Friday, December 20, 2013

Phil Robertson: "The Almighty gave us this." Debbie Reese: "No. He didn't."

In the many excellent critiques of Phil Robertson's comments about gays and African Americans, I haven't seen anything that pushes back on his "The Almighty gave us this [northern Louisiana backwoods]."

I read that line in the GQ article and, of course, thought "No. He didn't."

That land belonged to Native people.

Does Robertson (like those early Europeans who believed their god had a hand in disease that devastated Native peoples, rendering them and their homelands vulnerable to Europeans who wanted that land) think his Almighty rid the land of the Indigenous peoples of Louisiana so Robertson and his family could have it?

Does Robertson know that the people of the land he's speaking of have their own belief about how that land came to be? I used have on purpose because, contrary to popular misconception, Indigenous people are still here and some of them are in Louisiana where Robertson is from.

Does Robertson know the history of the property (assuming he owns property in Louisiana) for which he has title?

I don't watch the show or pay any attention to it, but perhaps I should, given the size of its audience. Heading over, now, to see their list of episodes.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Erin Hollingsworth's review of THE GIANT BEAR: AN INUIT FOLKTALE

I follow the reviews that Erin Hollingsworth, a librarian in Barrow, Alaska posts at goodreads. I met Erin a couple of years ago at the 2012 Pacific Coast Library Association's conference in Anchorage, Alaska. At that conference, I spent a lot of time with Debby Edwardson, author of Whale Snow and My Name Is Not Easy. It was a memorable trip that I look back on fondly.

A few days ago, Erin reviewed The Giant Bear, An Inuit Folktale. Written by Jose Angutingunrik and illustrated by Eva Widermann, I like what Erin says in her review and am passing it along to you. The Giant Bear was published in 2012 by Inhabit Media. Here's Erin's review:

This book combines a great story with terrific art. I cannot praise it enough. As to the reviewers who found it too violent, the polar bear is the largest land carnivore and it hunts and eats people. Polar bears are not cute cuddly animals; they are man killers. I think it is perfectly appropriate to share this fact with children. So many of them have had their brains addled by modern Coca Cola culture that it might do them some good to realize that the world around them is an all too real, and sometimes unfriendly place.

[Editor's note: This post edited on Dec 20th to include Erin's last name and a link to Goodreads.]

Friday, December 13, 2013

WILD BERRIES by Julie Flett

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In 2011, I read Julie Flett's alphabet book, Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer. In English, the title of that book is Owls See Clearly at Night. I wrote about it  in January of 2012, noting especially Flett's gorgeous art. Not long after that, I read Richard Van Camp's Little One. Flett did the art for it, and like Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer, the art is gorgeous. 

Today, I am sharing her newest book, Wild Berries with you. It is available in two versions. Here's the cover for the Cree version:

Beneath her name on the cover, the title of the book is printed in a Cree syllabary and in a Cree dialect. In English, the title is Wild Berries. Here's the first page of the English version of the book:

Lovely, isn't it? When you turn that page, you'll see Clarence walking behind his grandmother, no longer a baby. He is now five years old and sings along with his grandma as they gather berries.

Flett's art is both--bold and spare--and so are her words. Together or apart, they exquisitely convey the relationship of Clarence and his grandmother and the simple act of being outside gathering berries. That alone would make this a stand-out book, but there's other things to note that make it exceptional. The Cree language sprinkled throughout is one. Another is the recipe for wild blueberry jam. And yet another is that Flett is Cree Metis herself.

I'm really taken with this book!

Wild Berries is a 2013 book, published by Simply Read Books. If you order from Amazon, please consider using this link to place your order, because a portion of your purchase will go towards the American Indian Library Association, including its Youth Literature Award:

Saturday, December 07, 2013

"Mom, when Jesus was born, where were all the women?" Marcie Rendon's response is HANNAH: THE MIDWIFE WHO DELIVERED JESUS

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Marcie Rendon's daughters were raised in a matriarchal home. On Christmas Eve, 1990, one of her daughters asked her "Mom, when Jesus was born, where were all the women?" When I read that question, I thought to myself 'Oh yeah! There's only one female in that story!'

Marcie's response to her daughter's question is this e-book, Hannah: The Midwife Who Delivered Jesus. 

As I read the story Marcie created, I felt such warmth and goodness radiating from Hannah, and from that scene in the stable, and from the newborn babe, too. It is a deeply satisfying story. In addition to Hannah, you'll meet the innkeeper's daughter. It isn't graphic and it isn't anti-male in any way. It's just a beautiful story. I highly recommend it. 

Hannah: The Midwife Who Delivered Jesus is one of those books that you can't pin to a particular grade level. If you're not afraid of talking with students/patrons or your own elementary-aged kids about how babies are born, you can read this aloud to them. Older kids can read it on their own.

I had to create an account with SMASHWORDS to download it, but that was simple enough to do. The book itself is priced at $4.99. 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

2013 Virginia Mathews Scholarship Awarded to Debbie Reese

In today's email, I received the Fall 2013 newsletter of the American Indian Library Association. In it is an announcement that I was selected as the recipient of the 2013 Virginia Mathews Scholarship Award.

Receiving the scholarship means a lot to me. There are a lot of terrific Native people in library school. Within that context, I'm humbled and honored to be recognized by the scholarship committee.

Here's a screen capture of the newsletter page. For your convenience, I'm including the full text below the screen capture.

