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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Michael Hicks and Curtis Acosta on the Daily Show with John Stewart

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]


Last night, The Daily Show with John Stewart aired a segment on the shut down of Mexican American Studies classes in the Tucson Unified School District. Most of it was an interview of TUSD school board member, Michael Hicks.

I wonder if Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal or Arizona's Attorney General, Tom Horne watched it? Or Mark Stegeman, the president of TUSD's governing board?

Thanks to The Daily Show, millions of people saw Michael Hicks embarrass the district and the state, too.

Citizens of Tucson: It is not in your best interest to have Hicks on the school board. I think you should sign the petitions to have him recalled. Learn more about Hicks from TUSD's Hicks Recall Effort Begins Sunday. and from David Safier's blog post, Michael Hicks' letter to UA Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Below is my transcript of the Daily Show segment. Beneath it is a response from Michael Hicks. Beneath his response is a post to Mark Stegeman's Facebook wall. As more responses appear, I'll add them.


Stewart introduces segment on Mexican American Studies:

John Stewart (Daily Show): Your children’s education…  Nothing is more important! You want them to learn enough to do well in the world, but not so much that they can win arguments with you.

But, what are they really learning in school? Al Madrigal followed this eye-opening story.


Madrigal introduces the law:

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): Across the country public education is failing, but in Arizona, lawmakers have found a solution to the biggest problem facing their schools.

CNN TV news: Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer just approved a bill banning ethnic studies classes in public schools.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): And using this new law, the Tucson School Board banned the K-12 Mexican American Studies program. School board member, Michael Hicks:


Madrigal’s interview of Michael Hicks:

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): My concern was a lot of the radical ideas they were teaching in these classes, telling these kids, that this is their land, the whites took it over and the only way to get out from beneath the gringo, which is the white man, is by blood shed.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): When you sat in on these classes, what types of...

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): I chose not to go to any of their classes. Why even go? Why even go? I based my thoughts on hearsay from others so I based it off of those.


Madrigal's set up for interview of Curtis Acosta:

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): With powerful evidence like hearsay, the Tucson School Board ended the program, protecting kids from dangerous teachers like Curtis Acosta. 


Cut to Madrigal’s interview of Curtis Acosta:

Curtis Acosta (TUSD teacher): Our students are much more likely to graduate, to go to college… Their test scores have improved, and most of all, they’re excited about education so they can pursue it in their future lives.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): And you do that by teaching them to hate white people?

Curtis Acosta (TUSD Teacher): We don’t teach them to hate white people. What we’re trying to do is provide a more complex version of what has happened in our past so that our students are engaged and they can ask themselves critical questions and build their own understanding.


Madrigal's set up for interview of Michael Hicks:

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): Critical thinking? More like critical brainwashing, and it gets worse.


Cut to Madrigal’s interview of Michael Hicks:

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): They would, every week, go out and buy burritos and feed these kids.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): What?!

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): Yeah! What that does is that it builds a, more of a bond, between the teacher and students.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): Sure… “I’m loyal to this guy because he bought me a burrito.”

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): Right. Right. Right.


Cut to Madrigal’s interview of Curtis Acosta:

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): You slip your burritos to kids, don’t you?

Curtis Acosta (TUSD teacher): Why would giving food to our youths be frowned upon?

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): When the program goes away, the burritos go away. That’s why these kids are upset. No mas burritos.

Curtis Acosta (TUSD teacher): That’s pretty offensive.


Madrigal's set up for interview of Michael Hicks:

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): And now that they’ve eradicated Mexican American Studies from the schools, they can focus on other ethnicities.


Cut to Madrigal’s interview of Michael Hicks:
 
Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): Honestly, this law won’t be applied to any other of our courses. It was strictly written for one course, which is the Mexican American Studies program, and nobody has complained about any of the other, pan Asian, or any of the other courses that are being taught.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): What about African American Studies?

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): The African American Studies program is still there. It’s not teaching the resentment of a race or class of people.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): I’m a black kid. Try to teach me about slavery without me feeling resentment towards white people.

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): How am I going to teach you about slavery… Slavery was…

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): How did I end up here?

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): Slavery was… I gotta think on that… Ok. The white man did bring over the, uh, Africans...

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): What kind of jobs did we do?

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): The jobs that you guys did was basically slavery jobs.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): So after we were freed we got to vote?

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): Yes! Well, you didn’t get to vote until later.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): And we were equal?

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): Almost equal.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): What? We were sort of like half? Or three-fifths?

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): My personal perception of it? I would say you were probably a quarter.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): The more he taught me about Black history, the more I realized that Arizona has figured out the right way to teach it.

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): We now have a Black man as a president. You know, Rosa Clark did not take out a gun and go onto a bus and hold up everybody…

Madrigal's set up for interview of Curtis Acosta:

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): Sadly, the peaceful lessons of Rosa Clark are lost on the radical reactionaries teaching Mexican American Studies.


Cut to Madrigal’s interview of Curtis Acosta:

Curtis Acosta (TUSD teacher): I think this is a great country. In some countries, I might actually be locked up for teaching the way I have, and, well, in this country, I’m just banned from doing it.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): You’re very close to getting locked up…


Madrigal's set up for interview of Michael Hicks:

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): Until then, Arizona’s children can count on professional educators like Michael Hicks to protect them.  


Cut to Madrigal’s interview of Michael Hicks

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): Do you think it will be ok for the school district to have a Mexican American Studies program when the district is 100% Latino?

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): No.

Al Madrigal (Daily Show): But at that point, there would be no white people left.

Michael Hicks (TUSD school board member): Well, if there’s no more white people in the world, then, ok, you can do what you want.


Cut away from interview, closing comment from Madrigal:

Al Madrigal (The Daily Show): Oh, don’t worry, Mr. Hicks. We will. We will. 

