Monday, October 15, 2007

Thanksgiving Lesson Plans

With November approaching, teachers across the country are getting ready to teach about Thanksgiving and the "Indians."

In some classes, students will dress up to reenact the "First Thanksgiving." But... What "Indians" will they dress like? What will they "wear" for this reenactment? Will they emulate stereotypical "Indians" or, is the teacher among those who know how crucial it is to be specific----to identify a tribe, to make certain anything taught is correct with respect to that tribe's location, history, clothing, food, politics, etc.

Teachers have good intentions, but with respect to the ways they were trained and socialized to think about American Indian, their good intentions are actually contributing to misperceptions about who we are. I wrote about a flawed lesson plan last year. Click here to read that post.

My colleagues at Oyate prepared some excellent resources on "Thanksgiving." The resources are on-line. Please download them. Read and think. If you're a teacher, there is still time to revise your lesson plans. If you're a parent, give the materials to your child's teachers and librarian.

To find the materials, click here.

Look, especially at the "Books to Avoid" page on Thanksgiving... You will be dismayed to see how many there are, and further dismayed to realize that you have those books on your shelves right now.

To order books that counter those on the "Books to Avoid" list, to help all children learn about American Indians, look through Oyate's catalog. Order books from Oyate. It is the best source for these materials, and it is a not-for-profit organization, too.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Alexie's YA Novel Nominated for National Book Award

Editors Note on Feb 25, 2018: Please see my apology about promoting Alexie's work. --Debbie


Sherman Alexie's outstanding YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, was nominated for a National Book Award in the category, Young People's Literature. The finalist list was released on Wednesday.

In that category, Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House was nominated in 1999.

I think the winner will be announced mid November...

Visit Alexie's website for reviews and info, and a link to an mp3 audio excerpt of the book. Yes, he is the reader of the audio book.

The photo I uploaded is from the press page of his website. Curious... the photo on the publisher's website is a reverse image of the same photo!

Update, Sunday, October 14th:
  • Beverly Slapin's review of the book was posted here on Wed, April 15, 2007. Click here to read her review.
  • I posted links to newspaper articles on September 16, 2007. Click here to go to the list.
  • Roger Sutton, editor at Horn Book, reviewed the book in September. Read his review here.

With November approaching---the month that features and confines us (American Indians) as people of the past---Alexie's book will counter that misperception. Get your copies from Oyate.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Are you a teacher wondering if all Indians live in tipis? If so, order a copy of the book Do All Indians Live in Tipis?: Questions and Answers from the National Museum of the American Indian. It isn't a children's book, per se, but its content is certainly accessible to upper elementary readers, and, it will prove useful to teachers developing lesson plans about American Indians.

In the foreword, founding director Rick West (Southern Cheyenne and member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma) writes:

Before I became the founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian, I was a practicing attorney, and sometimes, when I hear the odd--and even offensive--questions that almost every Indian must bear, I want to rise up and should, "I object!"

The introduction is by Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee). She writes:

In 1963 President John F. Kennedy said, "for a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians are the least understood and the most misunderstood of us all." Regrettably, this statement is as true today as it was more than forty years ago. Many negative stereotypes persist.

She goes on to say that summer visitors to the Cherokee Nation include tourists who wanted to know "Where are all the Indians?" To which she'd reply "They are probably at Wal-Mart!"

West and Mankiller's words set the state quite nicely for a volume consisting of about 100 questions, grouped into these categories:

  • Identity
  • Origins and Histories
  • Popular Myths
  • Clothing, Housing, Food, and Health
  • Ceremony and Ritual
  • Sovereignty
  • Animals and Land
  • Language and Education
  • Love and Marriage
  • Art, Music, Dance, and Sports

Here's a sample of the questions:

  • Why was the Navajo language chosen for military code in World War II? Were all Indian "code talkers" Navajo?
  • Did all tribes have totem poles? Does anyone still carve them?
  • How many Indians lived in the Western Hemisphere when Columbus arrived?
  • Why is the word Eskimo sometimes offensive?

Published by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and HarperCollins, I paid $14.95 for the book at Pages for All Ages, our local independent bookstore. With "Native American Month" approaching in November, you will find it a useful volume.

And, as always, consider moving your lesson plans about American Indians OUT of November; teaching about American Indians only during that month contributes to the mistaken idea that we are only a people of the past, long vanished. That is not the case. We are still here.

Get your copy at the National Museum of the American Indian giftshop, or, from Louise Erdrich's independent bookstore, Birchbark Books.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


On Saturday, October 20th, 2007, I will be in Monticello, Illinois, at the train depot, working as a volunteer for "Artrain USA." It is an art exhibit in train cars. This year, the art is by top American Indian artists whose art is contemporary in style. The exhibit itself is called "Native Views: Influences of Modern Culture."

Among the artists whose work is in the train cars is Judith Lowry, who did the illustrations for Chiori Santiago's picture book, Home to Medicine Mountain. The story is about Lowry's father and uncle, and their experience at boarding school in the 1930s.

In those schools, Native children were taken far from their homes by the US government. They could not return home unless their families had money to pay for their travel. That meant that a lot of kids were stuck at those schools for the entire school year, and many spent many years at them before they could go home. Many kids ran away. Many died as they tried to get home.

