Saturday, October 07, 2006

Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer

As noted in my profile, I am from Nambé Pueblo, located in northern New Mexico. Several times a year, we dance. Pueblo dance is, essentially, prayer-in-motion. It is not entertainment, and it is not performance.

Twelve years ago, my daughter danced for the first time. She was three years old. I have many strong, powerful, beautiful memories of sewing her clothes, of finding the items we would need to get all the traditional clothing she would need together. We turn to others in our family and community to help. An important note: we do not wear “costumes.” We are not “dressing up.”

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s picture book, Jingle Dancer, resonates warmly with memories of my daughter’s first time dancing. I've referenced Jingle Dancer several times on this blog, but haven't given it the attention it deserves.

The protagonist in Jingle Dancer is not Puebloan; she is a Muscogee (Creek)-Ojibwe (Chippewa) girl named Jenna. In the story, Jenna’s family and community help her get ready to do the Jingle Dance.

The illustrations, by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, are just as important as the story. With each turn of the page, I smile, recognizing items that I see when I’m in my own home, or that of siblings or parents… Native art on the walls, a trunk used to keep traditional clothing.

It is apparent that author and illustrators collaborated on Jingle Dancer. Their book is a treasure, one that I love to share with friends, colleagues, students, and others who look for the best children’s books about American Indians. Several professional organizations and associations include it on their lists of recommended and notable books.

Too many children (and adults) think we no longer exist. Obviously, that is no longer the case. Some of us live on reservations, but like Jenna, a lot of us live in cities and towns across the country. Instead of teaching about Pilgrims and Indians this year, consider teaching students about American Indians as we are today. Start with Jingle Dancer.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

I will be home (Nambe Pueblo) for a week and won't be posting until I return.

Friday, September 29, 2006


I have used Basic Skills Caucasian American Workbook in classes and workshops. My experience is that people find it helpful in understanding what it feels like to have your culture presented by someone who knows little about it (or, more accurately, misrepresented by someone who knows little about it).

In the workbook you will find familiar worksheets. There are segments to read that have unfamiliar words followed by phonetic spelling to help pronounce the words. Blocks of text are followed by fill-in-the blank statements. There is a glossary. There are pages about education and schools, religion, and dating. The illustration on the front cover is of a man at a golf course.

Some people strongly object to the ways that the authors present Christianity, which makes the case beautifully about what is wrong with the ways that Native cultures and religions are presented in children's books.

If you find yourself thinking that a critique of one of your favorite (or a popular) children's book is "nit-picky," you will gain important insight by spending time with this book. It costs little ($13) and is available from Oyate.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Joseph Bruchac's HIDDEN ROOTS

[Note: This review is by Beverly Slapin of Oyate. I am grateful to her for sending me her reviews. Early in my graduate work, I read Through Indian Eyes: The Native Perspective in Books for Children, edited by Slapin and Seale. It marked an important moment in my work. In the field of children's literature, it is a touchstone, and its sequel A Broken Flute: The Native Perspective in Books for Children is equally important. As is clear to regular readers of my blog, I link to Oyate often, suggesting you order books like Hidden Roots from there. I would not do that if Oyate was a for-profit bookseller. Oyate is a not-for-profit organization that is doing very important and necessary work on a shoestring. ---Debbie]


Bruchac, Joseph (Abenaki), Hidden Roots. Scholastic Press, 2004. 136 pages, grades 5-up

Living with his family in a tiny town in upstate New York, 11-year-old Sonny is surrounded by secrets. His parents live in solitude, and so does he. Questions are forbidden, and silence is enforced by his father, who explodes into violence without warning. His only friend is Uncle Louis, who comes around mostly after Sonny’s father has left for work. The old man is tied to the land in ways that Sonny is just beginning to know. As they walk in the woods together, make camp and do a lot of listening, Uncle Louis shows Sonny the relationship among all things. “Is it all right, us praying like Indians that way?” Sonny asks. “Long as no one sees us,” Louis answers.

Taking place in the early 1960s, Hidden Roots is rooted in the Vermont Eugenics Program that began some thirty years before and left the Abenaki people, for generations, “hiding in plain sight.”

Slowly, Sonny begins to understand how a Jewish librarian’s parents’ secret saved her life and how Indians had to pretend they weren’t Indian: “Sometimes people jes have to do the hardest things for their children,” Louis says. The hardest things, such as giving your children away so they can survive.

