Monday, January 19, 2009

Beth Kanell: Remarks on Jan 19

Yesterday, I posted a bingo card about cultural appropriation. A few minutes ago, Beth Kanell, author of DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER, posted a comment to a blog that starts out

"Don't sweat the Seale/Dow review..."

She follows that dismissal with "...Dow, whose standing as an Abenaki in Vermont is significant..." But then she goes on to blame Dow for the problems in the book! Kanell said

"....she [Dow] chose not to say a word back when her thoughts could have been incorporated in the story."

With those words, she suggests that she would have actually listened to Dow back then. But, her repeated dismissal's of Dow, Seale, myself and others who are critical of her book speak volumes about what she chooses to hear. If what we say has not affected her speech right now, I seriously doubt it would have mattered "back when" the book was in manuscript.

This writer's behavior is the perfect illustration of white privilege, but a particularly nasty form of white privilege. One that seeks to benefit from Native peoples, that tries to say she's rescuing or helping Native peoples, but then reaches out to tell us we're wrong to object to her.

Kanell's arrogance is stunning.

[Note: The blog she commented at is called Swiftly to the Top, at a post on historical fiction. In the event the owner of Swiftly to the Top takes down his blog, I've copied comments submitted there to the end of this post. See them below.]

Update, 2:17 PM, CST

Kanell just replied to my comment on Swiftly to the Top, saying:

I listen, and I learn, always. But if I failed to stand up for the generous and kind people who invested research and thinking in this book, I'd be doing them a great disservice.

Thanks again, Pepe, for the review. I appreciate it, and I'm glad you gave your opinion. Read on!

Kanell's audacity is beyond words.

UPDATE, 8:45 PM, Jan 19, 2008

Just in case Pepe (the owner of the Swiftly to the Top blog) decides to take down his site at some point, I'm copying (below) the entirety of the discussion from his site and will paste additional comments as they appear there.

Blogger Debbie Reese said...
Doris Seale and Judy Dow, both women with Abenaki identity, wrote an essay that is highly critical of DARKNESS. Their review is on my blog.
December 7, 2008 3:48 PM
Blogger Beth Kanell said...
Great to see historical fiction on your blog -- thanks! M. T. Anderson rocks, and I'm definitely a Sarah Vowell fan. Don't sweat the Seale/Dow review too much; Dow, whose standing as an Abenaki in Vermont is significant, was one of an armful of Native Americans who saw the book while in manuscript, and she chose not to say a word back when her thoughts could have been incorporated in the story. But thanks to some other great folks behind the scenes, who helped me test both the history and the emotional truth of the story, The Darkness Under the Water came through. If you feel like looking at some more of the amazing Vermont history -- and wider! -- behind the story, take a peek at And thanks a lot, Pepe, for mentioning the book. Sorry it took me so long to catch up with you!
January 19, 2009 8:37 AM

Blogger Debbie Reese said...
"Don't sweat the Seale/Dow review..." I'm stunned at Kanell's words! By now, I would think she'd have taken feedback from myself and others to heart. She has not, as evidenced by these words. They only add to my impression that you really have no insight into what you've done. There's been lengthy discussion of Kanell and her book --- not favorable --- in many places. Please visit my site to see some of it. And there's a great deal happening, too, on livejournal. I'm at
January 19, 2009 8:51 AM
Beth Kanell said...
I listen, and I learn, always. But if I failed to stand up for the generous and kind people who invested research and thinking in this book, I'd be doing them a great disservice. Thanks again, Pepe, for the review. I appreciate it, and I'm glad you gave your opinion. Read on!
January 19, 2009 12:14 PM

Blogger Debbie Reese said...
You're listening to Seale, Dow, myself and our critiques of your book? If you were, it seems to me you would not be saying "don't sweat" the Dow/Seale essay. You fault Dow for not providing feedback on your manuscript. That's a bit odd, considering she didn't have your manuscript prior to publication. And I see here you are no longer saying that you consulted Nancy Gallagher, the woman who wrote the book you drew from to write your novel.
January 19, 2009 12:33 PM
Beth Kanell said...
Sorry, Pepe, for the brief sideline here: Debbie Reese, here are the details you're missing: In 2005 I spoke by phone with researcher/writer Nancy Gallagher, and arranged to meet her in person to share with her the first draft of my first attempt to build a work of historic fiction that could draw some much-needed attention to the injustice of the Abenaki situation in Vermont. (Her book Breeding Better Vermonters shows how the situation developed.) We did indeed connect, enjoyed meeting each other, and I handed her a full copy of the manuscript. When I phoned her a month or so later, she said she hadn't yet finished reading it, found it interesting, and wanted permission to share it with her research associate, Judy Dow. I was honored, and of course agreed. So Ms. Dow, as far as I know, had the manuscript then, and was in discussion with Ms. Gallagher. When I took the entire book apart and wrote a new one, adjusting the time period and points of view to reflect history more clearly, and to craft a better story, I provided that manuscript also to Ms. Gallagher, with the same permission. Hence I have reason to believe that Ms. Dow had the new book at that time (2006). In early 2008, a group of women in my region formed a steering committee to promote a history conference for teens. Ms. Gallagher was one of us, and asked to bring Ms. Dow into the group also. Although Ms. Dow did not interact with the group e-mails or attend planning meetings, she was on every full-group circulation list and was well aware of The Darkness Under the Water, as I talked about it with the group as part of what I'd like to bring to the discussion. I telephoned Ms. Dow on Sunday Dec. 7, 2008, following her first concerned e-mails about the conference schedule, and learned from her of her review, which she said was already in several places online. As you know, I disagree with a number of points in the review, but every reader will see a book differently; we bring our own lives and experiences to our reading. In that telephone conversation, as I began to understand the pain that Ms. Dow brought to the book, I specifically told her that I was sorry that reading it had increased her awareness of that pain. Please do watch the book's web site for revised discussion questions later this month; the revision was triggered by listening to Ms. Dow, reading what she and Ms. Seale wrote, and reading the responses of others online. Your input is heard. And again, Pepe, thank you for your courtesy in sharing your blog space for this sidetrack on one are of the outreach that took place.
January 19, 2009 3:16 PM