-----------------END OF TRANSCRIPT-----------------


Michael Hicks responded to the segment, saying (the quote appears on Wenona Benally Baldenegro's page on Facebook. She is running for Congress, and if elected, will be the first American Indian woman in Congress. She is Navajo. For background, read the Navajo Times story on her.):

As you know (and I know now) the Daily Show is a satirical news show and thus does not always represent the true remarks their guest make. I went on this show to talk about the Mexican American Studies (MAS) classes. What I believed to be would be a true interview ended up being nothing of the sort. It is unfortunate that the Daily show opted to amuse rather then inform.

On his Facebook page, Mark Stegeman, president of the school district's governing board, is getting criticism about his support of Hicks. Curtis Dutiel (I don't know who he is) wrote:
Wow, Hicks made an even bigger ass of himself. Didn't think it possible.

Based on the reasoning that Hicks presented on The Daily Show tonight, I have no friggin clue why you voted with him Mark and Miguel, but you two have got to seriously re-think your support for Hicks and his actions.
I'll add more responses as I see them. 

Updates, 9:25 PM CST, April 3rd, 2012:
Latino Rebels reports on a response from TUSD Spokesperson, Cara Rene:
Michael Hicks is a publicly-elected official and was speaking as an individual. His comments do not represent the TUSD governing board or the school district.
If you want further comments, you will need to seek them from Mr. Hicks.
The Three Sonorans reports that earlier today, Sean Arce received notice that his contract with TUSD will not be renewed.  Yesterday, the Zinn Education Project named Arce as the recipient of one of its 2012 Myles Horton Education Award.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Kara Stewart's Letter to Agents and Editors

Over the weekend, Kara Stewart posted her Dear Agents and Editors letter. It consists of a series of questions that agents and editors can use to evaluate American Indian content. Kara was amongst those interviewed for the Educators Roundtable at We Need Diverse Books (I just realized there's no date stamp on that post. I believe it went up in mid-December of 2016).

A couple of weeks ago, she wrote to me about an idea she had about creating a guide for agents and editors in kidlit... a guide that can help them--and the authors they work with--recognize problems with the ways in which writers claim native ancestry, and/or create content about Native people or characters or places. I think it is a great idea! Kara's idea evolved into a document that is now up at her site.

Kara created it with two writers in mind. Each part has a list of questions an agent or editor can pose. For each question, there is a "cheat sheet" of how a writer might respond, and how the agent or editor can interpret that response and, perhaps, push further.

First is the writer who tells their agent and editor that they are Native. Across the US and Canada, there are many people who believe they have Native ancestry. This is put forth as "I'm part Native American" when they participate in discussions about issues specific to Native people. Some writers use that phrase, too, when submitting a manuscript to their agent or editor. It is a fraught claim. Many people think it is racist to ask someone to say more about that, but, that concern points to the depth of ignorance about who Native peoples are. The first part of Kara's guide is designed to help people understand that we're nations of people, and to help them understand how to ask writers about their clams to Native identity.

Second is the writer who has Native content in their manuscript. That part of the guide is designed to help agents and editors push the writer to think more deeply about why they're including Native content.

It concludes with a list of resources. Take time to read Kara's post! Send it to writers, agents, and editors! She's titled it Questions Agents and Editors Can Use to Evaluate American Indian Content.  If you have questions or comments about it, you can post them at her site. I see this as a document that can--and will evolve--with your input.


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Dear _____: I got your letter about Thanksgiving

Today's blog post has an unusual title. It is my effort to reply, in one response, to the range of queries I get by email. These are emails that give me hope. They embody a growing understanding that Thanksgiving, as observed in the U.S., is fraught with problems.

Those problems range from the stereotyping of Native peoples to the pretense that peoples in conflict had a merry sit-down dinner.

Some emails are from parents who are dismayed when they visit their library and see children's books filled with those stereotypes and pretenses. These parents want their children to learn the truth. So they turn to the library for help.

Some parents tell me that, in a previous year, they had talked with librarians about the problems in the books. These parents felt hopeful that the librarians understood and would provide different kinds of programming and displays this year but that doesn't happen. Others tell me that the librarian interprets their questions as efforts to censor books. Some get lectured about censorship.

The thrust of the emails is this: what can I do?

Those of you who are writing to me have already taken the first step, which is to know there's a problem. Others have to know that, too. In order for changes to happen, more people have to understand what you already know. There is a problem. So, talking with friends and colleagues about it is a second step. Some of you already do that, which is great. Keep talking! And use social media! Though there are valid concerns about the merits of social media, I think it is why so many towns, cities, universities, schools, and states have instituted Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day.

With that in mind, I'm sharing a terrific resource that is available, online, at no cost.

Titled "Origin Narrative: Thanksgiving," it is a free teacher's guide to be used by people who have bought a copy of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People but I think people can use it without the book.

A brief note: In 2014, Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States was released by Beacon Press. Teachers asked for a version that they could use with teens. Beacon asked if I would do it; I invited my friend and colleague, Dr. Jean Mendoza, to do it with me, and it was released in 2019, with "For Young People" as part of its title.

Here's a screen capture of the lesson plan. To download it, go to Beacon's website where you can see the webpage of it and the link to download a pdf. You can ask your library to get the book, and if you have the option, see if you can schedule one of the library's meeting rooms to have a conversation with others about the holiday.





I welcome other thoughts. What strategies have you used that seemed to help?

****

Ah! Meant to include a bit more. Some people write to me asking for Thanksgiving books that I recommend they use with children. My impulse is to offer some suggestions, but I am also trying to remind them and myself that the question is, in essence, one that centers the holiday itself. It seems to recognize that stereotyped and erroneous storylines are not ok, but it still wants Native peoples at that table.

Instead of providing a list of books that can be used for this week, I am asking that you use books by Native writers, all year long. Don't limit our existence to this holiday.


