Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Univ of North Carolina students share their thoughts...

Susan Gardner teaches "American Indians in Children's Literature" at the University of North Carolina. Over the course of the semester (Spring 2009), her students will use this space to post comments about what they're reading, learning and doing. Some of their comments may be in reference to things they've read on this blog. I've not hosted another professor's course before. I'm not sure how it will work, but we're going to give it a try and see what we learn. By "we" I mean me, Susan, her students, and readers of this blog.


Tricia said...

This sounds like a wonderful idea. I can't wait to read their thoughts.

ThreeBrothers said...

I agree that this does sound like a great idea. I hope the students and other participants make it a useful tool for sharing their thoughts and presenting ideas. I look forward to following the progress of the exercise.

Dr. Tammy Mielke, UNCC said...

Hi Debbie,
I'm spending some time in Susan course this semester and will be showing the students how to blog here. I'm excited to see how this works as well! Hope to see you in Charlotte this summer! Tammy

Debbie Reese said...

Welcome, Tammy! And yes, I hope to be in Charlotte, too.

Susan Gardner said...

Hi, Debbie--Tammy and I are trying to sort out why I can't seem to post to the blog either at work or at home! This is at work.It's just a test message to see if we can get anything to go through. Take care! S.

Stacey Brown said...

Good afternoon. It is 2:53pm on 2/20/09. This posting is a test to see if it is properly received.

Thank you,

-- Stacey --
UNC Charlotte
Help Center

Taylor Greer said...

This is a test comment on behalf of Dr Gardner.

Josh Worsham said...

This is a test post for Susan Gardner's class, I am a student of hers.

Ashely Grafton, UNCC said...

This is a test post for Susan Gardner's class.

Susan Gardner said...

Hi, Debbie--I may have finally tracked down the posting problem (that is, ITS has), and have deleted all cookies and temporary internet files from my computer at work. Let's see if this post works! If so, we still have enough time for students to post to your blog... Susan.

Susan Gardner said...

Hi, Debbie--Having cleared my desktop at home of cookies and temporary internet files, I want to see if this post will work. Then I can continue posting in earnest! I'm sorry it has taken a month to straighten me out!

Susan Gardner said...

Greetings, everyone! This is Susan, the prof. for Am. Indians in Children's Lit. (ENGL 4050/5050, a senior/post-bac course at UNC Charlotte) This is my 12th attempt at posting!

I thought some readers might be interested in the history of the course. It began as a three-week summer institute for teachers in summer 2001; became a 15 week course in fall 2001; and now is my first opportunity to teach it since then.

In all my Am. Indian lit courses I invite members of our local Indian community to participate. Despite these dire economic times, one funding source at the univ. which has not been cancelled is the Chancellor's Diversity Challenge Fund. Through this fund, the speakers are receiving their honoraria. We also have co-sponsorship with the Native American Studies Academy on campus and the Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Studies. The latter two helped with the logistics and publicity concerning the presentations, which are free and open to the public.

Another feature is that students' final projects must benefit local Indian people and/or organizations, or institutions which serve them, such as the Metrolina Indian Center, public schools and public libraries. At semester's end, these projects are shared electronically with the whole course and, of course, with the person or organization which the project serves. During our spring recess one student, a film-maker, will visit the Eastern Cherokee reservation, meeting with our second guest speaker, Freeman Owle. They will travel to historical and sacred sites on the reservation, and Mr. Owle will relate stories related to them. Another student is designing a web site for him. Another student is visiting the libraries/media centers of her two high schools, to survey the Am. Indian holdings, recommend deleting some titles and adding others. They will post their progress with you.

Here is some info about the three (of four) guest speakers who have already visited us.

Our first visitor was Barbara Locklear, an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and a well-known teaching artist, storyteller, and cultural educator for more thn 30 years. I've known and worked with her for nearly 20 of those years. She is frequently invited to churches, museums, senior centers, youth camps, prisons, and cultural events and festivals throughout the state.

Ms. Locklear's professional training has been through programs designed to promote the integration of arts into school curricula. It began with the local Community School of the Arts. She has continued her training by working through the ArtsTeach Partnership Institute for the Arts and the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Institute. As a result, she has served as artist-in-residence in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Gaston and Union counties, the Mooresville city schools, and many private schools.

Ms. Locklear is an active member of the National Indian Education Association, and participates in its annual convention. She also participates in the annual North Carolina Indian Unity conference sponsored by the United Tribes of North Carolina, Inc. She is a member of the North Carolina Storytellers' Guild, and was recently elected to represent the Indian people of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area on the board of directors of the North Carolina Commission on Indian Affairs. She is involved with several charitable organizations and is Chair of Am. Indian Women, Inc., in Charlotte.

Freeman Owle was born on the Qualla Boundary, home of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. His schooling through grade 12 was in the Cherokee Indian school system, at that time run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs through the Cherokee Agency. After graduating as valedictorian, he left the reservation to attend Gardner Webb College and Western Carolina University, where he received a B.Sc. in social work.

After graduation, Mr. Owle was director of the Cherokee Children's Home on the reservation for five years. He was then invited to join the National Teacher Corps and received his master's degree in education. He then returned to the reservation schools, teaching third and sixth grades for 12 years. Upon receiving the Bureau of Indian Affairs Teacher of the Year Award, he left the school system to reach out to others who might want to learn more about the Cherokee.

Mr. Owle has received many awards over the years, including NC Folklorist of the Year in 2001. Most recently he has been asked to sit as a member of the elders of Cherokee people (organized by the tribal council). In 2004 he was invited to the White House to receive the Preserve America Presidential Award for his part in writing the Cherokee Trail Guide Book. In Dec. 2008 he traveled to the National Museum of the American Indian for a book-signing of The Origin of the Milky Way, for younger people. He also contributed to Living Stories of the Cherokee, aimed at older audiences. Both books are edited by noted folklorist Barbara Duncan, and published by the NC University Press at UNC Chapel Hill. At the museum he also conducted a workshop for the staff on the art of storytelling.

His main focus is to spread the history, culture and stories of the Cherokee to many who would never get to hear this information otherwise. He discusses the Cherokee way of life and how it is valuable to all of us today. He believes it is important to learn about the Cherokee people from a Cherokee.

Wanda Maynor Carter, an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and a long-time resident of Mecklenburg county, has devoted many years of volunteer service to the American Indian community and to the larger community of Charlotte. She was honored by the Indian Education Parent Community of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, United Tribes of North Carolina, and the National Indian Education Association as the 1991 "Indian Parent of the Year." Carter was appointed, in 1992, by speaker of the House of Representatives Tom Foley, as a North Carolina delegate to the White House Conference on Indian Education. In Jan. 2007, Carter was among a gathering of Indian women leaders honored at an Am. Indian Women's Conference ceremony., "Celebrating American Indian Women of Proud Nations." A member of Am. Indian Women, Inc. and Women's Intercultural Exchange, Carter also volunteers with several youth organizations. She has served on numerous civic and educational boards imn Charlotte-Mecklenburg. In 1990. she was recognized for her corporate volunteerism by Duke Power Company with a "Power in Education" Award. With previous work experience in the corporate and education arenas, she is currently on the management team of the Charlotte Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. A native of Pembroke, NC, Carter earned degrees from the Univ. of NC at Greensboro (nuclear medicine) and Queen's University in Charlotte, NC. She is also a graduate of the NC Bankers Association's School of Banking. Her presentation was "Reading Am. Indian Literature through the Lens of History."

My students are so grateful to Debbie Reese for allowing us space on her blog! We will welcome any suggestions, questions, and constructive criticism as, together, we design and implement this new course. Thank you!

Suzanne McBroom said...

Barbara Locklear, Lumbee Indian Storyteller

Literary/Cultural Event Discussion
By Suzanne McBroom, English 3100

On Wednesday, January 28, 2009, Barbara Locklear was the guest speaker at a cultural event sponsored by the Chancellor’s Diversity Challenge fund at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Ms. Locklear is a storyteller or “teaching artist” and is a member of the Lumbee Indian tribe, which has the largest population of any American Indian tribe east of the Mississippi River. This delightful great-grandmother travels throughout North Carolina using the art of storytelling to teach character traits to both school children and adults. Ms. Locklear is a member of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs in Raleigh and is considered to be an expert on Lumbee Indian culture and history.

Ms. Locklear’s presentation was given in the Rowe Arts building on the UNC-C campus. There were approximately 25 people in attendance, consisting mostly of college students. The event was informal and relaxed, as Ms. Locklear put us all at ease with her charming sense of humor and affable personality. She began her talk by explaining how important storytelling is, not only to the Indian culture, but also to all cultures, since it was the first form of entertainment as well as the first teaching tool. We were surprised to hear that many of Ms. Locklear’s stories have never been written down, and the origins of many of the stories are unknown.

Ms. Locklear explained that all American Indian stories are replete with symbolism. As an example of this, she showed us a “talking stick”, which is a stick that has been embellished with various beads, jewels, feathers, and other objects and has been used by various Indian tribes for hundreds of years. The talking stick is considered to be the first form of parliamentary procedure in that anyone wishing to speak during an Indian meeting must first have the stick in his hand before speaking. She explained that every item which embellished the stick held special meaning: for example, the eagle feather gave the speaker courage, and the buffalo hair reminded the speaker that he had the power to speak with the mightiest of tools—words.

After these very interesting introductory remarks, Ms. Locklear began to tell us her stories. The audience sat with rapt attention as she told a fanciful story of “The Maker’s” creation of the owl and the rabbit. This story, as each story she tells, had a moral or a special meaning. This story stressed the importance of respect, listening and patience. Ms. Locklear told several more stories, keeping the listeners mesmerized by her expressiveness and enthusiasm.

Dr. Susan Gardner, a professor of English at UNC-C and an authority on American Indian Literature, arranged Ms. Locklear’s visit to UNC-C. She recommended that her English 3100 students attend the event since they would find it most interesting in light of their studies. The students have been learning that literature can take many shapes and forms, it varies from culture to culture, and that it can even be verbal or auditory as well as written. Ms. Locklear’s stories certainly constitute verbal literature and she enlightened us as to the way literature is passed down in a culture with which most of us were unfamiliar.

English 3100 students have also been discussing the purpose of literature. Even though literature may provide a wealth of information, its primary purpose is not referential: it serves to enlarge our experience, reflect the human condition, expose us to unknown cultures, and teach us meaningful lessons, while entertaining us at the same time. This could be an apt description of Ms. Locklear’s visit and her stories. We left her presentation feeling that we were vastly more knowledgeable of not only the Lumbee Indian culture, but also the values and mores which Lumbee Indians seek to instill in the members of their tribe.

Early in her presentation, Ms. Locklear said that she attempts to tailor her presentations according to the type of audience in attendance. Since she speaks to all ages, races, cultures, religions and socioeconomic groups, she tries to select the most appropriate and meaningful stories for each audience. This is where her wisdom, years of experience and keen perception serve her well. She demonstrated this as she closed her presentation by telling the group of college students in attendance a poignant and sad story about a young Indian boy who went to a high mountain to meditate in order to determine the course his life should take. He realized that he was destined to be a scout and began the descent down the mountain, looking forward to how happy his family would be with his decision. But on his way down, he was approached by a crafty rattle snake who managed to convince the boy to carry him down the mountain. Despite his promise to the contrary, the snake bit the boy at the foot of the mountain. Before the boy died, he asked the snake why he had lied and bitten the one who had befriended him. The snake replied, “You knew I was a snake, and you knew when you picked me up that you were touching something that would do you harm.” When Ms. Locklear finished this story, a solemn silence enveloped the room. Once again, as thousands of times before, this master storyteller’s story had hit its mark.

