Saturday, February 16, 2008

American Indians in Fact and Fiction: LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE

Classic and award-winning books of historical fiction suggest---powerfully---that American Indians were primitive people. Through these books, children are allowed to think that Indians were less-than-human. Primitive in lifestyle. Primitive in intellect.

But, that is not the case.

Here's a few facts to consider next time you read Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie.

Charles took his family into "Indian Territory" in 1868.

By then, about 800--yes, that's right 800--treaties had been negotiated between the tribes and the federal government.

Let's think about that word a minute...


Treaties are legal documents. They are contracts whose terms are negotiated between two (or more) states.

In order to enter into a treaty, one state has to recognize the other as a state.

States are entities comprised of people with territories that are recognized by the other state, and, these state entities have systems of government. Both states have leaders who enter into diplomatic negotiations.

So. Laura Ingalls Wilder is giving you an image of Indians that is a disservice and an insult to who they were. I think you could say she does you (the reader) a disservice, too, leading you to believe something that is not true.

She isn't solely responsible for this disservice. She had help in preparing her manuscripts. And, she had an editor, too.

You might want to take a few minutes to peruse lesson plans teachers use when they teach this book in their classrooms. If you find one that challenges the ways that American Indians are depicted, let me know! I'd love to see one. Is there a lesson plan out there, that helps children see the errors in these images?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Leveled Readers featuring First Nations families

Just got this review (below) from Beverly Slapin... Lest you think these are only suitable for Native children, think again! Non-Native children learning to read by reading about Native families! I think that's terrific.

Best practice for young children is the here-and-now of their lives. That concept, however, seems to vanish when it comes to teaching anything about First Nations or American Indians. Instead of the here-and-now, kids in too many classrooms have the long-ago-and-far-away view of Native peoples.

These readers push us all to teach children that indigenous peoples are still here.


[This review is by Beverly Slapin of Oyate and may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.]

Adams, Lorraine, and Lynn Bruvold, Eaglecrest Books: Leveled Readers. 2003, color photos.

Here are Louis and Annette, helping their rabbit prepare for her new bunnies. [Images from A Bunny to Love (Level 16)]

Here are Natalee and Josh, going on a dog sled ride. [Images from The Dog Sled Ride, (Level 16)]

Here is Kelley, teaching Martina how to dance and giving her the powwow regalia she has outgrown. [Images from The Powwow (Level 16)]

Here are Martien and his dad, going spearfishing. Here is Grandma, making new slippers for Danielle and Tahya. Here are Tiara and Kayla, going all the way to the store to get milk—without getting tired. Here is Hayley, figuring out why her cat, Bonkers, always seems hungry. Here are Alysha and Taneesha, fixing a flat bicycle tire. Here are real Indian children, belonging to real families and real communities, going about their lives. No made-up “myths and legends,” no self-conscious drama, no ethnographic expositions—just well-written, respectful little stories, supported by beautiful photographs that everyone will enjoy. This outstanding beginning-reader series will encourage empathy and discussion, and will motivate young listeners to read as well.

Set of 50 leveled readers, pb 325.00, available from Eaglecrest and  Oyate.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Recommended Materials: Government and Christian-run Boarding and Residential Schools for Native Students

Recommended Materials: 
Government and Christian-run Boarding 
and Residential Schools for Native Students
(Originally published on Feb 11, 2008 as a blog post; 
Updated and published as a page on our menu bar on June 29, 2021)

The goal of boarding and residential schools in the United States and Canada was to "kill the Indian" and "save the man." Some characterize the schools as efforts to assimilate Native peoples into white society but beneath that effort was the goal of undermining our status as peoples of sovereign nations by removing our children so that we would cease to exist as Native People. If that occurred, all of our lands and resources would be fully available to non-Native people. 

In 2007, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in Canada to document the harms of the residential schools there. We recommend you read through the TRC pages and subsequent writings that document its failures to achieve stated goals. In June of 2021, reports of hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools were published. We recommend Why David A. Robertson curated a list of books about residential schools (published on June 24, 2021) for his response to news of these unmarked graves. On his list of 48 books, we are adding the ones we have read to our list below. 

In 2021, Deb Haaland (Acoma), Secretary of the Interior under President Biden, announced an initiative to examine the boarding schools in the U.S. 