The purpose of the Virginia Mathews Memorial Scholarship is to provide tuition to an American Indian individual who lives and works in an American Indian community, and who is enrolled, or has been accepted and will enroll, in a master's degree program at a university with a library and/or information sciences program accredited by the American Library Association for the 2013-2014 academic school year. The scholarship has been named to honor Virginia Mathews, one of the original founders of AILA. 

Further details and scholarship criteria are available at 

The American Indian Library Association is pleased to announce that its 2013 Virginia Mathews Memorial Scholarship has been awarded to Debbie Reese. Debbie is an enrolled member of Nambe Pueblo and is pursuing her Master of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science. 

Debbie exemplifies the scholarship criteria of “sustained involvement in the American Indian community and sustained commitment to American Indian concerns and initiatives,” and she has specific intentions and vision for returning to her community as a librarian. She has a track record of making an impact on the community and the profession. As one committee member stated, “Her blog, American Indians in Children's Literature, is one of the best resources available for discussions, book reviews, etc. In addition, her publications are hard-hitting truths on what libraries should and should not have in their collections concerning Indigenous literature, and she lectures extensively on the issues. Not only does she work with the Nambe community, but she also strives to inform the dominant culture about issues facing Indian people today.” 

In 2012, the American Library Association published a press release about the scholarship. It reads, in part:

In 1971, Virginia Mathews, Lotsee Patterson and Charles Townley formed a Task Force on American Indians within the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. She was a member of the first OLOS Subcommittee on Library Service for American Indian People, which led to the founding of the American Indian Library Association in 1979. She was involved with the Library Project at the National Indian Education Association, which supported three demonstration library projects — Akwesasne Library and Cultural Center, the Rough Rock Demonstration School and the Standing Rock Tribal Library—and all three served as models for the early development of tribal libraries on reservations. She worked tirelessly with the National Council of Library and Information Services to create the first White House Pre-Conference on Indian Library Services in 1978 whose delegates attended the 1979 White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services. She was responsible for inclusion of Title IV for tribal libraries in the Library Services and Construction Act Reauthorization in 1984. This special status and funding for tribal libraries is retained in current Library Services and Technology Act legislation. She was the first American Indian to seek candidacy for the ALA presidency and was a proud member of the Osage Nation.
While I never knew Ms. Mathews, I do know Lotsee Patterson and the work they did in the 1970s. Lotsee's work, in particular, touched my life through the librarianship programs she provided to the Pueblos. My aunt was one of her students. 

Kundawho'haa (thank you) AILA committee members, for your confidence in what I strive to do in my professional work. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Have you heard of the INJUNUITY project? It consists of a series of short videos about Indigenous people. The one I'm pointing you today is called Two Spirit. Here's some screen captures that convey the visual power of the videos.

Two Spirit starts without any music. We're shown a graphic of the title, and then we see a definition:

As the video unfolds, we meet several people who recount their experiences coming out. We start with a woman who is shown as a string puppet. She's transformed, though, and we see the string puppet dissolve into pieces. All the while she's talking, words slowly drift down the sides of the viewing window. They add an aesthetic dimension to the video:

There's a bit of history in Two Spirit. Prior to colonization, two spirit people were revered within Native Nations. That changed with the overwhelming force of Christianity:

Native resiliency and sovereignty are pushing back and embracing Two Spirit people. The stories shared in the Two Spirit video are evidence of personal resilience, and actions taken by some Native Nations to grant marriage licenses to individuals--regardless of gender--who are enrolled in a federally recognized tribe demonstrate the exercise of a tribal nations sovereignty.

I talked at length with Irvin Harrison, a close friend, about the Two Spirit video. I asked him if he could provide a comment about the film. He is the Director of the Native American Student Center at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. Irvin is a smart and nurturing individual. Students at Cal Poly Pomona are fortunate to have him there. Here's what he said:

"I really enjoyed the use of visuals to create meaning to the words. I can directly relate to each person's perspective. For myself, I use the terms - gay, two spirit, nádleehé - interchangeably depending on with whom I have a conversation. I did not become fully open of who I am until I moved out of my family home. I learned the two spirit history from readings and articles. It was my "professional" family who were the first to acknowledge and appreciate me and my partner's relationship. However, it was when both of our parents came to accept that being who we are, as gay, two spirit, or nádleehé couple, that it came full circle." 

I highly recommend Two Spirit. It is beautiful and empowering and makes an additional point about where Native peoples live and what we aspire to:

I also recommend the other films at the INJUNUITY site and look forward to ones in development, too. They're ideal for use in high school classrooms. To read more about the project, check out their About page.

I'll also point you to a resource Irvin directed me to... It is called the Indigenous Ways of Knowing (IWOK) Tribal Equity Toolkit. Here's the description:

The Native American Program of Legal Aid Services of Oregon, the Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling, the Western States Center, the Pride Foundation and Basic Rights Oregon collaborated on the nation’s first guide for Two Spirit and LGBT equity in Indian Country.
It, too, is evidence that Native peoples are moving in positive directions with regard to Two Spirit and LGBT people.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


Note from Debbie on Nov 28, 2023: Due to my concerns over Art Coulson's claim of being Cherokee, I am no longer recommending his books.  

Coulson has a way with words. English ones, and Ojibwe ones, too, as he tells this story about Travis, a sixth grade Ojibwe boy who is starting out playing lacrosse.

