About AICL

Table of Contents
1. AICL's Logo
2. History and Purpose of AICL
3. Who is Debbie Reese?
4. Who is Jean Mendoza?
5. Who Reads, Links to, and Cites AICL?
6. Why AICL Matters
7. Disclosure and Privacy Policy
(Last update: Sept. 30, 2019)

The logo for AICL incorporates the avanyu, which is the Tewa word for water serpent (Tewa is Nambé's language). The logo was designed by Debbie's daughter, Elizabeth Anne Reese (see below for more info about Debbie). The logo also reflects the act of storytelling and the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next.

2. History and Purpose
Debbie Reese founded AICL in May, 2006. By then, she had become an avid reader of a new form of expression--weblogs (blog for short)--and was keenly aware of their potential for impacting change. 

As a relatively new assistant professor at a "Research I" university, she knew it was important to publish her research in academic journals and books, but as a Native parent and former schoolteacher, she knew that those books and academic journals are not easily accessible or available to people who work with children on a daily basis. 

That lack of access conflicted with the Pueblo values she was taught.

Debbie was raised at Nambé Owingeh (a sovereign Native Nation that has a government-to-government relationship with the US government) and is tribally enrolled there. At community gatherings, elders emphasize that in work or prayer, what pueblo peoples do is for the well-being of the community, not the individual. In American Indian Studies, leading scholars said the same thing. How, they asked, would the work they do in the academy help people? The guidance Debbie received from tribal elders and Native scholars frames and supports her commitment to publishing American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL).

Through AICL, she shares information that she think will help readers learn about and understand the 500+ federally recognized Native Nations in the United States. Most people know about the federal government and the state governments, but very few know about tribal governments. Very few people know that American Indians in the United States have a status that makes them distinct from other minority or underrepresented populations. A common phrase used to describe minority or underrepresented populations is "people of color." American Indians are not, to quote Elizabeth Cook Lynn, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe and founding editor of Wicazo Sa (a leading journal in American Indian Studies), "people of color." Cook-Lynn writes:
Native populations in America are not "ethnic" populations; they are not "minority" populations, neither immigrant nor tourist, nor "people of color." They are the indigenous peoples of this continent. They are landlords, with very special political and cultural status in the realm of American identity and citizenship. Since 1924, they have possessed dual citizenship, tribal and U.S., and are the only population that has not been required to deny their previous national citizenship in order to possess U.S. citizenship. They are known and documented as citizens by their tribal nations. (1)
She goes on to say that placing Native peoples within a multicultural or ethnic studies category has a negative effect because those categories obliterate their political status. The political dimension she refers to is that status as sovereign nations, a distinction based on treaty and trust agreements made between early European nations who came to what we now call the United States, and, later agreements made between the United States and Nation Nations. Those agreements are diplomatic negotiations that take place between heads of state.

That phrase--diplomatic negotiations--may seem odd to people who were taught to think that American Indians were primitive nomadic peoples who "roamed" the earth (just like animals) and didn't "properly" use the land they lived on! In fact, Laura Ingalls Wilder says precisely that in Little House on the Prairie, when the character named Mrs. Scott says (page 211):
All they [Indians] do is roam around over it like wild animals. Treaties or no treaties, the land belongs to folks that'll farm it. 
Truth is, Native peoples--including the Native Nations in Indian Territory that Mrs. Scott derides--had been farming for centuries. And after being removed to Indian Territory through the Trail of Tears, the Cherokees built "the finest system of public education in all America, for men and women." (2)

These diplomatic negotiations took place amongst the Pueblo Indians, too. The nineteen Pueblo Indian tribes of what is now known as New Mexico had agreements with Spain in the 1500s, Mexico in the 1820s and then the United States in the 1840s. Leaders of each one (Spain, Mexico, U.S.) marked their recognition of our sovereignty with a silver headed cane that symbolized that recognition. The last cane was from President Lincoln. Today, the three canes at each Pueblo are held by the individual who is serving as the current governor. (3) You can see a 1936 photograph of the governor of Zia here. He is holding the three canes.

