Showing posts sorted by relevance for query What is the time period. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query What is the time period. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jodi Lynn Anderson's TIGER LILY - Part 2

Back in June, I read part of Jodi Lynn Anderson's Tiger Lily. I didn't like what I read and posted my thoughts. The book is now on School Library Journal's "Best of 2012" list, so I got it out of the library and read it today. These are my initial thoughts.


  • The story is set in the time prior to Wendy's arrival at Neverland. 
  • The narrator is Tinker Bell. 
  • There are tribes. They live in these three villages: SkyEaters, Cliff Dwellers, and Bog Dwellers.
  • I don't think Anderson uses the word 'Indian' anywhere in the book. She uses 'tribe' and 'warrior' and 'warriors' and 'shaman.'  

What I don't like:
Here's what stands out to me right now. I've got lots and lots of notes, but as I close the book and set it down, this is what is in my mind.

First concern: the names Anderson created for the Native characters. For years and years, non-Native writers have created outlandish names for their characters. In the process, they intentionally or not, trivialize and mock something that matters to us a great deal. Russell Hoban did it in Soonchild. Jon Scieszka did it in My Oh MayaHere's the names in Tiger Lily:

Pine Sap
Moon Eye
Tik Tok
Magnolia Bud
Aunt Fire
Aunt Sticky Feet
Bat Wing
Silk Whiskers
Red Leaf
Bear Claw

Tik Tok is the name of the village shaman. We don't know what his name was to start with, but once he finds the clock and hears its tick tock, he decides to have a ceremony and change his name to Tik Tok. It makes him seem a foolish and silly person.

Tik Tok finds Tiger Lily under a tiger lily flower and names her after it. Aunt Sticky Feet was named that way because of the time she had walked through hot tar and then got her foot stuck to a chicken that ran into her path.

Some of you may have heard the crass joke about how an Indian is named after the first thing the person bestowing the name sees in the morning, or just at the moment he/she is about to give a name to someone. It is a racist joke, and as such, it isn't funny, and neither are the humorous names authors create for their characters (whether they directly call their characters Indian or not).

Second concern: Tik Tok is a transgender character. He wears purple and raspberry colored dresses. Once I got past the name, I liked him. I liked him a lot. But then, the Englander named Philip moves into the village and turns the people against him. Instead of listening to Tik Tok, they cluster around Philip and stories of his god. In Anderson's story, the villagers are simpletons. Though, by the end of the story, they've rejected Christianity and returned to their own ways, Anderson's characterization of them is troubling. This may be Neverland to her, but to me, she's playing with very painful history in which Indigenous peoples fought very hard to defend their ways of life.

It was very hard for me to read the pages about what happens to Tik Tok. Because of pressure from Philip and the villagers rejection of him in favor of Philip, he decides he cannot live his life as a man who wears dresses and long hair anymore. He lets Philip cut his hair. It was painful to read that part, and I'm not sure that Anderson knows just how that scene will impact Native readers.

Not long after that, Tik Tok commits suicide. That was painful to read, too, though it isn't spelled out as graphically as the hair cutting is. Same thing with Moon Eye's rape. It is not graphically laid out, but there is enough there that it is painful to read.

Reviewers note that Tiger Lily is very dark, but for me, its darkness is one of ignorance--not the ugly racism Anderson seeks to expose--but the exposure of her own ignorance of what certain things in history might mean to a Native reader. As for the naming, I don't know how to characterize it. When I've had time to think about Tiger Lily a bit more, I'll likely write some more, but that's what I've got for now.

Update, Thursday, December 13th, 10:12 AM

Picking up where I left off last night... I have additional concerns.

The tribal people, obviously, had their own language prior to the arrival of the Englanders. But, when the Englanders first arrive (prior to the setting of Tiger Lily), they brought their language with them and gave it as "a gift" (page 10) to the Bog Dwellers, who in turn, gave it to the other tribes. Remember, it is Tinker Bell who is narrating, and it is she who calls English a gift. Maybe Tiger Lily has a different view of English, but we don't know.

Stepping into a broader context, Native peoples in the U.S. who were sent to boarding schools were beaten when they spoke their own language. The result is that Indigenous languages are in decline. In that context, it is callous to see English called "a gift." I assume Anderson needed to insert English into the narrative because Tik Tok and Pine Sap read books written by Englanders. One is Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. On page 64, Pine Sap is reading "Song of myself" aloud to Tiger Lily. Ironically, I imagine that Whitman is one of the poets Native students had to read in the boarding schools. On page 33, Anderson's reference to an old mission tells us she must have some knowledge of missionary activities. Perhaps she views missionaries as benevolent, and that's why she calls English a gift. Anderson is a gifted writer. Couldn't she have figured out a way to problematize English as "a gift"?

On page 84, when Tiger Lily first meets the Lost Boys, Tootles tells her that she has hairy arms, and that girls aren't supposed to have hairy arms. Tiger Lily is embarrassed and thinks about "photos of the English ladies she'd seen, smooth and white, and for a moment, it made her sad." We know Tiger Lily's thoughts because Tinker Bell can hear them. Was Tiger Lily sad that her skin wasn't smooth and white? Later in the book, Wendy's skin is described as "cloudlike with whiteness." Wendy showers Peter and the boys with admiration. They "can't take their eyes off her" (p. 235). In the end, Peter chooses Wendy. We know he chooses Wendy---it is, after all---Barre's story that Anderson is working with. I don't know what to make of all this. It is more complicated than a simple elevation of white over dark skin, but the messages it imparts are troubling.

A few words about the photos... We aren't told where she saw those photos. Are they in books left behind by the missionaries? Leaves of Glass was published in 1855, which is right around the time that it was beginning to be easier to reproduce photographs. I don't know about the dates at which books with photographs in them would be circulating. Course, Tiger Lily is a work of fantasy and we can't really say what time period it is set in, but the reference to Whitman and a later reference to the end of sailing and steamships (in favor of "newer and quicker machines" (p. 279) do give us a time period to work with. She probably was seeing photographs of English ladies, if not in books, then actual photographs.

Do I find anything to like about Tiger Lily? I'm reluctant to say, because I don't want my comments taken out of context to indicate that I recommend the book. I don't recommend it. I find Tiger Lily very troubling, and I find it troubling that reviewers are praising it. Didn't any of them have a niggling of any kind that might suggest it isn't deserving of all that praise? I suppose they like her writing. She is a good writer. I just wish she had not used her art in this book.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Still Not Recommended: THE SECRET PROJECT by Jonah and Jeanette Winter

Some conversations about my review of Jonah and Jeanette Winter's The Secret Project suggest that I didn't say enough, back in March. I'm back, therefore, to say more. Some of what I wrote in March is being interpreted as innuendo and destructive. In saying more, this review is much longer. I anticipate that some who read it will continue with the "nit picking" charge that has already been leveled. 

