Saturday, March 14, 2009


Theresa Sidel, a colleague in the American Indian Library Association, wrote to me, noting passages in Freedman's Washington at Valley Forge. In children's literature, Russell Freedman's books stand out for his style and research. When viewed for Native content, however, they fall short, as Theresa points out below.

We just got copies of "Washington at Valley Forge" by Russell Freedman, c. 2008, published by Holiday House ISBN: 978-0-8234-2069-8 (Hardcover)
The book only mentions American Indians on pages 33, 42, 47-48, 66, and 68.
No mention is made of Skenandoah, Chief of the Oneida Nation, who sent baskets of corn to the starving soldiers. One has to wonder why Freedman would fail to include that in a history book for children. I know it isn't the most well-known fact, but it is easily found on the internet.

The Oneida are mentioned as follows:

pg. 66:

"Lafayette's force included forty-seven Oneida Indian scouts, "Stout-looking fellows and remarkably neat," according to Private Joseph Plumb Martin, who was assigned to the expedition. The Oneidas had adopted Lafayette into their tribe and named him Kayweda, after one of their greatest warriors."
pg. 68:

"The Oneida scouts, bringing up the rear of the retreating American column, made their own contribution to Lafayette's escape. As British cavalrymen brandishing sabers galloped toward the retreating Americans, the Oneidas let loose with a hair-raising war whoop, startling the horsemen and frightening their steeds. The horses bolted and turned heel, giving the Americans time to reach the river safely. Later, when the British began their own retreat, the Oneidas rushed back across the river and harassed the enemy's flanks as the redcoats hurried toward Philadelphia."
Here is the one that bothers me the most though, pg. 47-48:

"A French interpreter at the camp was similarly moved while walking in the woods before breakfast one morning. From a distance he heard " a most powerful voice...yet melodious," singing a song from a popular French opera. He was astonished "when suddenly I saw...before me a tall American regimental and two large epaulets on his shoulders." The singer was a Canadian Abenaki who spoke French and English. Raised by Jesuit priests under French rule in Canada, he had joined the Americans at the beginning of the war; rising to the rank of colonel in the Continental army."
With everything he knew about this man why did he not include his name? Well, perhaps by some fluke it was never I went to the internet and found the piece with almost exact wording in less than five minutes: "Colonel Louis at Oriskany and Valley Forge" by Darren Bonaparte (Originally published in The People's Voice, September 30, 2005) the account of Peter Stephen Du Ponceau, a young French officer assigned to Baron von Steuben. If Freedman had gone to the next paragraph he would have known that the man was " Nia-man-rigounant,....Colonel Louis, it is the name which I received with the baptism."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Effects of American Indian stereotypes

In several places on American Indians in Children's Literature and in my writing, I reference resolutions of the American Sociological Association and the American Psychological Association. Both associations, in their resolutions, call for the end of use of Native imagery in sports mascots. The resolutions are based on research studies that document the harm caused by this sort of imagery.

Whether its a sports mascot or a character in a children's book, there are many similarities. Here's UIUC's now-officially-discontinued "chief illiniwek":

Shown here are some characters in children's books. See the similarities?


One of the people doing the research on effect of these images is Stephanie Fryberg at the University of Arizona. She was on our campus yesterday giving a lecture wherein she presented some of her research findings.

Its quite frightening. I'm not being alarmist or dramatic. Her research is compelling. There are consequences for all children exposed to stereotypical images of American Indians.

If you'd like a copy of her most recent publication, write to me and I'll send it to you. It appeared in BASIC AND APPLIED SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY in 2008, and is titled "Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots," by Stephanie Fryberg, Hazel Rose Markus, Daphna Oyserman and Joseph M. Stone.

Here's the abstract:

Four studies examined the consequences of American Indian mascots and other prevalent representations of American Indians on aspects of the self-concept for American Indian students. When exposed to Chief Wahoo, Chief Illinwek, Pocahontas, or other common American Indian images, American Indian students generated positive associations (Study 1, high school) but reported depressed state self-esteem (Study 2, high school), and community worth (Study 3, high school), and fewer achievement-related possible selves (Study 4, college). We suggest that American Indian mascots are harmful because they remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and, in this way, constrain how they can see themselves.

