Saturday, February 09, 2019


"You're an Indian, aren't you?
Roy answered, "Yes, I am."
"Your wife too?"
"Well, I'd like to help you, but other people around here don't want me to rent to Indians."

When most people think of civil rights, their thoughts turn to the 1960s. They may remember photographs of Martin Luther King and others who spoke, marched, or participated in sit-ins. Some people, however, have a different memory of people fighting for civil rights. Their memories are of the 1940s when Native Alaskans fought for their rights.

Encounters like the one at the top of this post are in Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich.

Cover art by Apayo Moore 

Due out on February 16, 2019 from the University of Alaska Press, it is definitely going to be one that I recommend over and over for its history of the civil rights work in Alaska, its use of Tlingit words throughout, and of course, because it is about a Native woman. Photos throughout are exceptional.

The first sentence in the first chapter is of Peratrovich's birth:
On July 4, 1911, in the Southeast Alaska community of Gánti Yaakw Séedi (Petersburg), Edith Tagcook Paul from Deishú (Haines) gave birth to the baby girl who would grow up to be Elizabeth Jean Peratrovich. 
That choice--to put the English words in parenthesis--is seen throughout the book. Here's the third sentence of the first chapter:
Over thousands of years they developed cultures and a way of life especially suited to their Haa Aanî, or homeland. 

Peratrovich was fluent in both, English and Tlingit. Her Tlingit name was Kaaxgal.aat. In 1912 a group of Native people from Southeast Alaska gathered in Sitka and formed the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and two years later, the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS). Elizabeth's father was a founder of the ANB, which is now recognized as the oldest Indigenous civil rights organization in the world. The organizations worked to improve educational opportunities, employment, social services, health services, and housing.

Societal discrimination in Alaska was as blatant as it was in the U.S. There were signs like "No Natives Allowed" on businesses. There were signs that said "White Trade Only." There were assurances that customers wouldn't have to come in contact with people who weren't white. This photo is in the book:

Historic sign, Front Street, Juneau, circa 1943.
Alaska State Library. Winter and Pond Collection. ASL-PCA-1050.

Some chapters include examples of societal racism. In one, you'll learn about schools where only white children could attend. In another, you'll learn that during World War II, almost 9,000 Alaska Native people were forced to leave their homes because the US Army thought that destroying their villages would make it harder for the Japanese to invade that part of Alaska. You'll learn that Native Alaskan men were in the armed services--but prejudicial ideas about Native women led the army to issue an order prohibiting soldiers from associating with Alaska Native women, even if the woman was part of the soldier's family! The chapter on voting has a page called "The Toilet Paper Defense" that is stunning.

There's other parts of the book that are intimate, personal looks at Elizabeth Peratrovich. She was adopted and did not know her birth mother. But that woman knew Elizabeth and, it seems, wanted to be near her. I won't say more about that, but it is a sad point in the story.

I highly recommend Fighter in Velvet Gloves. Some readers will be uncomfortable to read about the racism directed at Alaska Native people. Accounts like these mess with the idea that this country is exceptional, that it is (or was) "great." These accounts have received very little attention in children's or young adult literature--but they're very important. Change is possible, but only when problems are identified and made visible.

I'll end with some words in Chapter 14, titled "Carefully Chosen Words." It is about her speech on the day the Alaska legislature was debating the anti-discrimination bill that would be signed long before the US Civil Rights Act was passed. That day, she wore velvet gloves.
Elizabeth took a deep breath. She felt she was ready, but would her words have any effect? She looked at Lori and thought about what kind of life her daughter would have with those ugly signs plastered around town. She thought of the birth mother she never knew, and of her dear adoptive mother, and prickled at the racism they surely must have suffered. She thought of her adoptive father, Andrew, and about how kind he was and how powerful his sermons were. Words were the tools that had served her all her life, and she and Roy Sr. had spent hours thinking about just the right ones for this occasion. Now was the time. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

American Indian Library Association's Statement Against Racism and Harassment

During and after the 2019 ALA Midwinter meeting in Seattle, several people shared negative experiences of harassment that took place at the Midwinter meeting. Most widely shared was April Hathcock's account (shared at her blog on January 30, 2019) of a meeting of ALA's Council Forum.