When Louis can no longer contribute to the silence and shame, Sonny begins to understand the “whys” of having to leave your home in the middle of the night, having secrets hanging heavily in the air, having to keep your head down and not bring attention to yourself, having to watch your father’s self-hatred turn to violence, having been told your grandfather is your “uncle” because he still lives in the Indian way. And Sonny begins to come to know that roots—even hidden roots—run deep.

Hidden Roots is for all those Indian families whose lives were interrupted by the eugenicists and for all the elderly mothers who still whisper to their adult daughters, “You better get your hair cut, or everybody’ll know you’re an Indian.” For all those who see their lives in this story, and for all those who never knew and now bear the responsibility to bring about change.

In a poem called “Rez Kid” (in Above the Line, West End Press, 2003), Joe Bruchac writes,

…hidden roots still give you strength.

There will always be another day.

The wind will always remember our name.

No matter how many roads they build,

the earth under our feet is our mother.

Joe Bruchac has written an honest, truth-telling story that may well be the most important book this prolific writer has ever produced. Thank you, Joe. You have done a good thing.

—Beverly Slapin

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Reaction to Slapin’s review of Touching Spirit Bear

Beverly Slapin’s review of Touching Spirit Bear (posted here on September 20th) has generated discussion on a listserv sponsored by the American Library Association and other places as well.

I share some of the discussion and my responses here. I paraphrase a response and use italics to differentiate it from my response.


It is well written and a great story. Teen boys who are bullies need books like this to learn about the consequences of their behavior and that there are other ways of behaving. Errors regarding Tlingit culture are excusable because the book has so much value for bullies.

Debbie: Is it ok to use and misrepresent one culture (in this case Tlingit) because someone else (bullies who are presumably not Tlingit) stand to gain?


I will continue recommending the book because it was favorably reviewed and is on so many award lists.

Debbie: How knowledgeable are the people who wrote the reviews? When Ann Rinaldi’s My Heart is on the Ground came out, it was favorably reviewed and it was likely headed for Recommended Books lists. But our critique headed that off, because, I think, people knew that the information in the critique was (and is) irrefutable, and that it was irresponsible to laud the book.


IT IS FICTION! JUST A STORY! It doesn’t matter if it is accurate or not.

Debbie: If a work of fiction said that 2+2=7, everybody would know it was a mistake. But we, as a society, know so little about American Indians that we don’t know when American Indian cultures are being misrepresented, stereotyped, or otherwise inappropriately used.

American society is so enamored with a narrow, romantic view of who we (remember, I am Nambé Pueblo Indian) are that it is not open to criticism that gets in the way of wholeheartedly endorsing or recommending a book. People who love the book and don’t like Slapin’s review may feel the criticism is an attack on them, on their personal values. Critiques like Slapin’s are not personal attacks, but they can feel that way when the book under critique is well loved.

If there was only one book like Touching Spirit Bear out there, then maybe it wouldn’t matter. But there are more flawed stories about American Indians than there are good ones. All those flawed ones contribute to the misperceptions American have about American Indians.


I’m out of time and will have to stop here. Your comments in the "Comments" option are welcome.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Like most people, I feel warm and happy when I find some aspect of my life in an unexpected place (provided, of course, that it is presented accurately and with integrity). Such was the case several years ago when I came across Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters, a photo essay by Rina Swentzell.

Published in 1992 in Lerner's "We Are Still Here" series of photo essays, I especially like Children of Clay because of its photographs of pueblo people (in this case, from Santa Clara Pueblo). From the baby on the cover to the children and adults throughout the book, readers see Pueblo people working and playing in the present day.

Teachers looking for an art lesson or activity that is related to American Indians might consider clay projects. Using Children of Clay with your students, they can see Pueblo kids making things with clay. You can teach your students that:

1) American Indians did not vanish or become extinct.
2) Pueblo Indians are in New Mexico.
3) There are 19 Pueblos (there is a map of them in the book).
4) They are all different, with different names and locations.
5) There are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations in the US today.

A note of caution: Young children could easily develop an idea that "Pueblo Indians make pots." While that is true for some, it is important to tell your students that not all of us are potters.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Jean Craighead George's JULIE OF THE WOLVES

First published in 1972 by Harper & Row, Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in 1973. It is included on a wide range of recommended book lists. It is available in audio and video; there is a sequel to it. Numerous teacher's guide and activity books are available for teachers to use when teaching the book. This is the summary of the Julie of the Wolves (from the Library of Congress):
"While running away from home and an unwanted marriage, a thirteen year old Eskimo girl becomes lost on the North Slope of Alaska and is befriended by a wolf pack."
A few days ago on child_lit (an Internet listserv for discussion of children's books), a subscriber posted a link to a review of the book on the Alaska Native Knowledge Network webpage. The reviewer, Martha Stackhouse, is Inupiaq. She points out misrepresentations and misconceptions of Inupiaq culture, and says

 "I humbly would not recommend the book to be put on school shelves."