Debbie Reese said...
Ms. Kanell: Do you know, in fact, if Gallagher gave Dow the manuscript? You seem to take silence as affirmation of your book. Elsewhere, you said you changed the discussion questions because of what Beverly Slapin said about them. Now you're saying you changed them because of what Dow and Seale said. Which is it? You're a white woman, trying to rescue Native history. Native people are telling you you've screwed up, yet you continue to defend the book! You "hear" and "listen" like a belligerent teenager. By the way, Kanell, I read your book, too, and am recommending that people not purchase it.
January 19, 2009 4:18 PM
Beth Kanell said...
Ms. Reese, sorry but this is going to have to be my last post on this topic for a bit -- so let me briefly say, I trusted Ms. Gallagher when she said she and Ms. Dow were already discussing the book. I've changed the web-site discussion questions because of input from different people on different questions -- as you know quite well, the questions that offended Ms. Slapin were changed within an hour of her explaining how she had interpreted them. In discussion with you last month, I said I'd make time to review all of them and rework them in mid January, and the Dow/Seale review certainly affects that work. I'm just waiting for one more person's related commentary to arrive; the revised set will post around the end of this week. I suggest that those of us concerned about miscarriages of justice work together to bring it forward. Since there has been so little attention to Vermont's period of scientific abuse of humanity, and its continued effects, I thank you for discussing and reading The Darkness Under the Water. By the way, I hope those of you "visiting" this discussion through other sites will take time to read the other material available here. Thank you, Pepe.
January 19, 2009 5:00 PM

Debbie Reese said...
I have permission from Nancy Gallagher to say that she 1) did not see DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER in manuscript form prior to its publication 2) if she had seen it, she could have offered corrections to the inaccurate portrayals in the book. So... Gallagher told you that she and Dow were discussing the book. What did Gallagher tell you about that discussion? If she told you nothing, then how can you---in good conscience---use her name? Aren't you embarrassed, Ms. Kanell?
January 19, 2009 5:09 PM

Blogger Debbie Reese said...
If you go over to my blog, you will see that I am sharing the comments Kanell makes here with my readers. I don't know what your traffic is like, Pepe, but I just rolled over 350,000 visits to my site. I've been blogging for 2 1/2 years. My readers include Native people across the United States and Canada, librarians, teachers, writers, professors, reviewers---all who come to my site to get Native and critical perspectives on books. Here's a post from Jean Mendoza: "Even if it were the case that Ms. Dow "chose not to say a word back when her thoughts could have been incorporated into the story" as Ms. Kanell claims: Based on her review of Darkness -- a substantial critique that makes a lot of sense -- my hunch is that Ms. Dow's thoughts would have been something like "Don't Write This Story." If Ms. Dow had said so, would the author have done what she asked? Judging by Ms. Kanell's comments about the review over the past several weeks, I have another hunch: that nothing Judy Dow, Doris Seale, or anyone else said would have dissuaded Ms. Kanell from seeing the book through. I will continue to take the critical review by Doris Seale and Judy Dow very seriously. Not "sweating it" so much as just really respecting it. I wonder if there's a day coming when no Native person will be willing to take a pre-publication look at any Native-themed manuscript by a non-Native writer under any circumstances."
January 19, 2009 5:55 PM

Blogger Debbie Reese said...
Judy Dow asked me to post this on her behalf: Sorry to burst your bubble, Beth. I never received your manuscript and only received an advance copy of DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER around Thanksgiving of 2008. That advance copy came to me from Nancy Gallagher, who passed it on to me because it was too terrible for her to finish. I, in turn, was so horrified by DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER that I shared that copy with Doris Seale and suggested Beverly Slapin read it as well. After all had read it, we decided to write the review, hoping to dissuade librarians from purchasing it. It is our intent to protect Abenaki children from reading this awful book. I have recently read the manuscript from your first book, DARKNESS UNDER THE ICE. I can understand why you took it apart and tried again. However, you still did not get it right. After Nancy shared with me her reactions to your book, I stopped communicating with you because I had decided that I did not want to be associated with your conference. About our Dec. 7, 2008, phone conversation, you write that you “began to understand the pain that Ms. Dow brought to the book, I specifically told her that I was sorry that reading it had increased her awareness of that pain.” Beth, you still don’t get it, do you? My problem is not the pain that I brought to the book, and it’s not that reading it has increased my awareness of the pain. It’s the pain that you caused by writing and publishing it. It’s not like me to be so direct, Beth, but it seems that that’s the only thing you understand. Your actions are continuing to bring pain to our Abenaki families and you need to stop. Judy Dow
January 19, 2009 6:47 PM

Sunday, January 18, 2009

livejournal discussion on Cultural Appropriation

There's quite an active discussion on cultural appropriation taking place across livejournal communities (networks? --- I'm not familiar with livejournal).

Take a look at a Cultural Appropriation Bingo Game developed by an individual who's user name is Elusis. Click here to get to the page with the graphic. Elusis says it can be reposted with attribution, so here it is... And thanks, Elusis. (Update: Feb 22, 2013 --- The Bingo card at the link is no longer viewable. Don't know why. And, I made a larger image available today on my site. The one I had up before was too small to read.)

And click here to get to some of the discussion.

UPDATE, 7:15 pm... I continue to read through livejournal's discussion, following links here and there. This one is.... what word to use... I don't know. THIS PERSON GETS IT. She got it after she spent some time on my blog. If I understand correctly, the writer created an online game that used the Pueblo Revolt. People tried to tell her not to do it. She did it anyway, but has now decided to stop. Do take time to read what 'kynn' says about writing, DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER, the Pueblo Revolt...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On Being Misled about Kanell's DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER

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[Update: January 18, 9:45 AM, CST---A special welcome to readers from other nations, coming here from the livejournal community, where critical discussion of Kanell and her book is taking off.]

I regularly listen to Mark Kermode's film reviews on BBC. Recently he talked about promotional materials for Slum Dog Millionaire. He warned listeners that the promotional material did not accurately present the content of the film itself.

It reminded me of Beth Kanell's Darkness Under the Water. From the author and through promotional materials and reviews, we are told it is about the Vermont Eugenics Project.

Kanell publishes a blog called "Stories That Matter". In the blog's description, she says:

For her 2008 novel The Darkness Under the Water she wove together family stories of New England, the experiences of neighbors who knew what life was like here during the Vermont Eugenics Project, and a LOT of historical research.

And on May 6th, Kanell wrote:

Next week I'll be at the Vermont Library Conference in South Burlington, reading on May 13 and 14 in the author's cove, letting Molly Ballou tell you how it felt for her to be sixteen years old, living in a small Vermont village in 1930, when her Abenaki heritage -- which her parents had carefully turned into "being French Canadian," but which her grandmother still honors -- well, to make a long story short, Molly discovered that being Abenaki could mean being threatened by the Governor and Legislature of Vermont, and especially by the nurses being sent out into the communities to look for families who didn't match the ideal Vermont image.