In response to the reports, the American Indian Library Association released this statement on Feb. 1, 2019:
The American Indian Library Association stands with the individuals who experienced racism and discrimination at the 2019 ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Seattle, WA. We stand with those who preserve and celebrate all cultures. Racism and discrimination dishonor every culture.
As an ethnic affiliate of the American Library Association (ALA), AILA is a membership action group that addresses the library-related needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives. AILA is committed to promoting true representations of American Indian cultures, languages, and values. As AILA reaches its 40th anniversary, we strongly support librarians of color. We urge the American Library Association to address racism and discrimination in the profession at the institutional level and at all professional development meetings. 
The American Indian Library Association joins our fellow ethnic affiliates, APALA, BCALA, CALA, and REFORMA, and offers our support to the American Library Association in order to realize ALA's future. AILA appreciates the work of Jody Gray, Director of the Office for Diversity, Literacy & Outreach Services for American Library Association and is committed to working with ALA to address racism, bias, and discrimination in our communities.

I support AILA's statement, April Hathcock, and those who have spoken up about their experiences. Efforts by some to cast those of us who speak up as "uncivil" or "unprofessional" are disingenuous. That same charge has been leveled at me (Debbie), as well. After being named to give the prestigious Arbuthnot lecture, people wrote letters to say I am unprofessional and undeserving of the honor. I will, however, give that lecture in April.

On January 31, issued a statement about Midwinter:
The ALA Executive Board has released the following statement regarding a recent incident during Council Forum at the ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Seattle.
"We should not – and do not – accept harassment, bullying or discrimination of any kind in our profession or the work of our Association. These behaviors go against our values. Violations to our code of conduct will not be tolerated.   
"We established a code of conduct because we take the responsibility of being respectful to each other very seriously. 
"We send our sincere apologies to Councilor April Hathcock for what she went through at Council Forum, which is unacceptable and doesn’t align with our core values.  
"The ALA attorney and President-Elect met with April Hathcock in the Council meeting room shortly before Council III to share some nonpublic information about events after the incident in question. ALA leaders deeply regrets any distress this caused; it was not intent of the attorney or ALA to threaten Ms Hathcock in any way.      
"The Councilor who instigated the incident has resigned and the Executive Board has accepted his resignation. 
"We also offer our sincere apologies to members who also experienced violations of the code of conduct at the Midwinter meeting. 
"We want to recognize that this incident has caused a lot of hurt and we are working diligently to ensure that at all ALA events participants are - and feel - respected.   
"The Executive Board will form a working group to look at Council Forum and ways to make it a safer space up to its continued viability. 
"We will review the current code of conduct complaint process to make it stronger and more effective. 
"We will work on facilitated racial equity training for Annual Conference during Council 1; that training and the code of conduct will be built into Council Orientation moving forward. 
"In collaboration with the Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services, we will coordinate online and in-person resources on equity, diversity and inclusion for all members and for ALA staff members. 
"ALA and its Divisions have developed resources to embed principles of equity, diversity and inclusion in the work library workers do; see specifics for 2018 here. Last October during the 2018 Fall Executive Board Meeting, the Executive Board voted to affirm that ALA will apply a social justice framework to the ALA Strategic Directions for the next three-to-five years in the areas of Advocacy, Information Policy, Professional and Leadership Development, and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. We are building on the 2019 President’s Program about “White Fragility.”  
"This work can be messy, it takes time, but the Executive Board strives to create a better association every day. We ask for your collaboration to help us break through the systems of oppression and do the right thing at the right time, each time, as it should be done."
My own thoughts are that the US is in an intense period of change. Those who characterize our work as "unprofessional" are, perhaps, defending their position and power as our voices and collective actions push at their power and influence. Many are using their power and influence to keep the status quo in place. We're pushing and will continue to push for equity and justice, in the many places we do that work. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Native Perspectives on Nathan Phillips and the Covington Catholic School boys

I am creating this curated list of Native responses to what happened on Friday, January 18, 2019 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

Everyone involved in the moments at the end of the march was in DC for a political reason. Many people are calling Nathan Phillips an activist, but the students from Covington Catholic School were also there to participate in a political march. They, too, are activists.