Set in the present day, Travis lives with his mom and grandmother. He's struggling with the game and bummed each day after practice. But his grandma has confidence in him.

So does his grandfather, who passed away some time back, but comes to Travis each night. His grandfather was a strong and swift lacrosse player that everyone called Hummingbird.

There's a terrific blend here. Coulson's storytelling delivers nuggets of info about the ways that Ojibwe people play lacrosse, and, the way that Cherokee's play it.

Oh yeah--Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Dream Country figures in the story, too.

Perfectly paced, The Creator's Game is a terrific book. I think I'll give my copy to the Pima boys around the corner. I suspect they'll like it, and I'm going to send a librarian a link to this review. Just a few days ago, she wrote to me, asking for recommendations for a 4th grade reluctant reader. I suggested Joe Bruchac's Children of the Longhouse, which coincidentally, Coulson includes in his list of books for further reading.

Illustrated by Robert DesJarlait, The Creator's Game is published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. You can get a copy from Birchbark Books. And check out Indian Country Today's interview with Coulson.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Taylor (5th grader): "Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with all those smiling Indians were wrong?"

This morning I received an email from a teacher who wrote to share what Taylor, a fifth grader, wrote in response to having studied a speech written by a Wampanoag man, Wamsutta (Frank B.) James.

Some context: Back in 1970, James was invited to an event in Plymouth, Massachusetts that was designed to celebrate "The First Thanksgiving." He was asked to submit his remarks ahead of time to the planners. When they read what he planned to say, the invitation was withdrawn. His speech is now titled "The Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag" and is associated with an event that takes place in Plymouth. That event is "Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning."

Upon reading the speech that James intended to read, one of Taylor's initial responses was this:
"Do you mean all those Thanksgiving worksheets we had to color every year with all those smiling Indians were wrong?" 
Struck by the fact that history was more complicated than she'd been taught, Taylor chose to skip recess and begin her assignment. Here it is, published with permission from Taylor, her teacher, and her mother.

My Response to “Thanksgiving: A National Day of Mourning”  
By Taylor M., Grade 5

Frank James, also known as Wamsutta, was correct in writing a protest speech on Thanksgiving in 1970. For James, Thanksgiving was a sad day, and this is true for many Native Americans even in the present day. The Pilgrims made the Native people into slaves. James wrote, “Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians and sell them for slaves.” The Pilgrims sometimes tortured the Indians. James reported, “Sometimes an Indian was pressed between stone slabs and hanged as any other ‘witch’.” The Pilgrims punished the Indians if they didn’t believe in the Christian religion. James wrote in his speech, “If the Native Americans didn’t believe in [the Pilgrim’s] religion, [the Pilgrims] would dig up the ground and release the great epidemic again.” In conclusion, Frank James was correct to write his protest speech so people would look at Thanksgiving from his point of view. He illustrated how badly the European settlers mistreated his people, the Wampanoag and why Thanksgiving, for his people, is a day of mourning and reflection.

And here is a note Taylor wrote to me:

When I started this assignment in school about Pilgrims and Indians, I learned a lot at first, but then I read Frank James’ protest speech and to be honest, I was speechless. The way the Pilgrims punished the Indians was gruesome and I felt sorry for them. For a second, I had to put the packet down it was so horrible. I mean, the way my book and the speech were written it sounded like in the beginning that the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people started off well. But, when it started to get deeper into the story, the more Pilgrims started to spread out across the U.S.A, the more the Native American people realized that they were in harm and in danger, and that they were being kicked out of their land. The sad part for me was how the Pilgrims thought the Native Americans were savages just because they didn’t believe in the Pilgrims’ religion. 

I thought about all the way back to Kindergarten, right before Thanksgiving break we would always get these coloring worksheets of the happy little Pilgrims and Indians giving each other things. Up until now, I didn’t really realize that that’s not how it happened. Showing the happy little cartoon Indian was a lie. I think Kindergarteners and young children should know what actually happened, not with gruesome details, but they should know more of the truth. 

The way I felt after I read my book about Thanksgiving and Wamsutta’s speech, I was sad, angry, and heartbroken for the Indians. We should teach Americans not just to be happy for the Pilgrim’s survival, but we should also be respectful, reflective, sad, and even upset for the Wampanoag tribe and other Native American tribes.

I think it is fair to say that this experience was a life-changing moment for Taylor. She uses strong language ("the happy little cartoon Indian was a lie") and I think she is starting down a road where she will always question what she reads. Questioning is a good thing to do. I think she's going to love Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. I think she'll like what she finds on the Zinn Education Project website. And, I think she'll also like the PBS series, We Shall Remain. I hope her school or public library has a copy of it. 

Reading her words gives me great hope. We need more Taylor's and we need more teachers who design lessons that encourage critical thinking. With that in mind, I'll point readers to an excellent piece that ran in Indian Country Today last year. Titled "What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving," it is an interview with Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.  

Thank you, Taylor, for sharing your response with me and my readers! I'd love to hear more from you. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013


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Heid Erdrich's Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes from the Upper Midwest is a treat! I mean that literally (reading the recipes makes my mouth water!) and spiritually, too.

The stories she tells in the book take me to my childhood and time spent gathering plants with my grandmother, or, helping her with her garden. To do this gardening, Gram would wear old work shirts that belonged to my grandfather. They kept the sun off her arms, but there was another reason to wear them.... Gophers! See, she irrigated her garden with water from the 'high land' ditch. We'd walk up to the high land, 'turn down the water,' and walk back down to the garden, waiting for the water to meander down the bone dry bed of the ditch to her rows of corn and beans and squash and peas and cucumbers.

