Thursday, April 28, 2022

Highly Recommended: DEB HAALAND: FIRST NATIVE AMERICAN CABINET SECRETARY, by Jill Doerfler and Matthew J. Martinez

Deb Haaland: First Native American Cabinet Secretary
Written by Jill Doerfler and Matthew J. Martinez
Published by Lerner
Published in 2022 (due out in August)
Reviewed by Debbie Reese


In children's literature, we talk about the importance of representation. Seeing someone who looks like you is powerfully affirming. In 2016, I experienced that affirmation. Deb Haaland was at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  I shared my joy on Twitter:

And in 2018 when she and Sharice Davids won seats to be in the US Congress, I hoped that we'd see children's books about them. Davids did a biographical picture book last year, which I highly recommend. Now, we've got one about Haaland, and I am happy to say that I highly recommend it! 

The biography of Haaland is written by Dr. Jill Doerfler (White Earth Anishinaabe) and Dr. Matthew J. Martinez (Ohkay Owingeh). It opens on March 18, 2021 with Haaland entering the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC to be sworn in as the 45th US Secretary of the Interior. There's a photo of that moment. And there's description of what she was wearing (a ribbon skirt) and why. There's information about who made the skirt--Agnes Woodward, who is Plains Cree from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada. Doerfler and Martinez take care to tell us about the symbolism of that skirt. 

I've read those first pages several times, imagining Native children in the US and Canada reading them. Those pages carry a symbolism of their own: they are a strong, and deep, and loving embrace of Nativeness.  

On page 11 (I'm reading an ARC from NetGalley; page numbers may change), we're taken to Haaland's early years. That section opens with "Guwaadzi hauba" (greetings), and information about Keres (the language spoken at Laguna Pueblo, where Haaland is an enrolled citizen). 

On that page, we see an inset block of information titled "Sovereign Nations" that explains what they are: 

There are several throughout the book, each one supporting information shared in the narrative. On page 20 I see "Native American Voting Rights." I'm calling attention to these because teachers can use the book as a biography about Haaland, but another use of them is those inset blocks! They function as a text all on their own that is akin to an American Indian Studies 101 course at a university. Indeed, the biographers, Jill Doerfler and Matthew Martinez, have PhDs and both have taught at colleges and universities. I don't see any information about them in my digital ARC, but it ought to be included! Doerfler is a professor and department head of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota, and Martinez is Deputy Director of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

Overall, I am pleased with all that I see in this book! 

Teachers can use this book with students but they can also use this book themselves to create or revise lesson plans. If/when they come across the word "squaw" they will remember page 31 and the information there about that word, and Haaland's declaration of its derogatory use and that she established a task force to select new names for the hundreds of federal sites that use that word in their name. 

A personal note: I love seeing Nanbé Owingeh on page twelve! And I'm gratified to see An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People (Jean Mendoza and I adapted that book) listed as one of the resources. 

And one more personal note: ku'daa, Matthew and Jill, for writing this book. It is precisely what we all need--no matter who we are, or how old we are. As the first peoples of these lands, our voices and work matter tremendously. 

I highly recommend Deb Haaland: First Native American Cabinet Secretary. Published by Lerner and written by Jill Doerfler and Matthew J. Martinez -- Native scholars -- I urge you to buy copies for your classroom, your library, and the children in your life.