Thursday, December 20, 2007

An Open Letter to Marion Boyars Publishers (London)

In October, I received an email from a pre-service student in Nebraska. She asked me to help her get word out about a book she came across in a local bookstore. Below is her letter. By design, I only include illustrations on this blog that I like to look at, that are well-done, accurate, etc. Illustrations that are racist go on my other blog. I will talk about problematic books, but don't give their illustrations/covers any space here. To see the illustrations in Chief Hawah, click here.



October 8, 2007

To: Marion Boyars Publishers

24 Lacy Road
London SW15 1NL

Cc: Meryl Zegarek, Public Relations, Marion Boyars Publishers
Borders Books

Barnes and Noble, Inc.


RE: Chief Hawah’s book of Native American Indians, Illustrated by Chris Brown, Marion Boyars Publishers, copyright September 2006.

Dear Sir and/or Madam:

The purpose of this letter is to inform you of a book you are publishing and/or selling is highly offensive to Americans and specifically Native American peoples. As a pre-service teacher, I stumbled upon Chief Hawah’s Book of Native American Indians, Illustrated by Chris Brown. The cover illustration alone would tell any 21st century American this is a book that should never have been published. It is filled with stereotypes and false and/or inaccurate information.

I found it in Borders Books on a trip to find a Multi-Cultural picture book for my Children’s Literature class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I actually purchased it in a moment of panic to get it off the shelf. Later, as I sat in my car preparing to drive home, I realized this is a book that I have to do something about… because I am an American.

I went home and searched the Web to find it is also sold at Barnes and Noble,,, and many, many more booksellers. After reading the publisher’s synopsis at, I felt nauseous. Children will learn nothing from this book except that perpetuating old stereotypes is apparently is still in fashion in the UK publishing world, and the American booksellers must never actually look at the books they buy to sell to the public.

My copy of Chief Hawah is undergoing a Kym Johnson Rutledge Do-Over. I am having all of the incorrect information, corrected. I’m using several different people from several different tribes to correct it in a page-by-page style. When complete, I will have a lovely flip-out book to use as an EXAMPLE of the horrifying STEREOTYPES that still plague our world. Specific images and carefully selected examples the writer and illustrator both selected to use in order to depict the First People of the United States as savages, poor parents, believers of witch-craft, etc., will also be incorporated in my flip-out version of the book so that I may educate my students of the extent people will go to in order to make money. It will be used to show others what a seed of racism looks like.

Finding Chris Brown had used nearly the same graphic in his other children’s book, Shiver Me Timbers!: A Fun Book of Pirates, was an amazing moment for me as I am an artist; I’m a well-educated painter holding a BFA. Brown chose to use the image he created to depict a Pirate, an unlawful, crime-seeking, monstrous-type of ancient character, to have the exact same look as the fictional character he created to represent this Native American book, Chief Hawah. That is absolutely PATHETIC to relate the two images for children. Historically, pirates probably elicited a lot of fear when honest seafarers came in contact with them. Do you think the people of the United States should feel the same fear when they meet a Native American person?

The words of the book are equally as disturbing as the illustrations, since nearly every page has inaccuracies or misleading information written in inflammatory and sensationalized style. The back cover lists the name of Rebecca Gillieron as the person responsible for these words.

You should be ashamed of what you have presented as educational to the CHILDREN of the world and specifically our children of the United States. The back of this Marion Boyar book cover explains this book is, “Aimed at early learners, Marion Boyars Children’s books are designed specifically to challenge young children in a fun and imaginative way.” Wow. You really should be ashamed.

Native Americans are not now, nor have ever been, SAVAGES. Yet, you have visually depicted them that way. Native Americans are not one giant clump of dead people from the past. For every tribe, past and present, there is a different culture.

  • To you Marion Boyars Publishing… Get it right or don’t print it.

  • To you Booksellers… at the very least, get this edition OFF YOUR SHELVES and OUT OF YOUR INVENTORY, RIGHT NOW.

  • To you Chris Brown and Rebecca Gillieron... shame on your lack of knowledge. If you would like to come to the States and meet real Native Americans, I invite you. It would be a pleasure to show you what Native Americans are really like. I humbly extend my invitation to you to come to Omaha, Nebraska and stay in my home for a visit. Here on the Plains you will have to opportunity to learn much from many of my good and knowledgeable friends. The book you could illustrate and write as a result of a visit would be one with completely different images and correct information, which would be something you could feel pride in; instead of the shame this book has brought on you.

Submitted by,

Kym Johnson Rutledge

Pre-Service Teacher and

Student of University of Nebraska at Omaha

Daughter of Mary Strain (Miami)

Granddaughter of Violet Johnson (Cherokee)

Granddaughter of Olive Strain (Miami)

Great-granddaughter of Mun-go-ze-quoh (Miami)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An Open Letter to Jan Brett

Below is a letter to Jan Brett regarding her new book Three Snow Bears. The letter is written by Theresa Seidel.

An Open Letter to Jan Brett

I met you over twenty years ago when my daughter was in kindergarten and you visited her school during a young author conference. I became an instant admirer of your books. They are always beautifully done and your work as an illustrator is second to none. The use of borders to tell “the rest of the story” is a feature I always look forward to seeing. Your joy for writing shows through when you work with children.

As an Indigenous woman and a worker in a public library, I find your newest book, The Three Snow Bears, bothersome on many levels. I don’t feel honored when someone not of a culture appropriates elements of an indigenous culture for their own gain.

My red flag was:

I first saw the book when a mother and daughter picked it up and the mother said that she could use it to read as a “Native American” story to her daughter’s class. After reading the cover flaps of the book, I could see why. You do not claim to be Native American. You had traveled to Baffin Island to study the people and animals. You go on to explain how you looked at the faces of the children and got the character, Aloo-ki. The book is not a Native American story. It is a story of the three bears and Goldilocks done with an Inuit twist.

You went to the museum and studied the displays and artwork. You say that you saw traditional clothing on animal artwork in a museum and that was the inspiration for your book. I do understand that the people you visited have this depicted in THEIR artwork. But it belongs to them. They shared their culture with you. Did they do this with the intention that you would take it and make it into a book?

I was holding your book and seeing snow bears wearing traditional Inuit clothing. For hundreds of years Native people have been treated as less than human. This book immediately brings to mind another book done to “honor” Native people, Ten Little Rabbits,” by Virginia Grossman. Ten Little Rabbits is just a remake of Ten Little Indians with rabbits wearing Native attire. Depicting minority populations as animals in children’s books has long been used as a de-humanizing tactic.

I could not believe that you, Jan Brett, would do this, so I turned to your website for more information. Upon looking at the mural page, I had my answer. This page describes the outfits on each of the bears and tells about those items of clothing in Inuit life. I am not Inuit so I cannot speak to whether the information presented is accurate. The Goldilocks character’s outfit is not mentioned, but rather how she drives a sled team.

