Friday, April 22, 2011

Are your kids going to Summer Camp?

Today's post is prompted by Nicole, a reader who wrote to tell me about an article called Boys Gone Wild in baystateparent: Massachusetts' Premier Magazine for Families. The article describes the activities of boys who attend Night Eagle Summer Camp in Vermont. I hasten to add that the boys and their leaders do a lot of playing-Indian activities...

In February 2011, I wrote about learning that a group of boy scouts from Louisiana who had been at Nambe Pueblo (that's where I'm from) to study our dances with the intent of performing them in Louisiana. I pointed out that I don't think the scouts would go to a Catholic mass, study the priest and then perform what he did. Our dances are sacred, just like the prayers offered by a priest.

Maybe (I say, with hope) those scouts did not know they were being insensitive. That is probably because they've been in the scouting program for several years where they did all kinds of "Indian" activities that, bit-by-bit, made them unaware that those activities are inappropriate.

When we tell our stories, for example, we don't tell them around a campfire as a means of entertainment. They--like stories from the Bible--are significant to us in some way. In American society, however, they aren't seen as religious stories. Instead, they're "myths" and "legends" and "folktales" that anyone can tell, anytime they want to, as shown in this page from The Berenstain Bears Go To Camp published in 1982. At the time of its publication, the review in Reading Teacher said
"Though Grizzly Bob's Day Camp looks exciting, Brother and Sister Bear are apprehensive. But after spending a few days trying things out, they discover they can have fun."
A chunk of that fun means doing Indian things. Or, in other words, playing Indian. On the page shown here, the cubs are gathered round as Grizzly Bob tells them a story. The clothing Grizzly Bob wears and the way he stands reflect stereotypical pop culture images of Indians.

You can see that sort of stereotypical imagery on things like council patches of the Boy Scouts of America. In Studying Native America: Problems and Prospects (1998 Univ of Wisconsin Press), Russell Thornton writes (p. 299):
Of all the institutions in American society, the Boy Scouts of America have probably done the most damage in miseducating the public about Native American cultures. Although their "Indian Lore" merit badge has recently experienced a dramatic improvement through the advice of anthropologist David Hurst Thomas, the honorary society called Order of the Arrow annually initiatives thousands of boys into the martial, romantic version of Indian culture through ceremonies drawn from the writings of Longfellow and James Fenimore Cooper."
I agree with Thornton but my net is a bit wider. I think the camps children go to each summer are equally responsible. The Boy Scouts of America creates space for this sort of play-Indian activity to continue. The Y-Indian Princess program is similarly problematic. As Thornton says, the BSA has made some changes. So has the Y-Indian Princess program. But, this sort of thing continues, especially in summer camps. Every semester, students in my courses tell me about the summer camps they went to and how they played Indian. After studying American Indians---real ones, not the images of pop culture---they see the summer camp activities in a different light. Some call them embarrassing; others call them racist.

So... are your kids going to Summer Camp? Will you be attentive to the stereotypical activities sanctioned by the camp? Will you say anything, to your children or to the camp? I hope so, because studies show that stereotypical images like these mis-educate children and that they have a negative effect on the self-esteem of Native children. Two good reasons, don't you think, to stop doing this sort of thing?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Top Board Books for the Youngest Readers

Update on Oct 17, 2022: We add to this list, first posted in 2011. If you have additional recommendations, let us know in a comment and we'll take a look!

Some time ago, I posted three "Top Ten" lists of books about American Indians. Each list was about a specific age/grade level. You will find links to those three lists at the top right side of AICL in the IF YOU'RE STARTING A LIBRARY... section of the site.

Today, I'm adding a Top Board Books list to that section. It isn't a Top Ten list because some of the books are from the same author and titling it "Top Ten" doesn't work. Each of the books are written or illustrated by a Native author or illustrator, and in some way, they are "tribally specific."

Baby Learns about Colors, by Beverly Blacksheep. Published in 2003 by Salina, it is one of a series of eight bilingual books with Dine (Navajo) and English text that feature a baby girl, her growth, and things she learns in a tribally specific context. Other books in the series are Baby Learns about Animals, Baby Learns about Seasons, Baby Learns about Senses, Baby Learns bout Time, Baby Learns about Weather, Baby Learns to Count, and Baby's First Laugh.  For more information, see my essay: Beverly Blacksheep's Board Books.

