Saturday, April 05, 2008

Erdrich's Illustrations on Notecards

As fans of Birchbark House know, the illustrations in the book were done by Louise Erdrich.

Her store, Birchbark Books, was exhibiting at the Native American Literature Symposium I attended in Minnesota earlier this month. Among the many wonderful books were notecards that are reproductions of the art Erdrich did for Birchbark House.

Click here to get to the on-line site for the store. At present, their catalog is not available online, but contact info is, so call them up if you want a set of the cards. I got several sets. If I recall correctly, each set was $12 and includes six cards.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Letter from Nambe Leader

As sovereign nations, we have forms of government and systems by which we select leaders. At Nambe Pueblo (my home), we elect a governor to lead and represent us. Today, I received a letter from a former governor, Thomas F. Talache. With his permission, I am posting his letter today.


April 4th, 2008

Hi Debbie:

I occasionally search on Google News to see if there is any "Nambe News" happening and found an article about you and the blog you write. I visited your site and am writing to let you know how proud I am of you and all the great work you are doing in representing our Tribal Nation out in your part of "Indian Country."

I am now living and working in Denver, Colorado and have been active with Denver's Metro Indian leadership since my work with the Council of Energy Resource Tribes brought me up here in 2006.

I am still active with Native youth nationally. You can visit our website, "When Your Hands Are Tied" to see the movie trailer of our award winning documentary that is still being presented in film festivals in different cities and Tribes in the United States.

I miss home a lot, but former governors have to pay bills, too. In any case, thanks for your leadership and example of the very best that Nambe has to offer.

Thomas F. Talache, Former Governor
Nambe Pueblo Tribe of Tewa Indians


Update, April 4, 6:30 PM...
The article Governor Talache refers to is in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. Click here to read it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Art by Bunky Echo-Hawk

Last summer I talked about the work of a terrific artist, Bunky Echo-Hawk. His artist statement is on the website of the Native American Rights Fund (click on "Today's Warriors" and then on "Culture Warriors" to get to it).

A member of the Yakama and Pawnee tribes, he does a lot of shows, including "live painting." In October of 2005, he was visiting Native students at Brown University.

I ordered the print shown here, "If Yoda Was An Indian" on-line. You can buy prints of his work here.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Nicholson and Morin-Neilson's NIWECHIHAW/I HELP

(Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission of Beverly Slapin.)

Nicholson, Caitlin Dale, and Leona Morin-Neilson (Cree), Niwechihaw/I Help. Color paintings by Caitlin Dale Nicholson, Cree translation by Leona Morin-Neilson (Cree). Groundwood, 2008, preschool-up.

Traditional Indian elders generally teach by showing, and children learn by helping. As they go for a walk in the woods to gather rosehips, a young Cree child learns by watching and helping his Kokum. As the child follows his grandmother—walking, praying, picking, listening, eating—he is learning about his place in the world, his relationships to his family and to the land, culture and community. There is no lecturing or moralizing here, just quietness, appreciation of what is, and a good time. In Cree and English, the spare text is complemented by vibrantly colored acrylic-on-canvas paintings

—Beverly Slapin

Note from Debbie: The book is available from Oyate.

Monday, March 31, 2008

On LITTLE HOUSE: "Oh, mom, you would hate it," she replied: "they're wild savages."

At the Native American Literature Symposium last week, I did a presentation on my blog and research. A few moments ago, I received this letter from Vanessa Diana. She was at the conference, too. (Were you sitting beside me at Hershman's session, Diana?) We talked a few times while there, including as we sat in the lobby, the last night, when the fire alarm went off and those of us on the 5th floor had to evacuate that floor for a short while! Hershman shared his chair with me. He and Vanessa were cheery. (I was quite the grump, having been sound asleep when the alarm went off.) Here's Vanessa's letter (and a heartfelt thanks to Vanessa for sending it):

Dear Debbie,

Thank you for your informative presentation last week at the Native American Literature Symposium. I had thought I was pretty aware of the negative portrayals of Native Americans in children's literature, had had long talks with my children about why Peter Pan ("what makes the red man red?"), Curious George and others were harmful representations, but I confess to having never read Little House on the Prairie. Like many American kids in the 70s, I grew up with the beloved TV version, though. So I gave my 9-year-old daughter Amaya a copy without thinking twice.

Well, after your presentation I called home to talk with Amaya, who is a voracious reader. "How would you describe the portrayal of Native Americans in Little House?" I asked her. "Oh, mom, you would hate it," she replied: "they're wild savages." Then she thought for a moment and added, "Actually most of the books about pioneer days give the same portrayal, unless they're written from the Indians' perspective." [Yes, she's only 9!] How scary that my fourth grader already sees this pattern clearly. She also commented that when children at her mostly white elementary school play at recess, they often do the war whoop. I should add that the curriculum at my children's school does include factual history about Columbus (not just the Columbus-as-hero model) and tribal diversity, and both of my children's teachers have made an effort to include diverse perspectives in their reading curricula. But as you mentioned in your presentation, these educational efforts don't seem to translate on the playground.

As you might guess, I came home from NALS with some new books for my kids, including Erdrich's The Birchbark House for Amaya! And I'm looking forward to sharing your blog with teachers and librarians in my community. Thank you again for your work.

Vanessa Diana
Westfield State College
Westfield, MA

Sunday, March 30, 2008


As noted yesterday, I've been in Minnesota this week at the Native American Literature Symposium. I met many terrific Native writers, including Heid Erdrich, Gordon Henry, Evelina Zuni Lucero, and Hershman John. In an afternoon session, I laughed aloud in Hershman's session, and snapped up a copy of his book, I Swallow Turquoise for Courage.

Hershman talked about Coyote. And then he showed us an animated short of Coyote. Made in 1965, "Coyote and the Lizard" is an old film, low-tech in comparison to present day animation, but it was hilarious. In it, some little lizards are playing, sliding down a hill on flat rocks, much like snowboarding. Their grandpa watches them as they play. Along comes Coyote. He wants to play, too, but the grandpa, knowing Coyote is trouble, tells him "No, you can't play. You're just going to be bad." Coyote asks again and again and again, promising he won't be naughty, so the grandpa finally says ok and tells him to get a thin rock. Coyote gleefully gets a rock and takes his ride, but it is too slow for him. He wants to go faster, so gets a bigger and heavier rock to slide down on...

All the while, the little lizards watch Coyote. Their expressions are terrific---smiling, happy, then wide-eyed and open-mouthed as they see Coyote's too-big rock. Going way too fast, he tumbles head-first off the rock, which overtakes him and then the rock rides Coyote down the hill.

The film was made for Navajo schools, and the narration is in their language. Hershman translated it as it played, with perfect timing and delivery. He remembers it from his own childhood. After the film, he read aloud a poem from his book, in which the Coyote story figures prominently. That poem is here.

Read more about Hershman by visiting his webpage, and get his book from the University of Arizona Press. Hershman's book can be used in high school English classes.