Sometimes, the water didn't get to the garden. When the water didn't arrive, we'd walk alongside the ditch till we got to the gopher hole that we knew we'd find. She'd rip pieces off of her shirt and stuff them, along with rocks and sticks, into the gopher hole. It was annoying as heck to her, but remembering those times gardening with my grandmother gives me cause to smile, and to--in effect--nourish my soul in the ways that Erdrich's stories do, too.

"A recipe is a story."

 "A recipe" Erdrich tells us, "is a story" (p. 12). That line perfectly captures what you'll find in her book.  Some of the stories in Erdrich's book are specific to gatherings with her family and friends. I especially like "The First Hunt and the Last" on page 84 and 85. On page 85 is her brother's recipe for venison stew. Some stories are traditional ones, and still others are about activism. Winona LaDuke, well known for her activism, has a piece in the book about gathering wild rice. She ends her piece by pointing to a company in California that has recently patented wild rice, which essentially put the Ojibwe people in a battle over who owns foods and medicines. For more on that, see LaDuke's "Ricekeepers: A Struggle to Protect Biodiversity and a Native American Way of Life" in the July/August 2007 issue of Orion Magazine. 

As you turn the pages of Original Local, there are lot of names you'll recognize if you read the work of Native writers and scholars. Louise Erdrich, for example. One of her recipes is in the book. Brenda Child is here, too. The recipes and photographs and stories make this cookbook an absolute delight. You can get an autographed copy from Birchbark Books

Friday, November 08, 2013


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Back in the 1990s when I started graduate school, I read Marcie Rendon's Powwow Summer: A Family Celebrates the Circle of Life. Originally published by Carolrhoda Books in 1996, I'm delighted to see that it is back in print. This time, it is a paperback published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Here's the cover:

Isn't it gorgeous? Powwow Summer is full of solid information about Native people of today. Its text and photographs are what captivated me when I first read it. It wasn't another book about long-ago-and-far-away-tribeless-stereotypical-Indians. As I turned each page, I learned a lot.

See, I'm tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, in northern New Mexico. I grew up there. From my parents, grandparents, and elders, I learned about us and how we do things. That means the material things we do (cooking traditional foods) and the spiritual things we do, too (our dances are a form of prayer). My photo albums have photos of Nambe kids playing outside, helping their grandma's cook, and, photos of them in traditional clothing. I know a lot about who we are.

Marcie's book taught me about her people, which are the Anishinaabe (I met Marcie several years ago. See my review of her play, "SongCatcher: A Native Interpretation of the Story of Frances Densmore"). The text and photographs in Powwow Summer provide a depth of information that is tribally specific.

Marcie asks questions that help the reader frame the information within their own family context (p. 3):
Does your family have a ritual of going to church or synagogue every weekend? Does someone in your family play a sport, and do the rest of you attend to cheer that person on?
If you're looking for top notch books to add to your shelves this month (November is Native American Month), include this one. (Note: Back in 1996 when I launched American Indians in Children's Literature, one of the first books I wrote about was Powwow Summer.) 

The details:
Title: Powwow Summer
Author: Marcie Rendon
Illustrator: Cheryl Walsh Bellville
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Year: 2013

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Looking for Children's Books about Thanksgiving? (Part 1)

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(Editor's Note, November 8, 2013: I've been casting about trying to find words to explain what is wrong with the idea that the Pilgrims and Wampanoag's sat down together and had a wonderful meal together. Below, I note that things that happened before that meal are usually missing from the way the event is portrayed in children's books. But I think Jill Lepore's words get at what I find troubling about the "wonderful meal" idea. In the 'After the Mayflower" episode of the PBS documentary "We Shall Remain," Lepore says that everyone there was very nervous. The Pilgrims, the documentary says, were especially wary of close contact with the Wampanoag people. That anxiety, I think, makes the depictions of a meal characterized by warmth and happiness disingenuous.)     

Are you looking for children's books about Thanksgiving?!! The exclamation points convey my frustration with the insistence that this holiday be one in which people want Thanksgiving to be about Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to eat a meal together--nevermind what happened to Native people before or after that! Did you know, for instance, that Tisquantum--more commonly known as Squanto--could speak English because he'd been kidnapped by a prior expedition and sold into slavery in Europe? And did you know that before the Mayflower arrived, the Wampanaog people had been devastated by disease from earlier European visitors?

If you've written to me or to other Native critics, educators, or librarians, to ask for children's books about Thanksgiving, it is likely because you want to give the children in your care or in your classroom something better than the standard Pilgrim/Indian story where everyone sits down to a lovely dinner.

Prompted by readers of AICL, I took some time today to head over to the local B&N and see what kind of books about Thanksgiving they might have on display.

