Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who is Grandma Dowdel?

As I work on a critical essay about Richard Peck's A Season of Gifts, I will share interesting bits...

Like the one I came across just now. When Peck gave his acceptance speech for the Newberry Medal (available in Horn Book July/August 2001), he said:

And who is Grandma Dowdel? Since nobody but a reader ever became a writer, Grandma Dowdel marches in a long tradition. She is the American tall tale in a Lane Bryant dress. There's more than a bit of Paul Bunyan about her, and a touch of the Native American trickster tradition: she may just be Kokopelli without the flute. (p. 399-400)

Interesting, eh? Kokopelli without the flute...  Back then (2000), Peck had Native American imagery in his mind. I wonder what he knows about Kokopelli?And, I wonder if his other novels or writings reference American Indians in some way?

Previously, on American Indians in Children's Literature, I wrote about A Season of Gifts...
Tuesday, September 29, 2009: Richard Peck's A SEASON OF GIFTS

Friday, November 27, 2009

Beyond the Mesas

On this day, November 27, 2009, most people are out shopping. It is the day after Thanksgiving, known as "Black Friday."

But did you know that today is also Native American Day? Yep, someone decided that the day after Thanksgiving would be designated as Native American Day. Along with that designation, there's words to the effect that teachers provide children with information about American Indians.

But oops! Wait! No school on Native American Day! I know some teachers and librarians provide students with instruction and books about American Indians during the month of November because the entire month is "Native American Month." I'd rather all the info about us not be delivered or confined to this month... And I'd certainly prefer that Native American Day be on some other day, when school is in session.

It does strike me as pretty ironic that Black Friday and Native American Day are on the same day. Rant over....

My real reason for writing today is to send you over to Beyond the Mesas. It is a new blog, hosted by my colleague in American Indian Studies, Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert. Many times on American Indians in Children's Literature, I've written about boarding schools, children's books about boarding schools, and films about boarding schools. Today, I'm talking with you about Matt and his work. 

Matt has a DVD called Beyond the Mesas. His blog is about about boarding schools. If you have not ordered his DVD yet, there's a link to get it on his blog. So on this day, Native American Day 2009, I'm not out at a shopping mall or store spending money. I'm reading Matt's blog.

Monday, November 23, 2009

‘Myth, Colonialism, and the Next Generation’ by Shelley A. Welch

Today's post is submitted to American Indians in Children's Literature by Shelley A. Welch, MA, LMHC, of The Capturing Spirit Project.  


Myth, Colonialism, and the Next Generation
by Shelley A. Welch

I write this from the perspective of a mother, a school counselor, and elementary educator of 15 years.  My father’s Eastern Cherokee family relocated to the Northeast where I grew up and later met my husband, an enrolled member of a Massachusetts tribe.  My sons were born here in this ‘New England’ where the term ‘colonialism’ prevails.  This year, my oldest son began 1st grade.  Thanksgiving approached the public school calendar and with it came the perpetuation of historical myths that some educators just don’t want to let go of.  I am assuming, if you are reading this, you know the accurate chronological order of how Thanksgiving came to be.  If not, please refer to the following stated resources.

I knew the Massachusetts frameworks for elementary education and that it included Columbus and Colonial life, therefore I laid down the resources with the school before my son ever stepped foot in the building:  Plimoth Planatation, Oyate, Cradleboard Teaching Project, the National Museum of the American Indian, and American Indians in Children's Literature.  School staff ensured their understanding and sensitivity.

I allowed myself to believe that the sources would be utilized.  In retrospect, I should have requested to see all the material before they were presented yet I let my little one enter that building day after day and he and his classmates were exposed to the same old mis-teachings of my youth.  As parents, our feelings were  intense and included anger, frustration, guilt that we put him in this vulnerable position, fear, and the whole thing had fine strands that connected to historical traumas.

My 7 year old son expressed feeling pressured to try and ‘correct’ what he knew was wrong in school, but he also felt that he might ‘get in trouble’ for speaking his mind.  It certainly was not his responsibility to monitor curriculum.  I can’t tell you how complicated it was to un-teach what was taught to him in those brief weeks.  He would actually hang his head and exclaim, “I am confused.”  In those moments, with burning eyes, I felt like home schooling.   My son’s sense of self that was so confident in September was now shaky.  The more my husband and I scrutinized the upcoming material, the more the system back-pedaled and tripped up.  The educator in me knew this was a systematic issue that required a long- term commitment to examining personal bias and creating a bias-free learning environment, but the mother in me wanted to pack up and get the heck out of here.

Some teachers will say that historical realities are too heavy for young children.  Actually, it seems to be the adults that shy away from those topics because they are personally conflicted in what they know about Indigenous existence, European influence, and the development of America.  It is the adults who don’t seem to want to let go of American myths of ‘friendship and good will’ between the first settlers and the Indigenous people, a People who were once the majority and are now the smallest minority.  As a mental health professional specializing in child development, I can say that when children are told that one group bullied another, they are quite amazing peacemakers, acknowledging the breach of civil rights and offering cooperative resolutions.  It is true, elementary-aged students aren’t developmentally ready for the specifics of genocide, but they can understand the inhumanity of racism. 

And it isn’t just about the misrepresentation (or lack of representation) of Native presence that arises.  It also makes me question all of the curriculum material our children are exposed to and the complacency of parents and educators who don’t question the curriculum materials nor who demand a bias free education for all children.  

Shelley A. Welch, MA, LMHC