In the Best Books page here at AICL, you'll find lists that I create, and links to the pages about the Youth Literature Awards, given by the American Indian Library Association. I've also written several articles that are available online. Some are about books I recommend, and some are ones that invite you to think critically about books. Here's the links. They work right now but journals don't keep articles available this way, long term. You might have to ask your librarian for the article if a link no longer works.



Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Review of Jameson's Zoe and the Fawn


Zoe and the Fawn (2006). By Catherine Jameson, illustrated by Julie Flett. Penticton, BC, Canada: Theytus Books.




Little Zoe and her dad are feeding their horses when Zoe is captivated by a fawn lying under an aspen tree nearby. Dad takes a picture. Zoe wonders where the fawn’s mother is, and Dad suggests they look for her. They walk through the spring landscape, spotting a series of creatures that Zoe suspects could be the fawn’s mother: a flicker, a rabbit, and a rainbow trout. No, Dad tells her each time, that is not the fawn’s mother. Finally, they turn around and head back. Again they see the flicker, the rabbit, and the trout, and this time Zoe is the one asserting, “That is not the fawn’s mother.” When they arrive back at the aspen tree, there is the fawn – with its mother. Dad snaps another picture. The horses are glad to see Zoe and her dad.

Jameson tells the story of this Okanagan father and daughter with relatively simple English vocabulary, with some repetitive phrases that invite children’s participation during read-alouds. She also incorporates the Okanagan (Syilx) animal names in parentheses.

Utter ignorance of how to pronounce those words sent me to the Okanagan Nation Web site. (There's no pronunciation guide in Jameson's book.) There I learned that the language is nsyilxcən, and that in July 2018, the Okanagan Nation general assembly adopted the Syilx Okanagan Language Declaration expressing the people’s commitment to the “protection, revitalization and advancement” of their language. There’s something both loving and powerful in that declaration. I was grateful that the info about it included comments from some of the Okanagan leaders who were present. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip: “This is an international standard of nationhood. Forty-five years ago, the majority of our people were fluent, sadly that’s not the case anymore. This Declaration is a public expression of intent to stay together. This Declaration contains our laws on how we care take our culture and everything that represents. Without the language it’s impossible to undertake these tasks. It’s at the core of our being, there’s no question.” And Chief Byron Louis stated that the Declaration was “the most significant document I have ever signed.”

Wow.

So – those animal names Catherine Jameson uses in Zoe and the Fawn back in 2006 have important context. They hint at a language preservation effort that was surely underway back then, and that has lasted, as the Okanagan Nation language Web site suggests, “a long time”. I went to the Web site looking for a pronunciation guide and found a people’s commitment to their language and all that it has meant and can mean to them.

Though my wish to be able to say the words in Jameson’s book is important to my non-Okanagan self, my pronunciation/ambition is not what will preserve the language. In fact, it’s beside the point. Those words are there for the Okanagan parents, elders, teachers, and children who use the book. And I hope they do – it was a BC Book Prize Honor Book some years ago. But Zoe and the Fawn also works for anyone who wants to share or hear a story of a child and her dad encountering the natural world. You don’t have to know those nsyilxcən words to “get” the book. But just seeing them on the page is a healthy reminder that there’s a whole world – worlds, really – of knowledge and speech and understanding out there that we don’t usually think about. (And you can find out more about nsyilxcən from links on the Okanagan Nation web page.)

I like Zoe and the Fawn a lot. The English text is highly readable and engaging for kids who are still learning to read English – and for younger ones, who will enjoy chiming in on the repetitions. Julie Flett’s illustrations (which I believe are cut paper plus pen-and-ink) capture Zoe’s sense of wonder, the beauty of the awakening world of spring, and the essence of the creatures Zoe and Dad encounter. The fish are especially lively, and Flett has a knack for including cool things that aren’t in the text – like the turtle who joins Zoe on one page, or the activity in the pond where the trout resides. Being married to a photographer, I found Zoe’s dad with his camera to be a nice touch. And Zoe’s quite expressive and adorable in her green coat and orange boots.

Zoe and the Fawn: highly recommended!

-- reviewed by Jean Mendoza


Thursday, June 16, 2016

A critical look at O'Dell's ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS


Update on Sep 24, 2018:
I (Debbie), shared this post on Twitter yesterday, because I was critiquing a young adult novel in which the author cited Island of the Blue Dolphins as a significant book from her childhood. Dr. Eve Tuck read my tweet, this post, and responded. Dr. Tuck is Aleut, and is an Education professor who has served as editor of NCTE's English Journal. See her article, Decolonization is not a metaphor, and her books, listed at her website. With her permission, I am adding her response to my tweet and article. They are at the bottom of this post.



~~~~~~~~~~ 


"A Critical Look at O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins"
Debbie Reese (published here on June 16, 2016)

Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins is set on San Nicolas Island, a small island off the coast of Santa Barbara California. In the Author’s Note at the back of the book, O’Dell writes that “[t]he girl Robinson Crusoe whose story I have attempted to re-create actually lived alone upon this island from 1835 to 1853, and is known to history as The Lost Woman of San Nicolas” (p. 187). Because nobody could understand her language, her given name is not known. Named Juana Maria by the Mission priest who took her in at Santa Barbara Mission, she died six weeks after her rescue. To anthropologists, the people of the island are known as Nicoleños.

In his story, O’Dell changes Juana Maria’s status to a twelve-year old girl named Karana. As the story opens, Karana and her little brother Romo are digging roots when a ship arrives. On board is a Russian captain named Orlov who has come with forty of his (Aleut) men to hunt sea otter. Based on past experiences, Chief Chowig (Karana’s father) and Orlov have a tense discussion about what the Ghalas-at will receive in return for the otters that will be taken from the waters that abut the island. Months later when Orlov readies to leave without holding up his end of the bargain, a fight breaks out. Most of the men of Ghalas-at, including Chowig, are killed. Two years later, the survivors are rescued. After the rescue ship leaves the cove, Karana realizes Romo is not on board. She jumps ship to stay with him and wait for another rescue ship. Soon after, wild dogs kill Romo, and Karana is alone until her rescue.

Her years on the island make survival a central theme of the story. During that time, she builds several shelters, makes weapons that only men are supposed to make (according to tribal traditions), finds food, fights wild dogs, befriends a large dog that she thinks came to the island with the Russian ship and then when he dies, tames a wild dog that she thinks was fathered by the large dog. She survives an earthquake, a tsunami, and several harsh winter storms.

At the close of the story, she is leaving the island. Based on the text, she has been there at least four years. On page 162, the text reads that two years have passed since the Aleuts had been on the island. At that point, Karana stopped counting the passage of time. One spring, there is an earthquake. As she makes a new shelter, she sees a ship and at first, she hides from the two men who come ashore. She decides she wants to be with people again, and rushes down to the cove but the canoe is gone. Two years pass and a ship returns. This time, she doesn’t hide. When the ship leaves, she is on board with her dog and two caged birds.

A few words about Scott O’Dell

Born in Los Angeles, California in 1898, O’Dell died in 1989. He spent the first thirty years of his adult life working in Hollywood as a cameraman and writer. In 1920, a California newspaper misprinted Odell Gabriel Scott’s name as Scott O’Dell. Liking the misprint, Scott legally changed his name and from then on, was known as Scott O’Dell. In 1947, he became the book editor for the Los Angeles Daily News (Payment, 2006).

In addition to his writing, O’Dell spent time with his father on his orange grove ranch, where he visited ranches of Spanish families of the Pomona Valley and listened to their stories of the past. This led him to write three novels for adults, and a history of California.

In 1957, O’Dell published Country of the Sun: Southern California, An Informal History and Guide. Therein, he references Helen Hunt Jackson’s articles, published in 1882 in Century Magazine, about the mistreatment of the Cupeno Indians of California. He also references her novel, Ramona, published in 1884, saying her novel “had about the same impact as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Overnight, the country was aroused to the plight of the Southern California Indian” (p. 52). Country of the Sun includes two pages about “The Lost Woman of San Nicolas Island”.

O’Dell developed the story into a book-length manuscript and showed it to Maud Lovelace (author of the Betsy-Tacy books). She persuaded him “that it was a book for children, and a very good one” (Scott O’Dell, n.d.). Lovelace penned the biography for O’Dell when he won the Newbery Medal for Island of the Blue Dolphins. She concludes the biography with “Scott O’Dell’s life brought him naturally a knowledge of Indians, dogs, and the ocean; and he was born with an inability to keep from writing. So he gave us the moving legend of Karana” (p. 108).

In his acceptance speech, O’Dell referenced animal cruelty and forgiveness as themes that are present in his book. He also spoke at length of Antonio Garra, a Cupeno Indian man who, just before he was executed under bogus charges, said “I ask your pardon for all my offenses, and I pardon you in return” (O’Dell, p. 103). O’Dell went on to say that this man, of a peaceful tribe, is unknown to the world because he was peaceful rather than “like Geronimo” (p. 103). Karana, he said, belonged to a tribe like Garra’s. He concluded his speech saying that Karana, before her people were killed, lived in a world where “everything lived only to be exploited” but that she “made the change from that world” to “a new and more meaningful world” because she learned that “we each must be an island secure unto ourselves” where we “transgress our limits” in a “reverence for all life” (p. 104).

Acclaim and Critiques of Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins received glowing reviews and went on to win the Newbery Award. It was made into a movie in 1964 and has since been made into audio recordings several times. The National Council of Teachers of English listed it on its “Books for You” in 1972, 1976, and 1988. In 1976, the Children’s Literature Association named it one of the ten best American children’s books of the past 200 years (O’Dell, 1990). It is the subject of numerous amateur videos on YouTube and there are volumes of lesson plans written for teachers. Over the years, the cover has changed several times. As of this writing, it has 734 customer reviews on Amazon.com. Thirty-three readers gave it one star, while over 600 gave it four or five stars. 

