Showing posts sorted by relevance for query smelcer. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query smelcer. Sort by date Show all posts

Thursday, June 09, 2016

A Response to John Smelcer's Statements about Me (Debbie Reese)

Back in 2008, I started reading John Smelcer's The Trap. I read only a few pages, and stopped reading, because those opening pages reminded me of my childhood, living with my grandmother. I shared those memories and immediately heard from people in Alaska, that Smelcer is not Native.

At a Native Studies conference a few months later, I learned a lot more about Smelcer's claims to Native identity. As I came to know, the mere mention of his name raises the ire of Native and non-Native scholars who work in Native literatures. People have concerns about his claims to Native identity, and concerns about his writing, too.

Here's one example specific to his writing.

In March of 2016, colleagues in Native literature began posting on social media about two poems by Smelcer, published online at The Kenyon Review. Some wrote to the editor, David Lynn. The two poems were subsequently removed. They were replaced with a statement said that they were being removed because they had already been published elsewhere, which is against the Review's policy. A few days later, that statement was gone. David Lynn had a new one up:
In the Spring issue of KROnline, we published two poems by John Smelcer, “Smoke Signal” and “Indian Blues.” I appreciate the many readers who have contacted us to point out that these poems contained damaging stereotypes of Native people. I deeply regret the manifest distress this has caused and take full responsibility. We will continue to welcome—and to seek actively—Native voices, and those of other underrepresented communities, to all Kenyon Review publications.
Digging in a bit, I learned that those two poems are in Smelcer's Indian Giver. When I looked up that book, I saw that it--like all of Smelcer's other books--had glowing praise from very prominent people. This was something I'd noticed back in 2008. Among the people Smelcer lists as having praised or collaborated with him are John Updike, Carl Sagan, Noam Chomsky, Allen Ginsberg, Chinua Achebe, Ursula K. LeGuin, J.D. Salinger, Lucille Clifton, the Dalai Lama, and Jack Zipes.

In the case of children's literature scholar Jack Zipes, I looked up the item Smelcer says he co-wrote with Zipes. I wrote to Zipes, too, to ask about the co-written item, and it turns out, Zipes answered a series of questions Smelcer sent to him by email. In his presentation of that interview, however, Smelcer puts it forth as a piece of co-writing. On his website, he wrote:
With Jack Zipes, John co-authored "The Story Telling Instinct: Why Fairy Tales Stick
I've interviewed people before for articles but would not characterize the product as a "co-authored" item. Have you seen that done before?

Recently, John Smelcer wrote about me at his website, saying several things that are not true. The document at his site is 23 pages in length. The first 21 pages are his account, going back to 1994, when his identity was first questioned at the University of Alaska. As you'll see, Smelcer offers a great many letters and documents that suggest he is Native by birth. Some of this is new. In the past he has said he is adopted, as Diane Chen of School Library Journal found in 2009. In her review of The Great Death, she wrote:
When I read the author’s website, I learned he listened to the stories of this time and place as told by his adopted grandmother and her sister. 
When I first encountered John Smelcer's work in 2008, the man who adopted him (Charlie Smelcer) told me that Smelcer is not Native by birth. All in all, it is very confusing. Here's the link to the page where he writes about his identity: John Smelcer's Ethnicity & the University of Alaska Anchorage. (Note: I have saved a pdf of the page I saw on June 9th, 2016.)

Here are screen shots of the last two pages of the 23 page document, followed by direct quotes from the screen shots, and my response to them.

Smelcer wrote: "You’d think the attacks would end now, but a woman named Debbie Reese continues to criticize me on the Internet, saying that I have no business writing books about Alaska Natives or Native Americans, not even about my own grandmother, who implored me for years to write my novel, The Great Death, about a pandemic that devastated Native communities all across Alaska nearly a century ago, including my own tribe."

My response to: I have never said that John Smelcer has no business writing books about Alaska Natives or Native Americans, or his grandmother. With this blog post, I ask Smelcer to provide evidence for that statement.

Smelcer wrote: "In her blog, this dishonest woman accused me of “culturally appropriating” the Native words and phrases I used in the novel [The Great Death], purposefully concealing from readers the fact that I speak Ahtna fluently, am the only tribal member who can write in it, and that I published a dictionary of the language in 1998 (foreword by Noam Chomsky), a fact easily checked on my website, which was listed on the back of the book as well as on the audiobook."

My response: I have not reviewed The Great Death at my blog or elsewhere. I did not say Smelcer was "culturally appropriating" the Native words and phrases he used in the novel. I did not purposefully conceal from readers that Smelcer speaks Ahtna fluently, or that he is the only tribal member who can write it, or that he published a dictionary of the language. With this blog post, I ask Smelcer to provide evidence for that statement.

Smelcer wrote: "In April 2016, she posted a review of my poetry book Indian Giver on in which she admitted that she hadn’t seen or read the book yet, but she gave it a one-star rating nonetheless (all other reviews by people who actually read the book gave it five stars). She included in her byline that she’s a member of the American Library Association. I’m certain the ALA doesn’t condone censuring books before they’ve even been read."

My response: In April of 2016, I posted a comment at Amazon, on the page for Smelcer's Indian Giver. The page had incorrect information in the "About the Author" section, that said (note, specifically the text I put in bold):
The Great Death was short-listed for the 2011 William Allen White Award, and nominated for the National Book Award, the BookTrust Prize (England), and the American Library Association’s Award for American Indian YA Literature. 
To submit a comment, Amazon's interface requires that you give the item for which you are commenting a star (or 5 stars). I gave it one star so that I could say: 
Please note an error in the "About the Author" section and the "Awards" section of this page.
The American Library Association does not have an award for American Indian Young Adult Literature.
When I receive a copy of Smelcer's book, I will update this note with a review of the book itself.
Debbie Reese, Member, America Library Association
Below is a screen capture of my comment. As I believe my comment shows, Smelcer is misrepresenting my words.

Smelcer wrote: She even emailed the 22-year-old newspaper story to folks who wrote blurbs for the book encouraging them to retract their praise and to shun me. One of the other deceits she and her friends use often is to say that my writing “perpetuates stereotypes about American Indians” to discourage librarians from ordering my books. Again, she conceals the fact that the books include endorsements by Native American writers, historians, and scholars who praise the contents.

My response: On the Amazon page for Indian Giver, I saw that Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz was being quoted as having said Smelcer is "One of our most brilliant poets." I correspond with her frequently, particularly of late because Jean Mendoza and I will be adapting her Indigenous People's History of the United States for young adult readers. Given my correspondence with her, I could verify that blurb. I asked her about him and I did send the newspaper articles to her. Smelcer says I sent these articles to others who wrote blurbs. With this blog post, I ask Smelcer to provide evidence for what he is saying. 

