Monday, March 19, 2007


Paul Chaat Smith is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma. He and Robert Warrior wrote Like a Hurricane, the Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee. Published in 1996, it ought to be used in every high school class that looks at the Civil Rights Movement. Alcatraz was occupied by American Indians in the late 1960s. It inspired Native people to take action at sites across the country in the 70s.

I’ve recently found Smith’s website, Fear of a Red Planet. It includes Exile on Main Street, which is Smith’s cyberbook. I want to draw you attention to his essay,  “Home of the Brave.” In it, he talks about some of America’s favorite books, ones that masquerade as being by or about American Indians: Susan Jeffers’s Brother Eagle Sister Sky, and Forrest Carter’s The Education of Little Tree. Here’s an excerpt from his essay:
Indians have been erased from the Master Narrative of this country, and replaced by the cartoon images that all of us know and most of us believe. At different times the narrative has said we didn't exist and the land was empty, then it was mostly empty and populated by fearsome savages, then populated by noble savages who couldn't get with the program, and on and on. Today the equation is Indian equals spiritualism and environmentalism. In twenty years it will probably be something else.
Visit his website. Read the entire essay. And, reconsider how you use Brother Eagle Sister Sky, or The Education of Little Tree.

Note: There is discussion of Brother Eagle Sister Sky in the article Jean Mendoza and I wrote for the journal, Early Childhood Research & Practice. The article is called "Examining Multicultural Picture Books for the Early Childhood Classroom: Possibilities and Pitfalls." It is listed under "ARTICLES" (right side of this page) or you can click here to get to it.


Catholicgauze said...

A good article. I've notice Indians are always shown on the sidelines when being portrayed as part of a national epic like Lewis & Clark or the Overland trails.

Shannon said...

This critique is really interesting.
I really like the main message inside of Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, of being connected to the Earth and treating it with love. It is really unfortunate that this book misrepresents Chief Seattle's original words, and perpetuates stereotypes of Native Americans. Are there any other pieces of children's literature that properly represents Native Americans' connection to the land and strives to teach children about treating the environment with love and respect?