Here's the shelf (sorry---photographs in this post are of low quality):

There are four rows of books on the display. Here's some photos and observations of them, starting from top left:

What is Thanksgiving? by Michelle Medlock Adams, illustrated by Amy Wummer. Published in 2009 by Candy Cane Press, here's the synopsis (from Amazon):
Following the success of What Is Christmas? and What Is Easter?, Michelle Adams brings the same humor and warmth to this little Thanksgiving board book. Through the whimsical art and rhyming verse that's fun to read, even the youngest child will come to understand that Thanksgiving is really about showing gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. 
Adams and Wummer steer clear of any attempt to show Indians as part of their book. Their collaboration has Pilgrims, but no Indians:

I don't know about that... Doesn't seem right to just omit Native people, but I don't want the stereotypes OR the feel-good story, either. Sometimes I think that Thanksgiving books for young children should just focus on things people are grateful for. What is Thanksgiving? tries to do that, but having Pilgrims (and a turkey) but no Wampanaog people just doesn't seem right. 

Five Silly Turkeys does not have Pilgrims or Indians in it. 

Happy Thanksgiving Day by Jill Roman Lord is a 'touch and feel' book (for those of you who don't know what they are, touch-and-feel books have textures embedded in each page that young children can touch, thereby having a multi-sensory experience). Published in 2013 by Ideals Pub, this page shows the little boy's artwork taped to his wall. See? Pilgrims, but no Indians (the bear's belly has a swatch of fabric for a child to feel).

Happy Thanksgiving, Curious George by Cynthia Bartynski and Julie M. Young, illustrated by Mary O'Keefe was published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It is also a board book. For most of it, George is shown in a Pilgrim hat. No Indians or feathers, anywhere, till one of the last pages:

See the Indian figurines in the left margin? They're also on the table. Those things on the back of everyone's chair are turkey feather decorations that George made.

Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by Kimberly and James Dean was published in 2013 by HarperFestival. Here's the synopsis from Amazon:
Starring in the school Thanksgiving play would make even the coolest cat nervous. But when Pete the Cat gets onstage, he makes learning the story of the first Thanksgiving fun. With thirteen flaps that open to reveal hidden surprises, this book is sure to be a holiday favorite for every Pete the Cat fan.
Though Amazon lists it (today) as their #1 children's book about Thanksgiving, the reader reviews pan it. One person said it is "superficial" but most others don't like it because it is missing the qualities of the other Pete the Cat books. Here's what I find problematic:

That character is supposed to be Squanto. Here's what the text says: "The Pilgrims had heard about the Native Americans, and they worried that they would not be friendly. Pete had never met a cat he didn't like, so he thought they would be kind."  Here's another page:

Moving along!

Happy Thanksgiving, Biscuit! by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Pat Schories, came out in 1999. Like Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving, it is from HarperFestival. I like the Biscuit books. He is so cute! In this lift-the-flap book, there are no Indians or Wampanoags. There are, however, Pilgrim dolls. 

See the man propped up against the bench that has Biscuit's food dish? The woman is face down by Biscuit's hind feet. 

The Night Before Thanksgiving is about a family getting ready for Thanksgiving. No pilgrims or Indians, either. Dare I say it? "Thankfully!" Some people really object to my being snarky. Ah well.

One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims by B. G. Hennessey, illustrated by Lynne Avril Cravath is pretty awful, in my mind. Just the idea of using that song makes me cringe! I did a bit of poking around and found a video of kids singing it, wearing Pilgrim hats and bonnets, and feathered headbands. But instead of saying Wampanoag, they sang "Native Americans." Why, I wonder? In the book, the two groups (Pilgrims/Wampanoags) are shown working (cooking, fishing, etc.) to get ready for their shared meal. Looking at the illustrations, I wonder why the Wampanoag's all have a dash of facepaint on their cheeks? In every illustration? Why? (Update, Nov 8: A reader noted that the Pilgrims also have that same dash of facepaint, suggesting it has something to do with the author's style of illustration. Good point!) Here's the cover:
Next up? Nate the Great Talks Turkey. Written by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Mitchelle Sharmat, the illustrations are by Jody Wheeler. Unlike the ones above, this is not a picture book. And, it isn't about Thanksgiving. Published in 2013 by Delacourt Books for Young Readers, it is about a turkey on the loose. There is, however, a gesture to Thanksgiving early on:

I don't know what happens later in the book. Maybe they're going to catch it, but I kind of doubt they'd kill and eat it. The last book on the second shelf is The Pilgrims First Thanksgiving by Ann McGovern. Illustrated by Elroy Freem, it was published in 1993 by Scholastic. Partway through the book, we're introduced to Squanto! On the page just before this one, the text tells us that the Pilgrims made a good friend who helped them, and that his name was Squanto.  

I wonder what children today learn about Squanto? Given that November is Native American Month, it is depressing to see how Native peoples are depicted (or not) in these books. I'm going to stop here and leave the last two shelves and another book that was on the backside of the display, for another day...  Your comments (and pointers to my typos) are welcome! 

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


By a presidential proclamation, November is National Native American Heritage Month. A good many teachers and librarians are doing all they can to provide students with substantive information about American Indians. With that in mind, I recommend the DVD, Canes of Power

Canes of Power is a documentary about the sovereign nation status of the Pueblo Indian Nations of New Mexico. Each pueblo is a distinct sovereign nation within what is now known as the United States, but we've been on our homelands for a lot longer than the United States has existed. As the people in the DVD make clear, Pueblo Nations have been acknowledged or recognized as sovereign nations for hundreds of years.

Prior to the time when Europeans arrived on our homelands, leaders at each pueblo had a cane that signified their position(s) as leaders. When Spain arrived in the 1600s, acknowledgement of our sovereignty was reflected by a cane Spain presented to our tribal leaders. The same thing happened when Mexico declared its dependence from Spain.