Some people read my reviews and think I'm being too picky because I focus on seemingly little or insignificant aspect of a book. The things I pointed out in March were not noted in the starred reviews by the major review journals, but the things I pointed out have incensed people who, apparently, fear that my review will persuade the Caldecott Award Committee that The Secret Project does not merit its award. 

In fact, we'll never know if my review is even discussed by the committee. Their deliberations are confidential. The things I point out matter to me, and they should matter to anyone who is committed to accuracy and inclusivity in any children's books--whether they win awards or not. 


The Secret Project, by Jonah and Jeanette Winter, was published in February of 2017 by Simon and Schuster. It is a picture book about the making of the atomic bomb. 

I'm reading and reviewing the book as a Pueblo Indian woman, mother, scholar, and educator who focuses on the ways that Native peoples are depicted in children's and young adult books. 

I spent (and spend) a lot of time in Los Alamos and that area. My tribal nation is Nambé which is located about 30 miles from Los Alamos, which is the setting for The Secret Project. My dad worked in Los Alamos. A sister still does. The first library card I got was from Mesa Public Library. 

Near Los Alamos is Bandelier National Park. It, Chaco Canyon, and Mesa Verde are well known places. There are many sites like them that are less well known. They're all through the southwest. Some are marked, others are not. For a long time, people who wrote about those places said that the Anasazi people lived there, and that they had mysteriously disappeared. Today, what Pueblo people have known for centuries is accepted by others: present-day Pueblo people are descendants of those who once lived there. We didn't disappear. 

What I shared above is what I bring to my reading and review of The Secret Project. Though I'm going to point to several things I see as errors of fact or bias, my greatest concern is the pages about kachina dolls and the depiction of what is now northern New Mexico as a place where "nobody" lived.

"In the beginning"

Here is the first page in The Secret Project:

The words are:  
In the beginning, there was just a peaceful desert mountain landscape, 
The illustration shows a vast and empty space and suggests that pretty much nothing was there. When I see that sort of thing in a children's book, I notice it because it plays into the idea that this continent was big and had plenty of land and resources--for the taking. In fact, it belonged (and some of it still belongs) to Indigenous peoples and our respective Native Nations.

"In the beginning" works for some people. It doesn't work for me because a lot of children's books depict an emptyness that suggests land that is there for the taking, land that wasn't being used in the ways Europeans, and later, US citizens, would use it.

I used the word "erase" in my first review. That word makes a lot of people angry. It implies a deliberate decision to remove something that was there before. Later in the book, Jonah Winter's text refers to Hopi people who had been making kachina dolls "for centuries." His use of "for centuries" tells me that the Winter's knew that the Hopi people pre-date the ranch in Los Alamos. I could say that maybe they didn't know that Pueblo people pre-date the ranch--right there in Los Alamos--and that's why their "in the beginning" worked for them, but a later illustration in the book shows local people, some who could be Pueblo, passing through the security gate.

Ultimately, what the Winter's they knew when they made that page doesn't really matter, because intent does not matter. We have a book, in hand. The impact of the book on readers--Native or not--is what matters.

Back in March, I did an update to my review about a Walking Tour of Los Alamos that shows an Ancestral Pueblo very near Fuller Lodge. Here's a map showing that, and a photo of that site

The building in Jeanette Winter's illustration is meant to be the Big House that scientists moved into when they began work at the Los Alamos site of the Manhattan Project. Here's a juxtaposition of an early photograph and her illustration. Clearly, Jeanette Winter did some research.

In her illustration, the Big House is there, all by itself. In reality, the site didn't look like that in 1943. The school itself was started in 1917 (some sources say that boys started arriving in 1918), but by the time the school was taken over by the US government, there were far more buildings than just that one. Here's a list of them, described at The Atomic Heritage Foundation's website:
The Los Alamos Ranch School comprised 54 buildings: 27 houses, dormitories, and living quarters totaling 46,626 sq. ft., and 27 miscellaneous buildings: a public school, an arts & crafts building, a carpentry shop, a small sawmill, barns, garages, sheds, and an ice house totaling 29,560 sq. ft.
I don't have a precise date for this photograph (below) from the US Department of Energy's The Manhattan Project website. It was taken after the project began. The scope of the project required additional buildings. You see them in the photo, but the photo also shows two of the buildings that were part of the school: the Big House, and Fuller Lodge (for more photos and information see Fuller Lodge). I did not draw those circles or add that text. That is directly from the site.

Here's the second illustration in the book:

The boys who went to the school in 1945 were not from the people whose families lived in that area. An article in the Santa Fe New Mexican says that:
The students came from well-to-do families across the nation, and many went on to Ivy League colleges and prominent careers. Among them were writer Gore Vidal; former Sears, Roebuck and Co. President Arthur Wood; Hudson Motor Co. founder Roy Chapin; Santa Fe Opera founder John Crosby; and John Shedd Reed, president for nearly two decades of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

The change from a school to a laboratory

Turning to the next double page spread, we see the school principal reading a letter from the US government. The man's name was A. J. Connell, and he was the director of the school. The letter (shown here, to the right) was sent to the director on December 7, 1942, saying the boys would have to leave by Feb. 8, 1943. Facing that page in the book is the scene where the boys had been playing games earlier, but now, there's no boys there. They've left behind a ball and a pair of shoes. 

In his review of The Secret Project, Sam Juliano wrote that this take over was "a kind of eminent domain maneuver." It was, and, as Melissa Green said in a comment at Reading While White's discussion of the book,
In her review Debbie Reese observed an elite boy’s school — Los Alamos Ranch School — whose students were “not from the communities of northern New Mexico at that time.” Of course not: local kids wouldn’t have qualified — local kids wouldn’t be “elite”, because they wouldn’t have been white. The very school whose loss is mourned (at least as I can tell from the reviews: I haven’t yet read the book) is a white school built on lands already stolen from the Pueblo people. And the emptiness of the land, otherwise…? It wasn't empty. But even when Natives are there, we white people have a bad habit — often a willful habit — of not seeing them.
Green put her finger on something I've been trying to articulate. The loss of the school is mourned. The illustration invites that response, for sure, and I understand that emotion. Green notes that the land belonged to Pueblo people before it became the school and then the lab ("the lab" is shorthand used by people who are from there). There's no mourning for our loss in this book. Honestly: I don't want anyone to mourn. Instead, I want more people to speak about accuracy in the ways that Native people are depicted or left out of children's books. 

The Atomic Heritage Organization has a timeline, indicating that people began arriving at Los Alamos in March, 1943. On the next double paged spread of The Secret Project, we see cars of scientists arriving at the site. On the facing page, other workers are brought in, to cook, to clean, and to guard. The workers are definitely from the local population. Some people look at that page and use it to argue that I'm wrong to say that the Winter's erased Pueblo people in those first pages, but the "nobody" framework reappears a few pages later.

