Sunday, December 30, 2012

Slapin's review of Deborah Miranda's BAD INDIANS

Editor's Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2012 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.


Miranda, Deborah A. (Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen, Chumash), Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir. Heyday, 2012.

“Story is the most powerful force in the world,” Deborah writes, “in our world, maybe in all worlds. Story is culture. Story, like culture, is constantly moving. It is a river where no gallon of water is the same gallon it was one second ago. Yet it is still the same river. It exists as a truth. As a whole. Even if the whole is in constant change. In fact, because of that constant change.”

For better or for worse, young Deborah never had to endure the daily humiliations of fourth grade in California, where children are taught the dominant discourse about the California missions. Where non-Indian children (and their parents) construct “mission” dioramas with beneficent padres instructing and supervising willing Indian neophytes as they learn how to work. Where Indian children—especially California Indian children—shrink into their seats, trying to disappear.

The real story—people massacred, children violated, land and languages stolen, cultures broken beyond recognition—is rarely told.

After asking her young son’s teacher to let him pass on the project—and being refused—an Indian parent I know allowed him to construct the required model mission. “So Nick built his mission and brought it home,” she told me. “And we built a fire and we talked about it again, how Indian people were enslaved and died building missions and living in missions. Then we put it in the fire and burned it and I promised Nick that I would always stick up for him and challenge anyone who would keep opening up these scars.”

“All my life,” Deborah writes, “I have heard only one story about California Indians: godless, dirty, stupid, primitive, ugly, passive, drunken, immoral, lazy, weak-willed people who might make good workers if properly trained and motivated. What kind of story is that to grow up with?”

Bad Indians is this story—the story of the missionization of California. In constructing Bad Indians, Deborah creates “a space where voices can speak after long and often violently imposed silence.” For Deborah, the stories seeped “out of old government documents, BIA forms, field notes, the diaries of explorers and priests, the occasional writings or testimony from Indians, family stories, photographs, newspaper articles.” Together, these disparate voices belie the dominant discourse; they are stories of tenacious survival. And they are Deborah’s “mission project.”

But Bad Indians is more than these voices; it’s Deborah’s family’s story as well. In it, I’m reminded of something that Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that has recently been channeled through Kelly Clarkson: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Actually, Nietzsche wrote it with more elegance: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

Deborah’s life’s twists and turns have brought her to this place, to find her ancestors’ stories, to tell her own family’s stories, to connect them—and to heal. Some childhood memories, some faded photographs, some snippets of stories written down word for word by an anthropologist, some paragraphs from old textbooks. A lesser author might have crafted a novel spanning the generations, a linear novel, maybe a chapter for each character. But Deborah didn’t and wouldn’t do that; it would have dishonored her ancestors. Rather, she looks at what is—the pieces, the shards of a broken mirror—and interprets, imagines, wonders. If she doesn’t know a thing, she says so. Throughout, she is in awe of the voices, drawings, photos, whatever she can find—all treasured gifts, entrusted to her by the elders and ancestors she never got to meet.

“Who we are is where we are from,” Deborah writes. “Where we are from is who we are.”

On a Saturday morning, Deborah and relatives slowly and mindfully circle the grounds of the Mission Soledad, picking up bone fragments: “Here is a finger joint, here a tooth. Here a shattered section of femur, here something unidentifiable except for the lacy pattern that means human being. Our children run to us with handfuls of ancestors they keep calling ‘fossils’ because youth and privilege don’t let the truth sink in yet.” As they gently bury the tiny pieces of bones, “Xu-lin, we say to our broken ancestors: xu-lin, sprinkling sage, mugwort, and tobacco over the small grave. Xu-lin, we whisper as the earth takes back. Xu-lin, a plea and a promise: return.”

Bad Indians is not easy reading. Deborah draws connections between the violence of the California missions, the violence perpetrated on the descendants of the “Mission Indians,” the violence she witnessed at home, and the rapes she endured as a child: “Imprisonment. Whippings. Betrayal. Rape.” And she doesn’t mince words: “Erasure is a bitch, isn’t it?”

At the end of Bad Indians, Deborah quotes Tom King (Cherokee), who wrote in The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative (Toronto, Publishers Group Canada, 2003), “Take it. It’s yours. Do with it what you will. But don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.”

If you’re a fourth-grade teacher who has ever taught a “mission” unit, if you’re a parent of a fourth-grader who has ever helped her child construct a “mission diorama,” if you’ve ever admired the architecture of a California mission, if you’ve ever harbored the thought that Ishi was the “last of his tribe,” you no longer have an excuse for perpetuating the horrors. Don’t say you didn’t know.

In Bad Indians, Deborah Miranda has created an achingly beautiful mosaic out of the broken shards of her people and herself, gently glued together with heartbreak and scars, memories and perseverance and hope. Her writing is crisp and clear and eminently readable, with passion in place of polemic. Deborah is a strong, brave, compassionate spirit, and I am honored to call her “friend.”

—Beverly Slapin

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Joe McKendry's One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World is on the Publishers Weekly Best Books 2012 list, in the children's nonfiction category.

What, I wondered, does McKendry say about American Indians? Are we part of his narrative?

I'll have to get to the library and read the whole book, but here's what I see using Google Books:
Today's Times Square sits on land once owned by Medcef Eden, a brewer-turned-farmer whose seventy-acre farm covered much of the area in the early 1800s.
That'd be an easy place for McKendry to say who owned that land prior to Medcef Eden, wouldn't it?  A few pages later, McKendry shows us some ironworkers laying steel beams:

The text suggests these ironworkers are working on the Paramount Building, completed in 1926. He doesn't tell us anything about the workers themselves. Maybe he meant some of them to be Mohawk. Maybe he didn't. Either way, he could have included a sidebar about the Mohawk ironworkers who have been building those skyscrapers since the late 1800s. If you want to know more about the Mohawk ironworkers, the National Museum of the American Indian has a peek at an exhibit, and Time has a photoessay of Mohawk ironworkers.

I'll let you know when I get a copy and see the whole thing. I think I'm really going to like McKendry's artistry, but I also think I'll walk away from it wishing it was more comprehensive with regard to Native peoples. McKendry's attention to detail is astounding. You can see some of the art at his website. I'm guessing it isn't meant to be a social history, but he does include information about some people... Charles Thorley is one; Oscar Hammerstein is another.

More later...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jodi Lynn Anderson's TIGER LILY - Part 2

Back in June, I read part of Jodi Lynn Anderson's Tiger Lily. I didn't like what I read and posted my thoughts. The book is now on School Library Journal's "Best of 2012" list, so I got it out of the library and read it today. These are my initial thoughts.


  • The story is set in the time prior to Wendy's arrival at Neverland. 
  • The narrator is Tinker Bell. 
  • There are tribes. They live in these three villages: SkyEaters, Cliff Dwellers, and Bog Dwellers.
  • I don't think Anderson uses the word 'Indian' anywhere in the book. She uses 'tribe' and 'warrior' and 'warriors' and 'shaman.'  

What I don't like:
Here's what stands out to me right now. I've got lots and lots of notes, but as I close the book and set it down, this is what is in my mind.