Generally speaking, sovereignty of tribal nations is not taught to students in school. Native children, however, who grow up on their reservations, know a lot about such matters. They know, for example, that they elect their leaders and have their own police force and court system.

In short, there's a lot to know!

A primary purpose of American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) is to help you know who Native people are. That knowledge can help you understand why Native people object to being misrepresented. Though we are certain that no author ever sets out to deliberately misrepresent Native people, it happens over and over again. Information is the only way to counter those misrepresentations. On American Indians in Children's Literature, we publish analyses of children's books, lesson plans, films, and other items related to the topic of American Indians and/or how we this topic is taught in school. 

2. Who is Debbie Reese?

I'm tribally enrolled at Nambé Owingeh, a sovereign Native Nation. We have a nation-to-nation relationship with the United States. Being tribally enrolled means that I am on Nambe's census. This enrollment status is important. Just like the United States, tribal governments have the power to decide who our citizens or tribal members are. We may disagree with the ways those decisions are made, and we can take steps to have those decisions revisited, but until those changes are made by a tribal council or similar entity, we cannot correctly claim to be enrolled if we are not. This is not a minor matter. If a tribe cannot state who its citizens are, then it loses its identity as a sovereign nation. If I was not on the census because I did not meet the criteria set out by the tribe, I would say I am of Nambé descent. 

I am from Nambé's Upper Village. I was born at the Indian Hospital in Santa Fe and grew up on Nambé's reservation, learning our dances and ceremonies from family members and elders. I went to Nambé's Day School and later, to public school. I got a teaching degree from the University of New Mexico and taught elementary school in Albuquerque before moving to Oklahoma to work on a Master's degree in school administration. During my time in Oklahoma, I taught at Riverside Indian School in Anadarko. Then I moved back to Nambé and taught at Santa Fe Indian School in Santa Fe and Pojoaque Elementary School in Pojoaque (just down the road from Nambé).  Education and health care are among the services tribes receive due to those treaty and trust agreements discussed above. We are not "given" anything by the federal government. 

In the early 1990s I moved to Illinois to work on a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. At the time, the University of Illinois had a stereotypical Indian mascot. Working alongside Native students and our allies, we were able to establish the Native American House at the University, and soon after that, launched an American Indian Studies program. A few years later, the university's mascot was discontinued.

During graduate school at Illinois, I reviewed for Horn Book. I have written for library publications such as Horn Book Magazine and School Library Journal, and educational publications like Language Arts, published by the National Council for Teachers of English. I have served on the Multicultural Advisory Board for Reading is Fundamental, and the board for Reach Out and Read American Indian/Alaska Native. I am invited to give lectures and workshops around the country and have recently begun using technology to work with libraries and colleagues in Canada, too. In 2018, I was selected to deliver the American Library Association's 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture.  If you're interested in my professional CV, it is downloadable here.

3. Who is Jean Mendoza?
I was born in what is currently called central Illinois, and spent most of my life there. I'm white, with no Native background. I got a bachelors degree in English from Eastern Illinois University and worked for a while in community journalism. I completed a masters degree in early childhood education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and taught in early childhood settings for several years. After a year as an abuse/neglect worker for the Department of Children & Family Services, I studied counseling psychology at the Alfred Adler Institute of Chicago (now Adler University), finishing a master's degree there while continuing to work in early childhood and building a small practice in child/family counseling.

By that time I had met and married Durango Mendoza, who is a citizen of the Muscogee (Mvskoke) Creek Nation of Oklahoma. It was while rearing our children in a near-west suburb of what is currently called Chicago that I became attuned to some of the racism toward and stereotyping of Native people in books for children and in the curricula they were encountering in school. The community we lived in was racially and ethnically diverse but very few of our children's classmates (and none of their teachers) were Native. Durango and I frequently went to their classrooms to talk about realities of Native lives, to counter the misinformation. Our most important contacts with a Native community during those years were with Durango's mother, sisters, brothers, and the younger generation in Oklahoma.