Spend some time on the Alaska Native Knowledge Network pages. Read Martha Stackhouse's review of Julie of the Wolves. There is much to learn on their site about this and many other popular children's books set in Alaska (i.e. Gerald McDermott's Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest).

To find the book reviews, go to Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature, and click on "Examining Alaska Children's Literature" and "Critiquing Indigenous Literature for Alaska's Children."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Native Americans and Thanksgiving

Reenactments of historical events are a much loved pastime. I first came across one 12 years ago in Illinois. On a field were people dressed as knights, carrying all manner of weaponry. I thought it was a movie set, but learned it was a group that does this on a regular basis.

In school, we teach children to do reenactments, like "The First Thanksgiving." Lots of time is spent making hats and headdresses and other articles of clothing, and, talking about "The First Thanksgiving."

But is this particular reenactment best practice? Is it educationally sound? Certainly, it is fun for some of those who do it, but should teachers and children be doing it at all?

Teachers work very hard, but receive little respect for their work. And, they are underpaid, too, often spending chunks of their too-small salaries to buy things their schools cannot provide. Due to lack of time and resources, teachers often recycle activities from one year to the next. I think Thanksgiving reeactments are one of those things that gets recycled. Developing new ways of teaching about Thanksgiving will take time and money. Before that can happen, however, teachers must learn more about Pilgrims, Indians, and "The First Thanksgiving."

They can start with Deconstructing the Myths of "The First Thanksgiving," a free resource by Judy Dow and Beverly Slapin, available at Oyate. At the bottom of "Deconstructing the Myths" are two lists of recommended books. It includes three lists of books: 1) Recommended Books about Thanksgiving, Also take a look at their  "Books to Avoid" about Thanksgiving.

Not surprising, but still disheartening, is the number of books on the first two lists. Dow and Slapin's short list includes only one work of fiction: Jake Swamp's Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, published in 1995 by Lee and Low. The other five children's books on their list are non-fiction, and one is a teacher resource. In contrast, there are over 80 books on the "Books to Avoid" list, but it doesn't have to stay that way.

Teachers are a powerful group. You can effect change. Because of teachers' letters telling them that children were using "Indian Red" to color Indians red, Crayola changed the name of their "Indian Red" crayon to "chestnut." With Thanksgiving coming up, perhaps teachers can push publishers to give them better books. To find contact information for them, go to Children's Book Publishers at Kay Vandergrift's website on children's literature. (You'll have to hunt around on a publisher's website to find their "contact us" page with addresses and phone numbers.)

Obviously, we need more books on Dow and Slapin's recommended list, but they won't be written unless people ask for them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Review of Ben Mikaelsen's TOUCHING SPIRIT BEAR

Editor's Note, March 10, 2008: A lot of people come to this page from "Web English Teacher" and may be surprised to read the critical review below. I hope that you'll consider it and the other essays on this site about Touching Spirit Bear. Share what you read here with your students. How does information provided here compare to positive and favorable reviews? Does the negative review change your view of the book in any way?
SEPTEMBER 20, 2006: Beverly Slapin's review of Ben Mikaelsen's Touching Spirit Bear

Editor's Intro to Slapin's Review: American society loves to love Indians and things-Indian. Or rather, things they think are Indian. There’s a long history of exploiting our ways of being. Touching Spirit Bear is another example of that exploitation. You don’t have to buy or read it. There are better books available. To find them, visit the Oyate website.

[Note: This review is used here with permission of the author, Beverly Slapin. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.]

Mikaelsen, Ben, Touching Spirit Bear. HarperCollins, 2001, 241 pages, grades 5-up; Tlingit

For centuries, restorative justice or circle justice has been practiced in one form or another by many Indian communities. The object is to restore the wellbeing of the victim or the victim’s family, rather than to punish the offender. This is done through a multi-step talking-circle approach, in which the people most affected by the crime, along with community representatives, come together to heal and to try to agree on a fair and reasonable settlement. The sentencing plan involves commitment by the community, family members, and the offender. In 1996, a pilot circle justice project, in conjunction with the criminal justice system, was initiated in Minnesota

In Touching Spirit Bear, Cole Matthews is an angry, out-of-control Minneapolis teen, the son of wealthy, abusive alcoholic parents, convicted of viciously beating a classmate. This manipulative and violent young offender is given one more chance: to take part in the circle justice program. Soon Cole finds himself on a remote Alaskan island in Tlingit territory, banished for a year, overseen by a Tlingit parole officer and a traditional elder—and watched by an enormous white “spirit bear.” Here, he resists, wrestles with, and ultimately comes to terms with this chance to take responsibility for what he’s done. 