Boozhoo, Come Play With Us, by Deanna Himango. Published in 2002 by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, this bilingual board book features photographs of toddlers at play. In some of the photos you can see the tribally specific decor of the classroom. The languages in the book are Ojibwe and English. The last page features a pronunciation guide.

I See Me, by Margaret Manuel. Published in 2010 by Theytus, the book can be personalized. By that, I mean that each page has a line of English text about the photo, and, a blank line for parents/teachers to write a caption in their own language. If you wish, the publisher provides captions in a specific language. This book is being given to families through the American Indian/Alaska Native Reach Out and Read program.

Learn the Alphabet with Northwest Coast Art. Published in 2010 by Garfinkle Publications, this board book is one of several that are illustrated by First Nations artists. The back cover provides information about the item and artist whose work is featured on each page. The other book from Garfinkle that I know and recommend is Learn to Count with Northwest Coast Native Art. They also sell puppets, plush animals, stickers, and stamps. Though I don't have any of the items, I think they can be used to enhance the study of the art in the books.

Our Journey, by Lyz Jaakola, illustrated by Karen Savage-Blue. Published in 2001 by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, this bilingual book bids Anin (hello) and Miigwech (thank you) to the east, south, north, west, and to the sun and earth, and to "the One who gave me my birth." Because the illustrations are primarily of pre-contact scenes, you'll want to make sure to use present tense verbs when using the book in settings where you don't have day-to-day interactions with Native children and their families.

Welcome Song for Baby: A lullaby for newborns, by Richard Van Camp. Published in 2007 by Orca, it was given to every baby born in British Columbia in 2008.  Richard is Dogrib (the Dibrib people are in Canada). The book was very well received and reviewed as a book primarily for parents.

That's it... for now. Fourteen books. If you know of others, please let me know! A hearty thanks to Jean Mendoza for working with me on this list, and for being my dear friend.

Update, March 6, 2012

Add Debby Slier's Cradle Me to this list! Published in 2012 by Star Bright Books, each page has a photo of a Native baby doing something (sleeping, smiling, etc.) and a blank line for you to write down that word in another language. The final pages identify the tribal nation each baby is from.


Update, November 18, 2014

Add Julie Flett's exquisite We All Count. It has words in Cree and English.


Update, November 4, 2016

Delighted to add these!

Good Morning World, by Paul Windsor (see review):

Debbie Slier's Loving Me (see review):

Celebrate My Hopi Corn and Celebrate My Hopi Toys by Anita Poleahla and Emmett Navakuku (see review):

My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett (see review):

And, David Alexander Robertson and Julie Flett's When We Were Alone (see review):

And, Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett's We Sang You Home (see review):

Update on Monday, Oct 17, 2022: These board books by Joni Spiess, Angela Y. Gonzales, Yaari Toolie-Walker, and Carla Snow are terrific! Review is here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jacques Duquesne's OUKALA LE PETIT INDIEN (Oukala the Little Indian)

Cover, propped up on laptop
Yesterday at the local library book sale, I picked up Oukala le Petit Indien by Jacques Duquesne, illustrated by Phillipe Thomas. The story told in the book spans 39 pages. It was published in 1969 in Paris by Pomme d'Api. (Any assistance you can send my way about the book, the author, or the illustrator will be greatly appreciated.)

When I come across books in other languages that are about---or reference---American Indians, I buy them if they're in my budget. Can't beat $1.00 at a library sale!

I don't speak or read French, so am using online translation programs to figure out what the book is about. I can't find a translation for Oukala. "le Petit Indien" is either "the Little Indian" or "the Small Indian." His horse is named Super.

As you can see, the book is laid out much like a comic book.  Oukala likes to ride his horse and play with his bow and arrow (frame 1). His dad is the chief of their tribe (frame 3). He wears a warbonnet and a suit and tie (like a businessman). And, he drives a car. In frame 4, Oukala's father tells him that he has to prove himself as able to be a chief, too. To do that, he's got to take a trip around the world.  The two guys in frame 5 in striped green shirts are brothers (not related to Oukala) who (brothers to Oukala?) eavesdrop on the conversation.* One is named Rika, and the other Beka. One of them wants to be the chief, and the two plot against Oukala. They take his horse. Oukala is sad and doesn't want to take a trip without Super (frame 8). But Super is pretty smart and gets away. In frame 14, Oukala sets out. Everyone wishes him good luck.

