Saturday, January 18, 2020

NOT RECOMMENDED: Rebecca Roanhorse's RACE TO THE SUN. A review essay by Michael Thompson (Muscogee Creek)

With his permission, American Indians in Children's Literature is publishing Michael Thompson's essay about Rebecca Roanhorse's middle grade novel, Race to the Sun, published in 2020 by Disney Hyperion in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. Thompson is a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation and taught high school in Farmington, New Mexico. He does not recommend Roanhorse's book. 


NOT RECOMMENDED: Rebecca Roanhorse's Race to the Sun

What will Rebecca Roanhorse's Race to the Sun 
contribute to our understanding of the Native world it portrays?
Review essay by Michael Thompson (Muscogee Creek)

When Rebecca Roanhorse published her dystopian fantasy novel Trail of Lightning, I wrote at length about my grave concerns for her appropriation and distortions of Dine’ cultural narratives. I noted, as a Native educator and a Navajo in-law, that numerous Navajo writers were voicing similar objections, many of which are archived at Debbie Reese’s important website (AICL).

Now that Roanhorse has published a YA novel, Race to the Sun, my concerns remain unchanged, and arguably the stakes are even higher, as this book is likely to reach a much larger audience of younger readers, who are both Native and non-Native.

Although my primary conflict with RTTS is its failure to observe traditional boundaries that normally protect cultural narratives from appropriation, I will note briefly that there are some unusually problematic internal inconsistencies in the narrative and in some characterization.

For example, are we really to think that a young Navajo woman who has undergone her kinaalda is clueless at solving the riddle of what “four mountains bind you to your home”? Or that her father, a man who’d married a woman whose secret identity was supposedly a monsterslayer, would be seeking to work for a major oil and gas company that is being protested by Native people for its pipeline?

Moreover, there are some elements that are jarringly inconsistent with actual Navajo life and culture – the six stanza riddle that sets the quest seems straight out of European folklore, as does the plot structure that is clearly derived from classic stages of the hero’s journey, as well as the book and the sword that are among the monster slaying weapons provided by the Sun. And finally, I could barely believe that the climactic battle at Tse’Bit’Ai’ actually included Spider Woman dressed much like the Marvel superhero and casting a life-saving web. Clearly, the author feels free to mix and match whatever cultural/literary elements suit her fancy. This is opportunism on a grand scale.

Yet the greatest problem here is a simple one. Roanhorse must know that some traditional Navajo people consider her use of sacred figures and practices profoundly inappropriate. Those objections are well-documented.

She just doesn’t care.

Years ago I wrote an article for Tribal College Journal about the importance of the oral tradition in tribal college classrooms. I spoke with several Native scholars and instructors in researching that piece. One of the most significant personal conclusions I came to was this: as place-based, earth-based, community based cultures, tribal people honor the story of the group, its history and values and beauty, above the imagination of the solitary artist.

And I might add that the most important stories are often seen as belonging to the group, not to an individual to do with as he or she pleases. When I was first given a few traditional songs to learn to sing in ceremony, I was told this by my teachers: don’t add anything, don’t change anything, don’t take anything away.

That’s how it is possible to keep cultural knowledge intact for thousands of years.

For many traditional Native people, our origin stories, our ceremonial songs and teachings – passed down from our ancestors for centuries -- have a deeply sacred aspect, which in turn has made possible our cultural survival.

I am well aware that many people, maybe even a majority of Native people, consider the objections I am making inconsequential. So be it.

But there are at least some Native people I know who believe that we must always push back against anything that would diminish our origin stories, our worldviews. That means, among other things, protecting our stories as they were handed down to us.

As an educator, one of the most important questions I would ever ask about any work categorized as Native literature is this: what will it contribute to our understanding of the Native world it portrays?