Another concern that I have about the book is that Aloo-ki steals boots. The children ages 3-6, to whom I read, would catch this almost immediately. They know that you don’t take something that belongs to another and keep it without asking. Aloo-ki took the boots not because she needed them, but because they were prettier than the boots she was wearing.

This book could have been nicely done without a Native twist. I am really trying to understand your motivation for using an Inuit theme for this book. Do you feel you are promoting a culture by showcasing it to the world? Did the people you visited ask you to do so; or did you assume that by them sharing culture with you that you had the right to use it? Are you going to give back to the community something for appropriating their culture?

Is this something you will continue to do as you travel? I did have some qualms after reading your {Jan Brett} book “Honey…Honey…Lion” as it took a story from an Indigenous culture to use. It was nice to see money from this book supporting a local foundation. Does giving back to the locals after cultural appropriation make it okay?

Here are the criteria I used for judging The Three Snow Bears:

Is the book written by a Native author or with a Native author?

Is it using another culture to gain financial rewards?

Is the book depicting Native people as less than human?

Could you remove the Native aspects and still have a good book? If so, what was the motivation to include them?

Is the culture being portrayed correctly?

Please explain how this book should make an Indigenous person feel “honored.”


Theresa Seidel

Note: I did send a letter to Jan Brett on her “contact the author” portion of her web page, so that she could reply to me in private. She did not reply to my letter.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Published in 1996, Mihesuah's book, American Indians: Stereotypes & Realities has, fortunately, been reprinted several times. Studying its listings in WorldCat, it looks like universities throughout the country have the book, but, not many public or school libraries.

I urge you to get a copy for your library. It is a very reader-friendly book and will help teachers, librarians, and parents spot stereotypes and counter them in their conversations with children and adults. And, it will be helpful to, in book selection and lesson planning.

In her Introduction, Mihesuah notes that old movies such as The Searchers, The Unforgiven, and White Comanche were filled with blatant racism, but more recent films such as Dances With Wolves miss the mark, too. Specifically, she says this about Dances With Wolves:

"...the Lakotas, a tribe popular among hobbyists and New Agers, are positively portrayed as people with human emotions, values, and spirituality, whereas Pawnees, whose culture is no less humane than that of the Lakotas, were insultingly characterized as barbaric. As so few movies portray Indians in their current circumstances, a movie so widely popular as this one tends to perpetuate the image of Indians as living in the world of the past, and however inadvertently, reinforces the belief tha all Indians were just like the Lakotas of the northern Plains" (p. 10).

Each chapter begins with a stereotypical statement, immediately followed by a "Reality" in boldface.

For example, chapter [14] starts like this:

Indians get a free ride from the government

The benefits Indians receive from the government derive from treaty agreements, which purport to compensate them for the surrender of some or all of their invaluable lands

It is followed by a discussion and, in most chapters, a list of recommended readings. The chapters are a few pages each and include maps and photographs, too.

Here's the entire Table of Contents:

[1] Indians are all alike

[2] Indians were conquered because they were inferior

[3] If Indians had united, they could have prevented the European invasion

[4] Indians have no civilization until Europeans brought it to them

[5] Indians arrived in this hemisphere via the Siberian Land Bridge

[6] Indians were warlike and treacherous

[7] Indians had nothing to contribute to Europeans or to the growth of America

[8] Indians did not value or empower women

[9] Indians have no religion

[10] Indians welcome outsiders to study and participate in their religious ceremonies

[11] Indians are a vanished race

[12] Indians are confined to reservations, live in tipis, wear braids, and ride horses

[13] Indians have no reason to be unpatriotic

[14] Indians get a free ride from the government

[15] Indians' affairs are managed for them by the B.I.A.

[16] Indians are not capable of completing school

[17] Indians cannot vote or hold office

[18] Indians have a tendency toward alcoholism

[19] "My grandmother was an Indian"

[20] Indians are all fullbloods

[21] All Indians have an "Indian name"

[22] Indians know the histories, languages, and cultural aspects of their own tribe and all other tribes

[23] Indians are stoic and have no sense of humor

[24] Indians like having their picture taken

And, there's great material in her appendices:

APPENDIX A: Do's and don't for those who teach American Indian history and culture

APPENDIX B: Suggested guidelines for institutions with scholars who conduct research on American Indians

APPENDIX C: Course outline for American Indian history and culture survey with suggested projects

APPENDIX D: Outline for course "American Indian Women in History"

Mihesuah is Choctaw, and is currently a professor at the University of Kansas. Click here to visit her webpage at KU.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Below is my first post to this blog, dated May 8, 2006. In preparing an article about my work as a blogger, I am revisiting--in my memory and with my laptop--the time when I created this blog. I'm reposting that first post today because in it, I reference those from whom I learn and learned, and I want to remind readers that we all learn from someone.



May 8, 2006

I started this blog in May. This is my second post.

A reader asked (in comments to first post) if I know the work of Ani Rucki. I don't know Rucki's work.

It is the case that there's a boatload of children's books about American Indians out there. Kate Shanley, an enrolled Assiniboine woman from the Fort Peck reservation and professor of Native American Studies at the University of Montana-Missoula, has a terrific article in which she talks about "the Indians America loves to love." That love drives a lot of people to write what they think are stories about American Indians. Their stories, however, are based on pop culture and romantic/savage ideas about who we are. (Note: Shanley's article is called "The Indians America Loves to Love and Read," in AMERICAN INDIAN QUARTERLY, 1997, p. 675-702.)

I don't know anything about Rucki, but my experience has taught me that, chances are, any given children's book about American Indians has major flaws.

I've been studying and writing about children's books about American Indians since 1994 when I began work on my PhD. Prior to that, I taught elementary and middle school in New Mexico and Oklahoma. I am tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, in northern New Mexico. I was raised there, and return home for the usual (weddings/funerals), but also for religious and spiritual gatherings.

As a schoolteacher, I taught my students about bias and stereotypes, about how books can be wrong. In graduate school, I honed my research and critical analysis skills. I've learned a great deal from others. Some key books include:



Kathleen Horning's COVER TO COVER

Betsy Hearne's two articles CITE THE SOURCE and RESPECT THE SOURCE

Below are some of the questions I have in my head whenever I sit down to analyze a Native story that is called a folktale. I invite conversation/discussion with readers of the blog about the questions.

When I consider a folktale, some things I look for are:

1) Is the person listed as the author listed as a "reteller"? That is, on the cover and/or on the title page, is the book "By Ani Rucki" or "Retold by Ani Rucki."

2) In the author's note, or in a source note, does Rucki say where she heard the story, or what source she found it in?

3) If Rucki provides info about her source, does she provide enough detail so that I could find the source if I wanted to?

4) In the author's note, does Rucki tell the reader the ways in which she changed/edited the story and why?