By the way, the Manhattan Project Voices site has oral histories you can listen to, like the interview with Lydia Martinez from El Rancho, which is a Spanish community next to San Ildefonso Pueblo. 

The next two pages are about the scientists, working, night and day, on the "Gadget." In my review, I am not looking at the science. In his review, Edward Sullivan (I know his name and work from many discussions in children's literature circles) wrote about some problems with the text of The Secret Project. I'm sharing it here, for your convenience:
There was no "real name" for the bomb called the Gadget. "Gadget" was a euphemism for an implosion-type bomb that contained a plutonium core. Like the "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Gadget was officially a Y-1561 device. The text is inaccurate in suggesting work at Site Y involved experimenting with atoms, uranium, or plutonium. The mission of Site Y was to create a bomb that would deliver either a uranium or plutonium core. The plutonium used in Gadget for the Trinity test was manufactured at a massive secret complex in Hanford, Washington. Uranium, used in the Hiroshima bomb, was manufactured at another massive secret complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. There are other factual errors I'm not going to go into here. Winter's audacious ambition to write a picture book story about the first atomic bomb is laudable but there are too many factual errors and omissions here to make this effort anything other than misleading. 

The art of that area...

Turning the page, we next see two outdoor scenes:

The text on those pages is:
Outside the laboratory, nobody knows they are there. Outside, there are just peaceful desert mountains and mesas, cacti, coyotes, prairie dogs. Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, artists are painting beautiful paintings.
In my initial review, I noted the use of "nobody" on that page. Who does "nobody" refer to? I said then, and now, that a lot of people who lived in that area knew the scientists were there. They may not have been able to speak about what the scientists were doing, but they knew they were there. The Winter's use of the word "nobody" fits with a romantic way of thinking about the southwest. Coyotes howling, cactus, prairie dogs, gorgeous scenery--but people were there, too. 

I think the text and illustration on the right are a tribute to Georgia O'Keeffe who lived in Abiquiu. I think Jeanette Winter's illustration is meant to be O'Keeffe, painting Pedernal. That illustration is out of sync, timewise. O'Keeffe painted it in 1941, which is two years prior to when the scientists got started at Los Alamos.  

The next double-paged spread is one that prompted a great deal of discussion at the Reading While White review:

The text reads:
Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, Hopi Indians are carving beautiful dolls out of wood as they have done for centuries. Meanwhile, inside the laboratory, the shadowy figures are getting closer to completing their secret invention.
In my initial review, I said this:
Hopi? That's over 300 miles away in Arizona. Technically, it could be the "faraway" place the Winter's are talking about, but why go all the way there? San Ildefonso Pueblo is 17 miles away from Los Alamos. Why, I wonder, did the Winter's choose Hopi? I wonder, too, what the take-away is for people who read the word "dolls" on that page? On the next page, one of those dolls is shown hovering over the lodge where scientists are working all night. What will readers make of that? 
Reaction to that paragraph is a primary reason I've done this second review. I said very little, which left people to fill in gaps.

Some people read my "why did the Winter's choose Hopi" as a suggestion that the Winter's were dissing Pueblo people by using a Hopi man instead of a Pueblo one. That struck me as an odd thing for that person to say, but I realized that I know something that person doesn't know: The Hopi are Pueblo people, too. They happen to be in the state now called Arizona, but they, and we--in the state now called New Mexico, are similar. In fact, one of the languages spoken at Hopi is the same one spoken at Nambé.

Some people thought I was objecting to the use of the word "dolls" because that's not the right word for them. They pointed to various websites that use that word. That struck me as odd, too, but I see that what I said left a gap that they filled in.

When I looked at that page, I wondered if maybe the Winter's had made a trip to Los Alamos and maybe to Bandelier, and had possibly seen an Artist in Residence who happened to be a Hopi man working on kachina dolls. I was--and am--worried that readers would think kachina dolls are toys. And, I wondered what readers would make of that one on the second page, hovering over the lodge.

What I was asking is: do children and adults who read this book have the knowledge they need to know that kachina dolls are not toys? They have spiritual significance. They're used for teaching purposes. And they're given to children in specific ways. We have some in my family--given to us in ways that I will not disclose. As children, we're taught to protect our ways. The voice of elders saying "don't go tell your teachers what we do" is ever-present in my life. This protection is there because Native peoples have endured outsiders--for centuries--entering our spaces and writing about things they see. Without an understanding of what they see, they misinterpret things.

The facing page, the one that shows a kachina hovering over the lodge, is not in full color. It is a ghost-like rendering of the one on the left:

We might say that the Winter's know that there is a spiritual significance to them, but the Winter's use of them is their use. Here's a series of questions. Some could be answered. My asking of them isn't a quest for answers. The questions are meant to ask people to reflect on them.

  • Would a Hopi person use a kachina that way? 
  • Which kachina is that? On that first page, Jeanette Winter shows several different ones, but what does she know about each one? 
  • What is Jeanette Winter's source? Are those accurate renderings? Or are they her imaginings? 
  • Why did Jeanette Winter use that one, in that ghost-like form, on that second page? Is it trying to tell them to stop? Is it telling them (or us) that it is watching the men because they're doing a bad thing? 
The point is, there's a gap that must be filled in by the reader. How will people fill in that gap? What knowledge will they turn to, or seek out, to fill that gap?

In the long exchange at Reading While White, Sam Juliano said that information about kachina dolls is on Wikipedia and all over the Internet. He obviously thinks information he finds is sufficient, but I disagree. Most of what is on the Internet is by people who are not themselves, Native. We've endured centuries of researchers studying this or that aspect of our lives. They did not know what they were looking at, but wrote about it anyway, from a White perspective. Some of that research led to policies that hurt us. Some of it led to thefts of religious items. Finally, laws were passed to protect us. One is the Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (some good info here), and another is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, passed in 1990. With that as context, I look at that double-paged spread and wonder: how it is going to impact readers?

The two page spread with kachinas looks -- to some people -- like a good couple of pages because they suggest an honoring of Hopi people. However, any "honoring" that lacks substance is just as destructive as derogatory imagery. In fact, that "honoring" sentiment is why this country cannot seem to let go of mascots. People generally understand that derogatory imagery is inappropriate, but cannot seem to understand that romantic imagery is also a problem for the people being depicted, and for the people whose pre-existing views are being affirmed by that romantic image.

Update, Monday Oct 23, 8:00 AM
Conversations going on elsewhere about the kachina dolls insist that Jeanette Winter knows what she is doing, because she has a library of books about kachina dolls, because she's got a collection of them, and because she's had conversations with the people who made them. Unless she says something, we don't know, and in the end, what she knows does not matter. What we have is in the book she produced. In a case like this, it would have been ideal to have some information in the back matter and for some of her sources to have been included in the bibliography. If she talked with someone at the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, it would have been terrific to have a note about that in the back matter, too.

