Saturday, April 25, 2009

Louise Erdrich - 2009 Commencement Address at Dartmouth

Add this to your Author Study file of Louise Erdrich! She's giving the 2009 Commencement Address at Dartmouth. She will also be given an Honorary Degree.

Details here: Native American author Louise Erdrich '76 to give Dartmouth's 2009 Commencement address Sunday, June 14.

Here's an excerpt:

The daughter of a Native American (Ojibwe and French) mother and a German American father, Erdrich is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota and came to Dartmouth as a member of the College’s first class to include women. Since then she has built a career as a novelist, poet and author of children’s books, authoring 14 books that have become bestsellers or won awards — including the O. Henry Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Heartland Prize for Fiction. She was twice nominated for a National Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. One of her four daughters, Aza, is a member of the Dartmouth Class of 2011.


News: Alexie working on sequel to ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY

Editors Note on Feb 25, 2018: Please see my apology about promoting Alexie's work. --Debbie


Fans of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian will be happy to know that he is working on a sequel. I read this in an April 21st interview of Alexie published at a website called

Some of you may know that he is working on another YA novel called Radioactive Love Song. In the interview, he says he set that book aside to work on a sequel to Diary. In the sequel, Arnold is a sophomore, and there's a romance with Penelope.

The interview is packed with information. He writes about the death of his sister and father. Here's an excerpt, about his appearance on the Colbert show:

You were on the Colbert Report in October—one of the only guests who’s ever been able to make Stephen Colbert speechless. What was it like being on the show?
It was great, but it’s funny because Indians are so invisible and because my career has gotten so big that I think people…they don’t forget that I’m Indian, but it becomes very secondary to the success. When I was on Colbert I had a double consciousness or triple consciousness about it…I was in the moment but then I was also thinking that this is really revolutionary for Indians…a rez boy holding his own verbally with one of the best in the business. It was big. I was proud that I also have that artistic ability. It was fun. He was a great guy. He came into the green room afterwards and congratulated me, which was very decent of him.

Alexie also talks about poetry, his love of writing poetry, and about his new book of poems, Face. Do head over to the site and read the interview.

Disclosure: Readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know I've written a lot about Alexie's Diary and that it is on my lists of recommended books. Recently, a couple of friends have found it problematic for its use of the word 'faggot.' In light of that and the recent suicides of two 11 year old boys who were taunted as gay, I'm going to reread the novel.


Thursday, April 23, 2009


Below is a satirical essay by Beverly Slapin. She's provided me with several of these. They are, individually and collectively, outstanding. This one, How to Write a Children's Encyclopedia of Native American History and Culture (For Fun and Profit), is a companion to her critical review of a 2009 encylopedic set called "American History & Culture Encyclopedia.

Click on over to the Humor page at Oyate, scroll down to see the descriptions, and order copies of two satirical books they offer. Ten Little White People, and, Basic Skills Caucasian Americans Workbook are invaluable for helping people see the problems that can--and do--occur when someone (a writer) doesn't really know what they're looking at... Ten Little White People is $5.00, and Basic Skill is $13.00. I've bought many copies and keep buying more. They have a way of disappearing... People love them and borrow them, passing them along to friends.


[Note: This essay may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2009 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

How to Write a Children's Encyclopedia of Native American History and Culture (For Fun and Profit)

Everyone knows that children are incapable of complex thought and therefore need to be told what to think, so it’s very important to follow the established rules that have, for decades, enabled publishers to churn out the amazingly simplistic reference tools known as “children’s encyclopedias.” When putting together a children’s encyclopedia that deals with a particular ethnic group, especially great care must be taken. This author has used Rourke’s Native American History & Culture Encyclopedia (Rourke, 2009) as a model for creating a truly remarkable piece of work.

1. Don’t worry about getting your facts straight. Adults don’t read this kind of stuff for information. Feel free to write in one volume, for instance,

“Richard Henry Pratt started Carlisle School, as well as Hampton Institute,”

and in another,

“Former Civil War Brigadier General Samuel Chapman Armstrong founded [Hampton Institute].”

2. Whenever you can, describe Indians in the past tense and be sure to portray their lives so as to make them appear exotic. A good example:

“[The Karankawa] were tall people who lived in small huts, traveled in canoes and hunted with bows and arrows. They wore tattoos and used animal fat to protect themselves from mosquitoes.”

Another good example:

“Pomo men were often naked and the women wore deerskin shirts and kilts.”

