Friday, January 12, 2007

Books by and about American Indians: 2005

Each year, the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison publishes an important year-in-review booklet called CCBC Choices. The essay from CCBC Choices 2006 is available on line. Below is an excerpt from the essay.

When CCBC Choices 2007 comes out, what will it tell us about books published in 2006 by and about American Indians? Will CCBC be able to say there were more than 4 books created by Native authors and/or illustrators? I hope so. Here's the excerpt from the CCBC article, "Publishing in 2005."

CCBC Statistics in 2005

Of the nearly 3,000 titles we received at the CCBC in 2005, we documented the following with regard to books by and about people of color:

• 34 books featured American Indian themes, topics, or characters. Of these, only 4 were created by individuals identified as American Indian authors and/or artists. Nine additional Native writers were featured in a single short story collection.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

News regarding Seale and Slapin's A Broken Flute: The Native Perspective in Books for Children

Shonto Begay.
Eve Bunting.
Ann Nolan Clark.
Alice Dalgliesh.
Barbara Esbensen.
Russell Freedman.
Gail Gibbons.
Tony Hillerman.
Susan Jeffers.
Thomas King.
Michael Lacapa.
Angela Medearis
Redwing Nez.
Scott O'Dell.
Patricia Polacco.
Delphine Red Shirt.
Robert San Souci.
Luci Tapahonso.
Nancy Van Laan.
Gloria Whelan.
Ed Young.

You may know some of these names, but not all. Each one has written or illustrated a book about American Indians, or a book that has American Indians in the story. Each of these individuals is in the index for A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. This is only a partial listing.

I refer readers to it again and again. It is now available in paperback for $35.00 from Oyate. I have a copy in my home office and one in my office on campus. I use it in my classes. A Broken Flute is an invaluable resource that ought to be in every classroom and school library.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Choosing Children's Books about American Indians

On Friday, January 26, I will be in Chicago leading a workshop for elementary school teachers and librarians in Chicago Public Schools. The workshop is called "Choosing Children's Books about American Indians. "

If you are a teacher in Chicago Public Schools, write to Jolene Aleck at for more information.

The workshop will take place at the Field Museum from 9 to noon.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Teaching Sterling's MY NAME IS SEEPEETZA and Tohe's NO PAROLE TODAY

Last night I watched a video in which a teacher engages her middle school students in a study of boarding schools for American Indian students. The study begins with the students reading Shirley Sterling’s My Name is Seepeetza and “The Names,” which is a poem from Laura Tohe’s No Parole Today.

The video is an hour long and is part of the “Teaching Multicultural Literature” series of teacher resources available on the Annenberg Media website. Here’s the annotation for this particular segment:

Workshop 3: Research and Discovery: Shirley Sterling and Laura Tohe

At the Skokomish reservation in Washington state, Sally Brownfield and her students study and connect with the literature and issues related to the Native American boarding school program through community involvement and self-examination. Students use Shirley Sterling's novel My Name Is Seepeetza and the poetry of Laura Tohe as the lenses through which they explore topics of their choosing. The class visits the Skokomish Tribal Center to interview tribal elders about the impact of the residential boarding program on the community. Author Shirley Sterling visits the class and answers student questions related to her novel, her life, and their personal research topics. Students then decide how to make their learning public.


This blog has several posts about My Name is Seepeetza, but not enough about Laura Tohe's poetry. A post about her is forthcoming.

It is hard for me to say which portion of the video is the most powerful. Listen to the students, many of whom are Native, talk about the book and their own families. Listen to Laura Tohe’s poem, as the Native teacher reads it aloud. Listen to the elders and what they say about their days as students in a boarding school. And, listen to Shirley Sterling and all that she gives to the students in that classroom.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Some Thoughts On Teaching About Native Americans by John A. Duerk

[Note from Debbie: Several weeks ago, I began email correspondence with John Duerk, during which he shared his experiences as a teacher. I asked him to write an essay for the blog. Here it is.]

While teaching social studies in a rural, Illinois high school, I observed a high level of ignorance and defensiveness about the Native American experience here in the United States. As a teacher who cares about history and its connection to contemporary matters of social justice, I found this to be rather disturbing. Most of my students simply did not have much prior knowledge about Native Americans beyond the generic stories they are told in grade school or the racist stereotypes that are propagated through the mainstream media. This bothered me because there is a serious disconnect between perception and reality – a disconnect that creates barriers which prevent young people from coming to terms with the past and understanding the present. After all, how can students place the current Native American state of affairs in the proper context if they lack knowledge of human experiences that have led to us all to this point? They cannot. In my history and government classes I tried to address these problems with lesson plans designed to challenge and overcome their ignorance and defensiveness.