Other conversations suggest that readers would know that kachinas have a religious meaning. Some would, but others do not. Some see them as a craft item that kids can do. There are many how-to pages about making them using items like toilet paper rolls. And, there are pages about what to name the kachina dolls being made. Those pages point to a tremendous lack of understanding and a subsequent trivialization of Native cultures.


One result of these long-standing misrepresentations and exploitations is this: For some time now, Native people have drawn curtains (in reality, and in the abstract) on what we do and what we share. As a scholar in children's literature, I've been adding "curtains" to Rudine Sims Bishop's metaphor of books as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. There are things people do not share with outsiders.

Tribal nations have protocols for researchers who want to do research. Of relevance here is the information at the website for the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. There are books about researchers, like Linda Tuhiwai Smith's Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, now in its 2nd edition.

My point: there are resources out there that can help writers, editors, reviewers, teachers, parents and librarians grow in their understandings of all of this.

The Land of Enchantment

The last page that I want to talk about in some detail is this one:

The text is:
Sometimes the shadowy figures emerge from the shadows, pale and tired and hallow-eyed, and go to the nearby town.
That nearby town is meant to be Santa Fe. See the woman seated on the right, holding a piece of pottery? The style of those two buildings and her presence suggests that they're driving into the plaza. It looks to me like they're on a dirt road. I think the roads into Santa Fe were already paved by then. See the man with the burro? I think that's out of time, too. The Manhattan Project Voices page has a photograph of the 109 E. Palace Avenue from that time period. It was the administrative office where people who were part of the Manhattan Project reported when they arrived in Santa Fe:

You can find other photos like that, too. Having grown up at Nambé, I have an attachment to our homelands. Visitors, past-and-present, have felt its special qualities, too. That’s why so many artists moved there and it is why so many people move there now. I don’t know who first called it “the land of enchantment” but that’s its moniker. Too often, outsiders lose perspective that it is a land where brutal violence took place. What we saw with the development of the bomb is one recent violent moment, but it is preceded by many others. Romanticizing my homeland tends to erase its violent past. The art in The Secret Project gets at the horror of the bomb, but it is marred by the romantic ways that the Winter's depicted Native peoples.

Update, Oct 19, 9:15 AM
Below, in a comment from Sam Juliano, he says that the text of the book does not say that the scientists were going to the plaza in Santa Fe. He is correct. The text does not say that on that page. Here's the next illustration in the book:

That is the plaza. Other than the donkeys, the illustration is accurate. Of course, a donkey could have been there, but it is not likely at that time. If you were on the sidewalk, one of those buildings shown would be the Palace of the Governors. Its "porch" is famous as a place where Native artists sell their work. In the previous illustration, I think Jeanette Winter was depicting one of the artists who sells their work there, at the porch. Here's a present-day photo of Native artists there. (It is, by the way, where I recommend you buy art. Money spent there goes directly to the artist.)  


Some concluding thoughts

The Secret Project got starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, The Horn Book, Booklist, and Kirkus. None of the reviews questioned the Native content or omissions. The latter are harder for most people to see, but I am disappointed that they did not spend time (or write about, if they did) on the pages with the kachina dolls. 

I fully understand why people like this book. I especially understand that, under the current president, many of us fear a nuclear war. This book touches us in an immediate way, because of that sense of doom. But--we cannot let fear boost this book into winning an award that has problems of accuracy, especially when it is a work of nonfiction.

There are people who think I'm trying to destroy this book. As has been pointed out here and elsewhere, it got starred reviews. My review and my "not recommended" tag is not going to destroy this book.

What I've offered here, back in March, and on the Reading While White page is not going to destroy this book. It has likely made the Winter's uncomfortable or angry. It has certainly made others feel angry.

I do not think the Winter's are racist. I do think, however, that there's things they did not know that they do know now. I know for a fact that they have read what I've written. I know it was upsetting to them. That's ok, though. Learning about our own ignorance is unsettling. I have felt discomfort over my own ignorance, many times. In the end, what I do is try to help people see depictions of Native peoples from what is likely to be their non-Native perspective. I want books to be better than they are, now. And I also know that many writers value what I do.

Now, I'm hitting the upload button (at 8:30 AM on Tuesday, October 17th). I hope it is helpful to anyone who is reading the book or considering buying it. I may have typos in what I've written, or passages that don't make sense. Let me know! And of course, if you've got questions or comments, please let me know.


If you've submitted a comment that includes a link to another site and it didn't work after you submitted the comment, I'll insert them here, alphabetically.

Caldecott Medal Contender: The Secret Project
submitted by Sam Juliano, who asked people to see comments, there, about me (note: tks to Ricky for letting me know I had the incorrect link for Sam Juliano's page. It is correct now.)

Guidelines for Respecting Cultural Knowledge (Assembly of Alaska Native Educators, 2000)
submitted by Melissa Green

Indigenous Intellectual Property (Wikipedia)
submitted by Melissa Green

Intellectual Property Rights (Hopi Cultural Preservation Office)
submitted by Melissa Green

Reviewing While White: The Secret Project
submitted by Melissa Green

Monday, June 22, 2009

William O. Steele's THE BUFFALO KNIFE

A reader wrote to ask about William O. Steele's The Buffalo Knife. I have not read the book and prior to her letter, did not know anything about it. I've spent some time looking into it, though, and am sharing my thoughts here.

The book was first published in the 1952. In 1990 it was reissued with an introduction by Jean Fritz. It is an "Odyssey/Harcourt Young Classic." Another one (Flaming Arrows) with that designation was published later (in 1957). In Flaming Arrows, the protagonist and his family, according to the "Product Description" on Amazon, have to take "refuge from vicious Chickamauga raiding parties." Judy Crowder's review in the Children's Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD) references Fritz's note. Crowder writes:

Jean Fritz, in the 1990 forward, explains that when the author--very much a historian--wrote such words as "redskins" or "savages" he was reflecting the language and attitudes of the times, which Steel found as objectionable as modern readers might. However, more subtle mindsets of the mid-twentieth century may rattle the sensibilities of today's young reader. First, the settlers' shooting the raiders as if they were deadly pests instead of human beings is unsettling. Chad himself yearns to "shoot me an Injun," and when he does, his only reaction is that of a job well done and he is disappointed when he is not praised for it. The pioneers also act as if the forests and wild animals were only there to be exploited--again, probably true to the times, but bothersome none the less. Parents and teachers should stand ready to do some careful debriefing when their children/students read this adventure.

Contrast what she said with Frank Quinby's remarks about Fritz's note in his review of The Buffalo Knife. His review is also in the Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. He wrote:

"A useful introduction by Jean Fritz includes an explanation of Steele's use of such terms as "redskins" and "savages" as being reflective of the language of the time period and as such not offensive."

The Horn Book Guide gave both books its "Superior, well above average" rating.