Ben Mikaelsen’s writing, in places, is evocative and a dead-on accurate portrayal of a troubled teen. After the bear near-fatally mauls Cole, there are excruciatingly detailed descriptions of his struggles to survive by eating worms and bugs, a live mouse and even his own vomit. With broken ribs, legs and an arm, and too weak to get up, he defecates in his pants, and fights to stay alive. It is during this time that Cole begins to understand his vulnerability and his relationship to everything that surrounds him. It is here that his transformation begins. 

All of this having been said, Touching Spirit Bear is fatally flawed by Mikaelsen’s inexcusable playing around with Tlingit culture, cosmology and ritual; and his abysmal lack of understanding of traditional banishment. It is obvious that what he doesn’t know, he invents. Edwin, the Tlingit elder, instructs Cole to: jump into the icy cold water and stay there as long as possible; pick up a heavy rock (called the “ancestor rock”) and carry it to the top of a hill; push the rock (now called the “anger rock”) back down the hill; watch for animals and dance around the fire to impersonate the animal he sees (called the “bear dance,” “bird dance,” “mouse dance,” etc.); announce what he’s learned about the characteristics of that animal from his dance; and finally, carve that animal on his own personal “totem pole.”

This is all garbage. The purpose of banishment is to isolate a person so that, in solitude, he can think deeply about his life and relations, and prepare to rejoin his community. When someone is banished, he is left to learn on his own whatever is to be learned. It is not about white boys “playing Indian.” It is not about teaching white boys the rituals of another culture. And most especially, it is not about carrying rocks up a hill and performing a bunch of stupid cross-cultural animal impersonation dances.
The author’s own relationship with bears and his supposed almost-close-enough-to-touch encounter with a “three-hundred-pound male Spirit Bear” notwithstanding, Touching Spirit Bear is a terrible book.

—Beverly Slapin

[Update, 5/7/2008: Please read further information about Touching Spirit Bear here.]

Monday, September 18, 2006

"What Works Clearinghouse"

In the last few days, more than one Internet listserv has carried a post about the U.S. Dept of Education's "What Works Clearinghouse." It prompted me to visit the pages for the clearinghouse, and then to post my thoughts on the contents of the Character Education page. Below is what I wrote. This is important to me because of the lack of content regarding American Indians.

On Sunday, September 17, 2006, I went to the What Works Clearinghouse web page, interested specifically in the Character Education component. This was my first visit to the site, which is maintained by the US Dept of Education.

It was interesting (though not surprising, given the Bush administration's NCLB program and focus on "accountability") to see the Clearinghouse's emphasis on testable, measurable outcomes for a student's development of moral ways of thinking and acting. Morality and character, apparently, can be measured by tests.

Of equal interest to me was the topics in the "Facing Our History" portion of the Character Ed pages. In this module, students "examine historical events, in particular the events that led to WWII and the Holocaust."

There is some material on slavery, too, but as far as I am able to determine, not a single reference to moral questions regarding the treatment of American Indians. There is some material regarding the Eugenics programs, but it looks like it is limited to Hitler, when there was a very active program here (in the U.S.) as late as the 1970s.

It appears to me that the program, which "aims to promote core character education values and to help middle and high school students develop moral reasoning skills" deliberately uses events that make other countries the "bad guys" while avoiding immoral actions of the U.S. government, especially with respect to American Indians.

I've heard back from an individual who works in the Dept of Ed. He is going to forward my remarks to people in Washington responsible for the site, and he will let me know if he receives a reply. Frankly, I won't hold my breathe. I doubt the gatekeepers in the Bush Administration cares what I think. They have an agenda that has no room for challenge to their vision of America. Under his administration, they also developed a program at the National Endowment for the Humanies that is also, from my point of view, anti-Indian. I'll blog about that another time.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

American Indian Families in Fact and Fiction

At UIUC, I am involved with the Youth Literature Interest Group, a group of faculty and doctoral students in Education, English Studies, Library and Information Science, and (me) in American Indian Studies from UIUC, Illinois State University, and Eastern Illinois University.