That is the set up. From there the book is in sections: New York, Canada, the Wild North, the Voyage on the Ship, England, Super is Injured, Super Runs a Race, the Metro in Paris, a Visit to the Zoo, Winter Sports, Italy, Venice, Airplane Trip, and last, the Desert.

In New York City, Oukala admires the buildings. I don't know if he knows it (yet) but Rika and Beka have followed him. They're in a red car. They tell a policeman that Oukala has stolen the horse from a circus. The police, Rika, and Beka chase Oukala. He and Super duck into a skyscraper and ride the elevator to the top. The police follow but figure out they've been tricked by Rika and Beka. Oukala and Super get away, while Rika and Beka end up in jail. The End. (It doesn't say "The End." I'm adding that myself to mark the end of that section/chapter/story.) On to...

Canada. There, Oukala meets Canadian Mounties who invite him to the camp where they train their horses. While there, Rika kidnaps Oukala. Super is sad but eventually finds him and sets him free. They run away. The End.

The Wild North is the next stop on the world tour. Oukala and Super hang out with Eskimos and their dogs who will take them to catch the ship. Beka and Rika arrive in a helicopter and try to chase them but slip and slide on ice. Oukala and Super make it to the ship, named Tabeth.

On the ship, they pay their passage by Super doing tricks and Oukala helping out in the kitchen. The ship hits an iceberg and the captain orders everyone into lifeboats. The captain looks back at the ship, and sees Beka and Rika onboard.  Turns out the ship is ok and they head back to it where Beka and Rika chase them again---again, unsuccessfully.

In England, Oukala and Super admire Big Ben, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. They meet a little girl who invites them to a costume party. Everyone there thinks Super is a person-in-costume, and when they figure out he's really a horse, Super and Oukala are thrown out of the party. But, a man named Tom Godart asks Oukala if he's a real Indian and if he wants to be in a television movie. Oukala agrees to do it.

Oukala and Super  go with Tom and filming starts. Newspapers feature the film, "Oukala!" In the film, Oukala and Super are being chased by a cowboy. They leap off a bridge, into the river that flows beneath it. Super's leg is injured in the leap. An ambulance arrives and takes him to a hospital. The newspaper reports the injury. Beka and Rika read about it and head to the hospital, but Oukala and Super (on crutches) leave and there is no chase this time.

Oukala and Super get on a plane for Paris. Being on the plane makes them nervous, but they land and go to a horse race. They join it, heading for a hedge. Behind it is Rika with a lasso. He throws it to catch Super, but Oukala cuts the rope with his knife and they go on to win the race.

In Paris, they see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, and go beneath the city to ride the metro. They figure out they're on the wrong train. Getting off, Super's tail is caught in the door. A worker makes the train wait and Super is ok, but Oukala and Super are lost. A boy named Martin helps them find the right train and invites them to go to zoo...

Martin, his family, Oukala, and Super get into a car and go to the zoo where they see lions, monkeys, and elephants. Rika and Beka are there, too, disguised as zoo workers. They ask Oukala if he wants to see a panther, but it is a trick. Oukala and Super are caught in a cage. Martin rescues them. The monkeys throw banana peels at Rika and Beka, and the elephant sprays them with water.

Ok... I think I'll stop with the summaries! Each place Oukala and Super go, they have an adventure related to the place, and usually, Rika and Beka are in pursuit. The stories remind me, somehow, of the Three Stooges or similar slapstick stories where goofy things happen. In the end, Oukala's world tour is over and in the last story (the Desert) nomadic (nomades) people ride up on camels and save him while police arrive and take Beka and Rika to prison. In the very last frame of the book, Oukala and Super get on another boat and head home.

It is a curious story. It is set in the present time (cars, metro, etc.), but throughout, the Indian characters wear feathers. Oukala's dad and brothers wear Western clothes, but Oukala doesn't. He's the star of the book and the television movie, too. An odd story all around.

I wonder how it fared in France?

*Thanks, Elizabeth and Isabelle for writing to tell me the Kossar brothers aren't brothers to Oukala.