As I studied the entries in CLCD, I saw that the "Subject" field includes "Prejudices Fiction". That subject is not listed for either book in the Library of Congress record for either book. I'll have to look into that later. For now, I want to return to Jean Fritz's note.

According to Crowder and Quinby, her note says that Steele's book reflects language and attitudes of the time period. I wonder which time period Fritz means. Is she talking about 1782, the setting for The Buffalo Knife? Or is she talking about 1952, when the book was published?

And of course, who is Fritz talking about? Who used that language? And, who had those attitudes?

In my experience, that response "that's what they thought back then" is quickly offered whenever someone questions the bias and racism embodied in that language and attitude in children's and young adult literature. My friend and colleague, Jean Mendoza, says it well when she says that surely the Indian people of that time did not use that language about each other, nor did they harbor those attitudes.

I've said that perhaps those who used that language and held such attitudes were like people on Fox News. Many of us have said that not all the white people held those attitudes either. Just some. Not all.

Several years ago, I was at the Bienecke Rare Books Library at Yale, reading some old papers housed there. I read the diary of a soldier, dated 1759-1762. In several places, he refers to Indians they fought, but he didn't say "savage/savages" and he didn't use words like "bloodthirsty." Just the words "Indian" or "Indians." I also read through a document that was a dialogue between several missionaries. Dated in 1795, it is an account of their work with "the Delawares, the 6 Nations, the Mahikands, and some smaller tribes." For the most part, the missionaries used the word Indians. There were a few uses of "heathen" but not many.

On my desk is Volume I of Documents of American Indian Diplomacy: Treaties, Agreements, and Conventions, 1775-1979 by Vine Deloria, Jr., and Raymond J. DeMallie. Chapter 1 is "Pre-Revolutionary War Treaty Making." With clear (jargon free) language, it provides context and information about treaties. In the book, Deloria and DeMallie provide context and documents (speeches and records of negotiations) that are not generally included with printings of the treaties. I pulled the book off my shelf to read some of the documents of the 1700s (time period for The Buffalo Knife), looking to see if, in these documents, I'd find the words "redskins" or "savages."

In chapter one, Deloria and DeMallie begin with the Delaware treaty of 1778.

There was to be a meeting on September 12th, but the Indian representatives of the Six Nations, Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnees, and Ottawas had not yet arrived. The American commissioners sent two people to meet with the Indians, urging them to come to the meeting. The two messengers delivered a message to the Indians. Those American commissioners addressed the Indians as "our Brothers to the Westward."

On October 6th, the Indian delegates arrived for the meeting. In a speech, they were told about the war between the colonists and England. In that speech, delivered by John Walker of Virginia, Walker starts with "Brothers you have no doubt heard of the dispute..." He went on to ask the tribes to remain neutral, and to let the colonists know if/when they learned that other nearby tribes were going to attack the colonists. He asked them, specifically, to stay home with their "Women and Children." He said women and children, not squaws and papooses.

In the next section "Revolutionary War and Articles of Confederation Treaties," Deloria and DeMallie include several speeches. In some of the speeches, the colonist delivering the speech addressed the Indians as "Bretheren, Chiefs ans Warriors of the several Nations here present." The speeches referred to each other's people as people. On July 4, 1775, Major John Connolly refers to past fighting that resulted in death on both sides as "the rash conduct of foolish people instigated by the spirit."

As I continue my research into language use of any given time period, Deloria and DeMallie's book will prove quite useful. I will also look for other documents, perhaps diaries.

What I find interesting is that in the three distinct sets of documents that I have looked at thus far, soldiers, missionaries, and diplomats do not use the sort of language that is commonly seen in historical fiction. At the very least, this is evidence that not all people used that language.

Other notes:

In 1657, John Amos Comenius, writing in Orbis Pictus, used the word Indian.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists the first use of "redskin" as 1699, by S. Smith. His writing is quoted in Helen Evertson Smith's Colonial Days & Ways as Gathered from Family Papers. Published in 1900, you can see it in Google Books. Here's the quote:

Ye firste Meetinge House was solid mayde to withstande ye wicked onslauts of ye Red Skins. Its Foundations was laide in ye feare of ye Lord, but its Walls was truly laide in ye feare of ye Indians, for many & grate was ye Terrors of em. I do mind me y't alle ye able-bodyed Men did work thereat, & ye olde & feeble did watch in turns to espie if any Salvages was in hiding neare & every Man keept his Musket nighe to his hande. I do not myself remember any of ye Attacks mayde by large bodeys of Indians whilst we did remayne in Weathersfield, but did ofttimes hear of em. Several Families wch did live back a ways from ye River was either Murderdt or Captivated in my Boyood & we all did live in constant feare of ye like. My Father ever declardt there were not be so much to feare iff ye Red Skins were treated wich suche mixture of Justice & Authority as they cld understand, but if he was living now he must see that wee can do naught but fight em & that right heavily.

Notice that Smith used three different terms: "Red Skins," "Salvages," and, "Indians."


As I worked on this blog post, a librarian sent me a scan of Fritz's introduction to The Buffalo Knife. Here's the last two paragraphs:

William Steele pilots a plot as deftly as he does a flatboat. And as swiftly. When you are through with these adventures, you will want to turn around and start over so you can take your time and enjoy the scenery.

Mr. Steele not only writes a good story, he writes good history that accurately reflects the feelings, the worries, the dangers of the times. And the language. When he refers to Native Americans as "redskins" or "savages," the reader understands that he finds these terms as objectionable as we do; he is simply recording what his characters would really have said. Only a skilled writer can tell a story that is true to its times and wind up with a truth that speaks to all times.

What does Fritz mean? I think she assumes that readers will notice the terms and object to them, but I wonder if that happens? Evan, who I gather is a teen reader, did not mention it in his review. None of the customer reviews on Amazon mention it. It isn't addressed in Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children's Literature, published in 2002, or in The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling: Year 2001, or in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education.

Do you teach this book? Have you read it? What do you think?

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Twitter Thread on Justina Ireland's DREAD NATION

A blog post with my analysis of the Native content in Justina Ireland's Dread Nation is in process. 

For now, here's a record of the tweets I sent out on Twitter. The first one went out on the morning of April 28 and the last one on the evening of April 29th, 2018. I've inserted tweets from Cynthia Leitich Smith that I think are helpful. (Update on May 2: I'm inserting numbers for each tweet to help with further analysis and conversation, and I'm inserting additional comments for some of the tweets).

1. Last week I finished reading Justina Ireland's DREAD NATION. I found many parts--including the Author's Note--unsettling and alarming. Thursday I got an email from a young woman who had read it and was very upset with the Native content.

2. Because the book is doing so well, she wrote to me because the book's success made her doubt her own reading of it. The young woman is Native. I wrote back to her right away to tell her that my notes look much like hers.