First concern: the names Anderson created for the Native characters. For years and years, non-Native writers have created outlandish names for their characters. In the process, they intentionally or not, trivialize and mock something that matters to us a great deal. Russell Hoban did it in Soonchild. Jon Scieszka did it in My Oh MayaHere's the names in Tiger Lily:

Pine Sap
Moon Eye
Tik Tok
Magnolia Bud
Aunt Fire
Aunt Sticky Feet
Bat Wing
Silk Whiskers
Red Leaf
Bear Claw

Tik Tok is the name of the village shaman. We don't know what his name was to start with, but once he finds the clock and hears its tick tock, he decides to have a ceremony and change his name to Tik Tok. It makes him seem a foolish and silly person.

Tik Tok finds Tiger Lily under a tiger lily flower and names her after it. Aunt Sticky Feet was named that way because of the time she had walked through hot tar and then got her foot stuck to a chicken that ran into her path.

Some of you may have heard the crass joke about how an Indian is named after the first thing the person bestowing the name sees in the morning, or just at the moment he/she is about to give a name to someone. It is a racist joke, and as such, it isn't funny, and neither are the humorous names authors create for their characters (whether they directly call their characters Indian or not).

Second concern: Tik Tok is a transgender character. He wears purple and raspberry colored dresses. Once I got past the name, I liked him. I liked him a lot. But then, the Englander named Philip moves into the village and turns the people against him. Instead of listening to Tik Tok, they cluster around Philip and stories of his god. In Anderson's story, the villagers are simpletons. Though, by the end of the story, they've rejected Christianity and returned to their own ways, Anderson's characterization of them is troubling. This may be Neverland to her, but to me, she's playing with very painful history in which Indigenous peoples fought very hard to defend their ways of life.

It was very hard for me to read the pages about what happens to Tik Tok. Because of pressure from Philip and the villagers rejection of him in favor of Philip, he decides he cannot live his life as a man who wears dresses and long hair anymore. He lets Philip cut his hair. It was painful to read that part, and I'm not sure that Anderson knows just how that scene will impact Native readers.

Not long after that, Tik Tok commits suicide. That was painful to read, too, though it isn't spelled out as graphically as the hair cutting is. Same thing with Moon Eye's rape. It is not graphically laid out, but there is enough there that it is painful to read.

Reviewers note that Tiger Lily is very dark, but for me, its darkness is one of ignorance--not the ugly racism Anderson seeks to expose--but the exposure of her own ignorance of what certain things in history might mean to a Native reader. As for the naming, I don't know how to characterize it. When I've had time to think about Tiger Lily a bit more, I'll likely write some more, but that's what I've got for now.

Update, Thursday, December 13th, 10:12 AM

Picking up where I left off last night... I have additional concerns.

The tribal people, obviously, had their own language prior to the arrival of the Englanders. But, when the Englanders first arrive (prior to the setting of Tiger Lily), they brought their language with them and gave it as "a gift" (page 10) to the Bog Dwellers, who in turn, gave it to the other tribes. Remember, it is Tinker Bell who is narrating, and it is she who calls English a gift. Maybe Tiger Lily has a different view of English, but we don't know.

Stepping into a broader context, Native peoples in the U.S. who were sent to boarding schools were beaten when they spoke their own language. The result is that Indigenous languages are in decline. In that context, it is callous to see English called "a gift." I assume Anderson needed to insert English into the narrative because Tik Tok and Pine Sap read books written by Englanders. One is Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. On page 64, Pine Sap is reading "Song of myself" aloud to Tiger Lily. Ironically, I imagine that Whitman is one of the poets Native students had to read in the boarding schools. On page 33, Anderson's reference to an old mission tells us she must have some knowledge of missionary activities. Perhaps she views missionaries as benevolent, and that's why she calls English a gift. Anderson is a gifted writer. Couldn't she have figured out a way to problematize English as "a gift"?

On page 84, when Tiger Lily first meets the Lost Boys, Tootles tells her that she has hairy arms, and that girls aren't supposed to have hairy arms. Tiger Lily is embarrassed and thinks about "photos of the English ladies she'd seen, smooth and white, and for a moment, it made her sad." We know Tiger Lily's thoughts because Tinker Bell can hear them. Was Tiger Lily sad that her skin wasn't smooth and white? Later in the book, Wendy's skin is described as "cloudlike with whiteness." Wendy showers Peter and the boys with admiration. They "can't take their eyes off her" (p. 235). In the end, Peter chooses Wendy. We know he chooses Wendy---it is, after all---Barre's story that Anderson is working with. I don't know what to make of all this. It is more complicated than a simple elevation of white over dark skin, but the messages it imparts are troubling.

A few words about the photos... We aren't told where she saw those photos. Are they in books left behind by the missionaries? Leaves of Glass was published in 1855, which is right around the time that it was beginning to be easier to reproduce photographs. I don't know about the dates at which books with photographs in them would be circulating. Course, Tiger Lily is a work of fantasy and we can't really say what time period it is set in, but the reference to Whitman and a later reference to the end of sailing and steamships (in favor of "newer and quicker machines" (p. 279) do give us a time period to work with. She probably was seeing photographs of English ladies, if not in books, then actual photographs.

Do I find anything to like about Tiger Lily? I'm reluctant to say, because I don't want my comments taken out of context to indicate that I recommend the book. I don't recommend it. I find Tiger Lily very troubling, and I find it troubling that reviewers are praising it. Didn't any of them have a niggling of any kind that might suggest it isn't deserving of all that praise? I suppose they like her writing. She is a good writer. I just wish she had not used her art in this book.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

James and Joseph Bruchac's RABBIT'S SNOW DANCE

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

Have you heard Joe Bruchac tell a story? He's got a terrific voice for telling stories. As I read Rabbit's Snow Dance, I was able to play that voice in my head as Rabbit says:
"I want snow," he said. "I want it, I want it, I want it right now!"
Rabbit's Snow Dance is by Joe and his son, James. And, I gotta say, it is absolutely delightful!

Rabbit's Snow Dance is absolutely delightful!

Rabbit, you see, wants the tasty leaves and buds at the top of the trees. He can't reach them, but he knows that if there was a lot of snow on the ground, he could stand on it and get those tasty treats. He knows a snow dance, too, and thinks he'll sing the song and do the dance, even though it isn't the right season to do it...

The combination of the Bruchac's storytelling and Jeff Newman's illustrations works perfectly. Here's the cover:

On the cover, Rabbit is playing a hand drum. Notice the drumstick in his left paw? Newman obviously did some research, or, maybe he knows from experience that Native peoples do not play a drum with a bare hand. So many illustrators get that wrong! Newman got it right.

Rabbit's Snow Dance, we learn on the title page inside, is a traditional Iroquois story. Back in 1993, Betsy Hearne developed a Source Note Countdown as part of her article, "Cite the Source: Reducing Cultural Chaos in Picture Books, Part 1." In model source notes, we'd learn just where the story came from, when and how it ought to be told (its cultural context), and, how the teller changed it from the version he or she heard/read it from. We don't have any of that in Rabbit's Snow Dance. Joe has provided it for other books. I wrote to a storyteller a couple of years ago. He told me that publisher's don't want to give authors space for that information. If that is the status of model notes right now, I think we're all losing out. There are, for example, six different tribal nations within the Iroquois: Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, Tuscarora, Mohawk, and Cayuga. Do they share this story? Or, does it belong to one in particular?