Yet another good example:

“[Apalachee] men painted their bodies before battle and scalped their enemies.”

3. It’s perfectly OK to get the details wrong. No one will notice. A good example:

“[The Potawatomi] hunted, farmed, and collected syrup from maple trees.”

Another good example:

“Main foods [of the Illinois] included bison, deer, fish, maple sap…”

Yet another good example:

“[The Ojibwe] flavored their foods with maple syrup, which they harvested in the spring.”

4. Whenever possible, use the term “warriors” as a synonym for “Indians.” A good example:

“[The] Haida made sea journeys in huge boats carved from the massive trunks of red cedar trees. These boats could hold up to 60 warriors.”

5. Make sure to state and restate the obvious so that children will come to think that universal implements and activities have a special meaning for Indians. A good example:

“Knives had many uses for Native Americans.”

Another good example:

“Different colors and symbols mean different things to different dancers.”

Yet another good example:

“Native Americans have a rich history of fun and challenging recreational activities.”

6. Feel free to invent cultural reasons for occurrences about which you don’t know enough to describe realistically. A good example:

“Newborn Lakota boys received an elk’s tooth to bring them a long life, since the tooth of a dead elk is the last part to rot away.”

7. Make sure to write in a way that will encourage the “eeeyyyuuu” response from children. A good example:

“[The Paiute] ate roots, lizards, grubs, and insects throughout the year.”

Another good example:

“[California Indians] collected berries, other nuts, seeds, roots, and insects like caterpillars and grasshoppers.”

8. If you’re not sure whether a particular practice actually occurred, feel free to equivocate. Children will interpret inexplicit statements as fact. A good example:

“[The Calusa] also may have practiced human sacrifice and a form of cannibalism.”

9. Describe the little you’ve read about Indian belief systems in a way that presents Indian peoples as superstitious. A good example:

“The early Zapotecs believed that they came from trees, rocks, and jaguars that turned into people.”

Another good example:

“[The Mandan] believed that their ancestors came from under the earth, and climbed out on a grapevine.”

10. If you can, describe Native leaders as having made decisions motivated solely by alcohol. A good example:

“The Apache leader, Geronimo, was so fond of tiswin that he and his followers left their reservation in eastern Arizona because brewing tiswin was illegal there. They attempted to return to their homeland where they could once more drink tiswin. However, U.S. soldiers arrested them and returned them to the reservation.”

11. Whenever possible, describe Native peoples and settlers as getting along really well together. A good example:

“The Wampanoag and Pilgrims feasted together to cement the bonds of their friendship and express joy in the success of the Pilgrim’s [sic] first crop.”

12. And never, ever use the word “rape.” A good example:

“[A]fter a French trader mistreated Red Shoes’s [sic] wife, Red Shoes switched his allegiance to the English.”

Another good example:

“[The] Pyramid Lake War erupted on the California Trail in 1860 between the Northern Paiute and traders who stole and mistreated two Northern Paiute girls.”

13. Describe both sides as benefiting equally from treaties. A good example:

“Through [the Doak’s Stand Treaty], the Choctaw gave the United States more than five million acres of their fertile land in exchange for undeveloped land west of the Mississippi. This totaled one-third of their territory.”

14. Or, you may describe treaties as voluntary giveaways of land. A good example:

“In 1855, Seattle and other area tribal leaders signed the Point Elliott Treaty, giving away most of their lands. The treaty allowed them to hunt and fish on their former homelands.”

15. Make sure that your writing gives the appearance of neutrality. A good example:

“In the 1800s, struggles with trappers, traders, miners, and Mormon settlers led to the Shoshone War.”

16. At the same time, give children an understanding of why warfare with the Indians was justified. A good example:

“In the early 1860s, Great Basin Indians, including the Shoshone, interfered with mule trains, the Pony Express, railroad workers, telegraph lines, and stagecoach runs.”

17. Remember the old adage, “History is written by the victor,” so you can write with a clear conscience. A good example:

“[The Klickitat] land was in the path of U.S. settlers. The Klickitat refused to sign treaties that gave away most of their land to the United States. As a result, in 1855, the United States went to war with the Klickitat. The Klickitat surrendered and released their lands to the United States.”

Another good example:

“Seminole Wars occurred in the 1800s when American troops fought for Seminole removal from today’s Florida. Plantation owners saw the Seminole as a threat for taking in their escaped slaves and living near an important river trade route.”

