Friday, September 01, 2006

LeAnne Howe, American Indian Studies at UIUC

Since the late 1980s, Native American students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have lobbied for the establishment of a Native American cultural house and an American Indian Studies program, and we've called for the retirement of "Chief Illiniwek."

With the support of former chancellor Nancy Cantor, UIUC opened its Native American House and American Indian Studies program in 2003. UIUC has yet to rid itself of "Chief Illiniwek," but I am confident its end as the officially sanctioned symbol of UIUC's sports program is near. (Some think UIUC's support of our program is an effort to buy us off or shut us up, but a glance at our website and public statements we have issued calling for its retirement indicates otherwise. )

In 2004, I was hired to be an assistant professor in American Indian Studies (AIS). Since then, we've hired four American Indian professors and will hire more.

Among our faculty is LeAnne Howe. Perhaps you've read her novel, Shell Shaker. It received an American Book Award in 2002. That year, Wordcraft Circle named LeAnne as Writer of the Year. Her collection of poetry and prose, Evidence of Red, came out last year. It won a 2006 Oklahoma Book Award. Later this month, her documentary Indian Country Diaires: Spiral of Fire will be broadcast nationally on PBS. Her books and poems can be used in high school junior and senior English classes.

Take a moment to visit our Native American House website. Encourage high school and college students to look over our pages. We have a lot to offer. UIUC is an exciting place to be.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One family's experience with THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE

A reader of "American Indians in Children's Literature" wrote to me, describing her daughter's experiences with The Education of Little Tree. I invited her to write it up so I could post it to the blog. Here it is (I welcome others to write to me with similar accounts. You can remain anonymous or disclose as much personal information as you are comfortable with.)


A Georgia family's experience with The Education of Little Tree:

As a family, our experience with The Education of Little Tree has been both frustrating and enlightening. My daughter, now in 9th grade, essentially has had three readings of ELT. In 7th and 8th grades, it was a required classroom text for her. Since I knew Asa Carter's background, I gave both teachers copies of articles that discussed the book's authorship. The 7th grade teacher took the position that the author's background didn't matter because the book was well-written and gave an "authentic" representation of Cherokee life. She told the students about Carter's racist history but said that he had a change of heart before writing ELT. The 8th grade teacher, on the other hand, knew of his past and used the book to spark an investigation of writing "fraud" and misrepresentation, getting into the question of who should tell a story and for what purpose. My daughter's understanding of the book became very complex given the juxtaposed treatment of the text by both teachers.

However, her readings of the book extended beyond the classroom. Since she has a reading disability, she and I initially read the book together and had many discussions about some of the more unsettling aspects of the book that we uncovered--issues of racism, classism, sexism and ableism. She ultimately decided to counter ELT with a homework project based on another writer's memoir of growing up in America--Zitkala-Sa's American Indian Stories. My hope is that through these multiple readings and multiple lenses she is developing not only a sophisticated understanding of ELT, its author, and the issues surrounding both but also a keen critical eye towards reading in general.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Cooperative Children's Book Center: Books By and About American Indians

The School of Education at the University of Wisconsin is home to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC). At CCBC, they devote resources and attention to multicultural literature. On their website is a page called “Children’s Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States” that documents the number of books published by and about African Americans, Asian/Pacific and Asian Pacific Americans, Latinos, and American Indians. 

Here’s their stats on American Indians for the period from 2002-2005. In each of these years, CCBC estimates about 5000 children’s books were published.

In 2002:
6 books by Native authors were published
64 books about American Indians were published

In 2003:
11 books by Native authors were published
95 books about American Indians were published

In 2004:
7 books by Native authors were published
33 books about American Indians were published

In 2005:
4 books by Native authors were published
34 books about American Indians were published

Prior to 2002, CCBC’s data combined the “by” and “about” totals as follows:
1994: 70
1995: 83
1996: 50
1997: 66
1998: 50
1999: 61
2000: 54
2001: 96

CCBC publishes several excellent print and internet resources. For example, take a look at their page on the Native Peoples of Wisconsin. You can access CCBC Choices (their annual review of recommended books) via the internet, in pdf format.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures

The Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures (ASAIL) began publishing “Studies in American Indian Literatures” (SAIL) in 1977. The purpose of the organization is to:

"... promote study, criticism, and research on the oral traditions and written literatures of Native Americans; to promote the teaching of such traditions and literatures; and to support and encourage contemporary Native American writers and the continuity of Native oral traditions."

By visiting the ASAIL homepage you can access on-line copies of the journal. Articles published in SAIL are generally about works of fiction for an adult audience, many of which are used in high school English classes (e.g. Silko’s Ceremony).

The Spring 2000 issue was devoted to children’s literature. Among the articles is “A Lingering Miseducation: Confronting the Legacy of Little Tree” by Daniel Heath Justice.

With over 30 years of articles, SAIL is a rich resource for anyone interested in literature by and about American Indians.