Monday, July 28, 2008

Sylvia Olsen's YETSA'S SWEATER

[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Olsen, Sylvia, Yetsa’s Sweater, illustrated by Joan Larson. Sono Nis Press, 2006, color, preschool-up; Coast Salish

Yetsa’s sweater has become too small for her, but she doesn’t care. It still keeps her warm, and the patterns that her Grandma knitted into it—flowers because her mom loves gardening, salmon because her dad loves fishing, and waves because Yetsa loves the beach—warm her heart. But soon Yetsa is going to have a new sweater, and now she’s helping Grandma prepare the wool.

Traditionally, Indian children learn experientially, most often from a grandparent or auntie or uncle, usually a little at a time. They’re asked to help, task by task, until they know something well enough to do it independently. Sometimes grandparents look away while children attempt things beyond their skill levels so they can find out that they’re not ready. This is learning, too.

Between the many piles of “raw” wool and the finished sweater, there is lots of hard work—hand cleaning, washing, wringing, drying, teasing, carding, spinning, and knitting—and there’s lots of kidding around and good-natured teasing between Grandma and Mom and Yetsa. One incident in particular is guaranteed to have young readers howling. As Yetsa learns, a wealth of cultural information is shared with readers, too. But there’s no internal conflict about “walking in two worlds” and none of the self-conscious ethnographic expositions common in picture books written by outsiders. Just a happy little girl, secure in the love of her family, growing into the capable, confidant woman she will be. Growing into her new sweater, with “flowers, whales and waves, woolly clouds and blackberries.”

Larson’s pastel artwork, on a palette of rich blues and greens, complement the blacks, browns, whites and grays that constitute the beautiful Cowichan sweaters. You can taste the thick, delicious blackberry jam. You can feel the oily lanolin in the wool. And you can smell the—well, what Yetsa pulls out of a pile of wool. In the story, Yetsa is a very real little girl—and in fact, she’s the author’s granddaughter, in the sixth generation of a family of Coast Salish knitters. Yetsa’s Sweater is a quiet story, full of love and joy, a treasure to read to youngsters, over and over.—Beverly Slapin


Note from Debbie: Yetsa's Sweater is available from Oyate. If you can, purchase the book from Oyate. It may be cheaper from Amazon, but the work Oyate does for Native and non-Native children is work that helps society be a more just and caring world for everyone.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lack of activity here on American Indians in Children's Literature is because I've been at Acoma, and at Nambe (my home), doing some research but also working on the old adobe home that started out as my grandmothers and eventually came to me. Daughter Liz and I, with help from my parents and nephews, have been mixing a lot of cement to do some new flooring. And, we're working on restoration of a fireplace, too. Good work.

Today (July 24) we're in Santa Fe for a few hours while Liz finishes up some work she's done for our tribal lawyers.

We walked down to the plaza in downtown Santa Fe an hour or so ago and walked past a sign... Liz took the pic, and I'm posting it here. It says:


As I read that sign, I know what it is about. We call it the Pueblo Revolt, NOT "the great Indian uprising." We called it a revolt, because in 1680 we--the Pueblo people--drove the Spanish out of what became New Mexico. A well executed plan to rid our homelands of brutal treatment by the Spanish. I wonder who made the sign? The words the signmaker chose reflect bias... There's a lot of history here, a lot to think about...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Neil Waldman's WOUNDED KNEE

In Volume 16, No. 3 (Spring 2002), Rethinking Schools Online published a review of Neil Waldman's book about Wounded Knee. The review is by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale. Waldman's book received rave reviews and ended up on a lot of "Best Books" lists, but Slapin and Seale point out problems with the book. And, they recommend Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee instead of Waldman's book. Do read their review.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission from its author, Beverly Slapin. Copyright 2008 by Beverly Slapin. All rights reserved.]

Bruchac, Joseph (Abenaki), March Toward the Thunder. Dial (2008), grades 5-up.

Between 1861 and 1865, during what has been labeled the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history, more than one million young men, foot soldiers who had enlisted or been drafted into the infantries of the Northern and Southern armies, were maimed or killed as they marched toward the thunder of each other’s artillery.

It’s the summer of 1864, and 15-year-old Louis Nolette, an Abenaki from Canada, is living in New York with his mother. Lured by the promise of good wages and a “fine, clean uniform,” and the North’s stated commitment to end slavery, Louis signs up with the 69th New York Volunteers: the “Fighting 69th,” the “Irish Brigade”—known for its courage and ferocity—marching from New York to Virginia.

An “eager boy going into battle,” what Louis finds out during this long summer is that war is not about heroes and villains: it’s about scared kids on both sides of the trenches, killing and dying for a “cause” that becomes further and further removed from their realities. “Aye,” Sergeant Flynn tells Louis, “war’s a dirty business and never ye forget that.”

A dirty business in more ways than one. Constant attacks by lice and fleas. The unavailability of water for bathing. And the slaughters on both sides that result from incompetent officers and generals whose political careers dictate their military judgments. “God save us from all generals,” Sergeant Flynn says.

March Toward the Thunder is not a blow-by-blow description of some of the major battles of the Civil War, though they are here: Cold Harbor, the Crater, the Bloody Angle, the Wilderness, Petersburg. It is not a roster of the famous names, though some make an appearance, too: Abe Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Clara Barton, and Seneca General Ely Parker. Rather, it is about the exhausted, homesick young people who do the fighting and whom readers will get to know and like—before almost all of them are killed.

Here are “Bad Luck” Bill O’Day and Kevin “Shaky” Wilson, the first to die:

O’Day’s head had been broken open like a melon by a spinning piece of shell. Nor was it likely that Shaky Wilson was still breathing. The last [Louis had] seen Wilson, he was leaning on a fallen tree and trying to hold in a red writhing mass spilling like snakes out of his belly.

Of the others who become friends—amidst “the confusion of gunshot and smoke, shots and screams and the sounds of men calling for water or their mothers”—few are left alive. And many of those others who might survive find parts of themselves left at the hospital tent, with the doctors’ sawbones-approach to medicine:

A grisly pile of arms and legs of men [who] would never shoulder a musket or march again to battle lay stacked four feet high behind the operating area. If and when there was a lull in the action, those lost limbs would be buried in the same earth where men were digging trenches.

In some places, compassion emerges from the bloody chaos. There are informal truces between Blue and Gray young men, who share the little they have. There’s a hushed, nighttime break together, where Louis is wished luck by a young Cherokee Reb whose cousin Louis has pulled to safety (“I do hope you don’t get kilt tomorrow,” he says). There’s the deep friendship that develops between Louis and a young Mohawk named Artis, who, in another war in another time and place, might have become deadly enemies. And there’s this: As Louis’ companions settle into their trenches for the night, they hear a familiar song floating from the enemy camp, “as sweet a version of ‘Amazing Grace’ as he’d ever heard… Then, up and down the line of trenches, Union men began to join in until at least a thousand voices and hearts of men in both blue and gray were lifted above the earthly battlefield by a song.”

Louis Nolette is based on Bruchac’s great-grandfather Louis Bowman, who served in the Irish Brigade in 1864-1865. He was gravely wounded and left for dead, surviving because Thunder came and he was able to drink from the rain pools. Here, Louis, his mother, his comrades,—and his “enemies”—are real people. Through them, middle readers will find no “good guys” or “bad guys,” no simplistic declaration of “mission accomplished.” Rather, with the assistance of a skilled teacher, they will be able to relate to the historical and contemporary issues of military recruitment and war.

Bruchac, who has recently become a grandfather, dedicates this book to “our grandchildren; may they live to see a world in which there is no war.” Through the eyes of a 15-year-old Indian boy become a man, he has crafted a profound statement against warfare. March Toward the Thunder should be required reading for every fifth- and six-grader in this country, for every youngster who is addicted to violent video games, and for every 18-year-old who is contemplating serving in this country’s armed forces.

