Saturday, January 23, 2016

Where do you shelve Native American stories?

The title of this post, "Where do you shelve Native American stories?" is directed primarily at librarians but the information is important to teachers, too, and writers. The stories I have in mind are the ones that are broadly characterized as myths, legends, and folktales. It is a quick and short response to a question about shelving of folk and fairy tales.


The book you have in hand may not be a Native American traditional story. Its art might suggest to you that it is. It might have the name of a specific Native Nation in it somewhere. This might be in the title, or in the story, or in an author's note. That doesn't mean it is actually a Native American story. If it is a "based on" story where the author has drawn from several different nations, then, it is not a Native American story. Even though it looks like a traditional Native American story, it is not! It is a fiction, created by the author. 

What to do:

If you keep the book, it ought to be shelved in fiction. If you keep it, consider using it in library programming or in classroom lessons about critical literacy. One non-Native writer who does this is Paul Owen Lewis. Here's a screen cap from his website, about Storm Boy:

The relevant text from that screen cap is this sentence in the second paragraph:
Storm Boy follows the rich mythic traditions of the Haida, Tlingit, and other Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
What exactly does "Pacific Northwest Coast" mean? Do you know how many Native Nations there are in that area? Here's a list of the Northwest Regional tribes (from the Bureau of Indian Affairs website). Not all listed below are on the coast. And, this list doesn't include the Haida or Tlingit nations because they're served by the Alaska offices. Then, of course, there's the Haida and Tlingit peoples in Canada. 
Northwest Regional Office: Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, Klamath Tribes, Makah Tribe of the Makah Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, & Siuslaw Indians, Coquille Tribe of Oregon, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians of Oregon, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Reservation
Coeur d'Alene Tribe BIA Agency: Coeur d'Alene Tribal Council
Colville Agency: Colville Business Council
Flathead Agency: Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, Tribal Council
Fort Hall Agency: Fort Hall Business Council, Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation
Makah Agency: Makah Indian Tribal Council
Metlakatla Agency: Metlakatla Indian Community
Northern Idaho Agency: Kootenai Tribal Council, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee
Olympic Peninsula Agency: Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Hoh Tribal Business Committee, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Council, Lower Elwha Tribal CouncilQuileute Tribal Council, Shoalwater Bay Tribal Council, Skokomish Tribal Council, Squaxin Island Tribal Council
Puget Sound Agency: Lummi Indian Business Council, Muckleshoot Tribal Council, Nisqually Indian Community Council, Nooksack Indian Tribal CouncilPort Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, Puyallup Tribal Council, Samish Indian Nation, Sauk-Suiattle Tribal Council, Snoqualmie Tribal Organization, Stillaguamish Board of Directors, Suquamish Tribal Council, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Board of Directors, Upper Skagit Tribal Council
Siletz Agency: Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, Coquille Indian Tribe, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation
Spokane Agency: Kalispel Business Committee, Spokane Business Council
Taholah Agency: Quinault Indian Nation - Business Committee
Umatilla Agency: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Warm Springs Agency: Burns Paiute Tribe, General Council, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, Tribal Council 
Yakama Agency: Yakama Nation
That is a lot of different tribal nations, who (of course) speak distinct languages and have distinct creation and traditional stories.  So, again, what are we to make of "Storm Boy follows the rich mythic traditions of the Haida, Tlingit, and other Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast"?

If you have determined the book you're holding is about a single nation and that the art and words of the story accurately depict that single nation, ask yourself if it involves the creation of some aspect of that nation's way of viewing the world. If you determine it is a creation story, then it should be shelved in the same place that you put Bible stories. Shelving it there is an important signal that these are stories that are sacred--as sacred as Bible stories are to Christians. Generally speaking, people treat Bible stories with a respect that ought to be given to the sacred stories of any peoples' religion.

For further reading:

  • The American Indian Library Association's bibliography of articles. 
  • Sandra Littletree & Cheryl A. Metoyer (2015) Knowledge Organization from an Indigenous Perspective: The Mashantucket Pequot Thesaurus of American Indian Terminology Project, Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 53:5-6, 640-657. 

Revised on October 25, 2016, to include the example of Storm Boy, and, to add links to items that can help readers understand the ways that standard cataloging systems marginalize and misrepresent Native knowledge. 


Gabrielle Prendergast said...

This is excellent advice. One thing I have struggled with is the discussion of Native or First Nations spirituality in public schools. Here in Canada my daughter has had a fair few lessons based on sacred First Nations traditions. As an atheist this always made her a bit uncomfortable, since other sacred stories are never included in her lessons. She is interested in First Nations history and culture but the spiritual stuff is a difficulty.

Anonymous said...

Debbie, as you know there are so many ways that cataloging reinforces stereotypes. My catalogers rely heavily upon OCLC and very seldom if ever deviate the course. Nonetheless, as I continue to clean up my teaching collection, this will be something I'll work to correct. I want to believe that putting these books in the correct place will say something to the users of the collection.

Doni said...

Thank you for your wisdom. We currently have all our First Nations (about 200) books in a special section in the library (First Nations label) as we want to feature them - the kids love the graphic novels and picture books, and teachers can locate the non-fiction books to complement their art and history studies! Many titles can also be accessed through Reading Power strategies too (Adrienne Gear, Canada) We are trying to focus more on Aboriginal Education in our studies - in all grades and subjects in our new BC curriculum. As we live on Coast Salish territory, we have identified those books (about 1/3 our collection) with a specialized label on the spine.

We try to focus on First Peoples Principles of Learning and embed those principles in our curricular teachings. We use First Nations picture books in 'read alouds' to feature legends/virtues, as well as connection to land/animal/family/culture.

We are looking at using novels in Literature Circles, currently acquiring new titles on residential schools, as well as historical/contemporary realistic fiction. Appreciate your reviews, advice and opinion as we purchase new materials.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Do you know how hard it is to get guidance on this subject?? As a Library clerk trying to get it right I have gotten nowhere with our Indigenous Services school dept ( too 'librarianish' I think maybe to be their area of work), or with my Teacher Librarian Support (they just don't know??).
I still don't know what the correct Dewey number is for Indigenous Worldviews and so have used a simple 299 bin (user-friendly, visible and easy). Would be happy to use a more correct number if I knew it.
Ghetto-izing all Indigenous resources into one place has serious problems with it longterm, as to my mind it really underlines an understanding of Indigenous peoples as "other", rather than integral to north american culture. There is no special section on European-american/canadian culture for example.
New question: childrens books partially written in/ featuring Indigenous languages??? in the 400's? (or as dewey has them in with fiction picture books?)