Monday, March 11, 2013

Guest Post: Indigenous Knowledge and Children's Literature, by Katelyn Martens

Editor's Note: A few weeks ago, I gave an online lecture (via Skype) to the Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums (TLAM) class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, School of Library and Information Science. Here's a description of TLAM from their website
In its fifth year at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS), TLAM is an experimental project to bring indigenous information topics to LIS education through service-learning, networking, and resource sharing with Wisconsin’s tribal cultural institutions. The TLAM Project currently encompasses a graduate topics course; the Convening Culture Keepers mini-conference series for Wisconsin tribal librarians, archivists, and museum curators; numerous community engagement projects with our partners; and a brand new TLAM Student Group.

Today's post on AICL is by Katelyn Martens, a student in the TLAM class. Published on the TLAM blog, I'm pleased to be able to share it here, too. Thanks, Katelyn! And check out her post about Sherman Alexie, too.  


“Indigenous Knowledge & Children’s Literature”*

Think about the types of children’s books you grew up reading. Were American Indians present? What did you learn about them? Was it factual or a misrepresentation? How did you know?

On Thursday, TLAM had the pleasure of chatting with Debbie Reese, a respected educator who is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Debbie is an advocate for authentic American Indian children’s literature, which led her to launch the American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) blog in 2006. Through AICL, she challenges the all-too-common misrepresentation of American Indians in children’s literature and helps educators, librarians, and the general public find good materials.

Debbie highly recommends JINGLE DANCER

While Debbie shared her thoughts on sovereignty, sacred spaces, and politics, it was the issue of authenticity that I connected with the most. As a future school librarian, my goal is to have a well-balanced collection with titles that give students accurate, authentic representations of American Indian communities. To do that, though, especially with limited budgets, it’s essential that we all seek out reviews from respected, knowledgeable sources. AICL is a great place to start!

It’s especially important because, as Debbie noted, many books harbor “micro aggressions,” stereotypes that the majority culture may not even acknowledge but harm others. Clifford’s Halloween by Norman Bridwell (1986) is an example. Not only does Clifford wear a large headdress of feathers, he appears to be smoking a “peace pipe” and wears a serious expression. This image conveys many stereotypes to children, including that “Indians” are something to dress up as rather than people living in contemporary societies, working at contemporary professions, and living amongst the general American public.

It’s through librarian and educators in alliance with American Indian communities that we can present contemporary images, truthful histories, and well-researched stories to our young people. I’ll make a concerted effort to align my book choices with her suggestions.

Thank you, Debbie, for taking the time to share your knowledge with us!

-Katelyn Martens

Debbie’s recommendations on what to look for in children’s literature:
  • Books giving information in contemporary society
  • Tribally specific texts
  • Books affirming American Indian cultures – these must be well researched

She suggests that librarians and educators should:
  • Know at least one nation in-depth through reading and research
  •  Visit tribal websites with children in order to learn about their everyday lives
  •  Speak up for great children’s books so they stay in print
  •  Speak out on problematic texts in order to promote better alternatives

*Disclaimer: All personal opinions are my own and do not represent all members of the TLAM class, TLAM student group, Debbie Reese, or other affiliated parties.

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