Saturday, January 26, 2013

Playing Indian - Vintage Valentine's Day Cards

Over at BuzzFeed, Leonora Epstein posted 15 Unbelievably Racist Valentine's Day Cards. I'm sharing two of them in this post. Before I do that, though, let's take a look at the subtitle for her post. She writes "This collection of V-Day cards circa 1900 to 1930 or so will make you wish Valentine's Day never existed." With that subtitle, she suggests that times are different. I think she's not paying attention to mascots like the ones for the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians. She must not know about the Gwen Stefani video either.

Let's take a look at two of the cards:

"Ugh ugh" - I'd love to know who it was that first put down "ugh ugh" as words or speech of Native people!

The headdress itself - One of the common stereotypical ways that a headdress is drawn.

The geometric trim around the heart - I guess this could be traced to textiles Native artists weave on looms. But don't artists from other groups also use looms in creating their woven items?

Wondering about his "give me" line. What do you think about that?

And or course, he is playing Indian. The artist didn't intend you to think the boy is actually Native. That's different (mostly) from the other Valentine's Day cards in the BuzzFeed article...

Here's the second one:

"How" - Another utterance someone attributed as the way that Indians say hello. You remember it from Disney's Peter Pan?

The headdress - Another of the common ways that a headdress is drawn...

Given her skin tone, we can speculate that the artist meant her to actually be Native, but that's not likely. Like the boy in the card above, she's most likely playing Indian, too.

If you want to see more, check out the ones Adrienne K. has been posting each year at Native Appropriations. As far as I know, makers of the Valentine's day cards no longer use these stereotypes. I wish authors and illustrators of children's and young adult literature would stop, too!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures: The Mount Rushmore Calamity

In 1964, Jeff Brown introduced readers to a character named Flat Stanley:

Flat Stanley's name is actually Stanley Lambchop, but a bulletin board fell on him, turning him from a three-dimensional boy into a flat one. Much beloved, Flat Stanley evolved into a very popular project through which schoolchildren would make a Flat Stanley and mail it to friends and family in far off places.

A huge success, it also evolved into a series of early readers. Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures: The Mount Rushmore Calamity is one of those readers.

In it, Flat Stanley and his family go to Mount Rushmore. While there, they meet a tour guide's daughter. Her name is Calamity Jasper:

The interesting thing about Calamity Jasper is what she says about herself on page 48:

See? She is "part Lakota Sioux." In addition to knowing "useful things" about plants and hunting (can you say STEREOTYPE?), she knows how to send smoke signals (come on, say it again: STEREOTYPE). Course, because Stanley is FLAT, they use him as the blanket to send those smoke signals:

The stereotypes are bad, but there's more.

Look again at page 48 when Calamity tells us she's part Lakota Sioux. See the words "Gold Rush" in the previous sentence? Calamity Jasper is out looking for gold in a gold mine. A gold mine located in the Black Hills, and she is determined to get some of that gold for herself...

Let's consider what the Lakota Nation has on its website about the Black Hills:
In 1874 George Armstrong Custer led the U.S. Army Black Hills Expedition, which set out on July 2 from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory, with orders to travel to the previously uncharted Black Hills of South Dakota. Its mission was to look for suitable locations for a fort, find a route to the southwest, and to investigate the potential for gold mining. His discovery of gold was made public and miners began migrating there illegally.

"Custer's florid descriptions of the mineral and timber resources of the Black Hills, and the land's suitability for grazing and cultivation ... received wide circulation, and had the effect of creating an intense popular demand for the 'opening' of the Hills for settlement. "Initially the U.S. military tried to turn away trespassing miners and settlers. Eventually President Grant, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Secretary of War, "decided that the military should make no further resistance to the occupation of the Black Hills by miners."These orders were to be enforced "quietly", and the President's decision was to remain "confidential."

As more settlers and gold miners invaded the Black Hills, the Government determined it had to acquire the land from the Sioux, and appointed a commission to negotiate the purchase. The negotiations failed, as the Sioux resisted giving up what they considered sacred land. The U.S. resorted to military force. They declared the Sioux Indians "hostile" for failing to obey an order to return from an off-reservation hunting expedition by a specific date, but in the dead of winter, overland travel was impossible.

