Literacy Web, University of Illinois School Collection, University of Montana Indian Education for All, University of Winnipeg's Centre for Research in Young People's Texts and Cultures, When Turtles Fly (Deborah Miranda's blog), Works Cited (Natalie Cecire's blog), Zinn Education Project
American Indians in Children's Literature is referenced in the following books and articles:
- The Cambridge History of the American Novel by Leonard Cassuto and Benjamin Reiss, published in 2011.
- Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide by Sylvia M. Vardell, published in 2008.
- Critical Multicultural Analysis of Children's Literature: Mirrors, Windows, and Doors by Maria Jose Botelho and Masha Kabakow Rudman, published in 2009.
- Deepening Literacy Learning: Art and Literature Engagements in K-8 by Mary Ann Reilly, Jane M. Gangi, and Rob Cohen, published in 2010.
- Ethnic Literary Traditions in American Children's Literature by Michelle Pagni Stewart and Yvonne Atkinson, published in 2009.
- Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real about Race in School by Mica Pollock, published in 2008.
- Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature edited by Shelby Anne Wolf, Karen Coats, and Patricia Encisco, published in 2010.
- The Oxford Handbook of Children's Literature by Julia L. Mickenberg and Lynne Vallone, published in 2011
- Multicultural Literature and Response: Affirming Diverse Voices by Lynn Atkinson Smolen and Ruth A. Oswald, published in 2010.
4. Why AICL Matters
Above, I wrote a lot about our status as sovereign nations. And if you've spent any time on the blog prior to reading "About AICL" you've seen that I write a great deal about misrepresentations. I receive a lot of email telling me that I go on about it too much, that there are more important things to worry about. If there was only a handful of books a year that stereotype or misrepresent American Indians, it would be fair to say my work was misdirected. However, old stereotypical and biased books get reprinted again and again, and new ones join them each year.
I believe that these seemingly innocent books actually play a significant role in the lives of Native children. Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, a research psychologist, has conducted studies of the effects of stereotypical images on the self-esteem and self-efficacy of Native students. She's found that these images have a negative impact on Native students.
Research studies on the graduation rates of Native students show that Native students drop out of school at greater rates---and increasingly greater rates---than other population groups. Dr. John Tippeconic and Dr. Susan Faircloth published a study in 2010 in which they state that over the course of their years in school, Native students gradually disengage from school. In their discussion, they suggest this happens because Native students do not see themselves reflected in the school curriculum.
More recently, studies have shown that Native youth commit suicide at much higher rates than white students. As I write, many tribes are launching initiatives to address the sky high rate of suicide among Native students.
Given these studies, I believe the books Native students read in school play a significant role in how Native students fare. Teachers and librarians have a role to play, too, in the success of Native students. For me--and I hope for you--that means selecting books that accurately portray Native people and our nations. I'm not after "perfect" Natives with no faults, but ones that portray us in all of our humanity, with the range of our emotions and actions. These books are important for non-Native students, too, because they deserve accurate books, too, no matter who the books are about. And, some of these non-Native students will grow up to be writers, or editors, or reviewers, or librarians, or teachers who write, read, and share children's and young adult literature.
Please share the address to American Indians in Children's Literature with your friends and colleagues. If you've got questions, write to me at dreese dot nambe at gmail.com. Your emails prompt me to read and review books I might not otherwise know about.
(1) Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. "Scandal," in Wicazo Sa Review, Spring 2007, page 86.
(2) See "New Cherokee Territory" (segment eight) in We Shall Remain: Trail of Tears.
(3) Sando, Joe S. (1992) Pueblo Nations: Eight Centuries of Pueblo Indian History. Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishers.
Last update to "About AICL" was on July 29, 2012, when I added the logo to the site.