Friday, April 27, 2012

Jacqueline Joseph Pata, Exec Dir of National Congress of American Indians, on Curriculum/American Indian Students

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]
Jacqueline Joseph Pata (Tlingit)
Jacqueline Johnson Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, was on the lunchtime plenary panel yesterday at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's America Healing conference. Among her remarks was one that stood out to me.

We (American Indians) don't need, Pata said, state departments of education telling us what is, or is not, acceptable curriculum for our children. 
Pata is absolutely on-target with that remark.
Too many of the books our children are asked to read give them stereotypical portrayals of monolithic American Indians as savages who terrorized pioneers, or, tragic heroic figures of the past who fought the good fight but are now all dead and gone.
Too many of the assignments our children are asked to complete ask them to answer questions where the right answer is one in which they must agree with that point of view. 

It is no wonder American Indian students disengage from school. Wouldn't you?! It is no surprise that our children drop out at such high rates, and, that so many of them choose to end their own lives. 

We can all do a lot to interrupt that way of teaching, but we've got to have the courage to do it. 
Do you have the courage to stop teaching Little House on the Prairie? Though it is much beloved in the United States, it is full of stereotypes, bias, and errors. In it, you see savage Indians scaring Ma, and you see heroic ones who choose to protect Laura and her family from the savage ones. The thing is, both portrayals are incorrect. Embracing them, however, lets Americans feel good about what they have today. In teaching Little House, teachers are miseducating the students in their care.

Native children in those classrooms are not only miseducated, they are--in effect--assaulted. State departments of education are populated by people who love Little House. In that light, it is easy to see why Pata is calling for state departments of education to revisit their actions. 

If you're interested in critical writing about Little House on the Prairie, you're in the right place. I've written a lot about it. You can read my blog posts (there's a list of them on the right side of the page), or you can read my full text article, "Indigenizing Children's Literature."

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has video of some of Pata's remarks here:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Primitive" Indians?

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

Based on what you see in most children's books, you likely think Alaska Natives have a primitive existence, living in igloos... Maybe you think their life is exotic and exciting, or beautiful, too. But! Let's set aside those stereotypes. Alaska Natives have some outstanding programs... 

A highlight of yesterday's events at the W.R. Kellogg Foundation's Healing for Democracy conference in New Orleans was listening to Valerie Davidson talk about an innovative program to provide dental care to Alaska Native communities.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium established a "mid-level" program by which Alaska Natives were trained to provide dental care to communities that were not receiving dental care. Sounds good, right?

It is, but they were sued by the American Dental Association who objected to the program. Obviously, the ADA saw the program as a threat, particularly if similar programs developed in other, less-isolated places.

Along with the lawsuit, there was an effort to cast Alaska Natives in a bad light. Members of the ADA in Alaska made outrageous statements, saying that Alaska Native parents were unfit parents for letting their kids get cavities, and that their kids should be taken from them.

Davidson said the ADA lost the lawsuit and the program is doing well. And, she pointed out, their program is innovative and successful enough such that 15 other states are seeking to replicate it.

Davidson concluded her remarks by talking about bias and how it can prevent people from stepping up to interrupt the care that all children should receive. To do that, we have to see the bias. Next time you pick up a children's book about Alaska Natives, give some thought to how they are being portrayed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 25: Liveblog of America Healing

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

This will be my first attempt at liveblogging an event... Hoping the internet connection doesn't give me problems.

8:45 AM

Beautiful slide show of people who have gone on... started with a Navajo Code Talker. I hope the slide show is put online...  It include Eloise Cobell, too.

8:48 AM

Plenary session: "Unconscious Bias and Race" moderated by Maria Hinojosa of Latino USA. Panelists include Rachel Godsil, Director of Research at the American Values Institute; Phillip Goff, Assistant Professor, Dept of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles; john powell, Director of the Haas Center for Diversity and Inclusion and Robert D. Haas Chancellor's Chair in Equity and Inclusion, University of California, Berkeley; David Williams, Professor African and African American Studies, Harvard.

8:50 AM

MH: Not ready to heal right now, trying to understand all my anger, fear, and sadness. Conversation in Supreme Court today...  State of AZ saying it is ok to racially profile people with a law that says we can call a race and class "illegal." Dehumanizes a population.

Latino teens highest rate of suicide in the country. They are our future.

Introducing David Williams of Harvard.

8:53 AM

David Williams sharing research on differences in treatment of people of color in emergency rooms. "Hispanic ethnicity was the strongest predictor of no analgesia." Similar results found in research across the country. Explanation? Unconscious discrmination. Stereotypes undergird our behavior.
(Note: readers of AICL are familiar with these ideas. They are what I write about.)

8:58 AM

David Williams: Where do stereotypes come from? American culture. People aren't being mean, they're just reflecting what they learn from stereotypes in American culture. This guides behavior. References research studies that show that white person with criminal background will get a call-back for a job than a black person with criminal background.

Experiencing discrimination leads to health problems.

Internalized racism...  African Americans believe the stereotypes. Cites Jerome Taylor's research.

9:05 AM

Rachel Godsil is talking about murder of Trayvon and polling on whether or not Zimmerman should be arrested. First poll, 77% of whites said yes. Most recent poll, 58% whites say yes, while 85% of Blacks say yes.  Why the discrepancy? Polls of white indicate they think it is fine to marry someone who is not white... Godsil asks if Whites are hiding their real attitudes? The desire to believe they are fair means that we can stop seeing race. That we're to be a colorblind society. Godsil points out that idea is an illusion to people of color. Research shows NOT talking about race allows negative stereotypes to grow and affect behavior.

9:21 AM

Just learned that the power point presentations may be available on a thumb drive in the registration packet. I hope so! There's so much information on the slides that I'd like to share.

9:23: Phillip Goff. Presentation is "Identity Traps: The Shape of Contemporary Discrimination Through the Lens of Law Enforcement."

Powell starts out with slide of stereotypes that Whites hold about Blacks. Some change in the stereotypes people hold, but the quality of life getting worse.

Bigotry is not the whole story. Attitudes only predict 10% of behavior. What about the 90%? Introduces phrase "identity traps" which are tendencies of the human mind to take shortcuts.

Fast traps are automatic, uncontrolled, hard to prevent. "Not thinking" brings out implicit bias.

Slow traps are conscious, self-directed, ruminative, negotiated over time.

9:34 AM


9:46 AM

john powell walking the audience through several tests of perception, what we tune into, what we are primed to tune into...

"Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchufuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe"

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

I registered for the Healing for Democracy conference yesterday, found a place to sit, and pulled out the conference program. Among the speakers for the Welcome was "Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchefuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe."

"Queen" gave me pause right away and its use cast doubt on the rest of the information provided. "Tchefuncta" and "Chahta" are not nations or tribes I have heard of before, but there are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations and I don't pretend to know about all, or even most, of them. Still, "Queen" made me uneasy.

That unease was confirmed when "Queen Chief Warhorse" took the stage and began delivering her remarks. She was wearing a necklace that was supposed to suggest Pueblo Indian or Navajo turquoise and silver. To most, it probably looked like the real thing. To me, it screamed imitation. I wondered where she got it.

Right away, she had most of the audience eating out of her hand. Working with the theme of "healing," her opening remarks began with calling out the limits of a black/white paradigm. That was fine, but then--for me--her train went off a cliff.

She started using "we" in ways that demonstrate she doesn't know much about tribal nations and our reservations. One statement after another was problematic. It was a "poor Indians" narrative, living on our "prison camp" and "the projects" reservations.

Her remarks were, in short, a mess for lot of reasons.

Her use of "we" was wrong. Using "we" as a keynote speaker to an audience who, I hazard to say, is fairly lacking in knowledge of American Indians, only added to the already-too-big body of misinformation about American Indians.

I did a quick bit of research and found photos of her in a Plains style headdress. Why was she wearing that?! When I have more time, I'll do some research on her and the "Tchunfuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe." Will I learn that the "Chahta Tribe" or the "Tchunfuncta Nation" are Plains people?

For now, I'll say this:

Healing requires accurate information, not sensational remarks that generate a righteous anger and create or affirm a body of misinformation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Healing for Democracy 2012, New Orleans

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

Yesterday, I wrote that I'll be in New Orleans this week at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation's Healing for Democracy 2012.  I spent some time on their website. The foundation is doing a lot for a lot of communities, including American Indians. Here's an excerpt from the press release for the event:
The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Mich., and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti.
Two things in that excerpt stand out to me: "sovereign tribes" and "New Mexico." Recently, there was a gathering of Kellogg grantees at Santa Ana Pueblo. Watch the video and read about the work being done in my homelands.

This morning, I walked around the French Quarter. If you pay attention to racism and bias, you see it everywhere. Some of it is blatant, and some of the racism isn't obvious. In a bookstore, I flipped through a board book meant to introduce toddlers to the city of New Orleans:

In Hello, New Orleans! there's a page about plantations where "old fashioned" folks used to live.  I read the page several times. Is "old fashioned" code for racist?!

The book isn't meant for all children.... I think its audience is families who prefer not to talk about America's racist history with their children. Those of us who have children who must contend with racism every day... well, that book isn't meant for us. 

I wonder what Harry Bellafonte would say about it? Or, Lisa Delpit? Or Peggy Macintosh? They're three of the many people who will be speaking at Healing for Democracy 2012. I look forward to the next few days. Being amongst people committed to social justice and racial equity is very affirming and empowering.

More later.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Healing for Democracy 2012, and, Images that Heal and those that Hurt

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

This week, I'll be in New Orleans at the Healing for Democracy 2012 meetings, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's America Healing initiative. Here's the opening paragraph from their webpage:
In 2010, we launched the America Healing initiative, to support programs that promote racial healing and address racial inequity, with the goal to ensure that all children in America have an equitable and promising future.
As I read those words earlier today, my thoughts turned to news and images that have been in my mind the last couple of weeks. I'm disappointed (again), that people continue to defend playing Indian as harmless fun. When I wrote about Ladybug Girl dressed like an Indian, several people objected to my critique. And when I heard about Swamplandia! being on the short list for the Pulitzer, I shook my head in dismay. I did an in-depth study of it here on AICL in January (see Day One with Russell's Swamplandia! and Day Two with Russell's Swamplania! and Day Three with Karen Russell's Swamplandia!). 

Society seems determined to inflict hurt through illustrations in picture books (like Ladybug Girl) and through images generated when you read about the playing-Indian family at the heart of a young adult novel (Swamplandia!). When Native children are inundated with this imagery, they are denied the promising future the America Healing initiative is committed to.

This morning, I read Betsy Bird's post at School Library Journal. There, she short lists Cradle Me, a beautiful board book that features American Indian babies. The book and Betsy's decision to promote it...  Therein lies the promise of racial healing and an equitable and promising future.

Here's the images, side by side. On the left is the healing image, one of a Native baby just starting out in the world. On the right is what that Native baby will have to contend with... People who insist on "playing Indian" and defend it as "harmless fun" or "honoring" American Indians...

What will your choice be? Heal? or Hurt?