Many Native people are frustrated with the media coverage. Initial reports condemned the boys but that quickly turned to criticism of Phillips. Some writers and professors wrote to those outlets, expressing concern and offering to write something from a Native perspective. They were rebuffed. Some are using their own platforms, and some are using outlets that most people in the US do not read or know about. Some have been asked to be on NPR.

The list is arranged, chronologically. Unless otherwise indicated, the items were added to the list on January 24, 2019. If you are Native and have written something you want me to add, or if you read something written by a Native person that you want me to add, please provide the link in a comment.

Note at 3:42 PM: I will not publish comments that tell me to "watch the whole video." I watched that whole video on Jan 20. My observations on it are in a long Twitter thread I start on the the 19th. However you choose to characterize the earlier interactions between the Covington students and the Hebrew Israelites is of no consequence. It does not justify the subsequent behaviors towards Nathan Phillips. Regardless of what happened before Mr. Phillips approached the boys, doing the tomahawk chop and singing the tune that goes with that action, is stereotypical and inappropriate. 


December 23, 2018

Cultural Survival"We Are Still Here!" Indigenous Peoples March is Heading to D.C.  The article is co-written by Kelly Holmes of the Cheyenne River Reservation.

January 18, 2019

Indian Country Today: #IndigenousPeoplesMarch #IPMDC19 social media photo and video posts

Indian Country Today: The Nathan Phillips incident: A long day of worldwide news and a school apology by Vincent Shilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, and associate editor at Indian Country Today.

On Facebook: The National Congress of American Indians posted this graphic that says "Thank you Nathan Phillips for showing the world yesterday what tolerance and resilience look like. In the face of ignorance and intimidation, you reminded us that the song cannot stop, and our prayers for our people will never stop."

January 19, 2019

On Twitter: Congressman Sharice Davids: "Nathan Phillips' behavior in the face of that crowd demonstrates why we have so much respect for our elders..." (Added on Friday, Jan 25)

On Facebook: Louise Erdrich: "Why I keep writing. To all Native writers and poets who know his song was a prayer for that boy. Keep telling our stories." (Added on Friday, Jan 25)
Note: for lists of books for children and teens, see AICL's Best Books lists. With very few exceptions, they are books by Native writers, including Louise Erdrich. 

January 20, 2019

Indian Country Today: Yakama Nation Chairman [JoDe Goudy] on Covington Catholic boys' hatred towards Native elder.

Splinter: The Smile Is What Stays With You by Nick Martin, Sappony.

The Hill: Haaland condemns students' behavior towards Native elder at Indigenous Peoples March. Haaland is a member of Laguna Pueblo.

January 21, 2019

Native News Online: The Story of Two Videos at the Lincoln Memorial with American Indian Elder Singing is by Levi Rickert of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.

Indian Country Today: A Summary of Indian Country Today's coverage on Nathan Phillips and #MAGAyouth by Vincent Shilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, and associate editor at Indian Country Today.

On Facebook: Dina Gilio-Whitaker's (Colville Confederated Tribes) response to to an article in The Atlantic (includes link to the article).

NY Daily News: Native Elder Nathan Phillips reflects on his stare down with Kentucky students and the lingering legacy of white privilege includes an interview with Nathan Phillips (Omaha) conducted by Theresa Braine, who is not Native.

MSNBC: Organizer of Indigenous Peoples Day March responds to viral video is an interview with Tara Houska, Couchiching First Nation. 

January 22, 2019

Democracy Now: "I Was Absolutely Afraid": Indigenous Elder on "Mob Mentality" of MAGA Hat-Wearing Students in D.C. is an interview of Nathan Phillips, Omaha.

NPR's On Point: In Our Viral World, A Closer Look at Teen's Confrontation with Native American Elder. Guests include Tristan Ahtone of the Kiowa Tribe. He is the president of the Native American Journalists Association. Second guest is Jacqueline Keeler, member of the Navajo Nation, on the board of the Native American Journalists Association.