That said, I do think Rabbit's Snow Dance has a lot to offer as a read-aloud and highly recommend it. I'll look around for some source info and share it when I get it. Perhaps you can print it out and insert it yourself.

Rabbit's Snow Day
As told by James and Joseph Bruchac
Illustrated by Jeff Newman
Published by Dial, in 2012.

Order it from your favorite independent bookseller right away so you'll have it for the snowtimes that are upon us---not because of Rabbit's dance, but because its Wintertime. Snowtime!

Update, December 20, 2012:

Thanks to Beverly for writing to Joe to get the background of the story...  It will appear in the subsequent printings of the story. Here it is:

"Rabbit's Snow Dance" is a story that I first heard more than 50 years ago from several different Native elders. The first of them was my friend Swift Eagle, a Pueblo/Jicarilla Apache artist and storyteller (whose own life would make an interesting story) who lived in Schroon Lake, New York and spent many years working in a tourist attraction called Frontier Town. Swifty had been in the movies, friends with Jim Thorpe, traveled all over the country and seemed to know just about everyone in Indian country, including many Iroquois folks of his generation. There are more than a dozen Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) stories that Swifty often told, including this one, the story of how Bear Lost his tail, Turtle's Race With Bear and others. I heard him tell that story when I was a little boy visiting Frontier Town in the early 50s. (Swift Eagle also was known as a Pueblo culture bearer. He is mentioned in at least one ethnologist's work as perhaps the first Pueblo person to produce artwork as a painter. In 1955, Swifty recorded THE PUEBLO INDIANS IN SONG STORY AND DANCE for Caedmon.)

I also heard a version of the story from Maurice Dennis/Mdawelasis, an Abenaki elder who lived in Old Forge, N.Y., also working in a tourist attraction called The Enchanted Forest. (By the way, a book should be written about Indians playing Indian for tourists in such locales during the middle decades of the 20th century.) Maurice also knew the Abenaki snow dance and famously performed it one snowless winter for the town of Old Forge to help the economy by providing snow for the trails to attract snowmobilers. It worked and a storm swept in that blanketed Old Forge, the only Adirondack town with deep snow that winter. It made the national news that year of 1980 and the town of Lake Placid then tried to hire Maurice to do the snow dance for the Winter Olympics. But he refused, saying he did it for his town and couldn't do it for money. (That dance, by the way, was given the people by the rabbit or snowshoe hare, who is a very important figure in other Abenaki traditional tales.)

The earliest published version of Rabbit making it snow appears to be the one in STORIES THE IROQUOIS TELL THEIR CHILDREN by Mabel Powers (American Book Company, 1917). It is titled "Why the Hare Has a Split Lip and Short Tail." The Hare sings:

Ah gon ne yah--yeh!
Ah gon ne yah--yeh!
dah gen, dah ton
Ah gon ne yah--yeh!
Ah gon ne yah--yeh
which is translated as;
Snow, snow, snow
How I would run if I had snow
Snow, snow, snow
How I would run if I had snow

Powers was not Native herself, but cites 23 different Iroquois storytellers as sources, including their names, Indian names, tribal nation and clan. (Many of them would later be mentioned as sources by Arthur Parker in SENECA MYTHS AND FOLK TALES (Buffalo Historical Society, 1923) Her book also included a Foreword endorsing her tellings and signed by Chiefs from all Six Iroquois Nations.

The next published version can be found in the Seneca artist J.J. Cornplanter's LEGENDS OF THE LONGHOUSE (J.B. Lippincott, 1938) and titled "Rabbit and Pussy-Willow, a Seneca Just-so Story." Written in the form of a letter to a friend, it includes that same song, as well as commentary about the place of such stories in Seneca life. 

My own first published version of the story is in my book IROQUOIS STORIES, published in 1985 by the Crossing Press. There have been other published versions since, such as the one called "The Rabbit" in TYENDINAGA TALES (McGill-Queens, 1988) collected by Rona Rustige. 

The telling that James and I chose to do is both drawn from and different from those previous versions. It came to be as a result of both of us telling that story to audiences over the years. In my case, more than 40 years of telling it (first to Jim and his brother Jesse when they were children). In Jim's case, more than 20. 

Before I go further I should mention that it has become increasingly clear to me over the decades how much and how often stories travel. . .not just within a tribal nation, but beyond its traditional boundaries. It's impossible to count how many thousands, perhaps millions, of people have heard or read versions of this one story alone over the last century. It's sometimes hard to know when (and where) a traditional tale was first told unless it deals with very specific historical events or cultural practices. 

Animal stories--like those of Aesop (the Greek Ethiopian)--may travel the best. Here in the northeast, a number of our Wabanaki stories have clearly been influenced by Iroquois traditional tales. And vice versa. And the Algonquin peoples and our languages have roots rather deeper than those of the Haudenosaunee, who migrated into our region a thousand or so years ago. It means that sometimes we have new or different insights into a story. For example, one thing I have heard from Abenaki people--such as Maurice Dennis--was that the tree which holds those pieces of Rabbit's tale are not pussy willows at all. The pussy willow is a short bush, not the tallest tree in the forest that would stick up above the deep snow. Instead, it is the poplar, a tall growing tree that produces catkins that fall to the ground in early spring.

That is why in our telling we used an Abenaki language version of the song and say near the end "Since then, at the time of year when the snow goes away, you can see those little furry pieces of Rabbit's tail stuck on certain trees. Some call them pussy willows, but those who know about Rabbit's snow dance know what they really are." Honoring the tellings of those in the past and bringing our own voices and experience into this version which is not wholly traditional, but our own, unique retelling. 

There's a lot more that could be said, but this tale of a tale of a tail is already too long, so

I'll cut it short here,

Monday, December 10, 2012

Russell Hoban's SOONCHILD

Ummm... Russell Hoban, author of some terrific picture books, wrote this on page 6 of Soonchild: 
John came from a long line of shamans. His mother was Stay With It and his father was Go Anywhere. His mother's mother was Never Give Up and her father was Try Anything. His father's mother was Do It Now and his father's father was Whatever Works. His mother's grandmother was Where Is It? and his father's grandmother was Don't Miss Anything. His mother's grandmother was Everything Matters and his father's grandfather was Go All The Way. 
John's full name, by the way, is Sixteen-Face John. His wife's name is No Problem.

Want some more excerpts from this novel based on Inuit stories? Did you say 'hell no'?! That's what I'm saying.

Say 'hell no' to Hoban's Soonchild.

Calling it playful, challenging, profound, and glib, the reviewer at Booklist gave it a starred review and categorizes it as appropriate for grades 9-12.

The reviewer at VOYA says the Native names (really, Voya? You think those are "Native" names?!) give the story "unexpected depth" and recommends it for readers who are 11 to 14.

