Friday, March 21, 2008

Interview with Joseph Bruchac

Update on Sep 30 2023: I (Debbie Reese) no longer recommend Bruchac's work. For details see Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki?

I received an email from the Learning First Alliance. They recently posted an audio interview with Joseph Bruchac on the Public School Insight blog. I listened to the segment called "The Effect of Persistent Stereotypes of American Indians on Young Children" and recommend you listen to it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

McDermott made up the "Dance of Life" in ARROW TO THE SUN

Sharing some new (to me) information about McDermott's deeply flawed award-winning book, Arrow to the Sun.

On page 27 of Gerald McDermott and YOU, written by Jon Stott, published in 2004, Stott says:

"Although the Dance of Life depicted on the final page of the story is McDermott's own creation, it is true in spirit to the agrarian culture he depicts in the story."

Stott suggests students in middle/upper elementary grades who are studying the book consider researching traditional Pueblo ceremonies, but, he says (bold text is his):

It is extremely important, however, that students realize that these were and still are sacred ceremonies and that photographing or drawing dancers is permitted only with specific permission from the various Pueblos. Therefore, teachers should not encourage the drawing or photocopying or representations of these sacred ceremonies."

I find Stott's words somewhat hypocritical. How can he praise the book in the first place, knowing McDermott made up that dance, and go on to tell students not to draw, photocopy, or represent sacred ceremonies?

That he provides this caution tells us he knows very well that Pueblo people object to the appropriation and denigration of our stories. It seems to me Stott ought to be using what he knows to critique the book. Instead, he says students can create "written narratives about the Boy's experiences in the kivas..."

You may want to read what I've written about McDermott's presentation of kivas. In short, McDermott portrays them as places of trial. In fact, they are places of learning and gathering.

Given its made-up and erroneous information, this book is best shelved in the fantasy section. It certainly does not belong in the non-fiction section! And it certainly does not merit it's Library of Congress subject line "Pueblo Indians--folklore."

I recommend it be weeded. Can you, will you, weed a Caldecott book?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Letter to "American MOM"

Earlier today, "American Mom" posted this as a comment to my post about Smeltzer. I'm not sure why she posted there. She's talking specifically about my critique of historical fiction, specifically, Little House on the Prairie.

Get a life and find out there are more people than just indians. Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners of every skin color- indians, whites, blacks etc.
By not allowing Indians in literature (as your comment in Little House on the Prairie), are you trying to erase that from our history?
No it may not be a happy thing, but indians did kill whites and whites killed indians. I dont teach my children to kill anyone unless they are in defense of themselves or their family. Dont try to lie about history.
be real
American MOM

Here is my response:

Dear American MOM,

From what you said, I gather you are Christian. I trust you know that people of your faith persecuted those who were not of your faith. And, I trust you know that your faith is only one of many.

In my critique of Little House on the Prairie, I seek--not to erase Indians from history--but to rid bookshelves of incorrect images of American Indians. It is factually wrong for you to allow your children to learn that American Indians were primitive, or barbarians, or uncivilized, or simple-minded. That is precisely the way they are presented in the Little House book.

If your child is doing her math homework, and writes down "5" for the answer to 2 + 2, you would tell her that is incorrect. You would help her to understand that her answer is wrong. You'd erase the 5 and write the correct answer.

That is what I am doing with Little House. The information is wrong. In my work, and on this blog, I am trying to correct Laura Ingalls Wilder's mistake.

Was it a mistake on her part? Did she know otherwise? Perhaps. Did her editors know otherwise? Maybe. For us, adults that is, we can and should think about how it happened that she portrayed American Indians the way she did.

With regard to the education of children, we should not let those kinds of portrayals reach our children without some serious conversation. Letting them go unchallenged and unmediated leads them to feel a sense of betrayal when they find out that their books essentially lied to them.