I wrote to Dr. Dunbar-Ortiz to ask her about it. She told me she had been introduced to him and that he told her he is Native. Later he sent her the draft of Indian Giver. In good faith, she provided him with a blurb that is being used to market that book, but her words are also on the cover of Stealing Indians. She didn't read Stealing Indians. It strikes me as disingenuous for Smelcer to use her words for one book to praise a different one, and his doing that makes me wonder about all the blurbs on all the other books. Are they legitimate? Or is Smelcer dropping the names and words of all those people here and there to give him credibility? For most of them, we can't find out because they're deceased. Dr. Dunbar-Ortiz has written to Smelcer, asking that he not use her words to promote his work. He is ignoring her. She has also written to his publisher, to no avail. I did not encourage Dr. Dunbar-Ortiz to retract her praise or to shun him. 

I have not said Smelcer stereotypes American Indians. In fact, because I found the controversy over his identity so unsettling in 2009, I did not finish The Trap and did not read subsequent books. I am currently reading his latest young adult book, Stealing Indians, and will post a review when I finish writing it. 

Smelcer wrote: "In early 2008, I had a candid telephone conversation with Debbie Reese, offering to provide her many of the documents presented in this article. She told me flatly that “she didn’t care what I sent her, that nothing would change her opinion, and that she planned to destroy me and make sure that no one would ever publish my writing again.”

My response: I have never spoken with John Smelcer, in person or on the telephone. I never said, to anyone, that I was going to destroy John Smelcer and make sure that no one would ever publish his writing again. 

Smelcer wrote: "Friends who have contacted her on my behalf have reported similar responses."

My response: I received a letter from Larry Vienneau much like the one in Smelcer's document, but I did not respond to it.

 I don’t understand her obsession with me. She heartlessly obstructs my sole means of providing for my family and for my daughter’s future. How many emerging Native voices has she silenced over the years? How many deserving books have been disregarded by the industry because of her? There are over 500 tribes in America. In no way does she represent or speak for all Native Americans. She is not even a spokesperson for her own tribe. If you are in the publishing industry—a librarian or magazine or journal editor or a literary prize committee member—please stop empowering this bully.

My response: I am not obsessed with Smelcer. I am a scholar in children's literature. As such, I study children's books about Native peoples. People in the children's literature community know my work, and that I advocate for Native writers. As a critic, I review children's books, drawing from print resources, and from colleagues in Native Studies, too. I do not purport to speak for all Native Americans. I am not a spokesperson for my tribe and never said that I was. Again, I am a scholar in children's literature. I stand by my work, and when my review of Smelcer's Stealing Indians is ready, I will stand by it, too. 

Update, June 10, late afternoon

Yesterday evening on Twitter, John Smelcer tweeted a link to a letter he says was written by Lee Francis, III, saying, "Read what Lee Francis, founder of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers said about bullies like Debbie Reese." Here's a screen capture of that tweet: 

Earlier today, Kimberly Gail Wieser of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, posted the following statement to Wordcraft's page at Facebook. As you will see, she did not name the writer. In asking permission to share it, I said I was going to use his name. She said that was fine.
For more than 20 years, Wordcraft Circle has been supporting the work and words of Native writers and storytellers throughout the world. During that time, Wordcraft has had an open policy regarding Indigenous identity. but we have never served to substantiate nor deny anyone's claims. Yesterday, it came to our attention that a writer was using the name and alleged personal communications of our late founder Dr. Lee Francis III to substantiate claims of identity. Identity is between an individual and any sovereign nation with which he or she claims a relationship. We have also always maintained and continue to maintain a neutral stance in disagreements between writers. We are disheartened by this conflict and all other conflicts like this we have seen in the field. We are greatly disappointed by this use of our late founder's name to substantiate malicious attacks and by the general atmosphere of such disagreements in the field. Writers who engage in this sort of behavior will not find themselves welcome in our organization.
This morning, Smelcer tweeted that "Kirkus and other industry book review leaders say they would never publish a review of my books by Debbie Reese. The jig is up!" Here's a screen capture:

His words suggest that he spoke to them. I asked Roger Sutton at Horn Book and Kiera Parrot at School Library Journal. Neither has spoken to Smelcer. I am waiting to hear from Vicky Smith.

A few minutes ago, Smelcer tweeted "My new book is about love, compassion & mercy. Out of love, I forgive Debbie Reese for bullying me for 10 years:" (followed by a link to the book).

Sounds more like he's using his attacks on me to now promote his new book. The twists and turns of interactions with him are unpredictable.

Update, June 10, early evening

With his permission, I am sharing a response from Lee Francis (son of Lee Francis III):
Good morning friends! In response to John Smelcer's tweet with a letter from my father (which is no longer available online but not due to any discourse on my part), I will make the following points:
1) I find it distressing that John would use a personal communication with my father to justify the fight in which he has chosen to engage Debbie Reese. Many of you knew my father's personal views on Identity Politics but he would never have consented to playing the Straw Man for defensive posturing in a digital media fight.
2) Both myself and others have read the "communication" and doubt the veracity of the document. My father was very precise in his language and would not have made several of the spelling mistakes that are (were) present in the document.
3) My father would not have been a part of any fight which would have turned to name-calling and half truths, especially against a Pueblo woman.
4) Certainly my father took on many battles about identity for many folks (some a part of this group) but his role as the National Director of Wordcraft Circle should not be considered an endorsement of any member's claims on heritage or identity.
5) I know my father had many flaws and certainly some inconsistencies, but using his words to further name calling and attacks is something I find incredibly offensive as his son.

Update, June 11, early morning

Smelcer added his tweet about Kirkus (see screen capture above) to his 23-page document. He added "or any of her friends" to it. He said: "Because of her animosity and inability to be impartial, Kirkus and other book review industry leaders stated in June 2016 that they would never publish a review of my work by Debbie Reese or any of her friends." Here's a screen capture:

In conclusion...

I find this entire saga frustrating. In 2007, when I first received emails telling me Smelcer is not Native, I had a choice to make: (1) Delete that blog post entirely and ignore the voluminous discussions in Native circles about Smelcer's claims, or (2) continue to write about it for the sake of furthering what people know about claims to Native identity? I obviously opted for the latter.