The Kirkus reviewer says it is "based on paternalistic and romanticized notions about Native peoples." Quoting from the book, the Kirkus reviewer demonstrates that Hoban is addressing non-Inuit readers:
"Maybe…there isn't any north where you are. Maybe it's warm….There aren't any Inuit or dogsleds, nothing like that."
Some (obviously) think Hoban is clever. I think he is ignorant and insensitive, and I wouldn't recommend his book for anyone at all!

Friday, December 07, 2012


On December 4, 2012, The New York Times published "Books to Match Diverse Young Readers" about books that featured characters who are "black, Latino, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native." Here's a screen capture of the article:

The first book on the second row is Louise Erdrich's Chickadee. If you click on it, you'll be able to read the first words of the book. On the third row, the last image is Cynthia Leitich Smith's Indian Shoes. I heartily recommend Chickadee and Indian Shoes and am glad to see them getting this attention in the Times. 

I am not familiar with The Year of Miss Agnes, but it was not favorably reviewed in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. In it, reviewer Marlene Atleo writes that Miss Agnes is an eccentric and dedicated white teacher of Indigenous children, but that throughout, the message is that "Native people merely survive" and that "white people think..." Atleo's review includes an excerpt:
With Miss Agnes the world got bigger and then it got smaller. We used to think we were something, but then she told us all the things that were bigger than us, the universe and all that, and then all the things that were smaller. To small to even see. So people were sort of in between, not big and small, just in between.
Reading that excerpt, I see the trope of the white teacher rescuing the Indians from their primitive and ignorant ways. It doesn't make one lick of sense to me, though, given that Native peoples view ourselves as part of the world. I'm guessing that Alaska Native children in isolated areas already know that people are "in between." Isn't it, generally speaking, non-Native people who are the ones that need to learn their place in the world as caretakers rather than exploiters of the earth's resources?

If you choose Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, avoid the other Alvin book, Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties. It features Alvin playing Indian.
I'm uploading this post on December 7, 2012. For those of you looking for holiday gifts, put Chickadee and Indian Shoes on your lists. Both are available from Birchbark Books in their "young adult" link.

Buy books from Birchbark Books! Support independent bookstores!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

THIS AMERICAN LIFE: "Little War on the Prairie", THE DAKOTA 38, and resources for teaching about the US-Dakota War of 1862

On November 23, 2012, This American Life devoted an entire show to a single topic. Titled Little War on the Prairie it is a well-executed look at the ways that people tell a state's history, leaving out things they find inconvenient, or troubling in some way.

The segment opens with John Biewen, a guy who grew up in Mankato, and, who because of the liberal leanings of his parents, knew about racial injustice in the south. He had no idea, however, of the racial injustice in Mankato's history. "Why don't we talk about it?" he asks.

To the credit of Ira Glass, Little War on the Prairie gives us a chance to talk about it. The "it" is the largest mass execution in U.S. history. And like The Little House on the Prairie, a lot is left out of the way the U.S. Dakota War is presented in most histories.


"It" is the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

In the piece, Biewen talks with Gwen Westerman. Gwen is Dakota and teaches at Minnesota State University. I know Gwen personally. We were on a panel together several years ago on Representations in Art, Literature, & Cultural Production.

Biewen and Gwen drive to several sites in the area, and they critique what they read and see, and equally significant, they talk about what they do not read and see, and why.

Their dialog is stark and poignant, as it should be, given what they are discussing.

Image from the June 30, 2012 edition of the Twin Cities Pioneer Press

Towards the end of the segment, Biewen talks to some senior girls in high school to see what they know about the Dakota War. Two of them know about the execution. But he also talks to a third-grade teacher, asking her how she presents the War of 1862. Here's her response:

We just talked about, like a conflict is a disagreement. And we talked how the Dakota Indians didn't know how to solve their conflicts. And the only way they knew how to solve their disagreements was to fight, which we know we don't fight when we solve conflicts, we use our words.
But that was their only way that they knew how to solve a conflict, they fought. And so then the white settlers needed to fight back to protect themselves. And we talked about people were killed. And then we talked about how the Dakota Indians were-- [FADES OUT]

I would like to know what else she said, and I'd really like to know how she feels now, after having listened to the entire segment, which I assume she did. Some listeners may feel she was mis-used by Biewen for this program. If she was not aware of the totality of the segment, I feel bad for her, but I feel far worse for the children who--instead of being taught about Dakota people who had been engaged in diplomatic treaty negotiations with the U.S. government--are being taught that Indians were violent and don't know how to use words to solve conflicts.

I encourage teachers and librarians to listen to Little War on the Prairie, or, read the transcript. And then, apply what you learn to how you teach about the U.S. Dakota War, and how you select and deselect books about it.

I also encourage you to visit the U.S. Dakota War website of the Minnesota Historical Society, where they've put together resources you can use, including an annotated treaty. Here's their introductory video:

At their website, there's also an annotated letter, written in Dakota, by Mowis Itewakanhdiota, a Dakota man who was  imprisoned after the war. Thirty eight men were executed, while many more were sentenced to life in prison in Davenport, Iowa. In his letter, Itewakanhdiota writes that he and the other prisoners of war have heard that Lincoln was assassinated. It was Lincoln's intervention that sent some men to prison rather than execution, and they are worried that Lincoln's death may have ramifications for their own lives. (A thumbnail of the letter is on the right side of the page. Click on it to see a larger image; hovering over the red circles on the left side, a box will appear with the text in Dakota and English).

Given the resources available, there is no reason why biased history of this war should continue to be taught. 

Given the resources available, there is no reason why biased history of this war should continue to be taught. Here's a feature-length documentary about the execution:

Please share the link to this page with teachers and librarians. Let's be honest in how we tell history. Let's, as Biewan asked us to do, talk about it. All of it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Navajo film project: RAINBOW BIRD

On AICL, I encourage parents, teachers, librarians, and anyone who works with children and the books they read or the movies they watch, to seek out books and films by Native people who know their subject from the inside.

Today, I'm writing to ask you to support a project called Rainbow Bird. The energy and creative vision behind it is Brian Young. Brian is Dine (Navajo), and studied film at Yale. He is using Kickstarter to raise the funds for the project. At the Kickstarter site, Brian introduces the story of Rainbow Bird:

"A long time ago, all birds were without color. One day, however, the gods allowed all the birds to gather their own colors. Blue Bird flew in the sky and absorbed the sky for its color. Yellow Bird flew into a corn field and absorbed the color of the corn pollen. One bird went on a quest to gather all the colors of the rainbow. What ever became of that bird?" I grew up listening to this story and many others during my youth on the Navajo reservation. While listening to these stories, I often imagined a vibrant colorful world where animals had human qualities and could speak with humans."

Sounds fascinating, doesn't it? I'm excited about Brian's project and would love to see it move from idea to a film that I can review for AICL.


Can you donate $5.00? Or $10? Or maybe more?
The deadline is December 2nd.