When I consider Race to the Sun, I find almost nothing of real value to deepen one’s understanding of actual Navajo teachings but rather a mishmash of coming of age tropes from various non-Native cultures and from popular American culture, sprinkled with just enough familiar Navajo elements (hogans, Navajo tacos, geographic icons, and the like) to label it a Navajo story. No doubt there is a great deal of currency in mainstream readership for doing this. But there is little here to educate young Navajo or non-Navajo readers about the real meaning of the Dine’ narratives’ actual Holy People or the complex principles on which they are based.

The literature that Roanhorse makes uses a kind of cultural costumery and caricature. She takes characters and iconic landmarks from a rich, interconnected set of sacred Navajo stories, which have profound significance within that context, and she uses them as plastic action figures and dramatic settings to spin out whatever pop culture genre she likes, without any real regard for the actual gravity that traditional Navajo people would attach to them.

This is cultural reductionism, plain and simple.

Spider Woman, for the Dine’, does not belong in the Marvel universe, however many books that may sell. She belongs exactly where she has always been -- in the Dine’ universe – with beauty all around her.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Changes ahead at American Indians in Children's Literature

Changes Ahead at American Indians in Children's Literature
Debbie Reese

When I launched American Indians in Children's Literature in 2006, it was my effort to make my research and thinking available to people who don't have access to professional or academic journals. Among my first posts are two about Lois Duncan's Season of the Two Heart. As I look back at it, I see that I did not use "recommended" or "not recommended" in the title of the post. In recent years, we have been adding our recommendation as part of the title of a post. Sometimes, a friend or colleague wrote something for AICL. I'd publish their post and include their name in the title of the post.

In 2016, Jean Mendoza became co-owner of AICL. Late last year, I realized that the only way that readers could tell who had posted an item was by looking at the tiny auto-generated note at the bottom of a post. Because those letters are so tiny, people were crediting me for work Jean did. That is not acceptable. So, as we move into 2020, we are making some changes!

Signed Headings

As you can see at the top of this post, its title (Changes Ahead...) and its Author (Debbie Reese) are in bold and centered. We'll do that for posts that are not book reviews.

Standardized Book Review Format

We are going to begin each book review with an image of the book cover, the book title, author, publisher... and we're adding "Reviewed by: ___" so that it is clear who is doing the review. Here's how that looks:

See the four asterisks at the bottom of that screen capture? Beneath the asterisks, we'll dive into our review. We've got different styles of writing. Some days our writing is formal. Sometimes it is more conversational. And sometimes I have a brief review that summarizes a series of tweets that I did as I read a book, followed by the tweets.

Our "Best Books" Lists

Over the years, we've had two kinds of year-end lists. I've done ones that are a compilation of Recommended and Not Recommended books in a given year. That allowed me to provide readers with a comprehensive list of every book I reviewed during that year. That included books published in that year, but it also included posts about older books.

In recent years, I switched to doing "Best Of (year)" lists that only included books published in that year. That is in keeping with what book review journals do each year but I find it limiting because older books don't get visibility that I want them to have. Jean and I are going to try out a few options to revamp the annual Best Book lists.

We look forward to figuring out a way to share a page of Best Books that includes books published in 2020, and ones we reviewed during 2020 that might have come out in 2015. And--we want to give visibility to problems in books we do not recommend, and in books we recommend with caution.

One more thing! We do more than book reviews at AICL. Sometimes we do essays about a topic or event of interest to us, personally or professionally. We want to be able to include links to some that we think readers should see.

We don't know what this will look like yet, but as the year progresses, we'll be working on it, behind the scenes. As always, we invite your feedback!

Sunday, January 12, 2020


Regular readers of AICL know that Jean Mendoza and I spent the last three years adapting Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States in an edition for young readers. It came out in June of 2019, as An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People. 

We are glad to see it on year-end "Best Of" lists. Some are:

Booklist Editors' Choice Books for Youth 2019
Kirkus Reviews Best YA Nonfiction of 2019
School Library Journal Best Nonfiction of 2019
New York Public Library Best Books for Teens
Chicago Public Library Best Informational Books for Kids in 4th-8th Grades
Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania, Best Books for Young Readers of 2019

If you're a teacher, parent, or librarian who plans to use the book, you'll definitely want to download the terrific Teacher's Guide to the book that Dr. Natalie Martinez wrote. She created several lesson plans, too! They are:

The Unitarian Universalist Association selected it for its 2019-2020 Common Read. Folks who are participating will definitely find the guide and lesson plans helpful.

