Tuesday, June 11, 2024


Imagine an overcast, cold, windy, completely dreary early spring day. A plain brown cardboard envelope arrives from Portage & Main -- it must be a review copy of one of their latest books for young people. Rip the cardboard and what should emerge but a much-larger-than-life portrait of a fuzzy, black and yellow pollen-spotted bumble bee foraging on a bright pink flower! "Spring WILL come," the bee seems to say, "and you'll be seeing me. Here's my story." 

This bee is the creation of Metis artist Natasha Donovan. The book is The Bee Mother by Gitxsan writer Hetxw'ms Gyetxsw (Brett D. Huson). That's Nox Ap in Gitxsanimx.  Here she is on the back of our recliner.

The Bee Mother
Written by Hetxw'ms Gyetxsw (Brett D. Huson) (Gitxsan)
Illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Metis)
Published in 2024
Publisher: Highwater Press
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended 

AICL has enthusiastically recommended the other six books in the "Mothers of Xsan" series. We've urged educators to use them in science curricula. They blend Indigenous (Gitxsan) knowledge and western science, to follow a year in the lives of different animal species significant to the ecosystem of the Gitxsan homeland: sockeye salmon, grizzly bear, wolf, eagle, raven, and frog. There's growing public awareness of the importance of bees in ecosystems across the continent, so The Bee Mother is a timely and relevant addition to the series.

Nox Ap, the bumblebee queen, is the center of the factual narrative, but the author also spends time on two similar insect species-- yellowjacket wasps (also native to the region), and honeybees, introduced to what's currently called North America by humans but now significant to Gitxsan communities. Teachers are likely to find the distinctions among them helpful, as children often are fearful of stinging insects, and have a lot of misinformation about them.

Like other Mothers of Xsan books, The Bee Mother text is engaging, and centers Gitsxan knowledge and words. Natasha Donovan's illustrations are, as always before, appealing and built on fact, and sometimes incorporate formline figures created the author. It's a very effective collaboration overall. There's a good reason these books garner awards and all kinds of positive recognition.

This series is evidence that good picture books aren't only for younger children. Mothers of Xsan books invite readers to engage with the world outside. By showing connections between Gitsxan life and the animals, they also encourage all readers to think deeply about their own relationships with the other species that make their homes on Earth.

 The Bee Mother would be a great resource anywhere on the continent that bees can be found -- and they're just about everywhere. It would be especially cool to invite students to make observational drawings of bees (whether from careful catch-and-release, or preserved specimens, or photographs). When satisfied with their drawings, they could augment them with accurate colors and textures, moving from basic observation to expressing deeper knowledge and understanding of their subject. 

If you're teaching with The Bee Mother, you and your students might want to check out this Bibliovideo interview with Natasha Donovan.

 It's been months since that cold gray day when my copy of The Bee Mother arrived, with its promise that Spring would come eventually. Today, my prairie plants are finally in bloom, and outside my front window, a bumblebee buzzes around the sunlit spiderwort and coneflower. I'd better go take a closer look.


Highwater Press in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Press Release: Introducing Maawn Doobiigeng - the new classification system of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Libraries

Note from Debbie: In this morning's email, I received the press release I'm sharing below. Librarians across the US are looking for ways to revisit their classification systems because they are learning -- as the press release states in the first paragraph -- that existing classification systems are "damaging to Indigenous people and are insufficient for accurately describing and providing access to Native topics." For more information, go directly to the Maawn Doobiigeng (Gather Together) page. There, you'll see this graphic:


Press Release: The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan is pleased to announce the introduction of Maawn Doobiigeng, the new classification system of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Libraries. The three primary systems of classification that were in place – the Dewey Decimal System (DDC), the Library of Congress Classification  System (LCC), and the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) – are inherently damaging to Indigenous people and are insufficient for accurately describing and providing access to Native topics. In 2019, The Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Libraries were awarded the IMLS National Leadership Grant to facilitate the creation of a new classification system by members of the community. As of April 2024, this new system, titled Maawn Doobiigeng (Gather Together), has been created and is being implemented into the libraries.

Arionna Crispin, project facilitator mentions, “When I heard about a project that was aiming to decolonize and Indigenize the Tribal Libraries, I knew I had to be a part of it. I learned so much about how harmful the previously utilized classification systems are, and I worked with truly amazing people in the creation of this new system. I’m grateful to have been a part of something so incredible and revolutionary, and I hope this work inspires others to make similar changes.”


The Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Libraries were awarded the National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in 2019 with the purpose of addressing the question: “How can tribal libraries use traditional ways of knowing and being to break free of the colonialist epistemology of existing library organizational systems that reinforce a damaging worldview?”


There were four phases of the grant project. The first phase was to Assess the cataloging and classification systems currently in place through a decolonizing lens. Next, the team had to Create a system of organization for cataloging and classifying library materials according to Anishinaabe ways of knowing and being. This was followed by having the ability to Implement this system to decolonize and indigenize the Tribal Libraries collections. Finally, gathering data to Analyze results and share documentation that outlines how this project was conducted, provided a framework that other libraries could use as a template for decolonizing the knowledge organization of their collections.


Anne Heidemann, tribal librarian shares, “Over the years of doing the work of cataloging and classifying the books and other materials in the Tribal Libraries, it became clear to me that the existing systems weren’t working well for the community I serve, which led me to write the application for the IMLS National Leadership Grant.


Heidemann continues explaining, “The opportunity to turn this work over to the community, to see dedicated community members gather to use their knowledge and experience to create an entirely new-to-libraries classification system, was so exciting and truly an honor. The Tribal Libraries team has now begun the work of reclassifying all the items in the collection, and we look forward to seeing the community enjoy using Maawn Doobiigeng in their libraries.”


A work group of community members was established to create a new system of organization for cataloging and classifying library materials according to Anishinaabe ways of knowing and being. The work group created this new system, Maawn Doobiigeng, based on the seven original clans and their respective responsibilities, as described in the “Mishomis Book” by Edward Benton-Banai, and based on the cultural knowledge of the group members. The clan responsibilities were adapted into subcategories that the committee felt best represent both the clan and the types of knowledge traditionally shared in books and libraries. Careful thought was put into each clan and subcategory, with the understanding that it may need additions or adjustments after implementation. It was important to the committee that the new classification system also double as a teaching tool, with users of the libraries gaining knowledge of the clans and the Anishinaabemowin language.


Please contact Anne Heidemann, Tribal Librarian, at (989) 775-4519 or at aheidemann@sagchip.org for more information on the announcement.        




The Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Libraries include the public Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Library (SCTL), the preK-5th grade Saginaw Chippewa Academy elementary school library (SCA), and the public two-year community college Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College library (SCTC). For classification, the former two used DDC, the latter used LCC, and all used LCSH, all of which employ colonialist logic to classify and describe items relating to Indigenous people.


The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's approximately 120,000 libraries and 35,000 museums and related organizations. The agency’s mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Its grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, May 06, 2024


When We Gather (Ostadahlisiha): A Cherokee Tribal Feast 
Written by Andrea L. Rogers (Citizen of the Cherokee Nation)
Illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Citizen of the Chickasaw Nation)
Published by Heartdrum (HarperCollins)
Pub Year: 2024
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Status: Highly Recommended

In professional development workshops that I do where I ask people to bring books with Native content, I look over what they've brought. Lots of old -- and not good -- nonfiction (series books and biographies) and fiction. I also see dreadful books by Paul Goble that look like they're Native, but they're not. A better way to describe them is "white man's Indian" which means a white imagining of Native life and culture. 

More and more, in recent years, I see that someone has brought in a terrific book. An example is Jenny Kay Dupuis's I Am Not A Number. A librarian bought that one in last week. Another had Lindstrom and Goade's We Are Water Protectors. And another had Christine Day's biography of Maria Tall Chief. Terrific, for me, is books by Native writers who are writings stories from their own nation(s) and family experiences (like Jenny's), or who give readers a Native point of view on someone who has significance to Native communities (like Christine's), or that are set in the present day (like Carole and Michaela's). 

Due out this week is another that I hope every library will add to their shelves. Of course, I'm talking about Andrea Rogers and Madelyn Goodnight's When We Gather (Ostadahlisiha): A Cherokee Tribal Feast.  

Some things I love:

On the first page we see a luscious green landscape. Why does that matter? When they think "Native" a lot of people imagine deserts or plains. A face: Native people were, and are, everywhere.  

In that lush landscape, a little girl is kneeling by a plant with slender leaves that rise up out of the grass. We'll come to know it is wild onions. The girl and her family set out harvesting them for a gathering at the community center where families have brought beans, grape dumplings stew, corn soup, and catfish for a wild onion dinner. 

I love seeing Native words in books! Just there, just part of the way it is. The clues are all there to know what Agilisi and Agiduda mean. And they're in a modern day house because, yeah, we are still here and it bugs us to have to say those words. Books like this one, though, help make that point. 