Home to Medicine Mountain is about two boys and their efforts to go home. The book concludes with a photograph of the two boys as men.

It is, for me, a unique moment. The boys went home on a train, as you can see in the cover illustration. On Saturday, I will view Judith Lowry's art, in a train car exhibit.

If you're in Central Illinois (or if you're up for a weekend drive to central Illinois), this exhibit is a rare opportunity to see exquisite Native art. To see this sort of collection, you'd have to travel to Washington, or Phoenix, or Oklahoma... And it'll be right here in central Illinois.

The Artrain website includes an educational packet that I encourage you to download and use, whether or not you go to the exhibit.

From here, it will go to Clarksdale, Mississippi; Meridian, Mississippi; Washington DC; Springfield, Missouri; Oklahoma City, and the last stop is in Norman, Oklahoma at the end of November.

The Artrain will be in Monticello for two days (Saturday October 20 and Sunday October 21st). If you do visit, please find me and introduce yourself!


Sunday, October 07, 2007


[This review used with permission of its author, Beverly Slapin, and may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.]


Tohe, Laura (Diné), No Parole Today. Albuquerque: West End Press (1999). 47 pages; grades 7-up

The first words in Laura Tohe’s book are those of Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the Indian boarding school system that devastated Indian lives throughout North America. Addressing the World Baptist Convention in 1883, Pratt said:

In Indian civilization I am a Baptist, because I believe in immersing the Indians in our civilization, and when we get them under holding them there until they are thoroughly soaked.

Tohe’s great-grandfather was one of the first Diné students to attend Pratt’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School, and she likens her own Indian school experience to serving a prison sentence. No Parole Today is Tohe’s poetry and personal narrative about this time in her life and the challenges of maintaining her identity in a system whose aim is to destroy it.

In an opening piece, a response to Pratt, Tohe writes,

A hundred years after you made your statement to the Baptists, we are still here. We have not vanished, gone away quietly into the sunset, or assimilated into the mainstream culture the way you envisioned….[W]e continue to survive with the strength of the spirit of our ancestors. Our grandmothers and grandfathers taught us to hold to our beliefs, religions, and languages. That is the way of survival for us….I voice this letter to you now because I speak for me, no longer invisible, and no longer relegated to the quiet margins of American culture, my tongue silenced….To write is powerful and even dangerous. To have no stories is to be an empty person. Writing is a way for me to claim my voice, my heritage, my stories, my culture, my people, and my history.

In first grade, the children received their first “Dick and Jane” books, in which they were introduced to white society in the form of Father, Mother, Dick and Jane and Sally, who drove around in cars and said “oh, oh, oh” a lot. In “Dick and Jane Subdue the Diné,” Tohe describes how the schools made the taking away of language a priority:

See Father.

See Mother.

See Dick run.

See Jane and Sally laugh.

oh, oh, oh

See Spot jump.

oh, oh, oh

See Eugene speak Diné.

See Juanita answer him.

oh, oh, oh

See teacher frown.

uh oh, uh oh

See Eugene with red hands, shape of ruler.

oh, oh, oh

See Eugene cry.

oh, oh, oh

See Juanita stand in corner, see tears fall down face.

oh, oh, oh

Oh see us draw pictures

of brown horses under blue clouds.

We color eyes black, hair black.

We draw ears and leave out mouth.

Oh see, see, see.

While most of Tohe’s writing focuses on her coming of age in this hostile alien environment, her later pieces are written from her perspective as an adult, and her final poem, “At Mexican Springs,” is a thing of beauty and hope:

It is here among the sunset in

every plant

every rock

every shadow

every movement

every thing

I relive visions of ancient stories

First Woman and First Man

their children stretched across

these eternal sandstones

a deep breath

she brings me sustenance


and I will live to tell my children these things.

For everyone who has survived the Indian boarding schools, and for everyone who never knew of their existence, No Parole Today is a gift. Laura Tohe’s writing is spare and honest, with no polemic; proof of the government’s utter failure to take away Indian voice.

—Beverly Slapin

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Monday, October 8th, 2007, is Indigenous Peoples Day. If you've come to this site looking for Columbus Day lesson plans, please set aside the tired and untrue 'celebration' of Christopher Columbus!

Instead, provide your students and library patrons with information that makes them informed citizens of the world. Tell them that Columbus did not "discover" the lands that came to be known as "America." There were indigenous people here then, and we are still here.

I am from Nambe O'Weenge. It is a Tewa pueblo located in northern New Mexico. In the "We Are Still Here" series, published by Lerner, is a book called Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters. Books like can be very helpful because through photographs, students in your class can see that we are part of today's society. Note: I've said "we are still here" and "teach students that we are still here" many times on this blog. I feel a bit like a broken record, but, over time, enough teachers, parents, and librarians will change their lesson plans, that we can all stop saying "we are still here."


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Thursday, September 27, 2007


Last week in my children's lit class, we discussed Herbert Kohl's book, Shall We Burn Babar? In prep for it, I stopped in the local library to grab copies of Babar books. I found one I hadn't seen before... It is titled Babar's World Tour, published in 2005 by Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

"World tour," I thought to myself. "What did dear old Babar see?"