As best as I can figure out, Smelcer was born white, was adopted by Charlie Smelcer who was Ahtna (he is deceased -- today, Jan 3, 2018, I read that Charlie Smelcer is not deceased. I apologize for the error), and due to the Alaska Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, John Smelcer is able to say that he is Native (see this language in the Consent to Appointment as Custodian of an Inter Vivos Gift of Stock for a Minor Child: "I understand that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) defines "Native" as... [...] an adoptee of a Native or of a descendant of a Native whose adoption occurred prior to his or her age of majority").

With that Act, John Smelcer was able to get a document from the Bureau of Indian Affairs that says he is 1/4 Native. Many Native people think it is misleading for him to say he is 1/4 Native because it implies he is Native by birth, when he is not.

I think Smelcer clouds the issue with the numerous documents he puts forth, and he clouds the issue in his latest young adult novel, too. In the Epilogue to Stealing Indians, he writes this about Lucy, one of the characters:
Lucy married white men, three times, her five half-breed children marrying whites as well, until she no longer saw herself or her mother in the faces of her grandchildren or great grand-children, until one day when she was very old, one of her grandsons with light hair and blue eyes--one of the only ones left who could still recite the old myths and speak her old language--would tell her stories... Including this one. 
That tells me that the grandson is Smelcer himself. It is written in a way that tells us he has light hair and blue eyes because his grandmother and her children married white people. It tells us that he is Native, by birth, which isn't true. The opening to the book says that "This story is a work of fiction. Every word is true." I do not know what to do with those two sentences. The first one can be used to dismiss concerns with accuracy, but what are we to make of the second one?

If this entire saga was limited to questions about his identity, I might come to his defense because I believe, as I've said many times on AICL and in lectures, that the sovereignty of Native Nations means that they determine who their citizens or members are. However! There are so many other questions about Smelcer and what he says.

Last night, I noticed that on his webpage about his The Gospel of Simon, due out in September of this year, he includes a blurb from Coretta Scott King, who died in 2006. His Indian Giver has a blurb from Howard Zinn, who died in 2010. Stealing Indians, due out in August, has a blurb from Chinua Achebe, who died in 2013. All these books are published by Leapfrog Press. I would love to see the letters these individuals wrote. I wonder if Leapfrog has copies of them. I'll write and ask.

On his website, Smelcer lists all manner of prizes and distinctions he's received. I would love it if he'd provide links to them. He holds a PhD from Binghamton. That is a research doctorate, which means he knows how to properly cite and reference such things. I wish he would.

Naomi Caldwell, David Ongly and myself (we're all members of the American Indian Library Association; Naomi and David are former presidents of the association) are, in fairness to Smelcer, trying to find support for what he says, but thus far in our research, we are unable to verify much of what he claims. One example:

On his website, Smelcer wrote: "The American Library Association's YALSA named John Smelcer's mountain climbing novel, Savage Mountain, as one of the greatest survival stories of all time, alongside Into Thin Air, Unbroken, Hatchet, and A Perfect Storm. (Statement retrieved from Smelcer’s website on May 19, 2016.)
I found that YALSA’s “The Hub” published Booklist: Survival Stories on September 22, 2015. The opening paragraph is:
For readers looking for action-packed survival stories in real life situations, here’s a selection of fiction and nonfiction about struggles to live through harrowing condition at sea, in the mountains, and in the wilderness.

That paragraph is followed by book reviews. The first one is a review of Roland Smith’s Peak and that review ends with “other books about survival in the mountains” which is a list of four books: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read, Savage Mountain by John E. Smelcer, and Death Mountain by Sherry Shahan. 

There is no text on that page that calls Smelcer’s book "one of the greatest survival stories of all time." It is, I think, a "half truth" of the sort that Lee Francis referred to above in his statement.

Smelcer characterizes me as a cyberbully who has bullied him for 10 years. I understand why he feels that way, but as I noted above, he has a research doctorate. He knows how to cite material. He could clear up all these half-truths that are undermining his credibility if he'd employ what he learned at Binghamton. If he does so, I'll be back to direct AICL's readers to them. 

Note (June 12, 2016): One thing I do when writing my critical analyses is read history and legal writings related to the book/author. Smelcer's legal claim to Native identity led me to an article that I'll be studying: Indian Country and Inherent Tribal Authority: Will They Survive ANCSA? by Professor of Law Marilyn J. Ward Ford, published in 1997 in the Alaska Law Review. Ford provides historical background for the law by which it became possible for Smelcer to own shares in an Alaska Native corporation, and to say, legally, that he is Native.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Who is John Smelcer (author of THE TRAP and THE GREAT DEATH)

John Smelcer, author of The Trap, has a new young adult novel out (The Great Death). Many believe he is a good writer. That may be the case, but, I find his claims to Native identity troubling, for two reasons. First, in schools, students often do author studies. Smelcer's website says he is Native. But, John Smelcer is not a Native person by birth or, and, according to the man who adopted him (Charlie Smelcer), he did not grow up on a reservation or with Native people. Second, in schools, we teach children to be honest. It seems that, if we herald an author who has not been honest with his identity, we are saying one thing (be honest) and doing another (by assigning his books, we say his deceit does not matter).

This particular blog post about John Smelcer is a difficult one to post for several reasons. First, it treads on concerns regarding adoption and identity of an adopted child. That is a body of literature that I have not studied. Second, Native identity is a contentious issue in many ways, with people claiming to be Native for personal or professional gain within a society (America) that does not understand the complex issue of Native identity and claims to Native identity. There are over 500 tribal nations in the U.S. Each one has its own determinations as to who it lists or otherwise recognizes as members or citizens. Last year, I was at a conference in Michigan at which Ojibwe elders spoke about this issue. Among their most powerful statements was that our ancestors fought like hell to defend our nations against Europeans who came here and wanted our land. They fought to protect the land, and their families, elders, grandparents, men, women, and children.  If they had not done that, we would not be here today as sovereign nations. It is in that framework that I offer this post.

December, 2007
I learned of a young adult novel titled The Trap, by John Smelcer, who said he was Ahtna (Native Alaskan). I ordered a copy of the book.

January 27, 2008
I started reading The Trap. The opening pages reminded me of my grandmother's kitchen. I blogged the memory. Upon uploading that blog post, I began hearing from people in Alaska who told me that Smelcer is not Native. The next day, I posted an updated to the Jan 27th entry.

January  29, 2008
I posted another update. In this one, I shared what I'd learned in the Anchorage Daily News. I'm pasting it here, for your reference. In brackets [ ] and bold are comments I'm adding today.

"UAA Finds Professor Isn't Native. University Reviewing Records." It was in the Metro Section of the Final Edition on May 3, 1994, on page 1.