Shortly after we moved to Urbana, IL for my husband's work, I started in the PhD program in curriculum and instruction at U of I, which is where I met Debbie. Durango and I got involved in the effort to remove the faux-Indian mascot, and establish a Native American House and American Indian Studies program. Inspired by work with Debbie, I also engaged in activism in the children's literature community. I also taught children's literature and social studies classes to future educators, and taught kindergarten-first grade part time. After completing the PhD, I joined the faculty at Millikin University, as a founding member of their undergraduate program in early childhood education.

Debbie and I wrote an article in 2001 for the online journal Early Childhood Research and Practice;  professors of children's literature tell us they still use it in their classes. I have also written reviews of books with Native content for A Broken Flute and for AICL. Most recently, Debbie and I adapted Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for teen audiences, and I help maintain the companion Web site, iph4yp.blogspot.com.

4. Who Reads, Links to, and Cites AICL? 

American Indians in Children's Literature is used by Native and non-Native parents, librarians, teachers, editors, professors, and students. It is assigned reading in courses in English, Library Science, and Education in the United States and Canada.

A sampling of Native and non-Native websites and bloggers that link to AICL (updated 4/09/2011):

American Indian Higher Education Consortium, American Indian Library Association, American Indian Studies Consortium, AmoXcalli, Archimedes Forgets: Unsung YA, Book Moot, Bowllan's Blog at School Library Journal, BlogScholar, Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site, Childrenslit.com, Cinco Puntos Press, Cooperative Children's Book Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Critical Literacy in Practice, Cynthia Leitich Smith's Website, Dakota State University Library, Diversity in YA Fiction, First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies (blog), Fledgling (Zetta Elliott's blog), Humboldt State University Research Guides, Indian Country Today, Indigenous Education Resources, Indigo's Bookshelf, International Reading Association Literacy Links, International Society for Technology in Education, Karen Strom's Index of Native American Book Resources, Madison Voices, Mitali's Fire Escape, Multiculturalism Rocks: Cultural Diversity in Children's Literature, National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems, National Council of Social Studies, Native Appropriations, New Jersey Library Association, New Mexico Magazine Art Links, Northern Arizona University Indian Education, Philip Nel's Literary Links, Planetesme, Rasco from Reading is Fundamental, Reading While White, Read Roger's "White Man Speaks," Rough Rock Community School, Santa Ysabel Tribal Library, sarahpark.com (musings on korean diaspora, children's literature, and adoption), Shen's Books, South Dakota State Library Tribal Resources, Teaching for Change, The Miss Rumphius Effect, Tockla's World of Children's Literature, Turtle Talk Blog (Indigenous Law), University of Connecticut Literacy Web, University of Illinois School Collection, University of Montana Indian Education for All, University of Winnipeg's Centre for Research in Young People's Texts and Cultures, When Turtles Fly (Deborah Miranda's blog), Works Cited (Natalie Cecire's blog), Zinn Education Project