In the first pages, Babar and his family visit Italy, Germany, Russia, India, Japan, Thailand... where they eat new foods, speak phrases in Italian, etc. At one point, Isabelle notes difference in language and asks "What's wrong with our words?" Celeste explains that "People in different places say things differently. They do things differently, too. They build different kinds of buildings." Note Celeste's  reference to people of the present day. She uses present tense words like "say" and "do".

Now, I call your attention to this page from the inside of the book.

Note, specifically, the text from that page, which I've included below (bold text is mine):

When everyone was rested, they went to Angkor in Cambodia, the ancient city of the Khmers. In Mexico, they climbed a pyramid built by the Aztecs. In both places, the original settlers were gone but tourists abounded.

"Will everyone move out of Celesteville one day, too?" Pom asked.

"Never," said Babar. "But apart from us, it happens a lot, as you'll see."

The "it" that happens is being gone, moved out. The "as you'll see" refers to the places they visit next, which include "the cliff houses of the Anasazi in the high desert of the American Southwest," and "the Inca Trail, on the same stones that the Incas had walked..." and "... the remains of the city of Machu Picchu hidden in the Andes Mountains."

Speaking sarcastically.... How nice for the Babar family and other tourists, that the "original settlers" were gone! And what does "gone" mean??? Why are they gone? How does a child understand that word? And how nice that these "original settlers" moved out, leaving these wonderful places for the tourists! And how good it is of Babar to assure Pom that the inhabitants of Celesteville will never move out of Celesteville! Their own home is secure. Forever.

Reviewers of the book failed to note these passages and the messages they impart to the reader. School Library Journal's reviewer finds it lacking because it doesn't have the same adventure and excitement in Jean de Brunhoff's Travels of Babar (which has highly problematic illustrations of "cannibals"). Perhaps if they'd actually come across "savages" (aka "original settlers) the reviewer might have given it a favorable review.

The review in Booklist is more favorable: "Though children listening to the story will get only a glimpse or two of each country before moving on to the next, this colorful picture book provides an inkling of the diversity of places and cultures in the world. A pleasant excursion, recommended especially for those who already know and love Babar and his family."

Perhaps, but I wonder about children of all those "original settlers"?! Will a Pueblo child say "We're not gone as in extinct. We're still here. We're the descendants of the Cliff Dwellers."

There is a great deal wrong with this book. It is very useful for a high school or college classroom, but as a read-aloud for young children? No.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Note from LeAnne Howe (author of MIKO KINGS)

I got this note late last night, in response to yesterday's post about "The Indian Show" episode from I Love Lucy. I blogged about LeAnne's new book, Miko Kings, a few days ago. It is available from Aunt Lute Books. I've spent a lot of time with LeAnne, and have heard her use "Fred and Ethel" many times...

Debbie, I love Lucy. In fact, so much so that I often use the terms, "Fred and Ethel," my invisible friends, when I want to make a point about binaries and metaphor. My new novel's working title is: The Adventures of Fred and Ethel in the Middle East: A Choctaw Travelogue. It's all about sex and a love triangle run amuck, and of course, espionage and the CIA, and well, Indians caught in the middle of the Iraqi civil war. Thanks for posting this delicious segment. What fun.

LeAnne Howe

PS: I'm not kidding.

Monday, September 24, 2007

"The Indians crept closer and closer...."

A student in one of my classes shared a YouTube clip from an episode of the I Love Lucy show. The episode "The Indian Show" was episode #59, and aired May 4, 1953. The line I've used as a title for this post "The Indians crept closer and closer" is from the script for that episode.

In it, Ethel laughs at Lucy being so engrossed in "Blood Curdling Indian Tales" that Lucy screams when Ethel comes in the room. One might say the writers/producers were making a point that the book Lucy reads from is not to be taken seriously. Ethel, in fact, says sarcastically that Lucy is "reading more sophisticated things these days." Here's what Lucy reads aloud to Ethel. She prefaces her reading by saying that she's glad she didn't live in those days.

Then the silhouettes of the Indians appeared on the horizon. The pioneer men pushed the women and children back into the wagons. The Indians crept closer and closer. Fire-tipped arrows pierced the canvas of the first wagon. Women fainted. Children screamed. The Indians were almost upon them. They could see their fiendish faces, hideously painted, grotesque in the light of the leaping flames. There was a lull as the last groans of the dying men faded. Suddenly to the ears of the cowering women, out of the stillness of the night, broke the sound of an Indian war cry.

That text could have come right out of... Let's see... Little House on the Prairie? Or, Caddie Woodlawn? Matchlock Gun?

I wonder how teachers talk about those particular passages in those popular, award-winning, "classic" perhaps, books? I doubt most teachers characterize them as "unsophisticated," as Ethel did of Lucy's book.

By the way.... does anyone know of such a book?! Lucy holds it in her hands as she reads, and you can see the cover. In my cursory search, I was unable to find a book with that title. Here's the link to the YouTube clip, and here's one from later in the episode, when Lucy and Ricky sing.

Update: March 27, 2009: The clip is no longer available on youtube. The entire show is available
on veoh.

Watch the indian show in Comedy | View More Free Videos Online at


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Durango Mendoza's "Summer Water and Shirley"

On this blog is a list of recommended books and resources. The list was compiled by myself and my friend and colleague, Jean Mendoza. Jean has written for this blog, and I've referenced her many times. On that list is a story by Jean's husband, Durango.

