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.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cynthia Leitich Smith at National Book Festival

Hurray! Cynthia Leitich Smith, one of my favorite authors will be at the National Book Festival. Cynthia is Muscogee (Creek), and has several outstanding books for children. Regular readers of this blog already know them, but for new readers, I'll note them here. All are set in the present day and are perfect for refuting the mistaken idea that Native Americans vanished and no longer exist.

Jingle Dancer. A picture book about Jenna, a Creek girl who is getting ready to do the jingle dance for the first time.

Indian Shoes. Short stories in the easy reader category, about a boy and his grandpa, living in Chicago.

Rain is Not My Indian Name. A terrific YA novel featuring Rain, a young woman whose best friend has died.

In addition to her books with Native characters, Cynthia has:
Tantalize. For teens into the vampire genre of books, this one is terrific.

Also appearing at the National Book Festival is N. Scott Momaday, author of House Made of Dawn. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969.

The event takes place September 29th on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This is a repeat visit for Cynthia. She was there in 2002, along with Vine Deloria, Jr.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Instead of Virginia Grossman's TEN LITTLE RABBITS, read Michael Kusugak's MY ARCTIC 1, 2, 3

[Note: This review is used with permission of Beverly Slapin and may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.]


Grossman, Virginia, Ten Little Rabbits, illustrated by Sylvia Long. San Francisco: Chronicle Books (1991). Unpaginated color illustrations; preschool-grade 1 

Kusugak, Michael (Inuit), My Arctic, 1, 2, 3, illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka. Toronto: Annick Press (1996). Unpaginated, color illustrations; preschool-up; Inuit

Although both of these are counting books, they are very different from one another.  Ten Little Rabbits has received several awards. It has been favorably reviewed in all of the major journals, can be found in most bookstores, and is featured on many “multicultural” lists and in catalogs. Long’s earth-toned ink-and-watercolor pictures are pretty and her rabbits look like rabbits. 

But it shouldn’t be necessary to tell people that counting rabbits dressed as Indians is no different from counting Indians. It objectifies people. Same faces, different blankets. As Teresa L. McCarty writes, 

The book’s implicit suggestion that children will learn to “count by diminutive-ethnic-group characters” is perverse and patently racist. That the author and the illustrator appear completely unconscious of this and choose to portray their characters as “cute” little animals reveals an especially insidious and societally acceptable form of racism. It is difficult to believe any writer, illustrator, or publisher today would accept or promote equivalent portrayals, for instance, of American Jews or African Americans. [1]

There are some who would ask, “but are the pictures authentic?” They’re neither authentic nor accurate. There’s no cultural relevance, no connection between each illustration and a people’s way of being in world. Even if the pictures were not contrived, the impact of this book—“rabbits as Indians”—on impressionable little kids is what makes it toxic. 

Neither Long’s lifelong “fascination with Native American cultures” nor her reading of Watership Down, which together “inspired a series of Native American rabbit illustrations that later became the basis for this book" [2] excuses what she and Grossman have done. On the other hand, My Arctic 1, 2, 3 is an example of a counting book that simply and beautifully reflects a people’s connection to the land. “I grew up in the Arctic Circle,” Michael Kusugak writes.
When I was a little boy we hunted seals, caribou and whales….We do not hunt animals all the time. Mostly, we watch them. We look at their tracks. We see how their coats change with the seasons. We watch what they hunt for food. We see how they hunt. In this book I want to show you some of the animals we have watched and the other animals that they hunt. Watching animals is fun.

