Thursday, April 23, 2009


Below is a satirical essay by Beverly Slapin. She's provided me with several of these. They are, individually and collectively, outstanding. This one, How to Write a Children's Encyclopedia of Native American History and Culture (For Fun and Profit), is a companion to her critical review of a 2009 encylopedic set called "American History & Culture Encyclopedia.

Click on over to the Humor page at Oyate, scroll down to see the descriptions, and order copies of two satirical books they offer. Ten Little White People, and, Basic Skills Caucasian Americans Workbook are invaluable for helping people see the problems that can--and do--occur when someone (a writer) doesn't really know what they're looking at... Ten Little White People is $5.00, and Basic Skill is $13.00. I've bought many copies and keep buying more. They have a way of disappearing... People love them and borrow them, passing them along to friends.


[Note: This essay may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2009 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

How to Write a Children's Encyclopedia of Native American History and Culture (For Fun and Profit)

Everyone knows that children are incapable of complex thought and therefore need to be told what to think, so it’s very important to follow the established rules that have, for decades, enabled publishers to churn out the amazingly simplistic reference tools known as “children’s encyclopedias.” When putting together a children’s encyclopedia that deals with a particular ethnic group, especially great care must be taken. This author has used Rourke’s Native American History & Culture Encyclopedia (Rourke, 2009) as a model for creating a truly remarkable piece of work.

1. Don’t worry about getting your facts straight. Adults don’t read this kind of stuff for information. Feel free to write in one volume, for instance,

“Richard Henry Pratt started Carlisle School, as well as Hampton Institute,”

and in another,

“Former Civil War Brigadier General Samuel Chapman Armstrong founded [Hampton Institute].”

2. Whenever you can, describe Indians in the past tense and be sure to portray their lives so as to make them appear exotic. A good example:

“[The Karankawa] were tall people who lived in small huts, traveled in canoes and hunted with bows and arrows. They wore tattoos and used animal fat to protect themselves from mosquitoes.”

Another good example:

“Pomo men were often naked and the women wore deerskin shirts and kilts.”

Yet another good example:

“[Apalachee] men painted their bodies before battle and scalped their enemies.”

3. It’s perfectly OK to get the details wrong. No one will notice. A good example:

“[The Potawatomi] hunted, farmed, and collected syrup from maple trees.”

Another good example:

“Main foods [of the Illinois] included bison, deer, fish, maple sap…”

Yet another good example:

“[The Ojibwe] flavored their foods with maple syrup, which they harvested in the spring.”

4. Whenever possible, use the term “warriors” as a synonym for “Indians.” A good example:

“[The] Haida made sea journeys in huge boats carved from the massive trunks of red cedar trees. These boats could hold up to 60 warriors.”

5. Make sure to state and restate the obvious so that children will come to think that universal implements and activities have a special meaning for Indians. A good example:

“Knives had many uses for Native Americans.”

Another good example:

“Different colors and symbols mean different things to different dancers.”

Yet another good example:

“Native Americans have a rich history of fun and challenging recreational activities.”

6. Feel free to invent cultural reasons for occurrences about which you don’t know enough to describe realistically. A good example:

“Newborn Lakota boys received an elk’s tooth to bring them a long life, since the tooth of a dead elk is the last part to rot away.”

7. Make sure to write in a way that will encourage the “eeeyyyuuu” response from children. A good example:

“[The Paiute] ate roots, lizards, grubs, and insects throughout the year.”

Another good example:

“[California Indians] collected berries, other nuts, seeds, roots, and insects like caterpillars and grasshoppers.”

8. If you’re not sure whether a particular practice actually occurred, feel free to equivocate. Children will interpret inexplicit statements as fact. A good example:

“[The Calusa] also may have practiced human sacrifice and a form of cannibalism.”

9. Describe the little you’ve read about Indian belief systems in a way that presents Indian peoples as superstitious. A good example:

“The early Zapotecs believed that they came from trees, rocks, and jaguars that turned into people.”

Another good example:

“[The Mandan] believed that their ancestors came from under the earth, and climbed out on a grapevine.”

10. If you can, describe Native leaders as having made decisions motivated solely by alcohol. A good example:

“The Apache leader, Geronimo, was so fond of tiswin that he and his followers left their reservation in eastern Arizona because brewing tiswin was illegal there. They attempted to return to their homeland where they could once more drink tiswin. However, U.S. soldiers arrested them and returned them to the reservation.”