5) In a couple of reviews, there is mention that this is a Navajo folktale. How is that information provided in the book? Is it implied in the story itself or stated on the cover or title page?

I hope readers of the blog are interested in conversation about the questions I've listed above. My first post was a list of books, but my goal is for others to learn how to critically evaluate children's books about American Indians. With such skills, you own that knowledge and can carry and apply it with you wherever you go.

Before you leave this post, take a look at Headlines at National Native News and once there, click on "Today In History."

Thursday, December 13, 2007


[This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission of Beverly Slapin of Oyate.]


Turner, Ann, Sitting Bull Remembers, illustrated by Wendell Minor. HarperCollins, 2007. Unpaginated, color paintings, grades 3-5; Hunkpapa Lakota

The text of Sitting Bull Remembers is vaguely reminiscent of Eve Bunting’s awful Cheyenne Again, in which a Cheyenne youngster at the infamous Carlisle Indian Industrial School draws in a ledger book and, in his heart, is home again. Here, “Sitting Bull,” incarcerated at an unnamed place that is probably Fort Randall, remembers his life of freedom.

In this dark room,

in this place of fences, strange smells,

and men with yellow eyes

where finally I am caught

and cannot get free,

I close my eyes and am home again….

The name of the revered Hunkpapa visionary, philosopher and war leader was Tatanka Iotanka. When he autographed picture postcards during his gigs with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, he signed his name “Sitting Bull,” and his signatory pictograph shows a buffalo bull sitting on his haunches. Although he has come to be known as “Sitting Bull,” that was not how he referred to himself. Tatanka Iotanka was not a “chief,” although the whites called him that, and his people were not the “Sioux,” although the whites called them that. Turner’s historical note at the end of the book is full of inaccuracies.

Tatanka Iotanka was beloved by his people and respected by his enemies. As Doris Seale wrote about another author of another book dealing with the same people and the same time period, “Assigning thoughts, feelings and motivations to one biographee is risky business, especially when writing about someone who essentially inhabited a different universe.” Doing this in a picture book is doubly risky, because fewer words have to tell a larger story, and pictures have to convey a larger meaning. There aren’t too many people who can successfully bring this off, and Turner and Minor can’t either.

The problems they were unable to—or unwilling to—deal with include cultural markers that they don’t recognize, but apparently think they do. An example: Turner’s “Sitting Bull” narrates an episode to demonstrate to the young reader the important attribute of generosity. This is how it comes out:

Once, chasing buffalo, an older man’s

bow broke and he could not shoot.

Another hunter lost his horse early in the chase.

That day I shot four buffalo and gave away two,

so no one would go to his tipi empty-handed.

Minor’s painting here shows a solitary Sitting Bull shooting a solitary buffalo. Neither text nor painting contains any internal logic. Where, one might ask, is the rest of the hunting party? Where, one might also ask, is the rest of the herd? And what on earth, one would most probably ask, did Sitting Bull do with the other two buffalo? Eat them himself? He would’ve had to be very hungry.

Minor’s art integrates double-page watercolor and gouache paintings with two-dimensional colored pencil ledger-style illustrations. While some of the pictographs have been copied almost exactly from Sitting Bull’s visual autobiography (see, for instance, counting first coup at age fourteen), others are outrageously flawed. For instance, the pictograph representing Sitting Bull’s vision before the Custer fight of “blue soldiers riding upside down into our village” came straight out of Turner’s and Minor’s imaginations, rather than Sitting Bull’s experience. Sitting Bull actually recounted his vision of “soldiers falling upside down into camp” as a gift from the Creator, who told him, “I give you these, because they have no ears.” Minor’s painting of Sitting Bull sitting alone on an ammo box and holding a Calf Pipe is taken from a photo of him with Seen-by-the-Nation, the elder of his two wives, when they were prisoners at Fort Randall in 1882. And Minor’s representation of a monarch butterfly perched on Sitting Bull’s hat both on the cover and the first interior spread (implying that it has some spiritual significance, maybe a spirit guide?) was actually a dead butterfly pinned to his hatband in a well-known portrait.

There is more just like this, in word and picture. Turner’s “Sitting Bull” is incredulous at the “noise and smoke and greed” of the white people. “I do not understand such ways,” he says. “They are not the way of the Sioux.” And elsewhere, he asks, “How could they break their word for the sake of a yellow rock?” Tatanka Iotanka was a military genious and a diplomat as well. He was not ignorant and he was not blindsided by the ways of the enemy.

After Turner’s “Sitting Bull” has surrendered, he says,

Here I am—the one they wanted—

the medicine man, the war leader,

caught like a bear in a trap

without claws (they took my weapons)

and with only some of my people left.

Now the white men give us food,

and the once proud warriors are like toothless old ones,

dependent on gifts.

It is doubtful that Tatanka Iotanka ever felt sorry for himself. And it is doubly doubtful that he would have disrespected elders in this way. Yet this dreadful dirge-like account of his life continues all through this story.

In the final two-page spread, a meadowlark sits on a piece of deadwood in a barren meadow, and Turner’s “Sitting Bull” says,

But when I open my eyes

it is all gone,

and only my voice is left,

telling of how it used to be.

But Sitting Bull’s voice is Turner’s voice. It’s clear she doesn’t know anything about Sitting Bull or anything about the land he and his people inhabited and fought to keep. A Lakota friend said about this book, “What arrogance, what hubris, to put words in Sitting Bull’s mouth.” And another Lakota friend remarked, “This is kind of pathetic.”

The author’s and artist’s caveats nothwithstanding (Turner’s, that her work is an “imaginative exploration of the side of history that the facts cannot always give us” and Minor’s, that “artistic license has been taken to create the strongest visual story”), there is no excuse for what they have done. Sitting Bull Remembers is no better than Turner’s atrocious The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita.—Beverly Slapin

Monday, December 10, 2007


Richard Van Camp's Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns will be given to every newborn baby born in British Columbia in 2008. Irked Magazine has a couple of images from inside the book. Click on the link, scroll down, and click on the pics of the babies. They'll pop up much larger than you see here. According to the article in Irked, the book gift program is the "Books for BC Babies" initiative. Over 42,000 babies will be born in BC during 2008; over 42,000 families will have this gem in their home.

That is awesome! Congratulations, Richard!

Any library in the world that serves children ought to get several copies of this book. And readers who know of newborns or about-to-be-newborns, ought to give this book to the family. At present, it is (as far as I know) only available from Oyate.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Graham Greene's comment on stereotypes/appropriation

Graham Greene is Oneida, and is, perhaps, the most recognizable Native actor in film and TV today. In this clip I found on YouTube, he offers a comment on stereotyping and appropriation.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Sadly, another excellent book about American Indians is out of print... Michael Lacapa's Less Than Half, More Than Whole. You can get used copies on the web, but if you want a new copy, go to Oyate.

