Thursday, April 23, 2009


Read Slapin's review below, AND make sure to read her work of satire, How to Write a Children's Encyclopedia of Native American History (for fun and profit.)


[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Lundgren, Julie K. (vols. 2, 4, 6, 8) and Sandy Sepehri (vols. 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10), Rourke’s Native American History & Culture Encyclopedia. Rourke, 2009, 10 volumes, grades 4-7

Despite the economic downturn and because of the dilemmas of harried librarians trying to accommodate report-driven children, the relentless and mindless production line manufacturing of these kinds of encyclopedia-like commodities continues unabated. With a total page count for the ten volumes of 640, including lots of recycled powwow and Curtis photos, 12-point type, identical covers, back matter, and introductions (in which the first two words are, no kidding, “In 1492…”), this overpriced cookie-cutter production is typical of the problem.

The last ten pages of each volume are nearly identical, containing the same quote from Luther Standing Bear, a map of the “culture areas” of North America, a list of tribes organized by these areas, and an index and pronunciation guide for the volume. There is no bibliography or list of references, so students and their teachers will be unable to check the source of any research that may have gone into this series. Each volume also contains an “adapted legend” (read stolen and mutilated beyond recognition) from a particular Indian nation. There is no author cited for any of these “legends,” and they are all illustrated by Charles Reasoner, whose work appeared in the atrocious “Native American Legend” series, also from Rourke.

The final volume is reserved for a 7-page timeline, a 10-page alphabetical listing of tribes and tribal groups, a 12-page glossary, a 16-page index, and a bunch of cockamamie projects, such as constructing an igloo out of frozen dough and finding one’s “animal totem.” Although Mark J. Johnston and Scott Lyons are cited as project consultants for volumes 6, 7, and 9; and Lyons for volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8; there is no consultant cited for volume 10.

Here and there, one can find a smattering of relatively accurate entries describing historical and contemporary artists, political individuals and organizations, and issues such as water rights and the Trail of Broken Treaties. Some of the entries, particularly those about Ojibwe people and events, are informative and well written. One suspects that Lyons, who is Leech Lake Ojibwe, had something to do with these. But even here, Roberta Hill Whiteman’s name is spelled “Whitman,” Sarah Winnemucca’s nation is spelled “Pauite,” Black Hawk, the 19th Century Sauk and Fox leader, is described as a “Sioux war chief,” and Vi Hilbert, who passed away in 2004, is written about in the present tense: “Now that she is an elder herself…”

Although the series lists only two authors, the entries are apparently written by a bunch of different individuals, which might account for the opposite accounts of the same persons or events. For instance, “Meet Geronimo” is relatively accurate, ending with this: “Geronimo remains a hero, and his deep responsibility to protect his people has become legendary.” Yet, the entry about “tiswin,” a traditional fermented beverage, describes Geronimo’s leading his band back to their homeland as motivated solely by his fondness for this alcoholic drink.

Similarly, the purpose of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (also known as the Dawes Severalty Act), is described in one entry as beneficent, “to encourage Native Americans to become farmers,” yet its result, as described in another entry, was “to strip Native Americans of much of their land and ruin them financially.” In fact, the purpose of the Dawes Act was to break up Native lands held in common, and open those lands up for resettlement. The result of this massive government land grab was the further impoverishment of the tribes and Native individuals as well.

As in many children’s encyclopedias, important information is omitted. In the entry for the “Minnesota Uprising,” for instance, in which Little Crow’s Dakota band rose up against a myriad of injustices perpetrated by whites in the Minnesota River Valley, the final sentence says: “Though a military court sentenced more than 300 Dakota Sioux to death, President Lincoln reviewed the trials and pardoned all but 38.” What is left out is that the hanging of the 38 young Lakota men in 1862, memorialized every year in Mankato, Minnesota, is recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

The entry about “Bosque Redondo” says that “[o]ver 200 people died on the difficult march, known as the Long Walk of the Navajo.” On this death march of hundreds of miles, more than 3,000 died of cold and starvation—or were killed by soldiers who shot pregnant women, elders and all others who couldn’t keep up. All of this is documented, both in oral and written history.

About the “Carlisle Indian School,” there is this caption: “In the Carlisle School’s tin shop, students learned practical skills.” The assumption here (which was the assumption of the school’s founder) is that the Indian children did not learn, or were incapable of learning, practical skills at home in their own communities. And tinsmithing was not a “practical skill” for the students to take back to their peoples; rather, it was one of many industrial wage labor skills taught to Carlisle students. The entries on “Carlisle School,” “Hampton Institute,” and “Indian boarding schools,” are for the most part, positive descriptions of a theory and practice that devastated—and whose repercussions continue to devastate—Indian communities throughout North America.

The entry for “Rosebud Reservation” says, “Rosebud Reservation is in south-central Dakota and is home to the Sicangu Oyate, the Upper Brule Sioux Nations, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. As of 2005, their population is about 25,000.” The implication here is that the 25,000 persons are citizens of three separate Native nations occupying Rosebud. Actually, these are different names for the same people.

Then, there are the little, really annoying, things that a good copyeditor could have eliminated. For instance, an entry about Dallas Chief Eagle II, a well-known hoop dancer and storyteller, is inexplicably cross-referenced to Chief Joseph. And then, there’s this: “Some diners say eel tastes a little fishy, with firm and fatty flesh.” Well, um, eel is a kind of fish. Is it supposed to taste like chicken?

Full of dreary writing, sloppy scholarship, disjointed “facts,” pejorative terminology, and language that condescends to children and euphemizes, sensationalizes and trivializes Indian peoples, this series is to be seriously avoided.—Beverly Slapin

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