Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Native Astronaut & A Native Writer

I imagine the man who drive my cab in NYC Thursday night would be surprised to know that Commander John Herrington, who flew on the space shuttle in 2002, is, to use the cabby's words "a red Indian." The man is from Bangladesh, and as I got in his cab, he peered at me and asked if I was Indian.

"Yes, American Indian."

"From India?"

"No... Native American."



He then stumbled, with "I thought...." and "But...." We began a long conversation, during which he talked of how he didn't know we are still here and that there is nothing in his daughter's history schoolbooks about us. He was surprised to know that there are hundreds of tribal nations, each with its own language, culture, etc. He asked what work we do, too, and though I told him one of my sister's work in business and science, and my dad is a retired engineer, he seemed to think that wasn't possible.

The conversation pointed out (again) to me, just how powerful American Indian stereotypes are--not just here--but abroad as well.

"Red Indian" is the phrase used for us in other lands. Later that evening, reading email, I learned of a new book, published in England, called Apache Girl Warrior. In her on-line interview, the author didn't use "red Indian" but she does have that tragic-romantic image in her head. And with that, she's written a book in which she makes up a tribe "Black Mountain Apache." She talks about not having learned much about American Indians, and that she wants to change that with this book. Her protagonist witnesses her brother being killed, vows to take vengeance, trains herself to be a warrior, and then...

That synopsis makes me think 'oh dear' --- her book is not going to do much more than affirm stereotypes, but in making up a tribe, but she is also adding misinformation. All with good intent!

Getting back to the subject of this post! John Herrington the astronaut is Chickasaw. And Cynthia Leitich Smith the author is Creek. The two were speaking at the Norman Public Library in Norman Oklahoma for its Native American Festival.

Over on her blog, Cyn has a picture of Herrington, and an image of the cover of her book, Rain is Not My Indian Name. She's got a signed poster of Herrington. It and a copy of her book are in a giveaway Cyn is doing. If you are a teacher, librarian, or university professor, click on over to her site and sign up for the chance to receive the giveaway. She's drawing the winning entry the first week of December.

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