Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Judy Dow and Robette Dias Comment on SIGN OF THE BEAVER

Elizabeth George Speare's Sign of the Beaver has been discussed here several times...

On March 20th, 2007, I posted "Eighth Graders Analyze SIGN OF THE BEAVER." It is an essay submitted by Karen, a classroom teacher.  

On Wednesday, April 11, 2007, I posted a report on the book, put together by Students and Teachers Against Racism, located in Fairfield, Connecticut.

And then on Monday, October 22, 2007, I discussed the use of the word squaw in the book, in the context of the use of that word in larger societal contexts.

What I'm sharing today was submitted by Judy Dow and Robette Dias as a response to the Oct 2007 discussion of the word squaw. Rather than add it to that discussion, I'm featuring it as a stand-alone piece. I'm grateful to Judy and Robette for this contribution. Judy is Abenaki, and Robette is Karuk. They are on the board of Oyate.


After reading the concern and comments about the use of the word “Squaw” in The Sign of the Beaver we are concerned. It is our hopes that people don’t see this as the only thing wrong with this book because there are far too many other things wrong to just stop there. Judy's two children were forced to read this book in their fourth grade classes. She still has her son’s copy of the book filled with hand-drawn doodles and arrows. Some twenty years later we can visually see the disgust he must have felt as he read through this book.
Why is it books like this are used in a classroom to teach what the “period” was like as if it is an historical book? There is nothing historical about this book except that twenty-seven years later it is still being read in many classrooms and is on some mandatory reading lists.  Why is it some parents and some teachers protect their children and students from the truth? Is it because truths can be painful? So is this book to some. Why is it people feel they must hide the facts about genocide, acculturation, assimilation, and ethnocide? Is it because they are difficult topics for young people to understand? The proper words exist to teach these topics to young people. As educators of the generations that will be caring for us when we get older we believe it is important that we start using the proper words to teach these difficult topics. It can be done. We cannot continue to hide or protect our children from the truth. Let’s teach them instead to be seekers of the truths.

Here is one truth that wasn't discussed on Debbie’s blog posts, and, that is never even mentioned in The Sign of the Beaver.
In the year of 1755, a mere thirteen years before The Sign of the Beaver story takes place, the Indians of Norridgewock, Arresaguntacook, Weweenock, the St. Johns Tribes and other tribes inhabiting the Eastern and Northern Parts of New England had seen a bounty placed on their heads by His Majesty.
Details of the bounty proclamation are in a volume titled Documentary History of the State of Maine, published in 1908 by the Maine Historical Society.

The proclamation stated what colonists would be paid:

For every Male Indian Prisoner above the Age of Twelve Years, that shall be taken and brought to Boston, fifty pounds. 

For every Male Indian Scalp, brought in as Evidence of their being killed, forty Pounds.

For every Female Indian Prisoner, taken and brought in as aforesaid, and for every Male Indian Prisoner under the Age of Twelve Years, taken and brought in as aforesaid, Twenty-five Pounds.

For every Scalp of such Female Indian or Male Indian under twelve Years of Age, brought as Evidence of their being killed, as aforesaid, Twenty Pounds.

Signed on the twelfth day of June 1755 by His Excellency William Shirley, Esq.

Knowing this, how can someone possibly believe that Sign of the Beaver can be used to teach this “period” of history? This proclamation was never talked about or even alluded to in the book. Sign of the Beaver certainly never mentioned that the good people from Massachusetts Bay Colony were scalping Indian people for a bounty. This was the reality of the "period". The relationship as it is written in Sign of the Beaver between Matt and Attean would never have existed in a place such as Maine so soon after the above proclamation was written. Let us teach our children to seek the truth. 
Judy Dow (Abenaki)
Robette Dias (Karuk)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Those romance-novel-authors and their indian-love

I've written about Cassie Edwards and her "Savage Indian" series, and today, am directing you to the blog maintained by the Santa Ysabel Tribal Library.  These books are not meant for young adults. I discuss them as an example of the sort of imagery that permeates society.

So---click on over to "Book using Kumeyaay Words and the Lucas Name." I gather that the novel is supposed to be about the Kumeyaay, but, the author offers up the usual stereotypes...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

We saw AVATAR...

We saw Avatar a few days before Christmas. Using my cell phone, I thought I'd take a few notes as I watched the film, sending the notes as brief text messages to my email account. There was so much wrong that I quit after a few minutes. My txts are in bold. In parenthesis are my off-the-cuff response.

arrows in tires
(Modern day covered wagons!!)

sig weaver (anthro) wears bead necklace.
(She's the Indian lover. I guess Cameron never read Deloria or listened to Westerman's "Here Come the Anthros")

indigenous school provided by humans
(Hearing that part made me think that Cameron HAS read some history and DOES know a little... )

na'vi are called savages
(no surprise)

their homeland most hostile environment known to man.
(the wild west)

braids and tail. 
(Drawing from lots of "other" there, collapsing them all into na'vi... )

flute and drum music
(Of course!)

they're (na'vi)  watching us
(Just like the Indians in Little House on the Prairie!!!)

riders on horses
(Plains Indians!!)

the riders whoop 
(Classic Western)

A lot of people say that the special effects make the movie enjoyable. A lot of people wave away problems with the story because of the special effects. Those defenses are given again and again in response to critiques of children's books. A lot---a WHOLE LOT---of people defend Brother Eagle Sister Sky because taking care of the environment is more important than Indian stereotypes. Same thing with Touching Spirit Bear. The "good" it does for students who are bullies is more important than its misrepresentations of American Indians.

Support of books like Brother Eagle, Sister Sky and Touching Spirit Bear plays a role in the embrace of films like Avatar.  In my view, we're all kidding ourselves. None of it is worth defending.

UPDATE. Monday, January 4, 2010

This post has generated a lot of email to me, mostly from people who share my view of the film. In some, people are surprised that this sort of thing is still happening. I think some of those individuals are not close readers of film or children's and young adult literature. AVATAR is only one film of the last two months that has given viewers Indian stereotypes. Here's others:

BLIND SIDE---I did not see the film. I saw the trailer, though, and in it, Sandra Bullock and her husband (that's a guess) and her little boy are in their car. The child is in the backseat, wearing a headdress. I can only imagine why. If anyone has seen it, let me know!

THE PROMISE---Betty White's character is out in the woods "dancing" and chanting. This movie mostly takes place in Alaska.

INGLORIOUS BASTARDS---Lots of references to "Indian" methods of killing. And of course, scalping was a big piece of the story.