I enjoyed immensely Barbara Locklear’s presentation. When I left, I took with me two lasting impressions with which I think Ms. Locklear would agree: we never get too old to appreciate a good story, and we should never underestimate the power of the spoken word.

Susan Gardner said...

Hello again, everyone--Here is a link to the course syllabus:

http://oncampus.richmond.edu/faculty/ASAIL/syll/sg3.htm .

This is the home page of the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures, edited by Prof. Emeritus Robert M. Nelson. He has made it into an invaluable resource.

Susan Gardner said...

Greetings, everyone! I've just returned from a 36-hour trip to the Qualla Boundary, where the Eastern Band of Cherokees live. I've been visiting there since 1995, when Vail Carter (Lumbee) and some of my graduate students then started collecting life-histories of Native North Carolinian elders (defined then as over 80; now we've lowered the bar considerably). Of course I knew about the town of Cherokee/Yellow Hill, but I didn't wish to go there until I actually had some contacts there. Freeman Owle was my first: we met at a Methodist Native Ministry conference at Lake Junaluska, and I was very impressed by his lecture on traditional Cherokee women. He, in turn, was intrigued by the interview project--initiated by the Metrolina Native American Center in Charlotte, and so I began visiting. This was in pre-casino days (tho' it was on the horizon). The approach to Cherokee, whether via Hwy 19 west or NC 441 north, was (and remains) cluttered with tourist attractions, most of them schlock, and in bad taste besides. Ever since the Great Smokey Mountains became a park and the Blue Ridge Parkway opened, tourism has been a major source of income for the Cherokees, an enterprise in which expediency has prevailed and authenticity has been downplayed. But there has also been an excellent Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Qualla Arts & Crafts Cooperative, and through Freeman I became acquainted with more elders and learned to navigate back roads away from all the tourist hype.

My purpose this time was to join Freeman, one of my graduate students, and the latter's business partner. They have been spending several days working on a documentary film about Freeman's life and stories, which will eventually become a free DVD. After having lunch at a Cherokee Chinese restaurant (a new venture!), we traveled and climbed to Mingo Falls, an unspoiled natural attraction, and very lovely. Freeman was filmed telling a story about the Thunder Sisters.

For me, however, the most fascinating process was watching the film-makers at work. They were staying at an almost sleazy motel, and when I arrived there I found their room transformed into a mini-studio, with black-out curtains and a lot of lighting equipment. Because it was on Hwy 19, we had to close the door to avoid the sound of trucks, so it became an oxygen-deprived sauna for the most part. What astonished me, in these somewhat primitive conditions, was the two young men's--and Freeman's--professionalism. He told stories against backdrops of various colors, including two shades of blue. Then he was photographed close to his face, and the film-maker created a collage of his face to go with various stories. The effect was magic--as if he had been conjured from a lamp. I expect it was hardest on Freeman, as he had a limited range of movement and the lights were hot and bright. I can hardly wait to view the final product.

Later on I visited the museum, which has constantly been upgrading over the years (partly due to casino money). There were new exhibits about the Cherokees who visited Britain in 1763 and 1783. The British were organizing a similar exhibition at one of the historic royal palaces when I was teaching in London two years ago. A casual conversation with the curator of Hampton Court Palace revealed that the curators of the Cherokee exhibit had no idea whether the Cherokees were able to return home, and it was a pleasure to be able to inform them that they did! A small American contribution to British scholarship...

I know my student Will Davis will be posting to this blog about his adventures with Freeman over the past three days.

As for the casino--which is huge and expanding--it's located on one edge of the Boundary, quite convenient for visitors from Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia. With casino monies, the tribe is building an enormous campus for a new middle school and high school, which should open in the fall. The old agency buildings pale in comparison. Each Cherokee receives a $9000. per annum payment. Freeman's daughter also has a tribal scholarship to Warren Wilson College, and it includes absolutely everything, right down to generous spending money. He was initially opposed to the casino, but his views have softened as he has seen the tribe benefit so much from it. The current chief is a CPA, and the allocation of monies has been handled responsibly. An interesting story...

Jessica Camargo said...

I would like to point my classmates, along with other readers of this blog, to a book entitled Teaching and Using Multicultural Literature in Grades 9-12: Moving Beyond the Canon. The book was published in 1998 by Christopher Gordon publishers and is edited by Arlette Willis. I purchased this book several months ago because I am a “teacher-in-training” and am particularly concerned with the ways in which I will combat the lack of diversity in the public school canon, as well as the ways in which I can include and teach the missing literatures effectively. Since many of my classmates are also pre-service teachers, I decided to share some of what I learned from this book here. I find it particularly fitting, since the chapter I would like to refer to, “Contextualizing Native American Literature”, was co-written by none other than the hostess of this blog herself, Debbie Reese! Although the chapter is rich with information and food-for-thought, I will focus primarily on two aspects: why there is a lack of Native American literature in the classroom, and what teachers can and should do about it. I will also include tips from the culminating chapter of the book, “Negotiating the Classroom: Learning and Teaching Multicultural Literature”, co-written by the editor and Marlen D. Palmer.
It is important to start with the authors’ definition of Native American literature. She says that although the term is “a legal fiction”, it is used here to “refer to a base of indigenous literatures from North America in indigenous and English languages, and to modern literary developments that extend those collective tribal aesthetics and values more fully into American society” (151-2). This working definition itself, however, hints at some of the problems inherent in pinning down the literature. Willis and Reese discuss the difficulty in accepting boundaries; the lines drawn around countries by the European invaders did not fit the shapes of indigenous nations. This makes the words “North America” in the definition naggingly ambiguous. Also, the word “collective” is troublesome because it points to the tendency of many to lump all American Indians into one bag, homogenizing cultures and ignoring the differences between separate, sovereign indigenous nations. But that is the irony of the challenge: in order to include indigenous literature in the canon, in order to be practical about it, some lines have to be drawn. One of the main points of the chapter is that Native American literature is “hemispheric”; that it is ancient and deep and nearly impossible to define with academic, English words. But somehow, in order to make some progress, that is exactly what must be done.
One primary criterion for a piece of indigenous literature is that it be “internal”. This means, basically, “in their own words”. It is easy to find literature that has an external viewpoint: everything from the dimestore paperback romances for which authenticity isn’t even a concern, to well-written, deeply-researched stories that are approved by tribal people. But it is important to seek out that “more unfamiliar and frequently inaccessible body of literary traditions that describe internal viewpoints of indigenous peoples in the Americas” (151, italics mine). It’s important that we, as teachers, look for those ‘internal’ narratives. As both readers and teachers, we should seek out “texts in which indigenous peoples appear in all walks of life and speak, without a middle person to interpret or ‘help’ the speakers, on what it means to live in all their communities” (160-1). The ideal, according to the authors, would be for curriculums to include “credible first-person accounts and perspectives of indigenous peoples in their cultures, within American society, and in the modern world” (156).The authors acknowledge that internal texts can be hard to find. However, suggestions include “speeches, biographies, indigenous language texts and tapes, photojournalism texts, myths, legends, folktales, interviews and essays” that can be taught alongside the traditional fiction and poetry (161).
There are probably many causes for the lack of inclusion of American Indian literature in our public school curriculums. Reese and Willis offer at least three, but before I recount them, I would like to make a brief disclaimer. This chapter is deep. There is a lot more implied within it than I include here. My purpose in writing is to pick out a few key points that will be helpful for teachers, and to point readers to the book for more information and inspiration. So please understand ahead of time that the following bullet points are overly simplistic, and do not convey the depth of understanding that can be gained by reading the chapter directly. Having said that, I feel better about simplifying the reasons for the “missing literature” in our schools.
Why Native American Literature is often excluded from curriculums/canon:
1. Fear. The authors suggest that there is an unspoken, underlying concern that “Native American literature might dilute a curriculum that is already too full, and it might also weaken core values and chip away at the one large ‘American’ identity that schools have worked so long to forge.” In addition, its commentary on living and history “often presents views of this country that are alien to American values and experience.” (153)
2. Ignorance. Even if it is benevolent ignorance, it is still damaging. “The truth is,” write Reese and Willis, “Americans simply do not know about indigenous peoples in the United States” (152). The lack of education about American Indians has created a self-perpetuating problem for generations of students. In fact most of us don’t even know what we don’t know. The unfortunate situation is that “Native Americans have an obscure and ambiguous place in American society; consequently, Native American literature is ambiguous, at best, in the educational system” (152).
3. Laziness (aka “it’s too hard to change the way we think”). Apparently, curriculum writers feel that “integration of indigenous literatures requires a lot of work and appears to have little gain” (153), especially because when it comes to indigenous cultures “the argument that the groups seem unmanageable because they are ‘too many’” is often used as an excuse (154). The oft-used solution is to lump all American Indians into one cultural bag, and teach it that way.
In response to these issues, Willis and Reese offer practical advice for teachers who are determined to fight the fear, ignorance, and laziness-of-mind they will be up against. I include tips from both the chapter on Native American literature, and the chapter on teaching multicultural literature. Please note that I use the word “must” instead of “can” because I believe that teaching American Indian literature is not optional, no matter how your administrators will insist that it is.
What Teachers Must Do
1. Do It Anyway. No matter what challenges we face, we must find ways and means to include this land’s indigenous literature in our classrooms. As stated in the chapter, “nothing less will do” (149). As teachers, we should strive to make “Native American literature part of curricula in a way that will inspire positive multicultural communication among all students and provide practical opportunities to demonstrate more harmonious means of coexistence” (154).
2. Keep it Real. Part of the challenge in both reading and teaching indigenous literatures, I find, is in knowing what is authentic. One way the authors suggest to remedy this is through research that includes teachers’ “immersing themselves in material about a specific tribe’ (158). Another way is to check this website, as well as oyate.org, for reviews and discussion.
3. Question the Status Quo. “Teacher selections should strive to include more balanced views of key events in American history…views that present Native people as people and not as the savages they are most often depicted as being” (158). What a wonderful way to teach critical thinking skills and debunk American myths at the same time!
4. Get Help. “Creative and well-trained teachers are critical to the successful integration of all multicultural literature….they must either train themselves or get help from others” (156). In order to do so, Reese and Willis suggest that “teachers would help themselves by finding out where (indigenous communities) are and what is happening there”. As we’ve found out in our class at UNCC, “tribal peoples are often willing to visit classrooms” and “tribal organizations also produce and publish some helpful guides and materials.” In addition, “indigenous organizations in urban centers are also good resources” (163).
5. Be Methodical. Here are some specific lesson-planning tips that will make teaching American Indian literature a bit easier:
a. “Frame the selection with an introduction…the origin of the material, the historical and social influences on the literary style or form, and the relationship of the work to the students are possible places to start” (158). (I also think that a simple, “this is what got left out of your textbook” approach is effective in engaging students, because they often feel that there is a conspiracy against them anyway!)
b. Compile a biographical sketch of the author—this can reveal, at least in part, why an author has written about a particular group of people (228), or even themselves.
c. Include a historical review of the setting—this can help explain why certain events are recounted or how they happened within the context of the times. This can also provide an alternative view of what students learn in their history classes.
d. Include a historical review of the period in which the author wrote— this will help to understand if events of the time motivate or color an author’s literary expression.
e. Provide a listing of cultural footnotes to enhance an understanding of the novel— this will provide students with an in-depth understanding of the culture under study.
Lastly, remember that “there is no one right way to teach Native American literature” (155) and that it “does not have to be taught and appreciated in a mainstream way” (157). Willingness, commitment, and creativity will go a long way towards challenging the current lack of American Indian literature in our schools. Will it be challenging and time consuming? Yes. The authors admit that teachers are overworked and overloaded, and that the inclusion of indigenous literatures, as well as the time needed to prepare for teaching them, is challenging. Although the obstacles are many and change comes slowly, the point is to take one step at a time, and make any change you can. Even if there are no American Indians in your classroom, it is essential to include American Indian literature. To put it in very base, plain terms, ‘they were here first’, and it is our duty to educate American students about that fact, and all the other facts that stem from it. I encourage all teachers (pre-service and otherwise) to pick up this book before teaching; besides what I have listed here, it includes more in-depth discussion of Native American culture and literature, and other minority literatures as well.