  • Smelcer was hired the previous year by the University of Alaska Anchorage in their effort to increase the ethnic diversity among its faculty. Administrators at the university were under the impression he was Native. [Why did they think he was Native? Because...]
  • In a letter sent to UAA prior to his hire, he said he was "affiliated with Ahtna" and referred to his "Native American Indian heritage." [Ahtna is Ahtna, Inc., which is, quoting from the website, "one of 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations" and is comprised of eight villages, all of which are federally recognized tribes.]
  • The head of Ahtna , a man named Roy Ewan, wrote a letter of recommendation for Smelcer, that said "Ahtna recognizes John Smelcer's tribal membership."
It isn't clear to me yet how or why his identity was challenged. Information about that identity was brought to the attention of the university. Some of that [as reported in the newspaper] is:
  • John Smelcer was adopted by a Native man named Charlie Smelcer, who said "He's a blond, blue-eyed Caucasian just like anyone else is." ["He" is John. Here's a photo from John Smelcer's website. He's older now. The mess at the University of Alaska took place in 1994, or, 15 years ago. ]
  • Ewan said his letter was a mistake. He said "When they told me this guy was Charlie Smelcer's son, I just assumed it was his blood son," Ewan said.
The article said that Smelcer did not believe he had misrepresented himself. This is an excerpt from that portion of the article:
"I was very careful with the dictionary, finding that word 'affiliated,'" he said, "After all, I was an English major." [Very careful? Why? And "after all"??? He seems to, rather boldly, proclaim that he had to be careful with his word choice. Why?]

Smelcer also said he knew his letter would leave the impression that he was an Alaska Native by birth. [He knew the ramifications of presenting his identity the way he did...  That's disingenuous.]  He said he considered himself a Native even though his parents were not. "My entire life has been surrounded by my Alaska Native family," he said.

But in a telephone interview from Juneau, Charlie Smelcer flatly denied that description. The senior Smelcer, a retired Army officer, said that, "in no way, shape or form" was John Smelcer raised in a Native environment.

"He was a middle-class kid who grew up around a military environment, with cars and television and everything else like that," Smelcer said. "If he's used my Native heritage for his personal or professional gain, then that's wrong."
John Smelcer said that nobody at UAA ever asked him "point blank" if he was "a blood Indian." The article concludes with this:
But Smelcer said he did not know whether he would be able to pursue his academic career now. The recent interest in his birth and background had left him feeling confused, he said. "Suddenly, I don't know who I am anymore." [He said he is confused, and it sounds like he was also troubled by this not-knowing who he is. Yet, he continues to identity and mislead his readers. Does he not care that he is confusing and misleading the young people who read his books and think he is Native by birth?]
Additional articles in the Anchorage Daily News indicate that he resigned his position in the middle of the university's investigation--not about his identity--but on "whether he told the truth about having poetry accepted for publication in the New Yorker magazine and other journals," (see "UAA Professor Quits among Credentials Probe," August 3rd). The paper says there was a forged letter in his files from an editor at the New Yorker. Smelcer says he didn't put it there. Other presses Smelcer was going to have poems published in denied that they were going to publish his poems.

January 31, 2008
Charlie Smelcer wrote to me. In short, he verified everything in the newspaper article. On Feb. 3, 2008, I posted his confirmation as an update to the post pasted above.

March 26, 2008
I was away at the Returning the Gift conference where I received a Native Writer's Circle Award for my blog. While there, I got two emails from John Smelcer, asking me to remove what I said about him on my blog. He said he wanted to avoid a libel suit, and that he would mail me documentation showing he is Alaska Native. In the second email, he said that he has never lied about who he is. I did not respond to either email from him.

March 28, 2008
Still at the conference, I got a third email from John Smelcer. He said that, after 1994, he did "everything to 'straighten out' the Native issue." That he corrected the problem to the satisfaction of all. He said, that since 1994, his work has been published in many Native literature anthologies because he was able to "give them all my documents." Again, he asked me to remove what I'd written on my blog. I replied that I had spoken with his Charlie Smelcer and that he had verified everything in the newspaper. John Smelcer did not write to me again.

October 20, 2009
Earlier this year, I learned that John Smelcer has a new book coming out. It is called The Great Death. The November-December "Stars" in Horn Book include The Great Death. As yet, I don't know who reviewed it for Horn Book, but I do know that they review books for literary merit only. It doesn't matter who the author is. In this case, it obviously does not matter that the author is misrepresenting who he is.

So... what IS the story about John Smelcer? How does he happen to have those documents to prove he is enrolled at Ahtna? Charlie Smelcer told me that John tricked Charlies's mother into giving him some shares in Ahtna, Inc. Because of those shares, he has a document that he presents as though it proves he is Native. Charlie has talked with John about misrepresenting who he is, but John continues to mislead people. 

Right now, Smelcer's website says he "John Smelcer is the son of an Alaskan Native father from the Ahtna Tribe of Alaska." and "John's mother is white."

And, in "The Future of Native American Literature: A Conversation with John E. Smelcer," published in MELUS (a journal published by the Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States) in Fall 2002 (Volume 27, Number 3), the interview says "His Tennessee-born mother is part Cherokee and his half-blood Indian father was born and raised in the Copper region of Alaska." (p. 135). So, what IS the story on his mother? Charlie Smelcer told me that his wife (the woman John says is his mother) is not Cherokee and that John is misrepresenting this, too.

John Smelcer has a champion out there who sticks up for him, explaining that there is friction and dysfunction in the family, and that Charlie Smelcer's brother is the one who taught John what he knows about Ahtna traditions, but that brother has yet to speak up himself.

I've got a question for librarians and teachers who work with young adult and high school students. When you ask them to do an author study of John Smelcer, what will you tell them about him? Will you let them believe he is Native by birth? What are you going to say?

Monday, August 14, 2017

John Smelcer's STEALING INDIANS a finalist for the PEN Center USA 2017?

To start, a brief Timeline that I'll add to as additional news articles are published. The timeline starts with the PEN Center USA's announcement that John Smelcer's book is a finalist for its award in the young adult category. Several other articles are in-process and will be added when they are published. Beneath the timeline is background, going back to 2008. 


August 10, 2017

PEN Center USA announced finalists for its 2017 Literary Awards. John Smelcer's Stealing Indians is among the finalists in the young adult category. 

