Tuesday, June 19, 2007

From Santa Fe Indian School...

Giving an on-line hello to people I'm meeting at the campus of the Santa Fe Indian School, where SFIS is hosting a conference. In attendance are 500 people who work primarily with Native children. the conference itself is called Access Native America.

Hello, to Shirley J., and Alana M., and Athena B., folks from Haskell, and all the other Native schools whose personnel have stopped by. I'm enjoying talking with friends I taught with here in 1988 when I taught at SFIS.... An on-line hello, too, to Felisa. Mark. Randy.

My daughter, Liz, is selling her beadwork. I'm hanging out with her, talking up my blog.

It's hot here in Santa Fe, but not humid. As I stepped outside this morning at dawn, I needed long sleeves and a sweater. The air was beautiful. Crisp. That's Nambe Pueblo, in northern New Mexico!

More another day...


Monday, June 18, 2007


Some time ago, I received a copy of D is for Drum: A Native American Alphabet by Debbie and Michael Shoulders. Right away I groaned. The cover shows a Pueblo Indian Buffalo Dance. Or rather, it attempts to show that dance, but gets it wrong. Any of you who've seen our Buffalo Dance will recall that the male dancers move in unison, as one. It isn't the case that one would face one direction and another would face a different way, as shown.

Moreover, the Buffalo Dances done by the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos typically include women dancers. There is usually a buffalo at the front, and then a woman, and then a buffalo and then a woman. Four dancers.

Toddy's illustration of each dancer is correct---as far as attire is concerned---and I really like that. And he shows the correct kind of drum we use, and a drumstick held by the drummer (too many illustrations incorrectly show Native people playing a drum with the hand, which is incorrect).

Toddy also shows people in the background, watching the dance. That is accurate, too. Family and tribal members and tourists both watch, but this watching is more akin to a gathering of people in a church. What is being 'watched' is not performance. It is prayer. Tourists and non-tribal people who gather generally know NOT to clap (thank goodness!). I don't know what they feel or experience. I hope they don't use the word "primal" to describe what they feel when they hear the drumbeat. I imagine they feel some of what I do when I'm in a church where a magnificent pipe organ is being played.

As for what is inside the book, below is Beverly Slapin's review of D is for Drum. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.


Shoulders, Debbie and Michael, D is for Drum: A Native American Alphabet, illustrated by Irving Toddy (Diné). Sleeping Bear Press, 2006. Unpaginated, color illustrations, grades k-4.

This title presents a mishmash of Indian cultural snippets, presented alphabetically and in rhyme, paired with side panels that purport to offer more information about each topic. Abysmally written, with trite error-laden rhymes and boring yet confusing “informational” text, the poor attempts at iambic pentameter highlight this cockamamie piece of dreck, typical of the quality of work of a press known for its picture books of made-up “Indian legends” that have become best sellers in Michigan and the Great Lakes Area.

The text veers between past and present tense, the selections are illogical and odd, and the rhymes are even odder:
Native Names are important words.They’re given to newborns with care.Honi means wolf, Woya means dove,and Nita is Choctaw for bear.
Toddy’s artwork, for the most part, is better than the text. But most of the faces lack individuality and bodies are distorted, there’s an eagle feather fan lying on the ground, and the horses look like they’re starving.

Finally, it shouldn’t have to be said that there is no such thing as “a Native American alphabet.” Perceiving some 600 nations of people as one giant ethnic group is as ridiculous as, say:
O is for Original Sin: A Fundamentalist Christian Convert AlphabetS is for Shetyl: An Eastern European Immigrant AlphabetP is for Polyester: A Suburban Episcopalian Alphabet
—Beverly Slapin

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bunky Echo-Hawk

Take a look at the work of Bunky Echo-Hawk. Provocative, intriguing, fun blend of Native themes and pop culture, politics...

This piece is called "If Yoda was an Indian"

(Update, 1/26/2008: His website isn't working. He's got an exhibit Jan-April at Aurora University in Chicago, called WEAPONS OF MASS MEDIA.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Heading Home

I'm going home, to Nambe Pueblo, for awhile. Blog posts will be infrequent for a month or so while Liz and I goof off there, and Arizona, and California... A mother-daughter road trip. Looking forward to it!

If you're a new visitor to this page, take a look at all the sections on the right-side of the page. You will find many resources, articles, and book reviews.


