Friday, October 26, 2007

Pueblo Indians and Catholic Missionaries

I got an email from someone who read my post yesterday about kachinas in The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Pinata for a Pinon Tree. He noted simply the err in mixing two religions. His email reminded me of a short story my daughter, Liz Reese, wrote when she was 15. With her permission, I post it today. I think it provides some history and context for, in our case, Pueblo objections to the ways that our spiritual and religious ways are appropriated for the entertainment of others.

Liz's story is untitled. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.



It’s so dark. Sitting in the back of the car, I look out my window and see nothing, just blackness. The moon is dark, and we are miles away from the small town of Espanola, leaving the little light it provides behind. As we get closer to the monument, Donald turns off the headlights. If we are caught now, all our work will be in vain. We pull into the parking lot, only car there, good sign. Donald pops the trunk of his Toyota and Will and I hop out to get what we will need for our task.

Going out late like this is not something I usually do. I don’t go out and party like a lot of teenagers do. But tonight is different. Our reason for being out late is different. Everyone is sober. Our elders tell us that alcohol on your breath is disrespectful in a sacred place. This place is not sacred, but what we are about to do is, in a way, sacred, as we go forth to protect and protest that which oppressed and oppresses our sacred ways of being. Being, that is, Pueblo Indian.

I am from Nambe and Ohkay Owingeh. When we eat, we remember to give food to our ancestors. I can see vividly my grandmother cooking and humming to herself, songs that mean nothing and everything. She stops to pick up a tiny piece of bread or meat and offers it, in our way, to our ancestors. Her brown hands are no longer clad with jewelry like mine are; hers are old and bare, wearing only their wrinkles.

She is old now. She couldn’t carry what I have to carry tonight. I unload the box with the heavy battery inside. In the darkness it takes me a few seconds to find the carrying handle. I am nervous, my heart pounding. The last thing I want is a criminal record. That could destroy everything I have worked for, leaving home to get an education at a school that prepares me to fight for our people.

Will pulls out a chainsaw and shuts the trunk. The sound of it slamming echoes out through the valley. All three of us flinch, the sound was too loud, but the empty darkness kills it slowly. Donald almost scolds him, but he knows better than to make any more noise. I stumble on the curb. It is so dark, I can’t see anything. But Will puts a hand on my shoulder and leads me toward the statue. Standing 12 feet high, Don Juan de Oñate is in full uniform and mounted on his horse. I wonder if that’s what he really looked like, or if they used some random model for the statue. Is this the face of a killer? A man who, because we refused to give him grain, ordered the enslavement of Acoma pueblo’s women and children, and the mutilation of its men? Onate is heralded in history books as an explorer, but few say that he was charged with turning us into Catholics, and fewer still mention the generation of Acoma men who had to make their way on their one remaining foot.

Will feels around for Onate’s foot, finds it, and turns on the saw. Sparks fly as metal meets metal, but we are ready for that. Donald holds up a tarp to block some of the light from the sparks. But we can do nothing about the sound. All we can do is tell Will to go faster. I hear a car off in the distance, and see a light coming up Highway 68. It gets closer and I pull the plug. We are back in the darkness, but we stand like deer in headlights, our hearts beating faster than any drum. Once the car has passed, we finish cutting. The right foot of the “first conquistador of the West” falls onto the base the statue is mounted on, and then bounces off, landing almost silently, masked by the roar of the chainsaw. We grab the foot and head for the car. We don’t run, we are too blind to do that, but we move quickly, together like dancers for feast, liberated by what we have taken.

It is a small victory, but we live for these small victories. Not enough people care about the troubles of Indian country. If our little bit of vandalism makes the papers nationally, maybe a few people will learn who Onate was to us, and why his foot is significant. And pueblo people who pass the statue will feel the same victory we feel, and know why. We did this for the Pueblo people.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Pinata for the Pinon Tree

It is generally poor form to comment on a book that you have not seen, so I'm sure to get criticized for doing so today...

A reader wrote to ask me about a book called The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Pinata for the Pinon Tree. It's a new book out this year. She wrote because there is a page with kachinas on it, and she wonders if it is an appropriate use of kachinas.

The review in Publisher's Weekly says the book has "10 kachina leapin'" and the review in School Library Journal says "a wild party ensues with kachina leaping, coyotes yowlin'..."

Based on those reviews and my study of the book cover, this use is way over the line of cultural sensitivity and respect.

Obviously, a lot of people have no idea what kachinas are.

Who messed up in the creation, publication, distribution, and review of the book?