On October 20-22nd, we are hosting a conference called "Family, Youth, and Literature."

On the program for the conference, you can see that I will be on a panel on Saturday morning (Oct. 21st). My presentation is "American Indian Families in Fact and Fiction." A brief look at some of what I will present:

In fact, there are over 500 distinct federally recognized tribes in the United States today. Is this diversity present in popular works of fiction?

This is stating the obvious, but oftentimes the obvious is ignored... Today and in the past, we have mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts who love and care for children and other members of the community. Are they included in popular children's books?

As a Pueblo Indian whose people speak Tewa, I called my grandmother "sa?yaa" (note that I am unable to use diacritic marks in the Blogger software) or "gram." The same is true across tribal nations. We use our own language (or English) to refer to women, men, babies, etc. We did not use the words that predominate in popular children's books: "squaw" or "brave" or "papoose."

In a nutshell, I will talk about the ways American Indians and their families are (are not?) portrayed in classic and popular children's books. I will also highlight books like Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer, that do a better job of presenting us as we are.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Indian Country Diaries: Spiral of Fire

Two weeks ago, I shared a little history about UIUC's American Indian Studies program, and I talked about LeAnne Howe, a member of our faculty. I noted her books (Shell Shaker and Evidence of Red) and mentioned her upcoming film, "Spiral of Fire." Today I want to call attention to the film.

Viewing films like this one can help you become better informed about American Indians. Being more informed will help you evaluate children's books, media, and lesson plans about American Indians.

To learn more about Indian Country Diaries, go to their website. There you will find a synopsis of the series, a screening toolkit, viewer's guide with questions for discussion, high resolution images and screen captures (lower resolution) of "Spiral of Fire." Here's the first paragraph of the synopsis:


“Spiral of Fire” takes author LeAnne Howe (Choctaw) to the North Carolina homeland of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to discover how the mix of tourism, community, and cultural preservation is the key to their tribe’s health in the 21st century. Along the way Howe seeks to reconcile her own complex identity as the illegitimate daughter of a Choctaw woman, fathered by a Cherokee man she never knew, and raised by an adopted Cherokee family in Oklahoma. Howe’s search leads the viewer on a journey of discovery to one of the most beautiful places in America where Cherokees, living on lands they’ve inhabited for 10,000 years, manage their own schools, hospitals, cable company, tourist attractions and multi-million dollar casino. Yet, despite these successes, diabetes threatens 40% of the population, racism undermines self-confidence, and greed threatens to divide the community. “Spiral of Fire” reveals the forces at work to restore health, prosperity and sovereignty to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.


In addition to LeAnne's "Spiral of Fire," Indian Country Diaries includes a second documentary, "A Seat at the Drum" featuring journalist Mark Anthony Rolo (of the Bad River Ojibwe nation). "A Seat at the Drum" starts out at Sherman Indian School in Riverside, California. Riverside was one of the last boarding schools created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (see previous posts to the blog on children's books about boarding schools). Rolo spends time in Los Angeles, which, due to government relocation programs, has the largest urban Indian population in the U.S. (over 200,000 as reported on US Census).

The films will be broadcast nationally on PBS in November.

"Spiral of Fire" will premiere at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian on Friday, September 29 at 7:00, and on Saturday, September 30, at 1:30. LeAnne will at the premiere on Friday evening for a follow-up discussion.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Yesterday's assigned reading for students in my class at UIUC was Little House on the Prairie. Most of the students read the book in childhood, and some remember it being read to them by a teacher or parent. Re-reading it now as adults, they were surprised at the multiple occurrences of what they described as derogatory and racist depictions of Native people that they do not recall.

One young woman remembers the phrase in the book "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" and another remembers feeling worried that Laura and her family were in danger.

Along with the book, the students read Michael Dorris' essay "Trusting the Words," in which he describes the joy with which he set out to read Little House to his daughters, only to be taken aback by the negative portrayals. He tried to edit them out as he read aloud, but eventually gave up. His essay first appeared in Booklist 89 (June, 1993) and was reprinted in his book of essays, Paper Trail, published in 1994 by HarperCollins.

I suggest you take a second look at Little House. Note the ways that Native peoples are described, and consider whether or not the book ought to be set aside and used, perhaps, in contexts where readers are able to think critically about racism and colonization.

If you are interested in books and articles that critique Little House, there are several, including these two by Native people.