When our homelands became part of the United States, President Lincoln added a fourth cane to the three. As such, there are four canes (image shared here is my photograph of that particular frame in the documentary):

The head of each cane is engraved. Here's a photograph of the Zia Lincoln cane (Zia is one of the pueblos):

Credit: Ward Russell, Silver Bullet Productions

Because a significant chunk of the documentary focuses on the Lincoln canes, I think it is especially important to teachers developing/teaching about Abraham Lincoln because it raises questions about why Lincoln established this nation-to-nation relationship with the Pueblo people but not with other Native Nations. Pueblo leaders offer their thoughts on that question.

All-in-all, it is a compelling documentary and I highly recommend adding it to your classroom or library collection. With regard to using it, consider February (when Lincoln is celebrated), or July (when nationhood is a focus). It need not be limited to use in November (Native American Heritage Month).

You can order it from Silver Bullet Productions.

SLJ's 2013 Focus On "Resources and Kid Lit about American Indians"

School Library Journal has a "Focus On" series in its Collection Development category. Each "Focus On" is devoted to a single topic. This month, I'm the author of the Focus On column. For it, I provided an annotated list of over 30 children's and young adult books and apps. Most are by Native authors of the U.S. or Canada. The column this month is Resources and Kid Lit about American Indians.

I love the book cover layouts SLJ's staff put together to go with the column. I love them so much, that I am reproducing them here. I would love to see these books on display in every library in the country! As I look at each cover, I remember vividly where I was when I read each one. That's because these books are outstanding. 

I'll take a moment, too, to thank members of the American Indian Library Association for their help in locating apps. I couldn't include all of them, but plan to write about those that I list below, and some that I learned about too late to include for the article. 

I'll also take a moment to point you to my previous Focus On column for SLJ. Published in 2008, it was the prompt for me to come up with my "Top Ten" lists (see top right column of AICL for links to those Top Ten lists). I'll be adding the books in the 2013 Focus On column to the Top Ten lists, too. 

Thanks, SLJ, for providing me with an opportunity to put these terrific books in front of a wide audience!

Please take time to go directly to the article and read the annotations. They're brief, but I've written--or will write about--each one of them on AICL. Here's the list. For previous/future posts on them, look for them in the 'label's section (far right column towards the bottom) or simply type the book title (in quotation marks) in the search bar (top left corner right).

Baby's First Laugh, by Beverly Blacksheep
Boozhoo, Come Play with Me, by Deanna Himango
Cradle Me, by Debby Slier
Little You, by Richard Van Camp
Good Morning World, by Paul Windsor

Whale Snow, by Debby Dahl Edwardson
Chickadee, by Louise Erdrich
Kunu's Basket: A Story from Indian Island, by Lee DeCora Francis
Chikasha Stories, Volume One: Shared Spirit, by Glenda Galvan
Fatty Legs: A True Story, by Christy & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way, by S. D. Nelson
Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story, by S. D. Nelson
The Christmas Coat: Memories of my Sioux Childhood, by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness Into Light, by Tim Tingle
Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story, by Donald Uluadluak

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection, edited by Matt Dembicki
My Name is Not Easy, by Debby Dahl Edwardson
If I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth
Triple Threat, by Jacqueline Guest
Under the Mesquite, by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Walking on Earth, Touching the Sky: Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School, edited by Timothy P. McLaughlin
Native Writers: Voices of Power, by Kim Sigafus and Lyle Ernst
Super Indian: Volume One, by Arigon Starr
How I Became a Ghost, by Tim Tingle

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson
Killer of Enemies, by Joseph Bruchac Update on Sep 30 2023: I (Debbie Reese) no longer recommend Bruchac's work. For details see Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki?
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
House of Purple Cedar, by Tim Tingle
Code Talker Stories, by Laura Tohe
The Moon of Letting Go: And Other Stories, by Richard Van Camp
Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson

Anompa: Chickasaw Language Basic, Chickasaw Nation
Bramble Berry Tales--The Story of Kalkalilh: Book One, Rival Schools Media Design
Navajo Toddler, Isreal Shortman
Ojibway, Ogoki Learning Systems

Chickasaw Kids, Chickasaw Nation
Infinity of Nations Culture Quest, National Museum of the American Indian

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Trailer for FREE BIRDS

Thanks to Ernest Whiteman of Adobe Youth Voices, I just took a look at the trailer for the new movie, Free Birds. In it, turkeys travel back in time to 1621 to get turkeys off the Thanksgiving menu. I just watched the trailer. Here's a screenshot of the bad guys who want to kill the turkeys:

And, here's the battle that takes place. See how the turkeys are shown? (See note #1 below.)

Apparently, the turkeys play drums, chant, and speak in broken English. The reviewer at the San Francisco Gate points to, and questions the inclusion of a turkey "who sounds like the Taco Bell Chihuahua," but doesn't note the stereotypical feathers and facepaint. In a Reuter's interview, the director says he didn't want to make the film into a history lesson:
"There's a lot of stuff about Thanksgiving that's not that nice, there's a lot about the settling of the United States that I couldn't show."
Not sure what to say about that... 'cept WTF? The review at the New York Times says:
"Free Birds" is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested) for some action/peril, rude humor and exploding waddles.
Their review says nothing about how the turkeys are shown. Here's the poster featuring Jenny. Is she really called "Hot Wings" in the film?!