Jessica Camargo
English 4050/Dr. Susan Gardner

Kelly McClamrock said...

The first book we read in Native American Children’s Literature was, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Alexie. The book grasped my attention from line one. I read the entire book within a day! Alexie had a great way of portraying life on the reservation, and showing how one particular boy, Junior, had to cope with leaving his Native school to go to a “white school.” The book wowed me with its funny cartoons, and a middle school boy’s tone of voice. By reading this book, I came to understand more of what life is like in a modern day sense on a reservation. Everyone on the reservation is very close; the book uses the phrase that everyone knows everyone! Everyone knows your mother’s name, father’s name, cat’s name, etc. I found it very interesting that Junior has felt he has seen almost 100 deaths in his lifetime, and most all were due to alcoholism. I did not understand the real affects of alcohol on the Native American community until reading this book. I was intrigued by Alexie’s way of describing Junior’s family, and the friends of the family. Everyone in his family supported him for getting off the reservation. We have watched many videos in class, and in “When Our Hands are Tied” one thing that popped out was the fact that most young people do want to get off the reservation and get a job, make money, and do better for themselves. Alexie shows Junior wanting to do just that. Overall the book was a success, and I was pleased with the book from the start until the end. I cannot wait to read more of Alexie’s works, and I am anxious to understand more about the Native American community.

Debbie Reese said...

His audio book of TRUE DIARY was ALA's Odyssey Award... He does a spectacular job reading it aloud.

Susan Gardner said...

I thought folks might be interested in our fourth (and final) storyteller who visited our class: Littlebearkeithbrown (Catawba Nation). He grew up in the Catawba Nation near Rock Hill, SC, and in 1976 (unusually for a male) he began learning to craft pottery from his grandmother, Edith Harris Brown. He also heard stories from a former chief, Sam Blue--the last speaker of the Catawba language--in the schools. In the 1930s, anthropologist Frank Speck collected and published some stories: Keith has "rewritten them in his own way."

After a career in the military, Keith worked for the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project for a number of years. Nowadays he is a free-lance storyteller and potter, and he has received a number of honors. The South Carolina Arts Commission has named him an Outstanding Native American Artist, which enables him to bring his work to SC schools. In 2007, the Univ. of SC in Charleston recruited 53 artists to establish a "Healing Art" collection in an old hospital wing. Keith contributed 10 pieces of pottery, which are on permanent display. For the last four years he has been antist-in-residence at a number of schools, particularly at third-grade level. He has taught storytelling classes at the Charlotte Museum of History, The Mint Museum of Art, and the Whitewater Center, all in Charlotte. He and his wife have three grandsons, two of whom live in Germany and have become German-speaking Catawbas!

We were particularly honored that he chose to visit us on the same day when a Catawba ruler from centuries ago, "King" Haigler, was being inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame. He wept softly telling us about it. Students were moved by his modesty and openness.

I hope my students will send some comments about Keith's visit to this blog.

Taylor Greer said...

Our class is mainly about American Indian children’s literature, but we’ve been lucky enough to have several speakers to educate us on their own American Indian culture. Our first visitor was Barbara Locklear who has been teaching and storytelling for years. She has used stories to teach her daughter how to live a good life and has passed them on to many school children in at least 3 counties in NC. She brings not only her Lumbee heritage to children, but also American Indian heritage in general.
For her presentation at UNC Charlotte she told several stories, relating them to her own life and the history of the Lumbees. But she also directed them towards us by telling a story about patience. She apparently picked up on someone’s impatience and felt the need to tell a story to help that person remember the virtue. Her adaptability and presentation were very genuine and made me feel like I was an American Indian child being guided in learning how to be a good person.
Later I was surprised at her very honest admission to not knowing or remembering where she’d heard or learned most of the stories she told. In another speaker this might have taken away credibility. However her honesty only added to her creativity and proved just how submerged she is in her culture. Only someone who’d been repeatedly exposed to learning from stories could integrate them so fully as to think and feel in traditional stories.
She set the bar high for the next speakers that we had, but they were each so unique that comparison was impossible.

Taylor Greer said...

Our last visitor was Keith Brown, a potter who lives and works on the Catawba Indian Nation reservation in South Carolina. He brought quite a few of his pots along with some wonderful pictures of his family’s work. The Catawbas lost almost all of the culture, but kept their pottery and are widely known for it. Keith’s family is one of several with multi-generational potters.
During his presentation he preferred to sit in front of us as if he were talking with us one-on-one. Like Barbara Locklear, he didn’t have a speech planned out because he wanted to feel us out and discuss ideas from which he felt we’d learn the most. He also mentioned the induction of King Hagler into the SC Hall of Fame happening the very day he came to talk to us. He became very emotional over this since King Hagler is such a hero to the Catawbas and he’s the first American Indian to be inducted into the SC Hall of Fame. We really appreciated him visiting us when such an important event was happening. This link will take you to an article about the induction: http://www.reznetnews.org/article/18th-century-chief-sc-hall-fame-31640
I enjoyed the stories Keith chose to tell and recognized other cultural influences on them, especially the one he told about the “Little Wild People.” The little folk were mischievous and would cause little boys to become lost deep in the woods while little girls would be tied up in a tree by their pigtails. These little people sound like the fairies and elves of Europe and they made me wonder why an American Indian parent would warn their children from wandering into the forest. Apparently the drastic changes that had fallen on the Catawbas had caused the people to turn away from their everyday interaction with Nature as well as to lose their stories. An older and more Nature-centered story would have probably told of little people who helped the boys find their way and the girls to untangle their hair. So it seems they borrowed some story ideas from the Europeans and maybe even other tribes since the tale he told about the possum losing his tail sounds almost exactly like the one Freeman Owle, a Cherokee, told us earlier this semester. In modern society this might be considered stealing, but to them it was integration and trying to reclaim an identity.
Overall I enjoyed Keith’s visit and the insight he gave into a modern American Indian society just by being himself.

Ashley Grafton, UNCC Student said...

One of the greatest ways to gain insight into a culture is to listen to a member of that culture speak. Being in Susan Gardner’s American Indians course at UNC-Charlotte gives its students just this opportunity. We have all been given the pleasure of getting to listen to four compelling speakers. Simply listening to them allowed us the opportunity to gain knowledge as to what it means to be an American Indian; however, we went one step further. Dr. Gardner has given us the opportunity to hear not from just one American Indian nation, but from three. Through this, we were allowed to see how each nation is both similar and greatly different. Throughout the course of a few months, storyteller Barbara Locklear from the Lumbee nation, community advocate Wanda Carter, also from the Lumbee nation, storyteller Freeman Owle from the Eastern Cherokee nation, and Keith Brown from the Catawba nation all graced our presence and imparted their knowledge to the course.
Barbara Locklear was the first of both the four speakers and also the first of three storytellers. Barbara spoke to us first about her work in community schools. One way in which Ms. Locklear works with children is though the use of a talking stick. She described the talking stick as a way to keep a classroom of children in attention but not only using them in a classroom setting, but also by letting the kids make their own talking sticks. Ms. Locklear also describe to us the traditional way in which a talking stick is made. A talking stick was traditionally comprised of turquoise stones (symbolizing the creator); four colors to signify the four seasons, four directions and four races; eagle feathers and buffalo hide and hair for strength.
Barbara Locklear also told us a few stories. My favorite was about the creation of the animals. As Ms. Locklear described, the creator asked all the little animals what they needed in order to survive. While the creator was helping the first little animal, the creator was interrupted several times by an impatient little creature. As a punishment, the impatient little animal, also known as the owl, now is dull brown in color (where he wanted to be brightly colored), he has no neck (when he wanted a big long, beautiful neck), has a small little tail (when he wanted a long beautiful tail) and says “whooo” (when he wanted a beautiful voice). While this is a cliff not version, hearing it was much more compelling.
The next speaker was Wanda Carter. Ms. Carter’s presentation was different from all of the rest. She gave us a history lesson of American Indians’ interactions with the United States government, and she interwove this with major themes that run through Indian literature. The main themes in American Indian literature includes: a sense of place and/or homeland, alienation and/or healing, mythical space and/or place, oral tradition, and kinship and/or cultural tradition.
Ms. Carter then described the different governmental acts that have impacted American Indians since contact with the Europeans. She said that these acts have a direct correlation to why the major themes are found in literature. This gave the group an idea behind why some of the things we are reading have been written down. All throughout her presentation, Ms. Carter also spoke of the treatment of American Indians and she discussed reasons why their numbers fell dramatically after Europeans arrived.
Freeman Owle was our third speaker and second storyteller. For most of the presentation, Mr. Owle spoke of the changes that the younger generation can do for the world. He also spoke about tribal history. For the rest of the presentation, Mr. Owle dissolved into storytelling. How this differed from Ms. Locklear is that he did not really announce when he was going to begin telling a story: the story simply developed. One such story that he told was about his great-grandfather. His great-grandfather was known to be a shape-shifter and could transform into an owl. One night, disguised as an owl, Mr. Owle’s great-grandfather was shot in the shoulder. The shooter, simply believing he had killed an owl, went about his business. However, the next morning, the shooter discovered that Freeman Owle’s great-grandfather had been shot in the same exact spot.
Mr. Owle also shared with us some of his beautiful carving work. He described that he would go in Statesville, North Carolina and he would find a type of rock that was soft enough to carve into beautiful shapes.
Keith Brown finished out the presentations. He spoke at length about the history of this family and his tribe as a whole. In this discussion on the tribe, he also discussed many of the problems that people living on the reservation face today such as alcoholism. Hearing such accounts tied back into the class’s reading of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This is because Junior faces some of the same issues (i.e. an alcoholic father).
Along with showing us old family photos and speaking about some of his ancestry, Mr. Brown also spoke at length about pottery. Most of Keith Brown’s presentation was devoted to discussing his wonderful pottery and the tradition of Catawba pottery in general. Prior to attending Mr. Brown’s lecture, our class watched a video about Catawba pottery. Everything said in the video was backed up by what Mr. Brown says goes into creating his pottery. Finally, we were actually about to see some of his work because he brought a collection of his potter to share with us.
As stated before, through hearing these four presentations we were allowed to see how each nation is both similar and greatly different. Similarities arise through simple things such as they were all American Indians and three were storytellers; however, each person had something special to give to the class. There are certain things that each person spoke about that could give members of the class ideas for years to come. For the artistic people, learning about the Catawba pottery tradition from Mr. Brown may inspire them to expand their ways of creating art, a future teacher may want to implement one of Ms. Locklear’s talking sticks in their classroom to help bring about order (or maybe even a future head of a company could use this for meetings). A history buff may have learned things about US treaties that they never knew from Ms. Carter, and someone’s spirituality may be deepened by the words spoken by Mr. Owle. In short, these presentations will stick with, at least me, for the rest of my life.