The blurb on the publisher's website says

"This gripping, ultimately hopeful tale of an Abenaki-French Canadian girl in 1920s Vermont explores a dark history in New England history."

The reviewer at Kirkus says

"Kanell focuses on the Eugenics Project as it relates to the Ballou family, though she does make brief mention of this movement's overall impact in a note."

's reviewer says

"Readers will be drawn into this historical story to learn about a time of discrimination against Native Americans that is not widely known."

And School Library Journal's reviewer notes that

"Although the true history of the Vermont Eugenics Project looms in the background, the story really centers around Molly's coming-of-age."

The Library of Congress information says the book's subjects include "Eugenics --Fiction" and "Abenaki Indians --Fiction." The summary says

"In 1930, sixteen-year-old Molly lives under the shadow of a governor who wants to sterilize people "unfit to be true Vermonters," such as her Abenaki family, while the loss of her family home, her mother's pregnancy, her first love, and other events transform her life."

The book is not about the Vermont Eugenics Project. It's a melodramatic mystery set in the past that uses the Vermont Eugenics Project to, as the author said on child-lit, "create a climate of fear" for her characters to live within.

Create a climate of fear?!

That's a gross violation of the Abenaki people, what they endured then, and what they continue to deal with in the present day. I wonder if the Abenaki family Kanell references knows that she used their stories to "create a climate of fear"? She used that family, and she used that history to create a melodramatic mystery that is being marketed as historical fiction. She used them and she used it for her own purposes.

If you haven't read it yet, don't bother. If you plan to read it, stop reading now, because I'm going to give you the highpoints of the "story" Kanell tells... It strikes me, as I recount it, as a fast-paced TV reality show with lots of drama.

The star of this drama is Molly, a teenager.

Easter Sunday, 1930 (April 20th).
Molly finds out her mother is four months pregnant. From her visiting uncles, she learns that " is dangerous now to be an Indian..." (p. 27)

Sometime in June, on a Tuesday....
Molly finds her mother coughing and bleeding heavily "blood seeping through the skirt fabric...". Nurses are entering their yard (see the Dow and Seale essay for info about the nurses) and Molly asks them to help. Her mother tells the nurse that she is nearly seven months pregnant. Labor happens. The baby is dead. Smothered by the nurses? Stillborn? Kanell claims that the baby was stillborn and that the "handful of bleeding flesh" that the nurse "tugged... out of my mother's most private place" with the "sharp flash of a blade" was the afterbirth, but I'm not persuaded. Later, Molly says that her mother had died "...without pain, letting go of the lost babies, the shredded womb, the sorrows and pains." (p. 300) Why is the womb shredded?

On Wed and Thur...
Relatives arrive. Nurses come by, too, but Molly's father won't let them in.

On Friday...

Baby is buried.

On Saturday...
Molly goes to a dance. When she comes home her mother is gone. Molly, her father and grandmother find her mother at the river, crying, standing in a "small puddle" of blood.

Molly takes over her mother's work as a laundress. She's been doing laundry from death of baby till end of June, and now, into July she continues to do the laundry.

Early August
Molly's father say's they'll "move next week" to their house across from the school.

Saturday, August 16th
Molly and her family move. Her mother is carried to the wagon.

Monday, August 17th
Pre-dawn storms cause Molly's mother to have nightmares. Lightning strikes their house by the river. It catches fire.

A Tuesday in September
Molly's mother feels strong enough to go upstairs. She lays down to nap in upstairs bedroom. Molly goes for a walk. Molly's grandmother naps in kitchen. Molly comes back, hears a scream and thuds, goes inside, finds her mother and the nurse at the foot of the stairs. Henry and Molly's father arrive; Henry suggests they take the nurse's body to the dam, throw it over the spillway.

Early November
While inspecting the dam, state inspectors find the nurse's body. They think she fell, and build a fence so others don't also fall. Molly's mother dies in her sleep, never learned about the nurse's death.

So.... what happens to this family? They live in fear, the mother is pregnant, they lose the baby, they are forced to leave their home, the night of their move the house catches fire, the nurse falls down stairs in their new house and dies in the fall, they conspire to hide the death, the nurse's body is found, the mother dies. Possible, yes, but plausible? No.

There are other aspects of the story that are not plausible. The ways that Molly speaks and thinks about her identity, for example. I'll save that post for another day.

If you're a teacher or librarian, save your money. Teach your students about the Vermont Eugenics Project, but don't do it with Kanell's book. She's only used the project to create a sensational story. Don't be misled. The Abenaki people, your students, all of us (in fact) deserve better than this.


There are several posts here on this blog, about DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER. I'm arranging them here, chronologically. Be sure to read comments to each entry.

December 5, 2008 - Seale and Dow essay on DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER
December 6, 2008 - A reader responds to Seale/Dow review
December 17, 2008 - Slapin's Open Letter to Kanell
December 18, 2008 - Kanell's Response to Slapin's Open Letter
December 19, 2008 - I read Beth Kanell's DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER
January 3, 2009 - "Darkness Under the Water: Questions and Comments" by Beverly Slapin

Friday, January 16, 2009

Good book for a cold day

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Pointing, today, to Alan Sockabasin's terrific picture book, Thanks to the Animals. Beverly Slapin wrote a review of it; click here to read her review. And, I wrote about the companion audio for it. Click here to read that.

And... buy the book! For your classroom, your library, your son or daughter, granddaughter, grandson, niece, nephew.... Get it from Oyate.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Tim Tingle Storytelling at University of Illinois, Saturday, Feb 7

Posting today, an announcement from the Spurlock Museum, located at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Tim Tingle is among my favorite writers. Top of my recommended list is his picture book,
Crossing Bok Chitto.

Winter Tales: Tim Tingle, Choctaw Teller

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Storytelling Concert

Join us for one of the Museum’s most popular annual events, a concert of American Indian tales, told during the winter months, the traditional time of telling. This year’s performance features Tim Tingle, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a nationally renowned storyteller and speaker, and an award-winning author of Native American fiction and folklore. Winter Tales concerts are sponsored by an endowment from Reginald and Gladys Laubin and funded in part by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

Location: Knight Auditorium, Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory St., Urbana, IL

Time: 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM

Cost: $5.00

Pre-concert Workshop for Educators and Tellers

“Native American Storytelling for the Non-Native Teller”

Led by Tim Tingle; pre-registration required.