Native News Online: Leonard Peltier on the Elder Singing AIM Song at Lincoln Memorial; Breaks Down Songs Origin.

CBC: Two photos: Different times, same outrage by Dan David Taiorenhote, Mohawk.

Bad NDNS: "First" Encounters by Deborah A. Miranda, Ohlone/Costanoan Esselen Nation.

Sojourners: The Voices of Indigenous People Continue to be Silenced by Kaitlin Curtice, enrolled citizen of the Potawatomi Citizen Band Nation.

The Globe and Mail: The confrontation between the Covington students and Nathan Phillips is America, laid bare by Niigaan Sinclair, Anishinaabe (St. Peter's/Little Peguis).

Pacific Standard: Why the video of the Catholic boys felt so shameful by Terese Marie Mailhot, Seabird Island Band.

Medium: An Open Letter of Apology to Native Americans From One of the Covington Catholic School Students  (note: this is not by one of the student; rather it is what we imagine they could say) by Tiffany Midge, enrolled citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux.

The Star: Indifference and disrespect are constants in the lives of Indigenous peoples by Tanya Talaga, Anishinaabe.

January 23, 2019

Native America Calling: Face-to-face with disrespect included four individuals who were in DC for the march: Quese Imc (Pawnee/Seminole) – hip hop emcee and independent music producer, Nathan Phillips (Omaha) -U.S. Marine Vietnam Era Veteran and Elder, Lance Gumbs (Shinnecock Indian Nation) – a senior trustee and councilman of the Council of the Shinnecock Indian Nation and the regional vice president of the National Congress of American Indians, and Kansas Middletent (Lakota) – ambassador for Native Hope. The fifth guest was Dr. Marisa Duarte (Pascua Yaqui Tribe) – assistant professor of Justice and Sociotechnical Change in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University.

Think Progress: I know what I saw when I watched the Covington video by Rebecca Nagle, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. 

The Guardian: The US is still not ready to look at the ugly racism against Native Americans, by Julian Brave NoiseCat, member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq'escen and a descendant of the Lil'Wat Nation of Mount Currie.

The Daily Beast: The History of the Covington MAGA Teens' Racist 'Tomahawk Chop' by Robert Silverman includes comments from Amanda Blackhorse and Jacqueline Keeler. Both are members of the Diné or Navajo Nation.

Sierra Club: "Land Gets Stolen. That's How it Works." What happened at the Lincoln Memorial proves most Americans are still not hearing the Native American experience by Jacqueline Keeler, member of the Navajo Nation.

NPR's Code Switch: The Fight for Native Voices To Be Heard is Audie Cornish's interview with Jacqueline Keeler, member of the Navajo Nation.

Truthout: The MAGA Boys are Racist Brats by Kelly Hayes, member of the Menominee nation.

CNN: America mocks and dehumanizes natives at ever turn by Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota and Chicano.

UPROXX: How It Feels To Be An Indigenous American At This Moment In History by Zach Johnston, Skokomish Indian Reservation, Twana (təw'ánəxʷ) people.

Cartoons and Caricatures statement by the Native American Rights Fund.

Last Real Indians: Nathan Phillips Offers to Meet with Covington Catholic High School Students by Matt Remle, Standing Rock Sioux.

On Facebook: Weshoyot Alvitre, shared her sketch of Nathan Phillips. Alvitre is Tongva. (Added here on Jan 25)

On Facebook: The Omaha Tribal Council says "Wi'btha'hon (thank you) to Mr. Nathan Phillips", Omaha Tribal Member and Elder. (Added here on Jan 26):

January 24, 2019

On Twitter: Kaitlin Curtice (enrolled citizen of the Potawatomi Citizen Band Nation) does an analysis of interviews of Nathan Phillips on Democracy Now and on the Today show.

The Intercept: Portraying the MAGA Teens as Victims is an Extension of Native American Erasure by Nick Estes, citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

Walking Eagle News [satire]: New 528-year-long video sheds light on confrontation between Indigenous Peoples, Canada, by Tim Fontaine, Anishinaabe.

