Thursday, July 27, 2017

Naomi Caldwell's Letter to Therese Bigelow Regarding USBBY's Oct 2017 "Indigenous Experience in Children's Books" Panel

Alabama State University
College of Education
311 Abernathy Hall
Montgomery, AL 36106

July 27, 2017

USBBY United States Board on Books for Young People
The U.S. National Section of International Board on Books for Young People
Building Bridges Through Children´s and Young Adult Books

USBBY Secretariat, Center for Teaching through Children´s Books
National Louis University
5202 Old Orchard Road, Suite 300, Skokie, IL 60077, USA

Dear President Bigelow:
I read several posts on the American Indian Library Association list serv and the American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) blog (Debbie Reese) about the USSBY Indigenous Experience in Children’s Books session panelists. Most notable was your announcement that Nancy Bo Flood will no longer be a panelist. Your announcement was swift and welcomed news.  Please accept my congratulations for this act of courageous leadership.
            Notwithstanding, I am compelled to share my thoughts and a suggestion as past president of the American Indian Library Association, founding chair of the American Indian Youth Literature Award, and advocate for the accurate portrayal of Indigenous books for youth. One would think that in 2017 that organizations such as USBBY would be practiced and astute about planning programs to highlight diversity. After all, the membership is comprised of diverse, devoted well-educated and well-read children’s literature professionals who genuinely care about the quality of literature for youth from a national and international perspective.
Yet, there is a strange dichotomy that exists in the world of children’s literature about quality (accurate and truthful) materials about Indigenous peoples. Most children’s literature about Indigenous cultures that are ready available in the United States are written by individuals who are not Indigenous (CCBC Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Multicultural Publishing Statistics 2016). Most of these authors are not skilled in the nuances of indigenous culture and their writing is of inferior quality in terms of realistic and accurate portrayals.
My research on the global image of indigenous people books for youth supports the notion that this trend is not exclusive to North America. It is widespread among nations that were and are under the influence of a colonial ideology. Unfortunately, global educational material accessible in literate nations is steeped in the omission of the Indigenous way of being and voice.  However, there are Indigenous scholars, librarians, educators and associations with the mission to share information from the Indigenous perspective. They are only a click away on the internet.  Dr. Reese's blog American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) is recognized as an excellent award winning resource.
USBBY is in a unique situation to help advocate for quality Indigenous literature for youth by work by cooperating with the American Indian Library Association (AILA). A collaborative relationship with AILA has the potential to bring together professionals who are knowledgeable of Indigenous authors and publishers with USBBY program planners. Please consider this suggestion for future reference.
My letter is motivated by the idea that something brilliant can result from the unfortunate faux pas in the planning process of the Indigenous Experience in Children's Books panel.  We can begin working together and follow your courageous example by listening and honoring the voice of the indigenous people. We can always make better choices for the sake of our collective future and I hope we will.

Collegially yours,
Naomi Caldwell
Naomi R. Caldwell, (Ramapough Lenape), PhD, MSLS
Associate Professor and Coordinator Library Education Media Online
American Indian Library Association (AILA), past president
AILA Youth Literature Award, Chair Founding Member



Albus Dumbledore said...

Dr. Caldwell,

Thank you for your thoughtful response! I hope that you will join USBBY and work with us as we plan our next conference in 2019 in Austin.

Terrell Young

NoniKateus said...

Having just found this site and read this post, I'm compelled to just say that as a non-indiginous person who loves to write fiction and whose children share ancestors from at least three different first nations, there is so much to contemplate here. Where I have created native characters in my novels, I've consciously avoided being either disrespectful or misrepresenting their culture.

As a little child, I had asked my mother why did they always make the Indians in the movies be the bad guys? She tried to explain prejudice to me but I just could not make sense of it at that time. Of course, I 'got it' when I was a just little older.

On one of my personal bookshelves is an old, worn-out copy of Therese O. Deming's "The Indians in Winter Camp." I found it in a New Hampshire village library's discard sale, for 5 cents, in 1986 and was happily surprised to see that it was an extremely well-used little volume, tattered and stained. I cannot say whether this book is an accurate portrayal but can say that I didn't think it 'romanticized' everyday life at all. Researching the author, I discovered that she and her husband had lived with indiginous people for many years so I suspect it might be a respectable attempt to create a children's book of quality and integrity.

Personally, I live for the day when every person respects and can appreciate each other person's dignity. I certainly can applaud the efforts of individauls and organizations who want to educate the 'masses' and raise the standard.

Naomi Bigelow