Location: Zahn Learning Center, Spurlock Museum

Time: 9:00 AM – Noon

Cost: $30.00

For further information, contact Kim Sheahan at (217) 244-3355 or

Saturday, January 03, 2009

"Darkness Under the Water: Questions and Comments" by Beverly Slapin

On Friday, January 2, 2009 , Jean Mendoza referenced a children's literature listserv. She is talking about child_lit. That listserv discussion group started in the mid 90s. I've been following it since then and am glad that Jean and Beverly Slapin are on it, too. It can be a contentious place when we voice objections to books that misrepresent or stereotype Native peoples. Below is a post Beverly Slapin submitted to child_lit, in its on-going discussion thread about Beth Kanell's Darkness Under the Water. As a work of historical fiction, the book provides opportunities for fact-based analysis of its content, theoretical discussions of historical fiction as a genre, and, variations in response to the story based on identity of the reader.

Below is Beverly's email to child_lit, posted there on December 31, 2008. She is responding to remarks by three specific individuals: Debby Edwardson, J. L. Bell, and Beth Kanell. One of the functions of this site (American Indians in Children's Literature) is to provide easy access to a resource that looks critically at the ways that Native peoples are portrayed in children's books. Posting Beverly's email here gives access to some of the child_lit discussion for people who are not subscribed to child_lit.


Darkness Under the Water: Questions and Comments

by Beverly Slapin

Debby Dahl Edwardson wrote (ChildLit, Dec. 29, 2008):

For better or worse, how readers perceive a book, how they "interpret one scene" carries far more weight than what the author intended. That the interpretation often says more about the reader than the writer is irrelevant. Trying to make sure that there is little room for misinterpretation is the writer's work, not the reader's.

I agree with Debby, exactly. A gifted writer can weave many levels of interpretation into a story, and may certainly leave readers with questions to ponder. Such readers may, after reading an especially well-written book, want to look back at a particularly beautiful and/or puzzling passage (or even the whole book) and think, “Wow! I didn’t get that the first time.” In Debby’s picture book, Whale Snow, the young reader is with young Amiqqaq, asking question after question, and being told at just about every turn: “You’ll see.” When Amiqqaq begins to understand that the “spirit of the whale,” the thing he is seeking, is “fat snow and strong wind…right here in my house, making people smile and laugh,” the young reader understands as well. In the case of Whale Snow, what writer intended is what the young reader perceives: Here is a little boy, secure and happy in the long arms of his extended family, learning what he needs to learn in a way that is appropriate for him and his culture.

In response to Debby Edwardson, J.L. Bell wrote (ChildLit, Dec. 30, 2008):

Here I think we're also discussing the critic's work, which is to read an author's creation with due care and respect. Ideally, a critic is more sensitive to alternative interpretations, creative challenges, and literary traditions than an average reader.

A critic may in the end judge that an author hasn't succeeded in any number of ways. A critic can find more layers of meaning in a work than the author intended, sometimes layers that undercut the surface and/or intended meanings. But critics who disregard parts of a work, or describe it or its history inaccurately, aren't being respectful to either author and readers.

As a critic, I give a book a thorough read. At least once, I read it at the level of the reader for whom the book is intended. If it’s a young adult book, I read it several times. If it’s historical fiction, I research the history. Often, the flaws in a book will jump out at me. I look at who the author is and what the author’s relationship is to the land, culture and community. I ask myself a lot of questions about a particular book, and I often communicate with friends and colleagues who may know more than I do about the land, culture, history and community in which the book is situated. Many of the reviews on which I work are collaborative. All of my friends and colleagues who critique children’s books do so with great care. We look at “alternative interpretations, creative challenges, and literary traditions,” and we look at much more.

Doris Seale, Judy Dow, and Debbie Reese are Indian women, teachers and scholars, and lifelong advocates for Indian children. We have collaborated many times together; they are at least as conscientious as I am, and, in many areas, far more knowledgeable. I’ve read Darkness Under the Water four times, and I know that Doris, Judy and Debbie have read it several times as well. Doris and Judy, as Abenaki women living in Vermont, are historians who have the lived experience of their families having been hunted down by the eugenicists. One can’t get too much more involved in a book’s subject matter than this.

In their critique of Darkness Under the Water, Doris and Judy verified their understanding of the historical events in the eugenics movement with historian Nancy Gallagher, who wrote Breeding Better Vermonters; I also consulted with Nancy, who gave me a deeper understanding of the history and “science” of eugenics. Based on a careful reading of Darkness Under the Water, consultation with a local nurse who gave me her interpretation of its medical aspects, more research, and further talks with Nancy and Judy, here are some questions and comments about the book and my analysis of Kanell’s post-publication interpretations of what she’s written.

Who were the nurses in Vermont?

Kanell writes (ChildLit, Dec. 12, 2008) that she based “the nursing visits in the story on those being made by the District Nurse, proudly supported by a local women’s club starting in 1912.” Nurses in Vermont in 1930 included those from the Visiting Nurse Association, the Red Cross, instructive district nursing associations and, of course, nurses in hospitals and institutions. Some of these nurses may have been knocking on people’s doors, but they were not in any way affiliated with the Vermont Eugenics Survey. There was never any connection between the VES and the State of Vermont. The nurses in Darkness Under the Water could not have been “state nurses.”

The women who interviewed Vermont residents for the Vermont Eugenics Survey were social workers, not nurses. They compiled the interpretive data that later were used by directors of institutions (including hospitals, prisons, reformatories, and training schools) to identify “degenerates,” “delinquents” and “dependents” as targets for sterilization. These social workers, who were welcomed into the homes of relatives of people they were investigating, pretended to be caring individuals while using bribery and manipulation to solicit the “information” they were charged with collecting.

What happened to Mama and her baby on the kitchen table?

In the context of the eugenics movement, Beth Kanell’s graphic, gory and sensationalized description of the medical procedure the nurses inflict on Mama would lead a reasonable middle reader (and this adult reader as well) to infer that Nurse Carpenter, with the assistance of Nurse Williams, “sterilizes” Mama after she gives birth. That Nurse Carpenter, with “eyes blazing,” says, “it has to be done,” reinforces this interpretation; as does Grandma’s assertion to Molly that “they cut her up on purpose. They don’t want Indian babies around here.”

