Tuesday, July 31, 2007

An oft-posed question: "Who can tell your stories?"

Over on Saints and Spinners, a fellow blogger is discussing the question of telling stories (see her post on July 29th.) Stories, that is, from another cultural group. That blogger is a storyteller, and she's left Native stories alone, because she's not sure if it's appropriate, what permissions are involved, etc.

Course, we all know storytellers (and writers) that do this without thinking it through. Some are unaware of the issues involved, and others choose to ignore the issues, claiming that storytellers throughout history change details whenever a story is told again...

Which is true enough, but, when those details are so major that the story no longer reflects the values of the culture from which it originated, then it is no longer that culture's story, and should not be labeled as such. That erroneous labeling happens all the time. It is a major problem. When questioned, defenders of these books put forth 'creative license' and 'freedom of speech' arguments.

To return to the question posed at Saints and Spinners.

There is no easy answer.

Some years ago (note I didn't say "many moons ago") I was at a children's literature conference. Illustrator James Ransome was a guest speaker. He was asked why he had not illustrated any books about American Indians. His reply was something like "I haven't held their babies."

Consider that simple statement and what it embodies.

If I trust you, I will let you hold my baby. Foremost in my mind is that she is vulnerable. I don't want her hurt in any way. I don't let just anyone hold her. I have to trust that you will not hurt her.

If you are a storyteller, what is your relationship with, for example, the Pueblo people. Are you retelling Pueblo stories? Do you know any Pueblo people? Have you held their babies?


Sunday, July 29, 2007

NPR story: "Is Ancient People's End a Warning for the Future?"

Today (July 29, 2007), NPR is broadcasting a segment called "Is Ancient People's End a Warning for the Future?"

There are some glaring problems with the segment. Assuming you listened carefully and thought you were learning something about Pueblo people, I (regular readers of this blog know I am from Nambe Pueblo) offer the following.

We Are Still Here. In the broadcast, and on the webpage, there are explicit and implicit suggestions that we no longer exist.

On the webpage is a photo of the archaeologist interviewed for the segment. Here's the caption:

Archaeologist Kristen Kuckelman kneels in one of the ancient houses, or kivas, at Goodman Point Pueblo. Her research points to climate change as contributing to the disappearance of the Anasazi, or Pueblo People of the Southwest.

Two glaring errors in that caption are:

1) Equating house and kiva. They are not the same thing. One is a place you live. The other is a place for learning and ceremony. This error is also in the broadcast. It surprised me that an archaeologist would make that mistake.

2) "...disappearance of the Anasazi, or Pueblo People of the Southwest."

We didn't disappear. We moved.

That simple fact, however, is left out of the story. As such, it allows listeners to more firmly pack their mistaken notion that we no longer exist.

Later in the broadcast, a water manager says:

"They obviously didn't have our technology. They didn't have Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam. And when there was a change in the climate, they could not adapt to it," he says.

Couldn't adapt, so we disappeared. That word... adapt. A troublesome word---who or what adapts or is adapted? And what does it mean, to adapt?

He's talking, obviously, about that long-held notion that American Indians weren't using the land properly, and that Europeans, whose technology was superior, were justified in their actions to claim the land. Course, he's talking about water here, and says that dwindling water will mean that cities will buy water rights from farmers...

From farmers? Actually, one of the major water rights cases in northern New Mexico is between farmers and PUEBLO INDIANS.

The NPR story is rife with bias and error. There are some interesting aspects to it, and some things worth knowing, but I urge you to listen and read critically, always. It will take the concerted effort of all of us to change the ways that American society thinks/speaks about, and treats, American Indians.

And that includes writers, teachers, parents, librarians, and professors who write, edit, publish, review, and purchase children's books.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stories for a Winter's Night: Fiction by Native American Writers, edited by Maurice Kenny

Due to limited budgets, we too often don't hear about outstanding books published by small presses. Small presses can't afford to send their books out for review, so they're not reviewed in the major journals.

Stories for a Winter's Night: Fiction by Native American Writers is one of those books. Published by White Pine Press in Buffalo, NY, it came out in 2000. In 2001, Skipping Stones included it on their 2001 list of Honor Award books. I learned of it, I think, through Richard Van Camp.

Stories written by Native authors...

Well known writers like Joseph Bruchac and James Welch whose works teachers and librarians are familiar with...

Writers the general public knows (those that read Native lit): Wendy Rose, Kimberly M. Blaeser, Simon Ortiz, Leslie Marmon Silko...

In all 37 stories and poems, by 36 different Native writers. Some you know, some you don't, some you should.

The collection is wide-ranging in scope. There's a boarding school story, a traditional story... Stories about children, and animals. By living writers, and some who've passed on, this book will be terrific in a high school English lit class. The stories will generate much discussion. I'll include one below, as a sample.

Here is a list of each story/poem and its author. And, the intro is by esteemed scholar of Native literatures, A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff.

