Sunday, April 10, 2016

ANPAO by Jamake Highwater

Friday (April 8, 2016), I used Skype to give a long-distance talk for the Spotlight on Books conference in Minnesota. In the Q&A, I was asked about Jamake Highwater's Anpao. I've mentioned that book in many talks but have not yet done a stand-alone post here. Yesterday's question prompts me to finally do it.

Anpao came out in 1977. It won a Newbery Honor in 1978. The book was published in one of the many eras in which US society realizes its body of literature is too white.

Anpao was put forth as the work of a Native man, but "Jamake Highwater" was a pen name for a man named Jack Marks. He was not Native but for many years, he was receiving large grants intended for projects developed by Native people, including some by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

In 1983 Akwesasne Notes published an article by Highwater, in which he talked about being treated as a "second class Indian" because he had mixed heritage. Seeing that article, Hank Adams began meticulous research on him. Adams, Vine Deloria Jr., and Suzan Harjo worked together to get an expose published the following year, in Akwesasne Notes. 

Does it matter that Highwater was not Native (he is deceased)? I think it does. In school, teachers often assign Author Studies--in which students are asked to read other items the author has done, study the works individually and as a whole, and see what sort of observations they may make in changes in an author's work over time. In most of the items I see about "Jamake Highwater," I don't see anything (in materials for children/teens) that includes the fact that he was not Native. They take his writing, then, as the writing of a Native person.

That leads me to Anpao as a work of literature. Can it be used to teach children or young adults about Native people?

My answer: no.

In the author's note, Marks/Highwater tells us that the character, Anpao, is a "central Indian hero" created by him from stories from Plains and Southwest peoples. I'm from one of those nations of the southwest. In one way after another, we're different from the Plains peoples. Just what did Marks/Highwater do to create this character? What did he take from the Plains, versus the Southwest peoples to make this "central Indian hero"?

As he travels, Anpao tells stories. But as he tells them, they are presented as if they belong to Anpao, this "central Indian hero." Everything, if we go along with the story, belongs to, and/or comes from, Anpao, the "central Indian hero." That, ironically, is precisely what the author did in creating this "Jamake Highwater" identity. He took from others, and called what he took, his own. That appropriation is a pattern in his work.

In Native American Representations, First Encounters, Distorted Images, and Literary Appropriations (Bataille, 2001), Kathryn Shanley (a professor in Native American Studies at the University of Montana) analyzed one of his other books (The Primal Mind), and writes that Highwater (p. 38):
"felt he could take license with archived materials and claim the experiences contained in them as if they originate from his own personal knowledge and insight."
Shanley goes on to discuss that so many were duped by Highwater because he spoke in ways that met their expectations of what and how a Native person would be. In that expectation--driven by stereotypical and romantic ideas of who we are--Native people who do not speak in that way are seen as "not Indian." Anpao was published in 1977, but now--39 years later--Native writers are still faced with that sort of rejection of their work.

That is the status quo! Books with mystical Indians--like the grandmother in Emily Henry's The Love That Split the World--are scooped up by major publishers.

That has to change. Everyone in children's literature has a responsibility to work towards that change. In the Summer 2015 issue of Children and Librarians, Kathleen T. Horning included Highwater's fraud in her article, "Milestones for Diversity in Literature and Library Services." I hope you do your part.  

For further reading:
Fool's Gold: The Story of Jamake Highwater, the Fake Indian Who Won't Die by Alex Jacobs, in Indian Country Today Media Network
Around the Campfire: Fake Indians by Dean Chavers, in Native Times. 
An Open Letter to the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post by Hank Adams

1 comment:

Beverly Slapin said...

There's also an excellent piece, entitled "When I Look in Your Eyes of Darkness" by Jean Mendoza, in A BROKEN FLUTE: THE NATIVE EXPERIENCE IN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN (pp. 155-157). Jean's critical essay is a parallel reading of "Jamake Highwater's" young adult novel, EYES OF DARKNESS, against Charles Eastman's INDIAN BOYHOOD and FROM THE DEEP WOODS TO CIVILIZATION. In the "Highwater" book, she sees "not only events, but phrases, sentences, even whole paragraphs, some at best only minimally paraphrased--without once mentioning either source."

"While Smoky Day's contributions to INDIAN BOYHOOD are set off with quotation marks, showing respect for both source and reader," Jean writes, "readers of EYES OF DARKNESS are clearly meant to get the impression that the prose is Highwater's own--in fact, the front flap of the dust jacket calls EYES OF DARKNESS a 'brilliant, original novel.' "

If anyone had any doubts about "Jamake Highwater," Jean's essay is well worth reading.