- 3-22-2014, 7:13AM: Rosanne Parry submitted a comment to this review. I pasted her comment and my response to her comment beneath the review for your convenience (both are also visible in the comment section).
- 3/29/2014, 9:03AM: I've continued to paste Parry and my comments into the body of the review.
- 4/6/2014, 5:59 PM: Please read the comments, too, submitted by others, and submit yours, too.
- 4/25/2014, 4:42 PM: I'm re-reading the book, and revisiting my notes as I do... There are so many areas of concern that did not get into the review below. Not sure yet what I'll do with them. Perhaps an essay, later, when this conversation is over.
In the late 1990s, one of the big stories circulating amongst Native people was what was happening with the Makah Nation in the state of Washington. For the first time in decades, they were going to go whaling. Choosing to hunt again was their choice. It was the exercise of their sovereignty.
They had stopped whaling in the 1920s because commercial whaling had overwhelmed the gray whale, such that it was placed on the endangered animals list. When the gray whale was removed from that status, the Makah nation's leaders declared their intent to resume their whale hunt. Their desire to do so was challenged by groups that did not want them to hunt and it ended up in court. The Makah won the case. Environmentalists were furious. There was intense media coverage (see this article from the LA Times). Protesters carried signs that said "Save a Whale, Hunt a Makah." The school received bomb threats. The hunt took place in May of 1999.
That knowledge is what I brought to my reading of Written In Stone (published in 2013 by Random House). It'll help, before I begin, to say that the structure for Parry's book is Pearl (the protagonist) in 1999, then in 1923, and then back in 1999 again.
Pearl - the "old woman" who opens/closes Written In Stone
Rosanne Parry's book, Written In Stone, opens with Pearl, an "old woman" (on page 181 Parry describes her as an old woman) headed to the beach for that 1999 whale hunt. Reporters are all around, but there are no clues that this was a contested moment. Pearl reflects back on her childhood, to 1923 when she was thirteen, and was waiting for her father to return from a hunt. That remembering is the bulk of the story Parry tells. The last part of the story returns to Pearl in 1999. As she walks to the beach, she hears the click and whir of cameras.
Parry does not reference the media frenzy or anti-Makah activity anywhere. Pearl, if she was a real person, would definitely have been enduring it. Parry's Pearl doesn't reference the antagonism at all. As I read the story, though, Parry created Pearl as an activist (more on that later). Not having Pearl note the anti-Makah activities as she walks to the whale they've hunted doesn't ring true. And--Parry calling her an "old woman" doesn't work for me personally. Pearl would be called an elder.
The Author's Note
Parry divided her Author's Note into several sections. She begins with "Connections" on page 177, where she tells us that:
"As a fifth grader, I saw the Raven stories told and danced by Chief Lelooska and his family at their longhouse in Ariel, Washington. When the dancer pulled the hidden string that split the mask open to reveal the sun it seemed as magical to me in the firelight as any movie special effect."Reading how taken she was with Lelooska gave me pause. The place Parry visited was/is a performance space that is not affiliated with any of the tribes in that area. The person who went by "Chief Lelooska" is a man named Don Smith. In Chris Friday's Lelooska: The Life of a Northwest Coast Artist (University of Washington Press, 2011), we read that he was born in Sonoma, California to a woman who was 3/4 Cherokee but not raised or enrolled with the Cherokee Nation.
The "About Chief Lelooska" page at the website for the Lelooska Foundation says that "Lelooska" is a Nez Perce name, given to Smith when the Nez Perce adopted him when he was 12 years old. In the second paragraph, we read that he was later adopted by a Kwakiutl man named James Sewid, and that the adoption came hereditary rights to Sewid's family heritage. In short, Lelooska can do what Sewid did, which is to perform Kwakiutl stories. Later on that page, we read that Lelooska is an authority on Indians of North America.
Smith's story is quite familiar. There are many people who were taken with Native artifacts and started making and selling them. When actual tribal peoples are called in to look over the items supposed to be authentic, they're found to be little more than craft work of hobbyists. There are critical reviews of Lelooska. Friday alludes to his problematic identity (and to Sewid's controversial activities, too), and so do others, but I gather Parry is unaware of them. In her Resources section, she lists the Lelooska Foundation and two of his books as resources for young readers.
In the Connections section, Parry writes about teaching 5th graders at Taholah Elementary School on the Quinault reservation. Specifically, she writes about a discussion they had about story, and that a student asked "Why is the story never about us?" (p. 178). Another student said "I guess nothing is going to change unless somebody here grows up and writes that book" (p. 179). Then she writes "I did not imagine I would be the one to grow up and write the book" that is Written In Stone. She dedicates the book to those students, who, "asked for a book of their own. I never forgot, and after all these years, this story is for you and all of your children and even someday your grandchildren."
We can look at Parry's decision to write that book as a wonderful decision. She wrote it, I'm guessing, a decade or so after she left there. She doesn't tell us how long she taught at Taholah. My overall sense is that she was was deeply moved by teaching there, which makes me wonder why she left. Memories, though, lingered such that she decided to write the book.
Problems in Pearl as a 13 year old
A quick overview of the main points of the story of Pearl as a 13 year old:
- Her father is killed on a whale hunt; her mother has been dead for 5 years, of influenza
- Without a whale, Pearl's extended family is worried about survival
- Her grandfather gets a letter from a collector (Mr. Glen); if they work with him, it could be a source of badly needed income
- Pearl plans to steal her father's regalia so her family won't sell it, but on her way to do it, gets hurt and spends a couple of days on a part of the shore where she finds petroglyphs and decides not to go through with her plan
- Back with her family, Pearl figures out the collector's real agenda is to get them drunk and get their signatures on documents signing away mineral rights to coal and oil in "Shipwreck Cove."
- Pearl undermines the collector/speculator's activities by writing letters to other tribes along the coast
As I read the story of thirteen-year-old Pearl, I kept getting a sense of writing that was more influenced by Chief Lelooska and somewhat romantic ideas of Native people, past and present, than by the Makah students Parry taught.
For example, when we meet the thirteen-year-old Pearl, she says she is a princess, and that her mother was a Tlingit princess. Where, I wonder, did Parry find support for so boldly proclaiming that identity for Pearl?
In various places, we read that Pearl is the one who is going to remember the songs, dances, and stories. She will commit them to memory, and she will write them down. She is the one who will save all those aspects of their culture for the tribe. Her grandmother gives her a journal to write in, and a fancy pen, too, but later, Pearl wonders if there's a rule against women writing, so some of this thread has gaps that creep in, I think, as Parry tries to tease out (inject?!) some feminist ideas about what women can/cannot do.
Another inconsistency is that her father didn't burn her mother's loom. He was supposed to burn everything, and burning everything is such a dramatic moment early on in the story, that when I got to that part--with a blanket partly intact on the loom--it didn't make sense to me. Maybe I was supposed to fill in a gap that her mother's weaving was so important that her father would refuse to burn it, but, her grandmother went on at one point about how her dad had to burn everything in order to survive the pain of losing his wife.
In several places, Pearl talks about a "robe of power." Her dad had one, and her mom had one, and she wants one, too. Her dad was going to make one for her, but his death put an end to that process. The ways she talks of that "robe of power" feel odd to me. Some articles of clothing do have significance, so I do understand that. I think it was just over-used in the story.
When Pearl is afraid her family may sell her father's regalia to the collector, she makes a plan to steal her father's things and move away to live amongst white people, where she imagines that the "bread-loaf brown faded from my skin" (p. 123) when she'll be pale like a weevil. As someone with brown skin, I can tell you that it never fades to the pale tones of a weevil.
Back to 1999
Back in 1999, Pearl recounts having written a thousand letters to tribes, governors, senators, and presidents. The became the editor of an Indian newspaper, and one of the authors of the Quinault and Makah dictionaries. She wrote a book about medicinal plants, and made sound recordings of the old songs. Earlier, I said she became an activist. This recitation of all her activities is evidence of that activist identity and is why it doesn't make sense to me that Pearl doesn't mention the whaling controversy when the book opens, or here, either. Maybe we are meant to think she's beyond or above that controversy, but all of these things Pearl did just makes me think of Don "Chief Lelooska" Smith again. By that, I mean, that the man had a huge ego, and, so does Pearl.
As I noted on opening this review, the Makah decision to whale again was a decision to exercise their rights as a sovereign nation. It was preceded by activism of the 1960s and 1970s when the tribal nations of the northwest coast won a major case in the Supreme Court, again, over the rights stated in the treaty they signed with the U.S. Government in 1855.
Parry demonstrates some understanding of political battles. Her reference to the exploitation of collectors is one example. She wanted to write a book that would reflect the lives of her Makah students, and, perhaps, the Makah's long-standing activism to protect their rights. Pearl's effort to keep items from the collector is a gesture in that direction, but that isn't what that collector--or Parry--was focused on. Instead, Parry makes up two things. In the Author's Note, she tells us she made these up:
- First is the petroglyphs. She says that there are, in fact, petroglyphs are around that area, but that she made up the ones in her book--the ones that are so pivotal in what Pearl does.
- Second, she made up the cove and the coal and oil that are in that cove, and she shrouds that cove with Makah stories about monsters that keep kids away from there. In doing that, she's making up tribal stories, too.
There are other things that are jarring to me, that I wonder if they, like the petroglyphs and cove, are made up:
- Having Pearl play "Pirates and Indians" made me go "huh?" I would love to see Parry's source for that.
- I'm also wondering about a source for the part of the story where the Indian Agent makes her father burn all of her mother's things, AND her mother's body, and the baby, too when she dies of influenza. It was the Influenza epidemic of 1918. I haven't found support for burning of bodies, whether they were Native or not.
My bottom line?
As a Native reader, I find made-up stuff all the time. It is troublesome, but in this case, it is worse because Parry deliberately set out to write a book for those kids in Taholah, who--I imagine--are dealing with made up stuff all the time, too. If I was a writer, I wouldn't add to that pile of made-up-stuff. It'd be hard to imagine myself doing it and then handing it to the kids.
In the end, I can't recommend this book.
A couple of tips to writers: keep in mind that Native people already have a huge pile of made-up stuff to deal with. I don't think we need to add to it. And, check your sources! Check the knowledge you bring to your project! I think if Parry had let go of her memories of Chief Lelooska and done some background research on him, she'd have written a different book. [One more tip, added an hour after this review went live as I started shutting down all the windows I had open while working on my review: Read Native journals! There's an excellent article in American Indian Quarterly (volume 29 #1 and 2) about the Makah museum and working with staff there. Titled "Forging Indigenous Methodologies on Cape Flatterly" it provides insights on how tribal peoples work with people who are not tribal members so that projects fit within the frame of native nation building (which I've written about before) that are mutually beneficial.]
I invite your comments on my review.
Rosanne Parry's comment, posted on Friday, March 21, 2014, at 11:55 AM
Debbie, thank you for your thoughtful and lengthy review of Written in Stone. It's unusual for any reviewer to go to the depth you have and I appreciate the concerns you've raised in this blog post. Writing a novel, in my experience, is mostly about taking things out, so I'm grateful for the opportunity to discuss the ideas in the story and elements of the Quinault and Makah culture in more detail--elements that would have been didactic within the book but are great fuel for conversation around the book. I have reasons for all the story choices I've made and I'm always glad to discuss them.
I don't want to clog up your blog with lengthy comments, so I'll respond to your concerns on my own blog over the next month or so. Please don't construe my remarks as disapproval of what you've said. I'm just happy to have a conversation on a topic we both care about.
I will comment briefly on the choice of old woman vs. elder as a description for Pearl as a great-grandmother. I'm not entirely happy with that word choice myself. Elder would be the expected word and my editor asked me why I didn't choose it in this passage. But in my time in Taholah I never remember hearing the older generation referred to as elders. Seniors is the term I always heard. When I was invited back to Taholah for a celebration of Written in Stone this May I was asked to speak to the seniors in the afternoon before the evening event. So in earlier drafts I used the word senior. The trouble is most readers of this book will be in fourth grade (when Native cultures of the Pacific northwest are studied in Oregon and Washington). Kids this age tend to associate the word senior with 17 year old high school students--not an image I want to evoke.
This is a word choice I'd gladly reconsider. And fortunately we have a window of opportunity right now before the book goes to paperback to make a different choice. Do you have another word that you think would work better? I hate it when one word in a book rings false to me and takes me out the story. I'm sorry you had that experience with old woman as a description of Pearl. I'll have to go back and look up the Quinault word for grandmother. That might be the best solution. But I am in earnest in asking you for your opinion. There probably is a better choice to make, and both I and my publisher are committed to putting out the best version of this story possible. They've always been supportive of this in the past and I'm sure they will be now.
Thanks again for your review. I'm always looking for good stories set among the tribes of the northwest and in particular ones by a Native American author. I'm very interested in encouraging a more diverse group of writers for children, and I'm glad to have you here championing their work.
Debbie's response to Parry, Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 7:00 AM
I am replying to your question about the use of "old woman" but there is a lot more that pulled me out of the story.
You call Pearl an "old woman" in your author's note. That is what I was referring to (I included a page number). That is who she is in your mind.
Personally, the phrase that comes to my mind when I think of older women at home is elder. If I was writing that author note as the author, I would think "elder" and not "old woman." I would have written "with Pearl as an elder" rather than "with Pearl as an old woman". It isn't wrong for you to say "old woman." That is who she is to you. More than being right/wrong, I think it demonstrates outsider perspective.
You use "old woman" when Jeremiah speaks to the white agent (when the agent thinks Pearl should go away to school). That was fine. In that context, "old woman" works.
Later, when Susi tells Pearl to write everything down, Pearl worries that she might get something wrong. The text reads "I imagined the whole row of old women who sit in the honored positions at all the feasts. I imagined them shaking their heads and clucking to each other about that pathetic Pearl Carver, a girl who didn't know her own stories properly." Your use of "old women" there--you can ask your contacts what they would use. At that moment Pearl sure isn't thinking well of her elders, is she, thinking they'd "cluck." I'd run that by your contacts, too. Though that phrase "cluck" or "clucking" has been around a very long time among English speaking people, its use by a Makah girl in the 1920s feels odd, and, it is more like what an adult, not a child, would say.
We use "seniors" at Nambe, too, by the way, but the contextual use is different and related to the community projects in place to care and support them. My sister might say "the seniors are having a..." and I'd know she was talking about the senior citizens. My sister's kids would know what she meant, too. You're right, though. Non-Native kids, or Native kids who aren't living in a tight Native community would read "seniors" and think of students in a high school. You heard "seniors" because that is the context of your interaction with the students and community.
I'll be out in Washington doing some workshops with librarians in April. I'll ask them about some of this, too.
That said, those are words. They could be changed but the overall sense I have in reading the story doesn't ring true. What I get in reading your book is more of an outsider perspective.
Please don't worry about clogging up my site. I welcome the conversation, too.
Parry's response, March 23 2014, 12:03 AM CDT:
Since you're open to an ongoing conversation I'll continue to comment here and post these comments on my blog with a link to yours and also some pictures and maps and other things that I hope will help others who are interested follow the conversation.
I was happy to see both you and Beverly Slapin comment on the controversy surrounding the 1999 Makah whale hunt. It was big news in the region and I'm glad to hear that the news made the national stage as well. The best information on how hunts are conducted is found on the Makah website. I put a link to that on my blog. There is much additional information to be found at the Makah Cultural Research Center in Neah Bay.
The resumption of whaling by the Makah encountered some vociferous opposition, most notably by the Sea Shepherd Society, but it also found support from a number of places. The International Whaling Commission verified that the gray whale is no longer an endangered species. There were marine safety issues to work out with local agencies. The hunt took place near a very busy international shipping lane, so that called for some communication and planning. Those negotiations were lengthy and complex but it's not my impression that they were acrimonious. Unfortunately the peaceful working out of details does not make for exciting news, so I think the national outlets in particular paid attention to controversy more than cooperation.
I heard the Chairman of the Makah Whaling commission speak in Portland about the day of the hunt back in 2000. He said that on the morning of the hunt, the media was not present when the whalers set out and arrived only after the whale had already been brought in. The helicopters and cameras did show up eventually and the atmosphere on the beach got a bit chaotic, but there was a brief window of time when the Makah were (not completely but nearly) alone with their whale, and that time meant a great deal to them. Cultural renewal is the phrase the chairman used to describe what that moment meant to the tribe.
That is the moment I wanted for Pearl and her great-granddaughter. The reader can deduce from the news helicopter chop that the moment of peace will be brief but it's the prerogative of the novelist to pick the focus of a scene and I wanted to end with that one moment of connection for Pearl's family and their whale.
Absolutely true that the activist that Pearl grew up to be would have been in the thick of the work of resuming the treaty right to hunt whales. In fact when I first thought about writing this story I wanted to write about the resumption of whaling. Self-determination of natural resources is a piece of the civil rights story that seldom gets told. It's a rich history and one I'd love to see in books for kids.
Ahem! you publishing professionals who have said in my hearing that there's a need for more middle grade non-fiction, this is the perfect topic for a non-fiction series! It involves geography, history, a variety of Native and Non-native cultures, biology, chemistry, climate change, economics, international trade. Think of the possibilities for critical thinking and curriculum connections!
Back to the topic at hand :-)
I left the whaling controversy out of Written in Stone for several reasons. Most of all I wanted to keep the focus on Pearl as a teenager in the 1920s and leave the 1999 whale hunt to serve as a frame and show that although the Makah lost whaling in the 1920s, it was not lost to them forever. It also shows that the Makah have not vanished nor maintained an Amish-like distance from the things of modern life, but continue to live and thrive in the same place they've always lived.
As I researched the whale hunt the piece of it that really interested me was that the Makah who had organized their culture around whale hunting voluntarily gave it up when they saw the whale populations plummet in the Pacific. That cultural survival piece of how to go on being the people that you are when something that so defined you is gone. That's interesting to me personally and I think it's something that people from a wide variety of cultures can relate to. It's true that I'm writing as an outsider to the Makah experience. A fiction writer is always writing outside of her experience. However, the Irish have long suffered the suppression of their culture, language, music, literature, and dance. And I know how I feel about playing a jig or hornpipe that's hundreds of years old or dancing a set from my father's ancestral county; it's an avenue of insight for me. Many people have an experience of cultural loss in coming to this country and although it is not the same experience it does make the story more accessible to the reader. So I chose to focus on the cultural survival aspect of this story rather than the resumption of whaling.
I also felt that a contemporary story about the Makah whaling experience would be better told by a whaler or other member of the tribe. I'd much prefer to use my book, imperfect instrument that it is, to nudge local writers in the direction of writing and publishing. In fact I'm happy to hear you'll be in Washington. I've been developing the position of Youth Outreach Coordinator in our local SCBWI, in part, for the purpose of fostering a more diverse generation writers. Perhaps that's an area where we could work together. One of the benefits of having a book published at a large publishing house is that it can attract attention to an issue. There is still so little in print about tribes of the northwest, and my hope is that if this book does well enough, then other publishers will see the potential for more books set among these tribes and addressing these vital issues--a need that could be filled by local writers.
I'll stop here for today but later this week I'll get to the pirates and indians bit because, yes, there is a story about that!
Debbie's response to Parry, Monday March 24 2014, 11:27 AM CDT:
Thanks, Rosanne, for continuing to comment here.
A quick note: when Native people assert our rights to this or that, it is not CIVIL rights, it is TREATY rights.
It is common--but incorrect--to characterize Native activism as "civil rights" because most of American society thinks of social movements of American citizens as centered on civil rights.
Parry's response to Debbie, Tuesday March 25 2014, 5:40 PM CDT:
Absolutely right about the treaty rights being a different issue than civil rights.
I'm thinking in terms of what will work for schools and the treaty issues raised here and in a number of the other books you have recommended could find place in the curriculum under the broader umbrella of civil rights history. Not a perfect fit but I have a lot of confidence in a teacher's ability to make the necessary distinctions with students.
Treaty rights as they pertain to natural resources could also find a place in the science curriculum under conservation or environmental literacy. Again not a perfect fit but I think we both want to see lots of books with Native American characters used in schools and to do so we'll have to find a spot somewhere in the common core for them to perch.
I'd love to see a non-fiction book about treaty rights too. That would be a great resource, because it's another of those frequently misunderstood topics.
Parry's comment, Friday, March 28 2014, 9:03 AM CDT:
I promised to tell you a little more about Pirates and Indians and the week got away from me. Sorry about that. Here are my thoughts.
The word or phrase that pulls the reader out of the story is sometimes a flaw in in the author's word choices and sometimes the inevitable result of what the reader brings to the page, but sometimes it is the intention of the author to invite a reader to pause outside of the story for a moment and reflect. Such is the case with the pirates and indians remark in Written in Stone. The reader is naturally expecting the phrase cowboys and indians so the pirate reference invites the observation that there no cowboys in this story and no horses.
Most Americans associate horses and teepees with Native Americans but that's a very narrow picture of the more than 500 nations that reside here. The Quinault and Makah have never been horse cultures. The Olympic Peninsula gets 15 feet of rain a year. It's part of the only temperate rainforest in North America. It's very difficult to keep horses alive in such a wet climate and there's nothing that grows natively for them to eat.
These tribes are a maritime culture, two of the many tribes of the Pacific who make ocean going canoes. Their navigational skills are impressive. Historically they traveled as far north as Alaska and up the Columbia to Celilo Falls. Extensive canoe journeys are still made regularly. Most recently the Quinaults hosted an event which gathered hundreds of people from the native cultures of the Pacific who traveled to Taholah by canoe.
(Debbie, we haven't talked about the cover so I'm not sure how you feel about it but, I am so pleased my cover artist Richard Tuschman chose a canoe for the cover of this book. I'm also thrilled that Random House paid attention to the lack of children of color on book covers in general and made sure Pearl appeared--not in silhouette--on the cover of this one.)
There is a story about a contact between Spanish Pirates and the Quinaults which predates their contact with English speaking settlers. As the story goes the Quinaults resisted the pirates so fiercely at see that the Spanish fled and no Spanish ship ever landed on their shores again. It's impossible to verify this event, but as used in the story as a passing reference, it doesn't matter. The Spanish did travel in these waters. The Quinaults had experience fighting at sea. If it didn't happen, it could have which is evidence enough for a work of fiction.
The larger purpose of the reference though is to invite a conversation about what makes this tribe and this ecosystem and this culture different from other Native American tribes with which my reader may be more familiar. In my opinion the conversation that happens because of a book is far more important than anything that's actually in the book. Which I why I'm so grateful for this conversation here. Thanks for continuing to engage with me Debbie.
Debbie's response to Parry, March 29 2014 at 8:50 AM CDT:
I thought the support for your use of "pirates and Indians" would be that, in your research, you had found the phrase being used by a Makah in the 1920s.
What you offer instead is an awareness of history and material culture of the Makah, and, why you used that awareness to use "pirates" instead of "cowboys" when you have Pearl say that "pirates and Indians was our favorite game" (p. 42).
I appreciate your explanation, but I don't buy that Pearl's favorite game in 1920 would be to play pirates and Indians.
There is evidence of non-Native people dressing up to play Indian. Philip Deloria documents this quite well in his PLAYING INDIAN, published by Yale University Press in 1999.
Playing Indian (doing what was perceived to be Indian things) arose out of a desire to carve out an American identity that, in various ways, emulated Native peoples in the US, thereby making an American identity distinct on an international stage. Boy scouts played Indian, and secret societies also played Indian. An affinity for doing that became pervasive in American society.
The question at hand is: did Native children do it, too, in the 1920s? How did Pearl know what that form of play looked like? She'd have to know about stereotypes of Indians that were used to play pirates/cowboys and Indians, wouldn't she?
Where did Pearl get that information?
Elsewhere in her book, Parry has white children pretending to be Indians by war whooping and shooting arrows at Pearl. With that scene, she suggests that the idea of playing Indian in the 1920s involved war whooping and shooting arrows at others. Given that all the way back in 1773, Bostonians war whooped as they threw tea into Boston Harbor, the war whooping part works. The shooting arrows? I'm not sure.
To carry Rosanne's explanation a bit further, wouldn't Pearl have been playing Pirates and Makahs, rather than Pirates and Indians? What would playing Pirates and Makahs look like? It helps to frame this in my own world, at Nambe Pueblo. Historically, our wars were with the Spanish, too, specifically the conquistadors and Catholic church. According to Rosanne's explanation, we would play Conquisator's and Indians, or, Conquistadors and Pueblos.
The thing is, I can't imagine someone from Nambe who was the same age as Pearl in the 1920s, playing Conquistador and Pueblo, OR, Conquistador and Indian.
I don't think playing Indian was something Native children did as a matter-of-course. Of course, I cannot know that definitively, and as many will point out, Parry's book is a work of fiction, so she can write what she wishes. Still, as her responses to my review indicate, she's striving to get it right.
Where I end up is this: Even if we replace cowboy with pirate, I don't think Native kids played that way, and that is why I said "huh?" in my review. It doesn't ring true.
Parry's response to Debbie, March 29 2014 at 3:21 PM CDT:
I'm not surprised at all that conquistadors and indians is not a game among tribes of the southwest. Where is the fun? I really can't fathom how a child would make a game of that. But you and your culture are a very long way from the Pacific northwest. The tribes here fought skirmishes among them selves over the centuries but they aren't a conquered people in the way that many other tribes in the US and Canada have been. They were skilled traders who had relationships across various cultures and international borders. Presumably there was occasional friction over fishing and fur trapping spots. But they never engaged the US army or the army of another nation. The suppression of the potlatch was a real problem but it was police-type work rather than an engagement of combat. They were never forcibly moved off their land though many have migrated to urban areas for economic reasons.
Also conquistadores are not a part of American popular culture in the way that pirates are. Treasure Island was a widely read book in the 1920s. Errol Flynn didn't make his first pirate movie until the early 30s but there were quite a few other films, including a version of Treasure Island, in the pirate genre by the early 20s, so they would be in the mental repertoire of the era. And perhaps most importantly there's a memory of winning against the pirates which makes it a more appealing avenue for play. I did see little boys on the playground in Taholah playing pirates and indians with sticks for swords and clubs. I was surprised as I don't think I've ever seen another group of kids anywhere playing indians either alone or in combination with cowboy characters. But the boys connected it to the pirate story they'd heard and they were using the sort of pirate talk that was common in movies, so it would be a blend of history and pop culture I think, both in my own experience and in the story in the 1920s.
Debbie's response to Parry, April 2 2014, 8:00 AM CDT:
Reading your first paragraph, one would think you are quite the expert in American Indian/First Nation history and culture, but your word choices and responses continue to point to an outsider perspective.
Your "you and your culture" echoes your previous use of "civil rights." Your default is to use words/ideas that reflect a multicultural framework rather than a political one. When I point to your errors in that regard, you say things like "Absolutely" as if you agree and understand the centrality of sovereignty/sovereign nation status and what it means, but your continued use of words in that multicultural framework suggest to me that you don't really get it.
Your discussion of potlatch is an example of an outsider characterization of Native history. It is wrong to characterize the US laws that prohibited Makah or any Native Nation from practicing our religion simply as "police" work. It was far more than that. It was the outcome of hundreds of years of aggressive action and warfare. Characterizing it as "police" work disconnects it from that history.
As for Pueblo people, we are well known for the extensive trading networks we had with Native nations all up and down the coast, and we were never forcibly removed from our homelands. We are also known for the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 during which we drove the Spanish out of our homelands.
Again--I don't buy your explanation for having Pearl play "Pirates and Indians" in 1920. You reference a story in which the Makah defeated the pirates. I have no doubt of that having happened. The Makah and Pueblo people fought to defend our homelands. But you want readers/me to think that Native children in 1920 would play games that white children most definitely play/played in recent decades? Doesn't ring true!
Parry's response to Debbie, March 31 2014, 11:13 CDT:
In the story the petroglyphs play a key role in helping Pearl uncover and claim her vocation as a writer and historian for her tribe. The ownership of artwork is a matter I take very seriously and to use an actual rock carving done by a Makah artist and put it in my book with no way of asking permission or compensating that artist fairly for his work would simply be wrong. So instead I invented a group of rock carvings based the carving style and technique I've seen while hiking in this area but copying none of them. To my thinking this is the more just course. Taking what's not mine is wrong. Making things up is what a fiction writer does. When the cover team was meeting I sent them a bunch of photographs of the Olympic Peninsula so they could get a feel for the ecosystem. The pictures included one of a petroglyph which is on public land. I was so happy to see Richard Tuschman, the cover artist, incorporate a few petroglyphs in the cover image--inventing an element in the style of this art but not stealing what is not his to copy.
The other major plot element which is made up is the natural gas vent at Shipwreck Cove and the stories the tribe uses to keep children away from a dangerous place. The accusation that I've made up stories that don't exist is not correct. I've told no stories belonging to the Quinault or Makah, real or made up. I have pointed out something that is distinctive and interesting about their culture though. These tribes use monster stories to keep their children away from danger without having to hover over them constantly. I was struck by how much freedom young people in the community had during my time in Taholah. They walked all over town freely and without immediate supervision but still under the watchful care of the entire community. Places that might be dangerous, such as the ocean with it's powerful undertow and the dump which attracts bears, were bounded about, not with fences, but with scary stories that kept kids from wandering into harm's way. If there was a natural gas vent near the town (and there might be, there were places I was asked not to go myself when I lived there) then certainly there would be stories to warn children away.
As I say in the authors note the cove and its contents are my invention. Whether or not petroleum is present on the Quinault or Makah reservations is something you'd have to ask them about. Each tribe has a natural resources department and they are the ones to speak (or decline to speak) about their reservation lands. Natural gas is present all over the Olympic Peninsula but it's not abundant enough that anyone has drilled for it so far. Prospecting for oil and natural gas was very common in the 1920 and business men with an eye to a quick profit were often unscrupulous in acquiring mineral rights to land. This is not only an injustice directed toward Native Americans. Many white farmers and ranchers fell victim to their swindles as well. And frankly, I'm tired of stories that cast Native Americans as the hapless victim. I wanted a story where they won and did so, not in some wildly unrealistic battle or singlehanded act of heroism, but in the manner that most of life's battles are won: with words, and community, and the hard work of many years.
When I was younger and I passed the trail to Shipwreck Cove, I wanted to sneak down and discover its secrets. Charlie and I made a game of guessing what sort of unnamed monster lived there and the vengeance he would take if we disturbed his home. But now, as I set out on the forbidden trail, even with the solid company of my oldest cousin, I felt dread grow.See? The story is there, even if you haven't put it on the page itself. On page 148, Pearl asks Henry (Pearl's oldest cousin) what makes the awful stench in Shipwreck Cove. He tells her "Grandpa would call it a power of the earth."
In your last paragraph above, you say that you're "tired of stories that cast Native Americans as the hapless victim" and that you wanted "a story where they won and did so, not in some wildly unrealistic battle or singlehanded act of heroism, but in the manner that most of life's battles are won: with words, and community, and the hard work of many years."
There are--as you've pointed out elsewhere in this conversation--examples of the Makah doing just that! They've won many battles. But you've chosen not to tell those stories because you think that they should tell those stories. With that in mind, you made up a story where they win, but in making up that story, you commit several wrongs.
I know you mean well, and that you meant well in creating Written In Stone. As I hope this extended conversation shows, a lot can go wrong if you have an insufficient understanding of Native people and sovereignty.
Today, tribal nations have developed/are developing protocols describing what they will agree to, and what they expect from researchers who wish to do research on that particular nation. On a global scale, the United Nations issued the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In short, good intentions are not enough.
Parry's response to Debbie, April 5 2014, 2:55 PM CDT:
Debbie, I'd love it if you'd include the title of the US law to which you are referring and a link to the text of the law if it's available.
Here is a link to the text of the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf
I think both will be valuable to those following the conversation. Article 11 of the UN declaration is most pertinent to our conversation here, although the whole thing is useful reading.
I think it's worth thinking about why literature was left out of the US law Debbie has referenced. It's also important to bear in mind that the tribes involved in the story were consulted (as the UN declaration recommends) and had ample opportunity to object to the publication of the book. They did not object prior to publication or after. They did offer valuable information and support.
Being an member of the Nambe Pueblo in Arizona does not give Debbie the standing to speak on behalf of the Quinault and Makah who live in Washington. Nowhere in her remarks has she referenced the wishes of the tribes involved, Nor have I seen any indication that she's ever spoken to somebody from the tribe, let alone lived and worked there and consulted with them over a period of many years as I have in the writing of Written in Stone. They are well able to speak for themselves and in presuming to speak for them Debbie has overstepped her role as a book reviewer.
However, since I believe she also has good intentions I'm willing to engage her in this conversation and in particular because I believe her methods are undermining her goal of increasing books for young readers by Native American authors. It's an important goal. I'd like to see lots of young Native American writers nurtured all the way to publication by a major publishing house and also publication by their own tribes. One of the major factors in deciding whether a book will be acquired is the comparison to similar titles. So if a Makah or Quinault author would like to publish a book (probably a better book than this one) the publisher will, after making sure its well written and carefully researched, look and see how my book sold before deciding whether to publish their book and how much of an advance to offer. Whether or not that's fair is a side issue. It is how publication decisions get made regardless of the race of the author. It's an important consideration for anybody working in the area of multicultural fiction to bear in mind. Future publishing decisions are made on past sales performance.
If you are a librarian who wants to see more books with non-white characters then you need to buy those books with non-white characters which are currently in print. If you are a librarian who wants to see more books with a brown child on the cover, you have to buy the books that are available now, not because they are perfect, but because they are a step down the path you want to go. You might never get a seat in the committee that decides what goes to print and what doesn't, but your purchase is a vote they can hear loud and clear.
Debbie's response to Parry, April 5 2014
A short response for now...
The law you asked about is the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. I'll see if I can find out why it does not apply to literature. Why do you think literature was left out?
I'd like a bit more information about who you consulted with. Did you go before the tribal council of the Makah or Quinault?
Nambe is in New Mexico, not Arizona.
We're absolutely at odds, Rosanne, in the ways that we view this book.
You find that I've overstepped my role because I point out the sorts of things that Native critics say, and have been saying, for a long time. My work is widely respected, by Native and non-Native people and organizations, too. John D. Berry, long-standing and former president of the American Indian Library Association, currently has my site as the featured page at the Native American/First Nations Facebook page, saying "it does not get any better than this blog." A few weeks ago, one of the most acclaimed Native writers, Simon Ortiz, invited me to give a lecture in 2016 at one of the most prestigious lecture series in the country.
Debbie's response to Parry (continued): April 6 2014 at 5:58 PM CDT:
You're right--future publishing decisions are made on past sales performance.
Because I think that buying books by Native writers is important, I encourage people to buy Joseph Bruchac's Hidden Roots, Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House series, Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out Of Here, Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer, Tim Tingle's How I Became A Ghost, or any of the books I recommend on AICL.
I also encourage people to buy books by non-Native writers that have written excellent books. Debby Dahl Edwardson's My Name Is Not Easy is one example. Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and her Native mother-in-law, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, is another.
Of the Native writers I listed, Bruchac and Tingle have stepped outside their own nations and written books about Native people of other nations. They do so from a space that is thoroughly grounded in an understanding of Native people and history. When I read their books, sovereignty and treaty rights are at the core of what they write. They aren't influenced by people like "Chief Lelooska" and the don't say "civil rights" - they say Native rights, or treaty rights.
The problem you and I are having, Rosanne, is that we approach this discussion from two very different positions, traditions, and histories.
I was born at an Indian Hospital. I was raised on a reservation. The land my home is on is land that has always been Nambe land. I taught Native children for many years in Oklahoma and New Mexico. In graduate school, I was a key figure in the movement to get rid of "Chief Illiniwek" -- a mascot created by white fans who maintained that we (Native people) should feel honored by it.
My identity and activism aside, I am steeped in Indigenous scholarship that looks critically at issues of representation and appropriation. I've taught and studied the works of our most esteemed Native scholars, including Vine Deloria Jr., Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, and Geary Hobson. I've read the literature written by the most powerful Native writers, including Simon J. Ortiz and Leslie Marmon Silko.
Within children's literature about American Indians, I studied and learned from the work of Native scholars like Lisa Mitten, Naomi Caldwell, and Lotsee Patterson, and non-Native women like Beverly Slapin, Kathleen Horning, and Ginny Moore Kruse, who have studied this body of literature and offer tremendous insights as well.
Right now, I'm reading An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and Recognition, Sovereignty Struggles, and Indigenous Rights in the United States, edited by Amy E. Den Ouden and Jean M. O'Brien.
I could go on.
The point is, I read and evaluate children's literature from a specific perspective that is grounded in Native Sovereignty and Native Nation building. That means I want the very best for Native and non-Native readers.
I think you do, too, but we disagree on what "the very best" looks like.
I encourage you (and any writers who are reading this conversation) to go to Native Studies conferences. There are many. I gave a keynote at the Native American Literature Symposium a few years ago. You would likely gain a lot by going there, given that it is literature-specific. You could go to the conference of the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums. Or, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association's conference. There are many options.
Parry's response to Debbie, April 7, 2014 at 11:29 AM CDT:
Well I do think we are at odds on the issue of who can write a book with Native American characters and who can speak on behalf of a tribe. But I also think we have many objectives in common including increasing the number and quality of books with Native American characters in them. If I had no respect for your work or your objectives, Debbie, it would be simple enough to ignore you. I am here and engaging in this conversation because I think that the issues you raise are important ones, well worth a serious author's consideration.
For example, I think an author does well to consider the ownership and purpose of art used in a story. Before I wrote the chapter in which Pearl finds the petroglyphs I spoke to many neighbors and parents of my students. Those conversations tended to be more general about how old the petroglyphs were and why they were made. I wasn't a writer at the time, just a curious hiker and a teacher wanting to understand her students and their culture as fully as possible. Later when I was thinking about the book I spoke to people at the Makah Cultural Research Center and learned what I could about what the carvings meant to them historically and in the present. I also learned a truly heart-breaking story about a stretch of cliff face with hundreds of petroglyphs on it which was dynamited away without notice to the tribe in order to make a civil defense highway. Later still when I was vetting full drafts of the story I went back to the Quinault language and culture teacher and the Makah and Quinault historian who agreed to help me with the work. They gave me unpublished doctoral research and other materials held by the tribe which answered many of my questions and rounded out my understanding of many of the issues surrounding my story. I read everything publicly available in print on petroglyphs and spoke to some folks at the Burke Museum in Seattle about archeological dating of the Olympic coast petroglyphs. They also had a perspective to share on how those carvings are similar and different from other petroglyphs of North America. I went to a symposium on petroglyphs in Portland which drew academics, and artists both Native American and not. I learned about ancient tools and how the carvings were most likely made. I was particularly interested in the comments of Pat Courtney Gold, a Wasco fiber artist of considerable reputation. She has used motifs in her work from the Columbia River petroglyphs.
Pat Gold was encouraging people to think of the petroglyphs not so much as long dead artifacts to prove the existence of some facet of a tribe's ancient existence but rather as living works of art. The carvings are not signed, the original carvers are long gone and their original purpose is not in the current oral tradition, but what is knowable is the artistic choices of the carver: color, style, placement, subject and so forth. That can be known and studied just as you would study any other artist in the world.
In all my research I found nothing to indicate that petroglyphs had a sacred or set aside purpose beyond being works of art. They quite naturally became way finding markers over time. But there was nothing to suggest that I'd be using them unfairly in the book. In all my conversations, nobody acted uncomfortable or evasive when discussing the petroglyphs. If they'd turned out to be in current or historical use as a sacred object or shrine, then I'd have left them out of the story as I have left alone other elements of Quinault and Makah culture which are not mine to share. My sources were not at all shy about telling me where I was searching for information that didn't belong in the public sphere. I kept the story element with the petroglyphs and had Pearl respond to them, as Pat Gold suggested, as works of art which inspire her to reflect on her life and her purpose and which are a source of encouragement and connection. I think Debbie is correct in encouraging authors to think carefully about the content of a story and research things thoroughly. But she is not correct in assuming that I haven't done my research or that I am incapable of understanding cultural and spiritual nuances. Her experience in working with the issues is impressive and her advocacy is vital. But all of her scholarship in the broader issues of Indigenous people does not make her an expert on the particular tribes in my book nor does it make her their designated spokesperson.
When I was growing up my grandfather lived with me. He and I spoke German together and he had much to teach me about his childhood in Berlin. When I moved to Bavaria shortly after his death I couldn't understand a word my neighbors said at first. Their accent, turn of phrase, and vocabulary was completely different from what I'd learned at home and at school from my Berlin born and educated German teachers. The food and many of the social customs were equally foreign. It would have been easy to say, they aren't speaking "real German" and converse only in English which they were all capable of and willing to do. But I'm glad I did the work of listening and learning the Swiss and Italian-influenced vocabulary that infuses Bavarian German. I had a richer and more interesting time there than I would have otherwise. I'm not surprised that elements of Written in Stone didn't ring true to Debbie. Her tribe belongs to a different ecosystem, and a different language group. Being a white person doesn't make me an authority on all white people. When I wrote a Soviet soldier character from Estonia in an earlier book I did just a thorough a job of researching his cultural, political, spiritual, and historical background. Even when I am writing well within my own culture I have other people vet the details because my perspective on my own culture is a limited one.
That I've made up a petroglyph in the story does not harm or diminish petroglyphs currently in existence. Nor does it prevent a Quinault or Makah writer for publishing their own books. It's my hope that many of them consider writing and that many more stories set in this region are published. Among the excellent recommendations Debbie made there is not one person writing from the perspective of the coastal tribes of the Pacific Northwest. I'd like to see that change. If my book and this conversation about it can be a vehicle for that change then it's effort well spent.
The Makah Tribal Council has authorized the MCRC Board of Trustees to screen and oversee the non-Makah research that takes place on the reservation. Prior to any fieldwork on the Makah Reservation, researchers are required to submit a packet to the MCRC Board of Trustees which includes a resume and a detailed account of the nature and objectives of the proposed research. After reviewing proposal materials, the MCRC can (and has) refuse research on the ground that the subject is culturally inappropriate. The board or staff may decide to assist in retooling the research design (for example, such that it includes the participation of Elders or alters the approach to Elders), or they may choose to advise or direct researchers toward rich resources of which they are unaware. The MCRC staff is also responsible for advising researchers that they must follow the MCRC protocol for gathering oral histories.
Approval from the Makah Board dictates that a final copy of the research needs to be deposited at MCRC and a report made before the Makah Tribal Council. In this way MCRC acts as a repository for research that takes place on the reservation, ensuring community accessibility. In part, this ensures against what a former board member described to Erikson as "the helicopter effect." He asked, "Do you know what the 'helicopter effect' is?" You, and the information you gather, get into the helicopter and fly away. That's it."
Comment from Parry, April 8, 2014 at 12:51 PM CDT:
I have a final thought here on the issue Debbie raised about the work of Lelooska. The issues surrounding what it means to be adopted into a tribe are complex and vary a lot among Indian nations, but this topic seemed to hit a nerve so I didn't want to leave her concerns unanswered. To be clear, Lelooska is not in the story and is mentioned briefly in the author's note. Lelooska himself died in the late 1990s and his work is carried on by the Lelooska Foundation.
I'm well aware, as Debbie has mentioned, that Lelooska was adopted into one of the bands of the Kwakwaka'wakw (also known as the Kwakiutl) tribe of British Columbia. Not everyone enjoys his art and not everyone likes the living history programs that he has provided in Washington for almost 40 years. I'm not interested in changing Debbie's mind on this point. But here is why I disagree with her.
The right to tell a traditional story with its accompanying song, dance, and regalia is conferred in a potlatch. Lelooska's right to share the stories he does was given to him by Chief James Aul Sewide and witnessed and agreed to by all tribal members and neighbors present at the potlatch. If they did not wish for Don Smith to become Chief Lelooska they could have chosen not to come to the potlatch. That they did so, is all the evidence I need to determine if he is doing this work fairly and in keeping with the traditions of the Kwakwaka'wakw. The tribe had the opportunity to deny the Lelooska Foundation the right to perform their living history programs after Lelooska died. But they came to the potlatch for his brother Tsungani and again conferred on him the ownership of the stories his family continues to present to the public.
I received an email just last week from the head of the planning team who was hired by the Quinault to relocate the village of Taholah out of the tsunami inundation zone. My book was recommended to him by somebody from the tribe as a vehicle for understanding them better. He’s aware of the weight of this project, to move a village site more than a thousand years old. He and his team want to make sure that what they design really serves the tribe well. Simply sticking in some local art at the end of the process isn’t what they want. They want to really think through with the community what their village needs in order to be a home to them. And so the book is a vehicle for thinking and talking about what the land and ocean and river and lake means to the community. Not because it’s a perfect representation of Quinault and Makah culture, they already have non-fiction materials aplenty for that purpose. It does what fiction does best, it invites reflection and conversation.
The bottom line for me is that each tribe gets to decide for themselves what is an acceptable representation of their culture. One of the reasons I chose the Quinault and Makah rather than one of the many smaller tribes in the area, is that they are well-accustomed to speaking up for themselves at a national and international level. If something about my book bothers them, I'm confident they will say so publicly. So far they've had no criticism of the book. The community in Taholah has invited me to come and celebrate it with them later this spring. The curator of their historical collection recommends the book to people who are interested in learning more about that tribe. That is all the endorsement I need.
Debbie's response to Parry: April 10
Ah... so you've circled back to Lelooska/Don Smith.
He is not in the story, but he had enough of an impact on you that you recommend his books and his performances in the 'for young readers' portion of your book. You seem unable to step away from what he/his family says on its website. You're only parroting what you read there. Did you cross check that information as part of your research process?
I read the website, too. Based on my study and experience, it raised several red flags that were easily affirmed in several places. One is Chris Friday's biography, Lelooska: The Life of a Northwest Coast Artist. As a child, Friday was a friend of the family, and therefore felt an affinity and conflict in writing about Don Smith's identity. Did you read that biography? Or anything else about Lelooska/Smith other than what the website says? If yes, what did you read?
The Makah website and the Quinault website do not link to Lelooska. The Makah museum does not sell his books.
You are on thin ice when you put forward words of praise for him.
What curator recommends your book? Of what institution? Can you give me a name? Where will you be for this celebration?
Parry's response to Debbie: Monday, April 21 at 4:01 PM CDT:
The role of an author's note is to help readers round out the material in the book with more information. To be of use the information must be both as accurate as possible and widely accessible. In my research, I used some unpublished materials from the tribes that were specific to their cultures. Much as I'd like to share those documents, since the stories are more accurate to the Quinault and Makah cultures, but those documents aren't accessible to the public. The Lelooska stories, on the other hand, are in the vein of this story telling and illustration tradition and can be found in many libraries and on line. When a better resource becomes available, I'll amend the author’s note. As I mentioned before, if you, Debbie, or any of your readers are aware of a better resource for traditional stories from any of the tribes of the Pacific Northwest, please let me know.
When describing the regalia and dance in the book I worked from Quinault and Makah performances I've seen while living in Taholah and visiting Neah Bay. If these tribes had their own living history programs then of course I'd send readers there. But they don't. The living history programs by the Lelooska Foundation are the closest example of song, story, and dance in the region. Living history is not the same as real life practice. I have confidence that just as people understand the difference with a place like Colonial Williamsburg, so my readers will see the performances of the Lelooska Foundation for what they are. For most people it's the only way they'd ever be able to see this type of dance in performance.
But here's what I'm listening for and not hearing in our conversation about the Lelooska Foundation. (It's entirely possible this is due to thick-headedness on my part.) I'm not hearing that his claim of adoption is false or that a specific element of his performances is inauthentic or that the art is created under false pretenses. If legal action has been taken against them Under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 or if there was a request from the Kwakwaka'wakw for him to cease and desist from his performances, then I'd gladly withdraw any mention of him from the authors note.
Here's what I have seen of the work of the Lelooska Foundation that makes me think they are a legitimate source of information. I've seen the show 5 times over the last 40 years, They have been performing essentially the same small group of stories they have always performed. If they were adding new stories every year or "jazzing up" the performance to make it more commercial, I'd be concerned. If they were claiming to be born into the tribe rather than adopted, I'd be concerned too. If they represented the performances as an actual potlatch rather than a living history exhibit or if they were diverging from the traditional form line style of art, I'd not recommend them.
I do know that there are several different bands of the Kwakwaka'wakw (I think 15 altogether) and at least one of those bands doesn't like the notion of traditional dances being used as living history exhibits. So that is of some concern. But disputes within a tribe are not uncommon. Even a single Indian nation will have a diverging views among its members. But perhaps there is more to that argument than I know. If the nation as a whole has requested the Lelooska Foundation to stop I'd love to hear about it. These performances have been going on for more than 40 years. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act has been in place for the last 24 years. In all that time I've never heard of the Kwakwaka'wakw taking either an internal to the tribe method or an external legal method to stop the Lelooska Foundation. I find that persuasive, although I'm still willing to be persuaded otherwise if you have information I haven't considered.