Friday, October 19, 2012

Creating a Library Atmosphere that Welcomes American Indians

Eds. Note: Updated on October 6, 2015.

Recently on LM-NET, a librarian asked what she can do to make her library's atmosphere culturally sensitive towards Native children. One way to think about doing this is to work to "indigenize your library."

The librarian poses an excellent question, especially right now, with November a few weeks away. November is usually designated as American Indian Month. I don't like the heritage months because I'd rather that children in all libraries and all grade levels and all classrooms be reading about American Indians all year long. Limiting it to, or emphasizing it only, in November--the month of Thanksgiving--automatically frames us in a past tense.

So! How to make the library more culturally sensitive towards Native children...  What makes anyone---generally speaking---feel comfortable in a place? Most people, I think, love reading books set in places they know. When their hometown is the setting of a book, it gives them a charge and a sense of pride, but only if the setting and characters accurately reflect their town. I don't mean positive reflections, I mean accurate ones. Every town has good and not-so-good qualities. When an author gets something wrong, people roll their eyes, and they don't feel like that author cares enough to get it right.

Let's think about a Native child coming in to your library.

How likely is it that the child (and her parents, if they read together) are going to find books that accurately reflect her specific tribal nation, or (more broadly speaking), American Indians?

Will that child be able to find Native authors on your shelves? If you're a regular reader of American Indians in Children's Literature, you know that I've got lists of recommended books.

Do you, at any time in the year, prominently feature books by Native authors? When you do a display about music, you could include the picture book biography of Robbie Robertson, and Eric Gansworth's MG/YA novel, in which the main character loves the Beatles and wants to go to a Paul McCartney concert in Toronto:

Do you have any posters that depict Native authors? Here's one from the ALA site (no longer available):

Here's another one, featuring Tim Tingle's Crossing Bok Chitto. Get it, and the bookmarks, too, from the ALA site (poster no longer available).

And here's another one that is sure to appeal to readers who like graphic novels and super heroes. The character shown is Super Indian, from the creative mind of Arigon Starr:

Some years ago, I visited a high school English class with primarily African American students. They were enthusiastic about books that accurately portrayed their history, but they were also experiencing a bit of fatigue and wanted some light-hearted books by African American writers. In the US, there's such a tendency to romanticize and lament the history of American Indians, but the fact that we're still here, that we persevered--and persevere--is important. We have many stories to tell, and not all of them are specifically about our Native experiences. Consider setting up a display that shows the range of writing done by Native authors.

For example, Cynthia Leitich Smith has a lot of terrific books. Some, like Jingle Dancer and Indian Shoes and Rain is Not My Indian Name feature Native protagonists, but introduce readers to her other books too.  Santa Knows , her picture book--written with her husband--Greg, is terrific!

And teens looking for gothic fantasy will love her Tantalize series: Here's a montage of them from her site:

Here's another suggestion: Do some research on your locale. Are you near a reservation? If not, what nations were in your locale prior to removal? Find out, and then see if you can find a wall clock with a Native language spoken there. The Indigenous Languages Institute in Santa Fe already has clocks available in several different languages. Here's one with Tewa (my language):

Along these lines, consider the READ posters created at the American Indian Resource Center at the Tulsa City Council Library. You can get a simple READ poster, with the word READ in several different languages:

Or, you can get one that features a person from a specific tribe and the word READ in their specific language: Here's the ones featuring Mvskoke and Ponca:

Aren't they gorgeous? You can download pdfs of them, and if you want ones with a higher resolution, you can write to Teresa Runnels to get them (that's what I would do).

Those are some suggestions on what you can do to make the library more visibly welcoming to Native patrons. The suggestions affirm the lives of Native peoples, but they also impart a lot of information to non-Native patrons who tend to romanticize Native peoples and who don't realize that a lot of what they "know" is inaccurate.

I'd love to hear your suggestions. What have you done? What have you seen elsewhere?

See Coming Up: Native American Month for more suggestions.

Your suggestions:

Vicky in Maine recommends subscribing to Native newspapers. While serving as director in her library, she subscribed to Native American Times and had it amongst all the other newspapers her library subscribed to. That is an excellent idea, Vicky. I don't know if Native American Times offers a print copy any more. Here's a link to their site: Native American Times. You can definitely get a print subscription to Indian Country Today from the Indian Country Today Media Network (subscribe to paper copy using box on right side of page). There are a lot of tribal newspapers. If you're located near one of them, or if there is a significant population of that tribe in your area, consider subscribing to their newspaper. One example is the Navajo Hopi Observer

Update, October 6, 2015

See this article and links in it: Indigenizing Library Services in Canada's Prairie and Pacific University Libraries. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Anita Silvey: DANNY AND THE DINOSAUR "works brilliantly as a way to chase the blues away from all children."

Today (October 18, 2012) at her popular Children's Book-A-Day Almanac, Anita Silvey is featuring Syd Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur. She writes that "This book works brilliantly as a way to chase the blues away for all children."

Maybe not for all children, Anita! For readers who are aware of stereotyping of American Indians and Alaska Natives, this page might actually bring on the blues!

Silvey writes that Danny and the Dinosaur  "has been enticing children ages two through eight into reading for more than forty years." Given its publication history, I think she's probably right about it enticing readers, but it is also introducing or affirming stereotypes.


Silvey is a powerful figure in children's literature. If she would say something critical about a book like Danny and the Dinosaur, how might her critique impact books being written today?

If she was more critical, I think a book like Bailey at the Museum would be different than it is (currently working on a post about Bailey and will link to it here as soon as it is ready).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ben Esposito's "Kachina"

Note on March 18: Please see an update to this: "I decided to prove her wrong".

IndieCade, or, the International Festival of Independent Games was held last week, October 4-7, 2012.

Ben Esposito's "Kachina" (which I gather is still in development) was designated as a 2012 Official Selection. Here's a screenshot from the website:

Here's what the description says. See, in particular, the text I put in bold:
Kachina is a physics-based toy that evokes Katamari Damacy's sense of order & scale mixed with Windowill's childlike wonder. Drawing as readily from Hopi folklore as it does Bruce Springsteen, Kachina invites you to play with the creatures and artifacts of North American mythology.
And, here's a video from IndieCade, showing the game being played:

I taught elementary school for several years and know the value of games that help children understand physics, but...

Esposito and the IndieCade people who selected it as an Official Selection must not know that teepees and totem poles have nothing to do with the Hopi people. They obviously have no idea what kachinas mean to the Hopi people, and they also likely have no idea that calling the religious traditions of an Indigenous people "folklore" is derogatory.

It may not matter to Esposito, but I think teachers who want games like this for their students and who have knowledge of American Indians would reject it. I'm going to tweet this post to Esposito. Maybe he can change it before it is finished.