On Facebook: Beverly Singer of Santa Clara Pueblo, a comment to Debbie Reese's post.

Quora: Alex Jacobs, Mohawk, replies to What is the most serious or wrong part of what students from Covington Catholic School did to an elderly Native American? 

Splinter: The Smearing of Nathan Phillips by Nick Martin, Sappony.

January 25, 2019

Rewire: What Covington Catholic Students Should Know About the Church's History with Indigenous People by Mary Annette Pember, Ojibwe.

In addition to Pember's article, consider getting a copy of Jenny Kay Dupuis's book, I Am Not A Number. As the figure on the left margin indicates, the book is about a Native child at a Catholic school. 

Very Good Light: As a young Navajo the Catholic Covington boys are a painful reminder of my people's past by Kolton Nephew, Navajo Nation. (added here on Jan 26)

The Hollywod Reporter: Nathan Phillips, Yalitza Aparicio and the Long History of Media (Mis)representations of Native Peoples by N. Bird Runningwater, Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache. (added here on Jan 26)

The Washington Post: The Mishandling of the MAGA teens story shows why I gave up on mainstream media by Tristan Ahtone, Kiowa.

January 26, 2019

CBC: Importance of Indigenous Peoples March overshadowed by 'the face of white privilege' by Doug Cuthand, member of the Little Pine First Nation, Saskatchewan. (added on Jan 27)

January 27, 2019

MSNBC: It's inexcusable how media is trying to flip the script on coverage of Native American activist and teens by Dallas GoldtoothMdewakanton Dakota and Diné. (added on Jan 27)

Vanity Fair: Podcast interview. True Detective's Michael Greyeyes on His Brutal, "Cathartic," and Topical Story Line.  Greyeyes is Nêhiyaw/ Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. (added on Jan 31)

January 28, 2019

Beacon Press: Cutting to the Chase of the Covington Catholic Fiasco, by Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Colville Confederated Tribes.

January 29, 2019
Native Commentary and Opinion: We All Saw What We Saw and Don't Let Anyone Tell you Different by Alex Jacobs, Mohawk. (added on Jan 31)

January 30, 2019

Bustle: Racism Against Native Americans is Happening Daily & You Need to Know What We Face by Rebecca Nagle, citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Osage News: Respect by Ruby Hansen Murray (added on Jan 31).

The Hollywood Reporter: Indigenous People's Long Road to Visibility in Hollywood by Sierra Teller Ornelas, Navajo. (added on Jan 31).

February 4, 2019

The Guardian: His side of the story: Nathan Phillips wants to talk about Covington by Julian Brave NoiseCat, member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq'escen and a descendant of the Lil'Wat Nation of Mount Currie. (added on Feb 4).

Friday, January 18, 2019

Not Recommended: Two Roads, by Joseph Bruchac

Two Roads: A Creek Boy in Search of His Place in the World by Joseph Bruchac (Penguin Random House, 2018)

Several months ago, Debbie (and others) wrote about problems that can arise when Native people write as outsiders about other Native peoples. Like white writers, they may be participating in cultural appropriation. They may perpetuate misinformation or disclose matters that should be kept "behind the curtain" (see page 390-391). Since then, I've been working on a detailed post about portrayals of Mvskoke Creek people in recent children's literature -- including stories by Native authors who aren't Creek. Today's post uses part of that larger project.

My husband and children are Mvskoke Creek and I am white. I'm always on the lookout for books about Creek people to share with them and our grandkids. When Bruchac's Two Roads: A Creek Boy in Search of His Place in the World came out in 2018, I looked forward to seeing how he represented Creek lives. Bruchac is not a citizen of the Muscogee nation; he's from the northeastern US and has written about his Abenaki heritage.

