Friday, September 01, 2023

A Storywalk Featuring Nancy Cooper's BIINDIGEN! AMIK SAYS WELCOME

In the past few months, I've done several blog posts about Native people or their books or art being part of what the public sees when they're out and about. I'm delighted to do another of those posts today. 

As I scrolled through social media yesterday I saw this photo and did one of those "WAIT!" exclamations in my head. I recognized the book on the storywalk sign immediately. I wanted more information!

The book on the sign is Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome. Written by Nancy Cooper (member of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation) and illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley (Ojibwe, member of Wasauksing First Nation)  here's the cover of the book on that sign:

Storywalks are one way of bringing visibility to books. This particular storywalk is in the City of Vaughan in Ontario, Canada at Sugarbush Heritage Park. The Vaughan Public Library has a blog post about the storywalks, and says this about Biindigen!:
This educational picture book follows Amik the beaver and her little sister Nishiime as they prepare to meet their cousins, while teaching young readers about beavers and their role in the Canadian environment.
I'd add that anyone who reads this book has the chance to learn some Native words. Regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know that I especially love seeing the word 'nation' in books for children. That's here, too, in the final pages. 

Visibility! It matters. If you do storywalks for your community, please add books by Native writers. If you need suggestions let me know! I'm glad to help.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

A Request Regarding Records of Native Students at Boarding Schools

Those of you who follow Native news know that Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, launched an investigation into boarding schools for Native children. It included finding out how many schools there were, what kind (some were mission schools run by churches), burial sites at the schools, and identification of children went to them. The first report came out in May of 2022. 

It is crucial that these investigations be done. 

It is also crucial that writers and educators be respectful regarding the findings of those investigations. More and more records are being released. Today, news media indicates that databases will be made available. The Washington Post says the digital archives will give "easier access to historians and families still searching for information about their loved ones." 

In the 1990s, I read a book by Ann Rinaldi. It was part of the Dear America series. Set at one of the schools, the ways she used actual names and stories she found in historical archives, was horrific. Utterly disgusting. It was painful to read. 

As more records are becoming available, I am making this request that non-Native writers refrain from mining the archives to create characters and stories. I understand that you may view yourself as an ally but you may inadvertently tread into areas that are far from healed. You may inflict further harm onto Native communities. Leave our stories alone. 

My grandmother (my dad's mother) went to one of the schools in the early 1900s. She told me some things when I was a kid but she didn't talk much about her time there. Did she keep painful things back? Do the records have details in them that she did not share with me? I don't know. My mother's father was Hopi. He also went to one of the schools and met the woman he'd eventually marry. I don't have any stories from them at all. He never talked about it and she died when my mother was a little girl. I do not want an Ann Rinaldi to dig into their records and use their names and information in the records to create a story. 

And so I make my request. Leave our stories alone.

I know--some of you are going to be thinking about First Amendment and freedom of speech and all those things that you think mean you can do anything you want. In fact, you can and many of you have already done such things. You may mock my request as naive. If that's you, not much anyone could say would help you be sensitive. But if you're one who wants to be respectful, I hope my request is helpful. 

I'm not speaking for every Native person. For certain I am asking you to leave stories about my own ancestors alone. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

It's Marcie Rendon!

Some time back I did a series of posts about Native illustrators whose work was being used in unusual ways -- like the city bus that features the work of Marlena Myles. 

Today on social media, I saw a photograph of a billboard. I paused and exclaimed "That's Marcie!" Here's what I saw: 

Photo credit: American Indian Community Housing Organization

Marcie is holding a copy of Sinister Graves which is the third book in her mystery series that feature a young woman named Cash Blackbear. 

The photo was shared on social media by the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) in Duluth Minnesota. They organization's post said:
"We can sing our hearts out, tell our stories, paint our visions." Quote by Marcie Rendon, White Earth Band of Ojibwe Nation tribal member and award winning author, poet, and screenplay writer. This billboard is now up on display next to AICHO's building in Duluth on 2nd Street for four weeks.

Miigwech, Marcie Rendon, for sharing your Indigenous stories that remind us who we are as a people, for advocating for women and issues that impact Indigenous peoples, and for all that you write!

To find more out about Marcie Rendon:

Miigwech to McKnight Foundation for funding this and AICHO's Cultural Arts themed billboards and helping AICHO to promote, uplift and showcase Indigenous authors and artists.

I met Marcie at least ten years ago and have been reading what she writes since then. Below I'll share covers of some of her books. Go to her site and you'll find more she's written. When I read what she writes, I feel the stories. What I mean is that I know Native people like the ones she has in her books. Their good moments and the not-good ones, too. There's an intangible quality in her stories that may be possible because of her good heart. 

Let's start here. Listen to Marcie in this video:

Now, some of her books! This is her non-fiction picture book, Powwow Summer with photographs by Cheryl Walsh Bellville. 

Read her short story, "Wonder and Worry," in this middle-grade anthology:

I adore her story "What's an Indian Woman to Do?" in When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through -- an anthology edited by Joy Harjo that should be in every English lit course in high schools across the country.

And here's the Cash Blackbear series. They're for adult readers but I wouldn't hesitate to share them with older teens. 

Look for and read her books. And if you're in Duluth, snap a photo of the billboard and share it on your social media accounts. And tag me if you can (I'm debreese on Twitter). 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Highly Recommended: ROCK YOUR MOCS, written by Laurel Goodluck, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight

Rock Your Mocs
Written by Laurel Goodluck
Illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight
Published by Heartdrum
Published in 2023
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Several years ago on Native social media, I saw people talking about plans to wear their moccasins for "Rock Your Mocs" day. On that day, we took photos of our mocs and shared them joyously in a way that radiated an Indigenous solidarity vibe (I'm borrowing that phrase from page 12 of Cynthia Leitich Smith's new book, Harvest House.) I felt a tremendous lift, scrolling through my timelines and looking at the many different kinds of moccasins people were wearing. If you want to see what I mean, search #RockYourMocs on social media. 