If you see other listings or uses that we could add, let us know!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Recommended: "Grace" and "Homecoming" by Darcie Little Badger in TAKE THE MIC

"Grace" and "Homecoming" 
Written by Dr. Darcie Little Badger
Published in 2019 in Take the Mic
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Status: Recommended


Dr. Darcie Little Badger has two stories in Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance. In the final pages of the book you can read a little about her. I follow her on Twitter (@ShiningComic) and it has been terrific reading her tweets as she's made her way to that PhD in Oceanography from Texas A&M. 

Edited by Bethany Morrow, Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance came out in 2019 from Scholastic. Here's the description:
You might be the kind of person who stands up to online trolls.Or who marches to protest injustice. 
Perhaps you are #DisabledAndCute and dancing around your living room, alive and proud. 
Or perhaps you are the trans mentor that you wish you had when you were younger. 
Maybe you call out false allies, or stand up to loved ones. 
Maybe you speak your truth and drop the mic, or maybe you take it with you when you leave. 
This anthology features fictional stories--in poems, prose, and art--that reflect a slice of the varied and limitless ways that readers like you resist every day. Take the Mic's powerful collection of stories features work by literary luminaries and emerging talent alike, including Newbery-winner Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestseller Samira Ahmed, anthologist and contributor Bethany C. Morrow, Darcie Little Badger, Keah Brown, Laura Silverman, L.D. Lewis, Sofia Quintero, Ray Stoeve, Yamile Mendez, and Connie Sun, with cover and interior art by Richie Pope.
The first and last story in the book are Darcie's. The first one is "Grace" and the last is "Homecoming." In her introduction, Bethany wrote that the resistance in "Grace" is an Indigenous girl who doesn't stand for unwanted physical advances. That does happen in the story and I love how it is done. As an Indigenous person, I see several other acts of resistance in Darcie's stories.

"I'm Lipan Apache" is one. With those three words in the story, Grace is pushing back on the notion that Native peoples are monolithic. Another misguided notion is that Native peoples live on reservations. In fact, some of us do and some of us don't. Some are on our reservations sometime, but not all the time. And some of our nations don't have reservations. Some of us have ancestral land that isn't reservation land, that we return to periodically. That theme in "Grace" is embodied by her account of where she's lived, where she's living when the story takes place, and where she's going to live.

Turning now to "Homecoming," Grace, her mom, and her mama are home, on the ancestral lands of the Lipan Apache people. Summer is over; it is the first day of school. Grace is doing that thing that many teens do: going through her closet trying to decide what to wear. She settles on a T-shirt with Silver Synapse on it. He's an Apache superhero. Grace got the shirt at Indigenous Comic Con. At school, she's one of the few Native students.

Her mom is driving her to school. When they get there, they see that a protest is taking place in front of the high school. People are carrying signs. On one, Grace sees that it says "BRING BACK OUR BRAVE." Painted on it is a cartoonish and stereotypical image.

Inside the school, Grace heads to her first class and meets a girl named Naomi who, noticing Grace's shirt, thinks Grace is part of the protest. When Grace tells her who Silver Synapse is, Naomi asks if Grace is Native--and then--"how much are you?"

Grace's reply to Naomi is another act of resistance:
"Blood quantum isn't our thing," I said. "My mother is Lipan and I am too." 
Naomi is satisfied with that and doesn't probe further. The two go on to talk about the protesters who want the mascot reinstated. People who don't read Native news, or news stories about mascots, may not know that schools do the right thing and get rid of mascots, but then alums object and mascots get reinstated.