A perusal of the Vermont Sterilization Law (1931) reveals some interesting, albeit abhorrent, information. It mandated that “idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded or insane persons” were to be examined by two “competent physicians and surgeons not in the employment of the state” who would certify as to their suitability for sterilization; and the actual surgeries were to be performed by a third “competent physician or surgeon not in the employment of the state.” It also mandated that the men were to be sterilized by vasectomy; and women, by salpingectomy, or removal of the fallopian tubes. Prior to 1931, sterilization was illegal; and after 1931, for nurses, even “state nurses,” to sterilize someone at home would have been illegal.

Kanell writes (ChildLit, Dec. 12, 2008, italics mine):

“[S]ince I saw no evidence that nurses in this region would have performed eugenic sterilizations, even though doctors may have, I presumed that the nurses in the story would attempt to bring out the placenta and could have also attempted a clumsy…dilettation and curettage procedure.”

So if the nurses are not sterilizing Mama, why does Kanell have them whispering conspiritorially to each other? Why are Nurse Carpenter’s “eyes blazing,” and why is she saying, “it has to be done” in a way that implies fanaticism? Where did Nurse Carpenter get her “blade” (“a sharp flash of a blade”), and why is she tugging on “a handful of bleeding flesh” and wrapping a “handful of bloody something into a towel, along with the blade”? Why does Grandma insist that the nurses sterilized Mama (“They cut her up. There’ll be no more babies…they cut her up on purpose. They don’t want Indian babies around here.”)? And why does Henry Laporte agree with Grandma?

If the nurses are performing a “clumsy dilletation and curettage procedure,” there is neither dilation nor anesthesia, yet Mama gives only one “cry of pain.” The baby was delivered, the nurses say, “stillborn.” There is neither a placenta previa nor a placental abruption. So why is Nurse Carpenter hacking away at the placenta? If the problem is that Mama is hemorrhaging, Grandma, as a traditional doctor and herbalist, would know what to do.

Did Mama have tuberculosis?

Kanell writes (ChildLit, Dec. 12, 2008):

“I base the likely stillbirth of the baby in the story on a medical article that tracked the effects of familial tuberculosis at that time.”

In Darkness Under the Water, Mama coughs three times: once, a “barking cough” (that could describe croup or pertussis), the second time, a “low rattling cough” (that could describe asthma or perhaps, tuberculosis) and the third time, while Mama is giving birth, she coughs spasmodically, which could have many indications. Grandma says that Mama has a “spring cough,” but the nurses quickly diagnose her as having tuberculosis and instruct Molly to bring her to the hospital in St. Johnsbury in a few days “to see the doctors about the tuberculosis.” If Mama indeed has latent tuberculosis, there would no connection with losing the baby. If Mama has active tuberculosis, she would be coughing spasmodically throughout the book, she would be coughing up blood and Molly and Grandma would been coughing as well. If Mama indeed had tuberculosis, how did she get it? Why does no one else have it? Why didn’t the family go to the doctor in St. Johnsbury? And why do Mama’s customers—who would have known that tuberculosis is wildly contagious—continue to bring their laundry for her to wash?

Does Nurse Carpenter smother Mama’s baby during the delivery? To this reader, it certainly seems so. Grandma says, “We’ll never know whether she smothered that baby, either.” Molly questions, “Had the nurse made sure he didn’t breathe?” Mama, after the final episode with Nurse Carpenter, screams: “She wants to kill my baby…She wants to kill my baby again. No! No!”

Kanell writes (ChildLit, Dec. 12, 2008, italics mine):

“My intent in framing the nursing presence in town and then the childbirth scene the way I did, with medical components that 16-year-old Molly struggles to comprehend, was to allow readers to see Molly’s and her family’s assumptions within the climate of fear induced by the Eugenics Project. Could the prematurely born baby have been smothered by the nurses? Could they have attacked Molly’s mother internally in an effort to make sure she would bear no more children? As I have acknowledged with teens who’ve read the story and asked ‘what really happened’ in this scene, I don’t think that the nurses were necessarily the evil and vicious agents of the Eugenics Project here—but I can’t fault Molly in thinking they might be.”

It appears that Kanell used the background of the eugenics movement to imply that there was sterilization, dialogue from the nurses that implies that there was sterilization, a gory description of a procedure that appears to be sterilization and infanticide, and dialogue from Indian characters who insist that there was sterilization and possibly an infanticide. But now, Kanell says that there was neither sterilization nor an infanticide. If this is the case, then what are the nurses—whose only purpose appears to be as the tools of the eugenics movement—doing in the story? There is no internal logic here. Rather, in her post-publication comments about the nurses, the medical procedure and the delivery, Beth Kanell appears to be backtracking. Or she appears to be purposefully manipulating young readers who cannot possibly be expected to work through this level of poorly written ambiguity.

Who’s being blamed?

Kanell shows an appalling lack of respect for her own Indian characters. Writing to ChildLit (Dec. 12, 2008), she implies that the nurses were innocent passersby who came to help and that Mama’s, Grandma’s, Molly’s, and Henry’s understanding of what the nurses did to Mama are “assumptions within the climate of fear induced by the Eugenics Project.” She further writes that it was Mama’s “tuberculosis” that causes the baby’s “stillbirth,” even though Grandma, who is a traditional doctor and herbalist, says Mama had a “spring cough.” So, in effect, she’s saying, “It’s not my fault that young readers may misunderstand what I wrote. It’s my Abenaki characters’ fault.” This is disingenuous.

Kanell writes (to “American Indians in Children’s Literature,” Debbie Reese’s blog, Dec. 7, 2008):

“Judy and Doris, I’m sorry that you’ve been dismayed by some misreadings of the story…perhaps you are not a frequent reader of ‘young adult’ fiction, where some suggestions of fear and horror are not always matched by the also presented facts. A reader needs to sort through what is being presented.”

So, in effect, Kanell’s saying, “It’s not my fault that the two Abenaki critics misunderstood what I wrote.” Point of information: Doris Seale, before her retirement, was a children’s librarian for over 45 years, and Judy Dow has been a teacher for more than 25 years. It’s more than likely that both Abenaki women know how to read and interpret young adult fiction, even poorly written ones such as Darkness Under the Water.

It may not have been Kanell’s intent to falsify the eugenics movement in Vermont in such an egregious manner; it may not have been Kanell’s intent to miseducate the children of Vermont; it may not have been Kanell’s intent to shame Abenaki people; I have no way of knowing. But when Kanell creates a melodramatic ghost story that distorts a piece of history that continues to strike the hearts of Abenaki families; when every single one of Kanell’s Abenaki characters misunderstand what’s happening to them; when Kanell condescendingly dismisses the words of Abenaki educators who point out what she has done—then her very intentions are suspect.

