Friday, April 19, 2019

Reflections on #Arbuthnot19

Note from Debbie on Sunday April 28, 2019: Scroll to the bottom to see links to other reflections on the lecture. If you know of one that isn't there, please let us know. Thanks!

A week ago (Friday April 19) I was in Madison, Wisconsin to give the 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture. Titled "An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children’s Literature," it was co-sponsored by:
  • the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC is a division of the American Library Association) 
  • the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) 
  • the UW-Madison School of Education
  • the UW-Madison Information School 
  • the Friends of the CCBC 
  • the Ho-Chunk Nation

Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) did a livestream of it that you can watch at their site. Scoot ahead to the 12:35 minute mark. At some point, WPT will make another video of it that will more smoothly incorporate the images that I used during the talk. My remarks will be published in ALSC's journal, Children and Libraries

Debbie Reese
Photo by Durango Mendoza

I give a lot of talks and workshops but preparing for and delivering this one felt different. I've been reflecting on why, and am sharing some thoughts on that, tonight.

The 2019 Arbuthnot lecture began with people of the Ho-Chunk Nation. The University of Wisconsin is on the homelands of the Ho-Chunk Nation. The evening opened with the Wisconsin Dells Singers. Elliott Funmaker took the podium to welcome people to the event, and to tell them that the 2019 Arbuthnot lecture was taking place on their homelands.

Elliot Funmaker
Photo by Durango Mendoza

He also said that he and some of the other people in the Wisconsin Dells Singers are in the Bear Clan. Their role is to provide security. If anyone in the room tried to disrupt the event, he said, the Bear Clan would ask them to leave. His words are significant. He provided some history and conveyed a clear message that Indigenous peoples are here, today, exercising sovereignty on our lands. After their songs, Hinu Helgesen Smith welcomed us.

Hinu Helgesen Smith
Photo by Durango Mendoza

She is the Legislator for District 1 of the Ho-Chunk Nation. She brought a group of Ho-Chunk teens with her to the lecture. The Ho-Chunk presence--from their youth to the Bear Clan to the tribal leadership--made the 2019 Arbuthnot an Indigenous event. I don't think that has happened before at an Arbuthnot.

The Ho-Chunk presence was, for me, a warm embrace as the first Native person selected to give the Arbuthnot lecture. It was a hard lecture for me to prepare for, and to deliver. I could feel the excitement and expectations, several weeks before the lecture date. In the weeks I spent writing and editing my lecture and the slides I used, I had children in mind. Native and non-Native children are harmed by misrepresentations of Indigenous people. They're harmed by the Whiteness that creates stereotypes, and the Whiteness that defends it with little regard for the impact it is having on children. Their well-being matters tremendously. It felt to me that every word had to strike just the right note. I worried that my remarks would fall short of expectations. I told myself "if it is a thud, it will at least have given the DiversityJedi a couple of days of hanging out together in the same city." Small groups of us gather at conferences from time to time but at conferences, we're often pulled in many directions. The gathering in Madison was different. Because it wasn't a conference, Jedi had many opportunities to just be together, quietly or to have conversations about the goings on in our personal lives and professional work. Some flew from California, Massachusetts, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania and others drove from Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota.

I hope that everyone there felt the significance of the gathering. I'll be thinking about it for some time.


April 18, 2019: Seizing the Narrative by Nina Lindsay at Reading While White.
April 21, 2019: Truth and Love: Dr. Debbie Reese's 2019 Arbuthnot Lecture by OfGlades at Indigo's Bookshelf