The Jan 11, 2020 issue of The New York Times ran a story about this: Officials Called 'Redmen' a Racist Mascot. Then Voters Weighed In; and see the Timeline in "American Indian Mascots" by Paulette Fairbanks Molin in American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children edited by Arlene Hirschfelder, Paulette F. Molin, Yvonne Wakim, and Michael A. Dorris.

As "Homecoming" draws to a close, Grace is at a protest. She's scheduled to speak but learns that the event is set up to give "both sides" equal time to respond to an issue. Grace is indignant at that idea--as anybody should be, about issues of social justice. She takes the mic and says:
“Hóóyíí, Shizhách’i’íí ashíí Shitsiłki’ii!” I boomed. “My name is Grace. Like my mama, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers, I am Lipan Apache. To my Native siblings, mínì’ níáá dààgó̱ó̱t́í!”  
I paused to look every Bring-Back-the-Braves protester in the eye.  
“My humanity,” I continued, “is not up for debate. Xásteyo.”
Those last words are so powerful (Xásteyo means thank you)!

I've read several of Darcie Little Badger's stories and each time, I'm deeply moved by what she writes. I highly recommend "Grace" and "Homecoming."

National Geographic's Encyclopedia of American Indian History and Culture, Not Recommended, Part 2

Encyclopedia of American Indian History & Culture: Stories, Time Lines, Maps, and More
Written by Cynthia O'Brien
Published in 2019
Publisher: National Geographic
Reviewed by Jean Mendoza
Status: Not Recommended

 Debbie's review (1/4/2020) of Encyclopedia of American Indian History & Culture: Stories, Time Lines, Maps, and More focused mainly on visual images used in the book. There are enough problems with a number of the photographs and other images used to warrant not recommending the book. I reached a similar conclusion after looking at selections of the Encyclopedia's written content, and here I'll talk about that process.

My focus was on terminology and concepts relevant to Indigenous/US political history. I wanted to know what the book had to say about the Doctrine of Discovery, settler-colonialism, Manifest Destiny, Native sovereignty, the taking of Indigenous homelands, and Indigenous resistance. What words writers choose, and what they leave unsaid, reveals much about their understanding of a topic and about what they want readers to understand.

Let's start with sovereignty. The term is in the glossary, but the definition says nothing about its connection to Indigenous reality. It's not in the index, but as Debbie mentioned, the publisher's note

on p. 8 devotes about 300 words to tribal sovereignty (see image below), including a bit about the concept of "domestic dependent nations" and allusion to particular legal rights of Native nations. But readers must wade through frustrating mischaracterization of Indigenous history. "As Europeans took over more territory" leaves out the fact that the US, from the moment it was established by former Europeans, also "took over" Indigenous homelands. More about that later. And in paragraph 2, the phrase "lost their sovereignty" makes it sound like the Nations, oops, dropped it somewhere, when in fact the colonizing US government refused or failed to consistently recognize or honor Indigenous sovereignty.

The Encyclopedia misses other key opportunities to deepen readers' understanding of Indigenous history. It has no glossary/index entries for "Doctrine of Discovery" or "Manifest Destiny."  Here I'll talk about those and some related terms that should be dealt with more effectively in the book. (Debbie and I learned some things about the challenges and benefits of glossaries and indexes when we adapted An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, and we have an appreciation for how they can promote or hinder readers' understanding of a book's content.)

First, the Doctrine of Discovery. This product of collaboration between European rulers and the Roman Catholic Church laid the groundwork for European invasion and colonization of Indigenous homelands in what are currently called the Americas. The Doctrine of Discovery has ongoing influence on policies and attitudes here. (For example, in Brazil, the current elected leader denies Indigenous peoples' right to exist on their homelands, and the current resident of the White House greatly admires Andrew Jackson, proponent of "Indian Removal.") Knowing about the Doctrine of Discovery is essential to understanding the history and present circumstances of every Indigenous nation. But it's not in the glossary or index, and if it's mentioned in the text, I didn't find it.