You can read details about it at the Kickstarter site. Here's a frame from the film:

Doesn't it look absolutely gorgeous? Brian is working hard on raising the money he needs, and could use your help. Please visit Rainbow Bird at the Kickstarter site and donate what you can.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

TIGER EYES: Judy Blume's book and its film adaptation

Recently in Native news sources, I read that Tatanka Means (his father was Russell Means, activist and actor who recently passed away), is in Tiger Eyes, a film adaptation of Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes. Here's the trailer:

Being tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo and having grown up there means that I immediately recognized the setting. This scene is shot at Bandelier. In the clip, "Wolf" tells "Tiger" that Tewa people, his ancestors, lived in the caves 800 years ago. Now, he goes on, that part of his family lives in a pueblo 30 miles away.

My first thought was "did I read Tiger Eyes" when I was in high school?

I got a copy of the book and started reading. I saw that it was published in 1981. I graduated from Pojoaque High School in 1977, so I doubt that I'd read it until now.

As I read Blume's coming-of-age novel, I remembered the places she describes. Nambe Pueblo is about 25 miles from Los Alamos. My dad worked at Los Alamos National Lab as an electrical engineer. He won international engineering awards for cameras he designed and built at the lab. As a family, we went up there a lot... to the library, to the movie theater. There were barbecues at homes of my dad's colleagues, too. I got to know some of those scientists and their kids. Due to its history as the place where Robert J. Oppenheimer oversaw the development of atomic weapons and the site of a national laboratory, it is an unusual place.

After reading Tiger Eyes, I did a bit of research.

I learned that in 1976, Judy Blume moved to Los Alamos and lived there for a few years. That explains why she was able to write, with great accuracy, about Los Alamos. The main character is a teen-aged girl named Davey. Her family relocates to Los Alamos after her father's death. They live with her aunt and uncle. Davey finds them to be oppressive. They are always worried about her getting hurt. They insist, for example, that she wear a helmet when riding her bike. Through Davey, Blume puts forward an interesting analysis of what drives that fear (hint: atomic weapons).

Given the focus of American Indians in Children's Literature, I'll turn now to Wolf (I gotta say, though, that "Wolf" doesn't ring true as the sort of name Pueblo men are given), the Native character in Blume's book.

On page 47 of my copy (I'm reading the new paperback with the actress on the cover), Davey is hiking near some cliff dwellings. She meets a guy who is:
about nineteen or twenty, wearing faded cutoffs, hiking books with wool socks sticking out over the tops and no shirt. He has a knapsack on his back. He is maybe 5'9", with suntanned skin and dark hair.
His eyes are dark brown. When she asks him his name, he tells her to call him Wolf. She asks if that is his first or last name, and he says "either." The dialog in the video about his ancestors being Pueblo does not appear in the novel. As they part ways in the book, Wolf asks Davey what her name is, and she says Tiger. Later on in the story, he will call her Tiger Eyes.

His name, we learn later, is Martin Ortiz. His father, Willie Ortiz, is one of the patients Davey cares for as a candy striper at the hospital. His dad "speaks in a lyrical New Mexican accent" (p. 106). Though I read carefully, I don't remember Wolf/Martin ever speaking about his mother. My guess---given the dialog in the video---is that his mother is Pueblo, and that his Pueblo name is Wolf. They spend time together in the canyon. He tells her stories about the Anasazi and gives her a book titled The First Americans. 

I'm curious about how the relationship between Wolf/Martin and Tiger/Davey will be shown in the film. He's definitely a key figure in her emotional healing, but they don't have a romantic relationship. She definitely has a crush on him, and imagines being with him and living in the caves and raising a family. That's a bit hokey.

I want to dig in a bit more to the racial relationships of the 60s and 70s in Los Alamos. The white people (her friend Jane, and her aunt Bitsy), both of whom are White, are afraid of the Spanish people. When Davey goes to Santa Fe with Jan and her family to do Christmas shopping, there's this scene on page 149-150:
As we are walking up Palace Avenue, a group of boys comes toward us. Jane clutches my arm.
"What is it?" I ask. She is trembling.
"They're Spanish," she whispers.
"Don't look at them. Look away. Look across the street."
"Jane..." I say and start to laugh.
"Do you know how high the rape statistics are in this town? she whispers.
"No," I tell her."
"Nobody's going to rape you in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of town."
"Don't be so sure."
The boys pass us.
"You see," Jane says, "Didn't I tell you?"
"Didn't you hear them?"
"Hear them what?"
"Make those sounds."
"No," I say. "I didn't hear anything. I don't think they even noticed us."
"They're all like that," Jane says anyway. They're all out to rape Anglo girls."
"Jane, that is one of the craziest things I've ever heard!" We stop walking and face each other.
"You're new around here," she says. "You don't understand."
I think of Wolf and inside my head I say No, you're the one who doesn't understand.
When they get back to their car, someone has written on the hood in magic marker "Los Alamos sucks" (p. 152). A few pages later, Wolf/Martin gives Tiger/Davey a ride home from the hospital. When Davey goes inside, her aunt wants to know who he is:
"His name is Martin Ortiz," I say, walking toward the stairs.
"Ortiz?" Bitsy repeats, following me.
"Does he go to the high school?"
"Not anymore."
"He's a dropout?"
"I didn't say that."
"Well, why don't you just tell me about him, Davey... instead of playing Twenty Questions."
"You're the one playing Twenty Questions, not me," I say.
Bitsy takes a deep breath. "Is he Spanish?"
"I guess."
"You guess?"
"I never asked him."
"Where is he from, Espanola?"
"No, he's from here. He's from Los Alamos."
"He is?"
"Yes. He works at the Lab."
"What does he do there.... maintenance?"
I almost laugh. I almost laugh and say, Yes, he picks up the garbage, just to see her reaction. But I don't. I am very polite. I say, "His father is a patient at the Medical Center. He goes to Cal Tech, but he's taking the semester off."
"Well," Bitsy says, her voice full of relief. "Why didn't you say so in the first place?"
Growing up in Pojoaque, I was keenly aware of the drug trade that was taking over Espanola. Violence was such that my dad worried about us anytime we drove through Espanola to visit our cousins at Ohkay Owengeh (then called San Juan). Los Alamos--then and now, too, I think---is very White. There was definitely a class divide at the lab, with scientists being primarily White and maintenance and tech people being Spanish or Pueblo. My dad worked for several years alongside other Spanish and Pueblo people at the lab who worked on diversity initiatives and advocacy for Spanish or Pueblo people who were being treated unfairly. I'm going to talk to friends from my teen years and see what they remember about racial dynamics, and, I'm going to talk to a close friend from high school who teaches now at Los Alamos.

More on that later.

For now, I'm wondering about the decision to use that particular segment of the film for the trailer. It seems that someone (PR people?) may be wishing to capitalize on the success of the Twilight films by showcasing another Native actor. In this case, that actor is Tatanka Means (shown in photo on right). If that is the case, I am on board. Wolf/Martin is a realistic Native guy. I know Native guys like him. They're real. They're human---not werewolves as in Meyer's stories---and we need to see a lot more realistic depictions of Native people.

