Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Mom, Look! It's George, and He's a TV Indian!"

In 1998, I wrote an article for Horn Book, which is the most prestigious children's literature journal. The title for the article came right from my daughter, Liz. (In my post on Sunday of this week, I referred you to a page that is an account of her experience trying to work on positive climate for Native, African American, and Latino students at her high school.)

Back then, Liz was 'Elizabeth' --- a kindergartener, and she came out of her kindergarten classroom, as indigant as could be, to show me that one of her favorite characters, George, of the George and Martha books, was dressed like an Indian. Or, to use the phrase we had developed to describe these fanciful stereotypes, a "TV Indian."

In his blog post today, Horn Book's editor, Roger Sutton, refers to UIUC's Chief Illiniwek, to my article, and to this blog. Thanks, Roger!

Here's a link to the article:
"Mom, Look! It's George, and He's a TV Indian"

Here's a link to Roger's blog, called "Read Roger," dated Tuesday, Feb 20, 2007:
Hell with the Chief

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Children's books and American Indians

This blog and my work are focused on the ways that American Indians are represented in children's books. I contend that those representations have a significant impact on what people think they know about American Indians. Through text and illustration, children "learn" a lot about American Indians. And, what they "know" is affirmed by the words and images in their books.

This "knowledge" is affirmed in many ways. Through negative and romantic stereotypes in movies and television shows, and through mascots like UIUC's "Chief Illiniwek." This "knowledge" issues forth in the speech of children and adults, creating uncomfortable and hostile environments for Native children.

In an effort to create a safe space for Latino, African American, and Native students at her high school, my daughter, Liz Reese, created the "Minority Student Advocacy" program. She's at University High School ("Uni") which is the laboratory high school for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The MSA program is part of Uni's effort to recruit and retain students from the three underrepresented groups.

These efforts have met with resistance from students and parents. On Feb 7th, the school paper ran an editorial countering the need for the program. Comments to that editorial reveal the depth and breadth of racial intolerance and ignorance in this community. The primary target for these efforts was (and is) my daughter. Anonymous people commented about her skin color (apparently she isn't "dark enough" to really be an American Indian) and her identity (I'm Native, her father is white, and apparently, that means she can't really be American Indian). And, since we don't live "in a hovel on a reservation" our statements are without merit.

What children's books are in your collection? In what ways do they contribute to comments like those directed at my daughter? What do your students, parents, and community members "know" about American Indians?

If you wish to explore this situation more fully, go here. You will learn a great deal about what it means to be an American Indian living in a society filled with misinformation about who we are. The page is meant to keep people abreast of developments on the work my daughter is doing.