In 1990, Island of the Blue Dolphins was republished, with illustrations rendered by Ted Lewin, and an introduction by Zena Sutherland. A fiftieth anniversary edition was published in 2010, with a new introduction by Lois Lowry. She showers O’Dell’s novel with praise, noting that he “masterfully” brings the reader onto the island (O’Dell, 2010). In 2010, School Library Journal blogger Elizabeth Bird listed it as one of the Top 100 Children’s Novels (Reese, 2010). In 2010, the book was listed in second place on Amazon’s list of “Bestsellers in Children’s Native American Books” (Reese, 2010).

In the academic literature, Maher (1992) writes that Island of the Blue Dolphins is a “counterwestern” that gives “voice to the oppressed, to those who lost their lands and their cultures” (p. 216). Tarr (1997) disagrees with that assessment, asserting that the reader’s uncritical familiarity with stereotypical depictions of American Indians is the reason it has fared so well. Moreover, Tarr (2002) writes that the stoic characterization of Karana and her manner of speaking without contractions are stereotypical Hollywood Indian depictions rather than one that might be called authentic. Placing the novel in a social and historical context gives depth to Tarr’s statement and also explains why it is so popular.

Island of the Blue Dolphins in a Social and Historical Context

In the years preceding the publication of Island of the Blue Dolphins, America was enjoying the heyday of Hollywood Westerns that depicted savage Indians who terrorized settlers and captured their women, and heroic White men who courted Indian maidens and bemoaned the way Indians were treated by Whites. John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) follows a stagecoach of travelers who must be mindful of Indian attacks. Broken Arrow (1950) featured Jimmy Stewart as a man in love with an Apache girl and who, out of love and sympathy, tries to help make peace between the Apaches and the U.S. troops. In The Searchers (1956), John Wayne plays the role of a man on the search for a White girl who had been abducted by Indians.

Some of the research that went into Country of the Sun reappears in Island. Presumably, O’Dell conducted his research during the 1950s. That decade was a devastating time for several American Indian nations, a time during which their identity as sovereign nations was again under government attack. It is useful to review how they came to be known as sovereign nations.

From the moments of their arrival on the continent now called North America, Europeans encountered well-ordered nations or tribes of Indigenous peoples, each with its own territories and forms of governance. Recognition of that nationhood is evident in the treaties European heads of state made with their counterparts amongst the 500+ sovereign Indigenous nations (Deloria and DeMallie, 1999). In the treaties, lands were ceded to the United States in return for federally provided health care, housing, and education. As time passed, various entities wanted to nullify the treaties, thereby discontinuing federal funding to tribes and making available lands held by tribes. Desire for land, coupled with the rampant corruption within the Bureau of Indian Affairs that had federal oversight for the tribes, led Congress to terminate its nation-to-nation relationship with the tribes through a policy outlined in House Concurrent Resolution 108 (Wilkinson and Biggs, 1977) that led to several public laws enacted by Congress, including the California Rancheria Termination Act (Public Law 85-671). Through the Termination period (1953-1962), over one hundred bands, communities, and rancherias (California Mission Indians) in California were terminated (Nies, 1996). Given his care to include mistreatment of California Indians in the 1800s, it is curious that O’Dell does not reference any of the Terminations in Country of the Sun.

Emma Hardacre’s Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

As noted, Island of the Blue Dolphins is based on the life of Juana Maria. At the time of his research, the resources he had available to him about Juana Maria were newspaper accounts and articles about her. Emma Hardacre’s “The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island” was first published in Scribner’s Monthly in 1880, and then again in 1950 and 1973. Hardacre begins by noting that Robinson Crusoe is a work of fiction, whereas the story of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island was true. In Santa Barbara, people spoke less and less about the “widow, between twenty and thirty years of age” who leapt from the ship to be with her child who had accidentally been left behind (p. 75).

Years later, a Mission priest named Father Gonzales commissioned Thomas Jeffries to go to San Nicolas to see if she was still alive. Jeffries (p. 277):
found the remains of a curious hut, made of whales’ ribs planted in a circle, and so adjusted as to form the proper curve of a wigwam-shaped shelter. This he judged to have been formerly either the residence of the chief or a place of worship where sacrifices were offered. He had picked up several ollas, or vessels of stone, and one particularly handsome cup of clouded green serpentine. 

More interesting to Jeffries was the abundance of sea otter. Soon after his return to the mainland, he returned to the island with George Nidiver and a crew of Indians on an otter hunt. For six weeks, they hunted seal and otter. Leaving the island, a sailor said he thought he saw a human figure calling to them, but the figure vanished.

On their third trip to hunt at the island, Nidiver saw a footprint and exclaimed that the woman was alive. The next day, Nidiver found a basket that contained “bone needles, thread made of sinews, shell fishhooks, ornaments, and a partially completed robe of birds’ plumage, made of small squares neatly matched and sewed together” (p. 279). In their search of the inland, they found “several circular, roofless inclosures [sic], made of woven brush. Near these shelters were poles, with dried meat hanging from elevated crosspieces” (p. 279). Not finding the woman, they determined the footprint was older than they thought, and some thought that she was probably dead. Fishing continued for several weeks. Nidiver believed she might be alive and hiding and decided to look until he found her or her remains.

A search was organized. They found the whale bone house, where “rushes were skillfully interlaced in the rib framework; an olla and old basket were near the door.” (p. 279).  Climbing over slippery rocks, they found fresh footprints and followed them up a cliff. Brown, a fisherman, saw the woman in an enclosure and approached her. A pack of dogs growled at him but ran away when she uttered a cry that silenced them. She did not see Brown approaching. Hardacre reports that “the complexion of the woman was much fairer than the ordinary Indian, her personal appearance pleasing, features regular, her hair, thick and brown, falling about her shoulders in a tangled mat” (p. 280). She was anxiously watching the men below her dwelling. Brown signaled to the men that he had found her and that they should approach. When he spoke to her, she ran a few steps, then (p. 280):
instantly controlling herself, stood still, and addressed him in an unknown tongue. She seemed to be between forty and fifty years of age, in fine physical condition, erect, with a well-shaped neck and arms and unwrinkled face. She was dressed in a tunic-shaped garment made of birds’ plumage, low in the neck, sleeveless, and reaching to the ankle.