August 11, 11:18 AM, 2017

On social media, people began to talk about his nomination when Marlon James posted the following on Facebook:
If you were at the Wilkes MFA, when I was, then you know full well the living con job that is John Smelcer. This is the man who at our class reading invented a language, claiming that it was an ancient Native American tongue, and he was its last speaker. So a few days ago PEN Center USA (PEN America) nominated his novel "Stealing Indians" in the category of Young Adult. Let's leave the title for another day. This 2016 book has a blurb from Chinua Achebe. Achebe died in 2013. This is the motherfucking fuckery we keep talking about. Why does this alway happen? Why do these people keep making the same stupid mistakes? You werent conned, you were fucking lazy. Seriously, the quotes all over his site from dead people didn't tip you off? The shadiness of his name? You couldn't have done one stinking google search? Nothing? Nothing at all? How can you claim to listen to us, when you keep making the SAME MISTAKES all the time, like the one you made the last 15 times we spoke to you. If this isn't rescinded, I'm done with PEN. Consider my membership over. Real talk.
Kaylie Jones participated in that conversation (more on that below). 

August 11, 12:40 PM, 2017

At its Facebook page, PEN Center USA posted this announcement:
PEN Center USA has become aware of concerns expressed by some within the literary community regarding the nomination of John Smelcer's STEALING INDIANS for the 2017 PEN Center USA Literary Award for YA. Our staff takes these concerns seriously and is investigating them further to determine an appropriate path forward in accordance with our mission to both celebrate literary merit and defend free expression for all.

August 11, 6:25 PM, 2017

Laurie Hertzel of the Star Tribune, published a brief article about the developing story: Marlon James, others join growing backlash against writer claiming American Indian heritage.

August 13, 2:37 PM, 2017

Rosebud Magazine's twitter account posted "Marlon James is wrong. Ahtna is a real language and a real culture. John Smelcer speaks Ahtna, has papers. ANYONE can easily check this out"

Smelcer is an editor at Rosebud Magazine. In his post to Facebook, Marlon did not deny the existence of Ahtna as a language or a culture. His post (see it above) was with respect to Smelcer's claims that he was the last speaker of a language he was presenting at Wilkes. The screen capture below was posted to Smelcer's FB wall at 3:06 PM on August 13:

There was also a second post with a link to an Ahtna 101 video channel, run by "Johnny Savage." Both of those Facebook posts have since been deleted and replaced with this:

August 16, 2017
On her Facebook page, Kaylie Jones posted a statement she provided to PEN USA. It says, in part, 
The James Jones Fellowship submissions are read blind; the judges do not know the identities of the authors who submit. We learned from Smelcer's bio, once the announcement of his win was made, that he was a member of the Alaskan Ahtna Native American tribe. We were, of course, delighted to hear this.
It was not until 2005, when Smelcer was invited to give a reading and participate in the Wilkes University MFA Residency week, that our suspicions about his integrity were brought to the fore. He stated in his bio that he held a PhD from Oxford University. One of our faculty, herself a PhD who had access to an international database of all PhDs granted by universities worldwide, researched his claim and found that Smelcer did not hold a PhD from Oxford. He was immediately dismissed from the Wilkes faculty.
In 2015 the James Jones First Novel Fellowship committee voted unanimously to rescind his 2004 Award. We chose not to pursue legal action, as we simply do not possess the funds to do so.
This entire fiasco is a terrible stain on the reputation and integrity of the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and regardless of the outcome of the PEN Awards controversy, I felt absolutely compelled to take a stand.

August 24, 2017
Writing for The Stranger (a weekly newspaper in Seattle), Rich Smith published Meet John Smelcer: Native American Literature's "Living Con Job." It is a deep dive into many of the claims Smelcer has made. Smith quotes from my posts about Smelcer. I was not interviewed for the article.

August 25, 2017
The Los Angeles Times published Writer's claims to native heritage are questioned after PEN Center USA names his book a finalist, written by Terese Mailhot.

August 29, 2017
On August 28, The Huffington Post published YA Author Accused of Lying About Credentials and his Native Heritage, by Claire Fallon.

Later that same day, Rich Smith at The Stranger wrote about PEN Center USA withdrawing Smelcer's book from consideration for its YA award: John Smelcer's Nomination for a PEN Award Gets Pulled, and More Details about His Past Emerge.

Here's a screen cap I made of PEN's announcement:

August 30, 2017
See Alison Flood article, John Smelcer dropped from YA award amid 'concerns' over integrity, published in The Guardian. 

On its Facebook page, Raven Chronicles writes:
"Raven Chronicles worked with Smelcer in early 90s as our poetry editor for a short time. There became questions about his self-described heritage. These questions and about his adoption still haunt him. The entire matter is sad even given all the awful rationalization posted on his website. In the literary world fakery is only applauded when in a bestseller. Now he is finally getting all the notoriety he has always hungered for."

September 13, 2017
On August 30, Erin Somers, writing for Publishers Marketplace, published "Pen Center USA Withdraws Smelcer's Stealing Indians Amidst Claims of Fraud." It concludes with a statement from LeapfrogPress (Leapfrog published Stealing Indians). I am including the statement below, for those who do not have access to Publishers Marketplace. 
"Leapfrog Press has had no communications from PEN regarding the withdrawal of this nomination, and has no information on the reason for the withdrawal, other than an emphatic statement from PEN that the author's heritage was not in question, and the equally emphatic statement that none of the writers making public accusations are speaking for PEN. Leapfrog has seen no evidence, and no writer or media outlet has been able to provide evidence, to support accusations being made on social and in print. Public charges made, such as that Leapfrog Press was created by this author for his own books, and that the Ahtna language is made-up 'gibberish,' can be debunked so quickly that they call into question all public statements from those individuals. Leapfrog Press does not condone any attack against any writer's ethnicity, or the mocking of Native American languages."

A note from AICL: At some point, Smelcer revised the homepage for his website. Prior to this, it had been a lengthy page of claims Smelcer made about famous people he worked with and edited, and book prizes he was nominated for. That page now consists of a single paragraph that includes none of the previous claims. Several other pages from his site are also gone, including the contact page that had "Johnny Savage" listed as his agent.


And below, some background:

January 27, 2008

I posted a brief note about Smelcer's The Trap. Within a few hours I heard from several people that Smelcer is not Native. I had taken him at his word (that he is Native) and was taken aback to learn that his claims of being Ahtna were not accurate. (Since then, I've written about him several times at my site. I've tried to be as clear as possible but the sheer depth and breadth of Smelcer's claims are, indeed, a rabbit hole. I've spent many hours trying to verify what he says about his collaborations with other writers. Here, you'll find a list of the posts that are the product of that research. 