  • Author
  • Illustrator
  • SLJ Reviewer
  • Publisher's Weekly Reviewer
  • Editors at Little, Brown

Kachinas are not playthings. They are sacred. They are deities. In their significance to the Pueblo and Hopi peoples, they are of the highest order. Trying to draw analogies from one culture to the next in order to help someone see the significance in another is difficult, and these analogies break down.

Though you can buy a kachina doll when you're out west (or over the internet), your purpose in having it is different from that which a Pueblo or Hopi person. For you, it is a piece of art. For us, kachinas are central to our spirituality and way of life.

I will not say more, because too many charlatans mimic Native spirituality, selling it to desperate people.

For kachinas to be used in a children's book in this way is, in a word, shameful. Their use in this book is evidence that we have a long way to go in helping mainstream America understand who we are.

Note: Thanks to my friend and colleague, Matt Sakiestewa Gilbert, from the village of Upper Moencopi, Arizona. Matt is Hopi, and a historian here at UIUC.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Elementary School Lesson Plans on American Indians

Are you looking for lesson plans that incorporate American Indians? With Thanksgiving approaching, teachers across the country are getting ready to teach children about Native Americans. Unfortunately, October (Columbus Day) and November (Thanksgiving) are often the only times of the year that Native peoples make an appearance in the curriculum. That is not educationally sound and its a long way from "best practice!" I urge teachers to teach about American Indians throughout the year.

Here's one book to help you do that: 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 pitfalls in projects teachers design, including:

  • feathers and headdresses 
  • peace pipes 
  • totem poles 
  • dream catchers 
  • sand paintings 
  • pictographs
  • rattles 
  • drums
  • brown paper bag vests

There's great suggestions, throughout. 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, the authors of Lessons from Turtle Island tell us 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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


A documentary produced by Patty Loew, a colleague at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will be broadcast in the coming weeks on PBS. Titled Way of the Warrior, the documentary is about American Indians in the armed services.

The article about the documentary includes an excerpt, and a photograph and image of a diary (shown here) kept by Loew's grandfather, Pvt. Edward DeNomie. He served in the military during a period when American Indians did not have the right to vote.

There is much to learn about American Indians in the US armed forces. I'm looking forward to viewing this film, and it seems an important one for US history teachers.

To read the article and view the excerpt, click here:
Professor's film on Native American soldiers to air on PBS.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The word "squaw" in SIGN OF THE BEAVER

The word "squaw" is commonly used in place of the word "woman" in historical fiction for children. I wonder if its entrance during childhood, during formative years, is what makes adults of today think it is an appropriate or acceptable word to use today?

A recent editorial in Indian Country Today describes the modern day use of the word. A small town in Maine is deeply embroiled in a struggle over the word. Insensitivity abounds. The town is near the Penobscot Nation. Tribal members attend city meetings to discuss the issue. Here's an excerpt from the editorial:

One woman, who is a teacher, asked me, "What do we call you Native American Indian women if we can't call you [squaw]?"

That question is loaded, and it prompts me to ask all of you who work with children's books---writers, teachers, librarians---what role might the use of the word in children's historical fiction play in the way that teacher responded to the Native woman?

Let's look at the award winning Sign of the Beaver. Remember---the author of the book and the perspective in the book are not Native. The main character is a white boy named Matt. He meets a Native boy named Attean. This isn't Attean's story. It is Matt's story. According to Amazon's nifty "search inside this book" option, the word 'squaw' appears on 8 pages.

The characters who use the word 'squaw' are Native.

  • In his spoken words, Attean is scornful of women and their work. That work includes care of the garden (weeding) and preparing a bear Attean has killed.

  • A Native girl also uses the word. She says "Attean think squaw girl not good for much"

I doubt that Attean would have the sentiments he has about women, especially women who are his elders. I don't think he would be scornful of them. Moreover, I don't think he would use the word "squaw" at all. If we are considering accuracy of his speech, he'd probably use the word his people would use for women in their language. If you're interested in the Penobscot language, take a look at their website.

In contrast, Matt uses the word 'woman.' The word "woman" appears on seven pages in the book, in Matt's thoughts as we read what he thinks when he sees Native women. He doesn't think "squaw" when he sees them. He thinks "woman." He does think the word 'squaw' as he does his chores, after hearing Attean use it.

Ironically, Sign of the Beaver is set in Maine.

We obviously can't say that any children's book is responsible for the views espoused by the teacher quoted in the Indian Country Today editorial, but I do think children's books and the work we do with them in the classroom setting makes a difference.