That story is the subject of today's post.

"Summer Water and Shirley" was first published decades ago, and is available in an anthology used in high schools, Connections: Reading and Writing in Cultural Contexts, edited by Judith A. Stanford, and more recently in Writing the Cross Culture: Native Fiction on the White Man's Religion, edited by James Treat. Or, you can read the story on-line (link below).

The story is on my mind today because Tol Foster, a post doc here at UIUC, sent me a link to a website with an on-line lecture about Durango's story. The lecture itself is by Craig Womack, a leading scholar in Native literary criticism.

Both--Durango and Craig--are Creek. The webpage says that Womack "introduces the little-known, but remarkable short story" but when you watch the video, you'll see those words fall short. The story is more than just 'remarkable' to Craig.

The webpage includes the entire lecture, titled "Baptists and Witches: Multiple Jurisdictions in a Muskogee Creek Story" in four segments. It also includes a link to the story and a 1970/1971 article from The Chronicles of Oklahoma about a church that has significance to the story, and a list of resources that includes a link to the constitution of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

If you teach Durango's story, take a look. If you don't, take a look! There's so much depth, beauty, and power here...

Thanks, Tol, for sharing the link. We're fortunate to have Tol with us this year. He is Mvskoke Creek.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More info: "I am part Native American"

Last October, I wrote about the statement "I am part Native American." I indicated I'd write more about it another time. I didn't realize nearly a year had passed since then! Time often moves faster than we'd like it to...

Here at UIUC's Native American House, one of this year's post docs in our American Indian Studies program is Jill Doerfler. She's Anishinaabe from the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. Jill writes for her tribal newspaper, Anishinaabeg Today. On April 18th, 2007, she began a series of columns about sovereignty and citizenship.

Today, I point you to Jill's work on those topics. It is important that you---readers, writers, reviewers, editors, buyers---of children's books about American Indians learn all you can about who we are, and what it means to make a statement like "I am part..."

To read Jill's column, go to the homepage of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. Click on the fourth button "Anishinaabeg" and then click on April 18th. Jill's column is on the second page.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Editors Note on Feb 25, 2018: Please see my apology about promoting Alexie's work. --Debbie


Reviews: Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Over the last ten days or so, reviews of Sherman Alexie's YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian have been appearing in major newspapers across the country. The reviews are excellent. I don't recall a Native authored children's book getting this much press before.

It is well-deserved, for Alexie. It is a terrific book that will, no doubt, win accolades in the children's and YA arena. Newberry, perhaps.

Let's hope readers are so enamored that they look for other books written by Native authors! If you're a person who works with children and books, use the excitement around Alexie's book to promote other Native authored books.

Here's links to the reviews. I don't know how long these will work. Papers vary with respect to how long they let you read an article before they impose a charge to view it. The subtitles of the reviews themselves are interesting to consider...

LA Times review by Susan Carpenter: "'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' by Sherman Alexie, A Native American boy tries to fit in at a white high school as reservation life takes a toll on his family"

NY Post review by Blake Nelson: "The School of Shock: Indian Delves into White Curriculum, Survives Battle"

Minneapolis Star Tribune review by Jim Lenfestey: "Books: Straight shooter. FICTION 'A teen boy on the Spokane Indian Reservation, beset by health problems and poverty issues, decides to attend school off the reservation, earning the enmity of his peers."

Seattle Times review by Stephanie Dunnewind: "Sherman Alexie captures the voice, chaos and humor of a teenager"

Ottawa Citizen review by Sarah T. Williams: "Native author is a man of many tribes: Terrorist attacks of 9/11 led writer Sherman Alexie to abandon the negative aspects of tribalism"

Oregonian review by J. David Santen Jr.: "Alexie pulls no punches in young-adult novel"

Newsday review by Sonja Bolle: "Alexie entertains while taking on tough ideas"

Spokesman Review by Dan Webster: "Alexie's new fiction may be close to truth"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

LeAnne Howe's MIKO KINGS

I'm waiting for a copy of a new novel by my friend and colleague, LeAnne Howe. Her new book, called Miko Kings, has much to pique my interest. As you can discern from the photograph on the cover, it is about a baseball team. Not just any team, however... The subtitle is "An Indian Baseball Story."

More later...

Update, 9/16/2007

Here's the blurb for the book:

It is 1907 in Ada, the queen city of Indian Territory. While white settlers are making plans to turn the Territory into the state of Oklahoma, the big story is Henri Day's all-Indian baseball team, the Miko Kings. Just as the team is poised to win the 1907 Twin Territories' Pennant against their archrivals, the Seventh Cavalry Soldiers, Miko Kings' Choctaw pitcher Hope Little Leader sees a storm blowing in. As the series heads into the ninth and final game, emotions (and betting) rise to a feverish pitch. Only Ada's quirky postal clerk, Ezol Day, understands that the outcome of this game will affect Indians' and baseball' for the next four generations. As Henri Day says, "This is where the twentieth-century Indian really begins, not in the abstractions of Congressional Acts, but on the prairie diamond."
At a PBS website about LeAnne's work on the documentary, Indian Country Diaires, there is a page about Miko Kings. Below are some excepts from that page that capture why I'm especially excited about this book.
"The story of Miko Kings began for me when the contractor remodeling my house found a dusty mail pouch hidden inside a lathe and plaster wall he was tearing out. The pouch was stuffed with papers..."