And so are J.L. Bell's. When he writes (see post, above) that “critics who disregard parts of a work, or describe it or its history inaccurately, aren't being respectful to either author and readers,” is this is a thinly-veiled accusation that Doris Seale and Judy Dow, Indian educators who put together a carefully researched review of a book that caused them great personal pain, lack integrity? Or that Debbie Reese, an educator who has made truthful depictions of Indian lives and histories her life’s work, lacks integrity? Or is he implying that Indian people don’t have the smarts to know a good book from a bad book? In any event, it would seem to me that, behind the screen of academic scholarship, there lurks both arrogance and white privilege.

—Beverly Slapin

Jan 18, 2009 - Note:

There are several posts here on this blog, about DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER. I'm arranging them here, chronologically. Be sure to read comments to each entry.

December 5, 2008 - Seale and Dow essay on DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER
December 6, 2008 - A reader responds to Seale/Dow review
December 17, 2008 - Slapin's Open Letter to Kanell
December 18, 2008 - Kanell's Response to Slapin's Open Letter
December 19, 2008 - I read Beth Kanell's DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER
January 3, 2009 - "Darkness Under the Water: Questions and Comments" by Beverly Slapin

Friday, January 02, 2009

Jean Mendoza essay: Paul Chaat Smith and children's books about American Indians

Earlier this week, my dear friend and colleague, Jean Mendoza and I were talking by phone about children's books about American Indians, particularly historical fiction. Jean recalled an essay by Paul Chaat Smith. I invited her to put her thoughts into a piece for this site. Paul Chaat Smith is an enrolled member of the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma, and co-wrote Like a Hurricane: the Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee, a book I recommended on Feb. 3rd, 2008.

Here's Jean's essay.

Hi, Deb,

On your blog and on the children’s literature list serv, the past few weeks have seen much conversation (and in some cases, apparent avoidance of conversation) about representation and misrepresentation of Native people and history. All of it has reminded me of Paul Chaat Smith’s essay, “Ghost in the Machine” in Strong Hearts: Native American Visions and Voices. It’s powerful – funny but moving in a way that kind of sneaks up and grabs you (me, anyway). He starts out talking about his great uncle Cavayo who in his time had the task of giving names to “the marvelous toys and dazzling inventions modern times brought to the Comanche in the latter half of the 19th century.” Among those inventions: the “Walker Colt” .44 caliber revolver – the first repeating pistol in the world -- which Chaat Smith notes (persuasively) was apparently invented to help Texas Rangers kill Comanches more efficiently than was possible with other guns.


But Chaat Smith manages (like many other Native writers) to connect an image from the American genocide to a more contemporary situation using irony and humor. He says the Comanches “frantically tried to acquire the new guns but had limited success – imagine a member of the Crips trying to buy a dozen Stinger rocket-launchers in the midst of the 1992 riots in LA: not impossible but really, really difficult.”

I wish there were some way for Ghost in the Machine to be required reading for every editor, writer, book reviewer, teacher or librarian whose work in any way touches on children’s books. And if there’s one section of the essay that I wish they would memorize, it’s this:

Paul Chaat Smith says,

“Heck, we're just plain folks, but no one wants to hear that. But how could it be any different? The confusion and ambivalence, the amnesia and wistful romanticism make perfect sense. We are shape-shifters in the national consciousness. We are accidental survivors, unwanted reminders of disagreeable events. Indians have to be explained and accounted for, and to fit somehow into the creation myth of the most powerful, benevolent nation ever, the last, best hope of man on earth.”

When otherwise intelligent and capable people scramble in defense of mis/representations of indigenous people in books by non-Native writers, it’s that quote that comes to mind for me. Few things can be more disagreeable to a person of conscience than the idea that one lives well on stolen resources (including land), enabled by a history of government-supported genocidal laws & policies and behaviors, and by the willingness of one’s cultural (if not familial) forebears to kill many times over in order to get the resources from the folks who were here first. The myth is essential; otherwise the non-indigenous person of conscience finds himself/herself in a psychologically untenable position.

At the end of “Ghost in the Machine”, Paul Chaat Smith comments, “We're trapped in history. No escape. Great-uncle Cavayo must have faced many situations this desperate, probably in god-forsaken desert canyons against murderous Apaches and Texans. Somehow, I know what he would say: Get the best piece you can find and shoot your way out.”

Smith is punning on “piece”, having talked about both guns and cameras throughout “Ghost”. When I think about what he has written in Ghost, a third meaning comes to mind: a “piece” of writing, a piece of art. His own essay, for example. Other essays and novels and poems and paintings and sculptures and so on that can set readers/viewers straight on how things have been, how they really are. Yes, and critiques of books that misrepresent Native lives.

I had a mental image of contemporary Native scholars and critics and authors hunkered down in that “god-forsaken canyon”, writing their way out (“power of the pen”); using contemporary technology (e.g., Internet) that allows them to “shoot from the hip” (or sometimes, “from the lip”). (The image doesn’t work all that well, really, though in my mind it is imbued with courage and tenacity and determination and resourcefulness….)

From what I can tell, very few, if any, fiction books by non-Native writers are real allies in Native people’s efforts to shoot/write their way out of the chronic misrepresentation.

I keep wondering: if non-Native authors who want to write Native-themed books (and their publishers) were to read this essay and the others in Strong Hearts BEFORE beginning those book projects—would they continue to look at their efforts to tell or make up Native stories with the sense that what they’re doing is necessary, honorable, or even okay?

If producers of children’s books read and understood Chaat Smith’s message, would we continue to see what the Cooperative Center for Books for Children consistently finds: that (for example) of approximately 3,000 children’s books published in 2007 that their staff examined, only 6 were created by American Indian writers or illustrators though 44 contained American Indian themes, topics, or characters?

The 1995 publication date of Strong Hearts (by Aperture) shocks me now; we’ve had the book since it was new. But the essays do not seem dated, and certainly the photography by indigenous photographers feels contemporary. The book is worth looking for. A version of “Ghost in the Machine” is on Paul Chaat Smith’s Web site, Fear of a Red Planet.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Today, Nadine (a librarian-in-training) wrote to me after she found my blog. We exchanged a few emails, during which I learned she's from Manitoba, Canada. She had some very cool news about In Search of April Raintree...