Looking over the cast names at IMBD, it says "Jenny," so I have no idea why the poster says "Hot Wings" on it. Maybe she's looking at Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) and thinking HE is "Hot Wings." She is his love-interest. He's from the present day; she's---I guess---a Wampanoag turkey in 1621. I wonder---is "Massasoit" (also in the film), a turkey? Or a person?

The review at tells us that there's a feisty turkey named Jenny (voiced by Amy Poehler), and that her dad, "Chief Broadbeak" is a tribal leader. It ends with this:
Worst of all, "Free Birds" aims for historical significance by using the turkey slayings as a metaphor for the cruelties Native Americans have suffered.

Overall, the movie sounds awful in so many ways. If you've seen it, I'd appreciate your comments on what you saw/thought.


Update, 3:00 PM, November 3, 2013: I'll add more as I find it... On the Facebook page for the film, I found another clip. Who are these guys?! In Plains style attire?! And are those horse ears in the foreground?

Update, 3:15 PM, November 3, 2013: This guy approaches a turkey in facepaint and raises his wing up... He doesn't say "how" as he does it, but he tries to draw the attention of the turkey in facepaint to that upraised wing.

Update, 4:00 PM, November 4, 2013: Indian Country Today published a review of the movie on October 7, 2013. Take a look: 'Free Birds' Tells Wrong Story, Inaccurately. And Vanity Fair's reviewer called it misguided: Film Review: 'Free Birds'.

Note #1: A couple of people (see comments) pointed out my typo in writing "turkey's" instead of "turkey." I've corrected the error.  Even when they're snarky, I welcome comments about typos and other errors.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Presidential Proclamation: National Native American Heritage Month, 2013

Let me preface my sharing of President Obama's proclamation by saying (again) that I don't think teachings about any particular group ought to be done in a specific month. American Indians are part of that "We the People" all year long and ought to be in the curriculum year-round. Emphasizing American Indians in November--the same month as Thanksgiving--generally means that teaching about us is done in the context of Thanksgiving, which means romantic laments about Indian of long-ago-and-far-away rather than the ones of us that are in the here-and-now-and-in-your-backyard.

So---how can you (parent, teacher, librarian) turn President Obama's proclamation into a here-and-now activity that can use anytime of the year?

In the first paragraph, President Obama says "When the Framers gathered to write the United States Constitution, they drew inspiration from the Iroquois Confederacy..." Do you know what he means by that? Take a look at House Concurrent Resolution 331, passed in October 1988. For information about one of the Native nations that comprise the Iroquois Confederacy, visit the website of the Onondaga Nation. If you work with middle school students, get copies of Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here. He's Onondaga, and his novel is outstanding.  

In the second paragraph, President Obama says "we must not ignore the painful history Native Americans have endured..."  You probably know about wars between the U.S. and American Indian nations, but did you know universities had research studies in which they sterilized Native people? To learn about that, read Joseph Bruchac's Hidden Roots.  Update on Sep 30 2023: I (Debbie Reese) no longer recommend Bruchac's work. For details see Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki? Did you know that in Alaska, Native children at boarding schools were used as guinea pigs for radioactive research? Take a look at Debby Dahl Edwardson's My Name Is Not Easy

In the third paragraph, President Obama says "In March, I signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which recognizes tribal courts' power to convict and sentence certain perpetuators of domestic violence, regardless of whether they are Indian or non-Indian." To read about that, pick up a copy of Louise Erdrich's The Round House

In the fourth paragraph, President Obama invites Americans to "shape a future worthy of a bright new generation, and together, let us ensure this country's promise is fully realized for every Native American." Most books about American Indians are inaccurate and biased. As such, they shape ignorance in non-Native people. Let's set those ones aside and work towards that bright new future for all of us.


- - - - - - -
From Alaskan mountain peaks to the Argentinian pampas to the rocky shores of Newfoundland, Native Americans were the first to carve out cities, domesticate crops, and establish great civilizations. When the Framers gathered to write the United States Constitution, they drew inspiration from the Iroquois Confederacy, and in the centuries since, American Indians and Alaska Natives from hundreds of tribes have shaped our national life. During Native American Heritage Month, we honor their vibrant cultures and strengthen the government-to-government relationship between the United States and each tribal nation.
As we observe this month, we must not ignore the painful history Native Americans have endured -- a history of violence, marginalization, broken promises, and upended justice. There was a time when native languages and religions were banned as part of a forced assimilation policy that attacked the political, social, and cultural identities of Native Americans in the United States. Through generations of struggle, American Indians and Alaska Natives held fast to their traditions, and eventually the United States Government repudiated its destructive policies and began to turn the page on a troubled past.
My Administration remains committed to self-determination, the right of tribal governments to build and strengthen their own communities. Each year I host the White House Tribal Nations Conference, and our work together has translated into action. We have resolved longstanding legal disputes, prioritized placing land into trust on behalf of tribes, stepped up support for Tribal Colleges and Universities, made tribal health care more accessible, and streamlined leasing regulations to put more power in tribal hands. Earlier this year, an amendment to the Stafford Act gave tribes the option to directly request Federal emergency assistance when natural disasters strike their homelands. In March, I signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which recognizes tribal courts' power to convict and sentence certain perpetrators of domestic violence, regardless of whether they are Indian or non-Indian. And this June, I moved to strengthen our nation-to-nation relationships by establishing the White House Tribal Council on Native American Affairs. The Council is responsible for promoting and sustaining prosperous and resilient Native American communities.
As we observe Native American Heritage Month, we must build on this work. Let us shape a future worthy of a bright new generation, and together, let us ensure this country's promise is fully realized for every Native American.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2013 as National Native American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to celebrate November 29, 2013, as Native American Heritage Day.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Encounter in an antique store: "We pay taxes!"