She greeted the other men and then set about preparing a meal for them that consisted of roasted roots. Through gestures, they communicated that she was to go with them. She understood immediately and put her things in pack baskets. 

On board their ship, Brown wanted to preserve her feather dress, and so made her a petticoat of ticking. He gave her a man’s cotton shirt and a neckerchief. She watched Brown closely as he sewed, and showed him how she used her bone needle to puncture the cloth and then put thread through the perforations. Through gestures, she told Brown of her years on the island, how she made fire “by rapidly rubbing a pointed stick along the groove of a flat stick until a spark was struck” and that she was careful not to let it go out, covering her home fire with ashes to preserve it. She ate fish, seals’ blubber, roots, and shellfish, and she used bird skins for clothing. Her main dwelling was a large cave on the north end of the island. 

On arrival in Santa Barbara, people flocked to Nidiver’s home to see her. Through gestures, she told Nidiver’s wife that dogs had eaten her baby and how she grieved its loss. She also communicated her dread of being alone, her years of hope for rescue, and at last, resignation at being alone. Nidiver was unable to find anyone amongst the Indians in the Missions who could understand her language. They learned some of her words: “A hide she called to-co (to-kay); a man, nache (nah-chey); the sky, te-gua (tay-gwah); the body, pinche  (pin-oo-chey)” (p. 283). She was so gentle and modest that some believed she was not an Indian, but “a person of distinction cast away by shipwreck” (p. 283). She got weaker and weaker and when she was near death, Nidiver’s wife asked Father Sanchez to baptize her. He did so, giving her the name Juana Maria. She was buried in a walled cemetery and the mission fathers “sent her feather robes to Rome. They were made of the satiny plumage of the green cormorant, the feathers pointing downward, and so skillfully matched as to seem one continuous sheen of changeful luster” (p. 284).

Academic Resources

The academic resources on the people of San Nicolas Island were scant at that time that O’Dell wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins. Archeological studies post-1960 have generated a richer body of materials. Pre-1960, O’Dell likely drew from resources he used when writing his history of California. These included Kroeber’s handbook. He reports that her speech (language) was “thoroughly unintelligible” to Chumash Indians in the area and to Indians from Santa Catalina Island as well (p. 634). Most dwellings, Kroeber wrote, “were reared on a frame of whale ribs and jaws, either covered with sea-lion hides or wattled with brush or rushes” (p. 634). Dugout canoes “may have been burned from drift logs” (p. 634). Seals, water birds, fish, and mollusks were the primary source of food, supplemented by roots. He concludes with “whether the toloache cult or the image form of mourning anniversary had reached the island must remain in abeyance; and as to society, there is total ignorance. Ghalas-at has been given as the name of the island. This is perhaps the native or the Chumash pronunciation of Gabrielino Haras-nga” (p. 635.)

O’Dell may have read a study published in an archeological journal in 1953. Meighan and Eberhart’s study stated that “ethnographically, almost nothing is known of the tribe” and that there was a “virtual absence of trade goods, in particular glass beads” (p. 109). They reference the possessions of the woman as follows: “a well made sinew rope 25 feet long and one-half inch in diameter, thought to have been used in snaring sleeping seals” and, “sinew fishing line; bone and abalone shell fishhooks; bone needles; bone knives, and a knife made of a piece of iron hoop stuck in a rough wooden handle” (p. 112). Items found on the island include mats and skirt fragments made of eel grass, grass skirts, woven bags, woven baskets, stone knives with wooden handles, a stone drill with a wooden handle, wooden knife handles, a wooden ladle, an arrow shaft, a wooden dark foreshaft with bone bars, a drill with wooden shaft and stone point, harpoon points, a great many mortars and pestles, steatite dishes and bowls, stone beads and pendants, bird and sea-lion claws used as pendants, stone ground spoons and ladles . Meighan and Eberhart report four Nicoleno words: “tokay (hide), nahchey (man), taygway (sky), and pinoochey (body). Bird bones were used to make beads, whistles, awls, and fishhooks.  Fish and shellfish were the primary source of food, including abalone, rock scallops, mussels, limpets, and sea urchins.

Clearly, these two key sources say little was known about the people of Ghalas-at and the woman at the heart of O’Dell’s novel. And yet, he was able to write a novel of 186 pages. With this survey of the source material of that time, I turn to a close read of specific passages from the story.

A Close Read of Island of the Blue Dolphins
In the following table, the left column contains a selection of material from the story. In the right column are notes specific to the information in the left column. Some of the passages are not addressed in the Discussion following the table; they are retained in the table for further research.
Text
Notes
“I remember the day the Aleut ship came to our island” (p. 9)
“I” is Karana. On page 12, O’Dell tells us the name of the island: Ghalas-at. The Aleut’s are an Indigenous people from what came to be known as Alaska. During the time of the novel (1835), the Aleuts were enslaved by Russians and forced to hunt sea otters (Pullar, 1996).
Karana describes Romo, her 6-year old brother: “He was small for one who had lived so many suns and moons” (p. 9)
Writers often use the cliché “many moons ago” when writing from an Indian point of view. Though it is obvious that people who do not speak English would have words in their language for sun or moon or the passage of time, the “many moons ago” idiom, inserted into the mind/mouth of any Native character obscures the diversity of language.
When Romo sees the Aleut ship, he describes it as “a small cloud” (p. 10).
In Country of the Sun, O’Dell recounts a Cahuilla legend, “The Lost Spanish Galleon” (p. 147) that begins with Cahuilla men seeing a Spanish galleon and thinking it was a cloud.
As Orlov comes ashore, “Half the men from our village stood at the water’s edge. The rest were concealed among the rocks at the foot of the trail, ready to attack the intruders should they prove unfriendly” (p. 12).
In Country of the Sun, when the Spanish galleon is sighted, O’Dell writes “The Cahuillas hid themselves behind rocks along the shore” and their chief “cautioned his people to remain hidden” (p. 148).
When Captain Orlov comes ashore and begins negotiations with Karana’s father who is chief of the people at Ghalas-at, Karana is surprised that her father gives Orlov his seldom used and secret “real” name (Chowig) because “if people use your secret name it becomes worn out and loses its magic” (p. 13).