"..., and a 12 x 12 black and white photograph of an Indian baseball team. The words "1907 Miko Kings" were scrawled across the front.

"...The faces of the men in the picture revealed none of the frustration, none of the anger one attributes to the racism of the Allotment Era."

Filled with questions about the players, the protagonist began to search for answers. In that search, she looked again through the contents of the mailpouch and found a newspaper article from the Ada Weekly News, dated July 16, 1904.

Here's the text of that article:

"Indian-owned ball club Miko Kings took the MKT train northwest for an exhibition game against the El Reno Sharpshooters in a lavish July 4, 1906 celebration, at which the Kiowas killed a jersey cow in mock-rodeo-style, then barbecued and devoured the remains in front of the grandstand. But there was no ball game. Pitcher Hope Little Leader objected to an umpire named John Coffee, citing this man's ancestor as having forced the Choctaws on the infamous "Trail of Tears." Little Leader refused to pitch and El Reno, in turn, refused to pay Miko Kings' bill at the Lightfoot Hotel."

"There was considerable commotion on El Reno's side. Finally, the sheriff was brought in to umpire the three-game series. He called the game with two six-shooters, one in each holster laced to each leg. The first two games went to El Reno 14-5, and 11-2. Miko Kings had better hitting, and as owner Henri Day reported, perhaps "better" umpiring, as the sheriff was called away. The last game went to Miko Kings, 10-3."

Baseball fans and/or history buffs will be interested in this book, and both will learn a fair bit of Native history as they read. Though not published for the YA market, I do think it will work well in a high school literature or history classroom.

Miko Kings is published by Aunt Lute, a not-for-profit, multicultural women's press. LeAnne's touring schedule is posted there. She'll be in Virginia, Texas, and Minnesota in Sept and Oct.

Monday, September 10, 2007


This comment, by Marlene Atleo, was submitted in response to Beverly Slapin's review, posted on Tuesday, Sept. 4th. I'm posting it here, for those interested in learning more about the book and movie. Marlene is an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba. She is among the women with whom I worked on the extensive review essay of Ann Rinaldi's shamefully erroneous story, My Heart is on the Ground. Marlene is of the Ahousaht First Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth, West Coast of Vancouver Island. She was a contributor to A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. A copy of A Broken Flute ought to be on the references shelf in every library, public/private/school/university.


Don't forget the movie of the same name done by Award winning Canadian Director David Duke, featuring the Ahousaht First Nation, our Granny Mary and Nan Margaret and a cast of well as a couple of HOllywood types....made for Christmas 1974 I think...and now available on Video was a major hit...the book is used extensively in schools on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Our community got a power generating plant from General Electric the sponsor of the film in lieu of payment for the location was the introduction of power for the community until the hydro cables was laid a few years later.
The making of the movie with the crew in the village reminds me of Ken Kesey's Sailor's Song movie shot in Alaska during the last days of the salmon was a little Felliniesque....partly because of the cash injection which resulted in consumption that changed the face of the community and partly because the cast partied with the community...
The author of Daughters of Copperwoman lurked in the background soaking up atmosphere....and most of the community ended up being extras.... so the video is like a home movie....

For some First Nations people living on the coast at that time it a controversial book....the background is such that the community in which the book was set refused to participate in the movie for a variety of reasons having to do with the main character....who I was very surprised wasn't dead because he knocked on my door during the shooting....he was officially involved in the background of another book....Error in Judgment by Dara Speck Culhane....who documented the activities of a doctor who "served" a remote community that was half aboriginal and half non-aboriginal....

as Bev points out....the book....rises above all of this...pointing to some more enduring qualities.....and is followed by her autobiography....Again Calls Owl 1983

-Mare Atleo

Thursday, September 06, 2007


It is easier to find a children's book that looks at the Lewis and Clark Expedition through the eyes of Seaman, the black lab who was on the expedition, than it is to find books about it from the perspective of Native peoples on whose lands Lewis and Clark journeyed.

Do you wonder if you read that paragraph right? Did you re-read it, just to make sure you understood it right?! Saying again, you'll more likely to find a book about Lewis and Clark--told from the perspective of a dog--than from a Native person.

Sadly, that is precisely the case.

There is, however, a terrific book for older kids. Edited by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., it is Lewis and Clark through Indian Eyes: Nine Indian Writers on the Legacy of the Expedition.

Here's the description:

For the first time in the two hundred years since Lewis and Clark led their expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific, we hear the other side of the story—as we listen to nine descendants of the Indians whose homelands were traversed. 
Among those who speak: Newspaper editor Mark Trahant writes of his childhood belief that he was descended from Clark and what his own research uncovers. Award-winning essayist and fiction writer Debra Magpie Earling describes the tribal ways that helped her nineteenth-century Salish ancestors survive, and that still work their magic today. Montana political figure Bill Yellowtail tells of the efficiency of Indian trade networks, explaining how axes that the expedition traded for food in the Mandan and Hidatsa villages of Kansas had already arrived in Nez Perce country by the time Lewis and Clark got there a few months and 1,000 miles later. Umatilla tribal leader Roberta Conner compares Lewis and Clark’s journal entries about her people with what was actually going on, wittily questioning Clark’s notion that the natives believed the white men “came from the clouds”—in other words, they were gods. Writer and artist N. Scott Momaday ends the book with a moving tribute to the “most difficult of journeys,” calling it, in the truest sense, for both the men who entered the unknown and those who watched, “a vision quest,” with the “visions gained being of profound consequence.”
Some of the essays are based on family stories, some on tribal or American history, still others on the particular circumstances of a tribe today—but each reflects the expedition’s impact through the prism of the author’s own, or the tribe’s, point of view.
Thoughtful, moving, provocative, Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes is an exploration of history—and a study of survival—that expands our knowledge of our country’s first inhabitants. It also provides a fascinating and invaluable new perspective on the Lewis and Clark expedition itself and its place in the long history of our continent.