Feb 1, 2008

Roger Sutton, of Horn Book, posted White man speaks about Smelcer. On Oct 2, 2011, "Larry Vienneau" posted a comment, saying "If you are interested in the truth please visit ___ (the link no longer works). Vienneau is an illustrator who has illustrated for Smelcer's books. On October 11, 2011, "blackfeet 1954" submitted a comment about adoption rights. On October 16, 2011, "blackfeet1954" submitted another comment.  

October 17-18, 2008

I was an invited speaker at the "American Indian Identity in Higher Education" Conference held at Michigan State University. Upon arriving and talking with Native professors there, I asked if anyone knew Smelcer. I learned he was already well-known in Native writer networks as making questionable claims about his identity. Some of the talks were taped and are online. In the video of my talk, I recount that 2007 encounter with the book, my calls to the Ahtna tribal office, a phone call from his father, and Smelcer's emails to me. 

July 24, 2009

Diane Chen reviewed Smelcer's The Great Death. In her post, she recounts the background research she did on Smelcer. On October 17 at 1:03 AM and 1:11 PM, "blackfeet 1954" and "Edward Crowchild" submitted nearly identical comments. 

December 4, 2010

Amy Bowlan posted to her blog at School Library Journal, pointing her readers to the American Indian Identity paper I delivered in 2008. Comments submitted on October 7, 2011 by "Crowfeather" (I am fascinated by your ability to self promote, your seeming endless options, and your belief that you speaks for all native peoples and cultures.)and October 21, 2011 by "E. Crowchild" (Ms Reese likes to think she speaks for many natives, but she really speaks for herself.) sound very much like Smelcer's writings on his Ethnicity page at his website ("In no way does Debbie Reese represent or speak for all Native Americans. She’s not even a spokesperson for her own tribe.")

January 8, 2015

I received an email from Kaylie Jones, daughter of James Jones, for whom a literary award is named. Smelcer had won the James Jones award in 2004 for Trapped. In subsequent phone calls with her, I learned that she wanted to rescind the award and had taken steps to remove his name from the list of people who received the award. Note there is a winner for 2003 and one for 2005. 

Spring, 2016

Native colleagues began talking online about some of Smelcer's poems that were on the Kenyon Review's website. Soon after, the poems were removed. Here's a note from David Lynn, the editor:

June 18, 2016
Therese Mailhot, writing for Indian Country Today, published John Smelcer: Indian by Proxy.

July 24, 2016

AICL's review of Stealing Indians.

August 14, 2017
  • For some time now I have been periodically checking to see if Smelcer has removed or acknowledged errors he's made in "Setting the Record Straight" -- a document he maintains at his website. Towards the end of it, he says many things about me that are not true


Note: Because of the nature of this discussion, AICL will not publish unsigned or anonymous comments. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

John Smelcer's Identity

Since posting this in 2008, I've written additional items about Smelcer. See them here: AICL's posts about John Smelcer


In the update to my post on Sunday about John Smelcer, I said that readers had written to me, saying that Smelcer is not Native. I checked into it and found some deeply troubling articles published in 1994 the Anchorage Daily News.

The upshot? He is not Native.

This situation makes me uncomfortable for many reasons. I dislike exploring the background of an author. It feels icky. But a greater concern is the integrity of the work of Native peoples.

There is a long history by which Native peoples and our cultures are deemed irrelevant, rendered invisible, tokenized, and appropriated. Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, one of our leading scholars in Native studies, writes about this in her books and articles. She says that the thrust of Native studies is to form an educational strategy for the defense of our tribal nations, and the defense of our land and treaty rights. Another scholar, David Wilkins, asks us to consider how our work affects the continued existence of our nations.

My own area of research and writing is centered on children's books. Part of this work means, for me, consideration of the creation of these books. It means doing what I can to guide readers to work with integrity, that is respectful of Native peoples, our histories, our futures.

I will repeat here what I said yesterday. I do not draw hard and fast lines, saying that only Native people can write stories about Native people. Some wonderful books about American Indians have been written by people who are not themselves Native.

This post is going to get over-long and complicated, so I'll return for now to Smelcer.

Here is what I learned from the Anchorage Daily News article called "UAA Finds Professor Isn't Native. University Reviewing Records." It was in the Metro Section of the Final Edition on May 3, 1994, on page 1.

  • He was hired the previous year by the University of Alaska Anchorage in their effort to increase the ethnic diversity among its faculty. Administrators at the university were under the impression he was Native.
  • In a letter sent to UAA prior to his hire, he said he was "affiliated with Ahtna" and referred to his "Native American Indian heritage."
  • The head of Ahtna, a man named Roy Ewan, wrote a letter of recommendation for Smelcer, that said "Ahtna recognizes John Smelcer's tribal membership."
It isn't clear to me yet how or why his identity was challenged. Information about that identity was brought to the attention of the university. Some of that is:
  • He was adopted by a Native man named Charlie Smelcer, who said "He's a blond, blue-eyed Caucasian just like anyone else is."
  • Ewan said his letter was a mistake. He said "When they told me this guy was Charlie Smelcer's son, I just assumed it was his blood son," Ewan said.
The article said that Smelcer did not believe he had misrepresented himself. This is an excerpt from that portion of the article:
"I was very careful with the dictionary, finding that word 'affiliated,'" he said, "After all, I was an English major."

Smelcer also said he knew his letter would leave the impression that he was an Alaska Native by birth. He said he considered himself a Native even though his parents were not. "My entire life has been surrounded by my Alaska Native family," he said.

But in a telephone interview from Juneau, Charlie Smelcer flatly denied that description. The senior Smelcer, a retired Army officer, said that, "in no way, shape or form" was John Smelcer raised in a Native environment.

"He was a middle-class kid who grew up around a military environment, with cars and television and everything else like that," Smelcer said. "If he's used my Native heritage for his personal or professional gain, then that's wrong."
Smelcer said that nobody at UAA ever asked him "point blank" if he was "a blood Indian." The article concludes with this:
But Smelcer said he did not know whether he would be able to pursue his academic career now. The recent interest in his birth and background had left him feeling confused, he said. "Suddenly, I don't know who I am anymore."
Additional articles in the Anchorage Daily News indicate that he resigned his position in the middle of the university's investigation--not about his identity--but on "whether he told the truth about having poetry accepted for publication in the New Yorker magazine and other journals," (see "UAA Professor Quits among Credentials Probe," August 3rd). The paper says there was a forged letter in his files from an editor at the New Yorker. Smelcer says he didn't put it there. Other presses Smelcer was going to have poems published in denied that they were going to publish his poems.

So... That is what I've learned so far.