The story structure of Two Roads is such that the main character, Cal (age 12), has no idea that he's Creek until several chapters in. As far as he's concerned, he and his dad (a veteran who was wounded in WWI) are just "knights of the road," hoboes cut loose from their everyday lives by the death of Cal's mother and the loss of their farm to the Great Depression. They live by a code of ethical conduct; they watch out for each other and for those who might be victimized by thieves, racists, and other bad folk. Then Cal's father decides to get involved in a movement to force the government to pay WWI veterans some money they were promised. He can't take Cal with him. He decides to place Cal in the Indian boarding school where he spent many years himself, giving the protagonist a lot to deal with. Cal's going to be separated from his dad. He's going to live at a boarding school. He's "Indian," not white as he always assumed. And what is that supposed to mean, he wonders.

Two Roads has been getting a mostly favorable reception. But reading it raised some questions.

It appears that the author did his research into hobo life during the Depression, Indian boarding schools before and after World War I, and the “Bonus Army” that Cal's father joins. Bruchac also addresses some important issues like passing for white, surviving assimilationist policies, and discovering relatively late that your (racial/ethnic) identity isn't what you thought.

But amid that valuable food for thought were some things that were hard to swallow. I'll focus on two.

First: language issues. Both the Abenaki's language and English differ a lot from Maskoke, the Creek language. That might not have been a problem if the author had prepared adequately.  But several times when Bruchac's characters spoke Maskoke, my "I-know-10-Creek-words" self thought, "That doesn't seem right!" I took my questions to two relatives who have studied, spoken, (and in one case, taught) Maskoke for a long time. I also consulted our Creek dictionary and listened to the Muscogee Nation language app. (Download it for free!)

I found that Bruchac gets one word right:  stahitkey refers to a white person (that’s more or less a phonetic spelling). But he gets several others wrong. A word that means black person is pronounced, approximately, staluhstey, not "staluskey," as Bruchac has it multiple times. A typical Maskoke greeting is generally pronounced something like hens-chay or hess-chee -- not "hers-key," as Bruchac has it. A word for thanks is pronounced muhDOH, not mu-to, as in the book. And when Cal's friend shouts to begin a stomp dance, let's just say that Cal doesn't hear those words quite right, either.

The author mentions that he knew the Mvskoke poet Louis Oliver (Little Coon) and modeled/named a character in Two Roads after him. Maybe Mr. Oliver taught Bruchac some Creek words years ago? But Bruchac could easily have double-checked his memory of those words with a quick visit to the Muskogee Nation language program Web site, or that free language app.

Second concern: Bruchac’s description of the Creek boys' stomp dance leaves out some key information. He correctly has Cal distinguish the Creek ceremonial dance tradition from what he calls the more "dramatic" dances of some western Native nations. Stomp dance involves singing and stepping to a rhythm maintained by women wearing rattles on their ankles made of pebble-filled turtle shells (or more recently, empty evaporated milk cans). The women's role in the dances is essential.

Granted, Creek girls would have had a hard time getting out of their boarding school dorm to join the boys for secret night-time stomp dances, especially carrying shell-shaker ankle bracelets. The eyes of the staff were trained much more on them than on the boys, evidently. Still, the Creek boys who befriend Cal never say a word about missing the shell shakers. Yes, they're doing their best to keep up traditions under difficult circumstances. But some of Bruchac's Creek characters grew up knowing about stomp dance, and the absence of the women and their rattles would be significant enough that surely somebody would mention it to Cal -- something as simple as "At home, we'd have the shell-shakers." But in Two Roads, they don't acknowledge the absence. 

The inaccurate language and inadequate perspective on stomp dance give a sense that the author's understanding of the specifically Creek content is ... thinner than it would be if he were Mvskoke Creek. Thinner than it should be for a book about Creeks.

Also noted: some glaring inconsistencies in the storytelling, and some plot points that called for too much suspension of disbelief. But the central concerns about Creek language and ceremony are what really pulled me out of the story Bruchac seeks to tell in Two Roads. It probably wouldn't pass muster with readers on the Creek side of our family.

When our two younger sons were kids, we shared several of Bruchac's books with them. I had high hopes that this would be one I could recommend to the next generation. But no. And that’s a major disappointment.

