Monday, July 24, 2006

Writing BY American Indians that isn't ABOUT American Indians

In my work, I search for books and stories about American Indians that are written (or retold) by American Indians. I do this because it is critical that Americans know that we are part of today’s America; that is, American Indians aren't dead and gone.

I’d bet that most of you know the phrase “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Why are so many people familiar with that phrase? I googled it and got 18,400 results, and I know it appears in many children’s books. Maybe America’s children are first introduced to that phrase by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in Little House on the Prairie.

Those who believed and acted on that phrase didn’t succeed.

We did not vanish. A good many of us are writers, and we don’t always write about American Indians, nor should we be expected to confine our creativity and interest to American Indian topics.

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s upcoming book, Santa Knows, may be an example. From what I can see on her webpage, Alfie (the protagonist) is not American Indian, and the story isn’t about American Indians. Smith and her husband co-wrote Santa Knows

My father is another example. He is retired now, but spent most of his career at Los Alamos National Laboratory where he designed and built high-speed cameras and published a lot of articles in scientific journals.

This particular post to my blog may seem a bit odd, out of place, perhaps, but I do want readers to know that not all American Indians write about American Indians. To some of you, that simple statement may seem a no-brainer, but with American Indians, we have to state the obvious again and again. Such is the power of stereotypical imagery.

Update, Feb 19, 2015

I've long since read--and love--Santa Knows. I definitely recommend it!

My father passed away in June of 2013. In addition to the scientific work he did at Los Alamos, he worked very hard, advocating for Native people interested in higher education, and, advocating for the ways that Native people are treated in the workplace. The local paper in Santa Fe has a wonderful article about him

1 comment:

rindambyers said...

Don't you think, though, Debbie, that this is again sort of categorizing ourselves which to my thinking/knowing is a white culture concept?

Can't we can just be ourselves? And if we are Indian or have Indian heritage, doesn't that somehow, in a deep way permeate all that we are in whatever we do? Can't we be scientists or lawyers or artists or writer and still see the world differently and just stand proud in that and not so worried about what the world thinks of us.

My granny who was of the Chickasaw tribe was very white in many ways. But she was different from my other grandma who was white. My granny definitely saw the world differently from white culture. That is what I learned from her that I treasure. She didn't value things so much as relationships. She was always giving things not accummulating things or measuring hereslf by the things she had. She never measured herself by what she had. There was something very different in what she was and how she saw the world. I want to tell her story and give back to her tribe in my own art/writing. So even if I write something not Indian or Native American, her story and her values and her ways will seep through somehow in those endeavors. It's part of me. Thanks for raising an excellent point to think about.

My book, "Mycca's Baby" is op now (if you want to see how the values have seeped through in that story) but I am told it is still obtainable through library resources and/or used stores. If you do buy it used, buy the cheapest! The cover fades badly! It got excelletn reviews for the writing.