My Arctic 1, 2, 3 is clearly more than a counting book. Unlike Ten Little Rabbits, it shows the relationships between the humans and the animals and between the different animals in an environment that demands that this relationship be understood. Each two-page spread, in luminous watercolors and ink, shows a certain number of animals on the left, and the animals they hunt on the right. The story comes full circle at the last spread that shows, on the left, Kusugak’s extended family picking “millions of berries (that) ripen in the fall” and on the right,
One lone polar bear walks along the shore, thinking of seals. It sees the berry pickers and says, “Never mind. They do not look like very good meals.” It continues on its journey, looking for what it might find…

There are words in Inuktitut for the animals themselves, and the last four pages, “The Arctic World of Michael Kusugak and His Family,” place all of the Arctic animals in the context of their relationship to the humans and each other. From start to finish, this is a beautiful book.
—Beverly Slapin

[1] Theresa L. McCarty, “What’s Wrong with Ten Little Rabbits?,” The New Advocate, vol. 8, no. 2, 1995, p. 98.
[2] from the Endnote.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Caribou Song, by Tomson Highway

Tomson Highway's Picture Books

Perusing the shelves at the Stratford Public Library (in Stratford, Ontario), I came across three books by Tomson Highway. I know he's Cree, and knew about his plays, but not his children's books. The three are a trilogy: Caribou Song came out in 2001, Dragonfly Kites in 2002, and Fox on the Ice in 2003. I skimmed Caribou Song. Characters are Joe and Cody, two young Cree boys. Modern day setting. Illustrations are terrific, done by Brian Deines, who also illustrated Jan Waboose's book, Skysisters.

The thing that struck me about them was the publisher --- HarperCanada --- and that the books have both English and Cree. Are HarperCanada and HarperCollins related? If so, I'm wondering if HarperCollins has ever published a US Native author, with text in English and one of our languages.

I can't sit with them right now but plan to spend time with them as soon as I get back to Illinois. Anyone out there know these books? Anyone out there in the US have them in your school or public library?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Thomas King's A Short History of Indians in Canada

In a bookstore here* yesterday, I got a copy of a Thomas King book I hadn't seen before. Called A Short History of Indians in Canada, it is a book of short stories. One is "Where the Borg Are." If you're a sci-fi fan, or a fan of Star Trek, you know who the Borg are... Here's the first two paragraphs of "Where the Borg Are."

By the time Milton Friendlybear finished reading Olive Patricia Dickenson's Canada's First Nations for a tenth grade history assignment, he knew, without a doubt, where the Borg had gone after they had been defeated by Jean-Luc Picard and the forces of the Federation. And he included his discovery in an essay on great historical moments in Canadian history.

Milton's teacher, Virginia Merry, was not as impressed with Milton's idea as he had hoped. "Milton," she said, in that tone of voice that many lapsed Ontario Catholics reserved for correcting faulty logic, bad grammar, and inappropriate behavior, "I'm not sure that the Indian Act of 1875 is generally considered an important moment in Canadian history."

Intrigued? I am!

[Note: This post originally appeared yesterday, underneath my post about Graham Greene. I'm reposting it as a stand-alone for searching purposes.]

*I'm in Stratford, Ontario, on vacation. Last night we saw Pentecost at the Studio Theater. During the scene where the art historians are taken hostage, one of the refugees (or terrorists, depending on your perspective) points out the door where the authorities are surrounding the church they're in. He says "Cowboys." He gestures to those inside the church, and says "Red Indians." Later in the play, there's a reference to a brutal murder from the past in which someone's face was, presumably, mutilated. The character made a clawing gesture and said "Red Indians." The murderer wasn't a "Red Indian," but that imagery was used to mean savage/barbaric. I gather "Red Indian" is the phrase Brits used to refer to American Indians.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Graham Greene as Shylock

I'm in Stratford, Ontario, where we spend a few days each year at the Shakespeare Festival. This year, for the first time ever, there is a Native actor on stage here. It's Graham Greene, and he's doing Shylock in Merchant of Venice, and Lennie in Of Mice and Men. We have tickets to both.

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Greene:

“Shylock’s forced conversion to Christianity is not unlike the First Nations people being forced into Christianity,” notes Greene, an Oneida who was born on Ontario’s Six Nations Reserve.

And the fundamental misunderstanding between Shylock and his Christian clients brings to mind such ongoing disputes as the continuing Caledonia land claim dispute in southern Ontario. “There are a lot of parallels there,” says Greene."

