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.