Saturday, December 16, 2006

Presentation of 2006 American Book Awards

Yesterday (December 15th), the Before Columbus Foundation presented the American Book Awards for 2006. This purpose of the award is to acknowledge excellence and multicultural diversity of American writing.

A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children (edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin) is amongst the winners this year. Below are the remarks Beverly read at the event. Doris Seale was unable to attend. With Beverly were some of the contributors to A Broken Flute: Barbara Wall and her son, Ryan Potter, and Janet King and her daughter, Cora Garcia.

I don't know this for certain, but I'm willing to bet that there is no other book out there that has as many Native voices within its covers as does A Broken Flute. The work of Seale and Slapin mirrors the work of Native communities. That is, we work together towards a common goal.

Thank you, Doris and Beverly, for making it possible for Native voice to be part of the conversations about children's books. You and Oyate make a difference.


Doris and I are greatly humbled by this award and we’d like to ask some people to stand with me in accepting it.

The great Lakota philosopher, Tatanka Iotanka—Sitting Bull—said, “Let us put our minds together and see what life we will make for our children.” The great Cuban revolutionary, José Martí, said, “We work for the children because the children know how to love, because the children are the hope of the world.” 

So Doris and I want to thank the Indian children who had the courage to say what was in their hearts, knowing that their stories would be part of a book, and so no longer private. We also thank the parents of those children, who trusted us with their stories. Those of you who have read A Broken Flute may see that, for Indian children, survival is not a foregone conclusion, and for Indian parents, promises to keep them safe cannot in truth be guaranteed. 

In 1992, when we were in the thick of the struggle against the racism exhibited by a large textbook publisher—it was called “the textbook wars” and those of us who fought it were ridiculed as, among other things, “politically correct censors of the left”—a friend attempted to describe the problem to a group of people who clearly didn’t want to understand how white privilege supports white racism. She held up one of the textbooks and said, simply and without polemic: “In order for some children to be proud of their cultures, other children must be made ashamed of theirs.” 

It would be arrogant and foolish to think that a book that took 13 years of work, 60 contributors, much heartache—and a few laughs besides—can eradicate a problem that has been in existence for more than 500 years. For Doris and me, and for the many contributors, A Broken Flute is our attempt to make things better. Thank you.

Friday, December 15, 2006


[Note: This review is used by permission of its author and may not be published elsewhere without written permission of the author.]
Medicine Crow, Joseph (Absarokee/Crow), with Herman J. Viola, Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond. National Geographic, 2006. 123 pages, color and b/w photos, grades 5-8.

As tribal historian of the Absarokee (Crow) Nation, Joseph Medicine Crow would have to be a very good storyteller and have a very long memory. He is and does. Here, in short stories with an ironic humor that seems to be the forte of elders, Medicine Crow tells of a childhood lived mainly outdoors: bathing in icy rivers, mud fights, racing horses, stealing a cow from a white rancher, listening to stories about family and community, and counting coup.

In the old days, in order for someone to become an Absarokee war chief it was necessary to accomplish four life-threatening coups—capture an enemy’s horse, touch the first enemy to fall in battle, steal an enemy’s weapons, and lead a war party. Counting coup is about confronting fears. Such as Medicine Crow’s experiences at a Baptist mission school and later at public school, where he encounters racism and learns to fear whites. Such as his first hospital visit to have his adenoids removed, in which he encounters whites, a Sioux and a ghost (who turns out to be an elderly white guy). Such as his exploits while serving in World War II, in which he completes his four acts of bravery.

 Counting Coup is an excellent read that will resonate with middle readers, and might encourage them to interview their own elders.
—Beverly Slapin

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


"The People looked around them and they saw Black People, Chicano People, Asian People, many White People and others who were kept poor by American wealth and power.

The People saw that these People who were not rich and powerful shared a common life with them.

The People realized they must share their history with them."

What you've just read is an except from The People Shall Continue, a poem written by Simon Ortiz. His poem was published as a picture book in 1977. If you read American Indian poetry, you are likely familiar with his work. He is from Acquemeh (Acoma) Pueblo, and "The People" are the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Ortiz begins The People Shall Continue with Creation. Not Genesis, but Creation, as viewed by several different Indian tribes. From the opening pages of his book, children learn that there is more than one way to view Creation. And they learn about diversity in lifestyle, diversity that is dependent on place.

As the story continues, Ortiz tells us that "something unusual began to happen." That something is the arrival of what he calls "strange men" who came "seeking treasures and slaves." This happened to the People, everywhere. He tells us about resistance as he recounts the many ways in which the People persevered in the face of government efforts to stop us from being who we were and are.

His book, in short, offers a history of American Indians.

Here we are, nearly 30 years after the publication of his book, and the rich and powerful continue to cause suffering.

The title of Ortiz's book THE PEOPLE SHALL CONTINUE helps me when I read the news each day and learn of yet another incident in which the rich and powerful denigrate people of color. This morning I read about a parody of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" written by students at Tufts. The re-written song is "Oh Come All Ye Black Folk." It takes aim at affirmative action, but also, specifically, at 52 African American freshmen at Tufts, who, it is suggested, are there regardless of D's and F's. For more on this, Inside Higher Ed has the story I read.

As noted in an earlier post, racial tensions seem to be on the rise on college campuses across the country. A student told me last week that over Thanksgiving break, she overheard students at a bar talking about their "Trail of Beers" party.

A comment to my post about Philbrick's book suggested that on this blog, I "doth protest too much." That individual is not paying attention. The pile of ugliness is huge and it is everywhere.

And so I will protest, and, THE PEOPLE SHALL CONTINUE.

The People Shall Continue, written by Simon Ortiz, illustrated by Sharol Graves, was published in 1977 by Children's Book Press.