Thursday, September 06, 2007


It is easier to find a children's book that looks at the Lewis and Clark Expedition through the eyes of Seaman, the black lab who was on the expedition, than it is to find books about it from the perspective of Native peoples on whose lands Lewis and Clark journeyed.

Do you wonder if you read that paragraph right? Did you re-read it, just to make sure you understood it right?! Saying again, you'll more likely to find a book about Lewis and Clark--told from the perspective of a dog--than from a Native person.

Sadly, that is precisely the case.

There is, however, a terrific book for older kids. Edited by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., it is Lewis and Clark through Indian Eyes: Nine Indian Writers on the Legacy of the Expedition.

Here's the description:

For the first time in the two hundred years since Lewis and Clark led their expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific, we hear the other side of the story—as we listen to nine descendants of the Indians whose homelands were traversed. 
Among those who speak: Newspaper editor Mark Trahant writes of his childhood belief that he was descended from Clark and what his own research uncovers. Award-winning essayist and fiction writer Debra Magpie Earling describes the tribal ways that helped her nineteenth-century Salish ancestors survive, and that still work their magic today. Montana political figure Bill Yellowtail tells of the efficiency of Indian trade networks, explaining how axes that the expedition traded for food in the Mandan and Hidatsa villages of Kansas had already arrived in Nez Perce country by the time Lewis and Clark got there a few months and 1,000 miles later. Umatilla tribal leader Roberta Conner compares Lewis and Clark’s journal entries about her people with what was actually going on, wittily questioning Clark’s notion that the natives believed the white men “came from the clouds”—in other words, they were gods. Writer and artist N. Scott Momaday ends the book with a moving tribute to the “most difficult of journeys,” calling it, in the truest sense, for both the men who entered the unknown and those who watched, “a vision quest,” with the “visions gained being of profound consequence.”
Some of the essays are based on family stories, some on tribal or American history, still others on the particular circumstances of a tribe today—but each reflects the expedition’s impact through the prism of the author’s own, or the tribe’s, point of view.
Thoughtful, moving, provocative, Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes is an exploration of history—and a study of survival—that expands our knowledge of our country’s first inhabitants. It also provides a fascinating and invaluable new perspective on the Lewis and Clark expedition itself and its place in the long history of our continent.

Published in 2006 by Vintage Books, the nine writers and their essays are:

Vine Deloria, Jr., "Frenchmen, Bears, and Sandbars"
Debra Magpie Earling, "What We See"
Mark Trahant, "Who's Your Daddy"
Bill Yellowtail, "Meriwether and Billy and the Indian Business"
Robert Conner, "Our People Have Always Been Here"
Gerard A. Baker, "Mandan and Hidatsa of the Upper Missouri"
Allen V. Pinkhorn, Sr., "We Ya Oo Yet Soyapo"
Robert and Richard Basch, "The Ceremony at Ne-ah-coxie"
N. Scott Momaday, "The Voices of Encounter"

I highly recommend it, for teachers at any grade level. It is available on Kindle.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


[This review used here by permission of its author, Beverly Slapin. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission. You may link to it from another site, but cannot paste the entire review on your site.]


Craven, Margaret, I Heard the Owl Call My Name. New York: Doubleday (1973). 159 pages; grades 7-up; Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl)

It is possible for an author to put down, in truth and beauty, the lives of a people not her own. Such authors are few and far between. Margaret Craven is one of them.

Mark Brian is a young vicar, dying but not knowing it, assigned to minister to the bishop's “hardest parish,” the Kwakiutl village of Quee (“inside place”), which the whites call Kingcome. He encounters a place of incomparable beauty and a people of ancient tradition and ceremony, of prefabricated houses and an alien­ated younger gen­eration. In this place, and from these people, he learns of living and dying, of compas­sion and commitment.

Writing in the third person, Craven clearly and with great good humor sympathizes with the villagers. She describes how they take revenge on the intruders by serving them mashed turnips, and how they “cautiously confabulate” about the newcomer's “looks, his manners, even his clean fingernails.” “He will be no good at hunting and fish­ing,” Jim tells Chief Eddy.

He knows little of boats. All the time he says we. “Shall we have dinner now? Shall we tie up here?” Pretty soon he will say, “Shall we build a new vicarage?” He will say we and he will mean us.

Craven has the handful of white characters doing and saying things that will have (at least) Indian readers chuckling. Such as the British anthropologist who insists on calling the people “Quackadoodles.” “For the past century in England,” she argues, “this band has been known as the Quackadoodles and as the Quackadoodles, it will be known forever.” And there is the teacher:

This was the teacher's second year in the village. He did not like the Indians and they did not like him.... The teacher had come to the village solely for the isolation pay which would permit him a year in Greece studying the civilization he adored.

Craven's writing is spare, simple, and beautiful, with understanding and compassion. Here, the swimmer, having laid her eggs, meets her end:

They moved again and saw the end of the swimmer. They watched her last valiant fight for life, her struggle to right herself when the gentle stream turned her, and they watched the water force open her gills and draw her slowly downstream, tail first, as she had started to the sea as a fingerling.

After Mark has died, and the villagers have laid him to rest, she writes:

Past the village flowed the river, like time, like life itself, waiting for the swimmer to come again on his way to the climax of his adventurous life, and to the end for which he had been made. Wa Laum. That is all.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name is a book of great beauty that can teach much, without polemic, for those who will listen.

—Beverly Slapin

Monday, September 03, 2007

New Study: "...Exploring How Indians and Non-Indians Think About Each Other"

PUBLIC AGENDA issued a new report a few days ago, subtitled "A Qualitative Study Exploring How Indians and non-Indians Think About Each Other." Note the word "qualitative" in that subtitle. It means the research consists of interviews. In this case, the researchers interviewed people in 12 focus groups: "7 with Indians, including 2 conducted in the Crow language, and 5 with non-Indians."

Called Walking a Mile: A First Step Toward Mutual Understanding," it is definitely worth reading. How does is relate to children's books about American Indians? There are references in the report to the way American Indian content is taught in schools. An excerpt from page 9:

"...historical depictions and school curricula about American Indians have changed in the last 30 to 40 years, providing a more balanced picture of U.S. history. However, a few felt that even these depictions are too often superficial, relegated to elementary school or laden with political correctness."

Read the report. How do your thoughts align with those of the interviewees? Think about your teaching, or the books in your house/library/classroom. What role do they play in developing perceptions of American Indians?