—Beverly Slapin


Note from Debbie: March Toward the Thunder is available from Oyate, a Native non-profit organization. You can always get a book cheaper at places like Amazon, but supporting Oyate means support of the work Oyate does for children. If you have a choice, order March Toward the Thunder from Oyate.


Update, July 13, 6:45 AM---Here's Joseph Bruchac, singing a song he wrote, "Dare to Hope."


Book trailers! Most people know that a "movie trailer" is a preview of an upcoming movie. As I understand it, a book trailer is a video of a book. They are becoming increasingly popular. Click here to see a book trailer for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Rain Is Not My Indian Name.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cynthia Leitich Smith's JINGLE DANCER going into reprint

Something to celebrate on this sunny (but humid) day! The trade and library editions of Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer are going into reprint. Books only stay in print if people buy them. If you bought a copy, cool. If you haven't gotten one yet, do it today! If you're a teacher in early elementary school, read this book aloud early in the year. With this book, your students will learn a lot about a present-day Native child named Jenna.

Jenna is Muscogee (Creek) and also Ojibway. She lives in Oklahoma. She wants to dance at the upcoming powwow. With the help of her grandma, her auntie, a neighbor, and her cousin, she'll be ready.

My experience reading Cyn's book today was different than all the other times I've read it. Usually, I think of my daughter as Jenna. Reading the book reminds me of the times when my family helped Liz get ready to dance at Nambe. This time, though, I paused when I got to the page where Jenna visits her cousin, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is a lawyer.

My own Liz is in Santa Fe, at this very moment, working for the lawyer who works with Nambe. My Liz is considering law school. For the first time, in the many times that I've read this wonderful book, I see Liz as Elizabeth, not Jenna. And while Liz is at Nambe, she's been busy, sewing traditional dresses. She's making one for her three-year-old cousin who has not yet danced at Nambe.

Cyn's book gives new meaning to me today, and that makes me especially happy to know others can buy it and share it.

Visit Cyn's site for a curriculum guide for Jingle Dancer.

Jingle Dancer is available from Oyate.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Today, Elizabeth Bird (a blogger at School Library Journal), posted her review of Louise Erdrich's The Porcupine Year. It is Erdrich's third book in a series that began with The Birchbark House.

Bird clearly loves the book. I don't know if she posts a live countdown for every book she reviews, but there is one there for the moment when The Porcupine Year hits the shelves on September 2nd.

Earlier this year I listened to Erdrich read from her new novel, The Plague of Doves. It came out in April and is in its third printing. The story she tells is based on the lynching of three American Indians in 1897 in North Dakota. At the 2006 New Yorker Festival she read aloud the story "The Plague of Doves" that would become the novel. If you want to hear that reading, click here.

I bring up her reading here because today, months after I heard her read, those voices are still with me. A gifted writer, she is also an outstanding reader. I'd love to hear her read aloud The Porcupine Year! Like Elizabeth, I was taken with the dialog.

And, as with her first book, Erdrich gives us an honest portrayal of peoples in conflict. In her books, there is none of the savage melodrama that Wilder uses in her series. The world might be a better place if we replaced every copy of Wilder's Little House on the Prairie with Erdrich's series. In Erdrich, children see human and humane, fully developed Native characters whose culture is in conflict with those who want what they have. Thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Betty Reid and Ben Winton's KEEPING PROMISES

Teachers and librarians looking for books to add to their reference and non-fiction shelf will find Keeping Promises: What is Sovereignty and other Questions about Indian Country especially useful.

The cover itself is worth the cost of the book. Each photo on the cover poses and answers a question about American Indians. In the center is a photograph of Native cheerleaders. On the right are two boys; one in street clothes, the other in traditional clothes. [Note: traditional clothes are not costumes. Think of it this way: the clothes you put on for special occasions are not costumes.] Bottom left is a photo of Jim Northrup and his grandson. Northrup writes a monthly newspaper column called Fond Du Lac Follies. He's also a veteran of the United States Marine Corp.

Inside are answers to the following questions:

  • Who is an Indian?
  • How many Indians live in the United States?
  • What is a tribe?
  • What is sovereignty?
  • How many reservations are there?
  • Can anyone buy and sell reservation land?
  • Who lives on reservation land?
  • What is the relationship between state governments and tribal governments?
  • Why can reservations have gambling if the states they are in don't allow it?
  • How do tribal governments work?
  • How do tribes work together?

There is a section called Between Nations that includes the following subsections:

  • How the idea of treaties developed
  • When Indians became wards of the government
  • Winning back sovereignty
  • The evolution of Indian political activism

Most Americans think American Indians were primitive and not very smart. That is not true! Books like Keeping Promises can help you and the children you work with understand who American Indians were (and are). With that information, you (and students) are better able to discern stereotypical and biased presentations of American Indians in children's books.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

It was suggested I make use of Blogger's 'label' option as a means to organize material on the site. Once I enabled it, I realize how sporadically (and even haphazardly) I've been using labels! Given that I've been running this site for two years, it'll take some time to clean up the labels on old posts, but I'm working on it... You can see the LABEL category if you scroll way down, bottom right.

Your suggestions welcome!

Monday, July 07, 2008


Little House, Long Shadow: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Impact on American Culture, by Anita Clair Fellman is getting some exposure today on the webpage for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Via correspondence some years ago, I knew Fellman was working on this book, and I'm glad to see it is out. Here's an excerpt from the article:

She found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Wilder's own staunch individualism had informed the tenor of the novels. "Distraught by New Deal policies that created an expanded role for government," Wilder had, in her books, expressly depicted government as "nothing but rules and bureaucracies destructive to the enterprising individual," sometimes manipulating the facts of her youth — on which the books are based — to achieve this effect. The Little House books instead champion the self-reliance, isolationism, and "buoyancy of spirit" Wilder felt had made America great.

Fellman carefully notes, "Looking at the Little House books in this way would be only a case study for my starting proposition that sources other than overtly political thinking and rhetoric might have contributed to a continued appreciation for individualist ideas." Yet, she continues, "there are not many people who are aware of the formative influence of what they read in childhood on their core political views."

Fellman and I are on the same page with regard to the formative influence of children's books. I've ordered her book and look forward to reading it. Given that so many Americans revere Wilder and her books, Fellman is likely getting some angry email. A sample of that anger can be seen in the 'Customer Reviews' portion of the Amazon website.

Little House and books like it that inaccurately portray American Indians as savages are formative in another way... They teach that there is such a thing as a savage other who is less than human, who must be dealt with for the security and safety of America. That ideology, well nurtured throughout the formative years, is what makes it possible for Americans to believe that there are savage others elsewhere, like in Iraq.

Recall the capture of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company in March of 2003. One of the soldiers said "We were like Custer. We were surrounded." (see Former POW: 'We were like Custer.')

And consider the words of Paul Strand, a reporter for the Christian Broadcast Network, who said to Pat Robertson (see the Indian Country Today editorial that includes this excerpt):

"Everywhere we've gone we have seen artillery ahead of us and then artillery behind and we're getting reports that there's fighting in all of the cities that we've already been through. So I guess if this were the Old West I'd say there are Injuns ahead of us, Injuns behind us, and Injuns on both sides too, so we really don't want to give the enemy any hints about where we are."

These are two examples of the 'savage other' ideology at work. I encourage you to read Michael Yellow Bird's article "Cowboys and Indians: Toys of Genocide, Icons of American Colonialism" (published in Wicazo Sa Review, Fall, 2004). He suggests that "select members of the Arab world now seem to have become the "new Indians" (p. 44).

Toys and books.

Some people argue that we put too much stock into the effects of toys and books. But it seems to me people make that argument when their (perhaps) unexamined values and decisions based on those values are challenged. These critiques are decried as "PC run amok." They don't (or won't) see their own views as the other side of that "PC" coin...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Laura Ingalls Wilder: "All I have told is true..."

In 2005, James Frey's "memoir" A Million Little Pieces was exposed as fraudulent. This was a big story, especially when Oprah challenged him about it. In 2008, Margaret B. Jones "memoir" called Love and Consequences was exposed as untrue. She presented it as her personal story, but the things she described did not happen to her. She made it up.

In 2006, Random House (publisher of A Million Little Pieces) offered a refund to readers who felt they had been defrauded. To qualify for the refund, the consumer had to sign a sworn statement saying they had bought the book because they believed it was a memoir.

A few days ago, I posted "Selective Omissions, or What Laura Ingalls Wilder left out of LITTLE HOUSE." If you've read the comments, you know that there are questions about why Wilder included the story about the Benders in her speech. The Ingalls family was no longer in their little house when the Benders came under suspicion and then disappeared. As noted elsewhere on this site, Laura was a toddler when her Pa took the family to that little house. Yet, the Laura in the book is not a toddler, she's a girl.

Calling attention again to what Wilder said in her speech:

Every story in this novel, all the circumstances, each incident are true. All I have told is true, but it is not the whole truth. There were some stories I wanted to tell but would not be responsible for putting in a book for children, even though I knew them as a child.

All those stories Wilder tells about Laura... How much of that 'memoir' is similar to Frey and Jones and their "memoirs"? Given how dearly-loved Wilder and her books are, I think some of you (most of you?) who are reading this are furious that I'd even suggest that Wilder did the same thing Frey did... Course, he did tell some whoppers on page after page, so her memoir isn't quite like his, yet, she certainly misrepresents American Indians in her book.

What does it mean to be defrauded? Must a reader be an adult before being defrauded matters? Is it the case that courts are willing to say "adults can get a refund for being defrauded" but that kids who believe Wilder's stories to be true do not merit a refund? Obviously I don't mean for any child to be issued a refund...

But! If you're a teacher or librarian, I hope you'll give this some thought, even if the suggestion infuriates you. As an educator, your responsibility is to the children in your school, not to Laura Ingalls Wilder or her books. Rather than read her books as literature, perhaps it is time to use them with older children, as items in critical media or critical literacy lessons.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Selective Omissions, or, What Laura Ingalls Wilder left out of LITTLE HOUSE

In 2001, I began some in-depth research on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie. I came across an article about a speech she gave on October 16, 1937, at a book fair in a Detroit department store. Her speech was published forty years later (September, 1978) in the Saturday Evening Post. I read the speech and was astonished at what she said. Moreover, I was astonished that none of the material I'd read to that point (and since) has commented on that speech... She said:

Every story in this novel, all the circumstances, each incident are true. All I have told is true, but it is not the whole truth. There were some stories I wanted to tell but would not be responsible for putting in a book for children, even though I knew them as a child.

And here is an extended excerpt. I'm adding bold text to set off the portions of the speech I want you to pay particular attention to:
There was the story of the Bender family that belonged in the third volume, Little House on the Prairie. The Benders lived halfway between it and Independence, Kansas. We stopped there, on our way in to the Little House, while Pa watered the horses and brought us all a drink from the well near the door of the house. I saw Kate Bender standing in the doorway. We did not go in because we could not afford to stop at a tavern.

On his trip to Independence to sell his furs, Pa stopped again for water, but did not go in for the same reason as before.

There were Kate Bender and two men, her brothers, in the family and their tavern was the only place for travelers to stop on the road south from Independence. People disappeared on that road. Leaving Independence and going south they were never heard of again. It was thought they were killed by Indians but no bodies were ever found.

Then it was noticed that the Benders’ garden was always freshly plowed but never planted. People wondered. And then a man came from the east looking for his brother, who was missing.

He made up a party in Independence and they followed the road south, but when they came to the Bender place there was no one there. There were signs of hurried departure and they searched the place.

The front room was divided by a calico curtain against which the dining table stood. On the curtain back of the table were stains about as high as the head of a man when seated. Behind the curtain was a trap door in the floor and beside it lay a heavy hammer.

In the cellar underneath was the body of a man whose head had been crushed by the hammer. It appeared that he had been seated at the table back to the curtain and had been struck from behind it. A grave was partly dug in the garden with a shovel close by. The posse searched the garden and dug up human bones and bodies. One body was that of a little girl who had been buried alive with her murdered parents. The garden was truly a grave-yard kept plowed so it would show no signs. The night of the day the bodies were found a neighbor rode up to our house and talked earnestly with Pa. Pa took his rifle down from its place over the door and said to Ma, “The vigilantes are called out.” Then he saddled a horse and rode away with the neighbor. It was late the next day when he came back and he never told us where he had been. For several years there was more or less a hunt for the Benders and reports that they had been seen here or there. At such times Pa always said in a strange tone of finality, “They will never be found.” They were never found and later I formed my own conclusions why.

You will agree it is not a fit story for a children’s book. But it shows there were other dangers on the frontier besides wild Indians.

Some context for why that speech is--to me--astonishing. In Little House on the Prairie, Wilder presents Indians as frightening and menacing. Through Mrs. Scott, she tells us about an Indian massacre. Three times, Wilder's characters say "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." And what about the terrifying tone at the end of Little House on the Prairie, when Pa stays up all night and the entire family listens to Indians "howling" for several nights in a row?

According to Wilder, it is "fit" for children to read about "wild Indians" but it is not "fit" for them to read about serial killers who are white, nor is it "fit" for children to read that Pa killed someone in order to protect his family from harm.

Wilder's speech was reprinted in 1988 in A Little House Sampler, edited by William T. Anderson. A Little House Sampler is cited in eleven other books (according to Amazon), and yet, nobody commented on the Bender's, or Wilder's decision not to include that story.

Think about that omission and what it means. I invite your comments, and please take a minute to read about racism in the Little House books (links below).

Update, July 5, 2008

A librarian in Kansas wrote to point me to info on the Benders, who are quite well known as serial killers. She writes:
The Bloody Benders, as they were called, represent one of Kansas' most enduring mysteries. They appeared to be a family of well-organized killers who robbed and killed unsuspecting travelers who ventured into their home/inn for a meal and whose bodies dropped through a trap door in the floor under the chair in which they were seated. Here is further information from our state historical society: Bender Knife.

There is a museum in Cherryvale, KS, which has items from the Bender home and a wreath of human hair from their victims, as well as a roadside marker near Labette, KS: The Bloody Benders.

And, another person has written, pointing me to a graphic novel called A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of the Bloody Benders.

For further reading:
Posts about racism in Little House on the Prairie series

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Red Wire Magazine

Another must-get I learned about as a result of my visit to the University of Arizona last week is Red Wire Magazine. Here's info from their "About Us" page:

Redwire Native Youth Media Society is a media and arts organization dedicated to Native youth expression.

Redwire Magazine published its first issue in April 1997 with the support of the Native Youth Movement (a grassroots Native youth group) and the Environmental Youth Alliance. Today Redwire distributes 11,000 copies across Canada, four times a year. Redwire is the first-ever Native youth run magazine in Canada, and is committed to operating with Native youth staff, writers, artists and publishers.

Redwire's mandate is to provide Native youth with an uncensored forum for discussion, in order to help youth find their own voice. Redwire is by, for and about Native youth; all content, editorial decisions and associated media projects are initiated and led by youth, inspiring creativity, motivation and action.

A subscription is $20/year for four issues. Each issue includes articles, art, poetry, news, letters, and reviews. The June 2007 issue has a piece called "Canadian Colonialism: The Three Bears and the Locks" by David Fullerton-Owl, of the Sagamok Anishinawbek First Nation. Here's the opening paragraphs:

The Three Bears lived in the woods, as had their ancestors from time immemorial. There was a Mama bear, a Papa bear and a wee little baby bear. Since it was a beautiful sunny morning, the bear family decided to fish and pick some berries for an afternoon picnic. Fishing and berry picking, a traditional means of survival, required the bears to travel some distance. It so happened that the bears were up for a nice long walk.

Papa bear lifted wee little baby bear on his shoulders, but Mama bear wanted baby bear to learn self-reliance; wee little baby bear crawled down and off they went.

The woods were filled with all types of animals. Something was not right, though, and the raven decided to fly high above the thick trees to see for herself. The raven quickly observed that intruders had entered the forest. A burly man carried a large suitcase in one hand, with a sharp axe in the other. Behind him walked a petite woman and a little girl with gold hair. These people were sent on a mission, known to others as the Locks family.

The note preceding the story says "The fictional account below is a commentary on the present Caledonia land dispute and the age old tale of Goldilocks, her encroachment on foreign territory, and the overarching theme of intruders invading traditional territory. "

The Caledonia land dispute is known in Native circles, but is the sort of thing that doesn't get much coverage in mainstream press. And, when it does, there's bias against the Native people involved. It is, in short, a struggle for land.

Like Red Ink, Red Wire provides you with Native voices. And like Red Ink, I think Red Wire ought to be on your library shelves.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Ofelia Zepeda's OCEAN POWER

While I was in Tucson last week for the American Indian Language Development Institute, I listened to Ofelia Zepeda read some of her poems. She was a guest speaker in Angie Hoffman's class on children's literature. Dr. Zepeda read from her book, Ocean Power.

She read "Pulling Down the Clouds" and at this line...

With dreams of distant noise disturbing his sleep,
the smell of dirt, wet, for the first time in what seems like months

... my thoughts turned to being home, at Nambe, smelling the dirt when it rains. It is a bit hard to explain, and no doubt many of you will find it odd, but... The smell and the taste are one and the same. That smell made (and makes) me want to eat that wet dirt. It's a smell like none anywhere else. It's not like a food smell, or a plant smell, or an animal smell. It's unique. Some of our Puebloan homes have mud plaster on interior walls. Splash a little water on that mud plaster, and you get that smell. My mom and dad like to tell of how, when we'd visit my sa?yaa (grandmother in Tewa), after we'd leave, she would find three wet circles in one of her rooms, where me and my two sisters would have had a go at the walls, licking them like lollipops.

Zepeda's book has many poems in it that high school and college teachers can use in the classroom. Here's one of the poems. (Note: The small width on Blogger's program means line breaks don't fall quite right. I know that is a problem. Line breaks matter in poems. To make sure they fall correctly, I'm using a smaller font for the poem. I apologize for its size.)

Deer Dance Exhibition

Question: Can you tell us what he is wearing?
Well the hooves represent the deer's hooves.
the red scarf represents the flowers from which he ate.
the shawl is for the skin.
The cocoons make the sound of the deer walking on leaves and grass.
Question: What is that he is beating on?
It's a gourd drum. The drum represents the heartbeat of the deer.
When the drum beats, it brings the deer to life.
We believe the water the drum sits in is holy. It is life.
Go ahead, touch it.
Bless yourself with it.
It is holy. You are safe now.
Question: How does the boy become a dancer?
He just knows. His mother said he had dreams when he was just a little boy.
You know how that happens. He just had it in him.
Then he started working with older men who taught him how to dance.
He has made many sacrifices for his dancing even for just a young boy.
The people concur, "Yes, you can see it in his face."
Question: What do they do with the money we throw them?
Oh, they just split it among the singers and dancer.
They will probably take the boy to McDonald's for a burger and fries.
Then men will probably have a cold one.
It's hot today, you know.

Ofelia Zepeda is a member of the Tohono O'odham tribe in Arizona. As we sat together, we talked about tribal names. The Tohono O'odham people are among the first, if not the first, to successfully change what they are known as. They were formerly known as Papago.

Zepeda is a professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona. She wrote the first grammar of the Tohono O'odham language, A Papago Grammar. In 1999, she won a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. In Ocean Power, many of the poems have both, English and Tohono O'odham in them. Ocean Power is available from Oyate.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Terrific essays about Meyer's character "Jacob" in TWILIGHT

A post to YALSA about people of color in fantasy led me to a livejournal post about Jacob, the Quileute character in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga.

Saskaia (the author of the essay) is finished with the first three books (I'm partway thru the second one, having set it aside to read and work on Landman's Apache: Girl Warrior. By the way, it would be so cool if the powers-that-be over at Candlewick would say "STOP THE PRESSES!" and cancel the release of Landman's book in the U.S.).

In this 'slice' of a larger essay, saskaia (the author doesn't capitalize the first s) considers the plausibility of Jacob. Here's an excerpt:

While Jacob is surely overwhelmed with being a teen werewolf attending the tribal high school while patrolling Quileute land in all of his free time, I can scarcely believe that he and the other Quileute characters never attend powwows or social dances - not one is ever mentioned. It's disconcerting to anyone familiar with Native culture in the United States, especially reservation culture where powwows and social dances still serve as the major arena for socialization.

Saskaia has an engaging style of writing. I enjoyed reading her critique and am with her as she says

I am all for deviation for the typical character archetype but this is where I am thrown from the story, out the window and into my street. I can buy that Jacob thinks himself in love with Bella, but where are Jacob's experiences so he can freely choose Bella? Where are the other Native women?

Saskaia has a link in her essay that I'm placing here, too: Stephenie Meyer's use of Quileute Characters. This is her first post about the saga, wherein she talks about herself (she is Native) and says

While Jacob was written to be mostly age-appropriate, I think she did fall into uber-sexy warrior territory after his first phasing as a werewolf...

Do take a few minutes to read saskaia's critiques. They are terrific!

[Update, 12:54 CST, June 30, 2008---Saskaia's got quite a following! My sitemeter stats show lot of hits from livejournal. Welcome to my site!]

If you want to read more on the ways that the Quileute's are portrayed in the series, look over to the right side of this page. Scroll up or down till you see the section labeled TWILIGHT SAGA. There you'll see several links to posts about the series.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Native literary magazine: RED INK

As noted yesterday, I'm in Tucson, visiting the American Indian Language Development Institute. Yesterday I was in Angie Hoffman's class on children's literature. Her class is outstanding. In discussion, students talked about how eye-opening Angie's class has been for them. One said she had read Meyer's TWILIGHT saga, and now after this class, is looking at Meyer's books with new eyes and insights. Students in the class work with Native children. Angie is White Mountain Apache, working on her dissertation at the University of Arizona.

In yesterday's class, students read aloud poetry. Some read poems they wrote. Marlon B. Evans (Akimel/Tohono O'odham) read a poem he wrote. After listening to him, I asked if he'd had any of his poems published. In fact, he has, and you can find them in two volumes of Red Ink Magazine. He was featured in Volume 13, No. 2, and he has four poems in the most recent volume (Vol. 14, No 1, Spring 2008). Red Ink is a student run publication at the University of Arizona, published by the American Indian Studies Program. Individual subscriptions to it are $25/year (two issues are published each year), and $35/year for an institutional subscription.

I think you'd be pleasantly surprised at what you find in Red Ink. Graphic art, photography, poetry, short stories... By new poets and established writers, too, like Simon Ortiz and Laura Tohe.

Visit Red Ink's website and place your subscription. If you appreciate Native literature, you'll love this magazine, and ought to consider using it in college lit classes. If you're a school teacher, the poems and stories are best suited for junior and senior English classes, while the graphics can be studied by 7th and 8th graders. The art on the front cover alone is worth the subscription cost. With this post is the cover of Vol. 13, #2. The art is by Ryan Redcorn. In both issues I mentioned above, you will find art by Bunky Echo-hawk. Regular readers of my blog know I especially like his work.

A special shout out here to Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu (Dine). Ashley is a graduate student at the University of Illinois. Her short story "Walk in Beauty" is published in Volume 13, #2.

Last, a warm thank you to Martha L. Dailey. Martha is Dine. I love her poem, "Reflections of Spider Woman." It reminds me of my grandmother. Here's the opening lines of that poem. It is a sample of what you'll find in Red Ink. (If I can secure permission, I'll include the entire poem. Note---I got permission!)

Reflections of Spider Woman
Martha L. Dailey

After you died, we sifted through a footlocker
found under your bed. We sorted through
your belongings and uncovered
a hidden part of your past --
turquoise jewelry, a '65 T-Bird title,
and photo after photo of memories
frozen in exact dimensions.

Mom was given a squash blossom,
Aunt Dot took the silver bracelet,
Uncle Jesse wanted the concho belt.
Like land divided into plots,
each person was given something of value--
small parts to your greater whole.

I claimed a 3 x 3 photo
of you crouched, legs kneeling,
weaving a rug on a makeshift loom.
Your fingers bent strategically,
threading colored yarn in and out,
over and under, through and through.
A map full of lines running
wild across your hands,
connecting one point to another.
One deep line tells of a time
you pawned a saddle for food.
Another line holds the tears
from the pain you withstood
at the birthing of twelve kids--
one of which is my mom.

Was I a line? or just a dot?
Did I mean enough of something
to you to be placed in an archaic
structure of memories cut into your skin?

The Old Ones say don't speak of the dead.
Your name called aloud keeps your spirit here
and not to the place where you begin again.

Eight years after your death,
I still don't call to you.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More on Tanya Landman's APACHE: GIRL WARRIOR

Last week, I posted my initial thoughts on Tanya Landman's book, and, I posted Beverly Slapin's review of the book. My copy of the book arrived a few days ago. I've read it and am sharing my thoughts today with readers of this blog, but I'll also be featuring the book in a lecture I'm giving at the University of Arizona. (As I write these words, I'm in Tucson. My hotel window is open and I'm enjoying the breeze and the qualities of the air. Dry heat. I love it. As I walked in the 108 degree heat yesterday, I reveled in the feel of that heat. I'm a guest of the American Indian Language Development Institute, an outstanding program that is now in its 29th year. If you work in a school that serves Native children, I urge you to look at the website and enroll in this summer program.)

Back to Landman:
[Note---I'm adding to this post as I spend more time with the book. Comments I add today (June 27th) will be in red typeface.]

Landman's book is on the shortlist for a the Carnegie Medal, a prestigious award in Britain. From the medal's website is this:

The book that wins the Carnegie Medal should be a book of outstanding literary quality. The whole work should provide pleasure, not merely from the surface enjoyment of a good read, but also the deeper subconscious satisfaction of having gone through a vicarious, but at the time of reading, a real experience that is retained afterwards.

Note that the word 'real' is in bold typeface. Also note that the book should provide a "deeper subconscious satisfaction of having gone through a vicarious" and "real experience that is retained afterwards." What does 'real' mean to the people who wrote the criteria, and what does it mean to the people who will select this year's winner of the medal? Does it mean accurate, or correct? When people say "this is the real deal" or "the real McCoy" they mean genuine. If that is the way the Carnegie considers the word, then Landman's book doesn't meet the criteria.

As Landman says in her note "I've made no attempt to produce an accurate historical novel." And, she says, the story she tells is "based on events" and "inspired" by an autobiography of Geronimo. So, what does all this look like in her book?

Landman's characters are of the "Black Mountain Apache" tribe. There is no Black Mountain Apache; that is a fictional tribe Landman created. In that fictional tribe are characters based on real people. Her characters include:

"Siki" - the main character. She and her brother, Tazhi, are "orphans." In English literature, there are a lot of characters who are orphans. This status is the impetus for a lot of journeys, in which the character seeks to learn who he/she is, and the circumstances by which he/she became an orphan. With unique characteristics, this orphan is often a hero. This orphan theme is, I think, incorrectly applied by non-Native writers creating stories about Native peoples. Based on what I know from personal experience and from study, the concept of 'orphan' (an outcast, solitary existence, abandoned, alone, without someone to care for you) doesn't apply. Paula Gunn Allen wrote about this in her book The Sacred Hoop. She said "Indians... care for their children... You never see an Indian orphan..." (p. 49 of Sacred Hoop). So, anytime I see a Native character speaking of him or herself as an orphan or described that way in the narrative, I view it as an error. Do children lose their parents? Yes. The difference is, that in our communities the child is not only the child of his or her parents, but of the community itself. Someone will take care of that child. A grandparent, an aunt, or an uncle, or an adult sibling.

"Tahzi" is Siki's little brother. He's four years old when killed by Mexicans. Brutally killed. His head is chopped off. His death opens the story. Landman writes: "Tazhi was sent to the afterlife, condemned to walk for ever headless, and alone." Native peoples, like any peoples, have ways of thinking about death. "walk for ever headless, and alone" seems rather melodramatic to me. Necessary for the story that Landman wants to tell, but it'll take some more research and conversation for me to know how well what she says fits with Apache ways.

"Golahka" - he is a "powerful young warrior" married to "Tehineh." They have three children who are killed by the Mexicans. His wife and children and Tahzi are killed at the same time in Landman's story. Their deaths bring Golahka and Siki together. As the story progresses, she will ride with him as they both seek vengeance. At the end of the story, Mexicans use big guns to fire on Golahka and Siki and others who are fighting the Mexicans. A rock is blasted loose, strikes him on the head, leaving a wound that, by the next day, will have killed him. Before he dies, though, he pulls Siki to him and says:

"We have the same heart, Siki," he whispered, his breath warm in my hair. "The same soul. We have grown from the same earth, you and I. Our roots entwine in the living rock. Hold fast to that certainty. It is the only truth that matters." So it was that in the gathering dark of that hidden valley, I became wife to Golahka. By dawn I was his widow.

The phrase "became his wife" means they had sex. Through this act, Siki is pregnant with his child. From my study of Landman's book, Golahka is based on the man commonly known as Geronimo.

"Chodini" is the leader of the Black Mountain tribe Siki and Golahka belong to. The pregnant Siki goes with him to surrender to the "White Eyes." These are the American soldiers. They kill Chodini. Chodini is Cochise.

In looking at characters, Landman strives to make them 'real' but is it ok to borrow so heavily from a peoples history, "stretching" (Landman says) things to make it all work? I'm not sure. Certainly, that is part of the craft of writing. Creating this or that, but I don't think it's ok when you're doing historical fiction. And, I especially think this is problematic when there is so little known about the actual people a book purports to be about. This medal is based on 'real' and I don't think Landman's book meets that criteria.

Some stats from the book.
I did some word counts. These are "at least" numbers. I may have missed occurrences of some of the words listed below.

butcher appears 4 times
slaughter appears 4 times
hacked appears 5 times
revenge appears 6 times
avenge appears 8 times
vengeance appears 10 times
ambush appears 13 times
slain/slay/slayed appears 20 times
war/warfare/warpath appears 28 times
blood/bloodied/bloodshed appears 44 times

These are powerful words of violence. The impetus for this entire story is given to the reader on the first page. This is a story of revenge. Revenge drives the protagonist. Her pursuit of revenge is unrelenting. The people she lives? They're intent on revenge, too. Rarely (relatively speaking) does Landman refer to men as men. She uses the word "warrior" to stand in for men. That word is used 233 times. In contrast, men/man/boy/boys is used 53 times.

At one point in the story, one of the "warriors" makes a hole in the roof of a church where the Mexicans are gathered for Sunday services. He drops a "chilli bomb" into the church. Other "warriors" have barred the doors so the Mexicans can't escape. They're killed by that bomb. Problem? I don't know what a chilli bomb is! I can find no references to it in any of the searches I've done. That includes searching in academic journals and books. I am finding references to it on Google, as an item being used and/or in development in India for crowd control...

Things to think about:

Is Landman aware that, all through the story, Golahka calls Siki "Little Sister" but at the end of their time together, they sleep together... Siki says "by dawn I was his wife."

On page 219, Landman talks about beauty, beauty that "makes men breathless." I'll have to check on this... My first thoughts? Native people appreciate beauty, but there's a difference. Landman's presentation aligns well with European/American notions of women and beauty.

On page 270, is this paragraph:

In revenge, Chodini tied the dead White Eyes by their ankles and dragged them behind his horse, galloping around the fort in fury, heedless of the shots that flew past him, that the White Eyes' chief might see what his actions had cost him.

Sound familiar? Hector? The Trojan War?

Apache: Girl Warrior did not win the Carnegie. It is, however, slated to be released in the US as I am Apache. A fellow critic said it has been getting a lot of buzz in the book world. I have not seen reviews of it in US journals yet. It stands to reason that US reviewers might have a more critical eye on this kind of book, but we will see.

If you want to know more about the Apache peoples, visit these sites:
White Mountain Apache Tribe
Nnee - San Carlos Apache
Chiricahua Apache Nde Nation
Jicarilla Apache Nation
Yavapai-Apache Nation
Fort Sill Apache Tribe

Monday, June 23, 2008

ALA's 2008 Conference Game: "California Dreaming"

The American Library Association is holding its annual conference in Anaheim, California June 26th thru July 2nd. Among the planned activities is a game that will take place during the conference. It is called "California Dreaming." Here is the information being sent out:

The California Myth Authority needs your help! During your normal conference routine, you'll notice clues to mysteries surrounding California history and pop culture spread out around the convention center ­ in sessions, on the exhibit floor, and in other unexpected places. Use your librarianly skills to solve the puzzles and then bring your answers to the California Myth Authority Game HQ in the new Gaming Pavilion on the exhibit floor or text us your answers to build up your score.

As more team members answer questions correctly, you can coordinate your power and claim territory throughout the state. It's a mad rush and the CMA is parceling out land in exchange for correct answers. Each hour teams will earn bonus points for controlling regions of California. Stop by the game headquarters to view the map and strategize.

The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. The highest scoring player on each team will win a prize, as will three random players from the winning team who have each submitted answers. Any attendee can join a team and play for free. Sign up at or come by the CMA HQ. Each player will receive a team sticker so you can identify teammates and work together to find clues and solve them.

I understand that the purpose of the game is to build community among conference attendees. The idea itself has merit, but I find this part troubling (bold mine):

As more team members answer questions correctly, you can coordinate your power and claim territory throughout the state. It's a mad rush and the CMA is parceling out land in exchange for correct answers. Each hour teams will earn bonus points for controlling regions of California.

Coordinate power. Claim Territory. Mad rush. Parceling out land. Controlling regions.

The glorification of colonization, massing of capital. While framed as a game for fun, the historical parallel to the experience of Native peoples of California is (to me) glaring. I have no doubt the game developers and ALA had only good fun and good intentions in mind, but they've missed the mark, especially given their goals of increasing diversity within ALA.

Would they create a game that celebrated slavery? I don't think so. I have no doubt they want people to learn about slavery, but would they advocate that learning via a trivia game? Again, I don't think so.

The problem is, not enough people know enough about California's history---from the perspective of the indigenous people who were and are there. I think, some day, people will know, and games like this will not be developed. Getting there, though, will take a lot of study, a lot of work, and a lot of courage. Are you up for that? I hope so.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Yesterday I posted an essay by my colleague, Paulette F. Molin, about activities found in the American Automobile Association's magazine. If you're a member of AAA, take a look at her essay. If you're a classroom teacher or librarian, consider using her essay and the online material for a lesson on critical media literacy. Paulette has been studying curriculum materials since the 1970s.

Paulette has an excellent book out that librarians and teachers should add to their shelves: American Indian Themes in Young Adult Literature. In her foreword is a letter from Genevieve Bell, the woman Scholastic hired to vet (fact check) Ann Rinaldi's My Heart Is on the Ground. Here's part of that letter:

I completely sympathize with the critical review of Rinaldi's work that has proliferated both on the Internet and off it. There is much in the book that is offensive, and I did say so to Scholastic. Indeed, there is much more in this book that is offensive that I missed, which is why I urged Melissa Jenkins [of Scholastic] to get a Lakota person to read it. She knew that I was not Native American. However, I also contracted with Scholastic to fact-check the manuscript and thought it only appropriate that my name be attached to that act. Again, I can only reflect on the naivete that made me think that my comments would be taken seriously enough to change the course of the publication. I am deeply sorry that they did not. And I apologize for the offense that I have given, however, inadvertently (xv).

The book has three sections (Contemporary Literature, Historical Fiction, and Nonfiction). In "Contemporary Literature," you can read her discussion of Lipsyte's three books The Brave, The Chief, and Warrior Angel or see what she has to say about Will Hobbs or Ben Mikaelsen. Course, she also talks about books that are well-done, such as Cynthia Leitich Smith's Rain Is Not My Indian Name.

In the bibliography is an extensive list of articles that will be of interest to librarians and scholars alike. One example: a scholar might want to look at Mary Gloyne Byler's 1974 article in Library Journal, "The Image of American Indians Projected by non-Indian Writers."

Like Through Indian Eyes and A Broken Flute (both subtitled The Native Experience in Books for Children), this is one of those books that belongs in every library.

As noted yesterday, the book is available from Oyate. It was published in 2005 by Scarecrow.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stereotypes in AAA's magazine

Today, I am pleased to share an essay written by Paulette F. Molin. Paulette is on the board of directors for Wordcraft Circle, and is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe from White Earth. Among her writings is an excellent book called American Indian Themes in Young Adult Literature. The book is available from Oyate. I've referenced it on this site before, and its on my list of recommended books, but I realized (today) that I've not written specifically about it. Tomorrow, I'll do that. For now, here's her essay.


Paulette F. Molin, June 19, 2008

Just as I was about to discard the May/June 2008 issue of Going Places: The Magazine for Today’s Traveler, a publication of AAA, a stereotypical image caught my eye, part of a pitch for Going Places’ interactive website, "Making Tracks for Kids." Looking further, I read this: "Meet Allaquippa, an Iroquois maiden named after the famous queen! Tell a tall tale, build a family tree, play a game and learn about Native American life and the history of Pittsburgh." See

If you make tracks to the May/June 2008 issue of Making Tracks, an interactive website of games and activities for kids,” to “Meet Alliquippa, an Iroquois maiden,” you will not find anything new. Instead, you will encounter the usual stereotypes about American Indians.

“Meet Alliquippa” features a cartoon “maiden,” fictionalized as a descendant of “Alliquippa, a Seneca Queen” in the piece. The historical Aliquippa, a sachem or leader of a band of Mingo Seneca near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, flourished during the first half of the eighteenth century. She garners only three sentences in “Meet Alliquippa,” described in the fictional Alliquippa’s voice: “One legend says that my ancestor Alliquippa, a Seneca Queen, set up camp many years ago where the three rivers meet near Pittsburgh. And it was there she met George Washington, who was on a military mission near her camp. The two became friends, the legend says.”

The Alliquippa cartoon image, like mascots and other caricatures, masks the actual history and contemporary status of Native people. This particular fictional “maiden” sports black hair hanging in two pig tails, wears feathers (the main one, green with red and white accents), and is decked out in a short top and slit skirt with generic Indian designs. Posed in a stereotypical stance, Aliquippa stands with her arms folded under a fringed wrap against a backdrop recognizable as a Plains star quilt design. She wears a bit of a smile, perhaps to reveal that she is friendly (in keeping with text such as, “Meet Alliquippa, our Seneca friend”). In one section, the Alliquippa figure is positioned above a photograph of an unidentified Iroquois male (actually, it is the Seneca leader Cornplanter, but he remains anonymous in the piece, with neither his name nor his history revealed).

The website’s stereotypical visual depiction is reinforced by the text, which fails to provide even the most basic information about the Seneca, such as identifying the tribal group as a member nation of the Iroquois Confederacy (the piece describes the Seneca as “one of the six tribes that make up the Iroquois Nation”). Furthermore, “Meet Alliquippa” does not identify any of the Seneca communities in the United States and Canada (among them, Cattaraugus, Allegany, and Tonawanda reservations in New York, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, and Seneca citizens in Ontario). Although the website mentions “the Iroquois’ ‘Six Nations,’ it does not adequately describe or discuss the Haudenosaunee (“people of the longhouse”), neglecting to identify the member nations (Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca, Oneida, and Tuscarora). In fact, the word “Confederacy” does not appear in the piece. “Meet Alliquippa” also overlooked an opportunity to identify and discuss the Seneca as “Keepers of the Western Door” of the Haudenosaunee or its specific role as a member nation.

“Meet Alliquippa” glosses over the role of women, especially rich among the Haudenosaunee, failing to address the contradiction between citing a historical female leader (“my ancestor Alliquippa, a Seneca Queen”) with its statement, “Men are the political leaders in our tribe.” Furthermore, the piece does not explain why the historical Alliquippa was called “Queen,” a European term of royalty. The clan system receives similar treatment (“The Seneca tribe is made up of clans: Turtle, Bear, Hawk, Heron and Wolf, among others”).

“Meet Alliquippa” also talks down to children, relying on clichés or exaggerated exclamations —“dance to the beat of your very own drum with our creative craft! “…the senators are like tribal council members who report to a chief—the president!” “A whole clan of 60 people could live in one longhouse! “ “But today, we live in houses or apartments, just like you!” The website also makes the fictional Alliquippa serve as the voice for the Seneca, substituting ersatz words for what tribal members would and could say about their own culture. The reading list offers no relief, listing only two books associated with the Seneca, both of them centered on myths or legends.

Unfortunately, the activities are along the same lines. “Create a Drum Craft” trivializes drums, which have deep religious and cultural significance in tribal societies, and reduces them to playtime craft. “Use a couple of beads,” the instructions direct, “to finish off your Iroquois drum below!” The activity is accompanied by an unidentified photograph of what appears to be a group of nineteenth-century Plains Indians, giving the impression that tribal groups are interchangeable. The text accompanying the activity conveys the notion that Europeans, not Native Americans, were settlers: “Many Native American tribes lived in Western Pennsylvania around the time it was settled. One of the tribes was the Iroquois.” In other words, Native American residence does not count as settlement in this contrived version of American history.

Another activity, “A Silly Piece of History,” is introduced by these words: “Every piece of land was ‘discovered’ by someone; from the first American who crossed over the Bering Strait thousands of years ago, to the European explorers who came later.” This self-serving narrative would have children believe that all “discoveries” are equal, neglecting to impart factual information about the European colonization of the Americas. Furthermore, it summarizes the indigenous presence in the Americas to “Bering Strait” origins, one Euro-American theory.

“Seneca Sling,” another activity, is merely a computer slingshot game, designed for participants to launch cyber rocks at animals and fish. The visual is stereotypical and cartoonish, featuring a headband-wearing, generic Indian male in a canoe. This activity is violent, playing out the killing of all manner of species and linking it to Indians. The fourth activity, “Build a Family Tree,” is introduced by these words: “History isn’t just about famous explorers and Indians.” In other words, this statement tells children that famous explorers and Indians are mutually exclusive.

Make Tracks away from this website. There are better materials available online and in print, including exciting works by contemporary Seneca and other Haudenosaunee authors.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Addition to the site

Meyer's Twilight, Mikaelsen's Spirit Bear, Alexie's Diary. These and other books get a lot of attention on this site. To help you find all the posts on each of these books, I'm adding a new section to the site. It's way at the bottom. It is called "CLUSTERS." It'll take a while to add all the books and all the links for each title. To start, I added the links to discussions of Caddie Woodlawn. I hope it makes the site more user-friendly. When you have specific troubles with the site, please let me know! Trouble, suggestions for improvement, etc. I do this site for you, so I need (and use) your feedback to improve the layout of the site.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another award for Alexie's YA Novel

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


Roger Sutton, editor at Horn Book, just posted to the child_lit listserv, that Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian has won the 2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and Poetry. Roger's post says:

"Novelist Sherman Alexie is new to young adult literature but not to acclaim. A 1995 PEN/Hemingway Award recipient for his first collection of short stories for adults, he is also a poet, a film director, and a standup comic. Last fall, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature."
The award will be presented October 3rd in Boston. Acceptance speeches are printed in the The Horn Book Magazine.

Congratulations, again, to Sherman! I look forward to his work in progress, which is another YA novel: Radioactive Love.

Consider handing Alexie's DIARY to students that are enthralled with Meyer's TWILIGHT saga. His realistic depictions of Native youth in Washington are way better than hers.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Slapin's review of Landman's APACHE GIRL WARRIOR

As indicated in my previous post on this book, I asked Beverly Slapin about Landman's book. She sent this review.

[Note: This review may not be published elsewhere without written permission of its author, Beverly Slapin.]

Landman, Tanya, Apache Girl Warrior. Walker Books, 2007. Grades 5-up

This atrocious young adult historical novel is the product of Landman’s (stated) lifelong fascination with Indians combined with an outrageous sense of white entitlement, sloppy research habits, a Euro-feminist approach to history and a penchant for imaginative exercises. From her comments on the back cover: “The image of a girl carrying a spear formed behind my eyes, but I didn’t know if a Native American woman would have been allowed to become a warrior…. The more I read, the more I found that what I’d imagined was entirely plausible.”

In Landman’s imagination, the Ndee refer to themselves as “Apache” (an enemy name) in the late 1800s, all “Apache” men are warriors (whether or not they are engaged in battle), all “Apache” women (“maidens”) are ineffectual (except for the girl who becomes a warrior), all “Apaches” have those ubiquitous “black eyes” that distinguish them as Indians, and hatred and vengeance are the sole motivating factors in “Apache” life. Besides one stereotype after another, much, much cultural confusion (e.g., wikiups are not interchangeable with “teepees” [sic]), and godawful writing, including relentlessly garbled metaphors ([Y]et hope tiptoed on softly moccasined feet, setting my heart beating with excitement”) and relentless ethnographic expositions (“It is the custom of our people to burn the possessions of the dead. And thus I burned our teepee.”), there’s the complete absence of family members: grandparents, aunties and uncles, husbands, mothers, children who play, joke, sing and enjoy each other’s company. Real families. Just like anyone else’s.

And the “Apaches,” of course, are doomed: “[I]will die proud. I will die free. And first I will live, and I will fight. I am Apache.”

Landman’s “historical note” is her not-so-veiled attempt to justify what she has done: “[E]ach of the tribes, all of the characters and every place name are fictional. I’ve made no attempt to produce an accurate historical novel: this is an imagined evocation of how it may have felt to have lived through events like these. I’ve tried to be authentic as far as period detail goes, but at times I have had to stretch things in order to make the story work.”

It has just been brought to my attention that Landman has done another young adult novel, called AZTEC: THE GOLDSMITH’S DAUGHTER, about another “doomed” civilization, whose protagonist’s “spirit and fire held [her] captivated for months while [Landman] wrote her story.” Landman is one of those authors, along with Lynne Reid Banks and Anne Rinaldi, who, through willful ignorance, mangle the histories and lifeways of the peoples they write about, tromping all over real peoples whose descendants live today, in order to come up with books that sell well and win awards. These people really ought not to be writing about cultures other than their own.

Teachers and librarians who already have copies of APACHE GIRL WARRIOR can teach middle readers critical reading skills by having them compare it with Joe Bruchac’s excellent book, GERONIMO.

—Beverly Slapin

[Note from Debbie: Bruchac's book is available from Oyate.]

Debbie's thoughts on Tanya Landman's APACHE: GIRL WARRIOR

A colleague wrote to ask if I know anything about a book called Apache: Girl Warrior, by a British writer named Tanya Landman. The book was recently shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in Literature, an award given annually in the United Kingdom. I don't have a copy of the book yet (it is en route), but my reading of Landman's webpage makes me think it is one of those tragic Indian stories that people love. Not all people, though... As readers of this site know, American Indians object to those romanticized books that confine us to the past, and, that provide readers with factual errors and biased stories about who we were, and who we are.

I wrote to Beverly Slapin of Oyate, to see if she's read the book. She has. And, she uses it in workshops as an example of a problematic text. First published in the UK, it is sold in the United States under a different title: I Am Apache.

Peter Hollindale (reviewer for "Books for Keeps") highly recommends it, but he also says this:

"Apache life may not have been like this, but few readers will doubt that it probably was. To write a compelling adventure story which is also a moving portrait of a doomed civilization and its values..."

May not have been like this?! Does he sense inaccuracies? And "doomed civilization" dovetails with Landman's discussion of the book and how she thinks about the Apache people. From my perspective, the "doomed" theme is really grating. For those who don't know (Hollindale and Landman, perhaps?), the Apache people are vibrant, strong, and very much not doomed.

Given Landman's book is shortlisted for the Carnegie award, I'm going to write about it here in the coming days. Check back for updates!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

2008 Children's Literature Association Conference

I spent the last couple of days at the 2008 Children's Literature Association (ChLA) Conference. I met many people (professors) with whom I've had email with over the last ten or so years. Among them are Michael Joseph, Tammy Mielke, Kara Keeling, and June Cummins. A lot of people there read this blog and encourage their students to read it, too. It was terrific, too, to meet Tom Crisp, a student in Teacher Education at Michigan State, and talk with Ben Smallwood, at Illinois State.

There were several presentations on Sherman Alexie's YA novel, and one on Bruchac's Dark Pond and Skeleton Man. Ben Smallwood talked about Tim Tingle's books. All were thoughtful papers, not romanticizing the writers or their books, but posing good questions. I am intrigued by Adrienne Kertzer's challenge over whether or not the illustrations in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian support the text, and will return to the book to consider her challenge.

In my presentation, I talked about three books I've written about on this blog (McDermott's Arrow to the Sun, Pollock's Turkey Girl, and Rodanas Dragonfly's Tale,) none of which I recommend.

Conferences are time well-spent. Meeting people, hearing others thoughts in person. Next year's conference is in Charlotte, North Carolina. A special thanks to Linnea Hendrickson for encouraging me to attend ChLA.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tlingit Elder's Comments on Ben Mikaelsen's TOUCHING SPIRIT BEAR: "I can just picture Tlingit kids being very, very embarrassed."

Eds. note: These comments about Mikaelson's Touching Spirit Bear were submitted to American Indians in Children's Literature by Tlingit elder, Eileen Baustian. 

To me, the first thing that comes to mind is embarrassment. When the banishing incident happened in 1993, two teenage Tlingit boys were taken to Klawock, Alaska, by Rudy James, who claimed to be a tribal judge. The whole tribe felt embarrassed by his misrepresentation of our tribal customs. And then to have this book, which was obviously based on this incident, just felt insulting. I just know that Mikaelsen flat-out copied this event for his book. I felt that it was totally bizarre that Mikaelsen would use this incident, even though he denies it.

I really have a hard time, I don’t know how to express what we feel about words, about using words like “at.oow,” which is special regalia. It’s not just a blanket, it’s spirit. It’s the clan’s property. It would never, ever have happened that this kid would be given at.oow. This Tlingit probation officer could not have handed over at.oow. Mikaelsen’s use of that word it implies an understanding and yet the context is inappropriate; it just couldn’t have happened that way. I don’t feel Mikaelsen had the right to use the word without understanding how at.oow is used.

The animal dances, the ancestor rock, the anger rock, the anger stick, I don’t even have any words for this. I kept thinking, where did he come up with this? I can’t even imagine any of these rituals happening today. And the animal-impersonation dances: I thought I’d die. Even if these things all existed, this is a white boy from Minnesota. How would he know how Tlingits move when we dance?

It’s interesting that Mikaelsen says that the Tlingit culture was peripheral to the story, so he didn’t feel he needed to delve into cultural aspects in great depth. But he did go into cultural aspects in great depth; he just made them up. He says that his book was shared with a “First Nation [sic] spiritual leader,” but who is this unnamed spiritual person? Is she/he Tlingit? Does she/he have permission to advise non-Indians about Tlingit culture and ritual?

I can just picture non-Native kids reading this book and thinking they understand Tlingit culture. I can just picture teachers using the “Tlingit culture” in this book as a springboard for cross-cultural exercises. And I can just picture Tlingit kids being very, very embarrassed. 

Eileen Baustian
Eagle/Shark Clan, Tlingit

Monday, June 09, 2008


[This review may not be used (published elsewhere, online or in print) without written permission of its author, Beverly Slapin.]

Yazzie, Evangeline Parsons (Diné), Dzáni Yázhi Naazbaa’/Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home: A Story of the Navajo Long Walk, color paintings by Irving Toddy (Diné), Navajo translation by the author. Salina Bookshelf, 2005, grades 3-up

Children, today more than ever, need to know the truths of history, even—no, especially—the ugly parts, the parts often deemed “not for children.” One of these truths is what has come to be known as the “Navajo Long Walk.” In 1863-1864, U.S. soldiers launched a scorched-earth offensive against Diné Bekayah, grabbed up some 8,000 Navajo women and men, children and old people, and marched them off to a barren concentration camp known as Bosque Redondo (Fort Sumner). On this death march of hundreds of miles, more than 3,000 died of cold and starvation or were killed—the soldiers shot pregnant women and elderly people and all others who couldn’t keep up.

Dzáni Yázhi Naazbaa’ (Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home) is the young Naabeehó (Navajo) girl who survives the Long Walk and the four-year incarceration at Fort Sumner. Yazzie, to whom these family stories have been passed down, spares little detail—the terror of being forcibly taken from home; seeing the elderly and sick being shot as they fall behind; experiencing crop failure and having to rely on foreign, rotten and bug-infested rations; stealing food from the soldiers’ horses to allay starvation. But throughout the torture, persecution, hunger and homesickness, the parents and elders feed the children with perseverance and hope that come from the clan system and the prayers and stories, and the knowing that the land, culture and community will survive. And, indeed, Little Woman Warrior does come home. Toddy’s paintings, especially those of the land and the frightened children, perfectly complement this bilingual story, in Navajo and English, of endurance and strength.

Of all the published children’s stories about the Long Walk period, only Dzáni Yázhi Naazbaa’/Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home and Joe Bruchac’s and Shonto Begay’s Navajo Long Walk (National Geographic, 2002) tell these truths, and Little Woman Warrior is a perfect antidote to Scott O’Dell’s toxic Sing Down the Moon (Houghton Mifflin, 1970) and Ann Turner’s equally poisonous The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, A Navajo Girl, New Mexico, 1864 (Scholastic, 1999).—Beverly Slapin

[Note from Debbie: This book is available from Oyate.]

Friday, June 06, 2008

What do Native writers write about?

An observation: Most of the books written by Native writers are about Native people of the present day. There's a few works of historical fiction and a few traditional stories, but for the most part, the stories they are moved to tell are best described as realistic fiction. Something to think about!

Posts to this site are fewer than usual. I'm home (Nambe Pueblo), spending time with family and friends. I spent most of yesterday with Evelina Zuni Lucero. She teaches creative writing at the Institute for American Indian Art. She's from Isleta and Ohkay Owingeh. You can read about her novel and other writing here. I'll write about her book Night Sky, Morning Star later this summer. We went to see a new exhibit, Comic Art Indigene, at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. It makes an important point. Though much of America thinks of Native people as suspended in time and days of long ago, we're very much part of the present day. We are critical of representations of us that America loves to love. The exhibit demonstrates all of that. Excellent work to be seen! If you're in Santa Fe this summer, do visit the exhibit.