Published in 2006 by Vintage Books, the nine writers and their essays are:

Vine Deloria, Jr., "Frenchmen, Bears, and Sandbars"
Debra Magpie Earling, "What We See"
Mark Trahant, "Who's Your Daddy"
Bill Yellowtail, "Meriwether and Billy and the Indian Business"
Robert Conner, "Our People Have Always Been Here"
Gerard A. Baker, "Mandan and Hidatsa of the Upper Missouri"
Allen V. Pinkhorn, Sr., "We Ya Oo Yet Soyapo"
Robert and Richard Basch, "The Ceremony at Ne-ah-coxie"
N. Scott Momaday, "The Voices of Encounter"

I highly recommend it, for teachers at any grade level. It is available on Kindle.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


[This review used here by permission of its author, Beverly Slapin. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission. You may link to it from another site, but cannot paste the entire review on your site.]


Craven, Margaret, I Heard the Owl Call My Name. New York: Doubleday (1973). 159 pages; grades 7-up; Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl)

It is possible for an author to put down, in truth and beauty, the lives of a people not her own. Such authors are few and far between. Margaret Craven is one of them.

Mark Brian is a young vicar, dying but not knowing it, assigned to minister to the bishop's “hardest parish,” the Kwakiutl village of Quee (“inside place”), which the whites call Kingcome. He encounters a place of incomparable beauty and a people of ancient tradition and ceremony, of prefabricated houses and an alien­ated younger gen­eration. In this place, and from these people, he learns of living and dying, of compas­sion and commitment.

Writing in the third person, Craven clearly and with great good humor sympathizes with the villagers. She describes how they take revenge on the intruders by serving them mashed turnips, and how they “cautiously confabulate” about the newcomer's “looks, his manners, even his clean fingernails.” “He will be no good at hunting and fish­ing,” Jim tells Chief Eddy.

He knows little of boats. All the time he says we. “Shall we have dinner now? Shall we tie up here?” Pretty soon he will say, “Shall we build a new vicarage?” He will say we and he will mean us.

Craven has the handful of white characters doing and saying things that will have (at least) Indian readers chuckling. Such as the British anthropologist who insists on calling the people “Quackadoodles.” “For the past century in England,” she argues, “this band has been known as the Quackadoodles and as the Quackadoodles, it will be known forever.” And there is the teacher:

This was the teacher's second year in the village. He did not like the Indians and they did not like him.... The teacher had come to the village solely for the isolation pay which would permit him a year in Greece studying the civilization he adored.

Craven's writing is spare, simple, and beautiful, with understanding and compassion. Here, the swimmer, having laid her eggs, meets her end:

They moved again and saw the end of the swimmer. They watched her last valiant fight for life, her struggle to right herself when the gentle stream turned her, and they watched the water force open her gills and draw her slowly downstream, tail first, as she had started to the sea as a fingerling.

After Mark has died, and the villagers have laid him to rest, she writes:

Past the village flowed the river, like time, like life itself, waiting for the swimmer to come again on his way to the climax of his adventurous life, and to the end for which he had been made. Wa Laum. That is all.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name is a book of great beauty that can teach much, without polemic, for those who will listen.

—Beverly Slapin

Monday, September 03, 2007

New Study: "...Exploring How Indians and Non-Indians Think About Each Other"

PUBLIC AGENDA issued a new report a few days ago, subtitled "A Qualitative Study Exploring How Indians and non-Indians Think About Each Other." Note the word "qualitative" in that subtitle. It means the research consists of interviews. In this case, the researchers interviewed people in 12 focus groups: "7 with Indians, including 2 conducted in the Crow language, and 5 with non-Indians."

Called Walking a Mile: A First Step Toward Mutual Understanding," it is definitely worth reading. How does is relate to children's books about American Indians? There are references in the report to the way American Indian content is taught in schools. An excerpt from page 9:

"...historical depictions and school curricula about American Indians have changed in the last 30 to 40 years, providing a more balanced picture of U.S. history. However, a few felt that even these depictions are too often superficial, relegated to elementary school or laden with political correctness."

Read the report. How do your thoughts align with those of the interviewees? Think about your teaching, or the books in your house/library/classroom. What role do they play in developing perceptions of American Indians?


Monday, August 27, 2007


Some time back, I discussed Beverly Blacksheep's board books that include English and Dine (Navajo) language. Today, I draw your attention to Eugene Sekaquaptewa's Coyote and the Winnowing Birds: A Traditional Hopi Tale.

