Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Joseph Bruchac's HIDDEN ROOTS back in print!

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

Sharing terrific news today!

After much back and forth over if/when/how Joseph Bruchac's award-winning Hidden Roots would be back in print, I can---today---tell you where to get it!

Some back story....   

Hidden Roots is about a forced sterilization program in Vermont that sought to "breed better Vermonters" by sterilizing Native peoples of that state. These programs were in other states, too. Bruchac's book is about the Abenaki people in Vermont, many of whom literally hid their identities to avoid being sterilized. Nancy L. Gallagher's Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State is an excellent work of non-fiction about the eugenics project in Vermont (not marketed as a book for children but definitely can be used with high school students).

Hidden Roots was---and is---an important book. I featured it in a Google Search Story I put together in the summer of 2010. In 2006, it was the first recipient of the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award, in the Young Adult category.

But, Scholastic opted to let it go out of print. I was disappointed to hear that news, especially since Scholastic continues to books about Thanksgiving that are questionable for their bias and stereotyping.

Myself and colleagues began a writing campaign to Scholastic, asking them to give Bruchac rights to publish the book himself.  I don't know how successful our letters were, but Scholastic did give Bruchac the rights, and the book is now available at Lulu for $9.95.

Are you a bookseller who wants multiple copies of Hidden Roots?

In an email to me, Joe said bookstores and other retailers can be multiple copies at the standard 40% discount by

1) emailing or,

2) by faxing a purchase order to (518) 583-9741.

For those of you who do not know about Hidden Roots, I'm republishing (below) a previous post about the book, originally published here on American Indians in Children's Literature on September 16, 2010. It includes information about small revisions to the original book (note: the post below has been edited for clarity on Aug 31 2014). 


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Joseph Bruchac's HIDDEN ROOTS

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.

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.

Hidden Roots is about sterilization of Native people. The book is set in 1954 in New York. When the story begins, Sonny (the sixth-grade protagonist; his legal name is Howard Camp) doesn't know that he's Abenaki. He thinks he is white. 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.

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. 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. He learns this towards the end of the book when Uncle Louis shows him a yellowed paper that he carries in his wallet. Here's that part of the book.

It was some kind of printed-out form, like you get from a doctor's office. I could tell that because of what the first lines said. Most of it had been printed up, but the names and the dates on the paper that had been filled in were all written in ink.

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 (Strike out inappropriate words) to procreate imbecile feebleminded insane persons if not sexually sterilized; (Strike out inappropriate words)
(2). That the health and physical condition of such person will not be injured by the operation of vasectomy salpingectomy; (Strike out inappropriate word)
(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

Sonny asks Uncle Louis who Sophia Lester was, and learns that she was Uncle Louis's wife, and that both are Indian. He also learns that Uncle Louis is actually his grandfather, and that his grandmother died as a result of the sterilization. To protect their daughter--Sonny's mom--from being sterilized, Uncle Louis had given her to a white family to raise.

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. 
We ought to teach children all of America's 
history, not just the part that 
makes its history look good. 
It wasn't all good.  


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 (send me an email if you'd like a copy of the article). She opens the article by quoting from a Native America Calling radio show about sterilization:
I had been sterilized at the age of eleven, at the IHS [Indian Health Service] hospital here in the 1950s. I got married in the 1960s and I went to the doctor and he told me that I had a partial hysterectomy. [When I was a child] they were giving us vaccinations and mine got infected and a nurse came and gave me some kind of shot so I wouldn't hurt. When I woke up my stomach was hurting and I was bleeding (Woman speaking on radio show, "Native America Calling," 2002).

"The Indian Health Service and 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 whom 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.