18. Always find ways to blame Native peoples for their own suffering and eventual demise. A good example:

“The Plains tribes came to depend so much on hunting bison that it became a point of weakness. In the mid-1800s, when soldiers, western settlers, and native [sic] peoples hunted bison to near extinction, many tribes suffered.”

19. Sanitize historical events so as not to traumatize child readers with bloody details.
A good example:

“In 1775, [the Diegueño] rejected Spanish control, but the Spanish had better weapons and remained in charge. Today, they live among 12 different reservations.”

20. However, you can relieve boredom with an occasional really gory passage. A good example:

“Along their journeys, the explorers entered Native towns, stealing food and taking slaves. They killed the Native Americans who refused slavery by either stabbing or burning them to death, or feeding them to large Spanish dogs.”

21. If you have to describe an inexcusable event, find a way to excuse it. A good example:

“[Little Crow] was shot in the back while picking raspberries with his son in 1863. His body was then mutilated by angry settlers for his participation in the Dakota War.”

22. Be sure to pepper the volumes with pejorative terminology and descriptions, such as “hut” rather than home, “nomadic” rather than traveling between territories, “hunting and gathering” rather than living off the bounty of land, and “tribal members” rather than citizens of a particular nation.

23. Show how American standards of success did not apply to Indians. A good example:

“Native Americans did not make good slaves. Male slaves saw farming as women’s work.”

24. Emphasize hard-to-pronounce words and phrases relevant to the study of Native Americans. Good examples:

“corn husks (KORN-husks),” “civilize (SIH-vuh-lize),” “kidney stones (KID-nee STONEZ),” “exhaustion (ed-ZAWST-shun),” “total warfare” (TOH-tuhl WOR-fair), “human sacrifice” (HEW-muhn SAK-ruh-fyes), “exclusive” (eks-CLOO-sihv), and, of course, “casinos (kah-SEE-nohz).”

Leave out terms such as “Manifest Destiny,” “land theft,” and “sovereignty,” because they’re controversial.

25. And finally, ensure that children will come away knowing exactly why climate change is responsible for the disappearance of Native American peoples. A good example:

“Surviving the icy climate and whale hunting is the basis of traditional Inuit culture.”


Read Slapin's review below, AND make sure to read her work of satire, How to Write a Children's Encyclopedia of Native American History (for fun and profit.)


[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Lundgren, Julie K. (vols. 2, 4, 6, 8) and Sandy Sepehri (vols. 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10), Rourke’s Native American History & Culture Encyclopedia. Rourke, 2009, 10 volumes, grades 4-7

Despite the economic downturn and because of the dilemmas of harried librarians trying to accommodate report-driven children, the relentless and mindless production line manufacturing of these kinds of encyclopedia-like commodities continues unabated. With a total page count for the ten volumes of 640, including lots of recycled powwow and Curtis photos, 12-point type, identical covers, back matter, and introductions (in which the first two words are, no kidding, “In 1492…”), this overpriced cookie-cutter production is typical of the problem.

The last ten pages of each volume are nearly identical, containing the same quote from Luther Standing Bear, a map of the “culture areas” of North America, a list of tribes organized by these areas, and an index and pronunciation guide for the volume. There is no bibliography or list of references, so students and their teachers will be unable to check the source of any research that may have gone into this series. Each volume also contains an “adapted legend” (read stolen and mutilated beyond recognition) from a particular Indian nation. There is no author cited for any of these “legends,” and they are all illustrated by Charles Reasoner, whose work appeared in the atrocious “Native American Legend” series, also from Rourke.

The final volume is reserved for a 7-page timeline, a 10-page alphabetical listing of tribes and tribal groups, a 12-page glossary, a 16-page index, and a bunch of cockamamie projects, such as constructing an igloo out of frozen dough and finding one’s “animal totem.” Although Mark J. Johnston and Scott Lyons are cited as project consultants for volumes 6, 7, and 9; and Lyons for volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8; there is no consultant cited for volume 10.

