Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Indigenous Nations in Nonfiction

In 2021, the National Council of Teachers of English published Reading and Teaching with Diverse Nonfiction Children's Books: Representations and Possibilities. Edited by Thomas Crisp, Suzanne M. Knezek, and Roberta Price Gardner, it includes a chapter I wrote with Betsy McEntarffer that draws heavily from Simon Ortiz's The People Shall Continue. 

Betsy is a retired white librarian. I met her years ago, online, before she retired. I don't remember how, exactly, but she was doing terrific work on her library's efforts to be mindful of diversity in the collection. And so, we talked by email for years. When I was invited to write a chapter for nonfiction book, I asked her to work with me on it. The book came out in November of 2021. 

In 2016, Simon Ortiz (Acoma) invited me to give a talk in his lecture series at Arizona State University. I met him a long time ago and had been talking about his children's book The People Shall Continue in talks I gave here and there. He has been a source of strength and guidance for Native people -- through his writings but also with his advocacy. I was deeply honored by his invitation.  He follows what I do in children's literature. 

What he writes about in The People Shall Continue is the heart of the chapter Betsy and I wrote. Our chapter is "Indigenous Nations in Nonfiction." We came up with a set of guidelines that we call An Indigenous Peoples' Framework for Evaluating Nonfiction. One of the challenges for us all is a lack of time. Often we want a quick answer to a question but when we are trying to expand what we know about a people unlike ourselves, quick answers are not enough. In our chapter we provide some background information that helps you strengthen your critical lens. 

A mainstream default is to think of Native peoples as a cultural group. That is true, but the vital difference is that we are the original peoples of this land currently called North America. We are not "the first Americans." This land was called something else before it was called "America." When Europeans came here, there was conflict but they also engaged in treaties with us. 

Treaties don't happen between cultural groups. They happen between nations. Or, more specifically, between leaders of those nations. That, for me, is a starting place to understanding who we are. And so, I emphasize that we are nations. Sovereign nations. It is far more complicated that that but I think it is important to start with that idea. The word, nation, is in The People Shall Continue. As far as I know, it is the first time a children's book has that word in it. 

The word "people" is in the book title. Some of you may not notice it and to some of you it might seem unimportant---but it is deeply significant! Think about books you've read about us. Do you remember "people" in it? Or do you remember "Indian" or a similar word (Native American, etc.). Now--what image comes to your mind when you think about "people" and when you think "Indian." Different, right? The "Indian" is likely a stereotypical image and it is also likely an adult male or a group of adult males attacking some white pioneers that are depicted as courageous for venturing out onto "the frontier" or "the wilderness." I believe Simon used the word "people" to help you see us--not as aggressors but as mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. The word "people" shifts the lens, significantly. 

With The People Shall Continue as our guide, our framework uses Simon's words to help you develop understandings that will help you evaluate a work of non-fiction. I think the content of our framework applies to fiction, too. In addition to the words "people" and "nation" there are nine additional points that we invite you to consider. I hope you're able to get a copy of Reading and Teaching with Diverse Nonfiction Children's Books: Representations and Possibilities. Request one at your library. I think you'll see that the book has many other excellent chapters, and perhaps, you may buy a copy for yourself. 

Update: Jan 5, 2022, 6:30 AM


  1. Where can I obtain a copy of Reading and Teaching with Diverse Nonfiction Children's Books: Representations and Possibilities? It appears to be out of print. I appreciate your reviews but it would be helpful if you could check on availability before you suggest a title. Thanks.

    Linda Laird

  2. Jerry - After School Instructor. (posting again as it didn't seem to go through at first. Apologies if it did,)

    As the book seems unavailable to purchase or at my local libraries, I would greatly like to find a copy of the chapter you wrote within, "Reading and Teaching..." much more, have the entire book too. Do you share that info, or could I find that particular chapter in other media or books? Thank you. I follow your blog, and although my after school program has closed down due to the pandemic, I hope that when I do return to the field, I can continue teaching my elementary students of the Nations and Peoples of the Americas as I have with projects and plays, and I have blogs and books like yours to thank for it.

  3. Linda and Jerry,

    It is available at NCTE's online store: https://store.ncte.org/book/reading-and-teaching-diverse-nonfiction-childrens-books-representations-and-possibilities-1

    I looked at Amazon to see if it is there. It is, but says "temporarily out of stock." I know that a paper shortage meant a lot of books weren't available last year. Maybe that's going on with this book, too. I'm glad it is available at NCTE.


  4. Thank you, Debbie - Greatly appreciate it.



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