Saturday, March 07, 2009

Richard Scarry's Indians

A few years ago, I read about stereotypical Indians in Richard Scarry's books, specifically, the ones in Best Word Book Ever. I started looking for them in his books but couldn't find any. The books I was looking through were newer editions from the local library. The images I was looking for, I realized, were in the older versions. The newer ones, in other words, have been revised.

Stereotypical images of Indians? Gone! Hurray!

Here's what they looked like, before they were revised. I found some cowboy and Indian chicks in his Please and Thank You book:

This morning, a colleague (thanks, Rebecca!) sent me an email, pointing me to a flickr page that has side/by/side comparisons of images that changed from earlier to more recent editions. Do take a look at all of them, but study the ones of Indians, and read the comments.

Boats and Ships - Rabbit in headdress paddling canoe vs Rabbit in canoe

I is for Ice Cream - It's the page for the letter I, and it had a mouse wearing a headdress.

UPDATE, MARCH 10, 3:10 Central Time

In a comment just submitted, "French Connection" asks why I have "not recommended" in the label for this book. Thank you for pointing that out. To clarify what I mean, if you've got an older version of the book that has all those stereotypes, including the Indian ones, I encourage you to remove that book and replace it with one of the newer ones.

And, French Connection, you don't think your children developed "stilted" ideas about American Indians by reading this book...   Can you ask them to draw an Indian, see what they draw, ask them why they did so, and report back to us? If they don't draw feathers on their Indians, can you ask them why they did not? I look forward to hearing from you! Thanks!

Update, March 11, 2009

Thanks to Heidi, I've got images from Scarry's Find Your ABC's uploaded to Images of Indians:

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

This just in: LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE (in Arizona)

A colleague just sent me an article from an Arizona newspaper. (Thanks, Tricia!) The article is titled "Each day, Tempe teacher turns to 'Little House' books to calm kids."

The first paragraph reads:

"Every day after lunch for 32 years, second-grade teacher Becky Bernard has read a chapter aloud from the "Little House" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, transporting her students to a simpler time."

The reading apparently gets them calmed down after playing outside at recess. She adopts different voices as she reads to the children, using a "snotty" voice for Nellie and a sweet one for Ma. I wonder how she reads "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" (the phrase appears in the book four times)?

I wonder how many Native kids she's read to in those 32 years? She is in Arizona...

How many kids, in these 32 years, heard her say "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."

I wonder how the Native kids felt hearing that, and, I wonder what effect it had on the non-Native kids?

She is quoted as saying that there are many wonderful books available now. For the well-being of all the children in her classes, she really should set aside LITTLE HOUSE and read them something else.

"Indian Day"

I'm at the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale, reading the American Indian Magazine, Vol. IV, No. 2, April-June, 1916, I came across an article about Indian Day. It is on page 189. The magazine was published by the Society of American Indians, which was formed by influential Native people in 1911.

"The First Indian Day"

May 13, American Indian Day. For the first time the race which roamed the western continent before the white man set foot on its shores is being honored with a day which bears that race's name. The event gives occasion for comment as tardy national recognition of a people who have to a large extent proved their worth. But how well and how comprehensively he proved it is a matter about which a great many persons still need enlightenment.

There is yet a widespread tendency to think of the American Indian as he used to be, rather than as he now is. Where is the small boy who does not picture the Indian as a savage in war paint and feathers, ready to sally forth with tomahawk and spear to avenge himself upon his foes? Where is the small girl who does not avoid reading the Indian stories which so delight her brother, and does not feel sorry for other little girls who live on prairies where they are liable to an unexpected visit from the Indians almost any hour of the day or night? Where is the father who does not enjoy getting an Indian costume for his little boy and even take pleasure in helping him put up a wigwam in the back yard? And where is the mother who does not clap her hands over her ears when that same small son and his pals chase one another round the house, "yelling like Indians"?

In the evening perhaps the family go to the nearest motion picture house. The most exciting film is a story of hairbreadth escapes from the Indians. There is usually nothing to indicate when the events are supposed to have taken place, but the impression gained is that they are comparatively recent. The children go home and dream the story over again that night to repeat its details next day at school or elsewhere.

Next week the circus comes to town. Flaring posters show in advance the "Wild West" show which is to be such a prominent part of the program, and describe in graphic terms the side show in which several Indian families are to be on exhibition. Emphasis is laid on the war dance with which those who pay ten cents admission will be regaled.

In the summer there come those happy days when the family go on a picnic to some near-by resort. Among the attractions along the main boulevard there is probably an Indian shop. Here may be purchased little birchbark canoes, moccasins, bows and arrows, and beads of many colors. If the shop is somewhat pretentious is may even offer for sale Navajo blankets and specimens of basketry and pottery. Perhaps these were made by American Indians, but more likely they were not.

Written almost 100 years ago, it could have been written yesterday...

The day to honor Native peoples? That'd be "American Indian Day" celebrated the day after Thanksgiving.

The small boy of today, if asked to draw an Indian, would certainly draw one in paint and feathers.

The small girl takes great delight in reading Little House on the Prairie.

The father getting an Indian costume and wigwam for his son? Hmm... Boy Scouts, maybe? Order of the Arrow?

And the mother who asks her small son and his pals to stop "yelling like Indians"? If you search Google blogs with "wild Indians" you'll find Todd, writing on March 1st, 2009 "...I would not tolerate them acting like a couple of wild Indians..." and Heather, on March 2nd, "I told the boys to settle down and quit acting like wild Indians..." and Raj, on March 3rd, "...Newton and Pye, running around the house like a pair of wild Indians."

The movies? How about Mel Gibson's Apocalypto...

Wild West shows? Not on tour or on stage that I know of in the U.S., but visit Disney Village in Paris and you can see that show this evening, at 6:30 or 9:30! If you want a preview, there's one on Youtube.

As for birchbark canoes, moccasins, bows and arrows, and beads and the like, your local toy store will have what you need...

Clearly, we haven't made much progress in the last 100 years. What are you doing to change that?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Rubbed the wrong way"

In an interview she gave to Vermont Public Radio, Beth Kanell was asked about criticism of her book, Darkness Under the Water. She characterized the people who are critical of her inaccurate, melodramatic, sensationalized presentation of the Vermont Eugenics Project and its effects on the Abenaki people of Vermont as being "rubbed the wrong way" by what she did.

We are, in fact, talking about a genocidal program that she used as a backdrop for a murder mystery. We object to what she did because her melodrama has the effect of negating the truth of what actually happened.

Characterizing us as being "rubbed the wrong way" is another indicator that she lacks the depth and insight to understand that history, Native peoples, and our voices and work. She says she's bringing attention to this history, but she's only hurting the people she apparently wants to help.

We don't need her kind of help.

With this book she adds to the body of misinformation about who American Indians are---the sort of misinformation my students have to unlearn. With this book, she miseducates, and so do teachers who use the book in their classrooms.

Taxpayers reading this post.... some of your tax dollars are going towards undoing the sorts of things students "learn" in school.

Teachers reading this post... when your students take college classes in American Indian Studies, they feel betrayed by what you gave them, and they put what they learned from you in that "lies my teacher told me" framework laid out by James Loewen.

Those who listen to Vermont Public Radio... Ask the station to invite Doris Seale, or Judy Dow, or the author of the book Kanell cites as her primary source of information, Nancy Gallagher, to be interviewed on the station.

NOT bringing their perspective to the program is a lot like repeating what was done with the Eugenics Project itself. Ignoring and silencing the voices of Native people.

[Note: This book has been discussed here several times. Scroll down to the very bottom of this page and see the set of links there.]