I hope that the guy we see in the film is as real as the one we come to know when reading Tiger Eyes. I do wish we knew more about his Pueblo identity, but if Blume stayed away from that due to lack of knowledge and a desire not to mess up, kudos to her.

Note: In the photo, Means is holding his Best Supporting Actor award, from the 2012 American Indian Film Festival.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Sorry for this late notice...  Just letting readers of AICL know that I'll be a guest tomorrow (Friday, Nov 16, 2012) on Native America Calling

Friday, November 16, 2012 – Twilight Saga’s Biggest Critics: Native America: 
At the stroke of Midnight this morning moviegoers around the country flooded into theaters to see the last movie chapter in the Twilight saga. There have been several movies that have attracted millions eager to see the storyline unfold. One major element pushing the narrative that began in the pages of Stephenie Meyer's book series includes Native Americans. The Native element of the Twilight saga revolves around the Quileute Nation, and the legend that the tribe is descendent from wolves. Since the first movie in the grouping of vampire versus wolf sequences Native influence has once again made it to Hollywood but, what has been the effect? How has this movie influenced the lives of Natives? Has it added to the growing fire of stereotypes? When it comes to Native cinema has it advanced Natives in front of, and behind the camera or just the opposite? Guests include: Dr. Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo) educator and author of the blog American Indians in Children's Literature.

Native America Calling is an hour-long call-in program that links public radio stations, the Internet, and listeners to discuss issues specific to Native communities.

Terrific news! Louise Erdrich's THE ROUND HOUSE won the 2012 National Book Award

Last night (November 14, 2012), Louise Erdrich's The Round House won the 2012 National Book Award in the fiction category for the adult market, but it will be one of those crossover books, read widely by young adults. 

The story Erdrich tells is a difficult one. 

Geraldine Coutts, thirteen-year-old Joe's mother, is raped. Joe is the narrator. The novel is set in North Dakota in 1988. We meet Joe and his father on the first page. They're outside, working. Turning to the next page, Joe goes inside to his father's study (his dad is a tribal judge):
I took out the law book my father called The Bible. Felix S. Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law. It had been given to my father by his father; the rust red binding was scraped, the long spine cracked, and every page bore handwritten comments. I was trying to get used to the old-fashioned language and constant footnotes. Either my father or my grandfather had placed an exclamation point on page 38, beside the italicized case, which had naturally interested me also: United States v. Forty-three Gallons of Whiskey. I suppose one of them had thought that title was ridiculous, as I did. Nevertheless, I was parsing out the idea, established in other cases and reinforced in this one, that our treaties with the government were like treaties with foreign nations. That the grandeur and power my Mooshum talked about wasn't entirely lost, as it was, at least to some degree I meant to know, still protected by the law.  
That passage is a peek into what readers will find in The Round House. Erdrich gives us a story that has--at its heart--Native Nations, treaties, injustice, and, perseverance. In an interview at the National Book Award website, Erdrich said:
The immense difficulty of prosecuting crimes of sexual violence on reservations has haunted me for many years, but I didn't know how to tell the story. I wanted to write it as a suspense novel. How else to include jurisdictional complexity? I didn't want to bore myself. When my main character, Joe, started talking, I knew I had been waiting for him. A writer's gift. Even now I miss writing in his voice and miss working on this book.
In its October 10, 2012 article on The Round House being listed as a finalist for the award, Indian Country Today wrote:
Erdrich's story, though fictional, is especially timely considering recent news about the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and revelations of rampant sexual abuse on at least one reserve.
Erdrich was on NPR a few weeks ago and read from The Round House

A bonus for those of you who prefer audiobooks to print...  The person who recorded the audiobook is Gary Farmer (Cayuga). He's an actor, musician, activist, and filmmaker. You can listen to an excerpt here: The Round House read by Gary Farmer


Get a signed copy of The Round House from 
Erdrich's bookstore, Birchbark Books. 


If you want to read more about The Round House, the store has compiled links to video, audio, and print interviews. Some librarians and teachers may find the story inappropriate for your patrons and students. If that's the case, I still recommend that you read it yourself. It will make you better able to discern the good from the mediocre or bad in terms of how Native people are portrayed in literature for adults, teens, or children. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Alyson Noel's FATED

A reader wrote to ask if I would take a look at Alyson Noel's young adult novel, Fated. I looked it up, and seeing that it was set in New Mexico, I took it with me on the road to do a workshop with Native people working in libraries.

I'm dismayed with the popularity of this book. As I prepare this review, it has 2,762 ratings on GoodReads, 621 reviews, and has 4 out of 5 stars. On Amazon, its got 94 customer reviews, and 3.5 out of 5 stars. It is in the popular "paranormal young adult" genre.


I'm guessing fans of Fated are people who 
wish to "honor" Native people with mascots... 

What I mean by "people who honor Native people with mascots" means people with little substantive knowledge about Native people. Instead of factual knowledge of who we are, they embrace romantic ideas of us as warriors and shamans with feathers and drums. The people who want to "honor" us are people who mean well; they're people with good intentions.

But heck! How long is ignorance and stereotyping borne of good intentions going to go on?! I guess it'll continue as long as there is a market for stories with hunky "Native American" guys with high cheekbones, smooth brown skin, and long, glossy black hair.

But it will also continue as long as "any book will do, just as long as they're reading" is the stance about reading. The "any book will do" stance--when the depictions of American Indians are stereotypical, biased, or inaccurate--is just a repeat of colonization where colonizers gaze upon American Indians, lusting for bodies.

If you follow me on Twitter (@debreese), you may have seen my snarky tweets about this book. Its hard to take Noel's Fated seriously! I know I'll get some flack for being snarky...  People who feel bad for the author and all her hard work will be irate at my tweets.

Let's meet the characters in Alyson Noel's Fated. 

Daire Lyons/Santos is the main character (that's her on the cover). She's sixteen years old and has been having dreams of a hot guy with glossy black hair who morphs into a scary hot guy with glossy black hair. She's also been seeing glowing people (while she's awake) ever since she turned 16. She has a major incident in Morocco (her mom does make up for Hollywood movies and she's with her mom in Morocco). There are threats to institutionalize her. But out of the blue, her father's mother (Paloma) calls them in Morocco and convinces Daire's mother (Jennica) to bring Daire to "Enchantment, New Mexico" to live with--and be healed--by Paloma. Until this phone call, Paloma has not been part of her life.

Jennica Lyons is Daire's mother.

Django Santos was Daire's father. He died before Jennica was born, but he didn't just die. He was decapitated. Evil people, ya' know! They do wicked things like decapitation to good guys like Django.

Paloma Santos is Daire's grandmother (mother of Django). I'm not altogether sure about Paloma's identity. On page 68, "she's a living picture of Old World, Latina hospitality." Daire sees her at Django's grave "murmuring in her native Spanish" (p. 100). Then on page 130, Paloma tells Daire that years ago, Alejandro (see next paragraph) "was called back to Brazil" for a family emergency, suggesting the two are from Brazil. Then on page 145, Daire's "Irish side" finally meets her "Hispanic side." What do you think about Paloma's identity? One thing is not ambiguous: Paloma is a powerful "Seeker" (previously known, according to Paloma, as shamans) in a long line of shaman/seekers who seek the truth, the spirit, the light, the soul, and it is their destiny to keep things in balance.