The story is presented in English, but also in the Hopi language. And the illustrators are twenty-two children of the Hotevilla-Bacavi Community School at Hopi.

It is based on a story told by Eugene Sekaquaptewa, translated and edited by Emory Sekaquaptewa and Barbara Pepper.

In addition to the inclusion of Hopi language, note the style of telling the story itself. The first page reads:

Yaw Orayve yeesiwa.
Everyone was living at Oraibi.

One line of text, providing basic information in a straightforward way. There is no "many moons ago" or "in the days of the ancient ones" in this book. There is no romantic, waxing prose found in too many retellings of Native stories.

From my read of the story, the straightforward text communicates that the Hopi people are a people of the present day. Not vanished, or exotic. Any child picking up this book will recognize the art as something he or she could have produced. It is child art. But it is child art done by Hopi children, which communicates (as does the text) that Hopi children are part of the present day.

Designed for children at the school, the book includes information about the Hopi alphabet, a Hopi to English Glossary, and an English to Hopi Glossary. Still, any child will enjoy Coyote and the Winnowing Birds, and the other book in the series, Coyote and Little Turtle. They will go a long way in countering the misperception that Native peoples no longer exist.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Education of Little Tree (again) and Spirit Bear (again)

A North Carolina newspaper ran a column a few days ago, about the summer reading list for Kernodle Middle School. As teachers across the country plan for the coming year, the column, "Ahearn: 'Native' book on 7th-grade list a 'slap in the face'" is worth reading.

Ahearn (the columnist) did a fine job, noting the controversy that is the backstory of The Education of Little Tree, but also in her interview with Native parents and community members.

The school principal indicated the book is used at Kernodle, based on its inclusion on a list prepared by the National Middle School Association. I tried, unsuccessfully, to find the list. Is it on line somewhere?

Teachers across the country place great confidence in professional organizations. We should all remember that people in those organizations have been taught and socialized to view American Indians in limited, and too-often biased and stereotypical ways.

Change can happen, but it will be driven by teachers and parents and librarians who think critically about how American Indians are presented in books, stories, curriculum materials, movies, videos, cartoons, etc.

This blog/resource is intended to help with that effort. Read the articles and reviews. Visit the websites I link to.

I'm sure the teachers and staff at Kernodle are taken aback by the column and criticism's being directed at them. But as Ahearn noted, there's more information available now than ever before, and being proactive is necessary.

This blog has included discussion of The Education of Little Tree several times. I've also blogged several times about another book students at Kernodle are reading, Touching Spirit Bear. I hope you find them useful. Share them with teachers and librarians. Books like this cannot be used "as is." If you teach them, or read them, use the information presented below. Help children and teens to know that books are not sacred. They contain errors, and they often mislead and miseducate.

One family's experience with The Education of Little Tree

"Home of the Brave," by Paul Chaat Smith (critique of Brother Eagle Sister Sky and The Education of Little Tree

Forrest Carter's Education of Little Tree

A Review of Ben Mikaelsen's Touching Spirit Bear

Reaction to Slapin's review of Touching Spirit Bear


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gail Haley's TWO BAD BOYS

[Eds. Note: This review used here with permission. It may not be published elsewhere without written permission of Beverly Slapin and Gayle Ross.]


Haley, Gail E., Two Bad Boys: A Very Old Cherokee Tale, illustrated by the author. New York: Dutton (1996). Unpaginated, color illustrations; grades 2-3; Cherokee

Let me first say two things. I don’t tell this story publicly. It’s part of the long creation story that is told in ceremony every year at Green Corn time. An elder once told me that the Earth needs to hear these stories, but how, when and to whom they are told must be respected.

The second thing is that, in order to tell a good story, you have to know that the story is alive. You have to make it comfortable in your interior landscape. Most Native stories that find themselves wandering around in the psyches of non-Native storytellers and writers would be in a place as foreign to them as Mars would be to the average Earth-dweller. That’s where you’d find something like Two Bad Boys.

Gail Haley’s retelling of our sacred story about Kanati and Selu mirrors the Christian myth about Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and how work came into the world.

In Haley’s version, First Man (Kanati, the Hunter), First Woman (Selu, the Corn Mother) and Boy lead an idyllic life, until Boy’s reflection in the river springs to life and becomes Wild Boy, Boy’s alter ego and trouble-making playmate. Wild Boy tempts the well-behaved Boy into mischief, involving freeing all of Kanati’s game animals from a cave and discovering Selu’s secret source of vegetables. And because of the two bad boys’ disobedience,

Since that time, people have had to hunt for their meat, plant their vegetables, and work in this world.

All of the major review journals praised this “cautionary tale about two bad boys whose actions change the world forever.” Publishers Weekly, for instance, called it “conscientiously researched,” and from Kirkus Reviews:
The transgression of moral authority and the dual nature of existence are themes which have echoes throughout western literature; this Cherokee legend confirms the universality of human nature.

But Two Bad Boys is not, in any way, at all, “a very old Cherokee tale,” nor is it, in any way, at all, what our story is about. There are layers and layers of meaning in this most sacred story that are contained in essential elements that Haley did away with in order to make it a “children’s story.” The entire process of eliminating what makes the story sacred is what makes Haley’s version a desecration. Two Bad Boys is the cultural equivalent of retelling the Easter Story and leaving out the crucifixion. It’s that insensitive.