Look for: Names and their power.
“Karana” is the protagonists’ secret name. Her common name is “Won-a-pa-lei” which means “The Girl with the Long Black Hair” (p. 13).
The translation does not make sense, given the likelihood that all the girls would have long black hair.
The Aleuts come ashore, and Karana sees “a tall man with a yellow beard” (p. 12).
In Country of the Sun, Yuma Indians and a “bearded” Spanish captain come ashore (p. 148).
The night Orlov arrives, her father “warned everyone in the village of Ghalas-at against visiting the camp. “The Aleuts come from a country far to the north,” he said. “Their ways are not ours nor is their language” (p. 17).
From O’Dell’s Country of the Sun: The night the Spanish came ashore, “Darkness fell and the Cahuillas went silently back to their village and held council far into the night. The older men, who had heard tales of Spanish greed and ferocity, were in favor of abandoning the village and taking the women and children into the mountains. But the younger men, proud of their heritage as warriors and jealous of it, prevailed” (p. 148). They lay plans for an attack.
Each night, people in the tribe “counted the dead otter and thought of the beads and other things that each pelt meant” (p. 23).

Karana does not like the slaughter of the otters she regards as friends she would have fun watching as they played. “It was more fun than the thought of beads to wear around my neck” (p. 23).
This is O’Dell’s first mention of beads. Presumably, the negotiations that took place when Orlov landed included beads but this was not specified.

In Country of the Sun: The next morning, the Spanish gave each of the Indians “a handful of beaded trinkets” (p. 149).

The beads story works because it plays on the idea that Indians are not smart enough to know that their land and resources aren’t worth more than beads. Williams’ analysis of Dutch, Manhattan, beads is excellent.
Karana’s father sends young men “to the beach to build a canoe from a log which had drifted in from the sea” (p. 24).
Kroeber: Canoes “may have been burned from drift logs” (p. 634).
Orlov and his men prepare to leave without paying for the otter pelts. Chowig speaks to Orlov, who signals his men to bring a black chest to the island: “Captain Orlov raised the lid and pulled out several necklaces. There was little light in the sky, yet the beads sparkled as he turned them this way and that” (p. 27)
The archeological record (Kroeber/Meighan & Eberhart) does not list sparkly beads recovered on San Nicolas Island.


Items Karana has in a basket she carries onto the rescue ship: “three fine needles of whalebone, an awl for making holes, a good stone knife for scarping hides, two cooking pots, and a small box made from a shell with many earrings in it” (p. 42).
References to these items are in the historical record.
Karana’s sister, Ulape, “had two boxes of earrings, for she was vainer than I, and when she put them into her basket, she drew a thin mark with blue clay across her nose and cheekbones. The mark meant that she was unmarried” (p. 42).
An assumption that Karana and her people had the same ideas of beauty (vanity) that O’Dell did.
After she leaps off the boat and is back on shore, “The only thing that made me angry was that my beautiful skirt of yucca fibers, which I had worked on so long and carefully, was ruined” (p. 47).
An assumption that Karana and her people held the same ideas of beauty that O’Dell did.
Romo declares that, as son of Chowig, he is now Chief of Ghalas-at. Karana replies that before he can be the chief, he must become a man: “As is the custom, therefore, I will have to whip you with a switch of nettles and then tie you to a red ant hill” (p. 51).
O’Dell’s likely source for this is Kroeber’s Handbook of the Indians of California, Volume 2. On page 672, he describes “The Ant Ordeal” that may have been part of the “Toloache Initiation” of Luiseno boys: “The boys were laid on ant hills, or put into a hole containing ants. More of the insects were shaken over them from baskets in which they had been gathered. The sting or bite of the large ant smarts intensely, and the ordeal was a severe one, and rather doubtfully ameliorated when at the conclusion the ants were whipped from the body by nettles.”
Romo has “a strong of sea-elephant teeth which someone had left behind” (p. 50).
Meighan references sea-lion claws used as pendants.
Karana needs weapons: “The laws of Ghalas-at forbade the making of weapons by women of the tribe, so I went out to search for any that might have been left behind” (p. 58.)
Future research
Thinking the chest Orlov left may have an iron spearhead, Karana digs up the chest and finds it “filled with beads and bracelets and earrings of many colors” (p. 59). There are no spearheads in the chest.
Reference to beads draws on “primitive” (stupid) Indians who sold Manhattan for beads.
Karana “wondered what would happen to me if I went against the law of our tribe which forbade the making of weapons by women—if I did not think of it at all and made those things which I must have to protect myself” (p. 61).
Future research on weaponry.
“There was a legend among our people that the island had once been covered with tall trees. This was a long time ago, at the beginning of the world when Tumaiyowit and Mukat ruled. The two gods quarreled about many things. Tumaiyowit wished people to die. Mukat did not. Tumaiyowit angrily went down, down to another world under this world, taking his belongs with him, so people die because of him” (p. 82).
This story, from the Cupeno Indians, appears in Country of the Sun in “Revolt in the Mountains” as follows: “One of the most dramatic and current [myths of creation], as recounted by Salvador Cuevas, a Luiseno, has the world and everything in it created by the gods Tumaiyowit and Mukat. The gods quarreled and argued about their respective ages. They disagreed about many things. Tumaiyowit wished people to die. Mukat did not. Tumaiyowit went down, down to another world under this world, takig his belongings with him, so people die because he did” (p. 47). It is also in Kroeber’s Handbook, on page 692.
Karana uses several words that she says are in her language:
“Won-a-pa-lei” means “the girl with the long black hair” (p. 13)
“sai-sai” is a kind of fish (p. 85)
“rontu” means fox eyes (p. 105)
“zalwit” means pelican (p. 107)
“naip” means fish (p. 107)
“gnapan” is a thick leaved plant (p. 115)
“Mon-a-nee” means “Girl with the Large Eyes” (p. 160)
“Rontu-Aru” means “son of Rontu” (p. 169)
None of these words are in Kroeber or Hardacre.




Discussion

O’Dell had little to go on in creating the worldview of Karana and her people. To flesh out the story, he inserted his prior research on other California tribes, inserting their ways into the Nicoleno tribe, as though one peoples’ way of being was interchangeable with another. O’Dell wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins prior to the development of multicultural literature and the attention to specificity, so it may be appropriate not to judge him too harshly for doing it. He also drew from popular stereotypes and clichés of American Indians, including the stories in which American Indians traded their land for a string of beads. An American embrace of stereotypes and clichés led to—and guaranteed—the success of the novel.

