Friday, June 22, 2007

Borders promoting a "Chief Illiniwek" book

Today's post is a call to action. As regular readers know, I'm home (Nambe Pueblo) with family for awhile. My internet access is infrequent.

In email today, I learned that Borders bookstore in Oak Brooke, Illinois, is hosting a book-signing tomorrow, June 23rd. The book is a commemorative volume, all about the University of Illinois's mascot, "Chief Illiniwek." The "signer" will be the student who is currently serving as "Chief Illiniwek." After over 20 years, UIUC finally retired "Chief Illiniwek" this past spring. During those 20 years, Native people who spoke up asking that it be retired placed themselves and their families at risk.

It is not my wish to tell Borders how to run their business. They can sell whatever they choose. No doubt they feel that selling this particular book will bring them a lot of business. They sell many children's books about American Indians that I find problematic, but I don't ask they stop selling those books either.

For background on the "Chief Illiniwek" issue, please visit click on "Mascot Info" at the webpage of the Native American House at UIUC:

What I do wish is that they NOT actively promote the book by having a book-signing.

I can, and will, take my business elsewhere, and encourage others to do so as well. A few moments ago, I wrote to Borders Customer Care asking them to cancel the book signing. I got a standard auto-reply about how they cater to their customers, try to provide all viewpoints, etc.

That's not acceptable. Native people across the Americas have been asking that schools, businesses, and marketing campaigns cease using Native imagery that is 1) stereotypical, 2) biased, and 3) presents us as a vanished people.

Unfortunately, we are small in number, and that imagery generates huge revenues. It is not realistic to expect that any business is willing to do what is right in the face of their revenues. But we can express ourselves, make our viewpoint known.

I urge you, whether you are Native or not, to write to Borders and ask them to cancel the event. It is very late in the game (the signing is tomorrow), but letting them know how you feel may impact future decisions. And, it may cause them to issue a public statement that can be helpful to us in the long run.

What can they do instead? Have a book-signing of Cynthia Leitich Smith, whose book INDIAN SHOES is set in Chicago.

Their address is:


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.)