I'm speaking about authors who use Native imagery in their writing. Specifically, I'm talking about Cassie Edwards, who writes romance fiction, purchased---presumably---by librarians, teachers, and moms across the country. She is, in fact, regarded as one of the top ten best-selling writers of this genre. She's written two series in which the hunk is a savage Indian. Literally, one of her Indian-themed series is called "The Savage Indian" series.
She's been in the news this past week. Media scrutiny began with a blog that listed, side by side, excerpts from one of her books, with excerpts from other books. In comparing the two sets of excerpts, the blogger calls them "Startling and Eerie Similarities." The AP picked up the story, and today's NY Times has it, too.
Here's an excerpt from the NY Times article:
In the novel “Shadow Bear,” published by Signet in 2007, the bloggers said a reader was able to find lines that appear to have come, with little or no modification, from a few sources, though mostly from a novel, “Land of the Spotted Eagle” by Luther Standing Bear, and an article about black-footed ferrets from Defenders of Wildlife magazine.It is outrageous, of course, and plenty of folks are pretty steamed about it. She is far from the first to do this, however, to books written by Native people.
Children's book author Ann Rinaldi did something akin to this in her book My Heart is on the Ground. Myself and several of my colleagues wrote an extended essay about that book. The first essay appeared in Rethinking Schools. and later on in Multicultural Review, and Multicultural Education. A longer critique is at the Oyate site, and if you wish to compare passages Rinaldi used with the writings of others, read '"Literary License" or "Muted Plagiarism?"' She, too, used Luther Standing Bear's writing.
Questionable use of sources aside, Edwards' books are best sellers, but they're dangerous in this way. She does some research, enough to be able to introduce plots that hook the reader with a semblance of authenticity.
For example, the heroine in one of her books is the daughter of an anthropologist who works for the Smithsonian. He's out west to gather information about Indians before they vanish. That activity did, in fact, take place. The Smithsonian sent people out west to collect information, under the notion that Indians were about to vanish. So, Edwards has a hook.
Now we're learning, according to the news reports, she's using material from Native and non-Native sources to flesh out her stories. If she acknowledged her sources, that could be seen as a good strategy.
However! The stories themselves are so deeply enmeshed and woven with romantic, tragic, stereotypical characters, that the novels work towards strengthening and affirming the readers mistaken ideas about who American Indians were and are.
What is troubling is that some (most?) of Edwards' fans buy books for children. And, they likely draw on their "knowledge" about Indians to make their choices. Hence, it is hard to interrupt the sales of children's books filled with stereotypical imagery. In short, Edwards success feeds the on-going creation and consumption of stereotypical children's books about American Indians.
With Edwards writing for the adult market and Rinaldi writing for the children's market, all of us are caught in a destructive cycle that must be stopped. Every reader, Native and non-Native, from babies to elders, should learn that American Indians are not mere figments of the past, but people of today who live lives much like any-American.
It is likely that many who read this will object to my criticism of Ann Rinaldi, a favorite in the children's writing community. Some will be moved to defend her. Poor Ann Rinaldi.
To which I reply "Really? How about all those kids who read her book and think they've learned something or gained insight to American Indians? How about feeling some outrage on their behalf?"
If you've got Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground in your library, pull it. Throw it away, or, use it in a critical media lesson.