Written by Beatrice Culleton Mosionier, In Search of April Raintree is the book chosen for "On The Same Page: Manitoba Reads" --- a literacy project whose goal is to have 12,000 people (1% of the population of Manitoba) read the selected book between October 2008 through April 2009.

According to a review in CM: Canadian Review of Materials, it is widely used in junior and senior high schools, and university courses, too. The On The Same Page site includes a bio and among other things, an interview with her. One of the questions is

"Do you wish you could have read a book like In Search of April Raintree when you were young?"

Her reply:

"I have Metis people come up and tell me that In Search of April Raintree changed their lives. They grew up hiding their Aboriginal roots and with this book, they felt proud of April and proud of their roots. A lot of people, especially Aboriginal people, have told me that this story is their story because it's exactly what they went through: growing up in foster homes; alcoholism in the family, forced assimilation and racism is something that they can identify with."
I read the novel years ago. It should be more widely read in the United States. Thanks, Nadine, for the info!

(Note: The cover image and photo of Mosionier are from the On The Same Page website.)

Update, Dec 23rd, 2008---Oyate carries April Raintree. I asked Beverly Slapin if it is the same book as In Search of April Raintree. She said:

IN SEARCH OF APRIL RAINTREE and APRIL RAINTREE were published together as separate titles. APRIL RAINTREE was the one more accessible for high school students, so that is the one we chose. The only difference, really, seems to be the rape scene, which is a little less graphic in the high school edition.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Many people want to know what I think of Beth Kanell's book, now that I've read it. I am working on an essay, but for now, I can say that I do not recommend Beth Kanell's young adult novel, Darkness Under the Water.

My essay will center on the way the novel is described by its author, publisher, and reviewers. The novel is presented as "exploring a dark episode in New England history." That episode is the Vermont Eugenics Survey, but the novel doesn't actually do that.

Update: Dec 23rd, 2008---As I work on my review essay, I'm studying the Vermont Eugenics Movement. I came across a lecture that Nancy Gallagher and Judy Dow gave in March of 2007. The lecture is housed at the Center for Research on Vermont. Click here to view it.

Early on in the video, Gallagher says that she, as an academic, had done research on this eugenics movement, but feels that the stories need to be told strictly from the perspective of the families themselves, in their voices. I listened to her words and thought about how her words foreshadowed what has happened with Kanell's book.

Here's the description of the lecture:

The French-Indian people in Chittenden County lived in small neighborhood communities identified by names known only to them, and Moccasin Village in Burlington's Old North End was one of these. Despite repeated attempts at forced assimilation such as eminent domain, increased taxes, institutionalization, and eugenics, the Abenaki oral tradition of storytelling has allowed these communities and their ancestral traditions to endure beneath and within an external French-Canadian identity. Judy Dow, who has deep ancestral roots to Moccasin Village, and Nancy Gallagher, author of Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State, began collaborating in 2004 in an effort to document and restore to public memory the history of Abenaki culture in Winooski Intervale communities and in Vermont at large. In this program they present their findings on the various means of adaptation to social, political, environmental, and economic changes that enabled the Abenaki culture to survive.

Jan 18, 2009 - Note:

There are several posts here on this blog, about DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER. I'm arranging them here, chronologically. Be sure to read comments to each entry.

December 5, 2008 - Seale and Dow essay on DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER
December 6, 2008 - A reader responds to Seale/Dow review
December 17, 2008 - Slapin's Open Letter to Kanell
December 18, 2008 - Kanell's Response to Slapin's Open Letter
December 19, 2008 - I read Beth Kanell's DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER
January 3, 2009 - "Darkness Under the Water: Questions and Comments" by Beverly Slapin

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kanell response to Slapin's Open Letter

In response to Slapin's Open Letter (click here to read it), Kanell wrote to her webmaster (Alexie) saying:

Hi Alexis,

Beverly Slapin, copied above, has provided strong reasons for removing the original questions 10 and 11 from the discussion questions for The Darkness Under the Water, immediately. I suspect it works better for you to have the entire list at once, to replace the page -- yes? So I'm pasting a revised list onto here. Beverly, if you have time and energy to add to these, or adjust them, I'd value your experience in making the list both wiser and stronger. Thank you.

Appended to her note was a list of questions. The two that Slapin discussed in her Open Letter are gone from the new list.

Alexis posted the new list right away, and Kanell wrote to Slapin by email to let her know of those changes. She copied me on that email and followed it with another email, asking me to post her questions to my blog as a stand-alone post, giving them the same exposure that I gave to Slapin's.

I've given her request a lot of thought because one of the new questions is no better than the ones she took off. The new question reveals, to me, a lack of insight to the reasons Native people object to the ways that we and our histories are presented in children's books. She wanted to do good with her book, but she missed the mark. She's stated that her own Jewish history makes it possible for her to present a Native story. But, over and over, there are examples that her Jewish identity did not translate to insight to Native story.

Do I post her questions, as she requested, and address the new problem she created? If I do, am I being mean to her?

On the one hand, it feels mean and aggressive to keep pointing out that lack of insight. On the other hand, each new instance provides an opportunity for me to point out how lack of insight results in a problematic passage.

By 'each new instance' I mean each time she posts to the child_lit listserv. On that listserv, a contentious dialogue has been taking place for almost two weeks. Each time she posts to child_lit, her response contains errors.

For example, she has argued there that the state of Vermont has recognized the Abenaki. In fact, the state of Vermont has recognized the Abenaki as a minority. That's very different from being recognized as a tribal nation. I don't think Kanell understands the distinction. Native peoples across the country know the difference, and, I wish more citizens of the U.S. did, too.

This blog exists to provide my perspective on the words others write. My responsibility, as I see it, is not to any author, but to what he or she writes, and, to the readers of that author's words. My goal is not to beat up on an author, though it will feel that way to the author. My goal is to educate the author, the publisher, the reviewer, the teacher, parent, and librarian so that the entire field of children's books that have images of American Indians moves from one that is fraught with error to one that is does an accurate job of presenting who we are.

With that as my framework, here is question #11.

11. If you have studied World War II or the history of the Jews in the world, you know about an even more frightening and terrible project that began in the 1930s to eliminate one group of people and to make another group of people more powerful. Where did this happen? Do you think there is a connection to Molly's story? How could you find out more about this?

" know about an even more frightening and terrible project..." she wrote.