CJ Jones UNCC ENGL 4050 said...

Our class with Dr. Gardner has had four guest speakers and each one has presented us with different topics and things to think about when it comes to the American Indian. Although their initial stories may differ, some of their messages are very similar and stand to teach us about not only the lives of the speaker, but maybe even our own lives as well.
Freeman Owle was our first visitor. Freeman spoke a lot about the values of the Cherokee tribe, which I personally enjoyed. He informed us of how the Cherokee believe that “life has a balance, there is no hatred in the Cherokee, and the group is more important than the individual.” He also mentioned how life isn’t about the final destination, but the journey there. I found all of his sayings to be very inspirational to not only his tribe, but to those who listen as well. Freeman also engaged us with some storytelling about his father (the shape shifter) and the story about the possum’s beautiful tail. I believe that Freeman primarily wanted to simply teach his audience something by the end of his visit. What he wanted to teach could range from information about his tribe to lessons that we should try to abide by in life, but in either case, I think his mission was accomplished in that regard.
Barbara Locklear was our next guest speaker. Being a teacher and an Indian, Barbara taught us how it was possible to fuse both culture and career into a powerful medley. Barbara shared stories with us about how she integrated her heritage into the classroom with the use of her talking stick. Since I plan to be a future educator, I found her methods of teaching to be very intriguing and insightful into ideas I could try for when I should start teaching. Barbara also informed us a little about her tribal values, telling us that “storytelling and symbolism are the most important Indian aspects” and that “everyone is connected.” Her beliefs aided her well in the classroom, and I took from her that one’s beliefs can be applied to all that they do.
Wanda Carter graced us with her presence next. She started off by giving us her perceived themes of Indian literature which include a sense of place, alienation and healing, mythical space and place, oral tradition/cultural tradition/ kinship, and identity development. Of course, we agreed with her theory based on the literature we’ve read as her five themes do hold true in the literature we’ve discussed so far. Wanda also gave us a history lesson on the American Indians, touching topics like the Indian Removal Act, boarding schools, and the white man’s diseases. Rather than give us perspective of her tribe, Wanda wanted us to understand the history of the Indians up to this point.
Keith “Little Bear” Brown was our last guest speaker. He seemed to be our more spontaneous speaker, as he jumped around from topic to topic, although something interesting I did learn was that some male Indians do enjoy making pottery! Aside from that, Keith shared two stories with us (the story of the formation of rivers and lakes, and the story of the possum with a beautiful tail). I found his storytelling style to be very realistic and natural, with a distinct air that was different from Freeman Owle’s (not that Freeman Owle’s storytelling is not great, because it is!). Both Freeman Owle and Keith shared the story of the possum, although the delivery was different, and so were specific points in the story, which demonstrates how stories can change when orally circulated. Overall, I got a sense from Keith Brown that one should be themselves, and not change no matter what. I remember him telling us how he never cut his hair, and never will, a tradition that many Indians should be proud of.
These four speakers captivated my attention with their details about their tribal beliefs, their animal stories, and their information on the American Indians as a whole. They also taught me that life is about your beliefs, and living to the fullest extent with those beliefs in mind. Now that I have listened to them speak, I know that I can apply their messages so that I may in turn teach a future generation that which has been taught to me.

Lindsey Wilson, UNCC said...

I am a student of Dr. Gardner’s American Indians in Children’s Literature course at UNCC, and for our class we are researching a final project that is related to the course. For my project I will be creating a short children’s book based on the text of Freeman Owle’s Cherokee story “The Magic Lake.” I will also be putting together a promotional packet for the book which will include a flash media guide, for children, parents, and students, to “The Magic Lake” and its follow-up story “Going to Water,” as well as some of Freeman Owle’s other stories, on CD-ROM. This project is based on a promotional media packet for Zitkala-sa’s Dance in a Buffalo Skull, which was provided to Dr. Gardner by Dr. Mark West, on of UNCC Children and Adolescent Literature professors, and which Dr. Gardner was kind enough to allow me to borrow.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the Cherokee stories of “The Magic Lake” and “Going to Water,” there are as follows (as taken from texts edited by Barbara R. Duncan):



[My father] loved to tell the stories of the Cherokees.
And one of the ones he told me many times was the story of the magic lake.
He said,
There was a young lad walking in the forest one day.

And this young Cherokee boy was walking in the woods,
and he saw droplets of blood upon the leaves,
and he began to follow those
because he was concerned with something being hurt,
because all the animals were important.
He followed them up the hillside
and eventually came upon a small bear cub
who had been wounded, and his leg was bleeding.
Up the hill he went, following it,
and it would stumble and fall,
and make its way to its feet again,
and it was struggling, going in one direction,
to the great mountain that the Cherokees call Shakonige,
which is the Blue Mountain, or, today, Clingman’s Dome.
And it was a sacred mountain to the Cherokee
and a very special place.
Eventually nightfall came and the bear lay down.
The young man stayed close by that night,
and early in the next morning
the little cub again got up
to go up to the top of the mountain,
and this time made it to the top.
And the fog was covering everything
except for the very peaks of the mountains.
The little cub goes over and it jumps into the fog.
And the young man says,
“Surely he’s gone now.”
But all of a sudden
the fog turns to water,
and the little bear begins to swim.
He swims out a ways,
and then he comes back,
and when he gets out of the water,
his leg is completely healed.
And the young man is very confused.
He looks,
and a duck swims in the water with a broken wing,
and his wing is made well.
And animals are coming from all directions
and coming to the water,
and they’re swimming and being healed.
He looks up at the Great Spirit,
and he says,
“I don’t understand.”
The Great Spirit says,
“Go back and tell your brothers and sisters the Cherokee,
if they love me,
if they love all their brothers and sisters,
and if they love the animals of the earth,
when they grow old and sick,
they too can come to a magic lake and be made well again.”

This was a belief that was “savage.”



The same “savage” would go down to the waters of the Tennessee,
right down here,
early in the morning every morning,
wade out waist deep,
take the waters of the river and throw it up over his head.
And say,
“Wash away any thoughts or feelings
that may hinder me from being closer to my God.
Take away and thoughts or feelings
that may hinder me from being closer to all my brothers and sisters on the earth,
and the animals of the earth.”
And they would was themselves
and cleanse themselves
every morning,
and then they would walk out of the water.


As a part of the media guide I will present questions for parents and students about the similarities between Christian baptism and the Cherokee value of water from these two stories, as well as pose the question as to why this Cherokee value of water was considered “savage.”

I would greatly appreciate any feedback or input anyone may have on this topic.

Also, if anyone knows any similar stories from other tribes and storytellers about the healing nature of water, I would love to hear them.

Robin Isom said...

Since everyone’s been talking about the guest speakers so much I thought I would continue along the same lines as one of our last class assignments, by comparing Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark Series, (Birchbark House and Game of Silence) with Luther Standing Bear’s My Indian Boyhood. There are many similarities among these two stories. In both the Native Americans lived as one with nature, and had instances of changing names throughout time, though in Erdrich it was only changed once during childhood, when the child was very young, and in Standing Bear it changes only for the men, and only when they have earned a new one. In both children went to work at a very young age, and were usually given the smaller tasks of fetching water or wood and picking berries. They each have very clear themes of the simpler way of life, and the bravery needed to survive even before the threat of the white men. Animals are very much respected throughout each, especially the Bear. In Erdrich the Bear is known for its medicinal knowledge, in Indian Boyhood they are portrayed as medicinal but also as a “self respecting and peaceful animal” known for its strength and bravery (pg. 48). Both have instances of the traditional oral heritage and the passing down of origin stories, with each child having their favorites, of course. They also each place a great deal on the importance of herbs used both as food and medicine, the evidence is in the amount of time spent in each to describing the herbs and their purposes, and how both characters were taught their many uses. Both show the traditional approach to how Native American children were raised while also portraying these children as those who would be the last to live this lifestyle as well. Each also emphasizes the idea of games as is obvious within just the title of The Game of Silence. Games within Indian Boyhood are seen as learning experiences where the boys practice the skills they will need later in life to survive, much like those within Erdrich’s novels where the Game of Silence is the perfect example of how the children learned of what was going on in the world outside of their own village. Even at the end of the novel the game is viewed as having been very helpful in preparing them for their long journey through enemy territory where silence could save their lives.
The similarities are abundant but there were also many differences as well, especially (and most obviously) in their main characters; Erdrich’s being the female Omakayas and Standing Bear’s own biographical male perspective, as well as their obvious differences in location and general society orientation. The obvious gender differences play a large role in what is important to the main character within each. For Omakayas it was ‘woman’s work’, while Standing Bear focused on being a hunter and a great warrior. Erdrich portrays a generally peaceful Native American society while Indian Boyhood portrays a warrior society. Another apparent difference is in their time frames, showing how not all Native Americans came into contact with, or started having problems with the European invaders at the same time, some were much later than others. Another small difference but one that probably correlates with geographical differences is the existence of bread within their diet, Erdrich at least had a substitute for it, whereas Standing Bear claims they “did not miss it” (pg. 11). The importance of the horse is also a dividing point where Standing Bear speaks of how important they are, I do not recall them ever being mentioned within Erdrich’s novels. Yet the birds are praised throughout each as being very important and influential within their respective cultures. In the end though these two stories are very similar and very different they only go to show that though there are many different Native American tribes even today they are all still so very similar.

Josh Worsham said...