The politics of identity within Native circles can be vicious and ugly. There's a lot at stake. Writers of Native stories know that the book buying public will be more inclined to buy a book written by a Native author. Claims are made, but not checked. This happens all across the country, in many, many places. Some claims are flat-out fraudulent. Some are misguided. Others are very thin. And some, like Smelcer's, are both tragic and outrageous.

Publishers or reviewers could ask, point blank, "are you...." of authors who claim Native heritage or identity. But they don't ask that of other writers, so, is it appropriate to do so here? These are very complex matters, but they are important, and they require a lot of reading and thinking to understand these complexities.

One good text to read to begin exploring the identity question is Eva Garroutte's Real Indians: Identity and the Survival of Native America.

Update: Sunday, Feb 3. All the information in the Anchorage Daily News has been confirmed as accurate. My inquiries to the Ahtna tribal office were directed to John Smelcer's father, who told me that his comments in the Anchorage paper are accurate.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Not recommended: John Smelcer's KISKA

Published by Leapfrog Press, John Smelcer's Kiska was released in November of 2017.  I'll start by saying I do not recommend Kiska. Back in September when I received an advanced reader copy of Smelcer's book, I tweeted as I read it. Last week, Melissa S. Green sent me an in-depth review of his book. Rather than repeat what she said in her excellent review, I'm going to focus on a couple of things: the seal story and the dramatic character of Smelcer's story.

First, though some background.

My guess is that most people do not know that Native peoples of Alaska were removed from their villages during World War II. In fact, most people don't know much about the Indigenous people of Alaska.

As I began the background research to review Kiska, I wrote to colleagues and writers in Alaska to ask about the internment of the Aleut people. I learned that the preferred name for the people I was asking about is Unangan. One resource I was pointed to is The Alaska Native Reader (2009), edited by Maria Sháa Tláa Williams. Here's a paragraph (I highlighted the end of the last sentence (Kindle Locations 62-66):
The history of Alaska is often told from the perspective of outsiders and those who view the resources of Alaska as amazing treasures to exploit. There are stories of eighteenth-century Russian fur hunters, of the brave miners who came to Alaska in the late nineteenth century to discover gold, of the companies that developed salmon canneries, and, in the twentieth century, of the oil companies that worked together to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, one of the engineering marvels of the twentieth century. These stories are often highlighted and even exalted, yet one must ask what was the impact on the indigenous people.
When I review a children's book, I consider impact. What will the content of a book do to Native children, particularly the children who are of the identity the characters are meant to be. Will it accurately reflect their people, past and present, and their experiences--good and bad? And, what will a book do to non-Native children? Will it give them reliable information about the people who are depicted in the book? The answers to those questions are why I do not recommend Kiska.


Let's start with the description (from Amazon):
Kiska’s home in the Aleutian Islands is a peaceful paradise until Japan invades in 1942. Soon after, a U.S. naval ship arrives to evacuate everyone in her village to an internment camp almost 2,000 miles away—where they are forgotten. Informed by true events, this is the story of a teenage girl who steps up when her people need a hero.
In chapter one, we meet Kiska as a grandmother who is telling her 13-year-old granddaughter what happened to her in 1942 when she was 13 years old. Kiska speaks to her granddaughter in a way that suggests that the granddaughter knows little, if anything, about being Aleut and nothing about 1942. Making the granddaughter ignorant makes it possible for the author (Smelcer) to write for a similarly ignorant audience of readers.

On page 16, for example, Kiska says that their word for kayak is baidarka. We can read that as her attempt to teach her granddaughter their language, but she only uses baidarka that one time. After that, Kiska uses kayak. If part of what Kiska/Smelcer are doing is to teach some Indigenous words using story, it would have been appropriate to use baidarka throughout, rather than revert to kayak.

Update, Nov 12, 6:00 AM--I shared this review on Facebook. There, I received an immediate comment that baidarka is a Russian word. That individual is correct. The Unangan word for kayak is iqyax. I consulted several sources, including Smelcer's Alutiiq Dictionary, published in 2011. On page 44, he writes that "the word baidarka is of Russian origin, while the Unangan (Aleut) word is Igyax." Why did Smelcer's character say baidarka is the Aleut word? He clearly knows otherwise. 

Right away in chapter one, the story moves from Kiska-the-grandma to Kiska-the-teen. There's one point where Kiska's uncle is skinning a seal. She pleads excitedly with him to tell her, again, "the story of the first seals" (p. 18). In his story, a beautiful young girl is of age to marry. Many of the men in the village want to marry her. One night a man goes into her room and "forced himself on her" (p. 18). Because it is dark, she doesn't know who it is. This happens several nights in a row. One night, she decides to scratch his face so she'll see, in the morning, who it is. It turns out to be her brother. "In her great shame" (p. 19) she throws herself in the sea and is transformed into the first female seal. Her brother, either because he loved her so much or because he was ashamed of himself, also jumps off the cliff and is transformed into the first male seal. "All seals thereafter came from the two of them" (p. 19).

Generally speaking, when Native people tell stories to children and teens, there is a purpose or context for the particular story they choose to tell. Native writers who incorporate Native stories into their books usually have a context for a character to tell that particular story. I read through these pages in Kiska several times and can't figure out why Kiska's uncle would have chosen to tell that story to her in the first place, and then why Kiska would ask for it again when her uncle is skinning a seal. It strikes me as an unusual story. It is about rape and incest, and the outcome of is the creation of all seals. Having seals is a good. But I don't understand how a good is the outcome of rape and incest. It doesn't make sense to me. What will readers come away with? I don't know. I do wonder, though, about the backstory for Kiska's uncle telling that particular story? What was he trying to teach her, and why?

In fact, Kiska wonders about that story, too. After her uncle tells her the story, Kiska thinks about how she's always been uncomfortable with the ending because it "seemed to me that the wicked brother got his desire to be with his sister." She'd heard another version, where the brother and sister become the first sea otters. What, she wonders, "was to be learned from such stories? That life is unfair? Our stories weren't like the fairy tales I heard at school with their tidy, happy endings" (p. 21).

True enough, Native stories aren't like English ones. They've often been misinterpreted by outsiders. As someone who says he's gathered stories from elders, it seems to me that Smelcer would take care in using them, especially when he's telling them (through his characters) to an audience that isn't Unangan.

Curious to see what I might learn about Aleut stories--and this one in particular--I started looking for it. In other tellings, the story is about sea otters who, once transformed, swim away from each other. Unangam Ungiikangin kayux Tunusangin • Unangam Uniikangis ama Tunuzangis • Aleut Tales and Narratives, has stories collected by Waldemar Jochelson in 1909 and 1910. Edited by Knut Bergsland and Moses L. Dirks, it was published in 1990 by the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Story #42 is "Aatluung." Story #58 is similar. There's a brief note that the stories are similar to others meant to teach that incest is unacceptable.