White writers have written books that whitewash the schools. Those books (by Ann Rinaldi and Eve Bunting) do not appear below. We have also found some books by writers (John Smelcer and Melanie Florence) who claim a Native identity to be problematic and they do not appear on our list.

As more resources and books are published on this topic, we will add them to this list. We recommend items listed here, and we welcome your suggestions. 


Picture Books
  • Callaghan, Jodie. The Train. Second Story Press, 2021.
  • Campbell, Nicola. Shi-shi-etko. Groundwood Books, 2005
  • Campbell, Nicola. Shin-shin's Canoe. Groundwood Books, 2008.
  • Dupuis, Jenny Kay. I Am Not A Number. Second Story Press, 2016.
  • Jordan-Fenton, Christy and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Fatty Legs: A True Story, Annick Press. 2010 and 2020.
  • LaFlesche, Francis. The Middle Five: Indian Schoolboys of the Omaha Tribe, University of Nebraska Press, 1978. (Originally published in 1900)
  • Loyie, Larry, and Constance Brissenden. As Long as the Rivers Flow: A Last Summer before Residential School. Groundwood Books, 2003.
  • Robertson, David A. When We Were Alone. Highwater Press. 2019.
  • Santiago, Chiori. Home to Medicine Mountain. Children’s Book Press, 1998.
Books for Middle and/or High School Students
  • Dimaline, Cherie. The Marrow Thieves. DCB, 2017.
  • Mosionier, Beatrice. In Search of April Raintree. Pemmican Publications, 1983.
  • Qoyawayma, Polingaysi. No Turning Back: A Hopi Indian Woman’s Struggle to Live in Two Worlds, University of New Mexico Press, 1977.
  • Sterling, Shirley. My Name Is Seepeetza. Groundwood Books, 1998.
  • Tohe, Laura. No Parole Today. West End Press, 1999.

  • Adams, David Wallace. Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience 1875-1928, University Press of Kansas, 1997
  • Archuleta, Margaret, Brenda J. Child, and K. Tsianina Lomawaima (Eds.) Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Experiences, Heard Museum, 2000
  • Child, Brenda. Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940, University of Nebraska Press, 2000
  • Cobb, Amanda J. Listening to our Grandmothers' Stories: The Bloomfield Academy for Chickasaw Females, 1852-1949. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000
  • Gilbert, Matthew Sakiestewa. Education Beyond the Mesas. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010.
  • Johnson, Basil. Indian School Days, University of Oklahoma Press, 1995
  • Lomawaima, K. Tsianina. They Called It Prairie Light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School, University of Nebraska Press, 1995
  • Trafzer, Clifford E., Jean A. Keller, and Lorene Sisquoc. Boarding School Blues: Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences, Bison Books, 2006.


  • The Indian Boarding Schools: Keeping the Culture Alive, is a two-part series, prepared with the full participation of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. Go here to order the series and view the trailer.
  • In the White Man's Image, PBS, 1992
  • Shi-shi-etko, Moving Images Distribution, 2009.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Dovie Thomason: Lakota/Kiowa-Apache Storyteller

I spent much of yesterday with Dovie Thomason. She was at UIUC's Spurlock Museum for it's annual storytelling event.

I'd be willing to bet that most people---when they think of Native stories---think of stories about animals. That isn't a bad thing, but it isn't the only kind of story Native people tell.

Recently, Dovie is telling a very different story.

You can get her Lessons from the Animal People, or her Fireside Tales: More Lessons from the Animal People, or Wopila, a Giveaway: Lakota Stories from Oyate.

You can invite her to your school, or your college, or city, or performing arts center, to tell the stories of the Animal People.

But, consider inviting her to tell the story she told here yesterday: The Spirit Survives: The Boarding School Experience, Then and Now.

As she started, she said "There are some stories you don't want to tell your children. And, there are some you have to."

The story she's telling is among the too-many dark episodes in U.S. history about the ways this country has treated American Indians... It is among the stories that are completely left out of textbooks used in elementary or high school.

It is about Carlisle Indian Industrial School, established in 1879. The school was designed to "Kill the Indian, Save the Man." In her story, she talks about being at Carlisle a few years ago, with her daughter, standing in the cemetery, reading the headstones there. Headstones of children who were at that school.

To get in touch with Dovie, write to her at this address:
Dovie Thomason
P.O. Box 6351
Harrisburg, PA 17112