In US History class, two of the most invaluable lessons I taught involved the voyage(s) of Christopher Columbus and President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy. With regard to the lesson on Columbus, my students read an excerpt from his journal and discussed the language he used to describe the native people he encountered. Then my students read two recent secondary sources that presented contrasting views of Columbus (one positive, the other negative). Finally, they had to write a paragraph (at least five sentences long) explaining which view they agreed with and why. A class discussion also followed the paragraph writing. Many students commented about how they had never read a criticism of Columbus. This reality speaks to the inadequacies of social studies instruction at the elementary and junior high levels. As for the lesson on Indian Removal, I conducted a mock trial of President Jackson after students studied his policy (Indian Removal Act of 1830) and its results (The Trail of Tears). While students played almost every courtroom role during the trial (I played the judge to oversee the process), contrasting views (for and against removal) were presented through prosecution and defense witnesses. In the end, the jury had to decide Jackson ’s fate based on the case facts. Many students left with a more critical view of his presidency as well as an understanding that some government policies have been incredibly harmful to Native Americans. Ultimately, when young people read and discuss a combination of primary and secondary sources that detail the lives of Indians, then they are more inclined to grasp the depth of the events that transpired.

In American Government class, I taught a provocative lesson on the case of Leonard Peltier, an American Indian Movement activist who is serving two consecutive life sentences for the killing of two federal agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Most of my students were unaware of the events that occurred that June day in 1975, much less the doubts many have as to his guilt. To begin this lesson, I lectured on the impoverished and corrupt state of the Pine Ridge reservation at that time, the goals of the American Indian Movement and why its members went to Pine Ridge, and who Leonard Peltier is. Next, students read an excerpt from Peltier’s book, Prison Writings: My Life is My Sundance (specifically Chapter 27 where he recounts the events of June 25th). Then, they watched either the documentary film Incident at Oglala, or the A&E American Justice special, Murder on a Reservation. Due to the fact that some students felt Incident at Oglala contained biases in favor of Native Americans, I used the latter program in later years to address this concern. While viewing either the film or special, I instructed my students to write down five comments and five questions about the case so we could have a solid class discussion afterward. Also, before the day of the discussion, they read a lengthy news article on the case and answered several questions that I provided. This lesson proved to be more controversial than the others in history class because the event is more immediately relevant. Moreover, it involves a member of a radical civil rights group that sought to protect indigenous people through physical force when necessary. Many students found the case very unsettling regardless of their view of Leonard Peltier (his guilt or innocence).

As a social studies teacher, I tried to provide my students with as much information as possible to build their knowledge base, promote analytical thinking skills, and stir their desire to question the institutions around them. Looking back, there is so much more I wanted to do, but alas, I made a serious effort to address the Native American experience in my classroom. Young people need to learn more about life here before the colonists arrived, and then trace that history to the present to fully understand how our country came to be. They must confront the uncomfortable realities we now live with. Only through critical inquest will we uncover truth. Only through reexamining our perceptions can we bridge the social, political, and economic divides between people. The public school system is one place where genuine change can begin when young people are nurtured with the proper instruction. If there is to be some justice for surviving indigenous peoples, then we owe them a significant place in our curriculum.

John A. Duerk is a Ph. D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Northern Illinois University and an activist who advocates a variety of progressive causes.

Duerk’s Resources for Teachers:

American Indian Movement website:

"The Journey of Christopher Columbus" website:

Leonard Peltier Defense Committee website:

No Parole Peltier Association website:

Peltier, Leonard. 1999. Prison Writings: My Life is My Sundance. New York , NY: St. Martin ’s Press, p. 123-130.

Stannard, David E. 1992. American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World . New York , NY: Oxford University Press, Inc., p. 69-72.

Swanbrow, Dianne. 2005. Study: Explorer Still Widely Admired. The University of Record Online: The University of Michigan News Service, 12 October. Available on the Internet,

Treen, Joe. 1992. A Question of Justice. People Weekly. 4 May, v37, n17, p. 36-39.

Wallace, Anthony F.C. 1993. The Long, Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians. New York , NY: Hill and Wang.

Wilson, Wendy S. and Herman, Gerald H. 2000. Unit 3: “Andrew Jackson and the Removal of the Cherokee Nation” (Mock Trial) in Critical Thinking Using Primary Sources in US History. Portland , Maine: Walch Publishing, p. 16-23, 131-141.