In the study, they showed high school students images of Pocahontas, Chief Wahoo, posters from the American Indian College Fund that say "have you seen a real Indian," and, statements reflecting negative stereotypes of American Indians. They tested self esteem and efficacy (community worth) of Native and non-Native students.

If you'd like me to send you the article, write to me at debreese at illinois dot edu.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Willow (from Buffy) on Columbus Day and Thanksgiving

Willow (Buffy's friend in Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and her mother do not celebrate Columbus Day or Thanksgiving. "It's a sham" she says. Awesome! This is the opening segment of episode 8, season 4...

Let's see how this episode unfolds...

Set in California, Buffy and Willow are in college now. At a groundbreaking for a new cultural center, turns out, there's a mission beneath the site. Zander fell into it and now he's sick, feverish.

Buffy wants to cook a Thanksgiving meal, saying "that's the point of Thanksgiving. Everyone has a place to go."

Hmm... there's a government project underneath campus, too, with guys who dress in fatigues and chase "hostiles" --- hostiles are vampires.

Some green smoke comes out of the mission, slithers along to the anthro office, into a glass case, and then materializes in the form of.... AN INDIAN. No feathers, just a headband and facepaint. He wears fringed buckskin, though. Trousers and a vest. He kills the anthro who is overseeing the dig of the mission.

In the anthro office, Buffy and Willow read the coroner's report. She was missing an ear! Willow and Buffy wonder why... They see the glass case, and the note card that reads "Early 1800s Chumash knife." Courese, it is missing! That's the knife the INDIAN --- who I guess is Chumash --- used to kill the anthro.

"Chumash," Giles says, "were indigenous to the whole area" (note the past tense verb).

Giles will do some research on the Chumash to see what he can learn. He muses "something was trapped there (in the mission) and wants release."

Angel tells Giles to send Buffy to talk to Father Gabriel, whose family dates back to Mission times...

She gets there, and finds the Indian, who has killed has killed Father Gabriel.

He says "You can't stop me! I am Vengeance. I am my people's cry. I am called Hus. I am seek vengeance! "You slaughtered my people. " Buffy fights him, but he turns into a bunch of crows and gets away.

Giles says "It's an Indian spirit of some kind. Common for them to turn into animal forms."

"Native American, not Indian" says Buffy. Giles says "oh right, I'm not up on all this."

Buffy can't quite fight this guy, out of guilt for the past.

Giles tells her to get over it because "he's killed innocent people."

Still, Buffy wants to find a "non-slayee way" to kill him.

Enter Willow with a pile of books about the Chumash and "atrocities." She reads about the Chumash, tells Willow and Giles that the Chumash were "fluffy indigenous kittens until we came along" and did awful things, like "imprisonment, forced labor, herded them into Missions. The few who tried to rebel were hanged. Proof of death was an ear." Ah---so that's why the anthro is missing an ear.

Willow wants to talk about giving something back to the Indians. Give them some land, says Giles, sarcastically.

Back in the anthro offices, the Indian is taking weapons from cases. Bows and the like.

Still talking about killing him... "He's a spirit, Willow says, not a demon." There's a big argument about what to do.

Meanwhile, the Indian spreads the weapons on the ground and starts chanting: "First people who dwelled.... Hear me and ascend." The Indian is, apparently, going to raise the dead.... And there they are! More Indians!

Willow refuses to look in books to find way to kill the Indian.

Buffy says "its hard, and he's been wronged, but we have to kill him."

Spike says "You came in, killed them, and took their land. You won! Stop feeling bad about it. You had better weapons and you massacred them. End of story. You exterminated his race. What can you possibly say to make him feel better?"

Buffy talks about wanting a nice quiet civilized dinner and just when she says 'civilized' an arrow flies in the window. She says "You have casino's now!"

