Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"I is for Indian Village"

Head on over to Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert's blog, Beyond the Mesas, and read his entry on December 16, 2009: "I is for Indian Village" - Photographs and Hopi Protocols.

When you go to a National Park, there are signs all over the place that tell you not to take items you find on the ground. Some parks have pottery shards. It is against the law to take those, and the federal government can fine you for taking things.

Visitors to Nambe Pueblo cannot take photographs. As Matt's post says, visitors are not allowed to take photographs at Hopi, either.

Please follow instructions! Don't take photographs!

[And of course, don't objectify Indian people by using us as items in your alphabet activities.]


Anonymous said...

Hi Debbie -

The author took down this blog in response to criticism. Thanks for raising the issue!

Debbie Reese said...

That's too bad, I think, that the author took it down. I understand why, though. We are often (me included) embarrassed by our own ignorance. I've said a lot of things that I was embarrassed about. Things that I said because I thought I knew this or that about this or that group, race, religion, nation...

I commented at I is for Indian Village yesterday morning. I'm pasting my remarks below, after a summary of "I is for Indian Village." The author of that page had been in Arizona visiting family and took photographs of what she called a "quaint Indian village." She posted several photographs of that village. In response, my colleague, Matt Gilbert, wrote about the Hopi policy on photographs. He linked to her site, and I linked to his (above).

The author's post "I is for Indian Village" had several comments, most of them quite impressed with the photographs.

I posted my comment yesterday morning. (cont'd in next comment)

Debbie Reese said...

Here's what I said:

Debbie Reese said...
Good morning!

I've been thinking about photographs taken at Hopi for a few weeks now. It is something I know about as part of who I am. I'm from Nambe Pueblo, in northern New Mexico. My grandfather was Hopi. The Pueblo peoples of New Mexico and Arizona are very careful about what can be photographed. This is due to a lot of photographs taken in the 1800s and 1900s that were subsequently put circulation in books, calendars, cards and the like, with captions that did not accurately reflect what was going on. On top of that, these photos led to further visits from tourists and researchers who continued that problem. Instead of viewing the Pueblo peoples as people, they were (and are) seen as exotic and primitive.

I'm a former elementary school teacher. I worked pretty hard amongst my colleagues, helping them understand why things like "I is for Indian" is problematic. It makes Indians into an object, just like an ice cream cone. Using "I" for "Indian" (American Indian) is also problematic because it obscures the fact that there IS no "Indian" that any image could reflect. There are over 500 DIFFERENT Native Nations in the United States. They're all different. What Matthew Gilbert (he posted above) does at Hopi is different from what I do at Nambe. It is akin to the problem with trying to draw a "European." Is there such a thing? We can say there is but how would we draw that European? Would we take elements from different European countries, put them all on a single person, and say that was ok? I don't think so. In an alphabet, are there pages "E is for European" or, "C is for Chinese"?

I don't find fault in you for doing this "I is for Indian Village." We're all raised in a society that has taught us, through movies and also through things we're taught in school.

We can all do a lot better, but only if we first recognize that there's a problem that is NOT of our own making, and second, if we do what we can to change what we do. In order to do that, we must start reading. I'm a professor in American Indian Studies. My PhD is in Curriculum and Instruction. I'm a former elementary school teacher. I know what teachers are up against. Low pay, little respect. To meet the needs of teachers, parents, and librarians who want to learn more about what is wrong with images of "Indians" in children's books and school materials, I've been writing about it for 4 years at American Indians in Children's Literature.

To find my site, do an internet search using "American Indians in Children's Literature." At my site you'll find some pretty intense critiques of favorite, classic, and best-selling children's books. I've written for Horn Book, School Library Journal, and Multicultural Education.

Debbie Reese

Later that day, I read the author's reply to Matt on his site (follow the link in the post that starts this thread).

I imagine that she was taken aback by his response, but, I also think she was thoughtful about it, and that led her to take down the photos.