You can read the full article here.

And a few words about Thomas King...

In a bookstore here yesterday, I got a copy of a Thomas King book I hadn't seen before. Called A Short History of Indians in Canada, it is a book of short stories. One is called "Where the Borg Are." If you're a sci-fi fan, or a fan of Star Trek, you know who the Borg are... Here's the first two paragraphs of "Where the Borg Are."

By the time Milton Friendlybear finished reading Olive Patricia Dickenson's Canada's First Nations for a tenth grade history assignment, he knew, without a doubt, where the Borg had gone after they had been defeated by Jean-Luc Picard and the forces of the Federation. And he included his discovery in an essay on great historical moments in Canadian history.

Milton's teacher, Virginia Merry, was not as impressed with Milton's idea as he had hoped. "Milton," she said, in that tone of voice that many lapsed Ontario Catholics reserved for correcting faulty logic, bad grammar, and inappropriate behavior, "I'm not sure that the Indian Act of 1875 is generally considered an important moment in Canadian history."
Intrigued? I am!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Eds. Note: This review used by permission of its author, Doris Seale, and may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.


Begay, Shonto (Diné), Navajo: Visions and Voices Across the Mesa, illustrated by the author. New York: Scholastic (1995). 48 pages, color illustrations; grades 5-up; Diné (Navajo)

In his first non-fiction book for younger readers, Begay explores “facets of Navajo life that are rarely touched upon in Western literature.” This is not a coffee-table book. It is not “American Indian wisdom,” it is not “Mother Earth spirituality,” it is not designed by those who are fascinated by Indians. The words tell the story of a life lived at such far remove from the clamor of urban society as to be nearly incomprehensible to those who inhabit that environment—although even here, what is called “civilization” impinges on the lives of the people.

A grandmother called Small Woman, so strong and gentle that she lived 113 years; the blessing of rain and how sweet the earth smells after a summer thunderstorm. An eclipse and a father who sang prayers for the sun’s return. Tribal fair with its throngs of people—every size, every shape, every color. Ceremony that brings balance back to the world. And the things that come in the night, mysteries, to test that balance: “Sounds pounding from within/Threaten my spirit/More than the sounds on the roof.”

And then there is that other world, the one that surrounds us, that requires us to make some sort of accommodation with its presence; the one, in fact, in which many of us live. The European hitchhiker of “Coyote Crossing,” in the bed of the truck, “quietly sitting there, nibbling on his organic snack, oblivious to what just happened.” The coal mines on the mesa with machines as big as buildings, the trucks, the trains, the jets, that disturb Grandfather’s morning prayers. But “still we sprinkle pollen for another day/Still we have faith.” Ancient truth still exists, “Like pictographs, like broken pottery shards/We have yet to see the picture whole.” Still the spring comes, “For this generation, and many more to come,/This land is beautiful and filled with mysteries./They reveal themselves and their stories—/If you look carefully and listen....”

The pictures are magnificent, and there is much to see in them that might not at first be noticed. Look carefully at the pattern of earth and snow on page 12, for instance, and you will see a running horse, a man with what may be a dog—or something, a deer, a jackrabbit, Cousin Toad—the life of the land.

This is a strong and beautiful book. There is healing in it. Accept the gift as it is given.
—Doris Seale

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

An oft-posed question: "Who can tell your stories?"

Over on Saints and Spinners, a fellow blogger is discussing the question of telling stories (see her post on July 29th.) Stories, that is, from another cultural group. That blogger is a storyteller, and she's left Native stories alone, because she's not sure if it's appropriate, what permissions are involved, etc.

Course, we all know storytellers (and writers) that do this without thinking it through. Some are unaware of the issues involved, and others choose to ignore the issues, claiming that storytellers throughout history change details whenever a story is told again...

Which is true enough, but, when those details are so major that the story no longer reflects the values of the culture from which it originated, then it is no longer that culture's story, and should not be labeled as such. That erroneous labeling happens all the time. It is a major problem. When questioned, defenders of these books put forth 'creative license' and 'freedom of speech' arguments.

