Saturday, September 18, 2010


Glancing over a list of "district approved novels" for a school district in Utah, I saw several that give me pause. Cheyenne Autumn is one example. It's one of those novels that's been around a long time that I don't recall reading in high school or since. Because of its staying power, it is in that too-high pile of books that I need to read.

Curious, I pulled it up using Google Books and read the first paragraph where she introduces the characters. To start, Sandoz tells us about Little Wolf, a fifty-seven year old Cheyenne man who, she says, has the "highest responsibility for the preservation of the people." The last sentence is:
His reputation as a bold warrior started back around the 1830s, in the intertribal conflicts of the time, given up temporarily in 1851 when the Cheyennes signed away their rights to the Overland Trail and to the joys of the warpath for annuities and an Indian agency to administer their tribal business with the government. 
Lots of things to look closely at in that sentence! What caught your eye? Was it "joys of the warpath" that you noticed? According to that phrase, the Cheyennes took joy in being on the warpath. Who would do that? Really. What people, in all of humanity, would take joy in being on the warpath?

Shall I continue reading?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Joseph Bruchac's HIDDEN ROOTS

Update on Sep 30 2023: I (Debbie Reese) no longer recommend Bruchac's work. For details see Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki?

A few weeks ago, I featured Joseph Bruchac's Hidden Roots in a Google Search Story I put together. Then I started hearing from people that it is out of print. I checked with Joe, and yes, it did go out of print. Scholastic was the publisher.

Joe, however, was able to get rights to it, and he's bringing it out through his own press, Bowman Books. It'll have a new cover and he's worked on a better presentation of the form that appears on page 112-113 of the hardcover edition with the tree on the front. (Update, September 19, 2010: This is on hold for now...)

Those of you who have not read the book may not know what form I'm talking about. I'm not worried about spoilers here. I'm much more interested in telling you about the book and why you should order it as soon as its ready (I'll let you know as soon as I get the word from Joe.)

The form says (for ease of sharing it below, I'm leaving out the lines on the page that say "Strike out inappropriate words"):
We, Harmon P. Wilcox and Frederick Daniels Murtaugh, physicians and surgeons legally qualified to practice in the State of Vermont, hereby certify that on the 12th day of March 1932, we examined Sophia Lester, a resident of Highgate, Vermont, and decided:
(1). That she is an idiot feebleminded insane person and likely to procreate imbecile feebleminded insane persons if not sexually sterilized.
(2). That the health and physical condition of such person will not be injured by the operation of vasectomy salpingectomy;
(3). That the welfare of such person and the public will be improved if such person is sterilized;
(4). That such person is not of sufficient intelligence to understand that she cannot beget children after such operation is performed.

Signed in duplicate this 12th day of March, 1932,
     Harmon P. Wilcox
     Frederick Daniels Murtaugh
Who is Sophie Lester? She is the grandmother of the boy at the center of Hidden Roots. He's a sixth grader named Howard Camp. Called Sonny by his mother, father, and the man he's called Uncle Louis since he was a baby, he learns towards the end of the book that Uncle Louis is actually his grandfather, and, he learns that his grandmother was sterilized...  Sonny learns that he is Abenaki, and that his parents and many other Abenaki's have been hiding that identity in order to protect themselves from being sterilized. 

The book is set in 1954 in New York. When the story begins, Sonny doesn't know that he's Abenaki. He's growing up like other kids. By that I mean he watches cowboy and Indian films at the theater and picks up a lot of stereotypical information about Indians. His mother has taught him to sleep lightly, lest someone sneak up on him. Ironically, he imagines Indians sneaking up on him.

I was telling someone about these eugenics programs a few days ago, and he didn't know about them. I'm quite certain very few Americans know about it either.

In his Author's Note, Bruchac writes that Vermont was one of thirty-one states in the United States that enacted legislation to sterilize the "feeble-minded." The note also says that Abenaki's weren't the sole target of this law. The poor and those who were different from most Vermonters were also targets. Bruchac refers to Nancy Gallagher's Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State, published in 1999. You can get her book, or, look at a website she's helped develop at the University of Vermont: Vermont Eugenics: A Documentary History.

Hidden Roots is a very important book and I look forward to it being back in print.
Further information:

There are several research articles coming out of American Indian Studies about the sterilization of Native women that took place as late as the 1970s.

"The Lost Generation: American Indian women and sterilization abuse" by Myla Vicenti Carpio was published in 2004 in Social Justice.  It is available, in full, online here.  Take time to read her entire article.