-- Jean Mendoza

NOTE: An earlier version of this blog disappeared due to technical difficulties.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Not Recommended: WHAT I CAME TO TELL YOU by Tommy Hays

A reader wrote to ask if I've read What I Came To Tell You by Tommy Hays. It was published in 2013 by Egmont, and it has some Native content that the reader is concerned about.

This post started out as a "Debbie--have you seen" but as I looked at it, I quickly changed its title to Not Recommended.

What I Came To Tell You is doing quite well, in part, because Hays created a passage where one character uses the word "Hillbilly" to hurt another. More on that in a bit.

First, the book description:
Since his mother died earlier this year, Grover Johnston (named after a character in Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel) has watched his family fall to pieces as his father throws himself into his work rather than dealing with the pain. Left to care for his younger sister, Sudie, Grover finds solace in creating intricate weavings out of the natural materials found in the bamboo forest behind his North Carolina home, a pursuit that his father sees only as a waste of time. But as tensions mount between father and son, unlikely forces conspire to help the Johnstons find their way. 
The new tenants in the rental house across the street who have come from deep in the Carolina hills seem so different from the Johnstons, but become increasingly intertwined with them in unexpected ways. Classmates, neighbors, teachers, and coworkers band together, forming a community that can save a family from itself. 

What I Came To Tell You is told from the point of view of Grover. One of the new tenants who moved from "deep in the Carolina hills" is a girl named Emma Lee.

The "hillbilly" scene unfolds in chapter 4, in school, in the classroom. The teacher, Mrs. Caswell, is delivering a lesson on Cherokee Indians. Caswell, we learn later, has asked the other kids to make friends with Emma Lee.

At recess, Ashley invites Emma Lee to play foursquare with her and her friends. Then, Ashley leads the group over to where the boys are playing basketball and tells them they want to play a new game. What game, the boys ask. Instead of HORSE, Ashley says, looking right at Emma Lee, she wants to play H-I-L-L-B-I-L-L-Y.

Quick as can be, Emma Lee slaps her. Of course, she gets in trouble for hitting Ashley. In class, Grover tells their teacher what happened and they have a discussion about the word. Ashley is embarrassed and ends up apologizing to Emma Lee. 

In chapter 10 is this scene where Grover is out in the forest, engrossed in his weaving. Suddenly he realizes he's not alone (p. 121):
Emma Lee was sitting on the sycamore stump.
"How long have you been sitting there?" he asked, his heart racing.
"A while," she said.
"I never heard you," he said.
"We're one quarter Cherokee. We know how to sneak up on people." She smiled. 
Now--it'd be great if Hays would push back on that stereotype, wouldn't it? But, that doesn't happen. Hays has his Cherokee character uttering a stereotype about Native people. It isn't the first time he does that, though. Way back on page 24, Grover sees Emma Lee, reading. Reading is fine but ...
She sat like he'd often seen her, with her legs crossed Indian style, her elbows on her knees and her head bowed over a book in her lap. 
Indian style? Oh dear! (Honestly, I uttered something other than "oh dear" when I read that.)

Course, these two are the main characters, so a friendship does develop. Later in the book, Grover and Emma Lee are sitting in a room that is lit only by candlelight. The room is cold, so Emma Lee goes to get some blankets:
She came back in, carrying blankets, gave him one, then she wrapped herself in the other. In the flickering candlelight, she looked like an Indian princess sitting in front of a campfire.
Indian princess?! (Imagine my reaction to that.... not a good one, for sure.)

All the good that Hays does in that passage about the word, hillbilly, is undone by these stereotypes of Native people! He's created a Cherokee character to push back on a hillbilly stereotype, and he's used stereotypes of Native people to do it. That is messed up, right? Please say right.

What was Hays thinking? His book was chosen for several distinctions, including a Fall 2013 "Okra Pick" by the Southern Independent Booksellers Association. What were they thinking?! So much ignorance... still. What can you do to interrupt it? Speak up.

If you know Mr. Hays personally, talk to him about it. He definitely needs to hear from people because he teaches creative writing. Folks, we can be creative but need not stereotype anyone. Especially in writing for children.