They also have an audiotape of the book.

Monday, December 03, 2007


Several months ago, I learned from Richard Van Camp that he had a board book in the works. It is out now, but you can't get it from Orca, the publisher. I tried. It's on backorder. You can get it, though, from Oyate.

Below is a review of the book, written by Beverly Slapin. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.
Van Camp, Richard (Dogrib), Welcome Song for Baby: A lullaby for newborns. Orca, 2007, color photos, preschool-up
Hey ya hey
Hey ya hey
Hey ya hey
Dear one
Cherished one
Loved one
You have made the world beautiful again
It’s said in some Indian nations that babies are especially sacred because they’ve just come from the Spirit World. In making this lovely little board book, Van Camp said he went back into his heart and mind to the potlatches, giveaways and feasts to witness the honoring and spirit of celebration and becoming a family. The color photographs, of babies together with their parents, together with other babies, asleep, sleepy and looking at their new world, perfectly complement Van Camp’s lullaby.
Welcome Song is a song of hope, a song of joy, a song of celebration, an honoring song for babies and the promise they bring to the universe—Beverly Slapin

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


When Ten Little Indians came out in 2004, Alexie did an interview with Wisconsin's Public Radio program "To the Best of our Knowledge." Click here to listen to it. Ten Little Indians is a terrific collection of short stories.

The segment also includes an interview with Gayle Ross. She's a storyteller and writer. I really like her books. One is The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale, which she did with Joseph Bruchac. Illustrations for that book are by Virginia A. Stroud. The beauty and importance of this book begins with Stroud's "Illustrator's Note" and Bruchac and Ross's "The Origin of the Story," both of which precede the story. In these notes, readers learn how illustrators and writers can prepare their work in a way that conveys a fundamental respect for Native peoples, their histories, and their stories.

Equally important is what you see when you open the book and start reading the story:

See the family? They aren't in some fake tipi... They're in a living room, much like yours or mine, with a fireplace and a big comfy chair. This opening visually grounds the story and Native people in the present day.

The first line is "This is what the old people told me when I was a child." None of that "many moons ago" or "in the days of the ancients" kind of prose that too many non-Native writers use!

Note, too, that it is tribally specific, right up front in the title. It says "A Cherokee Tale."

The closing page returns to the present day, with the grandparent and two children outside looking up at the stars of the Milky Way.

This book is far better than Rodanas's Dragonfly's Tale, or Pollock's Turkey Girl. If you recently bought one of them, take it right back to the store and get your money back. Ask, instead, for The Story of the Milky Way. This is one you can count on.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Alexie on Charlie Rose, 1998

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

Knowing teachers spend a fair amount of time developing background to teach certain novels, I'm providing this interview of Sherman Alexie. He was on Charlie Rose, 1998, talking about his then-released film SMOKE SIGNALS. If you're going to teach Alexie's book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, you may consider viewing SMOKE SIGNALS, too. Preview it first, though. Make sure it will fare well in your school's video policy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Interview with Richard Van Camp

More than once on this blog, I've written about Richard Van Camp's books for children and young adults. Two are picture books: A Man Called Raven, and, What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses. His novel is called The Lesser Blessed.

I just came across an interview of him, by Judi Saltman, done in June of 2003. Definitely worth reading. Interviews like this can chip away at those perceptions that we're super people, or tragic, or gone. Richard talks about how his children's books came to be, about finding out his hero, George Littlechild would illustrate them. He also talks about publishing houses, Native writers, his own life and identity... Richard is Dogrib (Tlicho).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"I" is for Inclusion

At their website, the American Indian Library Association recently uploaded "I is for Inclusion." Prepared by Naomi Caldwell, Gabriella Kaye, and Lisa A. Mitten, the article is 21 pages long and includes these sections, full of information useful to anyone selecting books about American Indians.

  • The Background
  • Introduction and Overview
  • Selective Bibliography
  • Resources for Evaluating Books and Identifying Stereotypes
  • Sources to Purchase Books
  • What to Look for

Download the pdf and share it with your fellow librarians and teachers.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cynthia Leitich Smith: LOC Webcast

Wondering if there were any videos on-line of Cynthia Leitich Smith, I did a bit of web searching and found one! In 2002, she was speaking at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. Cynthia has three wonderful books: Jingle Dancer is a picture book, Indian Shoes is easy-reader short stories, and Rain is Not My Indian Name is a YA story. Cynthia reads from RAIN in the video. To view it, click here.

She was there this past year (2007), too. This time, she read from her new book, Tantalize, which is a work of fantasy, about vampires, set in a restaurant. To view this clip, click here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Alexie on YouTube re DIARY

This is a must-view clip on YouTube. It was filmed November 3rd, when Alexie was in Texas for the Texas Book Festival. He was on a panel of YA writers. (Thanks to Jeff Berglund at Northern Arizona University for pointing to this.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Native Astronaut & A Native Writer

I imagine the man who drive my cab in NYC Thursday night would be surprised to know that Commander John Herrington, who flew on the space shuttle in 2002, is, to use the cabby's words "a red Indian." The man is from Bangladesh, and as I got in his cab, he peered at me and asked if I was Indian.

"Yes, American Indian."

"From India?"

"No... Native American."



He then stumbled, with "I thought...." and "But...." We began a long conversation, during which he talked of how he didn't know we are still here and that there is nothing in his daughter's history schoolbooks about us. He was surprised to know that there are hundreds of tribal nations, each with its own language, culture, etc. He asked what work we do, too, and though I told him one of my sister's work in business and science, and my dad is a retired engineer, he seemed to think that wasn't possible.

The conversation pointed out (again) to me, just how powerful American Indian stereotypes are--not just here--but abroad as well.

"Red Indian" is the phrase used for us in other lands. Later that evening, reading email, I learned of a new book, published in England, called Apache Girl Warrior. In her on-line interview, the author didn't use "red Indian" but she does have that tragic-romantic image in her head. And with that, she's written a book in which she makes up a tribe "Black Mountain Apache." She talks about not having learned much about American Indians, and that she wants to change that with this book. Her protagonist witnesses her brother being killed, vows to take vengeance, trains herself to be a warrior, and then...

That synopsis makes me think 'oh dear' --- her book is not going to do much more than affirm stereotypes, but in making up a tribe, but she is also adding misinformation. All with good intent!

Getting back to the subject of this post! John Herrington the astronaut is Chickasaw. And Cynthia Leitich Smith the author is Creek. The two were speaking at the Norman Public Library in Norman Oklahoma for its Native American Festival.

Over on her blog, Cyn has a picture of Herrington, and an image of the cover of her book, Rain is Not My Indian Name. She's got a signed poster of Herrington. It and a copy of her book are in a giveaway Cyn is doing. If you are a teacher, librarian, or university professor, click on over to her site and sign up for the chance to receive the giveaway. She's drawing the winning entry the first week of December.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Where is your copy of THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE?

That isn’t a trick question, but it is an important one. Where does your library shelve its copy of Forrest (Asa) Carter’s The Education of Little Tree?

Published in the 1970s, and passed off as autobiography, it was exposed as a work of fiction in 1991. It’s author, “Forrest” Carter was not Cherokee. He was Asa Carter, member of the KKK, and the person who wrote George Wallace’s “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speech.

The Education of Little Tree was in the news last week. Around 6:00 AM on Sunday, November 11th, I did a Google search using [Oprah +”Education of Little Tree”] and got 572,000 hits that include news outlets in Canada, Ireland, the UK, and China. Obviously, Oprah is a person with international fame.

Oprah pulled The Education of Little Tree from her list of recommended books. She was a fan of the book, but decided, given its author, she could no longer keep it on her list. I wish that she knew there are additional problems with the book. It isn't only a hoax, it's deeply flawed in its presentation of Cherokee people and their ways.

As a person who studies children’s and young adult books about American Indians, I’ve known for a long time that the book is a hoax. A best-selling hoax. Curious about its reception, I logged on to Amazon to read some reader reviews there.

When I clicked on the link to customer reviews, the page that came up had a different format than what I’m used to seeing on Amazon. On the left side of the page is “The most helpful favorable review” and on the right side of the page is “The most helpful critical review.” The critical review is titled “Should not be shelved as Non-Fiction.” I like this dual presentation, and hope to see it more often.

I wanted to read more reviews, so clicked on the “Newest First” button. Scrolling down, I saw one titled “The WORST book I’ve ever recorded…” posted on June 6, 2006, by J. Woodman. The person named J. Woodman, apparently, recorded the audio book version: In his review, Woodman says

Reading the book to myself in order to prepare to record it, I found it annoying in the extreme -- the so-called prose is precious and poorly written, and the allegedly authentic colloquialisms are grating. When it came time to say it all aloud, for the first time ever (and I've narrated upwards of 200 audiobooks) I found it impossible to invest this piece of literary flotsam with any emotional content whatsoever. As declining the job was no longer an option, I merely tried to stay out of the way and give it as simple and logical a performance as I could, but I was unable to compensate for the God awful writing, and unable to disguise my contempt for the entire enterprise. It remains the worst recording I have ever done, and I was, for a time, quite ashamed of it. Now that I discover more about its hate mongering author, I'm actually quite pleased that the recording stinks. I now believe I gave this garbage exactly the reading it deserved.

Woodman’s remarks aside, review after review describes the story as “heartwarming” or “well-written, compelling” or “entertaining and thoughtful.” Many say they’ll pass it along to their children and grandchildren.

The thrust of the mainstream criticism of the book is about the author, about the hoax. Many say we should not discard a book because of its author, that it should be considered on its own merits. To many, it is a well-written book, and therefore, much-loved.


There are a lot of well-loved children’s books that miss the mark when viewed for the accuracy of presentation of Native content. These books are, in my view, bogus. A good example of this is Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. It is an award-winning, best-selling book that purports to be a speech given by Chief Seattle, who was the leader of a west-coast tribe, but Jeffers illustrations are the usual (stereotypical) Plains Indian-like items (fringed buckskin, tipis). Books like this do nothing to interrupt the cycles of misinformation circulating throughout mainstream America---and indeed---the world, about who American Indians actually are. Instead, they affirm stereotypes, of savage, heroic but always tragic Indians.

While those with little or no factually based knowledge of the Cherokee people think The Education of Little Tree is a wonderful story, those who are Cherokee find it deeply flawed. In his article “A Lingering Miseducation: Confronting the Legacy of Little Tree,” Daniel Heath Justice writes:

…Carter’s Indians live apart from their tribal community as much in spirit and philosophy as in geographic proximity. Grandpa, Granma, Little Tree, and Willow John are the only Indians around; reference to “the Nation” in Oklahoma is always with scorn or sadness. No mention is made of the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina. Carter’s Indians claim to carry the memory and “Way” of their people, but only as a vanished or vanishing memory. The tribal community is dead in Little Tree, and none of the so-called Cherokees seem interested in reclaiming it.

On the authenticity in the book, Justice says:

Granpa is the Noble Trickster, Grandma the dignified Indian Princess (and a Cherokee Princess, no less!), and Little Tree is just what so many generations of Boy Scouts have dreamed themselves to be: the Little Brave roaming wild in the forest, with few rules and all sorts of generic “Indian” woodlore to consume and exploit. In most ways they are generic Indians, with few if any attributes that are distinctly Cherokee. None of them have any connection to the Cherokee clan system, which would have been quite unusual for Cherokees like Granma and Granpa during that time period….


This fictionalization of Native lives and histories poses a very real threat to Native America, for it creates powerful stereotypes of Indians (what Anishinaabe writer and critic Gerald Vizenor calls “interimage simulations”) that take on a white cultural reality that is seen as a more “authentic” than the realities of living, sovereign American Indians.

Justice opens his article by speaking of reading it himself, as a young boy, and how it affected him. He is Cherokee, or as he prefers, Tsalagi. He closes his article with this:

Many generations have suffered from the stereotypes that Little Tree draws upon, stereotypes that find their deepest grasp in the minds and spirits of the children. We have spent many years resisting colonialist intrusions into our lives, histories, and identities, to varying degrees of success, sometimes with strategies that would make true understanding more difficult for the children and grandchildren who would follow. Until 1996, my parents and I didn’t know that The Education of Little Tree was a fraud; three generations of removal kept us ignorant of who we are among our people. But we know now. We’ve reclaimed the story from Asa Carter and others like him who would define Indians out of existence and take their places as the indigenes of the Americas. We’re reestablishing connections with our kin in the Nation and beyond, and we’re reading authors like Cook-Lynn, Vizenor, Owens, Wendy Rose, Diane Glancy, Marilou Awiakta, Joy Harjo, Linda Hogan, Sherman Alexie, D’Arcy McNickle, and other Indians hwo tell their own stories. The time of Little Tree is at an end; the voices have escaped. We know the truth: the stories are ours, and we will be the ones to tell them. That’s where the real education begins.

Justice’s article came out in a journal published by the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures. Published since the 1970s, it is among the handful of academic journals created by American Indians for the purpose of publishing research articles that provide American Indian perspectives on, in this case, literature. Older issues of the journal are on line at

Other journals like it include American Indian Quarterly, Wicazo-Sa Review, the Journal of American Indian Education, and American Indian Culture and Research Journal.

The Library of Congress classifies The Education of Little Tree as fiction but at least 20 libraries in Illinois have it shelved as non-fiction. Opening the book and looking at the CIP information, it is clear that---at one time---LOC had it categorized as biography. When did they change its category from biography to fiction? Does LOC have a mechanism for letting libraries know when they make such a change?

The case of The Education of Little Tree illustrates the many problems in children’s books about American Indians. From writers who claim a Native identity, to the differences in reviews by mainstream and Native critics, to the problems involved in shelving books.

Things can be better, but only if teachers and librarians have time to do some professional reading in journals that aren’t necessarily among their regular readings. This blog is an attempt to help you find those articles. When they’re available on-line, I link to them (see column at right called ARTICLES.)

So…. I close this blog post with the question I started with: Where is your copy of The Education of Little Tree shelved?

[Note: Thank you, readers of YALSA and ISLMANET, for providing feedback on an earlier draft of this post.]

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanksgiving in YA National Book Award

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


Sherman Alexie won the National Book Award last night, for his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

There's a lot in his book that many readers may not know or understand... What is, for example, "The Indian Health Service." And what is that reference to a "white dentist"?!

Page after page has something I identify with, or laugh aloud with... Below are some excerpts from the book.

On page 35, Mr. P (Junior's teacher) says

"When I first started teaching here, that's what we did to the rowdy ones, you know? We beat them. That's how we were taught to teach you. We were supposed to kill the Indian to save the child."

Alexie's protagonist asks Mr. P

"You killed Indians?"

And Mr. P replies

"No, no, it's just a saying. I didn't literally kill Indians. We were supposed to make you give up being Indian. Your songs and stories and language and dancing. Everything. We weren't trying to kill Indian people. We were trying to kill Indian culture."
Mr. P is referring to boarding schools. Not fancy prep-schools, but schools designed to "Kill the Indian, save the man."

Take a look at the illustration on page 38, and the discussion of romance novels. When I do guest lectures, I bring along one of Cassie Edward's romance novels. They are hilarious to me, but they ARE bestsellers, consumed by... who? Women.... Librarians? Teachers? Parents? I bring one along to make the point that, if you're only reading junk, it is easy to understand why you don't recognize stereotypical content.

On page 61 are "The Unofficial and Unwritten Spokane Indian Rules of Fisticuffs." Lists like that make the rounds often, moving through cyberspace, dropping into my mailbox. Native humor.

Page 101? New chapter, called "Thanksgiving"

I always think its funny when Indians celebrate Thanksgiving. I mean, sure, the Indians and Pilgrims were best friends during that First Thanksgiving, but a few years later, the Pilgrims were shooting Indians.

So I'm never quite sure why we eat turkey like everybody else.

"Hey, Dad," I said. "What do Indians have to be so thankful for?"

"We should give thanks that they didn't kill all of us."

We laughed like crazy. It was a good day. Dad was sober. Mom was getting ready to nap. Grandma was already napping.

As you may know, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is very close to his own story. Given that, you may be interested in reading up on Alexie's people. Among the wonders of the Internet is that Native people and tribes can now get info available to the masses. Info about their history, culture, etc. from their perspective rather than something filtered through an outsider's lens. As you read/teach/discuss his novel with students and patrons, it will you and them to know the history and present-day life of his people.

Alexie is Spokane and Coeur d'Alene. Here are the links to their websites:

Spokane Tribe of Indians

Coeur d'Alene

You might also want to order and watch two films based on his writing. The first is SMOKE SIGNALS, and the second is THE BUSINESS OF FANCYDANCING. The latter might be controversial in some circles, because the protagonist is gay. Watch it, and keep an eye out for Alexie. He does appear in it. Then, watch it again, the second time listening to Alexie talk about the film in the directors commentary.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"read" in Native Languages

Tulsa City-County Library has given permission for people to use this graphic for educational, non-commercial purposes. If you have questions please contact Sue Anderson at

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Good Books about Thanksgiving

I've had a lot of email of late... People want me to recommend good books about Thanksgiving.

There's only a handful of ones that I'd recommend. Actually---I concur with those recommended by Oyate, and I'll list them below.

Here's the thing. I want teachers, parents, and librarians to consider that a lot of American Indians don't necessarily "celebrate" Thanksgiving as it is celebrated in the mainstream American holiday scheme.

Many of us get together----it IS a major holiday, with almost all offices shut down and stores closing early, etc.----and many of us eat turkey, but there are no Pilgrim and Indian salt shakers on my table...

Think about it this way. Just for a moment. Europeans invaded the homelands of Native peoples and their nations all over the Americas. There were wars. Death. Incarceration. Brutal programs designed to "kill the Indian and save the man." Native peoples and our cultures were attacked. But we persevered, and many of us we have a different view of this holiday. A lot of people tell us "get over it" and the like.


That's like asking the bully and his/her victim to hug without recognizing the harm and the hurt, without having honest conversations with the bully about his actions. I'm a bit reluctant to put forth these analogies, because I don't view myself or Native peoples as victims.

What I'm getting at, in part, is that I don't want to be a player in your story. I don't want to be on your stage. I want you to see me and Pueblo people (in my case) as a people that existed and exists on its own merits---not as minor characters, or colorful ones, in the story that America tells about America.

You want to know about Native people? Do you really want to know about us? Or do you just need/want us so you can 'do your thing' (celebrate Thanksgiving)? You want me to tell you what I do for Thanksgiving. I understand that, but I think it more important that you ask about (in my case) the Pueblo people. Who are we? Where are we? What are OUR celebrations? When are they? What are they about?

And... instead of asking a Native person what they're doing for Thanksgiving, how about asking yourself about what you are doing, and why.

That said, here's some books Oyate recommends. The list is from their page about Thanksgiving. I highly recommend you read it.

Recommended Books about Thanksgiving

Bruchac, Margaret M. (Abenaki), and Catherine Grace O’Neill, 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2001, grades 4-up

Hunter, Sally M. (Ojibwe), Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1997, grades 4-6.

Peters, Russell M. (Wampanoag), Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1992, grades 4-6.

Regguinti, Gordon (Ojibwe), The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1992, grades 4-6.

Seale, Doris (Santee/Cree), Beverly Slapin, and Carolyn Silverman (Cherokee), eds., Thanksgiving: A Native Perspective. Berkeley: Oyate, 1998, teacher resource.

Swamp, Jake (Mohawk), Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message. New York: Lee & Low, 1995, all grades.

Wittstock, Laura Waterman (Seneca), Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1993, grades 4-6

Sunday, November 11, 2007


In the 1990s during graduate school, I read a book called Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children. Prior to grad school, I had been teaching elementary school and was continually disappointed with the ways that American Indians were portrayed in children's books. I was very glad to know about Through Indian Eyes. Edited by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale, the book is packed with critical reviews, essays, and poems. Today, I'm listing the books reviewed in Through Indian Eyes. If you don't have a copy, you should get one. It is available in paperback from Oyate, a Native not-for-profit organization, for $25.

Books reviewed in Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children (Note: this is NOT a list of recommended books! Some are worth having; others are not.)

  • Ashabranner, Brent. Children of the Maya; Morning Star, Black Sun; To Live in Two Worlds
  • Armstrong, Jeanette. Neekna and Chemai
  • Awiakta, Marilous. Rising Fawn and the Fire Mystery
  • Baker, Betty. Three Fools and a Horse
  • Baker, Olaf. Where the Buffaloes Begin
  • Banks, Lynne Reid. The Indian in the Cupboard; The Return of the Indian
  • Baylor, Byrd. Before You Came This Way; The Desert is Theirs; A God on Every Mountain Top; Hawk, I'm Your Brother; They Put on Masks
  • Benton-Banai, Edward. The Mishomis Book
  • Bierhorst, John. Doctor Coyote
  • Big Crow, Moses Nelson/Eyo Hiktepi. A Legend from Crazy Horse Clan
  • Blood, Charles, and Martin Link. The Goat in the Rug
  • Brescia, Bill (ed). Our Mother Corn
  • Brewer, Linda Skinner. O Wakaga
  • Broker, Ignatia. Night Flying Woman
  • Brown, Dee. Tepee Tales of the American Indian
  • Bruchac, Joseph. Iroquois Stories; Iroquois Stories: Heroes and Heroines, Monsters and Magic; Songs From This Earth on Turtle's Back; The Wind Eagle and Other Abenaki Stories
  • Charging Eagle, Tom and Ron Zeilinger. Black Hills, Sacred Hills
  • Collura, Mary-Ellen Lang. Winners
  • Cooper, Amy Jo. Dream Quest
  • Kleitsch, Christel and Paul Stephens. Dancing Feathers; A Time to be Brave
  • D'Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire. George Washington; Pocahontas.
  • DePaola, Tomie. The Legend of the Bluebonnet
  • Durham, Jimmie. Columbus Day
  • Fleischer, Jane. Pontiac, Chief of the Ottawas; Sitting Bull, Warrior of the Sioux; Tecumseh, Shawnee War Chief
  • Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union Title IV Indian Education Program. Finding One's Way
  • Friskey, Margaret. Indian Two Feet and His Horse
  • Fritz, Jean. The Double Life of Pocahontas; The Good Giants and the Bad Puckwudgies
  • Goble, Paul. Buffalo Woman; Death of the Iron Horse; Star Boy
  • Green, Richard G. Wundoa: "I'm Number One"
  • Haseley, Dennis. The Scared One
  • Henry, Edna/We-Cha-Pi-Tu-Wen/Blue Star Woman. Native American Cookbook
  • Henry, Jeanette and Rupert Costo. A Thousand Years of American Indian Storytelling
  • Highwater, Jamake. The Ceremony of Innocence
  • Hirschfelder, Arlene. American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children; Happily May I Walk
  • Hudson, Jan. Sweetgrass
  • Hungry Wolf, Beverly. The Ways of My Grandmothers
  • Jassem, Kate. Chief Joseph, Leader of Destiny; Pocahontas, Girl of Jamestown; Sacajawea, Wilderness Guide; Squanto, The Pilgrim Adventure
  • Johnston, Basil. How the Birds got their Colours
  • Katz, Jane. This Song Remembers: Self Portraits of Native American in the Arts
  • LeSueur, Meridel. Sparrow Hawk
  • Lyons, Grant. Pacific Coast Indians of North America
  • Maher, Ramona. Alice Yazzie's Year
  • Martin, Bill and John Archambault. Knots on a Counting Rope
  • Martinson, David. Real Wild Rice; Shemay: The Bird in the Sugarbush
  • Mathers, Sharon, Linda Skinner, and Terry Tafoya. The Mamook Book: Activities for Learning about the Northwest Coast Indians
  • Mayne, William. Drift
  • McGovern, Ann. If You Lived with the Sioux Indians
  • Miles, Miska. Annie and the Old One
  • Munsch, Robert and Michael Kusugak. A Promise is a Promise
  • Nabokov, Peter. Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present, 1492-1992
  • New Mexico People and Energy Collective. Red Ribbons for Emma
  • Norman, Howard. Who-Paddled-Backward-With-Trout
  • North American Indian Travelling College. Legends of Our Nations
  • O'Dell, Scott. Black Star, Bright Dawn
  • Okahagan Tribal Council. How Food Was Given; How Names Were Given; How Turtle Set the Animals Free
  • Oppenheim, Joanne. Black Hawk; Oscela; Sequoyah
  • Ortiz, Simon J. The People Shall Continue
  • Paige, Harry W. John Stands
  • Patacsil, Sharon and Colleen Neal. Daybreak Star Preschool Activities Book
  • Poatgieter, Hermina. Indian Legacy: Native American Influences on World Life and Cultures
  • Rock Point Community School. Between Sacred Mountains: Navajo Stories and Lessons from the Land
  • Roth, Susan. Kanahena: A Cherokee Story
  • Siberell, Anne. Whale in the Sky
  • Speare, Elizabeth George. The Sign of the Beaver
  • Steltzer, Ulli. A Haida Potlach
  • St. Paul Community Programs in the Arts and Sciences. Angwamas Minosewag Anishinabeg: Time of the Indian
  • Staheli, Julie West. Kachinas Color and Cut-Out Collection
  • Steptoe, John. The Story of Jumping Mouse
  • Strete, Craig Kee. When Grandfather Journeys into Winter; The Bleeding Man and Other Science Fiction Stories
  • TallMountain, Mary. Green March Moons
  • Tapahonso, Luci. A Breeze Swept Through
  • Tohono O'odham Tribal Council. Tohono O'odham: Lives of the Desert People
  • Trimble, Stephen and Harvey Lloyd. Our Voices Our Land
  • Wallin, Luke. Ceremony of the Panther; In the Shadow of the Wind
  • Weeks, Rupert. Pachee Goyo: History and Legends from the Shoshone
  • Yue, Charlotte and David Yue. The Pueblo; The Tipi: A Center of Native American Life
  • Zitrkala-Sa/Gertrude Bonin. Old Indian Legends

Saturday, November 10, 2007

American Indians and Bias in Cataloging (Shelving)

I've had a couple of questions lately, about shelving of books about American Indians. It led me to ask my colleagues in the American Indian Library Association about the sorts of things they learn in library school, about shelving these books.

I was referred to a bibliography about the topic. If you're interested in it, I encourage you to read Holly Tomren's paper, "Classification, Bias and American Indian Materials."

She reviews previous studies of cataloging of American Indian materials, noting that they are generally assigned to the 970 "General History of North America" section, even if they're not necessarily history. In that area, you'll find art and religion. Bias is unavoidable, but, she asks, how might a Native student feel when, in looking for info about his tribe, the librarian sends him to the history shelves? That student obviously knows his people are not extinct, but does his non-Native peer know that? Does finding the material in the history section affirm the idea that we've all vanished?

Tomren also discusses the Library of Congress subject headings and drawbacks in them, too, and she describes alternative systems developed by Native people in the US and Canada.

Her article is definitely worth reading. It's a little technical in parts, but overall, much can be learned about the ways that bias is present in shelving systems.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Below is a review of Eve Bunting's book, Cheyenne Again. The review is written by Beverly Slapin at Oyate, a Native not-for-profit organization. This review of Cheyenne Again originally appeared in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. As you read the review, you will see that it is not a book that could be used to educate children about American Indians and boarding schools they attended. In A Broken Flute, you will find reviews of books that can be used for that purpose. A Broken Flute is available from Oyate for $35. In it, over 700 children's books are discussed and/or reviewed. I highly recommend it. The review below may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin.
Bunting, Eve, Cheyenne Again, illustrated by Irving Toddy (Navajo). New York: Clarion (1995). 32 pages, color illustrations; grades 2-3; Cheyenne

In Cheyenne Again, Bunting tells the story of a 10-year-old Cheyenne boy who, in the late 1880s, is taken far from his family and sent to Carlisle Indian Industrial School, more than 1,000 miles away, to “learn the White Man’s ways.” “The corn is drying out,” his father says. “There will be food in this place they call school. Young Bull must go.” 

Toddy’s acrylic and oil paintings are perfect for a boarding school story, especially when he contrasts the open, light expanse of the Great Plains with the depressingly dark confines of the school. The child’s pain also, as Young Bull’s hair is forcibly cut while others, with short hair, look on. And his running away, with only a thin blanket for cover, into a blizzard. Toddy has been there. As a former student at Intermountain Indian School in Utah, he holds the stories in his heart.

In Bunting’s telling, on the other hand, conditions appear far better than they were. “Kill the Indian, save the man”—Captain Richard Henry Pratt’s harsh motto—was much more indicative of the treatment meted out to the lonely, miserable children than Bunting cares to reveal. Children whose parents voluntarily sent them to Carlisle went there, not to “learn the White Man’s ways,” but to learn English. Bunting does not mention the many deaths—from malnutrition, from diseases, from beatings, from broken hearts. Nor does she mention the jail cells and the arbitrary punishment such as having lye rubbed into young mouths for the sin of not knowing what was expected. She whitewashes the abject wretchedness of the children’s lives.

There would have been no kindly teacher to offer “salve to sooth the place the chain has rubbed,” to console a child by telling him, “Never forget that you are Indian inside. Don’t let us take your memories.” Pratt’s “teaching” methodology was designed to force the children to deny—and later, forget—their Indianness, inside and out. Any teacher encouraging a child to remember who he was would have been fired on the spot.

On the last page, Young Bull, having drawn pictures in a ledger book of warriors riding on painted ponies, breaks through “the lines across the page” and rides once again with his relatives “across the golden plain.” He has again become, as Bunting so facilely makes possible, “Cheyenne again.”

By ending the story here, Bunting is able to sidestep, not only the misery of the boarding schools, but also their legacy. It’s ongoing, and many people still bear the scars.

—Beverly Slapin
Note from Debbie: To learn more about boarding schools, visit these websites:
Carlisle Indian Industrial School, located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Paula Giese's essay about Cheyenne Again provides in-depth information about Intermountain Indian School.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The word "read" in Native languages

Was reading Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog this morning and saw this graphic. Isn't it nifty? If you click on the graphic, a larger image of it will open in another window.

Cyn's first three books are perfect for November reading.

  • They are works of fiction by a Native author.
  • They are about Native kids and their families.
  • They are set in the present day.

Cyn has extensive info about each one at her web page. Click on the title to get to her page on each one:

I said "perfect for November" because this is designated as "Native American Month" but... Read her books all year long! Don't confine them or any/all of your reading/teaching about American Indians to November... Do your part to bring us out of the past and into the present.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Stereotypes, Children's Books, and the Mental Health and Well Being of ALL Children

Earlier this morning I listened to a speech (on the radio) given by a clinical psychologist to an audience in Indiana. He was there to talk about the mental health and well-being of children.

Right after he was introduced, he said something like "I'm glad to be here... Just for you, I'll put on my Cleveland Indians baseball cap." His remarks were greeted with laughter and applause.

I understand his gesture, an effort to connect with his audience, but that particular gesture indicated that he has not considered the effects of these mascots on American Indian people. It was especially troubling because, as I listened to his speech, he spoke of the need for mental health workers to become culturally competent so they are better prepared to serve diverse populations.

I can be cynical and label him a hypocrite, but I don't think he is a hypocrite. I think that he---like most Americans---has never critically looked at stereotypes of American Indians, nor has he considered the effect of those stereotypes on American Indian children.

The American Psychological Association, and the American Sociological Association, both issued statements calling for an end to the use of American Indian imagery in sports mascots.

The APA's statement reads, in part:

Self-esteem is an important ingredient in resiliency and positive mental health adjustment. It is important that a group does not feel compromised in this important area of psychological functioning, as impairment of self-esteem can contribute to negative behaviors such as substance use and abuse, self-harming, and interpersonal violence (Witko, 2005; Cook-Lynn, 2001; Coombs, 1997).

It also reads:

For American Indian people, whose history is not often portrayed accurately in public education systems, the stereotypes that mascots, symbols, images, and personalities portray become the norm and miseducate American Indians and non-American Indians about American Indian culture, society, and spirituality (Gone, 2002; Connolly, 2000; Moses, 1996; Churchill, 1994, Nuessel, 1994; Banks, 1993).

And here's part of the statement by the American Sociological Association:

WHEREAS the American Sociological Association recognizes that racial prejudice, stereotypes, individual discrimination and institutional discrimination are socially created phenomena that are harmful to Native Americans and other people of color;

WHEREAS the American Sociological Association is resolved to undertake scholarship, education, and action that helps to eradicate racism;

WHEREAS social science scholarship has demonstrated that the continued use of Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport reflect and reinforce misleading stereotypes of Native Americans in both past and contemporary times;

WHEREAS the stereotypes embedded in Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport undermine education about the lives of Native American peoples;

These statements are issued by professional associations, and both address stereotypes in the form of mascots. I think it necessary for we, as educators, to look at stereotypes of American Indians in children's books. They are rampant this month, in the children's books about Thanksgiving, in the lesson plans about "Pilgrims and Native Americans," in the bulletin boards teachers are putting up this month, and in the decorations going up in your local grocery stores.

It is easy to feel defensive if you're using stereotypical materials. It may feel like a personal attack on your decisions. Please know that I view us all as products of a society that "did this" to us all---not in an intentionally harmful way---but in an unthinking way. There is no one place to lay blame for this massive lack-of-knowing, and laying blame is not the purpose of my writing on this blog.

Instead, my purpose is to provide a different perspective on American Indians as taught by books, schools, and society. I ask you to set aside that book, or that lesson plan, or that bulletin board display, and provide your students with solid information about American Indians.