The Stolen Girl - Traditional Cheyenne Story (Grinnell)
The Flood - Joy Harjo (Muscogee-Creek)
White-Out - Phyllis Wlf (assininiboine/Ojibway)
Needles - Ray Fadden (Tehanetorens; Mohawk)
Coyote Meets Raven - Peter Blue Cloud (Mohawk)
Dlanusi - Robert J. Conley (Cherokee)
Deer Dance - Evelina Zuni Lucero (Isleta-San Juan)
Nothing to Give - Gail Trembley (Onondaga-Micmac)
The Hunter - Larry Littlebird (Laguna/Santa Domingo)
Subway Graffiti - Wendy Rose (Hopi/Miwok)
The Car Wreck - Dwayne Leslie Bowen (Seneca)
Hogart - Ted Williams (Tuscarora)
King of the Raft - Daniel David Moses (Delaware)
Shapechanger - Ines Hernandez-Avila (Nez Perce/Chicano)
Brewing Trouble - Kimberly M. Blaeser (Anishinabe)
Benefit Dinner - Eric Gansworth (Onondaga)
Peter Schuyler and the Mohican: A Story of Old Albany - Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)
We're Very Poor - Juan Rulfo (Mexican Native)
Webs - Lorne Simon (Micmac)
Earl Yellow Calf - James Welch (Blackfeet/Gros Ventre)
Hici - Craig Womack (Muscogee-Creek/Cherokee)
On Old 66 - Carol Yazzi-Shaw (Navajo)
A Child's Story - Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (Santee/Yankton Sioux)
The Bear Hunt - Louis Littlecoon Oliver (Muscogee-Creek)
Yellow Cat Incident - Louis Littlecoon Oliver (Muscogee-Creek)
Train Time - D'Arcy McNickle (Salish/Metis)
The Blanket - Maria Campbell (Metis)
Haksod - John C. Mohawk (Seneca)
History - Gloria Bird (Spokane)
Oh, Just Call Me an Indian - Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibway)
Tahotahotanekentseratkerontakwenhakie - Sallli Benedict (Mohawk)
Che - Anna Lee Walters (Otoe/Pawnee)
His Wife Had Caught Them Before - Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna)
She Sits on the Bridge - Luci Tapahonso (Navajo)
The Panther Waits - Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma)
Piegan Still Life - Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet)
The Derelict - E. Pauline Johnson (Mohawk)


Gail Trembly

The woman was young, blond, beautiful

like the girls in slick magazines who model

jeans. She chose to wear a bone choker

with an ermine tail as though it is possible
to appropriate a culture by wearing its artifacts.

She read a poem in which she said that she was

the white girl who always wanted to be Indian
when she grew up. I sat feeling sick, recognizing

that strange phantom pain in the gut, listening

to her romantic distortions about Eagle boy dancing
in her dreams, about cruel Indian men who undressed

her and then scolded her for being naked before

them when she was on her moon. She invented

unreality because she refused to witness the real

hard work of living in a world distorted by forced

assimilation, by faked authenticity, by loss

that beat in counter rhythm near the heart
and made the whole world seem out of balance.

She did not speak of struggle, stolen land,

the Earth raped so that strangers could reap
great profits no matter what the cost. Her desire
was for vision to fill an empty life. One more

taker, she invented ceremonies that mystified,
that made healing seem a hollow exercise untied

from the web of light that weaves things seamlessly

into being, untied from the people who for generations

shared a sense of what made things whole in a given

place. I sat and watched speechless, caught,
too paralyzed to walk away and make a scene,
aware how often revelation is impossible to explain.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

ALA President, Loriene Roy (Anishinabe)

The president of the American Library Association is Loriene Roy. She is Anishinabe (Ojibwe/Chippewa), and has done a lot of excellent work with Native children through her "If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything" program. She is a long-term member of the American Indian Library Association.

Loriene was on NPR recently, talking about multicultural literature. Click here to listen to the interview. She talked about Baby's First Laugh, by Beverly Blacksheep, one of the board books discussed on this blog last summer (Tuesday, July 18, 2006).

And, keep up with Loriene by visiting her blog, "Pin-ding-u-daud-ewin" which means "to enter into one another's lodges" or her website.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

THOMAS KING lectures on-line

If you know Thomas King's A Coyote Columbus Story, you might be interested in listening to him on line.

In the last weeks, the Australian aboriginal radio program, "Awaye," has been broadcasting a series of Massey Lectures given by King in 2003. Two segments on line are:

King's novels are terrific. There are several weeks left in the summer. Add one to your summer reading list, and scoot it to the one you read next. They are:

  • Medicine River
  • Green Grass, Running Water
  • Truth and Bright Water

They'd work well in a senior high school lit class. Listen to the segment on line, but read his novels, too, and his most recent book, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. All are available from the non-profit organization, Oyate.

Some years ago, King had a radio program called Dead Dog Cafe. Get them, too, from Oyate.

(Note: Thanks to Ashley T., a student at UIUC. I made my way to the King segments after reading quotes from Million Porcupines on her Facebook page.)