The consequent military expedition to remove the Sioux from the Black Hills included an attack on a major encampment of several bands on the Little Bighorn River. Led by General Custer, the attack ended in the overwhelming victory of chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse over the 7th Cavalry Regiment, a conflict often called Custer's Last Stand.

In 1876 the U.S. Congress decided to open up the Black Hills to development and break up the Great Sioux Reservation. In 1877, it passed an act to make 7.7 million acres (31,000 km2) of the Black Hills available for sale to homesteaders and private interests. In 1889 Congress divided the remaining area of Great Sioux Reservation into five separate reservations and defined the boundaries of each in its Act of March 2, 1889, 25 Stat. 888.

With that history in mind, I think portraying a Lakota character as a gold miner is problematic.  

At the end of the book, there's a section called "What You Need to Know to Be a Black Hills Gold Miner." I'm guessing this information is what led the reviewer for School Library Journal to call the book "educational":
Native Americans have lived in the Black Hills for more than 9000 years. Some Lakota believe the Black Hills are the sacred center of the world.

The Black Hills Gold Rush began in 1874, when Colonel Custer led a thousand men into the western part of South Dakota to investigate reports that the area contained gold. That's the same Custer who later had his Last Stand against Sitting Bull at the Battle of Little Big Horn. 

One of the most famous cowgirls of the Black Hills was named Calamity Jane. She was a good friend of the famous lawman Wild Bill Hickock.

Gold was first discovered in the Black Hills just a few miles from where Mount Rushmore was later built.

Some would-be miners get tricked by "fools gold," which looks a lot like the real thing. If you want to tell the difference, try pressing your fingernail into the surface. If it leaves a small indent, you've found gold!

The heads on Mount Rushmore are as tall as a six-story building. If you matched them with bodies, the men with those heads would be three times as tall as the Statue of Liberty. 
Some of the individual items the reader needs to know to be a "Black Hills Gold Miner" are odd. Why would you tell the child that the Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota people?! You've just read a story about mining for gold... on sacred land? I don't get the logic. How would the story itself be different if the author included the sacred nature of that land within the story? Maybe the author would abandon the project. Maybe the author didn't write these last pages!

Though the reviewer for School Library Journal called this book "educational and fun," I disagree. Stereotypes are not fun, and I don't think the book is educational, either. Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures: The Mount Rushmore Calamity was published in 2009 by Harper. The author is Sara Pennypacker, and the illustrations are by Macky Pamintuan.

Update: Friday, January 25, 6:00 PM

You may be interested in Monumental Myths - a video about monuments, especially the last segment, which is about Mount Rushmore.


A few weeks ago, I pointed to stereotypes in Brandon Mull's Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star. Today, I'm pointing to problems in his Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague. 

First---here's an overview, by Denise Daley (her review is at Barnes and Noble):
Strange things have been happening in Fablehaven. A mysterious shadow plague is slowly overtaking the once peaceful magical creatures that live there. The nipsies are like regular people except they are only about half an inch big. Some of their kingdoms have recently been attacked by other nipsies who have somehow been transformed into sinister beings. Seth is the first to discover the disturbing changes. He and his sister Kendra have been staying with their grandparents at Fablehaven. Kendra has unique abilities that can possibly help, but the situation is extremely dangerous. Kendra's grandparents reluctantly grant her permission to visit a special place where she is inducted into the Knights of the Dawn. She and several other knights immediately begin an assignment to retrieve a hidden artifact. 

That assignment takes her to the "Lost Mesa preserve" (p. 94) in Arizona which is on Navajo land. The hidden artifact is one of five. Together, all five of the artifacts can open a demon prison called Zzyzxa. In chapter 7, Kendra and the other knights arrive at Lost Mesa. Here's the illustration at top of that page:

Some of you will say "but that's Taos!" when you see that page. I sure did! (For those who don't know about Taos Pueblo, do an Internet search of images on Taos Pueblo and you'll find plenty of them.)  There are, in fact, pueblo people in Arizona. The Hopi Nation is there, and, they do have structures like the ones at Taos, but seriously---do the search and there's no denying that a photo of Taos was the inspiration for Brandon Dorman's illustration of Lost Mesa.

Kendra and her group are driven to Lost Mesa by "a quiet Navajo man with leathery skin, probably in his fifties" (p. 122). His name is Neil. He's wearing a cowboy hat and a bolo tie, and though Kendra tries to get him to talk to her, he answers her questions "but never elaborated or made inquiries of his own" (p. 123). Though some of us are quiet like that, I suspect that Mull is drawing on stereotypes of the stoic Indian.

Neil starts talking a bit more when they get closer to Lost Mesa. He tells her they call it Painted Mesa, and that
Almost nobody knows, but part of the reason the Navajo people ended up with the largest reservation in the country was to conceal this hallowed place" (p. 125). 
How, I wonder, do people who aren't Native, or who don't pay attention to the quality of Native content in children's and young adult books, process that line?! Part of it is true. The Navajo Nation does have the largest reservation in the United States. But that bit about having the largest reservation so they could conceal a hallowed place?! Who, in Mull's fantasyland, did THAT?!

Mull has done some research for this book. His research is evident in this exchange, when Kendra asks about Lost Mesa (p. 125):
   "Do Navajo's run it?" Kendra asked.
   "Not solely. We Dine are new here compared to the Pueblo people."
   "Has the preserve been here long?" Kendra asked. She finally had Neil on a roll!
   "This is the oldest preserve on the continent, founded centuries before European colonization, first managed by the ancient race outsiders call Anasazi. Persian magi actually established the preserve. They wanted it to stay a secret. Back then, this land was unknown across the Atlantic. We're still doing a good job at remaining off the map."
   "Painted Mesa can't be seen from outside of the fence?" Kendra asked.
   "Not even by satellites," Neil said proudly. "This preserve is the opposite of a mirage. You don't see us, but we're really here."
In Mull's book, Lost Mesa is an "it" that is "run" by someone. He might know that Native Nations are sovereign governments, but he might also think they're like corporations to be run by someone. From Neil, we learn that the Navajo and Pueblo people run Lost Mesa together. Remember what I said earlier... there are, in fact, Pueblo people in Arizona, but they generally refer to themselves as Hopis. Historically speaking, the Navajo are newcomers to that area.

Let's assume that Mull is talking about villages on one of the Hopi Mesas. They were, in fact, founded centuries before European colonization. But, "first managed by the ancient race outsiders call Anasazi" is a bit messy. "Managed" confirms my suspicion that Mull thinks of Native Nations as companies rather than governments. "Ancient race" is Hopis, but I think it was the Navajo people that called them Anasazi, and then, that term was widely used by anthropologist and archaeologists. For a long time, a lot of people thought the Anasazi people vanished, but today, it is widely acknowledged that we (present day Pueblo Indian) are descendants of that "ancient" people and that we didn't vanish.

But what to make of "Persian magi" who "actually established the preserve" before Europeans even knew the continent existed?! These magi must be part of Mull's fantasy world. He doesn't say they established the village. He specifically says "the preserve."

And then that part about being invisible?! We're supposed to be with Mull in his fantasy world, but as a Native person who knows a lot about the ways that mainstream power structures misrepresent and omit Indigenous people, I gotta say that this is wacky!!!

Moving on...

On page 127, Neil pulls up at a hacienda. There's a pueblo near the hacienda. We meet "a short Native woman" named Rosa and her daughter, Maria, who is "a tall, slender Native American woman with a broad jaw and high cheekbones." Rosa has "copper skin" and is the caretaker of Lost Mesa. They also meet Hal, who is Maria's father and Rosa's husband. He is described as a "potbellied man with narrow shoulders, long limbs, and a heavy gray mustache." I think he's white, don't you? White is the default. Generally speaking, writers only describe skin color when a character is not white.

Hal takes Kendra and Gavin (a youngish knight like Kendra) on a tour of Lost Mesa. They see "an old Spanish mission" with a cemetery and "a pueblo" which, Hal says, "are the oldest structures on the property" (p. 131). Hal stops to feed the zombies in the cemetery.

Yeah... you read that right. Hal tells them that it is the oldest and biggest zombie collection in the world. In the cemetery, there are almost 200 graves. Beside each grave, there's a bell on a small pole, with a cord attached to the bell. The cord goes down into the grave. If a zombie is hungry, it rings its bell. Hal lifts a tube, unstops it, puts a funnel in it, and pours "goopy red fluid" from a bucket down into the grave. Are you creeped out? Or grossed out?!

Next stop is a museum that houses "the world's largest collection of freestanding magical creature skeletons and other related paraphernalia" (p. 135). Gavin objects to the display of a dragon skeleton, because, he says dragons are sacred, and its sacrilegious to display their bones. That's an interesting turn, given that complete skeletons of Native people were, for many years, displayed like museum objects. For more info on that topic, this video is worth watching:

Back to Mull's story....

That night, the group of knights climbs Lost Mesa to "the Old Pueblo" (p. 204):
Lightning blazed across the sky, the first Kendra had noticed since setting out. For a moment, the entire expanse of the mesa flashed into view. In the distance, toward the center, Kendra saw ancient ruins, layer upon layer of crumbling walls and stairs that must once have formed a more impressive pueblo complex than the structure neighboring the hacienda. Briefly her eye was drawn to the movement of many dancers prancing wildly in the rain on the near side of the ruins. Before she could consider the scene, the lightning flash ended. The distance and the darkness and the rain combined to obscure the revelers even from Kendra's keen eyes. Thunder rumbled, muffled by the wind.
   "Kachinas!" Neil cried
   The middle-aged Navajo rapidly loosed Kendra from the climbing gear, not bothering to remove her harness. Lightning flared again, revealing that the figures were no longer engaged in their frenzied dance. The revelers were charging toward them.
Ok, I'm going to stop reading Mull's book.

Equating kachinas with revelers is offensive. Using "prancing wildly" and "frenzied" to describe them is also offensive. Seems to me that Mull is the one in a frenzy!  Caught up in superficial knowledge of Native peoples, he inserts stereotypes and misinformation into another genre of children's literature. Some might find his books engaging. I find them insulting.

Why, I wonder, did Mull feel compelled to write Native people into his book?!

No doubt, fans of Mull's series will submit comments to this review, telling me "its just a book" and "its fantasy, not non-fiction, so leave it alone!"

The fact is, it isn't ONE book. It isn't just Mull's Fablehaven series. Its misrepresentation and stereotyping in books published every year, going back hundreds of years. It'll only stop when we stop buying books like this.

Consider what you have on your library shelves right now. If you started a pile of fiction and nonfiction books that misrepresent Indigenous people, and placed alongside it ones that accurately portray Indigenous people, you'd see what I mean. And hopefully, you'd start to deselect those with misrepresentations. Course, you'd have a lot of space, but you could fill that space with books that don't misinform your patrons and students. Won't that be better? For all of us?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Louise Erdrich's CHICKADEE wins the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction!

Congratulations to Louise Erdrich!  Chickadee was selected as the recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. From the Horn Book website:
The 2013 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction goes to Louise Erdrich for Chickadee, published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. The annual award, created by Scott O’Dell and Zena Sutherland in 1982 and now administered by Elizabeth Hall, carries with it a prize of $5000, and goes to the author of a distinguished work of historical fiction for young people published by a U. S. publisher and set in the Americas. This is the second O’Dell Award for Louise Erdrich; she won it in 2006 for The Game of Silence, also published by Harper. (The honors don’t stop there; Erdrich also just won the 2012 National Book Award for her adult novel The Round House.)
Here's more from their remarks about the book:
The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy: who knew, for example, that an oxcart train would be so loud, or that mosquitoes could be so terrifying? Anishanabe beliefs about the spiritual connections between humans and the natural world are conveyed matter-of-factly as Chickadee gets help and encouragement from his namesake bird; the Christian faith of the “Black Robes” is also given nuance and respect. Chickadee’s first taste of a peppermint stick in the burgeoning city of St. Paul is just one sign of the increasingly multicultural nature of his family’s world, a world that we hope this author continues to chronicle.

Do you have a copy of it yet? Order one today from Birchbark Books.

In September, 2012, Martha V. Parravano of Horn Book interviewed Erdrich. Check it out, too! In the interview, she says that her next book will be titled Makoons. In it she says that she will be "writing from the living memory" of her relatives. Her writing is exquisite. It'll be hard to wait, but also something to look forward to!
Five questions for Louise Erdrich


This is my favorite page...

... in S. D. Nelson's Greet the Dawn the Lakota Way. Why, you wonder? Simple. As a Pueblo Indian kid growing up on our reservation in New Mexico, I rode a yellow school bus just like that. Illustrations like that make me smile because they reflect my reality, my personal experience, my life as a Native child. Native children today need that sort of thing because it provides them with a mirror of who they are.

On the facing page, several children run towards the bus. Some are carrying band instruments! Again! That was me! Carrying my clarinet!

Enough reminiscing.

Here's the cover for Nelson's book:

Ok.... more reminiscing. My grandfather, dad, uncle and brothers had horses that we rode around the reservation. We laugh today, remembering Perla, the mare that would simply lay down to get rid of us. I vividly recall feeling the shift in her bones at that moment when she decided she was going to lay down. We'd have to pull our legs up quick-like and be ready to leap off. And of course, we were riding in the same sort of clothes the kids on the cover of Greet the Dawn are wearing.

The beauty in Nelson's book is that he puts our existence in the present day, but through his art, he conveys the fact that in our communities, we are in touch with our identity as Native people whose spiritualities--across our many nations--are unique, vibrant, and, like the air we breathe, all around us.

Another couple of huge plus factors for Nelson's book is that it includes Lakota songs, in Lakota and English. And, he notes the source for the songs in "A Note about the Illustrations and the Text" in the back of the book. He takes care, in other words, to point us to his sources. There's no ambiguity in what he says.

One last comment... the page where a family is shown outside at night, welcoming the moon? An elder is shown, sitting on a folding chair. That is another familiar image, firmly grounded in my reality.

Order a copy today from a small bookstore, like Louise Erdrich's Birchbark Books. Greet the Dawn the Lakota Way was published in 2012 by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press.

Oh! Forgot to include the trailer. Here it is:

And... Nelson is Standing Rock Sioux.

Update: Montana's Indian Education For All program

In 2006, I wrote a short post about an educational initiative in Montana. Called "Indian Education for All," it is designed to provide all students in Montana with accurate information about American Indians.

Today, I'm pointing you to "The Positive Impact of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Montana's Indian Education for All" by Jioanna Carjuzaa. Her article is in Volume 14(3) of the International Journal of Multicultural Education. Published in 2012, here's the abstract:
Montana's Indian Education for All Act is an unprecedented state constitutional mandate requiring educators to integrate American Indian content into its instruction. Not all educators in this western state in the United States embrace this requirement, but those who do become change agents as they lead students to challenge the status quo. Tensions between Indians and non-Indians influence Montana's historical and contemporary social fabric. From reservation border towns to urban school districts, and even in the state government, pervasive lack of cultural awareness contributes to misunderstandings and persistent inequities. Yet, in this climate, students are stepping up and speaking out.
If you are interested in making your library's collection more inclusive, or revamp your curriculum so that it increases cultural awareness of Indigenous people, take a look at the article (if the link doesn't work, write to me and I'll send it to you) and at the website, too:

The Positive Impact of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy
Indian Education for All at website for Montana's Office of Public Instruction

Monday, January 21, 2013

First Image of "Indian" in Children's Book

In 1657, John Amos Comenius wrote and illustrated Orbis Pictus, an encyclopedic picture book for children that is now commonly recognized as the first picture book for children. In honor of Comenius, the National Council of Teachers of English established a nonfiction book award and named it the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.

Comenius included what the world now knows as American Indians, or, Native Americans, in his book in the section about religion, where he wrote:

The Indians, 10. even at this day, worship the Devil, 11.

Here's the illustration. The Indian and Devil are on the right. According to Comenius, the Indian is kneeling to "worship the Devil."

I don't mean to suggest that NCTE ought not to have named the award after the book. The book itself does mark an important moment.

I do wish that writers, illustrators, reviews, publishers, teachers, and librarians would be more thoughtful about misrepresentations in things they write, illustrate, publish, teach, and share today. You can't, of course, misrepresent what people like Comenius thought, but you can present their thoughts in a way that points out the errors of that thinking. And, of course, it is important for authors and illustrators to be tribally specific in any work they do about American Indians.