3. One major problem is author using “well meaning” to characterize the creation of the boarding schools.
Update on May 1, 2018: Debra J. and Tanita Davis submitted comments about "well meaning." Both think that Ireland was being sarcastic. In the author's note, the word is not set off in italics or with quotation marks. Either one would convey sarcasm. Maybe that can be done in a next printing of the book. Several Native readers did not catch its sarcasm. I didn't, either.

4. Because the description said "Native and Negro Education Act" I expected a lot of content specific to Native people. There isn't much, overall, and what is there is... not great.
Update on May 2: In 1819, Congress passed the "Indian Civilization Act" which provided funds to Christian missionaries who would establish missions to "civilize" Native people.

5. And some of it is bad. A lot of historical fiction that could and should include Native people but doesn't, is a problem of omission. This is a different kind of problem.

6. For Native people, there's been wave after wave of government efforts to get rid of us. Some were straight up "kill them" and there are the assimilation ones which sought to kill us off as nations of people by killing our identity as Indigenous people.

7. Mission and boarding schools were designed to "civilize" and "Christianize" us. In author's note, Ireland wrote "This exploitative school system became the basis for the fictional combat school system in the alternative historical timeline of Dread Nation."

8. She goes on to say "Because if well-meaning Americans could do such a thing to an already wholly subjugated community in a time of peace, what would they do in a time of desperation?" There's a lot wrong in that sentence.

9. There's the "well meaning" (which I hope you should not be characterized that way, alone); there's the "already wholly subjugated community" (a collapsing of hundreds of Native Nations into a singular group); and there's "a time of peace" (peace, for what nation?)

10. When people make errors in fiction, it is not hard to say "this is an error of fact". Because Dread Nation is an alternative fantasy, it seems like there's a buffer of sorts. An author is in fantasy space, so in theory, anything goes.... but...
Update on May 2: Dread Nation is alternative history. In the tweet directly above this update, I said "alternative fantasy" but meant something more like "fantasy with alternative history."

11. I kept having to read and re-read passages to try to make the logic of what the author was doing, work, in this alternative space. I couldn't do it. It was (and is) a mind warp of some kind for me to be trying so hard to do that.

12. Hmmm.... would I get it if I wasn't an Indigenous woman who knows all this history--not from a history book but from family stories?

13. On page 17 we learn about Congress funding "the Negro and Native Reeducation Act" that created these combat schools. During that time period, people said "Indian". At the boarding schools, students were treated like if they were in the military, but...

14. ... they weren't given training in weapons or fighting. The military character of the schools was uniforms they were forced to wear. At some they were marched here and there. People in the dorms were/are "matrons".

15. Today at the schools, kids talk about this or that student being AWOL. They ran away, a lot, then.

16. On p 33 of Dread Nation: "I [Jane] heard that in Indian Territory they tried to send Natives from the Five Civilized Tribes to combat schools but they quickly figured out what was what and all ran off. The Army was too busy fighting the dead to chase them..."

17. "... so the government gave up and just focused on us Negroes." Knowing the real history, that's a kick in the gut.
Update on May 2: See tweet #47 for info on why I said "kick in the gut". Also relevant to seeing "Five Civilized Tribes" on page 33 are two other facts. That phrase refers to five nations: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole. Make time to watch the Trail of Tears episode in the PBS series, We Shall Remain. Amongst the things you'll learn there, is that some Indigenous people had slaves.

18. Backing up a bit to page 19, that passage abt Miss Preston (she runs the combat school) having had a Sioux lover and that she keeps an eagle feather in his memory... is perplexing. Jane thinks it isn't true. That's good but what does that bit do for the arc of the story?
Update, May 2: Someone asked for detail on what I meant by "that's good." I appreciate the question. The entire passage is this: "There were whispers that Miss Preston had taken a Sioux lover while out west and that she keeps an eagle feather in his memory, but I don't believe any of that." I think Jane is saying she doesn't believe Miss Preston had the Sioux lover. But--the passage is here. If it is going nowhere, it could have been deleted. I wonder if we'll learn in book two that Miss Preston did, in fact, have a Sioux lover?

19. I'd really like input from other readers. I come into this reading from a specific place, and because she's an author who understands far more than most writers do abt power/racism, I'm feeling a bit lost.

20. I'm feeling that way, too, about the Custer part. Getting bit by a zombie used to take days for the person who was bit to become a zombie, but, there's a new strain that the scientists are calling the Custer strain.

21. This new strain makes the person who is bit turn into a zombie much quicker: "It's named after Custer's stunning defeat in Cleveland at the hands of his own infected men, of course."
Update, May 2: In tweets 42-46, I circled back to my question about the Custer passage.

(hitting pause for now; more later).

22. Back and picking up thread. I'll come back to the Custer part later. One thing that lingers in my head, from the start, is who are these dead that rise, in the first place? All the land was/is Indigenous land. The dead that rise when this rising of shamblers (zombies) begins...

23. These dead who are rising from the land... some would be the soldiers who were fighting in the Civil War, and squatters/invaders/settlers... but this land would have thousands of years of Indigenous peoples who died pre 1492.

24. Native people fought in that war, too, by the way. But setting that aside for now, let's talk about Daniel Redfern. He's the only Native character in the story. When Jane first sees him, she notes how he's different from the Indians in the stories she reads.

25. I am glad to see that, for sure. Jane wonders if he went to the boarding school in Pennsylvania. Later (p. 163) Jane asks him what tribe he's from. He says "I doubt you've heard of us, my people don't exactly get featured in the weekly serials."

26. Lenape is his nation. Jane asks him if Redfern is a Lenape name, and "His lips tighten. 'No, it was the name given to me by a teacher at the school I was sent to when I was six." That doesn't quite work.

27. There are many accounts of Native kids being given an English name at the schools. My Hopi grandfather had a Hopi name, but when he went to boarding school they gave him this name: Rex Calvert. The point was to erase Indigenous culture. To 'kill the Indian.'

28. Why would a teacher at the school Redfern went to give him "Redfern" as a name?

29. Did this guy arrive at the school when he was six, with a Lenape name that, when translated into English, became Redfern? Maybe. But it would have taken a lot of work to make that happen. That teacher (or someone else there) would have to know the Lenape language.

30. But remember--these schools, for real, were meant to 'kill the Indian.' Kids, for real, were beaten for speaking their own languages. That changed later, for sure, and it is possible that this was a kind teacher but...

31. ... Daniel says that "They took me from my family, cut my hair, beat me every time they felt like it, and sent me to work for the mayer when I was eighteen." So--my effort to make his name, Redfern, work... fails.

32. There's a thread from yesterday that has bearing on my analysis of any book. In a nutshell, it is that writers aren't writing a textbook and that they want to make things up and have fun.

33. Ethnographic writing in fiction is something that Native writers have said 'no' to for a long time, too. I understand all of that.

