Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reflections from students

In my course at UIUC, students are reading children’s books about American Indians. They’re also reading reviews in mainstream journals, customer reviews at Amazon, and, reviews in A Broken Flute. Below is a response to the assignment, written by Rachel Moyer, posted to our class blog (it is private, not public). I post this today with permission of both women.

This frazzled post was inspired by a discussion I had with Rachel Storm after class this afternoon. She's always provocative so I want to give her her propers.

I think what a lot of people in class today acknowledged about the children's books they assessed is that the sacred stories depicted in them are wildly inaccurate. Some of them are blatantly incorrect while others subtly, subversively present misinformation. I've noticed that some people have wondered what the "real" or "authentic" sacred stories actually are, as opposed to the inaccurate ones we read about in books categorized by dominant culture as Indian folklore.

While I think other cultures and religions are fascinating, sometimes even intriguing, I don't understand why we (and here I use we meaning non-Native people) expect to have access to, let alone expect to understand other peoples' sacred creation stories. These are complicated, profoundly meaningful original stories (not myths or superstitions or fables, etc.) that we (as non-natives or as persons removed from that particular First Nation) would not be able to grasp unless they were simplified or translated or condensed - which are the very criticisms of why sacred stories as children's books do not usually work in an unproblematic way.

While I think it's understandable, even wonderful that many of us are curious about Native cultures and religions (plural!) - I certainly am - I think we also need to be respectful enough, humble enough to acknowledge that these sacred stories create and are emergent from languages and places and peoples that we do not necessarily know, meaning that we should not feel entitled to all of the complexities of the "real" story even when we've identified a mainstream book is problematic or inaccurate. We shouldn't need even more proof to demonstrate that these books are offensive or unfair.

1 comment:

jpm said...

Humble! That is a key word. It was a pleasure to read what Rachel wrote & thought.