Hitler was defeated. As a result of that defeat, we know the horrors of the Holocaust. A lot of allies stepped in to stop what he was doing.

Nobody stepped in to stop what was happening to American Indians in what became the United States. There are no museums that document what happened to us in the way that Holocaust museums do.

I read question 11 and think back to my own history as a Pueblo Indian. Slaughter, persecution, efforts to "kill the Indian and save the man."

Though I'm sure it is not her intention, Kanell writes as though there are none of us left that would object to question 11. Surely she doesn't mean to do a hierarchical presentation of genocide. But just as surely, she doesn't understand how a Native person would read that question.

I object. And, we object. Thanks to electronic listservs and blogs--we can reach people we couldn't reach before.

January 18, 2009 - Note:

There are several posts here on this blog, about DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER. I'm arranging them here, chronologically. Be sure to read comments to each entry.

December 5, 2008 - Seale and Dow essay on DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER
December 6, 2008 - A reader responds to Seale/Dow review
December 17, 2008 - Slapin's Open Letter to Kanell
December 18, 2008 - Kanell's Response to Slapin's Open Letter
December 19, 2008 - I read Beth Kanell's DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER
January 3, 2009 - "Darkness Under the Water: Questions and Comments" by Beverly Slapin

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Slapin: Open Letter to Beth Kanell

Beverly Slapin (she includes bio info in her essay below) submitted this Open Letter as a comment to Seale and Dow's review essay of Beth Kanell's young adult book, Darkness Under the Water. Because her letter is about Ms. Kanell's companion website for the book, I'm also placing it here, with its own post.


Ms. Kanell—
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Beverly Slapin. I am Jewish. Many of my maternal relatives, along with millions of others, were murdered by the eugenicists who called themselves National Socialists, in the town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland. My paternal grandfather fought against the Czar in Russia and, for this reason, was one of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of revolutionaries who were murdered. My ancestors fought and died so that I could be here. And because I’m here, it is my obligation to speak for them. And because they were who they were, it is my obligation to combat racism wherever it exists.
I am co-founder and executive director of Oyate and I’ve taught in the area of critical multiculturalism, especially since it relates to Native peoples, since 1990. I am co-editor of Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children and A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children, which won an American Book Award. I am a children’s content editor for and frequent contributor to Multicultural Review. I have read thousands of young adult books, including historical fiction, and have written more reviews than I can count or remember. I have read The Darkness Under the Water four times. Last, but certainly not least, having worked with them for many years, I consider Doris Seale, Judy Dow, and Debbie Reese, dear friends and colleagues. They stand by their words and I stand with them; not because they’re my friends but because they’re speaking truths.
At this point, I’m going address the discussion questions on your website. While discussion questions for young adult fiction, and especially young adult historical fiction, generally aim to encourage young readers to empathize with the protagonist or other characters, your questions serve only to distance young readers from the Abenaki characters in the story, and from the Abenaki peoples in Vermont. I will focus on questions 10 and 11, which I consider the worst discussion questions I have ever read anywhere.
Question 10: Many times in nature, animals seem to realize when another animal is “different.” Sometimes the animals try to make the different animal leave or they attack it for being different. Do people act the same way? How do the people in Molly’s story show this? Have you seen people do this? Have you also seen people who choose not to act this way? Describe them and give your opinion on why they react differently.
Question 11: The decision in Vermont to sort people out by whether they seemed like "good citizens" for the state was happening in many other places. More than half the states in America passed laws that allowed doctors to "sterilize" people who were "unfit" in some way. Do you know anyone who has sterilized a pet so it would not have puppies or kittens? Was there a good reason? Talk about the ways people are different from pets and whether there can ever be good reasons for choices like this for people. Is it different if the choices are forced on someone?
In comparing the criminal behavior of the eugenicists to a natural fear that “animals in nature” may have, you are excusing what they did and, by your analogy, blaming the Abenaki for being “different.” By comparing the Abenaki to pet dogs and cats—which is what you do—you are dehumanizing the Abenaki peoples. You are heaping shame on Abenaki people in general, and, in particular, you are shaming Abenaki youngsters who may read your book. And you are encouraging non-Indian young people to feel superior. This is racism, pure and simple. This may or may not be your intention; I have no way of knowing.
Now, Ms. Kanell, imagine you are, say, Jewish. And you are living in, say, Eastern Europe in the 1930s. And, in school, you are forced to answer “discussion questions” that compare you and your family to dogs and cats that need to be sterilized. Well, this really happened. I know this history. And now you, wittingly or unwittingly, are making it happen again. For Doris and Judy and all the other Abenaki people in Vermont and elsewhere who are now being forced to relive the pain, I’m asking you to remove your discussion guide from your website. If you have a shred of decency, you will.

Obama, Native American Rights Fund, and Ryan Red Corn

In the last few days, Native presses have published several stories of relevance to the focus of this blog.

John Echohawk is one of the authors of an excellent non-fiction book called Battlefields and Burial Grounds: the Indian Struggle to Protect Ancestral Graves in the United States. It was published in 1994 by Lerner. I wrote about the book in 2007. Echohawk is the Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF). And, he's been appointed to President-Elect Obama's Transition Team. Read details about the appointment here.

A few days ago, I was chatting on Facebook with a friend, Ryan Red Corn. Ryan is Osage, and, a graphic artist. He's done a lot of work with NARF.

One of Ryan's designs will be used for the upcoming Inaugural festivities. His art has been used for the covers of Red Ink, a Native literary magazine I wrote about here (I suggested high school English teachers consider it for their lit courses).

Click here to read a REZNET article about Ryan and see a slideshow of his work, and here to go right to his website, redhandmedia. There you can see some of the videos he's worked on, like the 20-minute piece on identity of Native American youth.

Congratulations, Ryan, on your accomplishments, and thank you for the work that you're doing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Looking for books as gifts this holiday season?

With the holiday season approaching (or, if you're already observing it) and are looking for a book for a child or teen, take a look at this list. Developed in conjunction with PBS for its upcoming series "We Shall Remain," each of the books is terrific. Each one has been discussed on this blog, too.

They've also compiled a list of books for adult reading circles. Click here to see that list.

Every writer on both lists is Native. Selecting only books by Native writers is a great decision. It thematically supports the title of the PBS series (We Shall Remain). In effect, it says, We Write, We are Still Here, and We Shall Remain. (Note: The only exception are two of the editors on the collections of stories and poems.)

This blog is on their short list of recommended resources, along with Oyate.