Last week my mom, sister, and niece were visiting me in Illinois. They wanted to go to antique shops, so we set out to visit some. For the most part, we had a good time. But... 

At one, my mom spied a shelf of "Indian" items. She picked one up and gestured us over to see it. Quietly we agreed it was fake stuff that you get at roadside curio shops. The store owner noticed us at that shelf and came over. 

"Are you Indian?" she smiled and asked. My mom said that we are, and the woman, with great enthusiasm, said she is glad that the government gives us all the things it gives to us. Everything we "get for free" from the government, she said, was ok by her. Of course, we three Native women were not down with what she was saying... 

Then she said that she's glad that we don't have to pay taxes. 

At that point, my mom stopped her. Shaking her finger at the woman, my mom said "We pay taxes. We pay lot of taxes." The woman said "well, if you lived on a reservation, you wouldn't have to pay taxes." My mom said "We DO live on a reservation, and we DO pay taxes." 

The woman was quiet for a moment, and then talked about visiting a reservation, about how the houses and yards were run down... And my mom interrupted her again, telling her that her home is beautiful, that my dad had built it, that they have a beautiful yard, too. The woman stopped talking. We moved on to look at the antique door keys in another spot.  

My mom had checked the woman again and again, refuting the woman's narrow base of knowledge. My mom is usually very kind and generous but she lost her patience with ignorance put forth as knowledge. 

There are many times that I hesitate to disclose my identity to someone like that store owner. She meant well, but her ignorance and insistence blinded her to her actions. She was trying to be friendly, trying to prove to us just how much she knows about American Indians, but she was off the mark, and relentless, too.

It is quite an experience, being not-white at antique stores in the midwest...  Some items on the shelves are wonderful and others are horrible reminders of America's racism. Here's a few photos I snapped of "Chief Illiniwek" items. For those who don't know, "Chief Illiniwek" was once the mascot at the University of Illinois. Its supporters said over and over again how "Chief Illiniwek" was not a mascot, that it is a symbol that honors American Indians. What do you think? Are these items indicative of honor? The first three are stickers/decals that were on a lunch box. The fourth one--I don't know WHAT to call it. The last one is a seat cushion. 

In case you're wondering, the "Indian's don't pay taxes" idea has a kernel of truth. Native people who live on their reservation and work at a business located on their reservation are exempt from state income tax. Those of us who own property off the reservation pay property tax. All of us pay sales tax. And of course--the word "give" suggests a benevolent government, which it was/is not. 

I'll take this opportunity to point you to a terrific book that addresses popular misconceptions. Published by the National Museum of the American Indian, Do All Indians Live in Tipis? is a terrific resource.

Nov. 2, 2013

An online resource similar to Do All Indians Live in Tipis is the FAQ page at the Native American Rights Fund: FAQ

Vanity Fair's "Favorite" Halloween Costumes

Having my coffee this morning, my twitter feed included a link to a Vanity Fair slideshow of "favorite" costumes at an event that took place last night (Halloween). I wondered if Hamish Robertson (the photographer) and editors at Vanity Fair were aware that dressing as an "Indian" is inappropriate.

So I went to the slide show and saw this:

The caption (not shown because it has been changed) was "The Indian."*

I replied to the Robertson's tweet. Here's a screenshot of the tweets:

Reading Robertson's reply, I went back to the slideshow to see the adjustment. Here's what he did:

This time you see the caption. It says "FEATHERS" instead of "The Indian."*

That, of course, is no better.

That the photograph made its way onto a list of "favorite" costumes tells me that some people at Vanity Fair, a magazine I subscribe to, are clueless about this issue. That's a bit surprising to me, especially given the coverage of fashion designers who have been called out for appropriation of Native intellectual property. Native Appropriations has been doing an excellent job of documenting the fashion industry's appropriation (click here to get a list of posts Adrienne has done on this topic). Paul Frank responded to criticism of a fashion event by working with Native designers.

What can Vanity Fair do?

I recommend they read the report recently released by the National Congress of American Indians. While the title specifies mascots, the contents of the report have broader application. Obviously, it applies to images of American Indians in children's and young adult literature.

We (by we, I mean American society) are stuck in an ugly cycle in which this kind of stereotyping happens again and again, year after year. Unfortunately, it is a money maker for those who do it. On her Facebook page, my daughter pointed to the "Sexy Indian" costumes available from a Halloween costume company. She opened by referencing statistics about how many Native women are sexually assaulted (one in three) by non-Native men, making the point that dressing up and playing Indian are not harmless activities. These activities are indicative of an ignorant society that refuses to see American Indian people as people.

A powerhouse like Vanity Fair can help interrupt that cycle by publishing an essay that takes a hard look at playing Indian/dressing Indian. They can show their readers how much it happens. This means starting with children's books and activities in which children are shown or encouraged to play Indian. It means taking on esteemed children's book authors and illustrators, and the Boy Scouts, and, the Washington Redskins, too.

That's what Vanity Fair can do.

*In my original post, I made an error. The caption was not "An Indian." It was "The Indian." My post has been edited to correct the error.