When I first started this semester, I was unaware of many of the themes and traditions of the Native American peoples. Much of my knowledge on this vast and startling prolific people was lent to me through television, movies, novels, and other such mediums. It was not until my class with Dr. Susan Gardner that I learned that much of what I thought I knew was incorrect, and that narrow scope of my learning was ill-informed and nonsense. In her classroom, I learned the truth, or at least the very tip of it, and have endowed myself with the realization that mainstream America is a falsehood of European ideals and whimsical fantasy. Nothing about my childhood teachings of the first settlers coming and befriending the natives of this fruitful land was accurate. Nothing depicted in the movies of Clint Eastwood and other Hollywood giants gave an insight that was remotely true.
During the course of Dr. Gardner’s class, we watched many films, read a handful of authentic literature, and had impressive and interesting guest speakers who enlightened us on the life and meaning of various Native American tribes.
One of the books that we read in the class was “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie. This novel, light-hearted, funny, and sometimes brutal, gave an account of a boy growing up in a reservation, and his determination to make a life for himself, despite all the inflictions of a life where nothing can be made for oneself. The novel is inspiring, partly because the semi-autobiographical tale is based on his own life, and also because it proves that if one is determined enough, then anything is possible. At birth, the speaker of the novel tells how he is born with a disorder, which he describes as “water on the brain” that was supposed to cripple him for life and cause brain damage. Obviously, this never happened, hence the novel, which is one of many, and the numerous poems and screenplays also put out by the author. The novel also examines life on the reservation, which is filled with alcoholism, drugs and violence. People die occasionally, as people tend to do, but not so often as they seem to on the “rez”. The speaker notes that, throughout his life, he had been to forty-two funerals. That is forty more funerals than I have ever been to, and forty-two that I had ever wanted to. His father is an alcoholic, and his mother, too. His father often left for days on end, never a word as to where he might be or when he was going to return. He did return, though, but only after spending much of the money that was so hard for the poverty-stricken family to acquire at the casinos gambling and drinking. The books that they used in the school, which was largely underfunded, were decades old and out of date. The turning point of this book was at this very school, when while browsing through his math book, he spotted his mother’s name inside the cover. He chucked the book away, smashing his teacher in the face. After that, and a small discussion with the teacher, he decides to leave the school on the “rez” and attend the school, called Reardon high, just outside the border. From there he is troubled with prejudice and bullying, but soon learns to fit in, makes friends, and becomes a hero of sorts on the basketball team. This book, as funny and whimsical as it was, was also eye-opening to the life that many Native Americans lead. Although this novel was a dramatization, and I am sure many parts were overly exaggerated, it still was a great learning tool.
Of all the experiences in Dr. Gardner’s class, the guest speakers, for me, were the most memorable. We had four speakers come in, each from a different tribe, and illuminate the class on the history, customs, and stories that were handed to them from their family for decades and decades before. We were told stories on how the world came to be as it is now, and how many of the animals of the forest gained the traits that we now see today. We learned about the Trail of Tears, and how the land that is now North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, North and South Dakota, and so on, was once all just a giant forest, filled with riches and plants and animals, was once the home to a very Earth friendly group of various tribes, and how the European settlers came and stole it away with false-hopes and lies. We learned about storytelling, and how sometimes you could not tell a story during the day, or only in the winter season, and how each and every story had a lesson somewhere, or a moral, or a reason. We learned of the precious traditions of pottery, how it is made and why. The specific details and care that went into each pot or bowl created, and how the tradition of making these beautiful pieces was passed down through the generations, never varying, and never losing touch with its origins.
Through the teachings of Dr. Gardner and her generous speakers, the novels and short films we read and watched, I have become enlightened on what it means to be a member of a group of people who had been so fruitful and ingenious, and have a land so plentiful ripped away. I had also learned how to be more forgiving and understanding, for one of the greatest things some of the Natives of this land did was understand that humans were full of folly, and it is in the nature of things to let it go, and move forward despite what is done. The adjust to the world as it is, to be resilient and to adapt, to forgive for past misgivings is a truly exceptional way to live, and it was in all of these speakers and novels that this formidable lesson was expressed.

Kelly McClamrock said...

In our Native American & Children’s Literature class we viewed a video on “Lost Bird.” I had never heard the story of Lost Bird until this video informed me of her life story. Lost Bird, Lakota, was found alive by General Leonard Colby at the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, and adopted her without his wife’s knowledge or consent. The wife fell in love with Lost Bird, or Zintka as she called her. Zintka lived a wholesome life, that is until her adopted father left his wife and moved away, not paying for her. Her family was torn apart, and she was lost, lost in a world of adopted parents, and lost because she did not belong to their culture. Lost Bird was then sent to live with her father and his new wife, became pregnant, and sent to a reform school, where her child was said to be stillborn. Later, Lost Bird moved back with her adopted mother, and married a man who gave her syphilis, which she ended up suffering from for the rest of her life. She had several husbands, and eventually died from an influenza outbreak, and the effects of her non-curable sexually transmitted disease. Lost Bird had tried to go back to her homeland, but was not accepted by other Lakota’s. Eventually in 1991, long after her death, Bird "went home" and was buried in South Dakota at the grave site at Wounded Knee. Because her story was so heart wrenching, the Lakota began an organization named “the Lost Bird Society” to bring young children like Lost Bird who were adopted out back home. Lost Bird’s tragic story impacted me greatly. To begin with, it was awful Lost Bird had to go through such a tragic life, taken away after a great massacre, adopted into a torn white family, sent to a reform school, given syphilis, and divorced multiple times. Lost Bird never really had a “good” life. She is now buried in her home land, which she was not able to experience while she was alive. I hope now that she is home; she will always rest in peace.

Taylor Greer said...

One of the books we read for this course on American Indians and Children’s Lit was “My Indian Boyhood” by Luther Standing Bear. I was very excited to read a first hand account of Indian life prior to white intrusion and was not disappointed. However, I had a hard time reading it at first. It seemed that he had very little rhyme or reason to how his thoughts flowed. He would talk about making a bow and arrow and suddenly he’d be writing about trapping rabbits. Obviously the two subjects related to hunting but where was the style and cohesiveness? And as for connecting words, they were nonexistent. I didn’t want to assume that he was uneducated or a poor writer, since his books have been around so long, but I was certainly confused.

However after a few chapters, and a presentation by Freeman Owle, I realized that he was writing in a conversational style. What a relief! After that I enjoyed his book immensely and have to wonder how many other Native American writers use this style. Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich don’t and their books were the first by American Indians that I’d read. Now I’ve also read Zitkala-Sa’s “American Indian Stories” and she seems to write somewhere in between a conversational and descriptive style. Does this indicate that older American Indian writers, or ones that were published in the early 1900’s, are the only ones who write exactly as they spoke? And is this indicative of the boarding schools’ successful brainwashing that modern day American Indian writers have adopted a more white way of writing? Or do these styles have nothing at all to do with race but are simply preferences that reflect the writer’s intentions?

Debbie Reese said...

Hi Taylor and all,

I've not been able to read and respond to your comments, and for that I apologize.

I did take a minute to read Taylor's and offer my response.

I think the answer is, as usual, "it depends." On my blog, I'm very conversational---or at least I think I am. Sometimes I go back and read something and cringe at what I've said.

I submitted something in that style to a journal. It was rejected. So I think there's a lot of things going on with respect to author, style, audience, publisher, editor, etc.

I had to rewrite my article for the journal, in the sort of language a scholarly journal expects. There was an editor at work on my words, too, pushing me to say it this way or that way. In the end it was vastly different than how it started out.

I wonder about the editor's hand in Luther Standing Bear's book. I've been thinking a lot about older writings, too, as I study the writings of Carlos Montezuma. You've read Zitkala Sa's work, so you may know that the two were engaged for a short while.

I look at some of his words, given in a lecture or in an article, and marvel at what I'm calling his political rhetoric, or his stump speeches. What I mean is that I think he wrote with a specific goal in mind---to win people over to his goals, and like any political speaker, he'd phrase things in ways by which the listener (possible voter) would hear and respond positively to...

Is that making any sense? In short, lot of factors at play... Then and now.

Ashley Grafton, UNCC Student said...

One of the things that have hit me the hardest while taking this course is the information on Boarding Schools. I have to admit that my knowledge of American Indian history was—and probably still is since I have only had one semester of knowledge—shockingly lacking. Until taking Susan Gardner’s course I had no knowledge that American Indian children were sent to be “boarded” and brainwashed. I find this a huge blemish on American history; however, with knowledge on how the mentally ill and disabled were treated, I shouldn’t be too shocked.
One assignment we were given in class was to compare what we have read in Zitkala-Sa’s narrative, American Indian Stories and a number of poems, to online resources set aside by Dr. Gardner on brainwashing and boarding schools: especially the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
The first thing that hit me is that even though it was their idea to “tame the savage Indian,” “Pratt, Miss Mather and the children arrived [to an] empty military post” (Carlisle History). Although it may have not been the fault of Pratt because according to Carlisle history, “Pratt had been thwarted by the BIA,” they did not even take the time to make sure the lodging was ready—for even them, let alone the children—before bring them. That first night they had “no bedding [the children slept on the floor in their blankets], no food, no clothing” (Carlisle History).
Hearing both Zitkala-Sa’s account and then reading it again in the Carlisle history page, it breaks my heart to hear about the hair cutting after learning that “[f]or the Lakota, the cutting of hair was symbolic of mourning” (Carlisle History). This must have been heart-wrenching.
Also, I found it hard to hear that most were forcibly taken from their parents. Having heard part of Luther Standing Bear’s My People the Sioux, I have learned that his father purposely sent him so that he could learn the ways of the white man because he knew that there would soon be many more whites in the area. However, Fred Bigjim’s poem, “Tundra Crossing” tells a different story: the Inuit people were forced to send their children to boarding schools or “They would be violating and breaking the law” (Bigjim 21). Zitkala-Sa also “had a choice” as to whether she wanted to go: although I have interpreted it as her mother really did not have a choice whether to send her or not—; however, she quickly learns that life is miserable.

CJ Jones UNCC said...

After completing some recent assignments in Dr. Gardner’s class, I found myself facing a very interesting dilemma/ question: What constitutes good Native American Indian literature? Wanda Carter, a Native American guest speaker for our class, gave us five themes of Native American literature: a sense of place and belonging/ alienation and healing/ mythical space and place/ oral tradition, cultural tradition, and kinship/ and identity development. From our class readings so far, which have included books such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Birchbark House, and My Indian Boyhood, one could reasonably argue that these five themes do correlate with a wide range of Native American literature. But is that all we expect from our Native American literature? Or are we looking for more than a history lesson?
To demonstrate my point, I’ll use Sherman Alexie as an example. I have read various reviews of Sherman Alexie and his literary works, his most controversial of sorts appearing to be The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. If we were to judge the book based on the criteria of “the five themes of Native American literature”, Alexie’s teenage funfest would undoubtedly be considered a great novel, considering that it covers most of the aforementioned themes. But for many, literature is more than just themes. Literature is a portrayal of life, and Alexie’s portrayal of his childhood, although “lightly fictionalized” as Dr. Gardner calls it, still evokes much passion from Native Americans about his negative portrayal of life on the reservation. The message that ultimately comes from the novel, therefore, would be that leaving the reservation would be the only way to make it here in America.
Before I go any further, I must admit that before I even picked up this book and read it, I already had expectations built into my head. The novel felt as if it were going to be negative from the get-go, as the title stresses “absolutely true” and goes on to talk about a “part-time Indian”, whatever that is. As I actually began to read the novel, more and more negativity came, but the protagonist’s outlook on life (and his witticisms) prevented me from seeing the novel entirely as a complaint. One might argue that the protagonist of “True Diary” actually made the most out of his situation and ultimately learned to adapt. This lesson of adaptation, perhaps a lesson learned of many Native Americans as they had been forced westward in the past, is a lesson not necessarily of positive or negative connotation. I believe that it is a lesson of experience, an experience that the author of the novel can identify with, and an experience that I’m sure many Native Americans can identify with.
When we look at Native American literature, we are often looking at the experiences of one person (sometimes a group) from the same tribe as they try to survive under conditions that are usually detrimental in some way. This isn’t necessarily a theme, but perhaps a common pattern in literature. When literature fails to meet our expectations, or fails to meet the pattern of literature before it, does that make it bad literature? Whether positive or negative, literature usually only has one of two purposes. One is to entertain. The other is to paint us a picture of a world, similar to our own in some way, that stands to teach us something about life, perhaps our own, as we explore our journeys. Maybe then, good literature is literature that simply conveys meaning about life, and no matter what the genre of literature, literature will always be subject to our own expectations, values, and experiences.

Kelly McClamrock said...

In our Native American Children’s Literature class we were handed a packet of poems written by Native American writers about the government boarding schools. The six poems told stories of what life was like for them as experienced in the boarding schools. My favorite of the six was “Indian Dancing.” It shed the most light of how Native American students were treated, the first three lines were: “We weren’t allowed to think Indian, to speak Indian, or to be Indian.” Wow, what heart wrenching lines these were, to think you were not allowed to be the person you were, you had to act like someone different, someone who you were not. The lines spoke out to me and grabbed my attention at the start. Another poem was named “Tundra Crossing.” “Tundra Crossing” showed how the government took children away from their homes, many times far away. “That school was hundreds of miles away.” Children were being taken from their homes and treated like amateurs, not being able to see their loved ones until they were finished. “When will we see him again?” “What until he’s finished, then you can see him again.” “I stayed in school for nine years. I lost all my Native ways.” This is incredibly sad, this young boy sent to a school for nine years, hundreds of miles away, and never was able to see his family until after he lost his Native ways. After talking about the boarding schools in class, and reading the poems, I now understand (by text) what life was like for a Native American child during the boarding school days. It is awful, and I am completely distraught by the texts and discussions we have had during class.

Melissa Turner said...

Last semester in Dr. Gardner’s class I did a research paper on the role Cherokee women had in their society. This semester in American Indians and Children’s Literature I have found many similarities. I also have learned more details about the importance of their responsibilities. When doing my research paper I found that the women were equal to the men, which is not the case present today. Women were in charge of the household and the crops. This was also the case in Louise Erdrich novels The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence. It was interesting to see that the mother and grandmother started training the girls when they were young how to do important things around the house. They gave them responsibilities such as tanning the hide of animals and drying the fish. If these tasks were not done correctly it could cause their family to suffer. The hides were used to make new moccasins for the family and also for warm blankets to prepare for the cold winters. The women did play an important role in taking care of the crops. In Louise Erdrich’s first two Birchbark House novels the girls are sent to swat off birds from eating their crops so they will have food to store for the winter when crops will not grow. The women serve as a backbone to the families. They are well rounded and can do a little bit of everything. Nokomis, Okayama’s grandmother, taught her the gift of medicine and to listen to the animals to help her understand and perform her gift she had been blessed with. Nokomis sent Okayama to fast in the woods to listen to the animals. While fasting, Okayama had a dream that led to the finding of her father and saved his life. It is interesting to compare the books we have read this semester with the book from last semester, Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier because he did not represent the importance of the women in traditional Eastern Cherokee society. Cherokee and Ojibwe womens’ roles were similar, but not identical.

Sherry Stine said...

Coming in to this course I had a limited background of knowledge about Native American history and culture. I knew a little about the horrible atrocities that the Native peoples had to face at the hands of the white community such as ‘The Trail of Tears”, and the many broken treaties with the government, however I had relatively little knowledge of the distinct traditions of different tribes and the challenges that are faced today as a result of this history. Throughout this course we have read books by Native Americans, seen guest speakers from various tribes, and watched videos that have presented different aspects of Native life and have helped to expand my knowledge of Native American culture and history. Several things that we have seen and discussed in this course have had a great impact on me and my understanding of this topic, and I will briefly discuss those things here.

On Monday April, 6th we watched a video of a PBS special entitled “Lost Bird of Wounded Knee” which recounted that story of Zintkala Nuni who had been found as a baby on the battlefield and was adopted without the knowledge of her people by Gen. Leonard Colby and his wife Clara. The special recounted her mistreatment and the difficulty that she had figuring out her place in the world and in not fitting in with either the Native or White communities. She died on February 14th 1920 and many years later was finally brought back to her Native land and the Lakota peoples in 1991. In addition to watching this video, we had a discussion in class about the problem of Native American children being adopted into non-Native families and the problems that arise from this. Dr. Gardner explained that this has in the last few decades become a major issue among Native peoples, and that since the 1970s laws have been put into place in order to make it more difficult to take these children out of the communities. The video also detailed that work of the Lost Bird Society, whose goal is to help Native children who have been adopted find their way back families and tribes. I found the story of Zintkala Nuni especially touching and it helped to enhance my understanding of one of the issues that we had been discussing in class, which is the difficulty of young Native Americans to find a balance between the two worlds, of the White and Native communities. Before this course I did not know about the issue of adopting children out of their tribes and that this had been such a prevalent problem but I now have a better understanding of how this affects all those involved.

Another area of focus in the course that I have taken the most away from was our discussion of the “Indian” Boarding Schools and the devastation that they have caused within Native communities. We have read several autobiographies and some poetry by Native American writers that detail their personal experiences of these Boarding Schools, one of which was Zitkala Sa’s book American Indian Stories. In her book she recounts the brainwashing techniques and mistreatment that she endured while at the Carlisle Indian School and her subsequent difficulty fitting back in with her tribe upon returning home. Dr. Garner also gave us access to many interesting WebPages on the Boarding Schools that include history, explanations of common brainwashing techniques, pictures of children before and after their entry into the schools, and several personal narratives collected. I took a great deal away from this information, as the Boarding Schools are something that I do not recall ever learning a great deal about previously in school. I think that it is important for people to be exposed to this information as the Boarding Schools continue to have a detrimental effect on the Native population, due to the fact that the children had their Native language and customs taken away from them and that this is the reason that many Native languages and traditions have been lost from subsequent generations. I found this to be one of the most important things that I learned about while in this course because it is something that has had such a profound effect on this country and yet been so hidden from discussions our history.

Throughout this course we have also had four guest speakers from different tribes who came to discuss their oral traditions, history, and culture with us. I found the visit of Keith Brown of the Catawba tribe to have had the greatest impact on me as their reservation is only 15 minutes from where I live, and yet I never really knew anything about the tribe. Keith, like other speakers, told traditional stories from his tribe but he also gave a more personal history of how things such as alcoholism have affected the Native peoples. In addition he also presented us with some background on the art forms of the Catawbas and about their tradition of pottery making. I took a lot away from his visit as well as from videos that we watched about this tribe and their pottery tradition because it gave me a greater understanding and appreciation of a group of people that has been so close to me all this time but that I knew very little about. I think that it is important for everyone to learn about the history of the area that they live in and also the diverse history of Native Americans, who are sadly too often mentioned as one large group and not as individual tribal communities.

Coming in to this course I had only a limited knowledge about Native Americans, mostly from the brief education on this topic that I formerly had received in school. Leaving this course however I feel that I have a greater understanding of the history, culture, traditions, and hardships of several Native American tribes. I think now more than ever that it is important for everyone, especially the children of today, to be provided with more information on Native histories and cultures. I would like to thank Dr. Gardner for teaching this course and for working so hard to give us all a better understanding of the issues facing Native Americans.

Tatayanne Wilson said...

Tatayanne Wilson-Creation Story

Hello Dr.Reese and Dr.Gardner,

I am excited to finally figure out the ins and outs of blogging to your website by doing so,I would like to share a experience that I had in Dr. Gardner class this semester.
This semester we were extremely grateful to encounter four different speakers from Native American Communities and/or backgrounds who addressed our class. I was elated to be in the presence of Barbra Locklear because of her connection and passion to work with children. Working with children is a passion that I also share, but Barbra Locklear works with children sharing and informing them on both Native American culture and stories. I was aware of her wonderful stories but never have I been able to sit like a child and engage in her storytelling. I was amazed by the stories of the school system and classrooms that she shared, along with the stories from her tribe that taught moral lessons.
One story that stood out was the "Doll without a Face". This particular story intrigued me because it held such a strong message to be delivered to our youth. I have never encountered stories that gave realistic advice and advised children to embrace certain qualities such as humility, respect, and friendship. The stories that Barbra Locklear told were not only didactic and able to be used in many lessons but they were understandable and simplistic. I really enjoyed her visting our classroom. I hope to see her again in the future and utilize her story in my future lesson plans.

Ashley said...

(We had to discuss Ethnic Fraud in our classroom and this is an article I posted during on of our class discussions.)


I found a very interesting article by Mary Annette Pember featured on the Diverse Education website, and this article speaks of faculty falsely claiming to be of American Indian descent. I never knew this, but apparently by claiming to be American Indian it ups their potential job prospects. According to the article obtaining a job for American Indian scholars can be as simple as checking a box. The 'scholars' who claim this native ancestry falsely are identified as "box checkers", and the people affected the most by it are the students, and more importantly the American Indian tribes being falsely portrayed. These wannabe American Indians are carrying out 'sacred' ceremonies that, in all actuality, have little value to them at all.

This article also tries to argue the slippery slope that will arise from asking for proof of enrollment in a state or federally recognized tribe. As Cheryl Nunez states, "there is no standard measure for race or ethnicity" and because of this the colleges should "not rely on anything other than racial and ethnic self identification."

There is a specific example cited as that of Terry Tafoya, a nationally known psychologist, who made "his Native heritage a large part of his public persona" was not a member of any tribe. In fact he also lied about earning his doctorate -- he never even went to college for this degree. Because of this it prompted a criminal investigation to find out if he had violated any laws. The outcome of this case was not mentioned, but in the end it is stated that it is almost impossible for universities to intervene in cases of ethnic fraud....it might be viewed as intolerant.

Listed below is a set of guidelines the Association of American Indian and Alaska Native Professors set up to help in developing culturally diverse universities :

1. Require documentation of enrollment in a state or federally recognized nation/tribe with preference given to those who meet this criterion;

2. Establish a case-by-case review process for those unable to meet the first criterion;

3. Include American Indian/Alaska Native faculty in the selection process;

4. Require a statement from the applicant that demonstrates past and future commitment to American Indian/Alaska Native concerns;

5. Require higher education administrators to attend workshops on tribal sovereignty and meet with local tribal officials; and

6. Advertise vacancies at all levels and on a broad scale and in tribal publications.

I guess to me it is imperative that something be done to put a stop to Ethnic Fraud in the classroom. It simply is not something I've put a lot of thought into, but now that I see the impact that can be had on impressionable teenagers....the time to act is now.

These simple guidelines can be used to help sway the direction in which higher educators are hired or teach college students.

Debbie Reese said...

Re ethnic fraud... it's a difficult, but I think, necessary conversation. It is one thing for an adult to be misled by someone making a disingenuous claim to Native identity. It's entirely different when the target of the fraud is a child. I've written about it a little... search on the blog for "John Smelcer" and "Education of Little Tree." There's also Jamake Highwater...

Christopher Stonger, UNCC Student said...

I recently just saw a Mel Gibson’s film Apocalypto. It is about the Maya civilizations decline at the cusp of the arrival of white men, those who would, as is prophesied in the film, "Scratch out the earth…And end [the] world." Overall, the film was alright. I was interested and surprised to find that film was not actually that bad. The actors and actresses in the film were Native American and the only language in the film was a Yucatec Maya dialogue. Furthermore, it was interesting to learn that there was actual research done before the film, there was a conscious attempt to try to make the film somewhat historically accurate. There was some artistic liberty taken but a lot of the film was backed up with some kind of historic fact. The “fact” of the film was a little scattered but it was, at least somewhat, accurate. The information comes from different time periods and different areas of the Maya civilization. However, it still is nice to see a movie that attempts to keep with the historic fact rather that just make it up or stick to the stereotypes. However, even with its claim to historic accuracy and the research that went into building up that accuracy, the film takes huge liberties in the name of entertainment. These liberties include the mass ritual sacrifice, the mass grave, and the slaves in terms of bodies. Furthermore, the use of human bones as decoration on the soldiers and the “game” played with the “extra” sacrifices were embellishments on the truth. Throughout the movie the audience gets two images of the Maya, ruthless and almost animalistic, and weak and frail. Jaguar Paw, one of the “weak” Maya, and his tribe put up a futile defense against the soldiers. The soldiers show no care for life, they leave the children behind without a care and but for their “worth” they show no care for their captives. When the women are sold there is an old woman who nobody is willing to buy, she is set free, her bounds cut and she told to leave. Beyond there worth as slaves or sacrifice the people are useless. When the sacrifice ends after the eclipse the soldiers are told to “dispose of them.” There is no mention or eye batted toward the circumstances of that disposal. The soldiers use their captives as pawns for their game, sending them down a field to act as targets, told their freedom awaits them. Overall, the movie has both good and bad points but is, I think, better than most films. There are some big points of contention I have the films depiction of the Maya but I do have to say the film has some major positive points. The film has some historic accuracy and the fact that both the actors and language are accurate. The actors and actresses were Native Americans or the descendants of Native Americans and everyone speaks Yucatec Maya. Furthermore, most of the jewelry, architecture, art, and the tattoos depicted in the film were accurate for the Maya. The film attempted to depict the Maya as they were which is better than the majority of films that come at. Native Americans are usually purely stereotypes in films, depicted as the noble savage or something of like. This film tried to depict Native Americans as people but I think faulted on the side of wrong, depicted the Maya as animalistic and savage in some sense. Jaguar Paw’s tribe, however, was depicted as a normal group of people, beyond there inability to defend themselves.

Jennifer Byrd said...

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, novelist Sherman Alexie uses the fresh voice of main character Arnold “Junior” Spirit to enlighten readers about the conflicts faced by a teenage Native American boy as he is caught between different cultural and racialized worlds. To demonstrate these conflicts, manifested both internally through Junior’s adolescent struggles and externally from the outside pressures surrounding him, Alexie explicitly incorporates the usage of dualities throughout his best-selling novel. The words Junior writes, for instance, function dually with the his illustrations found throughout the pages and, similarly, the real world he portrays sets up as a foil for the imaginary world he creates. Centrally focusing on the duality of “being Indian” in a society predominantly governed by the whites, Alexie uses this theme of duality to develop other juxtapositions that construct Junior’s honest testimony in his “diary.” In expressing these parallelisms, Alexie is able to touch on issues such as ethnicity, class and identity, all of which interweave to construct Junior’s culturally-defined world.
First, Junior’s discussion of white versus Indian presents a prevalent conflict alive within the novel. When Junior decides to transfer from Wellpinit, the high school on the Spokane Indian Reservation, to the all-white Reardan High, he is confronted with the major differences between himself and his Indian heritage and the whites and their outside world. Undoubtedly, he has internal conflicts, as do all young adults, figuring out who he is; however, this journey is even more problematic for Junior, a small guy with a large head who wears eye-glasses and speaks with a stutter and a lisp. Not only does he have to suffer from bullies that want to physically harm him, but also, especially after his school transfer, he has to face being the stranger, the only reservation kid in the midst of all white children. As his central drawing so literally depicts, Junior has conflicting thoughts about his true Indian background with the “vanishing past” and “family history of diabetes and cancer” and how it opposes his desire to be more of a white boy with “a bright future” and “positive role models” (57). In the picture, a line is drawn down the center, emphasizing his frustration and battle with living out his personal dualities. Then, after attending the white school and becoming more comfortable, he considers the differences between his home town and Reardan High stating, “Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the little white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger. I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other. It was like being Indian was my job, but it was only a part-time job” (118). Even telling his name makes him notice the dual characteristics he is forced to possess. “And my name is Arnold. It’s Junior and Arnold. I’m both…I felt like two different people inside of one body….with Junior living on the north side of the Spokane River and Arnold living on the south” (60-61). Certainly, these perfectly-worded declarations epitomize Junior’s internal battle with being an Indian in a white-dominated setting.
In addition to the racial conflicts Junior experiences within, he also is presented with external conflicts that illustrate the cultural divide. Expressing the problems that plague his race, Junior distinctly shows the differences between the privileged lives of white people and the hopeless lives of Natives. For instance, highlighting afflictions such as addiction, Alexie confirms the stereotypes of American Indians and illustrates how these issues separate them from the white culture. Junior repeatedly mentions the dilemma with alcoholism and candidly states, “I can count my fingers, toes, arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose, penis, butt cheeks, and nipples, and still not get close to my deaths. And you know what the worst part is? The unhappy part? About 90 percent of the deaths have been because of alcoholism” (200). Clearly, Alexie is emphasizing the intensity of the alcohol addiction and pointedly showing how the white population is not nearly as affected, for Junior states, “All my white friends can count their deaths on one
hand” (200).
Another demonstration of the racial divide is the overwhelming sense of isolation that the Native race experiences. Pushed out of their territories and forced onto small allotments of land, Natives were surely isolated onto these reservations and essentially set aside from the rest of the world. Junior emphasizes this remoteness by saying, “If the government wants to hide somebody, there’s probably no place more isolated than my reservation” (30). He continues to express the seclusion of the rez poignantly stating, “Reservations were meant to be prisons, you know? Indians were supposed to move onto reservations and die. We were supposed to disappear” (216). These instances undoubtedly bring to light ethnically conflicting issues of separation and detachment.
Additionally, this segregation of the reservation from the rest of white society seems to cause the feelings of loneliness and separation within individuals. For example, Junior’s best friend Rowdy has been so mistreated that he disconnects from everyone, and Junior’s sister Mary has grown so depressed that she shuts herself away spending “twenty-three hours a day alone in a basement” (28). Even Junior’s father is portrayed as a loner, shutting himself in the bedroom, alone and quiet. Certainly, the young narrator experiences an ultimate moment of loneliness after he begins attending Reardan; every Spokane on the reservation disowns him and every white student in the new school ignores his presence. He confesses, “Zitty and lonely, I woke up on the reservation as an Indian, and somewhere on the road to Reardan, I became something less than Indian. And once I arrived at Reardan, I became something less than less than less than Indian” (83). In communicating this total presence of isolation, Alexie surely highlights Indians’ “lonely, lonely” lives and how they juxtapose with the inclusivity that is felt by the whites, therefore establishing the white/Indian duality that pervades the book.
Another dominant cultural conflict that exists as a subsidiary issue in the text is the divergence of class status. Indeed, as Alexie proves, not only are they white people racially superior, but they also prevail because of the social and monetary advantages. The dual relationship of poverty versus wealth is presented in the novel with Junior’s unremitting comments concerning his family and tribe’s destitution. In the beginning of his “diary,” Junior affirms, “I am really just a poor-ass reservation kid living with his poor-ass family on the poor-ass Spokane Indian Reservation,” and many instances lucidly demonstrate the extent of his poverty (7). Certainly, Junior honestly attests, “Poverty = empty refrigerator + empty stomach,” and continues on to say, “And sure, sometimes, my family misses a meal, and sleep is the only thing we have for dinner” (8). Later, the young man feels fortunate if his parents are able to give him one dollar for lunch money, and his only Christmas present is a five dollar bill. Additionally, because Junior’s family cannot afford a veterinarian visit when his dog is sick, his father is forced to kill him to end his suffering. The scene is truly heartbreaking, for Junior begs his parents and promises to pay back the money spent, although he realizes, “There was nothing I could do to save Oscar. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing” (10). Perhaps the most appalling display of the Native Americans’ profound financial inequalities occurs when, still enrolled in the Indian high school, Junior excitedly opens his school book to find that it is the same text book his mother owned when she was a child. Completely defeated, Junior states, “My school and my tribe are so poor and sad that we have to study from the same dang books our parents studied from. This is absolutely the saddest thing in the world” (31). This occurrence is definitely the cause of Junior’s eventual decision to transfer into the white high school in hopes of gaining a better education.
Without a doubt, Alexie demonstrates the tremendous poverty present on the reservation and juxtaposes it with the wealth and promise of hope that exists in the white world. This class separation definitely speaks to the hopelessness felt by the Indians, another meaningful theme that saturates the text. Because they are poor, Junior and his tribe are filled with a sense of despondency that pervades their lives. In his discussion with Mr. P, his teacher tells him, “The only things you kids are being taught is how to give up,” and he even reveals to Junior the instructions for the educators to use corporal punishment on the Native children to “kill the Indian to save the child” (42, 35). The teachers’ attempts to “kill Indian culture” undoubtedly illustrates both the hopelessness felt by the white society in teaching the reservation kids and the message of bleakness that is sent to those children in respect to their educations and futures (35). In the beginning of the novel, poor Junior seems to have already given up hope, for he states, “There’s never enough time to change your life. You don’t get to change your life, period,” yet after he becomes the star on the varsity basketball team, he realizes how the oppressiveness once smothered him. He states, “I’d always been the lowest Indian on the reservation totem pole – I wasn’t expected to be good so I wasn’t” (180). Clearly, Junior can only escape the despair that encroaches on the Native American life by leaving the reservation and involving himself with the opposite white world. In the end, this social conflict between poor and rich is another battle that presents problems for the young narrator, for he states, “Some Indians think you have to act white to make your life better. Some Indians think you become white if you try to make your life better, if you become successful” (131). With this, Alexie is making an impacting statement linking the class dualities and their relative proneness toward either failure or victory.
A final conflict introduced in Alexie’s depiction of a culturally-divided world is Junior’s struggle with his own identity. As aforementioned, Junior is akin to all other teenager boys in his dealings with friends, girls and school; however, because of his determination to better himself and transfer as the single minority in a school filled with “happy” white teens, he faces mental duals on his journey to self-discovery. Initially, during his first day of attendance at Reardan, he questions his decision and doubts himself thinking, “Reardan was the opposite of the rez. It was the opposite of my family. It was the opposite of me. I didn’t deserve to be there. I knew it; all of the kids knew it. Indians don’t deserve shit” (56). Feeling worthless and uninvited, Junior certainly struggles with his identity and, as even as he becomes more comfortable in the school, he continues to feel like an outsider and states, “I felt like somebody had shoved me into a rocket ship and blasted me to a new planet. I was a freaky alien and there was absolutely no way to get home” (67). Truly, Junior’s “diary” is saturated with these emotions of unfamiliarity and misplacement, and he continues to feel like “a stranger in a strange land” until he befriends Penelope and then makes the basketball team (81).
These positive events are soon dually challenged by the deaths of grandmother, sister and family friend Eugene, all of which Junior feels responsible for. Although he is overall a normal teenage boy, his conflicting place in the world contributes to his emotional strife and he reacts to the deaths by admitting, “I was joyless…I blamed myself for the deaths. I had cursed my family. I had left the tribe, and had broken something inside all of us, and I was now being punished for that” (173). This overwhelming sense of responsibility and guilt affects Junior, and he begins to skip class and withdraw emotionally. Not until his classmates revolt against the teacher who insensitively mocks his absences does Junior realize that, Indian and all, he has finally been accepted, a definite contribution to the development of Junior’s character. Furthermore, his sense of identity is ultimately challenged during the final game between his squad and Wellpinit, his hometown team. Playing in a packed gym filled with both members of his tribe and fans of his new white school, Junior’s confusion about his identity is put the final test. In the end, he proves to have gained the confidence to perform well and prevail over Wellpinit and also the maturity to notice the disappointment in the faces of Wellpinit’s team and the Spokane fans. In this instant, he internally struggles with his feelings and has a monumental revelation:
“All of the guys on our team had their own cars…iPods and cell phones and PSPs and three pairs of blue jeans and ten shirts and mothers and fathers who went to church and had good jobs…I looked over to the Wellpinit Redskins…I knew that two or three of those Indians might not have eaten breakfast that morning. No food in the house. I knew that seven or eight of those Indians lived with drunken mothers and fathers. I knew that one of those Indians had a father who dealt crack and meth…I knew that none of them was going to college. Not one of them” (195).
Undoubtedly, Alexie uses this definitive scene to again depict the dualities that are constantly in flux and to predominantly express Junior’s sensitivity as he makes a final discovery about his identity and his placement in the divided worlds.
On the whole, in Sherman Alexie’s prize-winning young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the author enlightens readers on the current status of Native American life, showing the contemporary stereotypes that are applied to them and the tragic issues that they are living with daily. Facing racism, experiencing ethnic prejudices and questioning their identities, the Natives exist in an especially conflicting setting, and in writing this novel, Alexie portrays these conflicts by playing upon a number of dualities: white/Indian, poor/rich, sophisticated/uneducated, depression/happiness, failure/success. Through the unforgettable voice of Junior, Alexie certainly gives a first-hand look at Native American culture and, making a fundamental contribution to young adult literature, Alexie exemplifies how his main character survives in his overwhelmingly heightened culturally-defined world.