11. Whenever possible, describe Native peoples and settlers as getting along really well together. A good example:

“The Wampanoag and Pilgrims feasted together to cement the bonds of their friendship and express joy in the success of the Pilgrim’s [sic] first crop.”

12. And never, ever use the word “rape.” A good example:

“[A]fter a French trader mistreated Red Shoes’s [sic] wife, Red Shoes switched his allegiance to the English.”

Another good example:

“[The] Pyramid Lake War erupted on the California Trail in 1860 between the Northern Paiute and traders who stole and mistreated two Northern Paiute girls.”

13. Describe both sides as benefiting equally from treaties. A good example:

“Through [the Doak’s Stand Treaty], the Choctaw gave the United States more than five million acres of their fertile land in exchange for undeveloped land west of the Mississippi. This totaled one-third of their territory.”

14. Or, you may describe treaties as voluntary giveaways of land. A good example:

“In 1855, Seattle and other area tribal leaders signed the Point Elliott Treaty, giving away most of their lands. The treaty allowed them to hunt and fish on their former homelands.”

15. Make sure that your writing gives the appearance of neutrality. A good example:

“In the 1800s, struggles with trappers, traders, miners, and Mormon settlers led to the Shoshone War.”

16. At the same time, give children an understanding of why warfare with the Indians was justified. A good example:

“In the early 1860s, Great Basin Indians, including the Shoshone, interfered with mule trains, the Pony Express, railroad workers, telegraph lines, and stagecoach runs.”

17. Remember the old adage, “History is written by the victor,” so you can write with a clear conscience. A good example:

“[The Klickitat] land was in the path of U.S. settlers. The Klickitat refused to sign treaties that gave away most of their land to the United States. As a result, in 1855, the United States went to war with the Klickitat. The Klickitat surrendered and released their lands to the United States.”

Another good example:

“Seminole Wars occurred in the 1800s when American troops fought for Seminole removal from today’s Florida. Plantation owners saw the Seminole as a threat for taking in their escaped slaves and living near an important river trade route.”

18. Always find ways to blame Native peoples for their own suffering and eventual demise. A good example:

“The Plains tribes came to depend so much on hunting bison that it became a point of weakness. In the mid-1800s, when soldiers, western settlers, and native [sic] peoples hunted bison to near extinction, many tribes suffered.”

19. Sanitize historical events so as not to traumatize child readers with bloody details.
A good example:

“In 1775, [the Diegueño] rejected Spanish control, but the Spanish had better weapons and remained in charge. Today, they live among 12 different reservations.”

20. However, you can relieve boredom with an occasional really gory passage. A good example:

“Along their journeys, the explorers entered Native towns, stealing food and taking slaves. They killed the Native Americans who refused slavery by either stabbing or burning them to death, or feeding them to large Spanish dogs.”

21. If you have to describe an inexcusable event, find a way to excuse it. A good example:

“[Little Crow] was shot in the back while picking raspberries with his son in 1863. His body was then mutilated by angry settlers for his participation in the Dakota War.”

22. Be sure to pepper the volumes with pejorative terminology and descriptions, such as “hut” rather than home, “nomadic” rather than traveling between territories, “hunting and gathering” rather than living off the bounty of land, and “tribal members” rather than citizens of a particular nation.

23. Show how American standards of success did not apply to Indians. A good example:

“Native Americans did not make good slaves. Male slaves saw farming as women’s work.”

24. Emphasize hard-to-pronounce words and phrases relevant to the study of Native Americans. Good examples:

“corn husks (KORN-husks),” “civilize (SIH-vuh-lize),” “kidney stones (KID-nee STONEZ),” “exhaustion (ed-ZAWST-shun),” “total warfare” (TOH-tuhl WOR-fair), “human sacrifice” (HEW-muhn SAK-ruh-fyes), “exclusive” (eks-CLOO-sihv), and, of course, “casinos (kah-SEE-nohz).”

Leave out terms such as “Manifest Destiny,” “land theft,” and “sovereignty,” because they’re controversial.

25. And finally, ensure that children will come away knowing exactly why climate change is responsible for the disappearance of Native American peoples. A good example:

“Surviving the icy climate and whale hunting is the basis of traditional Inuit culture.”

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