Flipping to the author's note, I read that Rogers visited Cherokee homelands in Georgia. She tells us about the forced removal of the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole nations from the southeastern US. She also tells us about a special place: New Echota, their former capital.  I call attention to "capital" because Americans associate that word with a state, but many do not know that we were, and are, sovereign nations. Rogers used "nation" but using additional words like "capital" help readers get further down that path of knowing what Native sovereignty means. 

Any teacher or librarian that is doing something that is about family gatherings can add this book to that unit or program. And if you've got a way to do so, make some of the food you see in the book! Smith provides four recipes. Dig in! 

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Updates to Previous Posts about Vermont Groups that Claim to be Abenaki

On Feb 20, 2024 I shared a letter from Chief Rick O'Bomsawin, Abenaki of Odanak and Chief Michel R. Bernard, Abenaki of W8linak. In it, they asked educators in Vermont to stop making space for specific individuals who write and speak as if they are Abenaki. 

On April 17, Chief O'Bomsawin and several others spoke at the 23rd session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues about the four groups in Vermont that received state recognition from the State of Vermont in 2012. 

Credit: CBC News

On April 25, the University of Vermont held an event called "Indigenous Belonging and Rights in the Northeast: A Conversation with Mi'kmaw Legal Scholar Pamela Palmater and Sociologist Darryl Leroux. It was led by Anishinaabe scholar, Gordon Henry. When an archived copy of it becomes available I will provide the link. 

Near the end of the event, a Letter of Support was read aloud. The letter was from Maulian Dana Bryant, Penobscot Tribal Ambassador. I find the letter powerful and share it here, with Bryant's permission. On her Facebook page, she states it is part of her "personal statement in support of the leaders from Odanak who are raising concerns with the state recognized tribes in Vermont." 

Bryant wrote:
I have followed the story of the state recognized tribes in Vermont and the concerns raised by Abenaki leaders from Odanak. I am writing in support of the leaders of Odanak Abenaki because they are our ancestral relatives and this homeland is one we share with them. The Abenaki people have been in the lands now called Maine since time immemorial the same as the federally recognized tribes that are formally in our state. They were displaced by violent land grabs, genocidal acts, and the many other atrocities of colonization. They are part of the Wabanaki Confederacy and I stand with their efforts to protect their legitimate people from the harm of state recognized groups who have circumvented federal recognition guidelines and formalities in favor of a looser state process that doesn’t take into account the standards that our tribes have met. An important tenet of tribal sovereignty is that tribes have the authority over how they determine membership and how they run their governments and departments. Even with our struggles in Maine with the 1980 settlement acts we enjoy this level of sovereignty. It is imperative that we protect the validity of tribal communities to combat the historical trauma that our people have suffered for generations. The theft of land, resources, children, religion, and our very lives left us greatly diminished but we are still here. Our ancestors ensured through their sacrifices that we not only survived but that we still know who we are and that our cultural identity remains. It is miraculous and helps us heal.
When groups cannot meet the standards for recognition in the ways our tribes can, it should signal that something is amiss. While we acknowledge that the federal recognition process is absolutely a remnant of the colonization that we are healing from, it does serve as a way to establish some sort of verifiable truths signaling Indigenous identity. The Abenaki of Odanak have met criteria as our tribal nations have and when they raise issues with other groups, I believe them and support them.
There is harm in groups claiming to be Indigenous when they are unable to prove out those claims. Much like the harm from stereotypical Indian sports mascots, we see a group taking on the identity for the positive aspects without having to live with the historical trauma and modern day consequences of that identity. It also diminishes the valid tribal nations’ rights and opportunities. It is challenging enough to make progress and improvements for tribal communities as it is, without having to wade through these matters of state recognized tribes.

I have been keeping a list of articles and information about false claims to Native identity, and specifically about the Vermont groups and will add media coverage of the UN remarks soon. In 2023, I withdrew my recommendations of books and articles by Joseph Bruchac, Margaret Bruchac, and Judy Dow.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Native Readers are gonna be PSYCHED to know Arigon Starr has a new SUPER INDIAN book for us all!

One of my most-dear memories is when I was working with a group of elementary-aged Native children in New Mexico and told them about Arigon Starr's Super Indian. At lunch time, one girl looked for me and asked if she could read it. Of course, I handed it to her and she was riveted! She laughed, and smiled, and I knew that book was gonna be a hit with our communities. 