In #42, Aatluung's sister is having her menstrual period alone in a separate house. When darkness came, a man would go in her house and "play with her [sexually]" (p. 325). Trying to figure out who he might be, she tore his parka one night and the next day, learned that the only person with a torn parka was her brother, Aatluung. That night, after the man played with her and was leaving, she thrust her knife in him from behind. The next morning, she heard weeping and learned that people were weeping for her brother, who was dead. She bathed, put on her parka, cut it open in front, and went over to where her brother was lying. "Get up to see the two [vulva] that prevented you from sleeping!" When she said that, his foot moved. She said it again and he got up, took hold of her and went out, to the shore. Their mother, crying, followed them but before she could reach them, they were in the sea. The brother became a male sea otter and dove toward east. The sister became a female sea otter and dove towards west. Their mother died, right there. There is no mention that these otters are the first sea otters.

The story the uncle tells in Kiska is the same one Smelcer shared on the website for the Missouri Folklore Society. There, he says he collected it in 1987 but doesn't give any details there as to what the story means.

So... I come back to Smelcer's reason for having it in chapter one of Kiska. Was it initially told to her because of her brother, Peter, who is a bit older than she is? Was she told that story to warn her not to let him have sex with her? I suppose that is possible but there's nothing in the story that even hints at that concern on anyone's part. Without any context, it seems odd to include it.

When chapter one ends, the Japanese have bombed Dutch Harbor Naval Base in Alaska.

In chapter two, a ship with an American flag anchors offshore. Three smaller boats are lowered, men climb into them and head for Kiska's village. Most everyone runs down to the beach to greet them. On shore, the men climb out. Some have rifles. One says that everyone must gather to hear what he has to say. Boys run up to the village to spread the word, and within a few minutes, everyone is at the beach. The man pulls a piece of paper from his pocket and reads aloud from it. Here's the first part (p. 28):
By order of the Secretary of the United States War Department and by the Secretary of the Interior...   
I tried to find this order in government archives and books, but have not yet found it. Writers have a lot of flexibility in fiction but I think items presented as official documents must be accurate. Classroom teachers assign historical fiction in their classrooms, especially when studying history, and they assume that what an author includes is accurate. Here's the next part:
... you are hereby ordered to abandon your village immediately and to be relocated to a safer location where you will be interned for the duration of the war against the Japanese. Such orders are in the interest and security of the nation and for your own protection.
If I ever find that order, I'll be back to say so. Melissa Green didn't find it either. See "Official proclamation" in her review. After reading that order (p. 28):
The officer told us that we were to leave immediately, at that very minute with only what we had on. No one was permitted to go home to collect clothes or pots and pans, or to close house doors or windows. No one was allowed to leave the beach.He ordered us to board the three boats immediately, to be transferred to the gray ship anchored a couple hundred yards offshore. When some families disregarded the orders and started up the path to their homes, two soldiers ran in front of them and aimed their rifles at them.
Pretty frightening, but, I don't think it is an accurate telling of what happened. I found several resources (including a documentary, Aleut Story) about the evacuations. At some islands, people were given less than 24 hours to prepare, but they were able to pack one bag. All on its own--being forced to select what you'd put in one bag and preparing to move in less than 24 hours--is a horrible experience. Why did Smelcer make it worse than it was?

He does that, again, later when Kiska is on the ship and meets other Aleuts who tell her that the soldiers burned their villages and shot their pets. Hearing gunfire, Kiska runs to a window (they're in the hold of the ship, so she looks out through a small window) and sees soldiers walking through her village, shooting at dogs and cats (p. 31-32):
I saw my dog running up the path to the cliffs above our village, trying to escape. A soldier ran after him, shooting at him and missing him several times. Rocks and dirt flew up where the bullets struck too high or too low. But finally, the soldier knelt and aimed right and killed my dog. I can still see him rolling and rolling down the hill and lying in a clump of grass.
Horrific, right? But not true either. Many villages were pillaged by American military personnel--after the people were gone. One village was burned, and in one village, the cows were shot, but so far I've not seen anything about pets being shot. The soldiers tell the Aleuts that they'll be gone for a very long time, and that's why they are killing the pets. (For more details, see "Burning villages" in Melissa Green's review.)

The story that Smelcer tells in Kiska suggests a government that carried out a methodical and even diabolical removal. That, however, is not accurate either. According to the report Personal Justice Denied, "there was a large failure of administration and planning" (p. 318) for the removals. The ship Kiska is on, he tells us, is the Delarof. That, too, is an error. The Delarof evacuated people from St. Paul and St. George, but not from the Aleutian Islands. (See "Delarof didn't carry all evacuees" in Melissa Green's review.)

In the remaining chapters, there is considerable overlap in what I would include and what Melissa Green included. Rather than repeat what she said, I recommend you read her review in its entirety. I'll turn, now, to the discussion questions at the back of the book.

Many of you know that some teachers use children's and young adult books in classrooms with the intent of supplementing material in a textbook. Some publishers ask their writers to develop a list of discussion questions for the book. Those questions will help a teacher use the book--but I think this part of Smelcer's book falls short, too. This is especially true for the questions that are based on inaccurate events in the story. Here's a set of questions for chapter two:
Did the soldiers have to burn the villages and kill all the cats and dogs? Couldn't they have at least waited until the villagers couldn't see it? The colonel told them this was "for their own good." What do you think about that?
In answering them, children have to accept the story as true. What happens, however, if the child reading the book is Unangan and knows that what Smelcer wrote isn't accurate? How does the child answer that question?

Stepping beyond classroom use of books, it is important to know that some basal reading companies use literature in their packaged materials. If Kiska were used, its errors would then be presented as fact in materials teachers use in the classroom. If that were to happen to Kiska, kids who know the truth would be in a dilemma. They'd have to choose between answering a question with an answer they know is wrong, or answering it with what they know to be true--and then be in an awkward situation with their teacher.

Because literature is used to teach, it is vitally important that historical fiction about little-known events be accurate. The questions for other chapters of Kiska have similar problems. The answers are based on what readers are to believe is accurate information in the chapters.

As long-term readers of AICL know, I've written quite a lot about the ways that the US government and its actions have been harmful to the well-being of Native Nations. In my review of Smelcer's book, I'm in the odd position of defending the government against Smelcer's inaccurate telling of this history.

In short: I do not recommend Kiska, by John Smelcer. Published in 2017 by Leapfrog Press, I think they made an error in judgement.