Saturday, June 09, 2012

NIGHT OF THE FULL MOON, by Gloria Whelan

Danielle wrote to ask me about Gloria Whelan's Night of the Full Moon. It is regarded as a "first chapter book" (for children who want to read chapter books on their own).

The main characters in the story are Libby (the white girl) and Fawn (the Native girl). In the author's note, Whelan tells us that although the story is fiction, it is (p. 63):
based, in part, on various accounts of the removal of the Potawatomi Indians from Indiana and southern Michigan in 1840. Throughout the summer of that year, soldiers of the U.S. Army, under Brigadier General Hugh Brady, rounded up the Potawatomi from their homes and villages. On August 17, over 500 Potawatomis embarked on a forced migration to Kansas, leaving their homelands behind forever.
I'm glad to see the note but wish Whelan had provided a list of those accounts.

Whelan's book takes the side of Native people who are losing their land. In this case, it is the Potawatomi who are losing their land. The bad guys are the soldiers who round up the Potawatomi people to forcibly move them from their homeland.

In chapter two, for example, Indian agents (white men who work for the federal government) tell Libby's family they are looking for Potawatomi's because "There's talk of sending them west across the Mississippi" (p. 15) because "Topnebi has agreed to having his people sent west. Proper treaties have been signed by him giving Potawatomi land over to the government" (p. 16). Libby's parents voice objections to the removal plan, and her father plans to warn Fawn's family.

The treaty Whelan points to was actually signed in 1821, which is almost 20 years before the year in which Whelan sets her story (1840). Removal had been going on for decades. The agent who talked with Libby's family makes it sound like it had not happened yet, and the forced removal that the agent oversees actually happened before 1840. To most people, that might be a small point. To the Potawatomi, I doubt it is a small point.

Libby and her father go to the camp of Fawn's family to warn them of the agent's plan. Fawn's father, Sanatuwa, tells Libby's father that Potawatomi's who lived south of Saginaw had been forcibly moved "some years ago." Sanatuwa says his group will probably not return from their next winter hunt. He invites Libby's family to a naming ceremony for Fawn's baby brother, which will take place on the "day of the night of the full moon" (hence the title) which sounds "Indian" but for which I couldn't find any reference to support that naming ceremony.

Before all of that happens, Whelan tells us that the Native people at the heart of her story (Potawatomi) prefer their name for themselves (Neshnabek), but Whelan doesn't use that word again. Whether it is in the narrative or in the dialog of her characters, the words used are "Indians" or "Potawatomi(s)".

Also in chapter one, we learn that Fawn's actual name is "Taw-cum-e-go-qua" but it is hard to say, so Libby calls her Fawn, which is the name Libby's father came up with because "she's like a young deer... graceful, with those long legs and big eyes" (p. 7).

I find the choice to use Fawn instead of Taw-cum-e-go-qua odd, because Whelan uses Potawatomi/Neshnabek names for all of Fawn's family members. None of them get a nickname. Fawn's father is Sanatuwa; her mother is Menisikwe, and the baby brother who died was Namah. I'm also curious as to why there aren't any hyphens in their names.

In chapter one when Whelan introduces us to Fawn, we learn that it was a good trapping season:
Each day in the forest the spirits of the animals called to my father. They told him where to put his snares and traps. He brought back many skins" (p. 7). 
While that passage sure sounds "Indian" (according to romantic notions of American Indians), I don't think Potawatomi--or any Native spirituality--works that way. Instead, there is a respect for all living things and a fundamental idea that human beings are one creature on the planet, not the creature who is superior to all others. 

As noted, Libby's family warns Fawn's family of impending trouble. That sounds nice, but I'm pretty sure a Potawatomi family during that time would be aware of that trouble and wouldn't have needed a White family to warn them.

Later in the story, Libby is at Fawn's camp when the soldiers round them up. The soldiers don't believe Libby is a White girl, and she's forced to get on a wagon and be taken away, too. We learn that, as a young child, Fawn had been sick and nursed (saved) by Libby's family, but I wonder what illness Fawn had that her own people couldn't nurse her?

Because Libby's family saved Fawn, Sanatuwa feels it is his duty to return Libby to her family. That night, Sanatuwa, Menisikwe, Fawn, the new baby, and Libby escape. Libby feels bad that Sanatuwa has put his family at risk in trying to return Libby, but he tells her not to feel bad, because his decision to return her is "the means of our freedom" (p. 54). If it wasn't for Libby, Sanatuwa and his family would be leaving their homelands.

Once Libby is reunited with her family, Sanatuwa and his family leave.

In Night of the Full Moon, Whelan tried to do some things right, but couldn't break out of stereotypical tropes that characterize far too many stories about American Indians. And because those stereotypes are so predominant and not recognized as problematic, the book was listed on a few "best books" lists when it came out.

Is it on your shelves? Maybe it is one you can weed out of your collection to make room for books that don't stereotype American Indians.

NOTE: Check out Rebecca Rabinowitz's "Source fiction is no excuse for racism." It is a review of Whelan's After the Train, and read the comments to her review, too! Rebecca's critique is excellent.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Bunky Echo-Hawk, Bunky Echo-Hawk, and, Bunky Echo-Hawk

An unusual photo. Bunky Echo-Hawk was doing his performance art at the 2012 conference of the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums. In the photo, he's stage right, at work. Projected on the large screen are camera angles of him at work. One camera is behind him, and one is in front of him. Bunky does awesome work.

Here's the finished piece:

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

BATTLEFIELDS AND BURIAL GROUNDS, by Roger C. and Walter B. Echo-Hawk

Reposting an old post (from Jan 2008) because today, at the 2012 mtg of the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums, I'm listening to Walter B. Echo-Hawk address the rights of Indigenous Peoples. As he talks, Bunky Echo-Hawk does his art on the right of the stage (and it is featured in a large screen center of the stage itself).


Thinking, today, about three four items: Museums, American Indians, the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, and a book called Battlefield's and Burial Grounds.

On Friday I was in Chicago giving a workshop for teachers. It took place at Chicago's Field Museum. During my presentation, I showed slides of the ways that American Indians are portrayed in children's books. Among the slides is one from Sid Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur. Published in 1958 it is a perennial favorite and part of HarperCollins I Can Read series. In the story, Danny goes to a museum. Inside he sees "An Indian, a bear, and an Eskimo" in one of the exhibits. I showed a slide of that page in my presentation. There is much to say about why American Indians are placed alongside animals, but the point I wish to make today is about American Indian artifacts and remains that are held by museums across the country.

In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). From the NAGPRA website:

NAGPRA provides a process for museums and Federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items -- human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony -- to lineal descendants, and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. NAGPRA includes provisions for unclaimed and culturally unidentifiable Native American cultural items, intentional and inadvertent discovery of Native American cultural items on Federal and tribal lands, and penalties for noncompliance and illegal trafficking.

In 1994, Lerner published a terrific book for children about the work of American Indians whose work led to NAGPRA. The book is called Battlefields and Burial Grounds: The Indian Struggle to Protect Ancestral Graves in the United States, by Roger C. Echo-Hawk and Walter R. Echo-Hawk. Unfortunately, it is out of print. Both men are Pawnee. This is an important book. Each year, hundreds of teachers take their students on field trips to museums. As you plan this year's trip, will you visit a museum that has American Indian exhibits? If so, spend time with Battlefields and Burial Grounds before you go. It will be time well spent.