34. I don't like ethnographic writing either. It is a fact for most of us in the US that for all our lives (and those of our parents, grandparents, etc), we've read White-centered fact and fiction forever. That's the Center of US publishing.

35. As I sit here and think about sci fi and fantasy and how important the knowledge we bring to a viewing or a reading matters, that scene from Galaxy Question comes to mind... the one where the aliens have been watching TV shows that got beamed into space...

36. ... and they thought all that was real. Remember? The captain said something about Gilligan's Island and the alien said "those poor people." I cracked up. I got it. I knew it was just a show. Our collective knowings made that story work.

37. My primary concern is as an educator who is also Native. We (Native ppls), have borne the brunt of bad, misinformed, well-intentioned, deliberately misleading, politically-biased writing for hundreds of years.

38. What we're striving for, I think, is a point in Knowing, where readers know who Native people are, and can spot the playful or artful worldbuilding that any writer does with a Native nation's people, as that writer's craft at work.
Tweets from Cynthia Leitich Smith, @CynLeitichSmith:
Yes. On a related note, in certain cases, the use of front and/or back matter can be helpful to authors in clarifying our fantastical frameworks. 
E.g., In Feral Curse and Feral Pride (books 2 & 3 of the Feral trilogy), I used the author's note to make clear "the shape-shifter fantasy elements...are not inspired by or drawn from any Native...traditional stories or belief systems." 
I'd suggest considering forward matter for stories in which the fantastic shift is the focal element of the story--to lay it all out from the start (as opposed to my example wherein the concern was more about misconceptions that may have arisen from reading other books).

39. I will stress that there are writers who are trying very hard to do right by marginalized peoples. This is way different than, say--anything that a racist like Custer would write.

40. So, back to say a bit more about the alternative history treatment of Custer in DREAD NATION. To refresh: a new strain of the plague that makes victims turn into zombies faster is named after Custer. The professor who names it that, is racist.

41. He thinks there's something about Negroes and Indians that makes them more resistant to the plague. 42. Here's what he said about naming the new strain: "It's named after Custer's stunning defeat in Cleveland at the hands of his own infected men, of course."

43. I read and re-read that part and couldn't make sense of it, so I asked two people with expertise in literature and history. They both said the same thing: that he's being depicted as such a fool that his own men took him down.

44. I'd really like to hear from other readers on how they interpreted that line about him. In my conversation with the two people I asked how Lakota people might feel about his death being depicted in this way.

45. In fact, he was killed by Lakota and Cheyenne men when he attacked a village. Custer thought he was going to have a victory, but it was the other way around. It was an important victory... it is commemorated, today.

46. There's a video of it here. Go watch it and then imagine how the people in it would feel if they read that line in Dread Nation.

47. Also: I appreciate the person who wrote to me privately to ask why that part about kids running away from boarding school and not being chased by Army was, as I wrote "a kick in the gut."

48. As I noted, Native kids ran away from the schools. More info: many died as they tried to get home. The school administrators called them deserters and tried to find them. As Brenda Child writes in BOARDING SCHOOL SEASONS...

49. ... (I highly rec that bk, by the way; I taught it in AIS 101 courses when I taught at UIUC), rewards were offered to people who would capture the kids who had run away. Railroad workers were asked not to let kids get on the trains.

50. Parents were notified when their child had run away, and then their wait began. Would their child make it home safely? Some Native communities would take the kids in, hiding them from administrators. In BOARDING SCHOOL SEASONS, Brenda Child quotes from docs:

51. "Superintendent Peairs at Haskell [...] complained that the Iowa Indians "harbor the Indian boy runaways and do everything to assist them in avoiding arrest." (Kindle location 1378).

52. So, that's what I meant when I read, in Dread Nation, that the Army chased Negro kids but not Native ones.

53. On page 139, we read that Confederates surrendered and that "President Lincoln would issue the Writ of Concession..." that made slavery illegal. That happened on Jan 1, 1863. But... any time I read Lincoln's name in nonfiction or fiction, I wonder if the writer knows...

54. .. what Lincoln did on December 31, 1862? Do you know that on that day, the largest mass execution in the US took place? Info here:

55. I hope you went over and read that news item about the executions. If you did, you know that history of that time was not a time of peace. Native Nations and the US were at war. There was a lot going on that isn't depicted in DN.

56. No book can "do it all." That's a given. But I will say this: I get tired of the pretty constant erasures of us in historical fiction (and in alternative history). The author of Dread Nation was trying not to do that erasure.

57. And as you likely know, readers love Jane. I see the many reasons why. Because of her, some might say "this book is not for you, Debbie" (so back off). But, I think the author DID want it to work for Native readers, too.

Update on May 12, 2018: Last weekend, Justina Ireland and I exchanged a series of tweets that began when I saw her sharing an article about the outing system in government boarding schools. In short, she incorrectly named the funding for the schools. In the exchange (and through other sources) it became clear to me that the reason her book fails in its representations of Native peoples is because she relied heavily on archival research. The "primary sources" she used are items in government archives--that are heavily biased. Though she lists several books about boarding schools, by Native writers, it seems to me that she did not read them carefully. I am working on a post about that, and the book itself, and noting here to, that I do not recommend Dread Nation.

Friday, January 15, 2016


Earlier this month I received a review copy of Talasi, A Story of Tenderness and Love. Written by Ellen S. Cromwell and illustrated by Desiree Sterbini, it purports to be about a Hopi child. The author is not Native.

Here's some of my notes:

Page 6

Talasi is the little girl's name, which, the author tells us "comes from corn tassel flowers that surround her pueblo home in Arizona."

I think readers are meant to think that her name may be a Hopi name. Let's pause, though, and think about that. The word tassel is an English word. The Hopi have their own language, and likely have a word for tassel. Wouldn't the child's name reflect that word rather than the English one?

As regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know, my grandfather is Hopi. I've been to Hopi. Homes on the mesas aren't surrounded by corn fields. The mesas are, so maybe that is what the author means, but written as-is, it reminds me more of farms in the midwest where homes are surrounded by corn fields.

Page 7

There's an error about materials used to build homes. The text says that "dwellings" (that word, by the way, sounds like an anthropologist, not a storyteller) are made from "adobe stone and clay." That ought to be "dried bricks and adobe clay" as stated in the "About the Hopis" at the end of the book.

We read that the best part of "multi-level living" is that Talasi can climb up and down a ladder. Sounds odd to me... let's think about a child in the midwest living in a two-story house. Is that child likely to say going up and down the stairs is the best thing about living in that multi-level home? I doubt it. Presenting that activity as a favorite thing for Talasi to do sounds very much like an outsider's imaginings of what life is like for a Hopi child. I suppose it is possible, but, not likely.

