Thursday, February 11, 2010

Video: Do All Indians Live in Tipis?

Over on the right side of this page, I feature a link to a book called Do All Indians Live in Tipis? I wrote about the book when it came out, and just found a video of the same name at the Library of Congress webcast page.

The video is a lecture given by Edwin Schupman, one of the authors of the book. It is 48 minutes long. Schupman starts by engaging his audience in a "Name that tune" game (he doesn't call it that). The meat of his presentation starts about 20 minutes into the video. He asks pointed and provocative questions about "perpetual ignorance" of Americans when the subject is American Indians. 

Click over to Do All Indians Live in Tipis. Watch. Listen. Think. Do what you can to interrupt the cycle of perpetual ignorance.

Buy several copies of  the book, and host a showing of the video at your library.

Schupman is Muscogee and works at the National Museum of the American Indian. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Elizabeth Bird's survey of Top 100 Children's Novels

A while back, SLJ (School Library Journal) columnist Elizabeth Bird invited her readers to send her a list of their top ten children's novels. She asked them to rank the books, in terms of "biggest impact" and "second biggest" and so on.

She compiled the information she received, and on Feb 8, 2010, she started blogging her findings on her blog, "A Fuse #8 Production." On that day, she presented books #100 through 91. She's done a terrific job presenting the books. Quoting from people who submitted them, reviews of them, criticism, discussion guides, and, providing book covers (some books have had many covers over the years) and links to videos of those that were made into films. As she posts over the next couple of weeks, I'll respond as I can.

In the opening paragraphs to her Feb 8 post, she said there "are heroes and villains" in the list, and she guarantees that

"you will see one book that makes you boo, and another that makes you cheer, perhaps in the same post. There are books included here that I adore and there are definitely books here that I abhor. My job is to never show the difference. So sit back and get ready to complain or cheer in turns. It's totally within your rights."

I don't like her use of "complain." Especially as the flip side of cheer. The word "complain" (for me) has negative connotations. It suggests a whiny orientation that lacks in substance. Instead of thinking about negative criticism, people are prone to wave it off as "politically correct." 

Anyway, it is no surprise that Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks is on this list. Bird quotes Eric Carpenter, one of the readers who submitted his list of top ten books:
My third grade teacher read this one to the class. Three years later I remember scraping my birthday money together to order the 3 book set from Scholastic. I read these books until the covers came off. Rereading this brought me right back to those childhood days when I would challenge myself to read all three in a weekend (cold central NY winters made such feats a necessity.)
I like that Bird provides her readers with links to the Oyate critique of the book, and that she quotes  from the Oyate review.  Here's what Bird used:

"The object here was not to draw an authentic Native person, but to create an arresting literary device. Although the little 'Indian' is called Iroquois, no attempt has been made, either in text or illustrations, to have him look or behave appropriately. For example, he is dressed as a Plains Indian, and is given a tipi and a horse. This is how he talks: 'I help... I go... Big hole. I go through... Want fire. Want make dance. Call spirits.' Et cetera. There are characteristic speech patterns for those who are also Native speakers, but nobody in the history of the world ever spoke this way."  

I wish, however, that she had used the excerpt below instead of, or in addition to, the one she chose (by the way, Bird's post is missing a paragraph break after "spoke this way." Her "School Library Journal ascribed this in part..." are Bird's words and are not part of the Oyate review). Doris Seale wrote the Oyate review, and it it includes an except right out of the book.

He saw an Indian making straight for him. His face, in the torchlight, was twisted with fury. For a second, Omri saw, under the shaven scalplock, the mindless destructive face of a skinhead just before he lashed out... .The Algonquin licked his lips, snarling like a dog... .Their headdresses... even their movements... were alien. Their faces, too—their faces! They were wild, distorted, terrifying masks of hatred and rage.
See the difference? The part Bird used is about stereotypes. That is important information about the book. But, the one I wish she had used is about the way the Indian is characterized as animal-like. I wonder if there were any Native children in Eric Carpenter's 3rd grade New York City classroom? I wonder how they may have felt, reading that passage in the book?

The book in spot #93 is Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink. In discussing Caddie Woodlawn, Bird links to "Reflections on Caddie Woodlawn" posted on American Indians in Children's Literature in March of 2007, where I recount my daughter's experience with the book. Please click on Reflections and read Jeff Berglund's comment.  I saw Jeff just last week. We were both at the American Indian Studies conference at Arizona State University.

Bird includes links for teachers. Among those links is a bibliography of "books on American Indians to help young people develop an awareness of an alternative point of view" and to "broaden cultural understanding."  I looked at the books on there and, while I was glad to see Birchbark House at the top, the point of view it offers is overwhelmed by most of the other books on the list, including a book by Kathy Jo Wargin. If you're interested in a Native critique of Wargin's work, read Lois Beardlee on Mackinac Island Press. Beardslee writes
Lewis’s business, Sleeping Bear Press, produced several books that profoundly offended the local Native American community and received scathing reviews by Native American scholars, including me. Among the offending books are: The Legend of Sleeping Bear (1998), The Legend of Mackinac Island (1999), The Legend of the Lady’s Slipper (2001), The Legend of Leelanau (2003), and The Legend of the Petoskey Stone (2004) all written by Kathy-jo Wargin and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuysen. All of these “Indian legends” were either manufactured by the author and publisher or based upon the historically tainted writings of nineteenth century ethnologist/Indian agent/wannabe-writer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. All are written in the style of Schoolcraft’s nineteenth century syrupy language and all promote nineteenth century stereotypes of Native Americans as simple, docile, primitive people—motifs that were used to justify the usurpation of Native lands and resources through the near extirpation of aboriginal residents.
The bibliography also includes Douglas Wood's The Windigo's Return, a book that Betsy Hearne took to task in "Swapping Tales and Stealing Stories" and one of Paul Goble's books. Goble's books have been soundly critiqued by a leader in American Indian Studies, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. For details, see "About Paul Goble and his books..."

In addition to Birchbark House, the bibliography does have some books that I, too, would recommend. Patty Loew's Native People of Wisconsin is an excellent book that I've not yet written about.

At the end of the Feb 8 post is a link to the next set of books. I wonder what I'll find there?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Editorial: "Sucking the Quileute Dry"

Yesterday's New York Times ran an Op-Ed by Angela R. Riley. She's the director of the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA. Titled "Sucking the Quileute Dry," Riley's editorial is about the sovereign nation status of Native Nations, and our intellectual and cultural property. She focuses on Twilight and how Stephenie Meyer and the industry that has sprouted around her books violates Quileute sovereignty.

Riley is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma. She has a law degree from Harvard, and, she has served on her tribe's Supreme Court. 

Click over to Riley's editorial at the Times page.  If you're a librarian, print the editorial and post it where your patrons can read it. Librarians and teachers can also set up a time to talk with students about the issues Riley raises.

IF YOU ARE A WRITER, OR AN EDITOR, OR A BOOK REVIEWER...  Study the editorial. Apply Riley's words to your writing, or editing, or reviewing.


If you want to read more on the ways that the Quileute's are portrayed in the series, look over to the bottom of this page. There you'll see several links to posts about the series.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Tony Hillerman

I had an email earlier today, asking if I recommend Tony Hillerman's books.  I've skimmed some of them and didn't like what I read. Though I've not analyzed them, I do not recommend them.

Larry Emerson, Dine (Navajo) said this about Hillerman:

"Tony Hillerman privileged & authorized himself to write about Navajos & in doing so appropriated, re-imagined, and recreated "Hillerman Navajos" at the expense of Diné realities. Hillerman created a new domain [read dominion] of knowledge while cashing in at the same time."
I met Larry a few years ago when he was a post doctoral fellow here with us (American Indian Studies, University of Illinois).  Consider his words " the expense of Dine realities."  Hillerman wrote mysteries that sold well, but what do his books do for the people he wrote about? Glancing at the titles, it is clear he liked writing about sacred aspects of the Dine people, but what are the Dine realities Emerson refers to?  You might read Navajo news media to get a sense of their realities, the things they contend with. Here's some sites to read:

Navajo Nation (tribal website)
Navajo Times.
Navajo Hopi Observer