American Indians in Children's Literature is referenced in the following books and articles:
  • The Cambridge History of the American Novel by Leonard Cassuto and Benjamin Reiss, published in 2011. 
  • Child-sized History: Fictions of the Past in U.S. Classrooms by Sara L. Schwebel, published in 2011.
  • Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide by Sylvia M. Vardell, published in 2008.
  • The Common Core in Grades K-3, by Roger Sutton and Daryl Grabarek, published in 2014. 
  • Critical Multicultural Analysis of Children's Literature: Mirrors, Windows, and Doors by Maria Jose Botelho and Masha Kabakow Rudman, published in 2009.
  • Deepening Literacy Learning: Art and Literature Engagements in K-8 by Mary Ann Reilly, Jane M. Gangi, and Rob Cohen, published in 2010. 
  • Encyclopedia of American Indian Issues Today by Russell M. Lawson, published in 2013. 
  • Ethnic Literary Traditions in American Children's Literature by Michelle Pagni Stewart and Yvonne Atkinson, published in 2009. 
  • Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real about Race in School by Mica Pollock, published in 2008.
  • The Extraordinary Book of Native American Lists, by Arlene Hirshfelder and Paulette F. Molin, published in 2014. 
  • Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature edited by Shelby Anne Wolf, Karen Coats, and Patricia Encisco, published in 2010.
  • The Oxford Handbook of Children's Literature by Julia L. Mickenberg and Lynne Vallone, published in 2011
  • The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature, edited by James H. Cox and Daniel Heath Justice, published in 2014. 
  • Multicultural Literature and Response: Affirming Diverse Voices by Lynn Atkinson Smolen and Ruth A. Oswald, published in 2010.
  • Native North Americans in Literature for Youth by Alice Crosetto and Rajinder Garcha, published in 2013.
  • Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, by Elizabeth Marshall and Ozlem Sensoy, published in 2011.
  • Tribal Fantasies: Native Americans in the European Imaginary, 1900-2010, edited by James Mackay and David Stirrup.

5. Why AICL Matters

Above, Debbie wrote a lot about sovereign nations. And if you've spent any time on the blog prior to reading "About AICL" you've seen that we write a great deal about misrepresentations. We receive a lot of email telling us that we go on about it too much, that there are more important things to worry about. If there was only a handful of books a year that stereotype or misrepresent American Indians, it would be fair to say my work was misdirected. However, old stereotypical and biased books get reprinted again and again, and new ones join them each year.

We believe that these seemingly innocent books actually play a significant role in the lives of Native children. Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, a research psychologist, has conducted studies of the effects of stereotypical images on the self-esteem and self-efficacy of Native students. She's found that these images have a negative impact on Native students.

Research studies on the graduation rates of Native students show that Native students drop out of school at greater rates---and increasingly greater rates---than other population groups. Dr. John Tippeconic and Dr. Susan Faircloth published a study in 2010 in which they state that over the course of their years in school, Native students gradually disengage from school. In their discussion, they suggest this happens because Native students do not see themselves reflected in the school curriculum. More recently, studies have shown that Native youth commit suicide at much higher rates than white students. As we write, many tribes are launching suicide prevention programs. 

Given these studies, we believe the books Native students read in school play a significant role in how Native students fare.  Teachers and librarians have a role to play, too, in the success of Native students. For us--and we hope for you--that means selecting books that accurately portray Native people and our nations. We are not after "perfect" Natives, but we do want stories that portray Native people in the fullness of their humanity, with the range of emotions and actions. 

These books are important for non-Native students, too, because they deserve accurate books, too, no matter who the books are about. And, some of these non-Native students will grow up to be writers, or editors, or reviewers, or librarians, or teachers who write, read, and share children's and young adult literature.

Please share the address to American Indians in Children's Literature with your friends and colleagues. If you've got questions, write to us. Your emails prompt us to read and review books we might not otherwise know about.

6. Disclosure and Privacy Policy

This statement prepared on October 19, 2014.

AMERICAN INDIANS IN CHILDREN'S LITERATURE is a personal blog written and edited by me. I do not accept any form of advertising, sponsorship, or paid insertions. I am not compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. I only recommend books and media that I believe, based on my expertise, are worthy of recommendation. On occasion, I publish items submitted by guests. They are not compensated for their contribution to AICL.

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(1) Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. "Scandal," in Wicazo Sa Review, Spring 2007, page 86.

(2) See "New Cherokee Territory" (segment eight) in We Shall Remain: Trail of Tears.

(3) Sando, Joe S.  (1992) Pueblo Nations: Eight Centuries of Pueblo Indian History. Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishers.