Sunday, July 22, 2018

Not recommended: LUMP LUMP AND THE BLANKET OF DREAMS by Gwen Jackson

Over the last year or so, I've had several emails asking me about Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams. Written by Gwen Jackson, the subtitle is "Inspired by Navajo Culture and Folklore." It was published in 2016 by Friesen Press.

When I see "inspired" or "based on" in a book title or in related information about the book, my critical lens kicks in pretty hard. Non-Native people are inspired to create a whole lot of not-good things! Mascots, for example. Those who created them were often "inspired" by some imagined aspect of how Indigenous people fight. In this case, we have a writer who is inspired--by a weaver and by what the writer perceives to be Native story--to create a picture book.

The author of Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams is not Native. This is not an #OwnVoices story. Indeed, I think some would say (me, for example) that she's appropriating something for her own purposes. A quick look at the first page of her book shows me this:
Awake in beauty!
Awake in beauty!
Today we will live in beauty!
Those of you who are Diné (or Navajo), or who know something about people of the Navajo Nation, will recognize the "in beauty" phrase as something that is significant to Navajo people. It is part of the Blessingway Ceremony. Lot of not-Navajo people are taken with "in beauty." It resonates, of course, and so people.... use it. Like Jackson did. She uses the phrase elsewhere in the book, too.

In the story, Lump Lump is a little bear who doesn't like the idea of going to sleep for the winter. Blue Bird is a blue bird who is a storyteller who, on hearing Lump Lump's resistance to the idea of hibernation, tells him a story about a blanket of dreams. It is made up of items like "the white light of morning" and "the red light of evening." Lump Lump wants a blanket like that, and so, Blue Bird sets out to make it happen. With the help of others, all the items necessary to make this "blanket of dreams" are assembled and taken to Spider Woman, who makes the blanket for Lump Lump.

Do the Navajo people have a story like that?

Or did Jackson make it up? My guess is the latter, but we don't know. For hundreds of years, non-Native writers have been "inspired" by some story they think is Native, and go on to make their own. When that story is of that author's creation, I think it is inappropriate for the writer to use "inspired by" in the title, subtitle, or anyway in the book, because... it isn't of that nation any longer!

Jackson thanks several Indigenous people in the back of the book. I ask writers to consult with Native people before doing this sort of book, but I grow increasingly wary of how they go about it--especially when the outcome is like Jackson's Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams. As you might imagine, Jackson's book is not recommended.

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