Alejandro Santos was Daire's grandfather (father of Django). He was a very powerful "Jaguar Shaman of the highest order" (p. 130). Paloma and Alejandro's marriage was arranged, with hopes that they would have offspring with great powers. He was called back to Brazil and died in a plane accident.

That hot guy with glossy black hair that, in Daire's dreams, morphs into a scary hot guy with glossy black hair? Well, they are real! They are identical twins. The not-scary one is named Dace. The scary one is named Cade.

Chepi is mother to the twins. She is "Native American" (p. ) and her father, Jolon, was a powerful medicine man. She raises Dace on the reservation with her and her uncle, and keeps him there to protect him from Cade. But, he wants to go to Milagro High School when he's old enough, and Chepi relents, and, as Paloma tells Daire, "he didn't leave the reservation till his teens" (p. 203). Honestly--I find that a bit hard to believe. Later, we learn that Dace goes by the name of Whitefeather (p. 227). He doesn't say it is his mom's name, just that he uses Whitefeather because he was raised by his mom.

According to Wikipedia, "Chepi" is a Narragansett ghost that can be called on to defeat an enemy. Really, Ms. Noel?! I see her use of this name as more evidence of ignorance of the diversity amongst "Native Americans." Defending the book on the basis of it being paranormal doesn't work for me because this sort of thing feeds ignorance, and Americans are already too ignorant when it comes to American Indians. (Info on Chepi's name added at 5:36 AM on Nov 12, 2012.)

Leandro Richter is the twins father. He is from a wealthy family that owns most of Enchantment. The Richters are sorcerers who've been fighting the Santos family for centuries. The Richters can alter a person's perceptions, tricking them into doing things. Leandro thought that by impregnating Chepi, he'd unite the power of their two families and with that offspring, overpower the Santos family and take over the world. Reign supreme and all that stuff. Using his mind altering powers, Leandro impregnates Chepi and does some kind of ritual that is supposed to make the soul of the baby dark-hearted. When she gets home, Jolon--in his pain over what has happened to her--is vulnerable. Leandro uses his powers to terrorize Jolan with images of the future havoc his grandson will wreak. Jolan has a heart attack and dies. Chepi is raised by her uncle, "Leftfoot" (yeah, that's his name). Leftfoot is a powerful medicine man, too. And rather than one dark-hearted baby, she has two sons. One dark, and the other light.

And now, the new-age story... 

Noel begins her novel with a few pages about "animal spirit guides" which, for me, screams new age baloney. As noted at the top of this review, Fated is categorized as young adult paranormal. Whether you call it new age or paranormal, it is a misrepresentation of Native people and ways, too.

Noel's characters are "Native American." She sets the novel on a reservation in New Mexico in a fictional town she calls Enchanted that is two hours from Albuquerque. There's a lot of reservations in New Mexico, several of which are two hours from Albuquerque: Santa Ana, Cochiti, Santo Domingo, Jemez, Laguna, maybe Acoma (depending on how fast you drive), Zia, San Felipe, Sandia, and Isleta. She didn't make her characters Pueblo, or any of the tribes I listed.

The two tribes that are specified are Navajo and Zuni. There's a dreamcatcher that is "Navajo in origin" (p. 70) and there are Navajo rugs in Paloma's house (p. 71 and p. 266). And, Daire's spirit animal in rock form is a raven that reminds her of Zuni hand-carved fetishes she saw at a tourist shop in Arizona (p. 129).

In her acknowledgements, she thanks Jardin in Santa Fe who talked with her about reservation life. Given the two-hours-from-Albuquerque location, I'd expect to recognize this "life on the reservation." Though Nambe (my pueblo) is north of Albuquerque by three hours, I think "life on the reservation" is similar enough that I'd recognize the one that Noel provides. But, I don't. Not really. Dirt roads, adobe houses and tumbleweeds don't cut it.

At first, Daire doesn't want to be with Paloma, but that changes soon enough. She gets a horse named Kachina. Paloma gives her an herbal drink that induces a dream state in which Daire meets her spirit animal, a raven. She learns that her element is the wind, and that she is a wind dancer.

Thrilled with Daire's learnings in that dream, Paloma packs her off on a vision quest in a cave. After a couple of days without food or water, the vision itself starts. She meets her dad and his animal spirit, and the animal spirits of other deceased members of the Santos family. Her spirit animal--a raven--pecks her body to pieces. When she wakens, she believes she has been rebuilt and is now "bigger, better, and stronger" (p. 159) than before.

On her way from the cave back to Paloma's house, she sings two songs: a mountain song and a wind song. She communes with the birds. She pauses under a mesquite tree where bees are swarming, sings her songs, and shakes the branches, agitating the bees, but they do not sting her. She comes upon a nest of scorpions, kicks off her shoes and stands in it, singing her song, but they don't sting her either (p. 161).

Daire is now a powerful Seeker. She has telekinetic powers. And by focusing on an animal, she can occupy that animal's mind and see what it sees. She does this with a cat, and a crow, and later, a cockroach. Yeah---a cockroach. Paloma wants her to spy on Cade at a club called the Rabbit Hole, so she gives Daire a cockroach in a jar and tells her to use it to spy on Cade. At the club, Daire occupies the cockroach, finds Cade, and rides on the hem of his jeans down into the Underworld where she learns of his evil plans to resurrect the dead.

During all of this, Paloma is getting weaker. When she's really bad off, Chepi and her uncle (Leftfoot) and one of Leftfoots apprentice's try to help her. The apprentice waves a pendulum over Palomas "chakras" (p. 299). I associate chakras with Hindu or Buddhist traditions, not ours!

See why I think Fated is baloney?! Noel's characters aren't Native. They're New Age. Right now, I'm a bit tired of thinking about this novel. I've laughed aloud at its ludicrous parts, and have felt dismayed that people actually like it. I may post additional thoughts in the next day or two. I'm pushing the 'publish' button and will fix typos I've missed tomorrow.

Update, Monday November 12, 2012, 7:38 AM
Looking at Noel's page for the sequel, Echo, I see photos she took on a trip to NM, to do research for her book. She was in Espanola, which is about three hours north of Albuquerque. It is a small town, but much bigger than the fictional town of Enchanted (in Fated). She was also at Santuario, a church in Chimayo, New Mexico. If you watch the videos at her site, you'll see Noel talking about wanting to incorporate shamanism and witch doctors and medicine men into this "Soul Seekers" series, of which Fated is the first one. She's definitely quite taken with those that are other to her---but not in a good way.

In an interview (got there from a link on her site), she says she tried to portray shamanism and Native American spirituality "in an authentic way and to do so with reverence." Ms. Noel? You didn't do either. You can't be "authentic" if you're using "Native American" and the only "reverence" I see is the deeply flawed kind borne of romantic notions of American Indians rather than a reverence borne out of actual knowledge, personal relationships, and respect.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Dear Gwen Stefani: Please make a video...