To return to the question posed at Saints and Spinners.

There is no easy answer.

Some years ago (note I didn't say "many moons ago") I was at a children's literature conference. Illustrator James Ransome was a guest speaker. He was asked why he had not illustrated any books about American Indians. His reply was something like "I haven't held their babies."

Consider that simple statement and what it embodies.

If I trust you, I will let you hold my baby. Foremost in my mind is that she is vulnerable. I don't want her hurt in any way. I don't let just anyone hold her. I have to trust that you will not hurt her.

If you are a storyteller, what is your relationship with, for example, the Pueblo people. Are you retelling Pueblo stories? Do you know any Pueblo people? Have you held their babies?


Sunday, July 29, 2007

NPR story: "Is Ancient People's End a Warning for the Future?"

Today (July 29, 2007), NPR is broadcasting a segment called "Is Ancient People's End a Warning for the Future?"

There are some glaring problems with the segment. Assuming you listened carefully and thought you were learning something about Pueblo people, I (regular readers of this blog know I am from Nambe Pueblo) offer the following.

We Are Still Here. In the broadcast, and on the webpage, there are explicit and implicit suggestions that we no longer exist.

On the webpage is a photo of the archaeologist interviewed for the segment. Here's the caption:

Archaeologist Kristen Kuckelman kneels in one of the ancient houses, or kivas, at Goodman Point Pueblo. Her research points to climate change as contributing to the disappearance of the Anasazi, or Pueblo People of the Southwest.

Two glaring errors in that caption are:

1) Equating house and kiva. They are not the same thing. One is a place you live. The other is a place for learning and ceremony. This error is also in the broadcast. It surprised me that an archaeologist would make that mistake.

2) "...disappearance of the Anasazi, or Pueblo People of the Southwest."

We didn't disappear. We moved.

That simple fact, however, is left out of the story. As such, it allows listeners to more firmly pack their mistaken notion that we no longer exist.

Later in the broadcast, a water manager says:

"They obviously didn't have our technology. They didn't have Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam. And when there was a change in the climate, they could not adapt to it," he says.

Couldn't adapt, so we disappeared. That word... adapt. A troublesome word---who or what adapts or is adapted? And what does it mean, to adapt?

He's talking, obviously, about that long-held notion that American Indians weren't using the land properly, and that Europeans, whose technology was superior, were justified in their actions to claim the land. Course, he's talking about water here, and says that dwindling water will mean that cities will buy water rights from farmers...

From farmers? Actually, one of the major water rights cases in northern New Mexico is between farmers and PUEBLO INDIANS.

The NPR story is rife with bias and error. There are some interesting aspects to it, and some things worth knowing, but I urge you to listen and read critically, always. It will take the concerted effort of all of us to change the ways that American society thinks/speaks about, and treats, American Indians.

And that includes writers, teachers, parents, librarians, and professors who write, edit, publish, review, and purchase children's books.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stories for a Winter's Night: Fiction by Native American Writers, edited by Maurice Kenny

Due to limited budgets, we too often don't hear about outstanding books published by small presses. Small presses can't afford to send their books out for review, so they're not reviewed in the major journals.

Stories for a Winter's Night: Fiction by Native American Writers is one of those books. Published by White Pine Press in Buffalo, NY, it came out in 2000. In 2001, Skipping Stones included it on their 2001 list of Honor Award books. I learned of it, I think, through Richard Van Camp.

Stories written by Native authors...

Well known writers like Joseph Bruchac and James Welch whose works teachers and librarians are familiar with...

Writers the general public knows (those that read Native lit): Wendy Rose, Kimberly M. Blaeser, Simon Ortiz, Leslie Marmon Silko...

In all 37 stories and poems, by 36 different Native writers. Some you know, some you don't, some you should.