BTW, the Encyclopedia's glossary definition of Catholicism leaves out that Church's key role in the Doctrine of Discovery. Also, "the mission years" highlighted in the book's California section means the years of Catholic missions, but that's not made clear. The textbox titled Mission Indians (see below) explicitly mentions Spanish brutality toward the Indigenous people, then says that the Spanish "also baptized as many as possible into the Catholic Church." Readers deserve to be shown more clearly how Spanish soldiers and priests together actively sought to destroy multiple Nations in what is currently called California, and how baptism was part of that. And again, here's the notion that Indigenous traditional ways were "lost." Not so. Colonizers intentionally destroyed them.

Manifest Destiny. Awareness of Manifest Destiny is basic to understanding the impact of "Western expansion" on Indigenous nations. But there's no glossary definition for it, nothing in the index, and it isn't mentioned in the definition of Western expansion, below.

Notice how the glossary definition above uses passive voice ("the name given to")?  That glosses over the fact that colonizers have named it that -- not the Indigenous people on whom Western expansion was inflicted. Also, "acquired" doesn't begin to describe the bloodshed and treachery that enabled the US government to take Indigenous lands. "Settled" conjures up images of individuals and families quietly and legally building little homes and communities for themselves (Little House Anywhere Charles Ingalls Wants to Build One) -- and leaves out the central, often coordinated, roles of governments, land speculators, militias/military, missionaries, business owners, and squatters in the takeover. "Violently and intentionally took and colonized Indigenous homelands" would be more accurate.

Some terms the Encyclopedia does include are handled in ways that leave much to be desired. The glossary definition of colonization ("settling and taking control of a place and its indigenous people") is far too mild. And colonization period -- defined here as "the time between 1607 and 1783, during which the Europeans settled in what is now the United States" has two problems. First, the US itself continued to colonize the continent, taking Indigenous homelands, long after its independence from Britain. (That's what "Western expansion" was.) Second, the US is a colonizing nation in present time (e.g., Puerto Rico, Guam). A third problem is that there's no index entry for either of those glossary terms, so you can't easily look up what else the book says about them, if anything.

As Debbie noted in her review, National Geographic has said it wants to stop its long-time racist misrepresentations of Indigenous people. Debbie mentions that several Native scholars are credited as consultants on the Encyclopedia. That's a wise move on National Geographic's part, though we know there's no guarantee that Native people's contributions were actually used. Some content and wording depart from what's typical in colonizer-centered informational/reference books about Indigenous history, which suggests some use of Indigenous input. For example, the introduction, by former US Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne), uses the term "European invaders". (But if "invaders" appears elsewhere in the book, I didn't find it.)  The Encyclopedia does refer frequently to Native nationhood, Native rights, acts and campaigns of resistance, and present-day existence. It defines words like encroachment, tribal status, federal recognition, and reparation, which Native consultants would likely push to have included.  Unfortunately, that's not enough, because those positives share space with problematic text like this photo caption:

It's better to refrain from commenting if one isn't sure why a Native person dresses
a certain way. Also, "more attractive" than what, and to whom, and why? 
Treating such cultural information as some kind of mystery is a form of Othering.

and this "In the Know" box:
The circled statement places traditional Salish beliefs in the past, when there 
may well be contemporary Salish people who share them. The wording
 also makes Salish beliefs sound "different", though in fact, a number of 
contemporary religions believe in guidance by spiritual guardians. For 
example, some Christians profess belief in guardian angels.

It would be wonderful to have a visually appealing reference book that provides young people with a cohesive, well-grounded, well-sourced, thoroughly Indigenous perspective on Indigenous nations and cultures, and their history with what is currently called the United States. National Geographic's Encyclopedia of American Indian History and Culture is not that book.