Dear Gwen Stefani,

It is good that No Doubt released a statement today, stating that you never intended to offend, hurt, or trivialize Native American people, culture, or history. I understand that you consulted with Native friends and experts at the University of California. Unfortunately, your consultants didn't give you good advice.

It is good that you removed the video and posted the apology, but given your status, you could do a lot more that has the potential to prevent millions from making the sort of error you made.

Ms. Stefani, please make another video... 

Make another video. Not a music one, but one in which you speak directly to your fans, telling them that Americans have a long way to go in understanding what stereotypes of American Indians are, and the ignorance and racism they perpetuate.

Make that video right away. It doesn't need slick production values. Make it right away so that teachers across the nation can use it this month! November is Native American Heritage Month. Teachers and librarians could use it to teach teens about American Indians and stereotyping.

Thank you,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature


For those who want background information, here's one photo that was used to promote the video. Regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature will easily spot the stereotypical aspects of the photo.

Source: Daily Mail

Regular readers will also spot multiple stereotypes in the article the photo came from:
"Yeehaw! Gwen Stefani dresses as a Native American, cavorts with a wolf, and ends up handcuffed in No Doubt's new Wild West themed music video."  In the article, Eleanor Gower reports that Stefani "dresses as a Native American Squaw." There are lot of photos there, with many other stereotypes. See, for example, Stefani doing smoke signals.

Here's a background article from November 2, 2012:
"Gwen Stefani and No Doubt Release Latest Music Video, Its Stereotypical Native Theme Garners Criticism" in Indian Country Today Media Network.

And here's a blog post from Scott Andrews, a Native lit professor:
"Gwen Stefani, Cher, and "Indians" 

And.... here's the apology from No Doubt:

In Regards to Our "Looking Hot" Music Video
Posted 11/3/2012 |As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures. Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialize Native American people, their culture or their history.   Although we consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California, we realize now that we have offended people.  This is of great concern to us and we are removing the video immediately.  The music that inspired us when we started the band, and the community of friends, family, and fans that surrounds us was built upon respect, unity and inclusiveness.  We sincerely apologize to the Native American community and anyone else offended by this video.  Being hurtful to anyone is simply not who we are.- No Doubt

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Presidential Proclamation: National Native American Heritage Month, 2012

The White House Press Secretary released President Obama's Presidential Proclamation, designating November as National Native American Heritage Month, 2012. Below is a screen capture of the webpage with the proclamation, followed by the text of the proclamation.

- - - - - - -
As the first people to live on the land we all cherish, American Indians and Alaska Natives have profoundly shaped our country's character and our cultural heritage. Today, Native Americans are leaders in every aspect of our society -- from the classroom, to the boardroom, to the battlefield. This month, we celebrate and honor the many ways American Indians and Alaska Natives have enriched our Nation, and we renew our commitment to respecting each tribe's identity while ensuring equal opportunity to pursue the American dream.
In paying tribute to Native American achievements, we must also acknowledge the parts of our shared history that have been marred by violence and tragic mistreatment. For centuries, Native Americans faced cruelty, injustice, and broken promises. As we work together to forge a brighter future, we cannot shy away from the difficult aspects of our past. That is why, in 2009, I signed a bipartisan resolution that finally recognized the sad and painful chapters in our shared history. My Administration remains dedicated to writing a new chapter in that history by strengthening our government-to-government relationship with tribal nations while enhancing tribal sovereignty and tribal self-determination.
Because we know that the best ideas for tribal nations come from within, my Administration has continued to engage tribal leaders in developing an agenda that respects their expertise on matters affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives. In collaboration with tribal nations, we are making critical investments to improve health and education services, create jobs, and strengthen tribal economies. In July, I was proud to sign the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act into law, which will enhance tribal control over the leasing of Indian lands. Last December, I signed an Executive Order to expand educational opportunities for Native American students. It aims to preserve Native languages, cultures, and histories while offering a competitive education that prepares young people to succeed in college and careers. And under the Tribal Law and Order Act and the Safe Indian Communities initiative, we are continuing to work with tribes to build safer communities. My Administration also supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Many longstanding Native American legal claims against the United States have been resolved, which will help accelerate the restoration of trust in our relationships with tribal nations. The settlements that came out of these claims -- including the historic Cobell and Keepseagle settlements, as well as more than 50 settlements in cases alleging Federal mismanagement of tribal trust funds and resources -- will put an end to decades of litigation and help drive economic development in tribal communities in the years to come.
In partnership with tribal nations, my Administration has addressed injustices and built new avenues of opportunity for American Indians and Alaska Natives. As we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, let us move forward in the spirit of mutual understanding and mutual trust, confident that our challenges can be met and that our shared future is bright.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2012 as National Native American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to celebrate November 23, 2012, as Native American Heritage Day.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.


Today (November 1st, the first day of American Indian Heritage Month), I'd like to introduce you to Patricia Riley's Growing Up Native American. The subtitle is Stories of oppression and survival, of heritage denied and reclaimed--22 American writers recall childhood in their native land. 

Published in 1993, it is an excellent volume for teachers who are using the writings of any of the 22 writers in the book. You'll find short stories, and excerpts from longer works, too, from Native writers I've written about on AICL and elsewhere. Eric Gansworth is one example. The anthology includes his short story, "The Ballad of Plastic Fred." I looked around the Internet. This is close to what Gansworth describes as Plastic Fred:

Just a few days ago, I received Gansworth's YA novel, If I Ever Get Out of Here. I'm working on a review of it and will post it soon. Some of the stories, like the excerpt by Francis La Flesche, are from autobiographies. His The Middle Five: Indian Schoolboys of the Omaha Tribe is set in the 1800s at the Presbyterian mission school in Nebraska. Simon Ortiz's story, "The Language We Knew," is about his childhood at Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico.

Here's the Table of Contents:

"The Language We Know" by Simon Ortiz
"The Warriors" by Anna Lee Walters

From Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria
From Life Among the Piutes by Sara Winnemucca Hopkins
"Ni-Bo-Wi-Se-Gwe" by Ignatia Broker
"Wasichus in the Hills" by Black Elk as told to John G. Neihardt
"At Last I Kill a Buffalo" by Luther Standing Bear

From The Middle Five: Indian Schoolboys of the Omaha Tribe, by Francis La Flesche
From Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions by Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes
From Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
"A Day in the Life of Spanish" by Basil Johnston

From Sundown by John Joseph Mathews
From Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan
From The Names: A Memoir by N. Scott Momaday
"Notes of a Translator's Son" by Joseph Bruchac
"Turbulent Childhood" by Lee Maracle
"The Talking That Trees Does" by Geary Hobson
"Water Witch" by Louis Owens
"Grace" by Vicki L. Sears
"Uncle Tony's Goat" by Leslie Marmon Silko
From Yellow Raft In Blue Water by Michael Dorris
"The Ballad of Plastic Fred" by Eric L. Gansworth

Teachers can select a story to use based on the age and reading level of their students. Some will work for middle school students. And... don't confine your use of Native literature to November! Teach it, and read it, all year long.