Arrows fly in, Giles says "we're under seige." The fight begins. Buffy realizes "these guys don't die!"

An Indian turns into a bear. Spike freaks. He's tied to a chair (Buffy did that to him), shot full of arrows. He's a vampire, though so he can't die either.

Buffy realizes that their own weapons (from that case) can kill them. All gone, now. All of them.

Buffy, Willow, the gang... They all sit at the table, eating their Thanksgiving meal and talking about the fight, how they worked together to fight the Indians.

Willow mopes that she turned into Custer in two seconds, fighting the Indians.

End of episode.

Such mixed messages, mockery mixed with sensitivity. Kind of a mess.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

YUROK, by Barbara A. Gray-Kanatiiosh

[Editor's Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without the written permission of Marlette Grant-Jackson at Humboldt University. She is the Curriculum Resource Coordinator and Student Services Advisor at Humboldt's Indian Teacher & Educational Personnel Program.]


by Barbara A. Gray-Kanatiiosh
ABDO publishing 2007
32 pages

Not worth its weight in Dentilium.

Another easy-reference children's book series on Native American Indians that gives children misguided information in regards to a people who are still here. The subject headings: Original homelands, Society, Homes, Food, Clothing, Crafts, Family, Children, Myths, War, Important Members, Contact with Europeans, and the Tribe or Nation Today, are cookie cutter patterns for at least four sets of ten books on many known tribes.

In past tense the book tells you some information about the Yurok people, but doesn't acknowledge that we are still a living breathing culture living in our traditional territory, in northwest California. Our territory spans from the mouth of the Klamath to the confluences of the Klamath and Trinity Rivers and from Crescent City to Trinidad. Yurok members live all around the world, but all members know where their ancestral home is. Or that we still fight to this day to exercise our sovereign rights, including fishing and hunting rights. It would have been nice to see a contemporary Yurok person as an example in the Important Member section, such as Sue Masten – past tribal chair, and political proponent for the Yurok tribe or Ray Mattz who has been instrumental in keeping our ancestral fishing rights.

A conversation with the Tribe's language specialists would have guided the author to understand that there is more than one word we use to refer to ourselves Puel lik-lah which means down river people, or Oohl – which refers to Indian people, the word chosen in the book is Olekwo’l which would have been used in pre-human times and not used today. As for identifying oneself as in an introduction it is based on which ancestral village or area the person's family is from and their family names. I'm sorry to say but this book is not worth the $18.85 that is being charged and I am sorry to see that the oppression has now become internalized, for the book is being written by a Native. Even the website to find out more about Yuroks is , instead of the actual tribal page

Illustrator David Kanietakeron Fadden has given this book a look of authenticity with his detailed renderings of the culture, people and life style. Mr. Fadden did take the time to make his artwork reflect our patterns, homes, and regalia, but not necessarily the diversity of color variation among our people within his drawings.

The photo’s in the book could have used some extra information.
  • On the cover a current photo of a young Yurok girl in ceremonial regalia is used without reference to who she is, just the name of the photographer and the site the photo was bought from.

  • On page 29 a cropped Associated Press photo of a 2004 ceremony for the Return of Indian Island to the Wiyot Tribe shows a close up of Ty Allen in full female regalia and the caption reads “Today, the Yurok continue to observe ceremonies. Ty Allen is a Yurok-Karok Indian. In 2004, he participated in a ceremony for the return of sacred land to the Wiyot Tribe.”

  • On page 30 there is a picture of a non-Yurok man in traditional plains regalia and the caption reads “This Yurok man rides a horse during a festival. He is dressed in traditional ceremonial clothing.” The regalia and man are NOT Yurok, this promotes the Hollywood stereotypes.

There are so many things wrong with the book that if I were to address each of them here I would re-write the book for the author. Hmmm maybe that's what we should do is write our own book for our own children??

to' kee kem ney-wu-chek.
(I will see you later)
Marlette Grant-Jackson