Edited on 1/12/2020: It's important to also mention that, although the Encyclopedia refers to Catholicism in the glossary and briefly in some of the text, it makes another glaring omission: there is no glossary entry or indexing for Protestantism and/or Calvinism, both of which played a considerable role in Indigenous-white relations outside of what is currently known as California. The first European colonizers in places like Plymouth and Jamestown were Protestant, as were many of those who came after. They tended to have little regard for Indigenous people's religions, and often considered them to be consorts of the devil. Much more could be said of that, and more should have been said in the NatGeo Encyclopedia.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020


This is a long overdue "Debbie--have you seen" post! Last year I was asked about Jumping Mouse: A Native American Legend of Friendship and Sacrifice by Misty Schroe. My apologies for this delay!

Back in 1985, John Steptoe's The Story of Jumping Mouse: A Native American Legend came out. The Caldecott Committee selected it as an honor book. In my copy, I see this:
The Story of Jumping Mouse, a story from Seven Arrows copyright 1972 by Hymeyohsts Storm. Retold and illustrated for children copyright 1984 by John Steptoe.
People in Native networks know that Storm is a fraud. Indeed, Native media and scholars have written about Storm's fraudulent claims to Native identity (see 5 Fake Indians: Checking a Box Doesn't Make You Native by Dr. Dean Chavers in Indian Country Today and "The Ruins of Representation: Shadow Survivance and the Literature of Dominance" by Gerald Vizenor in American Indian Quarterly, volume 17, #1, Winter 1983).

What we have in Steptoe's book is his retelling of a retelling from an unreliable source. What is in this new telling of that story?

Well, there's an introduction available online. There, the author says that she heard this story from her mother, "Laughing Bird." So--where did Laughing Bird hear it?

At her author's page, Schroe says she's "almost a fourth Crow from the Sioux nation." Hmm. That doesn't make sense to me but I'll look for more info.

The Publisher's Weekly review notes that there is no source for the story, and that there is no specific tribal nation mentioned anywhere in the story. That same problem is pointed out by the review at School Library Journal. And, Kirkus notes it, too! That is terrific!

I've got a copy on order and will be back when I get it, but for now, I have doubts that it will be on AICL's recommended lists.

Friday, January 03, 2020


Encyclopedia of American Indian History & Culture: Stories, Time Lines, Maps, and More
Written by Cynthia O'Brien
Published in 2019
Publisher: National Geographic
Reviewed by Debbie Reese
Status: Not Recommended

In late December, I did a series of tweets as I read through National Geographic's Encyclopedia of American Indian History & Culture: Stories, Time Lines, Maps, and More. Those tweets (with minor edits for clarity) are pasted below. I can't use italics on Twitter, so, I use upper case letters for book titles. Generally speaking, caps are used to denote shouting. I've passed the book on to Jean Mendoza. She'll be doing a follow up post. When it is ready I'll come back here and add a link to it. Here's her review: National Geographic's Encyclopedia of American Indian History and Culture, Not Recommended, Part 2


Questions about National Geographic's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN INDIAN HISTORY AND CULTURE: STORIES, TIME LINES, MAPS, AND MORE are picking up. This is a thread for notes as I look through it.

A couple of days ago, friend and colleague @readitrealgood tweeted about the use of "history of settlement" in the publisher's note. She thinks--and I agree--that "history of colonization" would be more accurate and honest:

From the publisher’s note: “We also hope it (the encyclopedia) helps readers to realize the impact that the history of settlement still has on Native peoples today.” I think “history of colonization” is more accurate & honest

She noted a problem in captions that do not name the Indigenous person in the photograph:

Oh NO!

My initial impression is that things feel surface level. For example some of the photos credit people & others don’t. Like this photo shows the most famous traditional lacrosse stick maker Alfred Jacques but it just says “Onondaga tribal member” in the caption 🤔🤔

View image on Twitter

When I got the review copy some weeks ago, I noted a deeply problematic glossary definition of boarding school as "a private school where students live." That isn't an inaccurate definition but it completely inappropriate to have it in a book about Native peoples!

I have concerns about the photos and art used throughout. Here's some artwork that appears on the timeline about the southwest. See the boxes with specific years? None of them tell us what that art is supposed to represent: 

I'm still mulling over what sort of analysis I will do on this book.