“Sge, sge! Sge, sge! My story rattle has sounded; it is time to begin!” Haley begins. Turtle shell rattles are not green, blue, yellow and white—and our turtle shell rattle is not a story rattle. It is carried by our traditional healers, one of whom was Yunini (Swmmer), who told the story of Kanati and Selu to anthropologist James Mooney. Haley probably saw the photo of Yunini holding his turtle shell rattle in Mooney’s book and figured it was a “story rattle.”

Throughout Two Bad Boys, Haley changes our story to reflect her own Christian values. For instance, in our traditional story, the two boys spy on Kanati while he is hunting. They see him release the animals from the cave, and know how he always manages to find game. But in Haley’s version, Wild Boy, knowing the answer, asks Kanati where he finds such good meat, and Kanati responds:
Ah, my son…[I]t is the way of the Hunter to know the secrets of the four-leggeds and the winged ones. It is the proper way of young boys to accept what they are given and not ask so many questions.

The Christian concept that “children should be seen and not heard” is not an aspect of traditional Cherokee culture, nor is it in our stories.

From the very beginning Haley homogenizes and sanitizes all of the essential elements of our story. She glosses over where Wild Boy comes from. In our traditional story, Wild Boy is born from the blood of a piece of game that Selu was washing in the river. In Two Bad Boys, Haley has him just coming up out of the river to play with Boy.

In our story, Kanati and Selu catch Wild Boy and adopt him. Haley says in her story, “Ku! We all wish they had not; for although they had captured him, they could not tame him.” That’s editorializing and it’s not Cherokee. We would never say in a story that we wish something had or had not happened. The story is as the story is and it explains several important things.

Haley’s delineation of the two boys as good and evil with the evil boy always leading the good boy astray is not in our traditional story either. In our story, Wild Boy makes suggestions and the boys go off together and do their mischief. The moralistic tone Haley inserts in order to make the boys the focus of the story is completely at odds with our traditional story. Over and over again, she does this.
In our story, when Kanati discovers that the boys have released the game animals, he goes into the cave and kicks the covers off four jars. The boys are immediately covered in swarms of bedbugs, flies, lice and gnats, and they get stung. Then, Kanati says to them:
“Now, you rascals,” said he, “you’ve always had plenty to eat and never had to work for it. Whenever you were hungry all I had to do was to come up here and get a deer or a turkey and bring it home for your mother to cook; but now you have let out all the animals, and after this when you want a deer to eat you will have to hunt all over the woods for it, and then maybe not find one. Go home now to your mother, while I see if I can find something to eat for supper.” [1]

Haley’s version:
“You two bad boys did not heed my words,” he shouted. “Now I must go away. And you will have to track the animals and bring them down with bows and arrows. This you have brought on yourselves.” And he strode off to the Western Land of the Darkening Sun.

In our story, the boys go straight home to their mother who feeds them with corn and beans while they await Kanati’s return. Instead, Haley has the boys “cold as well as hungry,” having to “hunt every day to find enough meat just to stay alive.” During the long hard winter, they spend “many hours staring into the fire and regretting what they had done.”

The final part of our story—that Haley so desecrates here—is the hardest part to talk about. In our traditional story, when the boys see Selu making food from her body, they are horrified. They immediately decide that she is a witch and that they must kill her. As soon as she comes back into the house, she sees them and knows their minds. She allows the boys to kill her and sacrifice her body into the ground. She gives them detailed instructions on how to do this so that the corn will always grow and Selu will always continue to feed her people.

The whole rest of the story—Selu’s death, the preparation of the ground, how the corn grows from her blood—is very, very sacred. What happens after Kanati comes back and finds Selu gone is incredibly beautiful and powerful. This told story can—and often does—go on for hours.

The blood, the pain, the very real elements involved in two sons’ turning on and killing their mother—all of this represents a very sacred powerful aspect to the reverence in which we hold corn. Corn is never taken for granted. Corn is alive.

But here is how Haley disrespects and trivializes our story: After the “two bad boys” figure out how Selu produced the food, they do the same.

But when they came down the ladder, Selu was waiting for them. “You two bad boys,” she cried. “Because you have helped yourselves, our lives must change forever.” With a wave of her hand, the building pulled loose from the earth and flew away to the West.
“The corn and beans in your basket are all that you have left. From this time on, you must dig the earth, plant the seeds you hold, then tend and harvest the plants when they are ready,” she told them.

Then Selu flew away to join her husband in the Western Land of the Darkening Sun. Since that time, people have had to hunt for their meat, plant their vegetables, and work in this world.

A children’s book about the Easter Story, in which the author has left out the crucifixion because it is too bloody, would have been thoroughly trashed by professional reviewers. No question about it. Yet Haley’s superficial, Christianized, abominable retelling of what is without doubt one of the most powerful and sacred stories we hold, went unchallenged; and in fact, was highly praised.

No one has the right to do this. This review was a very painful thing for me to write.

—Gayle Ross

[1] I am quoting from our story of Kanati and Selu as told by Yunini (Swimmer), a traditional Cherokee healer and storyteller, to James Mooney, who published it in 1900 in Myths of the Cherokee. All of the stories that Swimmer told to Mooney are the most complete, the most detailed, of any in Mooney’s collection.