As other Native people read Super Indian, the joy in what Arigon Starr created was palpable. There was so much in there -- for readers of all ages -- that it quickly became a favorite of many Native readers. The second volume did, too. 

And today I am PSYCHED to tell you the third volume is is finished and at the printers! Here's the cover:

Here's the description:

When an ordinary reservation boy eats tainted commodity cheese and gains superpowers, hilarity ensues! The third volume in the Super Indian graphic novel series includes two new adventures, plus a bonus issue featuring Laguna Woman. Rounding out the edition are profiles of two real-life super Indians, MLB Baseball All-Star Allie Reynolds and formidable American Indian Movement activist Fern Eastman Mathias. Arigon Starr returns as writer/artist, with Janet Miner as the editor. 64 full-color pages of action, adventure and laughs for all ages.
ISBN: 978-0-9859-5354-6
Trade Paperback
Wholesale price per book:    $17.00
Retail Price per book:               $24.99

And here's the full announcement: 


When An Ordinary Reservation Boy Eats Tainted Commodity Cheese, Hilarity Ensues.
The Native American Superhero Returns With New Adventures For All Ages.

March 14, 2024 – Los Angeles, CA – Wacky Productions Unlimited and Rezium Studios are excited to announce the release of SUPER INDIAN VOLUME THREE, the latest collection of comic tales of the reservation sensation Super Indian. The 64 page full color graphic novel features words and art from multiple American Indian Youth Literature award-winner Arigon Starr and is edited by Janet Miner.

Super Indian Volume One and Super Indian Volume Two have both found enthusiastic audiences within the Native American community, educational institutions and libraries across the US and Canada. Volume One is on its tenth printing, with Volume Two on its seventh printing. Super Indian has been featured in World Literature Today and First American Art print magazines and online via PBS Books online. Arigon’s comic art has been recognized and included in major art exhibitions including the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ; the Gilcrease Museum, Philbrook Museum, First American Museum and Oklahoma Contemporary, all in Oklahoma, and at the KHM – Musuemsverband in Vienna, Austria.

Super Indian was introduced as a comedy audio theater broadcast in 2006. Native Voices at the Autry, a Los Angeles theater company dedicated to producing new works by Native Americans, commissioned an audio theater series based on the initial ten-minute radio play. The program debuted on college, independent and Native radio stations in 2007.

Arigon Starr developed her radio scripts into a comic book. “I wanted the art of the comic to have a timeless look, a homage to my favorite 1980s and 90s comics,” she enthused.

Wacky Productions Unlimited, an independent publisher, released the first Super Indian graphic novel in 2012. The graphic novel gained attention with Native American readers and was championed by librarians, teachers and college educators. Arigon and her work on Super Indian has been featured in online and print media, with appearances in books such as Dreaming In Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices and The Routledge Companion to Native American Literature. Starr’s comic work garnered awards in 2018 from the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award for her anthology Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers and in 2023 for her illustrations for Contenders: Two Native Americans, One World Series. Arigon’s artwork has also been featured online via The Nib, Vox Media’s Polygon and Colorado’s Pop Culture Classroom series Colorful History.

Starr’s work as a multimedia artist brought her to the attention of Providence Pictures, the producers of the PBS series Native America. She was profiled in the episode Women Rule, alongside three other trail blazers. Arigon showcased her musical talents, humor, wisdom and work on Super Indian. The program aired nationally in 2023, bringing attention to the diversity of Native American contributions to contemporary culture.

Super Indian Volume Three includes:

Super Indian Issue #8, “Old School,” A tale of revenge featuring a new-age guru who uses an evil scented gel to take over the Leaning Oak Reservation and the aged avenger who helps Super Indian regain himself.

Super Indian Issue #9, “Call of the Wild,” A thrilling adventure featuring a sentient Mother Bear, a world-renowned Native American scientist and the twisted rock star who hunts to kill on the Leaning Oak Reservation.

Laguna Woman Issue #1, “Lo, The Poor Laguna Woman,” features female superhero Phoebe Francis/Laguna Woman, who has the worst day ever on her homelands in New Mexico.

Real Super Indians: Real life profiles of Major League Baseball All-Star Allie Reynolds and fiery American Indian Movement Activist Fern Eastman Mathias.

“Super Indian’s adventures provide a glimpse into the contemporary world of Native Americans. The fun, edgy humor can be experienced on many levels by a wide variety of readers,” said CEO/Publisher/Editor Janet Miner. Arigon Starr beams, 
“It has been the highlight of my life to bring these comics to life. I am creating the Native themed comics I dreamed about as a kid.”
The book is available for purchase from the Super Indian Comics website and Amazon.com.

Wacky Productions Unlimited is a female led, Native co-owned company based in Los Angeles, CA. Wacky has released four music CD projects from Arigon Starr, co-produced her stage and audio theater productions and is the publisher of the Super Indian catalog.

Contact: Janet Miner

Website: https://superindiancomics.com

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Facts in WE ARE STILL HERE: NATIVE AMERICAN TRUTHS EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW are characterized as being a "negative slant on white people"

Today (March 13, 2024) I read an article in The Gothamist that starts with this image:

What you're looking at is a stack of twelve copies of Sorell and Lessac's We Are Still Here: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know with a sticky note that says "Not Approved 3rd." 

Reading on, I see that someone determined that the book has a "negative slant on white people." The subtitle of the book is Native American Truths Everyone Should Know. Here's the cover. See those stickers on the right side of the cover? Those tell teachers that people who study children's books think We Are Still Here! is exceptional and that it should be used in classrooms.

Traci Sorell (the author) is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. I'm tribally enrolled at Nambé Owingeh. Both are tribal nations. The "We" in the title is Native people. We are among the hundreds of tribal nations in the United States. This book affirms our existence because of the truths Sorell gives us in this book!

What is the "negative slant" in the book? Is it the content on page 4, where Sorell writes that "Our ways of life changed when white people arrived from Europe." Or where she writes that the federal government did not always keep its promises to tribes, and that federal laws and policies have been devastating? 

Is it page six, where Sorell wrote that some US leaders did not respect our ways and thought it would be better for us to adopt their beliefs and practices? 

Is it page eight, where she wrote that white people wanted to control and sell tribal lands?

Page after page, Sorell presents solid information in straightforward ways. What she wrote is true. A "slant" implies an unfair bias. There's nothing unfair or biased in the factual presentation of information. 

In fact, Sorell's book corrects negative depictions of Native people and omissions of our existence that you can easily find in children's books, textbooks, and educational materials. I hope your school has multiple copies, and that you'll ask for it at your local library. I hope you'll bring it into your home and read it with your children. 



Monday, March 04, 2024

American Indians, Alaska Native, First Nation, Native American people and the 2023 Diversity Baseline Survey

In 2015, Lee and Low released the results of its first Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS), which is a survey to document how diverse employees in publishing entities are. That sentence feels awkward but I think you know what I mean. A second survey was done in 2019. 

On Feb 28, 2024 Lee and Low released the results of its 2023 Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS). It was created by Lee & Low Books with co-authors Laura M. Jiménez, PhD, Boston University College of Education & Human Development Language and Literacy; Betsy Beckert, PhD candidate, Boston University College of Education & Human Development Language and Literacy; Rory Polera, data analyst; and Jake C. Dietiker, undergraduate, Boston University College of Engineering.

I encourage you to go read the results. Almost 200 companies responded to the survey. That includes 11 review journals, 37 university presses, 62 literary agencies, and 81 trade publishers. 

Here, I focus on the findings about the presence of Native people in the publishing industry. 

Overall, American Indian/Alaskan Native/First Nation/Native American staff is less than 0.1%. The survey had 8,644 responses.  

0.1% of 8,644 means 8.6 people -- but the report says less than 0.1%, so is it 8 people? I don't know. I know of one Native editor at one of the trade publishers. 

As I read through the list of publishers that was sent the survey, I see Annick Press. Based in Canada, they publish some terrific books by Native writers and illustrators. Do they have an editor there who is Native? I hope so.

I don't see Kegedonce on the list of publishers. They're located in Canada and have published excellent books for children and young adults. Their founder and editor is Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm. She's of the Chippewas of Nawah Unceded First Nation. I don't see Chickasaw Press on the list (or their imprints, White Dog Press and Leaning Dog Press). They've done some great books, too. I assume they have Native people working there but I don't know. 

I mention Kegedonce and Chickasaw presses because I know about them. Including them in the next survey may push the <0.1% up a bit (my mention of them is not a criticism of the team that did the survey) but the larger issue is the need to have Native people working as editors, agents, reviewers, and interns across the publishing industry.  