Published in 2013 by Egmont, What I Came To Tell You, by Tommy Hays, is not recommended.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Highly Recommended! "Don't Pass Me By" by Eric Gansworth, in FRESH INK (edited by Lamar Giles)

Eric Gansworth's story in Fresh Ink: An Anthology, edited by Lamar Giles, is one of those that makes my heart ache for Native kids and what they experience in school.

The story is titled "Don't Pass Me By." Four words, packed with meaning. They're never used in the story itself, but they are very much a part of what we read in the story.

Don't pass me by, Doobie could say to Hayley. They are Native kids in the 7th grade. They're from the same reservation but Hayley's dad is white and she can pass for white. Doobie can't. He's the target of harassment that she doesn't get. She can--and does--walk right by Doobie. Though they know each other, she doesn't acknowledge him until they're on the bus back to the reservation.

Don't pass me by, Doobie pretty much says to Mr. Corker. He's the Health teacher. For this particular lesson, the boys stay with Mr. Corker and the girls go with Ms. D'Amore. The lesson? Parts of the body. The activity? Label the body parts on the first worksheet. For the second worksheet, Mr. Corker hands out two boxes of colored pencils. One box is flesh; the other is burnt sienna. He expects the boys to color the boy on the worksheet with the flesh pencil, and to use the burnt sienna pencil to draw underarm and pubic hair. Other Native boys in the class do as expected, but Doobie uses the burnt sienna pencil for the body and his regular pencil for the hair. He's added a long black sneh-wheh, like his own. When class is over he turns in his worksheet after everyone else has left. Mr. Corker looks at it and says (p. 52):
"I see. Hubert. But you know, the assignment wasn't a self-portrait."
"It was," if you're white," I said.
And, he continues (p. 52):
"Your pencils only allowed for one kind of boy," I said. 
As he's telling Mr. Corker all this, he thinks about older siblings and cousins who didn't make trouble with assignments like this. His stomach is in knots as he talks with Mr. Corker. He begins to understand why those siblings and cousins chose
" be silent, to think of yourself as a vanished Indian. Everywhere you looked, you weren't there."
Native kids are in that position every day in school... asked to complete assignments that don't look like them, by teachers who don't see them... Who refuse to see the whiteness that is everywhere.

See why this story makes my heart ache? Gansworth's story is one that will tell Native kids like Doobie that they are not alone. And it has a strong message for teachers, too: Don't be Mr. Corker.

And if you're not a Mr. Corker, I'm pretty sure you know plenty of teachers who are... and you can interrupt that. You can be like Doobie.

Get several copies of Fresh Ink. I reviewed Gansworth's story, but its got twelve others from terrific writers: Schuyler Bailar, Melissa de la Cruz, Sara Farizan, Sharon G. Flake, Malinda Lo, Walter Dean Myers, Daniel José Older, Thien Pham, Jason Reynolds, Aminah Mae Safi, Gene Luen Yang, and Nicola Yoon. I highly recommend it. Published in 2018 by Random House, it is one you'll come back to again and again.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Not recommended: Pocahontas (a pocket bio)

According it its website, Macmillan's "Pocket Bios" are "pocket-size picture book biographies" that are "full of personality" and that introduce readers to people of the past and present using "simple storytelling and cheerful illustrations."

Given the oversized head, seems they're trying to appeal to consumers who are buying those other series with oversized-headed people on the covers. Ugh!

A quick look at the bios they have planned for this "Pocket Bios" series tells me they think they've hit on something that will line their pockets (yeah, I'm being a bit snarky).

They plan to release Pocahontas in March of 2019. Over on Edelweiss, I found some interior pages. Take a look at how they depicted John Smith's "she saved my life" moment:

Tied to a tree?! Hmm...

Did she, in fact, save his life? That's not clear. Some say his life was never in danger, and that what happened was a ceremony. None of the accounts I've seen say that he was tied to a tree. What is the source for this, I wonder? The name associated with the book, sometimes as author but usually as illustrator, is Al Berenger.

Macmillan: have you no shame? Well--that's not a good question, is it. For publishers--especially the Big 5--bottom line means they'll publish crap like this because it will sell.

Don't waste your money, librarians!

This book is definitely not recommended.