Saturday, February 23, 2008


I get a lot of email from people asking about sources on the web they can use to learn about American Indians. There's certainly plenty of these sites out there, but most of them are kind of a mess!

I did a search using "American Indians" as the search term. Over three million hits... The first one looked scholarly, with a lot of text in small type, but all the verbs were past tense, and, the material itself was stereotypical, biased, and just plain wrong. Here's two examples... The section called "Games and Amusements" starts out like this: "Naturally careless of the future, the Indian gave himself up to pleasure when not under immediate necessity or danger." And, in a section called "War" is this: "As war is the normal condition of savagery, so to the Indian warlike glory was the goal of his ambition, the theme of his oratory, and the purpose of his most elaborate ceremonial."

There's a LOT of that kind of information on websites. Using those sites will affirm stereotypes and add to the mass of incorrect information that people think is knowledge about American Indians.

Before you start looking at websites, I highly recommend you start with Elaine Cubbins site "Techniques for Evaluating American Indian Websites." Cubbins is a member of the American Indian Library Association. Her site has excellent tips, such as the one I'm pasting below. Do visit the site, and view websites with as much care as you view children's books.

If the site claims to represent a tribe or a tribal view, is there information supporting the claim that it is an "official" or authorized Web site for the tribe?

Welcoming statements by tribal leaders, links to information about services for tribal members, and claims of the official nature of a site are possible clues, but are not conclusive evidence to identifying a tribe's official site. When in doubt, find out from a reliable source: call, write or email the tribe and ask. A good indication is if a server is owned by the tribe, but tribes do not always own the server where their official Web sites are located. For an example of this, see the tribal web site for the Miami Nation at

If a site claims to speak for a tribe, check with that tribe to verify the site's authority before believing that it actually does represent tribal consensus.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

First person: Leveled Readers featuring Native families

A few days ago, I posted information about a series of Leveled Readers that feature Native families. I've been getting email from people who use and recommend the series. Today, I'm posting a comment to my post about the series. I want to highlight that post, because of what Lynnie (the person who submitted the comment) says. She is Oneida, and has young children.
(Personal note: Thanks, Lynnie, for your comment!)


Lynnie said...

These are EXCELLENT books. The characters are very real and quite engaging. Children from any background can relate to their situations. My daughter's favorite, Dean's Fish, is about a little boy who helps catch and prepare a fish. As a teacher, I can see that they are "leveled" (meaning each set gets progressively harder for the beginning reader), making them great choices for Preschool through Second Grade. My older daughter can "read" the Level Ones by memory and is quite proud. As an Oneida Indian with a pretty culturally-mixed family, I appreciate this representation of real Indian life that includes many shades of skin color. I also notice there is a mixed race family in "Crabs for Dinner" Many of the stories include grandparents, and characters are of all different body types. Eaglecrest really did a great job with these books! I really couldn't ask for anything more, except that they make more of them.

Powerful endorsement! Here's pages from Dean's Fish:

And, pages from Crabs for Dinner


Sunday, February 17, 2008

American Indians in Fact and Fiction: LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE (part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about portrayals of American Indians in Little House on the Prairie, countering the "savage" and "primitive" imagery with information about treaties. A primary intent of this blog is to provide a different image of American Indians. Not one of perfect people, but one that is real, of mothers and fathers, grandparents and children. Caring. Thoughtful. Grumpy. Mean. Sad. Happy. All those words we use to describe people we know. Those same words can and should be used to describe American Indians.

I'm critical of Wilder and a good many other writers for the ways they describe Indians in their books. When you have a minute, read the passage in Little House where the Indians enter the house. Something about them smells bad. Laura realizes it is the "fresh" skunk skins they are wearing. They are, apparently, impervious to the pungent skunk odor! Let's back that up, though. Wouldn't they know how to skin skunks without puncturing the glands where the skunk oil is? Wouldn't they prepare the skin by tanning it before wearing it?

Those portrayals can and are defended by saying that is what people really thought about Indians at that time.

Key words: "at that time."

Certainly, newspapers created and affirmed those ideas. And, some lawmakers likely believed those images to be true.

People used to think the world was flat. We learned that was not the case, and we don't teach 'the world is flat' to children. Should we still teach books like Little House on the Prairie?