Do we affirm misrepresentation and misinformation by failing to engage students in a critical discussion of words like 'squaw' when we read books like Sign of the Beaver? If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know my answer is YES. You know that I think parents, teachers, and librarians must actively engage our children and students in these discussion.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Halloween Costumes

With Halloween approaching, a lot of people---teachers, parents, students, children---are thinking about what they will "be" this year.

Costume shops down the street and on-line include all manner of apparel for those who want to be an "Indian Brave" or a "Sassy Squaw." It is interesting to study the photographs of the models in these costumes...

Some little boys and little girls smile at the camera, others stand with arms crossed, and still others hold one hand up in that goofy and classic "how" pose.

The women stand seductively.

I saw one that especially troubled me... It is for a little girl, it is the "Indian Princess" costume, and the selling line is "Every chiefs little dream."

The men? They stand tense, ready to spring, with tomahawk raised and a threatening scowl on their faces.

The ways in which these models are posed tell us a lot about what people think about American Indians. We are taught to think these ways from our earliest years. Images on television, and in children's books, and in the market place.... they all play a role in what Americans think they know about American Indians. Below is a post I made to the blog last year about Halloween.

I hope that you will think carefully about choosing a costume this year, and that you will choose not to dress like an "Indian."

Friday, October 13, 2006

"An Indian?" in Clifford's Halloween

Across the country, kids know who Clifford the Big Red Dog is. A long-time favorite in a series of picture books by Norman Bridwell, even more kids are meeting Clifford by way of his television program, broadcast on PBS.

In the book Clifford's Halloween, Emily Elizabeth is trying to figure out what Clifford will be for Halloween. One option is an Indian. That page shows him in a large multi-colored feathered headdress, with what Bridwell must have intended to be a peace pipe in his mouth.

Many books about Halloween have illustrations of kids dressed up as Indians, and due to society's embrace of things-Indian and playing Indian, we don't give it a second thought.

Let’s pause for a moment, though, and think about this seemingly innocent act of dressing up as an Indian for Halloween.

What else do kids dress up as at Halloween? I don’t mean animals or superheroes, but people-costumes. They can be policemen, firefighters, cowboys, doctors, nurses, pilots, astronauts, baseball players, cheerleaders, soldiers, football players, princesses, belly dancers…. All these are occupations or positions one can, in fact, be at some point, with the proper training.

Now---what about an Indian? You can’t train to be an Indian. You can’t become one. It is something you are born into.

Does that distinction matter? A lot of people would say “No. It’s all in good fun, no harm done.” So you help your child apply his/her “war paint” and put on feathers and other items that complete the costume. Can you imagine yourself painting the child’s face so he/she could be a black person? A minstrel performer, or perhaps a slave, or even Martin Luther King? I’m guessing a parent wouldn’t do that. That parent would know it was wrong. (Doing it in another context----a school play, for example, is a different context.)

Another question to consider: What sort of Indian are we encouraging children to be when we endorse an Indian costume, and what does it teach them? Are they savage Indians, the ones who, according to history books, were murderous, bloodthirsty killers? Or are they the tragic ones, heroic, last-stand, looking into the sunset, riding away despondent over loss?

In either case, the costume they wear is stereotypical. And—savage or heroic—both place Native peoples in the past, not the present, reinforcing the idea that we are an extinct people.

If the book you select for a Halloween read-aloud in storytime has characters that dress up as Indians, turn that illustration into a teachable moment with your students. And, if you’re the parent of a child who wants to dress up as an Indian, talk with your child about that choice and what it means.

In choosing NOT to think about this, are you, unwittingly, fostering the development of stereotypes?


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

2008 Lacapa Spirit Prize - Call for submissions

The Lacapa Spirit Prize --- a literary prize for children's books about the peoples, cultures, and landscape of the southwest --- is accepting submissions for the 2008 prize.

For prize information and application materials, click here: Lacapa Spirit Prize. Posted there is information about last year's winners.

An excerpt from the website:

Named for Michael Lacapa, children’s book illustrator and writer who died in 2005, the award honors the legacy of his artistic vision and talent for storytelling. This prize acknowledges great books for children that best embody the spirit of the peoples, culture and natural landscape of the Southwest. Books published in the two years prior to the award are eligible for consideration.

Michael's book Less Than Half, More Than Whole, profoundly impacted me. It demonstrated---in a beautiful way---that our stories and experiences as people of today, could be portrayed in children's books.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"The only good Indian is a dead Indian"

Did you know...

the phrase "the only good Indian is a dead Indian"

appears in the acclaimed Little House on the Prairie three times?

Could you/would you hand that book to a Native child?

Could you/should you hand that book to a non-Native child?

How would you/could you/should you use that book?

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"