What do we expect from an encyclopedia? Some of us know that National Geographic has a problematic history of misrepresentations, biased information, exotic treatments of people... They knew they had problems, and asked a historian to do an analysis of their covers. (…)

The book I'm discussing in this thread is an encyclopedia. It 304 pages long. It is meant for kids between 8-12 years old, or 2nd-7th grade. That's a huge span in reading ability. I'm critical of rigid adherence to who can read what, when, etc. but this bk is a bit of a stretch. 

One thing I've talk abt w/ colleagues in publishing/review circles is the use of sepia-toned photos, esp. those by Edward S. Curtis. 

I am pretty sure you've seen his work. It gets used, uncritically, a lot. Ppl assume photos from that period are authentic, but, they aren't. 

Here's an excerpt from a good article about Curtis's body of work: (…)

The Publisher's Note for this encyclopedia takes abt 1/3rd of this page:

As I share photos I take as I look through the bk, I'm sure you'll notice things I did not see. I welcome replies or retweets with comments. Here's a closer look at the Publisher's Note. I put a pencil there for scale so you can see the print size on that page.

That note [bottom of first column] says that "The following terms and notes help provide critical context for readers of this encyclopedia." One of those notes [third column] is about Curtis photos. In essence it is a caution abt the controversial nature of his work.

But, t
he caution itself is useless because as you page through the book, which of the photos are by Curtis? We have NO WAY TO KNOW. Captions don't tell us. See? This photo is on page 20 on the Ahtna page:

A teacher or librarian wanting to know if it is a controversial photo would look it up in the Photo Credit pages, but... no mention of the photographer there, either. Look in the ARCTIC section to find info on page 20.

Earlier I asked ppl to share their observations of photos I'm pasting in this thread. Here's one from @desmondcwong, about the Publisher's Note on the Métis:

The description of the Métis as people with both Indigenous and European ancestry instead of a distinct sovereign Nation and polity is already inaccurate and harmful. 

Circling back to the "Two Ahtna girls" photo, I found it online, here:

In the original photo, you can see the name "Miles Brothers" on the lower left but that info was cropped out of the photo in the encyclopedia. (…)

Do readers assume that all the photos in this book are by Curtis? They aren't, as my search for "Two Ahtna girls" shows. I know that Curtis is not the only photographer who staged photos. Did Miles Brothers do that, too? That last is a question for myself, really, for further research on my own.

The larger point is about how an encyclopedia presents information about photographs, and who took them. Ok... shall I page through and see if I can find a Curtis photo? (Nods to self.)

Finally found a Curtis photo, on page 125. Caption says "Lone Wolf, also known as Guipago, was chief of the Kiowa tribe in the 1860s and 1870s. He led the tribe's warriors in raids against other tribes. He is pictured seated with his wife, Etla."

Here's info about it being a Curtis photo from the Getty file: but the Library of Congress doesn't name the photographer: (I'll keep looking...) (…) (…)

In the meantime, I'm paging on thru the book. I've found several black and white or sepia-toned portraits or photos and looked them up. So far, none of them are by Curtis. 

Ok, here's a photo on page 187. The caption (as is the case throughout the book) does not tell us who the photographer is. I found the photo at the Library of Congress. There, it says Curtis is the photographer. (

To remind you why I'm doing this close look at the photos in this National Geographic encyclopedia: it has a note up front that is a caution about Curtis photos. But none of the photos throughout the 300+ pages are captioned with photographers names. 

As we look at that "Cayuse woman" photo, did Curtis do something to romanticize the woman and her baby? We don't know--and that's a problem for an encyclopedia -- especially one that tells readers to be careful of photos! 

So far in this thread I've focused on photographs because this encyclopedia is full of images. Some are paintings, some are photographs of artifacts, and some are black/white or sepia, or full color photos of Native ppl. 

Kids will hone in on the images on these pages. Those images will carry a lot of weight! This is an encyclopedia. The information provided in captions must be accurate! 

Especially because we all know that most kids who pick it up will already have a lot of biased info about Native peoples, that they were "taught" by someone. 