The collection is wide-ranging in scope. There's a boarding school story, a traditional story... Stories about children, and animals. By living writers, and some who've passed on, this book will be terrific in a high school English lit class. The stories will generate much discussion. I'll include one below, as a sample.

Here is a list of each story/poem and its author. And, the intro is by esteemed scholar of Native literatures, A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff.

The Stolen Girl - Traditional Cheyenne Story (Grinnell)
The Flood - Joy Harjo (Muscogee-Creek)
White-Out - Phyllis Wlf (assininiboine/Ojibway)
Needles - Ray Fadden (Tehanetorens; Mohawk)
Coyote Meets Raven - Peter Blue Cloud (Mohawk)
Dlanusi - Robert J. Conley (Cherokee)
Deer Dance - Evelina Zuni Lucero (Isleta-San Juan)
Nothing to Give - Gail Trembley (Onondaga-Micmac)
The Hunter - Larry Littlebird (Laguna/Santa Domingo)
Subway Graffiti - Wendy Rose (Hopi/Miwok)
The Car Wreck - Dwayne Leslie Bowen (Seneca)
Hogart - Ted Williams (Tuscarora)
King of the Raft - Daniel David Moses (Delaware)
Shapechanger - Ines Hernandez-Avila (Nez Perce/Chicano)
Brewing Trouble - Kimberly M. Blaeser (Anishinabe)
Benefit Dinner - Eric Gansworth (Onondaga)
Peter Schuyler and the Mohican: A Story of Old Albany - Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)
We're Very Poor - Juan Rulfo (Mexican Native)
Webs - Lorne Simon (Micmac)
Earl Yellow Calf - James Welch (Blackfeet/Gros Ventre)
Hici - Craig Womack (Muscogee-Creek/Cherokee)
On Old 66 - Carol Yazzi-Shaw (Navajo)
A Child's Story - Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (Santee/Yankton Sioux)
The Bear Hunt - Louis Littlecoon Oliver (Muscogee-Creek)
Yellow Cat Incident - Louis Littlecoon Oliver (Muscogee-Creek)
Train Time - D'Arcy McNickle (Salish/Metis)
The Blanket - Maria Campbell (Metis)
Haksod - John C. Mohawk (Seneca)
History - Gloria Bird (Spokane)
Oh, Just Call Me an Indian - Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibway)
Tahotahotanekentseratkerontakwenhakie - Sallli Benedict (Mohawk)
Che - Anna Lee Walters (Otoe/Pawnee)
His Wife Had Caught Them Before - Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna)
She Sits on the Bridge - Luci Tapahonso (Navajo)
The Panther Waits - Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma)
Piegan Still Life - Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet)
The Derelict - E. Pauline Johnson (Mohawk)


Gail Trembly

The woman was young, blond, beautiful

like the girls in slick magazines who model

jeans. She chose to wear a bone choker

with an ermine tail as though it is possible
to appropriate a culture by wearing its artifacts.

She read a poem in which she said that she was

the white girl who always wanted to be Indian
when she grew up. I sat feeling sick, recognizing

that strange phantom pain in the gut, listening

to her romantic distortions about Eagle boy dancing
in her dreams, about cruel Indian men who undressed

her and then scolded her for being naked before

them when she was on her moon. She invented

unreality because she refused to witness the real

hard work of living in a world distorted by forced

assimilation, by faked authenticity, by loss

that beat in counter rhythm near the heart
and made the whole world seem out of balance.

She did not speak of struggle, stolen land,

the Earth raped so that strangers could reap
great profits no matter what the cost. Her desire
was for vision to fill an empty life. One more

taker, she invented ceremonies that mystified,
that made healing seem a hollow exercise untied

from the web of light that weaves things seamlessly

into being, untied from the people who for generations

shared a sense of what made things whole in a given

place. I sat and watched speechless, caught,
too paralyzed to walk away and make a scene,
aware how often revelation is impossible to explain.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

ALA President, Loriene Roy (Anishinabe)

The president of the American Library Association is Loriene Roy. She is Anishinabe (Ojibwe/Chippewa), and has done a lot of excellent work with Native children through her "If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything" program. She is a long-term member of the American Indian Library Association.