I'm grateful to the teams that have done these three surveys. That is very hard and necessary work. Data helps us know what needs doing. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Leaders of Abenaki Nations request Educators stop making space for specific individuals in Vermont's "Abenaki" tribes

Update from Debbie on Feb 21: I edited the title of this blog and the second paragraph to more accurately reflect the request in the Odanak leader's letter. My initial emphasis was on books but the concern is much broader than that. It includes the performances the named individuals do. To me that includes storytelling, flute playing, drumming, and craft activities. If your school or library has made space (on-site or via a field trip) for the named individuals, please reconsider doing that in the future. As educators, our responsibility is to accuracy--especially in things we provide to children in our schools and classrooms. 

February 20, 2024

Dear Colleagues,

Last year, I wrote "Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki?" explaining why I can no longer recommend books by Joseph Bruchac, Marge Bruchac, and James Bruchac. I included links to items that were important as I made that decision.

Below I am sharing a letter that is being shared in Native networks today (Feb 20, 2024). It asks educators in Vermont to stop making space for the performance of appropriated and invented Abenaki rituals, music, dance, and art from these individuals:
Fred Wiseman, Vera Sheehan, Joseph and Jesse Bruchac, Rich Hulschuh, Lisa Brooks, Melody Mackin, Don Stevens, Brenda Gagne, Paul Pouliot, and Judy Dow.
I think it is important that educators (from early childhood to university classrooms) outside of Vermont who use their books, articles, or educational materials read the letter. It includes links to several online items.

I am pasting the contents of the letter below; beneath it you will find screen captures of the letter that show the letter is signed by Chief Rick O'Bomsawin, Abenakis of Odanak and Chief Michel R. Bernard, Abenakis of W8linak. If you need a pdf, let me know. 

As this 2023 video shows, Chief O'Bomsawin invited the Vermont groups to meet with them to discuss concerns. The Feb 8 letter suggests to me that the Vermont groups chose to reject the invitation. 



February 8, 2024

Subject: Request for a meeting to discuss issues related to Vermont's self-proclaimed "abenaki" tribes


We write to you as representatives of the Abenaki People of the Odanak First Nation and Wolinak First Nation. We are the First People of these lands.

We are writing to you, Vermont’s educators and keepers of knowledge, to raise our concerns about the teaching of false histories of our people, as well as the platforming of those who preach and profit by appropriating our heritage and history.

We have come through centuries of war, dispossession and removal from the lands that became the United States and Vermont. The Canadian-American border cut our traditional territory into two. We continued to travel, live and trade in our ancestral lands. Over the last twenty years, we have raised concerns about the proliferation of self-proclaimed ‘Abenaki’ groups in Vermont and New Hampshire. In 2011 we tried to voice our concern about Vermont's state recognition process which gave state authority to these groups, but we were excluded from that process.

We do not recognize any of those groups as Abenaki as they have never demonstrated that they have any Abenaki ancestry or heritage. In April of 2022 for the first time we were given the opportunity to share our history at the University of Vermont. At that event we also denounced these groups and explained the harm their appropriation of our heritage has caused us. As Odanak Councillor Jacques Watso put it, “they are erasing us by replacing us.”

We are not the only ones to call their claims into question. Vermont’s own Attorney General’s report thoroughly investigated these claims twenty years ago, as did the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2007. Both found a lack of Abenaki ancestry or historic link to any North American Indian tribe. Recent peer-reviewed scholarship as well as investigations by Vermont Public, vtdigger, and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, all confirm that they are not Indigenous or Abenaki. 

These self-proclaimed ‘tribes’ are instead part of a growing movement that anthropologist Circe Sturm calls ‘race-shifting’: non-Natives claiming indigenous ancestry with little or no basis for doing so. As Professor Kim TallBear made clear in a recent presentation at the University of Vermont, race-shifters carry out a final act of colonization by replacing actual Native People with the voices and the bodies of the invader. “Self indigenization,” said TallBear, “is an act of genocidal elimination.”

If it is your intention to work with those who have preserved the culture and language of the Abenaki across 400 years of colonization, we are those people. 

We were never in hiding, or the targets of Vermont's eugenics programs. As Vermont Public and vtdigger reported, this is mythology, not history. UVM historian David Massell makes this plain. “No reputable scholar has seen or shared any credible historical evidence to support the theory (now a widely-embraced myth) that Vermont's eugenics campaign had any interest in, or in any way sought to target, the Abenaki,” Massell told vtdigger. “None.” 

