Thursday, December 31, 2009


Judy Dow (Abenaki) and Doris Seale (Dakota, Cree, Abenaki) sent me this review in response to the query from Patricia O. a few weeks ago about Tomie DePaola's books.  Judy and Doris are board members of Oyate, and Doris is one of its co-founders. 

The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie dePaola

As usually Tomie dePaola has done an exquisite job with the paintings in this book. The colors are bright; the pictures are simplistic and can easily be understood by a reader of the book’s intended age group.  A spiritual leader does explain to Little Gopher that he has a “special gift” and “that he should not struggle” because “his path would not be the same as others”. Most Native people believe everyone has a special gift; life itself is a special gift and that nobody will follow the same path. However, it seems to be very unrealistic that a young boy would go out alone for a Dream-Vision without guidance of some kind from an elder or spiritual leader. Furthermore when this “spiritual event” is completed Little Gopher then interprets what his vision meant. Again this would be highly unusual.

Little Gopher eventually begins to paint pictures “of great hunts, of great deeds, of great Dream-Visions” so that “the people would always remember” says dePaola. This seems odd to us. How did Little Gopher learn of these great deeds, great hunts and great visions after all "his path was different then the others". Little Gopher was not a warrior or a hunter and had only one vision and no elders were present in the story to teach him of these great things? Curious isn't it.

One more thought crosses our mind. Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja Coccinea) are indigenous to Latin American not the plains of the west as the story implies.

However beautiful the paintings in this book are we would not recommend it or the companion video because of the complex issues that the intended audience would not understand.

Judy Dow (Abenaki)
Doris Seale (Dakota, Cree, Abenaki)


Quijotesca said...

There actually are specific strains of Indian Paintbrushes that grow in North America. I know we get them in Texas and apparently they pop up in some other states as well.

Unknown said...

There are a lot of species of Castilleja native to North America, from Alaska southwards (there are also some native to Asia), C. coccinea among them (I'm not sure if it's even found native in Latin America). So I'm not sure where that objection came from. Castilleja is both common and native in the central/southwest states such as Colorado and Wyoming; I see them all over the Colorado mountains every year, and they are not an introduced species.

Otherwise, the book does indeed have problems.

Debbie Reese said...

Judy Dow and Doris Seale submitted a comment by email. They were unable to do it via this interface. I've had trouble with the interface myself, trying to post to other blogs. If you ever have trouble submitting a comment, send it to me directly by email and I will post it for you.


Judy Dow and Doris Seale said:

It is true that Indian Paintbrushes grow throughout North America today. This is a creation story that states that this flower originated in the plains. Like many other plants that originated in Latin American it traveled north throughout this continent.

Unknown said...

I'm not so sure that Castilleja "originated" in Latin America (its northeast Asian distribution suggests otherwise to me--it would have had to spread all the way up through North America and over the Bering land bridge in a geologically pretty short span of time--not impossible, but I'd want to see more evidence).

Anyway, that's not really relevant to Di Paola's "creation story" being a fabrication, which is the real problem here.

Patricia O said...

Thank you for the information.

Patricia O.

Asgasdi Usdi said...

I'm also concerned about the repeated use of the term shaman being used. It is a word that anthropologists have assigned to us that we have been trying for years to correct. When it is introduced at a young age the problem of it's inacurate use begins at a young age. While Tomie's illustrations are lovely the protagonist and his village are a mishmash of cultures and fantasy reinforcing the stereotypical plains Indian that the dominant culture assumes exists rather that the actual beauty of our many cultures.