A couple of years ago when I saw that Laurel Goodluck and Madelyn Goodnight were doing a picture book about Rock Your Mocs day, I was absolutely delighted! Turning that day into a picture book is brilliant! It is one way to show readers that Native peoples are people of tribal nations located across the continent, and that our names, languages, histories, stories, songs homes--and clothing--are unique.

Just look at that cover and you'll see another huge plus. Those are Native kids of the present day.  The art is gorgeous, the idea is brilliant and the opportunity to know us for who we are: outstanding! 

When you start reading you'll come across the names of twelve different tribal nations, which means that children of those nations have mirrors that reflect who they are. Books as mirrors is a metaphor put forth by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop in 1991 (read her article and you'll understand the metaphor). 

Those twelve? Colville, Hidatsa, Hopi-Tewa, Inupiaq, Little Shell Chippewa, Menominee, Navajo, Ojibwe, Osage, Seminole, Tuscarora, and Yurok. 

Goodluck's text is ebullient. Here's a look at the left-side of one page. "Indigenous Nations." " cities and towns..." and "We're stylin' today as we Rock Our Mocs!" All of that is terrific. And the decision to put "Rock Our Mocs" in a larger font size than the rest of the text works so well!

Here and there you'll see Native words. On one page, Ajuawak (he's the Ojibwe child) is standing at a chalkboard on which someone has written Ojibwe words for numbers from 1 to 10. I can see a teacher doing that for other Native languages. 

In the final pages -- which I strongly encourage you to read -- you'll find three helpful sections of background. First is a brief history of Rock Your Mocs Day and that it began in 2011 when Jessica "Jaylyn" Atsye of Laguna Pueblo suggested wearing mocs beyond days when we wear them for ceremonies or powwows. Second is information about moccasins, and third is a section titled Indigenous Children. There, you'll learn that Native children may be intertribal, or bi- or tri-cultural. I can use myself as an example. My mom is from Ohkay Owingeh. Her mother was from there and her father was Hopi. My dad is from Nambé Owingeh. His mother was from there and his father was white. In terms of tribal identity, I'm enrolled at Nambé, but I also have Ohkay Owingeh and Hopi relatives. Raised and enrolled at Nambé, my traditional moccasins and clothing are the kind worn at Nambé. 

I adore what I see in Rock Your Mocs and recommend you get copies for your classroom and school library and that you consider getting one for your home library, too. And gift copies to friends! 


Rez Ball 
Written by Byron Graves (Ojibwe)
Cover by Natasha Donovan (Métis)
Published by Heartdrum
Published in 2023
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Earlier this month I was in San Diego at the California Indian Ed for All 2023 Summit. I was invited to give a presentation about children's books. During that trip I was reading an advance copy of Rez Ball by Byron Graves. At the gathering during breaks or meals, I'd tell people 'Hey! I'm reading this new book, Rez Ball....' and I'd tell them a bit about what I'd been reading. Their faces lit up and I was glad to see them jotting down the title. For me, and them, and so many Native kids, basketball is the game!

The morning of my departure, I was so caught up by the book that I nearly missed my plane! 

I'm one of the Native kids who grew up on a reservation where playing basketball was the thing. In high school some of my cousins from Nambé played on the basketball team. Years later, I taught at a school for Native kids and can't tell you have many times I got hoarse, cheering for our teams (especially when we were making it to state championship games). Then came a years-long span of time when I wasn't watching games. But then last year we moved to California and I started following the NBA. 

When I was reading Rez Ball and came across references to Steph Curry, and LeBron, and Kevin Durant, I texted friends to tell them! I gotta say, there were many exclamation points in my texts. 


You can tell: I really like this book! Here's the synopsis:

These days, Tre Brun is happiest when he is playing basketball on the Red Lake Reservation high school team—even though he can’t help but be constantly gut-punched with memories of his big brother, Jaxon, who died in an accident.

When Jaxon's former teammates on the varsity team offer to take Tre under their wing, he sees this as his shot to represent his Ojibwe rez all the way to their first state championship. This is the first step toward his dream of playing in the NBA, no matter how much the odds are stacked against him.

But stepping into his brother’s shoes as a star player means that Tre can’t mess up. Not on the court, not at school, and not with his new friend, gamer Khiana, who he is definitely not falling in love with.

After decades of rez teams almost making it, Tre needs to take his team to state. Because if he can live up to Jaxon's dreams, their story isn’t over yet. 

Set on the Red Lake Reservation, Rez Ball is by a Native writer, and it is tribally specific through and through. Those are the two main things I look for as I read a book. In Rez Ball, there's families and cousins, and hanging out with them. Homes have Native art on the walls. Families serve Kool-Aid. Ojibwe words and rez-slang are mixed into their everyday speech. Kids read books by Native writers... It is way cool to see one reading Dawn Quigley's Apple in the Middle! And that passage about the Indigenous Baby Yoda shirt? Well, that was perfection! Across the country, Native people wrap baby Yoda with a warm embrace. Native people went all-out on social media, sharing memes and items they made.

In Rez Ball, there's teen parties where kids are drinking. And there's harsh realities, too. Native kids are profiled by security officers at shopping centers off-rez, and by police. And they deal with rivals who taunt them with anti-Indigenous slurs. 

Life of Native kids on reservations -- Byron Graves gives it to us straight. The joys and the tears... it is all here. As noted above, I highly recommend Rez Ball and I look forward to seeing what Byron Graves writes next!