Friday, June 15, 2007

American Girls - the store in north Chicago

Earlier this week I was in downtown Chicago, just walking, with dear friend Jean Mendoza. We walked past the American Girls store and decided to stop in and see the Kaya doll. Neither of us had been there prior to this.

Our first stop was the displays there on the ground floor. All kinds of products. Puzzle books, paper dolls, non-fiction, fiction... as many of you know, American Girl is a huge business success.

I learned that Kirsten has a "secret Sioux friend, Singing Bird." I never paid much attention to all the books, but probably ought to look into the ways that American Indians are presented in the historical dolls stories. Kirsten's stories are set in 1854 in Minnesota. My quick look into the Lakota history (in Duane Champagne's Native America: Portrait of the Peoples) says "By the early 1800s, many Sioux bands moved onto the Plains from their original woodland homes in Minnesota..." (p. 163). It was primarily Ojibwe's (Chippewa's) in Minnesota in the 1800s and now.

This is only a quick look into dates/tribes of Minnesota during the time of Kirsten. More extensive research could (and should) be done. Any teachers out there willing to take a class through such a study?

The historical dolls are displayed in the basement floor, so we went there next. First diorama to our right were things of Kaya's tribe (Nez Perce). Nearby was a diorama of Josefina. I noted the presentation of the horno (outdoor oven). There was a (fake) fire inside, and a loaf of bread on a paddle placed as though it had just come out of the oven. Thing is, when you actually cook bread in these ovens (we Pueblo Indians use them, too; our Tewa word for oven is panteh--can't put the correct mark over the a in this blogger software), the fire is completely extinguished and ashes cleaned out before the bread is placed in the oven. It would be better if American Girl removed the fake fire from the oven.

In the center of that floor section was a table on which Kaya and a tipi (spelled tepee) were displayed. She's almost as tall as her tipi, which is an error in scale. Same with her pony. The small scale of the tipi reminds me of the ways that igloos are typically shown in children's books. In truth, they were and are rather large. Again and again, however, they're shown to be about the size of a doghouse. That's a tangent, though. Back to American Girls.

Further along the way was a theater where stage shows (musicals) are presented several times a day. There were large posters of some child actors and scenes from the historical dolls. I didn't see one of Kaya. I asked a salesperson in that section about the shows. He said they do a musical that includes all the historical dolls as characters. He handed me a brochure. I studied it and said "I don't see a girl who is dressed as Kaya." He pointed to one and said "That's her. She does more than one character." He also talked about their other shows, with "bitty characters" and described, with great enthusiasm, the products for toddlers, how they're child-safe, and how they are designed to introduce children to American Girl. (This is when I really started feeling grossed out by the place.)

We went into the larger room with displays of the dolls and their things. In that area there were 15 foot-long (or thereabouts) displays for all dolls, except for Kaya. I asked the sales clerk (and there are many, all through the store) where the Kaya display was. She said it was around the corner, over in the other room. I asked why it wasn't with the others in the big room. She said they didn't have enough space, and decided to put her out there, because she didn't have as many accessories as the other dolls.

I replied that it was pretty typical, actually, to marginalize Native Americans, put them elsewhere, not in the mix, as it were.

She went on to say that they were trying to be authentic. According to her (or her script), American Girl has decided that, to be authentic, Kaya has to have little in the way of accessories. Clothes, furniture, etc.

Hmmm... I thought to myself. I guess all the other girls, according to this salesperson, had more in the way of material goods. The pioneer girl, the immigrant, etc. etc., they all had plenty of goods. How accurate is that?

The salesperson then said that Kaya would be in with the rest of the girls when they move to their larger building.

By then I was utterly disgusted with the entire place. I thanked the salesperson, and we left. I wasn't confrontational.

I should remind readers that, while I did ask questions that may have suggested I felt that Kaya ought to be in the big room with the other girls, that exclusion/inclusion/marginalization is just one slice of this discussion. Several weeks ago, I posted a review (read it here) that points to the multiple errors and flaws in the Kaya books. American Girl could do better, and you, as a consumer, can find much better books about American Indians for the children you work with, or parent, or teach....

(Note to Jean: If you want to add anything, please do!)

And, those of you who have more knowledge of the American Girl books, please comment, share what you know about the ways that American Indian characters are presented in the stories.

Note at 9:01 PM---Roger Sutton noted my post here over at Read Roger. Follow comments there, which are about the commercialization aspects of AG.