"The Sterilization of Native American Women" by Jane Lawrence, published in American Indian Quarterly in 2000. The first two paragraphs describe the experiences of a woman and her husband, and, two fifteen year old girls who went into the hospital for appendectomies and follows that with an overview of the Indian Health Service and its development over time. Because Native women began to come forward saying they had been sterilized, the Government Accounting Office conducted an investigation and found that
IHS performed twenty-three sterilizations on women under the age of twenty-one between July 1, 1973 and April 30, 1974, and thirteen more between April 30, 1974 and March 30, 1976. The doctors at the IHS hospitals didn't understand the regulations, and, the doctors under contract for IHS weren't required to follow the regulations.

In "The Continuing Struggle Against Genocide: Indigenous Women's Reproductive Rights," D. Marie Ralstin-Lewis writes that Congress authorized sterilization of the poor in 1970 through the Family Planning Act. In 1974, she writes that the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW):
circulated pamphlets among Indian communities extolling the benefits of sterilization. One, called "Plan Your Family," contains a cartoon depiction of Indians "before" and "after" sterilization. The Indians before sterilization appear sad and downtrodden. The couple has ten little Indian children and only one horse, implying they are poor because they have too many mouths to feed. In contrast, the Indian couple in the "after" picture is happy; they have one child and many [ten] horses."
She also documents that DepoProvera and Norplant were used on Native women, the majority of them were mentally retarded, in the early 1970s. Neither drug was approved by the FDA at that time, and wouldn't be available for widespread use until the 1990s. Her article is in Wicazo Sa Review, Spring 2005, pp. 71-95.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Marguerite Henry and THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS

Part of what I am doing with this website (American Indians in Children's Literature) is documenting the intersections of (1) writers who write for children and young adults and (2) American Indians or something meant to signify American Indians, whether it is accurate, romanticized, flat out wrong, etc.

This morning, I was trying to find information about a picture book called The Last of the Mohicans. Its a very old shape book, published by Raphael Tuck & Sons. As I started digging for info, I came across one of those intersections. Maybe 'intersection' is not the best word for what I'm trying to describe...

Anyway, I found a biography of Marguerite Henry on the website for the Greenville Public Library in Rhode Island. Here's the passage that stood out:
On Christmas Day, 1909, seven-year-old Marguerite was greeted by the sight of a little red table that her father had set up for her. The table was complete with a small pitcher containing an array of pencils, scissors, paste, a hole punch, paper clips, and even a pencil sharpener. Best of all, were the stacks of colored paper that her father had included. On the top sheet was a hand-written note: "Dear Last of the Mohicans: Not a penny for your thoughts, but a tablet. Merry Christmas! Pappa Louis XOX." [6] It was this gift that started her on the road to her future writing career.
I wonder why her father called her "Last of the Mohicans"? Did he read that book to her? And, I wonder if the books she wrote for children include Indians? If so, are they like the ones that Cooper came up with?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sherman Alexie on THE SNOWY DAY

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


Earlier this year, in "I come to school for this class," I wrote about a terrific project in Arizona through which students at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona read literature by American Indian writers. The project was developed by James Blasingame and Simon Ortiz at Arizona State University.

I was pleased to see more about the project in "The Answer Sheet" --- a blog in the Education section of the Washington Post. Blasingame was their guest blogger. His wide ranging "An unusual introduction to Native American YA lit" touches on the writing of Joseph Bruchac and Sherman Alexie.

In his post, Jim points to one of his articles published in the Winter 2008 volume of The ALAN Review. Titled "From Wellpinit to Reardan: Sherman Alexie's Journey to the National Book Award, the article includes a lot of extensive quotes from Alexie. Here's one:

I have a vivid memory of when I was six years old and pulled The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, off the shelf in the elementary school library. On the cover was a dark boy in a red coat out in the snow. I instantly figured he was Indian, he wasn't, but I thought he was. I connected to that main character almost instantly in a lot of ways.
Alexie won the National Book Award for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. There's a lot in the book that I really like because I connect with the character, the setting, the experiences...  It is real and brutally honest. In one sense, I find it a bit too real, and I wonder if it didn't need to be quite that way...  I'm thinking of his character's use of "faggot." I hear kids back home at Nambe toss that word around and I look at the young boys and wonder how that feels to those who may be gay?

Anyway, I am glad to learn that Alexie identified with the little boy in The Snowy Day and that he shared that memory with Jim. At the start of each semester, I ask students to bring in a book they remember. Tomorrow, I'll let them know about Alexie and his memory of The Snowy Day.