We ask that you teach actual, evidence-based history and consider the sources in your curriculum. We ask that you no longer make space for the performance of appropriated and invented Abenaki rituals, music, dance and art. We ask that you stop platforming and elevating those who claim to represent us. This includes Fred Wiseman, Vera Sheehan, Joseph and Jesse Bruchac, Rich Holschuh, Lisa Brooks, Melody Mackin, Don Stevens, Brenda Gagne, Paul Pouliot and Judy Dow. None of these people have Abenaki ancestors. None speak from an indigenous perspective. None are our kin.

We do not seek land or resources in Vermont, only recognition of who we are. We request that Vermont’s educators learn and honor the true history of the Abenaki people.

We request a timely opportunity to discuss these concerns with you and in the coming weeks we will send an invitation to a meeting between Vermont education leaders, representatives of the Abenaki People, and allies from the Wabanaki Confederacy for further learning.

To participate in that meeting, please contact Daniel G. Nolett, Executive director at the Abenaki Council of Odanak at 450-568-2810 or dgnolett@caodanak.com.

We request that you share this letter widely with your colleagues, faculty, staff, board members, etc., depending on your organizational context.

In Peace and Friendship,

Rick O’Bomsawin, Chief, Abenaki of Odanak

Michel R. Bernard, Chief, Abenaki of W8linak

Thursday, February 08, 2024


A Girl Called Echo Omnibus
Written by Katherena Vermette (Red River Metis)
Illustrated by Scott B. Henderson (not Native); Colors by Donovan Yaciuk (not Native)
Published in 2023
Publisher: Highwater Press
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza

Review Status: Highly Recommended

You might have seen AICL's positive comments about katherena vermette's graphic novel series A Girl Called Echo. I guess I should clarify that this "Echo" has nothing to do with the mini-series currently getting a lot of attention! I haven't seen it yet.

Vermette's protagonist Echo is a socially isolated Metis teen in what is currently called Winnipeg, Manitoba. She finds herself abruptly pulled against her will into key events in the history of the Metis -- events which involved some of her direct ancestors. She meets them, witnesses their individual struggles, and is just as abruptly transported back to her present. Her time travels carry her through generations of traumas and (often short-lived) victories. The past echoes in her. 

Gradually, in her present time, she makes friends at school. She connects with her seemingly tireless and caring foster mother, and prepares for her mom to come home from what appears to be an inpatient facility of some kind.

If you've appreciated A Girl Called Echo as much as I have, you'll be pleased to know that in 2023, Highwater Press published A Girl Called Echo OMNIBUS -- a collection of all four books, with some new informational material, evocative end papers, a foreword by Dr. Chantal Fiola, and a critical essay by Brenda Mcdougall. The timelines, maps, and other information from the individual volumes are also part of the Omnibus, providing important context for Echo's experiences. It's available in paperback and as an e-book. 

The Omnibus is a visually pleasing, "one-stop" resource for fans of Echo, for educators, and for anyone who wants to better understand the history of the Metis in what is currently called Canada -- and how that history can play out in the hearts and minds of contemporary Metis, like Echo and her family. 

Portage and Main has also published a teacher guide for A Girl Called Echo, created by Anishinaabe educator Reuben Boulette. It's available as an e-book or in coil-bound soft-cover. 

You can view excerpts of it on the publisher's Web site -- highly recommended!

With the success of A Girl Called Echo, it's my fervent hope that we'll begin to see more graphic-novel explorations of Indigenous people's history of what's currently called the United States. -- grounded in the present as well as in accurate representations of the past.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

News! Louise Erdrich's THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE will be available as an audiobook

As far as I know, there are no 'anniversary editions' of Louise Erdrich's The Birchbark House. Today, a teacher wrote to me about the book. She's using it with her students. So--it is on my mind. I realized it came out 25 years ago. I went over to Birchbark Books and saw that come May 7th of this year, you can listen to Erdrich reading the book! Yes--it is going to be made available as an audiobook. Birchbark Books works with Libro to make audio books available. When I clicked through, I saw this:

I ordered it, of course! I've listened to Erdrich read her work before and am really looking forward to this! Back in 1999, I was in graduate school. I had completed my coursework and was working on my dissertation, which was a study of children's books that were recommended or written about in Young Children. That is a practitioner's journal published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. As you might guess, I was looking specifically at images of Native peoples in those books. For the most part I found book by non-Native writers, stereotypes and bias. I ought to look at the journal now. I hope they feature books by Native writers.

