Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Use/Misuse of the Word "Treaty" or "treaty" in Children's Books

Last week, I had a conversation with an educator who told me about conversations they'd had with teachers about Sign of the Beaver. Here on AICL we've had several posts about the book. I can't recall why I decided to take a look at it again, but I did. 

In particular, I noticed the way that the author used the word "treaty":

On page nine, we see:
Since the last treaty with the tribes, there had not been an attack reported anywhere in this part of Maine. Still, one could not entirely forget all those horrid tales.

The book is set in the 1768; I will try to figure out what treaty the author is having the white character refer to. Obviously the second sentence about "horrid" tales is meant to tell us that white people were being viciously attacked by Native people. There's bias in that passage but use of "treaty" is ok. 

The next use is not. 

On page 30, Matt (the white protagonist) is grateful to Saknis (a Native man) who helped Matt recover from bee stings and a fall. He gives Saknis a book (his copy of Robinson Crusoe). Matt realizes Saknis can't read. Saknis asks Matt if he can read. When Matt says yes, Saknis says:
"Good," he grunted. "Saknis make treaty." 
"A treaty?" Matt was even more puzzled.
"Nkweniss hunt. Bring white boy bird and rabbit. White boy teach Attean white man's signs.
"You mean--I should teach him to read?"
"Good. White boy teach Attean what book say." 
There, the use of treaty is wrong. Treaties are the outcome of negotiations between heads of state. They are not something that a person and another person do. Using the word in that way, Elizabeth George Speare misrepresents their significance of the word. Why did she do that?

Her book won a Newbery Honor in 1984. Did anyone on the Newbery Committee that year notice the word being misused? Did Speare's editor notice? I have not seen any articles that address that point. I do see lesson plans that note the passage, but not in the way I am noting it. The reason Saknis wants Matt to learn to read is so that Native people won't be tricked by words in treaties. I find that a bit ironic because I think readers of Sign of the Beaver are being subtly led to a misunderstanding of the word. That may be due to a lack of understanding (in the author, editor, reviewers, etc) that Native peoples are citizens of nations. Somehow, they seem to be framing a treaty as a cultural artifact specific to Native peoples rather than a political one specific to diplomatic negotiations between heads of state. 

It reminded me of the way that Stephanie Meyer used it in her Twilight series. She has a treaty between vampires and a pack of wolves. She misused it, too. 

With that in mind, I posed a question: how are writers using the word in their books for children/young adults? I asked it, on Twitter, and will use this post to keep track of replies. At some point I hope to write a blog post about what I find. 

If you see the word in a book for children/young adults, let me know and I'll add it below. I am not limiting my question to anything other than books for children and young adults. Fiction, nonfiction, by Native writers, not by Native writers, set in the past or not.... I want it all. An analysis of its use will be interesting! I anticipate lot of misuse but hopefully, some good uses, too! Metaphorically would be fine -- if done carefully. We'll see what turns up, and thank you for suggestions! 

Children's and Young Adult Books that use the word "treaty"

Note: Initial list created on Jan 28, 2023; books added after that date will be noted with "[added on...]"). This is not a list of recommended books; it is a list of books that have the word treaty in them.
  • Belin, Esther, Jeff Berglund, and Connie A. Jacobs. The Dine Reader. Published in 2021 by the Arizona Board of Regents.
  • Boulley, Angeline. Firekeeper's Daughter. Published in 2021 by Henry Holt.
  • Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Published in 2008 by Scholastic Press.
  • Craft, Aimée. Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow. Published in 2021 by Annick Press.
  • Crawford, Kelly. Dakota Talks About Treaties. Published in 2017 by Union of Ontario Indians.
  • Cutright, Patricia J. Native Women Changing Their World. Published in 2021 by 7th Generation.
  • Davids, Sharice. Sharice's Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman. Published in 2021 by HarperCollins.
  • Davis, L. M. Interlopers: A Shifters Novel. Published in 2010 by Lynberry Press. 
  • Day, Christine. I Can Make This Promise. Published in 2019 by HarperCollins.
  • Dimaline, Cherie. The Marrow Thieves. Published in 2017 by Dancing Cat Books.
  • Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. Published in the US in 1952 by Doubleday.
  • Gansworth, Eric. If I Ever Get Out of Here. Published in 2013 by Scholastic.
  • Gansworth, Eric. Give Me Some Truth. Published in 2018 by Scholastic. 
  • Gansworth, Eric. Apple Skin to the Core. Published in 2020 by Levine Querido
  • Gansworth, Eric. My Good Man. Published in 2022 by Levine Querido.
  • General, Sara and Alyssa General. Treaty Baby. Published in 2016 by Spirit and Intent.
  • George, Jean Craighead. The Buffalo Are Back. Published in 2010 by Dutton.
  • Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. Published in 1957 by Harper.
  • Marshall, Joseph III. In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse. Published in 2015 by Amulet.
  • McManis, Charlene Willing. Indian No More. Published in 2019 by Lee & Low Books.
  • Merrill, Jean. The Pushcart War.
  • Pierce, Tamora. Alanna, the First Adventure; Wild Magic, First Test, Trickster's Choice. 
  • Prendergast, Gabrielle. Cold Falling White.
  • Prendergast, Gabrielle. The Crosswood. 
  • Sorrell, Traci. We Are Still Here. Published in 2022 by Charlesbridge.
  • Speare, Elizabeth George. The Sign of the Beaver. Published in 1983 by Houghton Mifflin.
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. Published in 1883 by Cassell and Company.
  • Tingle, Tim. How I Became A Ghost. Published in 2013 by Roadrunner Press.
  • Treuer, Anton. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition. Published in 2021 by Levine Querido.
  • Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Published in 1876 by American Publishing Co.
  • Verne, Jules. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Originally published as a serial in 1870 in France.
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie. Published in 1935 by Harper (Harper Collins).

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