Here and there, one can find a smattering of relatively accurate entries describing historical and contemporary artists, political individuals and organizations, and issues such as water rights and the Trail of Broken Treaties. Some of the entries, particularly those about Ojibwe people and events, are informative and well written. One suspects that Lyons, who is Leech Lake Ojibwe, had something to do with these. But even here, Roberta Hill Whiteman’s name is spelled “Whitman,” Sarah Winnemucca’s nation is spelled “Pauite,” Black Hawk, the 19th Century Sauk and Fox leader, is described as a “Sioux war chief,” and Vi Hilbert, who passed away in 2004, is written about in the present tense: “Now that she is an elder herself…”

Although the series lists only two authors, the entries are apparently written by a bunch of different individuals, which might account for the opposite accounts of the same persons or events. For instance, “Meet Geronimo” is relatively accurate, ending with this: “Geronimo remains a hero, and his deep responsibility to protect his people has become legendary.” Yet, the entry about “tiswin,” a traditional fermented beverage, describes Geronimo’s leading his band back to their homeland as motivated solely by his fondness for this alcoholic drink.

Similarly, the purpose of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (also known as the Dawes Severalty Act), is described in one entry as beneficent, “to encourage Native Americans to become farmers,” yet its result, as described in another entry, was “to strip Native Americans of much of their land and ruin them financially.” In fact, the purpose of the Dawes Act was to break up Native lands held in common, and open those lands up for resettlement. The result of this massive government land grab was the further impoverishment of the tribes and Native individuals as well.

As in many children’s encyclopedias, important information is omitted. In the entry for the “Minnesota Uprising,” for instance, in which Little Crow’s Dakota band rose up against a myriad of injustices perpetrated by whites in the Minnesota River Valley, the final sentence says: “Though a military court sentenced more than 300 Dakota Sioux to death, President Lincoln reviewed the trials and pardoned all but 38.” What is left out is that the hanging of the 38 young Lakota men in 1862, memorialized every year in Mankato, Minnesota, is recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

The entry about “Bosque Redondo” says that “[o]ver 200 people died on the difficult march, known as the Long Walk of the Navajo.” On this death march of hundreds of miles, more than 3,000 died of cold and starvation—or were killed by soldiers who shot pregnant women, elders and all others who couldn’t keep up. All of this is documented, both in oral and written history.

About the “Carlisle Indian School,” there is this caption: “In the Carlisle School’s tin shop, students learned practical skills.” The assumption here (which was the assumption of the school’s founder) is that the Indian children did not learn, or were incapable of learning, practical skills at home in their own communities. And tinsmithing was not a “practical skill” for the students to take back to their peoples; rather, it was one of many industrial wage labor skills taught to Carlisle students. The entries on “Carlisle School,” “Hampton Institute,” and “Indian boarding schools,” are for the most part, positive descriptions of a theory and practice that devastated—and whose repercussions continue to devastate—Indian communities throughout North America.

The entry for “Rosebud Reservation” says, “Rosebud Reservation is in south-central Dakota and is home to the Sicangu Oyate, the Upper Brule Sioux Nations, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. As of 2005, their population is about 25,000.” The implication here is that the 25,000 persons are citizens of three separate Native nations occupying Rosebud. Actually, these are different names for the same people.

Then, there are the little, really annoying, things that a good copyeditor could have eliminated. For instance, an entry about Dallas Chief Eagle II, a well-known hoop dancer and storyteller, is inexplicably cross-referenced to Chief Joseph. And then, there’s this: “Some diners say eel tastes a little fishy, with firm and fatty flesh.” Well, um, eel is a kind of fish. Is it supposed to taste like chicken?

Full of dreary writing, sloppy scholarship, disjointed “facts,” pejorative terminology, and language that condescends to children and euphemizes, sensationalizes and trivializes Indian peoples, this series is to be seriously avoided.—Beverly Slapin

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

News about Cynthia Leitich Smith's JINGLE DANCER

Jingle Dancer, one of my favorite picture books is in its 18th printing!

Congratulations, Cyn!

Here's some links:

Jingle Dancer Curriculum Guide

Read Cynthia's story behind the story about Jingle Dancer.

And buy a copy! Let's buy up all copies in the 18th printing so it'll move to a 19th, and a 20th, and a 21st......

Monday, April 20, 2009

Native musician: Darryl Tonemah

Take a listen to Darryl Tonemah! The clip is from a performance he gave at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, August 2008. If you're interested in learning more about him, read An Interview with Dr. Darryl Tonemah. He is Kiowa/Comanche/Tuscarora. He is not involved with children's literature, as far as I know, so that's not the reason I'm sharing this video. It is here because I like his music. This song makes me smile.

Also take a look at this clip. I don't know how to insert it.
"I Know" - from the Kennedy Center Performance. Before singing the song, he tells about a woman who questioned his identity, saying that Indians should play flute or drum and sing about eagles and buffaloes. He goes on to talk about oppression, and internalized oppression.