Loriene was on NPR recently, talking about multicultural literature. Click here to listen to the interview. She talked about Baby's First Laugh, by Beverly Blacksheep, one of the board books discussed on this blog last summer (Tuesday, July 18, 2006).

And, keep up with Loriene by visiting her blog, "Pin-ding-u-daud-ewin" which means "to enter into one another's lodges" or her website.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

THOMAS KING lectures on-line

If you know Thomas King's A Coyote Columbus Story, you might be interested in listening to him on line.

In the last weeks, the Australian aboriginal radio program, "Awaye," has been broadcasting a series of Massey Lectures given by King in 2003. Two segments on line are:

King's novels are terrific. There are several weeks left in the summer. Add one to your summer reading list, and scoot it to the one you read next. They are:

  • Medicine River
  • Green Grass, Running Water
  • Truth and Bright Water

They'd work well in a senior high school lit class. Listen to the segment on line, but read his novels, too, and his most recent book, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. All are available from the non-profit organization, Oyate.

Some years ago, King had a radio program called Dead Dog Cafe. Get them, too, from Oyate.

(Note: Thanks to Ashley T., a student at UIUC. I made my way to the King segments after reading quotes from Million Porcupines on her Facebook page.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Eds note: Updated on June 8, 2015 to reflect Rowling's tweets.

Initial post: July 24, 2007:

The first Harry Potter book came out when my daughter, Liz, was in grade school. We do a lot of reading-aloud in our home, and we read the HP books aloud, taking turns reading.

Liz went out late Friday night to pick up a copy of the seventh book. Saturday morning we began reading it aloud. We finished last night (Monday).

(If you're reading the book and do not want to know any of the content until you've finished it yourself, you should stop reading this post.)

I was reading aloud when we got to page 216. At that point in the book, Harry is looking at a photograph of Albus Dumbledore's family. We were surprised to read this:

The mother, Kendra, had jet-black hair pulled into a high bun. Her face had a carved quality about it. Harry thought of photos of Native Americans he'd seen as he studied her dark eyes, high cheekbones, and straight nose, formally composed above a high-necked silk gown.

Liz and I were surprised and yet not surprised, given the degree to which pop culture uses Native imagery.

Some thoughts:

Harry/Rowling may be referring to the engraving of Pocahontas, shown above. There is an oil painting based on the engraving, in the National Portrait Gallery. From the Smithsonian website is this info:

Unidentified artist
Oil on canvas, after the 1616 engraving by Simon van de Passe, NPG.65.61
National Portrait Gallery,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

The engraving was acquired from Maggs Brothers, in London. You can see a larger image here. There's another one here. Note the differences in hat/earrings. There are other paintings of her that Rowling may have seen, but they don't show Pocahontas in the "high-necked silk dress," so I'm pretty sure it is this engraving she's being influenced by.

So what to make of Rowling's inclusion of this passage? Many readers of the books would assert that race /racial purity is a prominent if not THE theme on which the entire series is built on. The cast of characters is diverse, too, but till Deathly Hallows, there had not been anything with regard to American Indians. With this passage, can we say her book is more inclusive now? Is it, really, though? Or, does it matter?

(Note: There's a provocative on-line article about race in Harry Potter... Called "Harry Potter and the Imbalance of Race," its author, Keith Woods, points to the normalization of whiteness in the books.)

As Liz and I read that passage in the book, we wondered if/how it would be developed in the remainder of the book. But, that was it. Given all the romantic new-age imagery associated with American Indians, I wondered if Rowling was going to go there. She didn't, and I am glad she didn't.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic.

Update, June 8, 2015:

One of my close friends, Sarah Hamburg, wrote to me about a series of tweets Rowling sent out on June 7th. Here's a screen capture of a question to her, and her answer:

Rowling followed up with another tweet:

And then one more:

Definitely unsettling, and something to keep an eye on!