Sara Veale said...

When assigned to read a collection of poems in my Native American children’s literature class earlier in the semester, I took an immediate curiosity in the poets’ authorial motivations. In this particular collection, the poems touch on twentieth-century boarding school experiences, suggesting that each author’s childhood trauma of being forced from a life of familiarity into one of alien traditions and values- an experience shared by many but still so individually affecting- has aroused the need for some sort of artistic reconciliation. The notion of poetry as a cathartic device is an interesting one, for it operates on the idea that literature- and the writing process itself- is capable of not only disclosing personal issues but feasibly resolving them. Indeed, native poet Wendy Rose is celebrated for her ascertainment that “The bones are alive,” which underscores the need to invoke the “ghosts” of one’s past in order to assign them meaning and discover resolutions to personal plagues. Ultimately, it seems that most post-twentieth-century Native American poetry is created on a cathartic level, aiming to highlight the concerns of and create a voice for a native generation that has regrettably become known as “lost.”

American Indian critic Robin Riley Fast frequently highlights the prominence of borders for Native Americans in contemporary America, including but certainly not limited to those dividing native and white blood, tradition and modernity, and spirituality and Christianity. These borders present an interminable social challenge for Indians attempting to maintain a lifestyle that oscillates between unsatisfactory perspectives of modernity and culturally marred traditions. For contemporary native writers, poetry becomes an outlet for exploring the frustration of living perpetually in a divided society. Louise Erdrich’s poem “The Runaways” maintains that “Home’s the place we head for in our sleep” (Jacklight); indeed, this notion of home seems to exist purely on a liminal plane for the generations of Indians who have experienced both the abolition of their traditional lifestyle and simultaneous rejection in their attempts to adapt to white standards. This particular border between social acceptance and refutation seems to be the most distressing of all.

In my research of the boarding schools intended to de-Indianize Native American children in the early twentieth century, I discovered methods that were calculated and callous, designed to force the children into a cultural integration that would never be complete yet was nevertheless irreversible. Native poets like Jim Northrup and Fred Bigjim write of the pain of being unable to contact parents for comfort, for one of the main methods of culture stripping- there seems to be no other appropriate term- was manipulating the distance between families to discourage contact and support. Lakota writer Tim Giago is known for his poetic accounts of the schools’ reinforcement of anti-Indian ideology: simply put, children “weren’t allowed/ To think Indian,/ To speak Indian,/ Or to be Indian” (“Indian Dancing,” The Aboriginal Sin). Stripped of every tradition possible, including language and appearance, these former victims of the crime that is forced assimilation have only English verse with which to channel their anguish. In this respect, even their poetry has been blighted by culture stripping, for they are forced to find literary catharsis within the confines of a language that was not voluntarily undertaken but forced upon them.

The psychological distress of forced cultural integration in the twentieth century left subsequent generations of Native Americans with misguided, muddled senses of self. This confusion in cultural identity is plenteous in contemporary native poetry, most commonly in the metaphoric sense that the writer is searching for his or her spirit. Unable to fit fully into white society, yet incapable of regaining tradition, these poets face a hardship that exceeds physical pain and will unfortunately plague their entire lives and likely those of their children. It seems that authorial motivation within post-twentieth-century native poetry will always develop from a personal-and oftentimes contumelious- mourning of the loss of American Indian culture by the hand of surrounding American society. Fortunately, the voice confronting the so-called “ghosts” of native history is rising in volume as Native American poetry gains the attention warranted for public esteem. Perhaps my own generation will be the ones fortunate enough to hear this voice shout.

For those interested in additional reading regarding contemporary Native American poetry, I found the following sources to be particularly useful:
-Harper’s Anthology of Twentieth-Century Native American Poetry
-Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature
-Interpreting the Indian: Twentieth-Century Poets and the Native American
-“A Word Has Power: Poetry and Healing in American Indian Cultures,” Helen Jakoski
-“Sending a Voice: The Emergence of Contemporary Native American Poetry,” Andrew
-“Borderland Voices in Contemporary Native American Poetry,” Robin Riley Fast

Will Davis said...

Freeman Owle, In Three Parts

I. Introductions

Through the course of this spring semester, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Freeman Owle, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Upon signing up for the course in American Indians and Children’s Literature, I consciously entered an arena that I had little to know true knowledge of: that is, knowledge that went very far beyond the average stereotypes one is equipped with from a young age. My interest in the course came from one as a storyteller. I have been a filmmaker for a number of years, and I hoped to discover a way of telling stories through hearing Dr. Gardner speak, as well as through the guest speakers we were fortunate to have come visit our campus and speak to us.
Freeman Owle’s visit turned out to be of a fortuitous nature in regards to the development of my work in this course as well as outside it. As he spoke to our class, telling stories of how the possum lost its tail, misconceptions of the Cherokee Indian (headdresses and teepees in the middle of the woods, for instance), and the senses we possess and need to listen to, I found myself entranced by not only his delivery and knowledge, but of the wandering nature of his presentation. He paused several times to recognize the fact that tangents were leading the conversation in new directions that we were perhaps not expecting, and regardless of his attempts to stick to some path that presentations of this sort typically fall under, we kept drifting wherever his thoughts or our questions decided to take us. I found it inspirational, and bought one of his stone carvings afterwards to remember the event. Staying true to my college nature, I naturally didn’t have enough money to purchase the stone carving without the assistance of an ATM, so he gave it to me and said to meet him in the room that Dr. Gardner would be interviewing him in that afternoon. This trust was comforting to me as I walked with a heavy, bulging pocket filled with the tale of David Owle shape shifting in my jacket pocket.
In the room where Dr. Gardner was conducting her interview, serendipity continued as the tape recorder that was to be used during the interview had reached its final destination and was no more. On this day, which was rare normally, I happened to have a video camera with me that I was taking to a class I taught that afternoon, and so I volunteered to film the interview in place of the tape recording. Here, I heard Freeman speak of the things that had changed since the last time they interviewed some years ago, and heard his thoughts and philosophies on a variety of topical issues among the Cherokee people. Not needing fate to tap my shoulder any longer, I realized by the end of this meeting that I had found not only a topic for my final project in the class, but the makings of a documentary that I instinctively felt warranted an extension beyond the classroom.

II. Cherokee, North Carolina

After speaking with Freeman a couple of times over the phone and working together to find an ideal time to meet together, I took my friend and cinematographer, along with our film equipment, to Cherokee for three days of filming Freeman Owle. While I had ideas of what I was interested in filming, I had made the decision the first day I met Freeman that to have an unmovable structure for the film would go against the very nature of the subject I was filming; thus, the structure became one of a wandering spirit. I would ask Freeman questions I was genuinely interested in hearing his response to, and just speak with him about topics that would emerge as they did, should the camera be on or off. It has always been my philosophy that there are certainly moments to not capture just as there are those to capture, and it became quite easy for this to take place as I was enveloped by Cherokee’s majesty from the moment I started to vaguely recognize the turns on the side of the mountains.
We filmed Freeman at the Oconaluftee Indian Village when we first arrived, as he was leading a group of students and teachers from Ohio around various parts of Cherokee that day (including the Nikwasi Mound) and was gracious enough to allow us to tag along. Later that day, we documented his workspace where he does his stone carvings, which eventually transitioned into hearing a mix of thoughts that Freeman had on family, nature, aging and other topics that are able to easily transition into a cohesive whole. Fearing our welcome would be overstayed and questions too numerous for the first day, we got directions from Freeman to what he considered the best lookout spot to film the sunset that night. Driving back to find a motel that night, a sense of calmness rested inside me as I felt the beginning of the project take form, into what shape, I didn’t know yet.
The next day we met Freeman at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian along with Dr. Gardner, and after stopping to get a bite to eat, we went to Mingo Falls and filmed the beautiful scenery as Freeman told stories along the steep hike and at the falls themselves. Afterwards, my cinematographer and I went to our motel room to set up the lighting for the interview/storytelling portion of the documentary. While the inside of a motel room seems less-than-ideal for filming a storyteller whose work is so closely connected to the outdoors seems counterproductive, it was necessary to have the clean audio, as well as film some footage that eliminated distracting visuals in place of the intimate feel one might get while looking into the eyes of the storyteller as the stories unfold, even if it has to be through the distance of a screen. To achieve this effect, a total transformation of the room had to take place, and while the details are too boring to speak of here, I don’t believe I will ever forget the face of Dr. Gardner as she entered the room with its blacked out windows and film equipment filling the motel room, sensing some dubious activity was about to take place in there.
The rest of the trip was spent filming sunsets, nature, motels, the business strips, and the town itself. Cherokee is too vast and contains too many details and crevices to completely explore in a mere three days, but it was a glimpse, a spirit, I was more interested in finding. I also found myself enthusiastic to the point that I knew if I didn’t limit my time and material there, this short documentary could easily turn into some 30-hour project that sprawled out of control. We left the Cool Waters Motel (is it okay to name all these places off? I hope so.) that day and found ourselves wandering about the town, speaking with people in stores and on porches, in restaurants and some just driving past like the colorful bears that adorn the weaving streets. Somewhere between the new construction and the rivers that have had the same waters running through them for centuries, the teepees and the sunsets, the casinos and the resilience behind the eyes of the people we encountered, there is a spirit in Cherokee that we were a part of, even if it was only three days. I only hope that the film captures even the slightest bit of this, and the man who allowed the documentary to take place.

III. Freeman Owle

Sitting in a wooden chair, editing the film on my computer, I find the same conflict of nature versus technology that my thoughts ended their Cherokee trip with. I found myself smiling and even laughing as I heard the quips between our takes and the moments that will never make it into the film, or haven’t yet, at least. I found a staggering beauty in the most likely of places such as the sun and all the water and trees, but in the most unassuming corners and details that we able to capture, oftentimes unaware of the hidden potential within the footage or with reasons to film it in the first place. I see a glimpse in my head of Freeman getting in his pickup truck, dust falling in front of the lens, a cloud turning to red, slowly passing motel parking lots, cats and dogs resting inside of windows…the beauty is almost overwhelming for me at moments. There is no distinct or specific story arc to this film, as I’m pretty positive it doesn’t exist. All I hope to have with this documentary is a record of memory: Freeman’s life, thoughts and memories, the stories that don’t belong to anyone, thus making them belong to everyone, and a documentary that attempts to live and wander within the confinements of its own form. I will never be able to experience the stories that were told around a campfire in the middle of winter, just as this documentary will never have the presence of a person. But I do believe that these stories can transcend even a screen, making them reachable for anyone willing to stray from any given course, even if for only a few minutes.

To view this documentary, please go to the following link: