Thursday, June 12, 2014


One of the things I look for when reading a traditional story rooted in a Native Nation is an attribution of where the story was heard, and from whom. In Tasunka: A Lakota Horse Legend, Montileaux gives us that information right away in a two-page introduction.

Montileaux heard this story from Alex White Plume, a Lakota elder and storyteller. In a radio interview, Montileaux says more about the story, assuring readers that he is retelling the story as it is told. Initially, White Plume was reluctant to have a traditional story put into print. When he saw what Montileaux had done, he gave him his blessing. In the radio interview, Montileaux also says that Agnes Gay, the woman who did the Lakota translation, works as an archivist at the Oglala Lakota College. She, too, verified the integrity of Montileaux's telling of that story.

Photo credit: Joel Ebert, Capital Journal, South Dakota
The care Montileaux took with the story marks the story itself as distinctive. His art adds a beautiful dimension to the words on the page.

Montileaux's style reflects the ledger art of the 1800s, developed by Plains Indians who drew on ledger pages using pencil, ink, and watercolor. The photo shown here is of Montileaux working in his studio (link to story: A Lakota Legend, Flying Off the Pages).

A third quality of the book that marks it as distinctive is that it is a bilingual text. Above, I noted that Agnes Gay did the translation. Throughout the book, readers can see/read the story in Lakota. Here's a scan of one of my favorite pages:

At that point in the story, the young man on the horse is riding into camp after having spent many months away, looking for and training horses. The horses were new to the people and regarded as a gift from their creator. With them, the people were able to do more than they could before. But, they abused that gift, using it to dominate other peoples on the Plains. The gift was taken away from them. Hundreds of years later, horses return with the conquistadors.

Tasunka: A Lakota Horse Legend is a fascinating story that pays tribute to the stories Native peoples have told for hundreds of years.

I highly recommend 
Tasunka: A Lakota Horse Legend.

Montileaux is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Tasunka: A Lakota Horse Legend was published by the South Dakota State Historical Society in 2014. Support small bookstores by getting a copy from Birchbark Books.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

NOT RECOMMENDED: Paul Goble's THE GIRL WHO LOVED WILD HORSES (updated re Goble's identity)

Is Paul Goble's The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses one of your favorite books? Published in 1978 by Bradbury Press, it won the Caldecott Medal thirty-five years ago. Let's take a look at it. 

Here's the first paragraph in the story:
The people were always moving from place to place following the herds of buffalo. They had many horses to carry the tipis and all their belongings. They trained their fastest horses to hunt the buffalo.
With the word 'tipis' in that paragraph Goble suggests that these are Plains people. The buffalo are another clue that suggests the story is one belonging to the Plains tribes.

As the story begins, we learn of "a girl" (we are never given her name) who loved horses. People in the village see that she has a way with them. One day when she is out with the herd of horses, a huge storm erupts. She leaps onto one as the herd races in fear. When the horses stop that night, the girl looks around and realizes that they are lost. The next morning she wakes to the neighing of a handsome stallion who tells her he is the leader of the wild horses that roam the hills. He welcomes her to live with them. She and her herd are happy.

Meanwhile, her people spend the next year looking for her. One day, two hunters see the stallion and the girl, too. She's on a horse, leading a colt. They call and wave at her. She waved back, but the stallion drove her and the herd away from the hunters. Other men join them in an attempt to reach the girl, but the stallion keeps them away from the girl and the colt. But, the girl's horse stumbles, and she falls. The hunters take her back to the village. She was happy to see her parents but she is sad. She misses the colt and the wild horses. At night, the stallion calls to her. The girl is lonely and gets sick. Doctors ask what would make her happy again, and she says she wants to return to the wild horses.

The stallion and wild horses come to the village. The people give the horses blankets and saddles and they give the girl a beautiful dress and the best horse in the village. The girl gives her parents a colt, and she rides away, beside the stallion, reunited with the herd. Each year, she brings her parents another colt. But one year, she doesn't return at all.

Then, the hunters see the stallion again. Beside him is "a beautiful mare with a mane and tail floating with wispy clouds about her." They believe the girl is that mare, that she has become a wild horse, too. The story ends with:
Today we are still glad to remember that we have relatives among the Horse People. And it gives us joy to see the wild horses running free. Our thoughts fly with them.
Nowhere in The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses do we have any sources for that story. As noted earlier, Goble's use of 'tipis' suggests a Plains tribe. What we know as the Great Plains is a vast area. Here's a map from the Smithsonian:

See how that area stretches from the north to south, spanning at least 1500 miles? See the 20 or so tribes listed in that area? There's a lot more than just those 20. They don't speak the same language and they don't tell the same stories.

The question is, who does this story about a girl who became a wild horse belong to? It'd be good to know. If it is a story Goble came up with, then it isn't a Native story, is it?

Though it won the Caldecott, and though a lot of people love Goble's art, I think it is (past) time to set aside The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses. What do you think?

Update, 6:00 AM, June 11, 2014

(1) Elsewhere people are noting how much like they like his art. It is a style most people would recognize as "Goble" but let's pause again. I haven't done a close study of it, but does it suffer from the same ambiguity we see in The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses?

(2) Someone noted that Goble was adopted by a tribe.  His Adopted by the Eagles (Macmillian, 1994) includes this:

Does being given a name and being called "Son" mean he was adopted? Was he adopted by Edgar Red Cloud? Or was it by a tribe, as was done with President Obama? I've ordered Goble's autobiography and will revisit this post when it arrives. It may provide details about how he met Edgar Red Cloud.

(3) The Author's Note for Adopted by the Eagles says:
"I would like to think that Edgar somehow sensed, right from the start (1959), that I would one day make books of some of the stories he told me."
Many authors say something similar to that... about how Native people they know/live amongst asked them to write a story about them. As readers of AICL now, I frown on that phrase.

(4) Goble's note ends with this curious paragraph:
Finally, it needs to be stated that the traditional kola friendship of the two Lakota men, as described in this story, was never a homosexual relationship. Kolas sought to guard each other from all errors; to share their strengths while walking life's Good Red Road together.
I wonder why Goble felt compelled to include that paragraph? Adopted by the Eagles was published in 1994. Perhaps it was prompted by a fear that people wouldn't buy a book about friendship between two men, but, do other books published then have a similar disclaimer?

(5) The last item on the page with the Author's Note is a very important note for teachers. Here it is, in its entirety:
When a book like this has been read in the classroom, students are sometimes asked to write their own "Indian" stories. It is not asked with bad intentions, but it belittles these traditional stories, suggesting that any child can invent them. When studying the Greek myths, or the legends of King Arthur, or Bible stories, students would never be asked to invent stories in the manner of... Instead, children should be encouraged to write down the stories in their own words to help remember them. Over the years they will come to think about the inner meanings which all these stories hold.
I say that, too. I'm glad to see it in Goble's book. But he's invented stories! Is it ok, since he is not a child? I don't think so!

See my previous posts about Goble. I'll have more to say when I get Goble's biography.
July 22, 2009: About Paul Goble and his books...
April 3, 2011: Dear Mr. Goble: 

Monday, June 09, 2014

Beverly Slapin reviews Joseph Bruchac's KILLER OF ENEMIES

Update on Sep 30 2023: I (Debbie Reese) no longer recommend Bruchac's work. For details see Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki?

Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children, submitted this review essay of Joseph Bruchac's Killer of Enemies. It may not be used elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved.

Bruchac, Joseph, Killer of Enemies. Tu Books/ Lee & Low, 2013; grades 5-up
First, a pre-review story….

Years ago, Joe Bruchac was giving an evening reading at a local East Bay indie bookstore. Readers of his short stories and poetry, young and not so young, filled the room. For lack of available seats, a few friends and I stood in the back. Joe, holding his hand drum and one of his books, walked to the podium, looked around, and, as was his wont, greeted the audience in Abenaki. I waved to him from the back, and he acknowledged me this way:

“And kwai-kwai to my friend, Beverly Slapin, who actually likes…(two-second pause here)…some of my books.” Remember that, Joe?

Now, the review….

I just love Joe’s latest young adult thriller, Killer of Enemies!

If there’s one thing known for sure, it’s that Lozen, the famed and much-honored Chiricahua woman warrior, was no wimp. She rode in battle with Geronimo and with her brother Victorio, and their enemies—Mexican and American—knew and feared her. It’s been said that, from time to time, the spirits visited Lozen, that she could find water in the desert, and that she could locate enemies and read their thoughts. It’s been said that she led a large group of fearful women and babies, riding their panicky horses, across the surging Rio Grande—and then returned to battle the American forces.

Like her namesake, 17-year-old Lozen is a warrior and a hero. In this post-apocalyptic thriller, a mysterious force named Cloud, arrived from beyond Jupiter, has destroyed much of humanity and rendered useless all advanced technology. Lozen’s family, with many others, is held under marshal law in a walled fortress called Haven, ruled by four deranged and despotic semi-human overlords (the “Ones”) with bio-enhancements that no longer work. Holding her family hostage—and on the whims of any of them—they send her out to battle genetically modified monsters (“gemods”), such as giant birds of prey, a beyond huge anaconda, and many more. Drawing strength from her wits, her prayers, her supernatural powers inherited from her namesake, her family’s and tribe’s histories, her tracking and fighting skills, and the allies she encounters—natural and supernatural—Lozen is determined and unafraid. 

Since this is not the first apocalypse her family’s survived, Lozen has inherited, as she would say, mucho generational experience:

It was lucky for me in particular that my youthful skills included such…anachronistically useless pursuits as hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship, tracking, and wilderness survival at a time when the wilderness itself was barely surviving. Those esoteric and…outdated interests can be blamed on or credited to my family, especially my uncle and my dad—stubborn descendants of a nation that had been targeted for destruction in more than one century yet still survived.

Aside: Whenever I receive one of Joe’s young adult novels, I open to a random page to see how he’s chosen to grab video-game-obsessed pre-teens. Here’s a sample:

One nice thing from being entombed when you are not yet a corpse is that it gives you plenty of time for thinking. That is also one of the worst things about being in a situation like this. It seems as if no matter what you think about, it all comes down to: Crap, I’m trapped.

Joe embeds Lozen’s story in a cultural framework that makes sense to his readers, Native and non-Native alike. Picking up an eagle feather was and is a big deal, for instance, and Lozen does not feel the need to step out of the narrative to give the reader an ethnographic exposition. When she has time, she says a complete prayer; when she’s on the run, she simply says, “thank you.”

Unlike many young adult novels about Indian people—and in particular, Tanya Landman’s sloppily researched and abysmally written Apache Girl Warrior—the Lozen in Killer of Enemies is a confident, pragmatic, fearless young woman who understands the power of dreams—and who knows who she is, what she comes from, and what she has been given to do.

Young readers might recognize the similarities between post-apocalyptic and pre-apocalyptic life, such as the guarded compound of Haven and the 19th century prisons called reservations and Indian residential schools. They also might recognize the similarities between the deranged post-apocalyptic Ones and contemporary one-percenters, who enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us. As well, older readers might recognize some of Lozen’s quips as taken directly from an Alfred Hitchcock thriller containing a nightmarish shower scene, a campy Broadway musical not involving birds, a TV series about a patriarch’s superior knowledge, the title of a Ray Bradbury novel (itself based on a Shakespeare play), a Kevin Costner movie, a snipe at the language-challenged Tonto, a line from a poem by Robert Frost, and many more. There’s also a host of puns and other word plays and a helpful Bigfoot with laugh-out-loud Jewish cultural markers (“So sue me”). All of this is a treasure trove for talented classroom teachers and school librarians.

For those readers who are unduly thrilled by videogame-inspired carnage, there is this from Lozen:

When Child of Water and Killer of Enemies finished destroying nearly all—but not all—of the monsters that threatened human life in that long ago time, they did not feel the thrill of victory. What they felt was sickness. Taking lives is a precarious job, one that can end up polluting your spirit and burning your heart. When you touch the enemy in battle, it unbalances you. The Hero Twins would have died if it had not been for the healing ceremonies that were used to restore their balance, to cool their interior, to soothe their spirits, to clean the dust of death from their vision.

And finally, I thank Joe for incorporating a Muslim love interest for Lozen—Hussein, the gentle gardener and musician, who survives torture by the Ones—and who joins Lozen’s family on the run. Just as Indians in general and Apaches in particular are all-too-often treated as savages in children’s and young adult books, Islamophobia is rampant as well.

Brisk pace and nonstop action—an adrenaline rush with large helpings of gore, drama and hilarious wordplay—move Lozen’s narrative in a page-turner that left me hungering for a sequel that I’m pretty sure is on the horizon. Killer of Enemies is highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin

Sunday, June 08, 2014


Comic book fans! Keep your eyes peeled for INC Comics. INC is Indigenous Narratives Collective. First up from INC is Arigon Starr's Annumpa Luma--Code Talker, published in 2014

If you follow national news about American Indians, you're probably familiar with the Code Talkers. Yesterday's New York Times ran a story about Chester Nez, a Navajo code talker who served in WWII. Mr. Nez passed away on June 4, 2014. Because of the sensitivity of the work they did, code talkers could not tell their families what they did. In recent years, those restrictions have been lifted.

Starr's comic reaches back to World War I. In Annumpa Luma, she deftly provides readers with a solid chunk of history. The comic opens with Choctaw soldiers in the trenches. They're talking Choctaw to each other... and the idea of their language as a code begins to take shape. They wonder if anyone will be open to their idea, because in government boarding schools, they were punished for speaking their language. Meetings take place, a test is devised, and the code is implemented. This is all conveyed through the perspective of Corporal Solomon Louis. His reunion with his wife, when he returns home, is heartwarming.

On the final pages of her comic, Starr lists the names of the Choctaw soldiers, and says that in 2013, the Choctaw Code Talkers received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. Below is a screen capture of part of the congressional record from 2004 (and the full text specific to the Choctaw Code Talkers), when legislation regarding the code talkers was first introduced.

Using a popular format--comics--Starr and INC Comics shine a bright light on a little known piece of history. I look forward to seeing what else they give us. Order your copy of Annumpa Luma for $5.00 from INC.


Here is part of the U.S. Senate's Congressional Record for June 7, 2004. CHOCTAW CODE TALKERS is highlighted in the image to the right because it is what I was searching for in the record. Sioux, Comanche, and Sax and Fox code talkers in the Act were recognized for service in WWII. If you click on the link above for the congressional record, you can read the entire act. Because I'm writing about Starr's comic, I'm providing the entirety of what TITLE III says.

Congress finds that--

(1) on April 6, 1917, the United States, after extraordinary provocations, declared war on Germany and entered World War I, the War to End All Wars;

(2) at the time of that declaration of war, Indian people in the United States, including members of the Choctaw Nation, were not accorded the status of citizens of the United States;

(3) without regard to this lack of citizenship, many members of the Choctaw Nation joined many members of other Indian tribes and nations in enlisting in the Armed Forces to fight on behalf of the United States;

(4) members of the Choctaw Nation were--
(A) enlisted in the force known as the American Expeditionary Force, which began hostile actions in France in the fall of 1917; and
(B) incorporated in a company of Indian enlistees serving in the 142d Infantry Company of the 36th Division;

(5) a major impediment to Allied operations in general, and operations of the United States in particular, was that the fact that the German forces had deciphered all codes used for transmitting information between Allied commands, leading to substantial loss of men and material during the first years in which the military of the United States engaged in combat in World War I;

(6) because of the proximity and static nature of the battle lines, a method to communicate without the knowledge of the enemy was needed;

(7) a commander of the United States realized the fact that he had under his command a number of men who spoke a native language;

(8) while the use of such native languages was discouraged by the Federal Government, the commander sought out and recruited 18 Choctaw Indians to assist in transmitting field telephone communications during an upcoming campaign;

(9) because the language used by the Choctaw soldiers in the transmission of information was not a European language or on a mathematical progressions, the Germans were unable to understand any of the transmissions;

(10) the Choctaw soldiers were placed in different command positions to achieve the widest practicable area for communications;

(11) the use of the Choctaw Code Talkers was particularly important in--
(A) the movement of American soldiers in October of 1918 (including securing forward and exposed positions;
(B) the protection of supplies during American action (including protecting gun emplacements from enemy shelling); and
(C) in the preparation for the assault on German positions in the final stages of combat operation sin the fall of 1918;
(12) in the opinion of the officers involved, the use of Choctaw Indians to transmit information in their native language saved men and munitions, and was highly successful;

(13) based on that successful experience, Choctaw Indians were withdrawn from front line units for training in transmission of codes so as to be more widely used when the war came to an end;

(14) the Germans never succeeded in breaking the Choctaw code;

(15) that was the first time in modern warfare that the transmission of messages in a Native American language was used for the purpose of confusing the enemy;

(16) this action by members of the Choctaw Nation--
(A) is another example of the commitment of Native Americans to the defense of the United States; and
(B) adds to the proud legacy of such service; and
(17) the Choctaw Nation has honored the actions of those 18 Choctaw Code Talkers through a memorial bearing their names located at the entrance of the tribal complex in Durant, Oklahoma.


The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate shall make appropriate arrangements for the presentation, on behalf of Congress of a gold medal of appropriate design honoring the Choctaw Code Talkers.