On page 193 of the encyclopedia is a photo w/caption "Klamath people built round, pole-framed houses in summer, and covered them with mats (pictured). Winter homes were built partly underground." LOC says it is a Curtis photo.

Feedback I've gotten in the thread that I want to add to the thread itself so others can see include:

Randell Baze, a Native librarian (see his Twitter profile @RandellBaze) noted the frequent use of Fancy Dancers on book covers:

Questions about National Geographic's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN INDIAN HISTORY AND CULTURE: STORIES, TIME LINES, MAPS, AND MORE are picking up. This is a thread for notes as I look through it.

View image on Twitter
Why is there always a Fancy Dancer on books like these?
We don't all dance powwow.

Well, that's about all I want to do right now on old photographs. Maybe I'll take a look at images per page, do some counts and see how that looks. I will say this: the book is heavy. My wrists get tired holding it up.

Elsewhere I noted that the white font on yellow background is a design flaw. It is hard to read and I think it would fail a contrast test. 

In my quick count of images in the first section, Arctic and Subarctic, most of the images are photos of an article of clothing. There's 8 photos of items. Next highest count is 7 of what I called unnamed person. They're things like:

"Alutiq girl" in a traditional headdress
A woman w a handdrum; caption says "An Idle No More protest in Toronto..."
"A Gwich'in man" in a wolf mask at Denver March Powwow.
"Yup'ik elder with her grandchildren..."
"An Inuvialuit girl wears a modern-day parka..."
"An elderly James Bay Cree woman prepares a fire..."

In the back, the book includes a list of 10 consultants. I recognize a couple. They do terrific work. I doubt that they saw the glossary definition for boarding school. And I doubt any of those consultants would have said ok to "Spirit Dolls."

The author [of this encyclopedia] is Cynthia O'Brien. 

When I look up her name in WorldCat, I see she's listed as author on Scholastic's BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS, and BEST & BUZZWORTHY 2017, and bks in Crabtree's "Travel with the great explorer's" series. So... no subject experience of her own. 

My guess is that National Geographic wanted to do this book, and so, they hired her to do it.

She isn't Native. Given her lack of subject knowledge, it is no surprise that we get a book that reflects common errors in thought about who we are. Those common errors?

That we are people of the past (so, "history" is in the title).

And, the predominant use of "culture" and "tribe" and little to no use of "nation" or "sovereign nation" to describe us (so, "culture" is in the title). And, that we dance.

The large photo on the cover? A person, dancing.

The double-paged spread for the title page? A person, dancing:

Page 8, with the Publisher's Note? A person, dancing. I shared that page before (to talk about the Curtis photos) but am sharing it again, to look at the "Tribal Sovereignty" information provided.

Sovereignty is at the core of who we are... but that information is sorely lacking in this book. Here, I'm zooming in on the first two columns in that publisher's note:

There's 304 pages in this book. Sovereignty has less than 300 words, and those words are in tiny print in a publisher's note. That's so wrong, @natgeo!

Teachers and librarians who get this book: the emphasis on visual elements of Native existence is a huge problem. 

Who is in charge of the books division at National Geographic? Did they not read the critical analysis of covers of the magazine?! (…) 

National Geographic's encyclopedia doesn't use the word "savage" but many images in the book go that route. Consider these two photos of Manuelito, a leader of the Diné (Navajo) ppl. On the left is the one in the book, on the right is the one used by Diné scholar, Dr. Jennifer Denetdale.

The "information" (quotation marks denote my sarcasm) in the encyclopedia about the Navajo Nation doesn't use the word nation, at all. 

It uses tribe and another phrase that gets used to describe Native peoples: "nomadic." 

In her bk, Denetdale pushes back on use of that word. I've spent most of this day reading and studying this book's text and images. I've seen enough to determine that it will get a Not Recommended label from me.

Children deserve far better than this, National Geographic! If you have already bought a copy, see if the store will give you a refund. This truly is a waste of money.