Page 10

The illustration shows Talasi and her grandmother, who sits in a rocking chair. The wall behind them has a six-paned glass window... which strikes me as an inconsistency. So does Talasi lying on the floor. It reminds me of a modern day house (again, in the Midwest) more than it does a Hopi home at one of the mesas. It also makes me wonder about the time period for this story.

On that page Talasi's grandmother tells her that she's going to move to a new home and that she'll go to a school to learn things that she (the grandmother) can no longer teach her. This foreshadows what is to come: Talasi's grandmother is going to die and upon her death, Talasi and her mom are going to move away to a city.

Page 14-15

On this page we have a double paged spread showing a city with tall buildings and bright lights. I wonder if it is Phoenix? And again I wonder about the time period for the story.

Page 16

Talasi goes to school but feels out of place. The text says that there are things to play with, but "no Katsina dolls to comfort her." Reading that, I hit the pause button. This, again, feels very much like an outsider voice. A "Katsina doll" isn't a plaything in the way that sentence suggests.

Page 18

Talasi brings a Katsina doll into the classroom. She wants to share it, and a story about it. I find that page especially troubling. It makes me wonder if Cromwell and Sterbini submitted this project to the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. The acknowledgements page in the front of the book thanks Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, the archivist at HCPO, for his "generous attention." His name there suggests that he endorsed Cromwell's book, but "generous attention" gives me pause. Given the care with which the HCPO protects Hopi culture from appropriation and misrepresentation, I doubt that HCPO approved what I see on page 18.

That said, the way that Talasi tells that story sounds--again--very much like an adult who is an outsider rather than how a Hopi child would speak.


I have too many concerns about the content of Talasi, A Story of Tenderness and Love. If I hear from any of the people in the Acknowledgements, telling me that they do recommend it, I'll be back to say so.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

More on Indian Costumes at Halloween

In the comments section for "Cowboys and Indians and Tacos and Tequila," a mother who identified herself as a "Caring and Concerned but Decidely UN-PC-Mom" defended her decision to support her daughter's wish to be an Indian at Halloween.

Jean Mendoza, my friend, colleague, and co-author, submitted a reply to Un-PC-Mom. I think these two comments are important and should be read by all (not all visitors to the blog read the comments), so I'm posting both comments here. Directly below is the comment from Un-PC-Mom (her comments were not broken into paragraphs), and below it is Jean's reply to her.

Comment from "Caring and Concerned by Decidely UN-PC-Mom"

OK, I get that you don't want people to be insensitive to the Native American Culture. However, I do believe that children should be allowed to feel what they feel and want to be what they want to be. My daughter wants to be an "Indian." This is interesting because one of her best friends is actually Indian, from India. Different to that, she is fascinated by the Native American Dress and calls it Indian. We, as a family, are not disparaging of any ethnicity and she is immersed in many cultures, living here in New York City. We are middle class people who work hard for a living, and yet we do go to a private school. That school is not for profit and is of a developmental philosophy. We pay far less than the "privelaged class" of NYC, but we consider ourselves lucky to have found our cool school. One thing I find interesting about your blog is that it does not allow that historically, Native American Indians had a certain dress and look, and why is that not OK to observe as a costume? People dress as Marie Antoinette, don't they? People dress as Vampires. The point is, people dress as things that they find intriguing and actually might want to learn more about. I am very sorry if you find it offensive, but honestly, I find it an opportunity to talk organically with my child about what she finds interesting and then that opens the door to what is there academically. She certainly means no offense, being 6, and I, most certainly do not either. In this day and age, when so little is actually taught correctly about native american indians, I find it a great "in" to talk about everything with my daughter. I am sorry if it offends your sensibilities, but then, that is something for you to deal with. At the end of the day, do you want people to be insinserely NOT talking about Native America Indians, or do you want them to learn, by hook or by crook, what is real?

A caring, concerned, but decidedly UN-PC Mom
And here is Jean's reply:

Response to Un-PC-Mom in New York

I appreciate your participating in a conversation that you probably didn’t expect to encounter when trying to find information about Indian “costumes”. I’ve read your post a couple of times & think you may have misread Debbie’s work. I don’t see Debbie saying that supporting children’s mistaken ideas about Native Americans “offends sensibilities”. Instead, she is inviting you and the rest of the world to consider why you would want to continue to support a child’s mistaken ideas about other people – or about anything, for that matter.

You (un-PC Mom) said: historically, Native people had “a certain dress and look”. In fact, you probably know that there were/are HUNDREDS of ways of “dressing and looking”, historically, depending on one’s culture, gender, age & experience, time period, etc. You probably have yet to see a culturally authentic, historically accurate “Indian costume” for kids sold anywhere. The ones available (even the patterns sold for those who sew) are a hodge-podge of Hollywood Indian stereotyping and foolishness.

I’m wondering what resources you and your daughter would use to find information about “Indian” ways of dressing and looking? Without the most accurate resources and careful choices, the result is likely to be a pseudo-historical mélange of styles and inaccuracies that will add to her misinformation about what it means to be Indian, in either the historical or contemporary sense. Even if the costume is 100% authentic/accurate, you still run into the problem of allowing your child to think that "playing Indian" is somehow on a par with pretending to be a vampire or Marie Antoinette, which it isn't.

If your daughter’s wearing an Indian “costume” is “an opportunity to talk organically” with her, which then “opens the door to what is there academically” – where will you look for materials that won’t add to the misinformation she already has? Debbie has suggested Oyate; so do I. A lot of non-Native people are uncomfortable when they look at Oyate for the first time. The perspective is very different from that of the dominant culture. It can be painful to come face-to-face with the fact that much mainstream “knowledge” about indigenous people is actually false, inaccurate, even stupid. Good books by Native people are an excellent antidote for the misinformation that dominates popular culture.

"Mom", you mention that your child’s school is “developmental”. Many schools with that approach also implement an anti-bias approach to diversity. You might want to ask the principal and the teachers whether they use the anti-bias curriculum, and then check out the materials, yourself. One tenet is that it’s educationally and ethically appropriate to proactively support children’s authentic understandings of cultures, groups, and lives other than their own. That means challenging or doing away with activities that keep the misunderstandings alive. Anti-bias curriculum materials are available from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Maybe a question to ask is, “If there were Native children in my daughter’s school, would I be caringly, proudly ‘un-PC’ and let her dress that way for Hallowe’en? Or would I make a point of being sure that she did nothing that reflects my/her ignorance about someone else’s history and culture?”
If the answer is, “That would be something for THEM to deal with; let her dress as she likes” – then what does that show her about how to get along with other people? “Let them eat cake?” “It doesn’t matter what I don’t know, as long as I don’t MEAN to offend?”

I should probably identify myself: I'm white, married to a kind, intelligent and talented tribally enrolled Muscogee Creek man; we have 4 wonderful children and (yay!!) four amazingly wise and beautiful grandchildren. I've known Debbie for about 12 years and am honored to have worked with her from time to time.