Friday, October 30, 2009

George Littlechild's THIS LAND IS MY LAND

Among my favorite books is George Littlechild's This Land Is My Land, published in 1993 by Children's Book Press. Written and illustrated by Littlechild, the book won the Jane Addams Peace Award.

The title, of course, is familiar. Across the United States, in schools and gatherings, people sing "This land is my land, this land is your land..." with a certain patriotic warmth and fervor. But when a Native person utters those words, it is quite different. Those five words have a different meaning...

Littlechild is a member of the Plains Cree Nation. Opening the book, I pause at the dedication, which is a set of black and white photographs of Littlechild, his mother, his grandfather, grandmother, great-grandfathers, great-grandmothers, and his great-great-grandfathers and great-great-grandmothers.

The title page shows a Native man and a white man, facing each other. I look at that illustration and the words above it--This Land Is My Land--and I'm reminded of a film I watched recently. (The title of that film is You Are on Indian Land and I highly recommend it.) That illustration appears later in the book. Its title is "Mountie and Indian Chief." The accompanying text reads:

This picture brings you face to face with two different cultures. The Mountie is a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman sent by the Queen of England and the Government of Canada to enforce the law of the Europeans. The Chief is a leader of the Plains Cree. He is protecting our people and our way of life.

That last line "...protecting our people and our way of life" is beautifully said. With those words, Littlechild provides readers with a different view of Native people who fought Europeans in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s. Throughout, Littlechild's words carry a great deal of information. What he says, and what he does not say, too...  For example, on the first page of the book, titled "I love the moon, the stars, and the ancestors," he writes

In those days our Nation, the Plains Cree people, followed the buffalo in the spring and summer.

My response to his "our Nation" is a joyful "AWESOME!!!"  Immediately, he provides teachers with the opportunity to teach children that Native peoples in the US and Canada were and are members of nations. Note, too, that he uses the word "followed" instead of "roamed." Far too many times, in too many children's books, Plains Indians (and others, too) are described as "roaming" over the land. It's a good word for obscuring Nationhood and intellect. He doesn't use it, and neither should any teacher.

Littlechild's art (in words and illustration) is about Columbus, significance of the number four, boarding school, and racism. Each page, each illustration, is worth an extended study. I highly recommend This Land Is My Land.


patricia said...

Thank you for sharing!

Jean Mendoza said...

I read awhile back that Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to This Land is Your Land in reaction to the somewhat jingoistic subtext (and uncritical popular affection for) the tune God Bless America. Some performances of This Land Is Your Land include politically charged (progressive) verses. Ironically, there is no mention of indigenous people in the song. That's one thing that makes George Littlechild's use of it so apropos; as if he's speaking back to some otherwise progressive voices (Guthrie, Pete Seeger and others who have recorded the song), saying "Remember. We won't be left out of this."

I REALLY like George Littlechild's work in this book, too.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Debbie, for posting the link to the TAWL list. George Littlechild's text "This is my land" is the perfect way to introduce American Indian perspectives into the classroom in meaningful way. So much of what is done in the name of education is a denial of actual history. Thank you Debbie for bringing this blessing to my attention today, and reminding about the power of picture books and authentic voices. Besides I now have another great author’s books to add to my library at our Literacy Center here in Connecticut.