In the midst of that study, a wonderful book came out: The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. It was first published in 1999 by HyperionBooks for Children and according to WorldCat, there are now 37 editions. This year -- 2024 -- marks the 25th year since its initial publication. Here's the original cover:

Erdrich did the illustration on the cover--and inside, too. Over the next years, the cover changed. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, and so that seal appeared on subsequent printings. And, Erdrich wrote more books about the character, Omakayas, and so the words "Book One of the Birchbark House Series" were also added to the cover:

The teacher who wrote to me about the book wanted help specifically with the pronunciation of the Ojibwe words in the book. Come May, we'll hear Erdrich speaking them aloud. Tiffany--your email inspired this post today. Thank you. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

News: American Indian Library Association announced its 2024 Youth Literature Awards

Good morning, AICL readers! Yesterday (Jan 22, 2024) the American Library Association announced its annual book awards. Below a list of the winners of the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Awards, given every two years (even-numbered years). Soon, all these books listed below will have the AIYLA seal on them! The photo below is from the AILA website and shows a selection of the books with their seals. 

You can order seals for your copies, directly from the American Indian Library Association. 

Here is a photo of the AILA Youth Literature Award committee members who were there for the announcements and Cindy Hohl (far right) who is the 2024-2025 president of the American Library Association (thank you to Hannah Buckland for permission to use the photo). Cindy Hohl is a member of the Santee Sioux Nation. Members of the committee this year were Naomi Bishop, Akimel O'odham; Mandi Harris, Cherokee Nation; Tara Kenjockety, Ho-Chunk & Seneca Nations; Kelley Kor, Cherokee Nation; Debbie Reese, Nambe Owingeh; Ophelia Spencer, Dine; Duane Yazzie, Hopi and Navajo; and Allison Waukau, Menominee and Navajo.  The committee was co-chaired by Joy Bridwell, Chippewa Cree Tribe; and Danielle Burbank, Dine.  


Forever Cousins written by Laurel Goodluck (Mandan & Hidatsa and Tsimshian), illustrated by Jonathan Nelson (Navajo/Diné) and published by Charlesbridge

A Letter for Bob written by Kim Rogers (Wichita & Affiliated Tribes), illustrated by Jonathan Nelson (Navajo/Diné) and published by Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


Berry Song written and illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tlingit Nation) and published by Little, Brown and Co., a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Rock Your Mocs by Laurel Goodluck (Mandan & Hidatsa and Tsimshian), illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Chickasaw Nation) and published by Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Remember by Joy Harjo (Mvskoke Nation), illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tlingit Nation) and published by Random House Studio, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House

Celebration by Lily Hope (Tlingit), illustrated by Kelsey Mata Foote (Tlingit) and published by Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI)

Contenders by Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation), illustrated by Arigon Starr (Kickapoo Tribe) and published by Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House


We Still Belong written by Christine Day (Upper Skagit), cover art by Madelyn Goodnight (Chickasaw Nation) and published by Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


She Persisted: Maria Tallchief by Christine Day (Upper Skagit), illustrated by Alexandra Boiger and Gillian Flint and published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House

She Persisted: Deb Haaland by Laurel Goodluck (Mandan & Hidatsa and Tsimshian), illustrated by Alexandra Boiger and Gillian Flint and published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Eagle Drums written and illustrated by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson (Iñupiaq) and published by Roaring Brook Press

Jo Jo Makoons: Fancy Pants by Dawn Quigley (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe), illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolastoqey) and published by Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Jo Jo Makoons: Snow Day by Dawn Quigley (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe), illustrated by Tara Audibert (Wolastoqey) and published by Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Mascot by Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation) and Charles Waters, jacket illustration by Nicole Neidhardt (Navajo) and published by Charlesbridge

She Persisted: Wilma Mankiller by Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation), illustrated by Alexandra Boiger and Gillian Flint and published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House


Rez Ball by written by Byron Graves (Ojibwe), jacket art by Natasha Donovan (Métis) and published by Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), jacket illustrations by Michaela Goade (Tlingit Nation) and published by Henry Holt and Company, a trademark of Macmillan Publishing Group

Funeral Songs for Dying Girls by Cherie Dimaline (Métis) and published Tundra Books, an imprint of Tundra Book Group, a division of Penguin Random House of Canada Limited

Running with Changing Woman by Lorinda Martinez (Diné), cover design by Brittany Gene (Navajo) and published by Salina Bookshelf

Man Made Monsters by Andrea L. Rogers (Cherokee Nation), illustrated by Jeff Edwards (Cherokee Nation) and published by Levine Querido

Heroes of the Water Monster by Brian Young (Navajo Nation), jacket art by Shonto Begay (Diné) and published by Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.