"Burning Down the House: Laura Ingalls Wilder and American Colonialism," by Waziyatawin Angela Wilson, in Unlearning the Language of Conquest: Scholars Expose Anti-Indianism in America, edited by Four Arrows (Don Trent Jacobs), published in 2006 by University of Texas Press.


"Little House on the Osage Prairie," by Dennis McAuliffe, Jr., available on line at the Oyate web site.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Review of Nicola Campbell's SHI-SHI-ETKO

[Note: This review is used with permission of its author, by Beverly Slapin of Oyate. It may not be used elsewhere without her written permission.]

Campbell, Nicola L. (Interior Salish/Métis), Shi-shi-etko, illustrated by Kim LaFave. Groundwood, 2005. 32 pages, color illustrations; grades 1-3

In just four days, young Shi-shi-etko (“she loves to play in the water”) will have to leave everyone she loves and everything she knows—to go to an Indian residential school where, among other things, her name, language and identity will be taken away. Until recently, this was the law and the harsh reality for Native children in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. “Can you imagine a community without children?” Campbell writes in a brief foreword. “Can you imagine children without parents?”

As Shi-shi-etko counts down the days, her large extended family—cousins, aunties and uncles, and Yahyah—fill her with their love, memories, and the strength to endure what they know will happen and what they are powerless to prevent. With her mother, a morning prayer in the creek. With her father, a paddle song in the canoe. With her yahyah, a visit to the woods. A sprig of hemlock, cedar and pine placed into a small deerskin bag.

Too soon, it is time. The cattle truck is waiting. With a prayer and an offering of tobacco, Shi-shi-etko tucks her deerskin bag inside the roots of a big fir tree, to wait for her return. She takes in everything one last time—“tall grass swaying to the rhythm of the breeze, determined mosquitoes, working bumblebees…each shiny rock, the sand beneath her feet, crayfish and minnows and tadpoles…”

LaFave’s rich and evocative digital illustrations, on a palette of mostly reds, complement this sad and gentle story. What happens to Shi-shi-etko at residential school is not told here. It does not have to be. After Shi-shi-etko, read to children Larry Loyie’s As Long as the Rivers Flow, then Maddie Harper’s “Mush-hole”: Memories of a Residential School, then Judith Lowry’s Home to Medicine Mountain, then Shirley Sterling’s My Name Is Seepeetza; all of these that they may know a shameful part of history that must never be repeated.

—Beverly Slapin

[Note from Debbie: Shi-shi-etko and the other books Beverly refers to in the last paragraph of her review are available from Oyate.]

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Native Americans: Lesson Plans

With Thanksgiving approaching, teachers across the country are getting ready to teach children about Native Americans. Unfortunately, far too often, November and Thanksgiving (and Columbus Day) are the only times of the year that Native peoples make an appearance in the curriculum. That is not "best practice!" I urge teachers to teach about American Indians throughout the year. Here's one book to help you do that.

A terrific resource for early childhood teachers is Lessons from Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms, by Guy W. Jones and Sally Moomaw.

Published in 2002 by Redleaf Press, the book has a lot to offer. Here's an excerpt from the introduction:

"Throughout this book, we have often relied on outstanding children's literature, usually by Native authors, to introduce positive, accurate images of Native peoples to children. It is our view that, with the possible exception of classroom visits by American Indian people, excellent children's literature is the most effective way to counter deeply held stereotypes and help children focus on similarities among peoples as well as cultural differences. The literature serves as a catalyst to extend related activities into other areas of the curriculum."

And here's an excerpt from Chapter 1:

"Omission of Native peoples from the curriculum, inaccurate curriculum, and stereotyping all amount to cultural insensitivity. This is heightened, however, when well-meaning teachers introduce projects that are culturally inappropriate."

Jones and Moomaw go on to discuss projects such as feathers and headdresses, peace pipes, totem poles, dream catchers, sand paintings, pictographs, rattles, drums, and brown bag vests.

Chapter 2 includes a lesson plan called "Children and Shoes" that uses Bernelda Wheeler's Where Did You Get Your Moccasins? and Esther Sanderson's Two Pairs of Shoes. It includes suggested activities in dramatic play (Shoe Store), math (Shoe Graph) and science (Shoe Prints), all of which convey similarities across cultures.

Chapter 6 is about the environment. Featured are two of Jan Bourdeau Waboose's books, SkySisters and Morning on the Lake. In the "not recommended" section that closes each chapter, this chapter says it is not recommended to ask children to make up Indian stories, and explains why.

As a former first grade teacher, I highly recommend this book to anyone working with young children. It is available from Oyate for $30.