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a lot like most books and media about American Indians that give the audience the kind of Indians that America loves to love (Shanley, 1997). O’Dell gave us both: the savage ones (the Aleuts), and the gentle ones (Karana’s people). In a spirit of generosity, it is possible to justify why his story met with such success but how do we justify an embrace of it in the present time, when we know so much more about accuracy and authenticity of representation? And why do even our leading scholars fail to step away from the book? For example, in her introduction to the illustrated version, Zena Sutherland conflated the story of Juana Maria with the fictional story of Karana. She incorrectly refers to the Lost Woman as Karana, instead of Juana Maria. She says that she was twelve years old (Juana Maria was a mother, not a child), and that Karana’s brother died on the island (Juana Maria’s child died). The real person is lost in the embrace of the fiction character, Karana. Is sentiment in the way?

Conclusion

There is a fascination, a nostalgia, and a yearning for the romantic Indian and all that “Indian” means to people who think the best life anyone could have is one of the Indian of yesteryear, living in the pristine wilderness, where the weight of the world is not on your shoulders, where you can breath clean air, and drink clean water.

This nostalgia also captures the imaginings of the perfect childhood, but neither one is—or was—real. As such, Island of the Blue Dolphins is a perfect example of a book at the center of the canon of sentiment (Stevenson, 1997). Indeed, the canon of sentiment “exists to preserve—to preserve the childhood of those adults who create that canon and to preserve the affection those adults feel for the books within it” (p. 113). A good many adults imagine the childhood O'Dell described and the survival that Karana experienced. We like to think we could survive, too, and a story like this one lets us see how that could happen. 

Nonetheless, the story is lacking in its accuracy and suitability for informing children about American Indians. Will there come a time when there is a critical mass of gatekeepers rejecting works like this? I hope so. Sentiment is no excuse for ignorance.



References

Deloria, V. and DeMallie, R. J. Documents of American Indian Diplomacy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Hardacre, Emma. (1971). The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. The California Indians: Source Book, edited by R. F. Heizer and M. A. Whipple. Berkeley: University of California Press, 272-281.

Kroeber, A.L. (1925). Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Lovelace, M. H. (1961). Scott O’Dell: Biographical note. The Horn Book Magazine, 37,
105-108.

Maher, S. N. (1992). Encountering others: The meeting of cultures in Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins and Sing Down the Moon. Children’s Literature in Education, 23(4), 215-227.

Meighan, C.W. and Eberhart, H. (1953). Archaeological resources of San Nicolas Island, California. American Antiquity, 19(2), 109-125.

Nies, J. (1996). Native American History. New York: Ballantine Books.

O’Dell, S. (1957). Country of the Sun: Southern California, An Informal History and Guide. New York: Thomas E. Crowell Company.

O’Dell, S. (1961). Acceptance paper. The Horn Book Magazine, 37, 99-104.

O’Dell, S. (1978). Island of the Blue Dolphins. Trumpet Club Edition. New York: Dell Publishing Co.

O’Dell, S. (1990). Island of the Blue Dolphins. With illustrations by Ted Lewin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Payment, S. (2006). Scott O’Dell. New York: Rosen Pub. Group.

Pullar, G. L. (1996). Alutiiq. Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. Edited by Mary B. Davis.

Scott O’Dell (n.d.). More about Scott. 

Shanley, K. W. (1997). The Indians America loves to love and read: American Indian identity and cultural appropriation. American Indian Quarterly, 21(4), 675-702.

Stevenson, D. (1997). Sentiment and significance: The impossibility of recovery in the children’s literature canon or, the drowning of The Water-babies. The Lion and the Unicorn, 21(1), 112.

Tarr, C. A. (1997). An unintentional system of gaps: A phenomenological reading of Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins. Children’s Literature in Education, 28(2), 61-71.

Tarr, C. A. (2002). Apologizing for Scott O’Dell: Too little, too late. Children’s Literature, 30199-204.

Wesselhoeft, C. (2010). Scott O’Dell, ‘Blue Dolphins’ author, tells why he writes for children. Retrieved from http://adiosnirvana.com/?p=480

Wilkinson, C.F. and Biggs, E.R. (1977). The evolution of the termination policy. American Indian Law Review 5(1), 139-184.


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Update, June 17, 2016: Bridgid Shannon, a colleague in children's literature, pointed me to the Lone Woman and Last Indians Digital Archives, a page maintained by the National Park Service. Do take a look! Lots of terrific info from a team led by Sara L. Schwebel.

Update, June 19, 2016: Lauren Peters, a fellow member of the American Indian Library Association, sent me her review of Island of the Blue Dolphins. She posted it in 2013: Defending the Aleuts in Island of the Blue Dolphins.  

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Update, September 24, 2018: Professor Eve Tuck's response to this article consists of a series of tweets. Her thread started at 8:07 AM on September 23, 2018. 
I appreciate the thorough analysis that has done here. As an Aleut person, I can say that the inaccuracies depiction of Aleut people in this book meant that non-Indigenous people said a lot of painful and ignorant things to me, especially as a kid.
I was a kid growing up in a white rural town in Pennsylvania, and usually ours was the only Native family in the community. I attended a school that had multiple copies of this book in classrooms, the library. I remember there even being a door display of this book.
So I grew up in a white community that only knew of Aleuts (Unangan) from this book.
I was taunted for it. I was asked by children and teachers to explain why Aleuts were “so mean.” And no matter what I said about my family, especially my grandmother, it wasn’t believed.
The book was believed over my real-life knowledge of Aleut people.
Fictionalizing an Indigenous community to make them the violent device of your plot line is a totally settler thing to do. O’Dell had no business writing a word “about” our people.
The book says nothing about us. Like Gerald Vizenor’s analysis of the figure of the ‘indian,’ it says more about the violent preoccupations of the settler, and says nothing about Unangan.
The last thing that I will say is that when I think about colonial violence that Aleut people were *actually* experiencing in their/our homelands in the time period that the book was set, it makes me doubly angry about the falsehoods depicted in this book.
But that would never be a best seller.