Friday, July 03, 2009

Tanya Landman and Can't-be-relied-on reviews

Last year I read a book filled with errors and bias. I wrote about it here and posted Beverly Slapin's review, and did a follow-up a week later. Now, colleagues tell me that Tanya Landman, author of that book (Apache: Girl Warrior), has another book coming out in the U.S.

She's a Brit, doing research from afar. On her website, Landman talks about emotionally laden words and biased presentation of information and history, so it would seem she'd write a book that did not repeat that problem. Yet, repeat the problem is precisely what she did in Apache: Girl Warrior. And, US review journals gave Apache: Girl Warrior favorable reviews.

Francisca Goldsmith of Booklist said: "With an eloquent voice and dignified pace, Landman creates a credible and artistic story with excellent characterization and engaging psychological and sociopolitical questions."

The reviewer at Kirkus said "The lively narrative is peppered with actions scenes, all loosely based on historical events...", and, "Constantly engrossing, this offering will engage young readers in a way no textbook can."

The review in The Horn Book Guide said "Though its historical and cultural accuracy are suspect, the story itself is compelling." Their recommendation: Recommended, with minor flaws.

Claire Rosser of KLIATT said "Reading this story, we learn a lot more about the Apache struggle for survival as their lands are threatened by Mexicans and then by white settlers." She recommends it, too.

Harolyn Legg of Library Media Connection said "This story is based on a book about Geronimo that the author read. Landman gives the reader a sense of the love or the land that Native Americans have and how they had to fight to keep their lands fro being spoiled."

The only reviewer that got it right is Jenny Ingram at VOYA. I am just now reading all these reviews, and was surprised to read her words, and, that she pointed readers to Oyate and to American Indians in Children's Literature. Thanks, Jenny! In VOYA, the book was tagged as "Hard to understand how it got published." Jenny wrote: "The narration by Siki is awkward and unnatural, written as if the British author drew upon American Indian movies to write her book. In her afterword, Landman writes that she made no attempt to create an accurate historical novel, yet a bibliography follows, which will mislead readers about the credibility of the book."

Having read Apache: Girl Warrior, and now, reading the reviews of it, I think it is clear that the reviewers, with the exception of Jenny Ingram, are writing reviews based on their memories--to use Jenny's words--of American Indian movies. She means, I think, all those westerns where bad Indians slaughter innocent pioneer families or tragic Indians lament their losses. It was and is all bogus, and it is disappointing that the reviews of Landman's book are good. They should not be.

On American Indians in Children's Literature, I'm going to start naming names. Maybe that will give them pause next time they're going to review a book about American Indians. That might seem mean, but I'm far more invested in the children that will be "learning" from books reviewers recommend.

Having said all that, those "bad Indians" and those "good Indians" and most "Indians" most Americans watched in movies or read in books, they were not (and are not) Indians at all. They're fictions created by people who have no idea what they are talking about. And all of us who consume their imagery are ill-served by their fictions.

HOW IS LITERATURE GOING TO GET BETTER if reviews and review journals continue to recommend books like I am Apache?

Thursday, July 02, 2009


Over on the child_lit listserv, a subscriber posted a link to an online article in The Weekly Standard. Titled "Picture Perfect," the article is about an exhibit of the Little Golden Books. Here's the excerpt that caught my eye:

"The great Leonard Weisgard--who painted covers for the New Yorker before he was 20 and whose half-century career ranged far and wide--illustrated another Margaret Wise Brown classic, Pussy Willow, for Little Golden Books. Even more arresting than his painting of the soft grey kitten peering up between grasses and wild strawberries at a grasshopper in flight is his picture for Indian, Indian: a black-haired, clay-colored little boy encountering a recumbent white horse with flowing mane, full of power and grace, in a field of daisies.

It is surprising how undated these pictures are. A few images and titles are politically incorrect by present standards. Doctor Dan the Bandage Man's counterpart is, I'm afraid, Nurse Nancy. And the traditional family ideal implicit in We Help Mommy, We Help Daddy, and The Happy Family--whose cover shows a girl in a dress picking flowers from a flower bed and a boy pushing a hand mower across the surrounding lawn--has taken a beating in the decades since these books appeared."

Did you notice what Anderson found arresting? Undated? Does she not know about stereotyping of American Indians? Is that why she didn't include Indian, Indian in the second paragraph? For your reference, you can see the photo she found so arresting here.

There's a lot of "Indians" in the Little Golden Books... Here's some titles:

Rin Tin Tin and the Lost Indian
Brave Eagle
Roy Rogers and the Indian Sign
I'm an Indian Today

I've got to get all these books and scan the images...

UPDATE, 3:32, 7/2/2009
The books I listed above are old. To my knowledge they are no longer in print. You can still get them through used bookstores. LITTLE GOLDEN BOOKS does, however, continue to publish Indian imagery in its books. One example is their Peter Pan book, which is based on Disney's film. Click here to see images from that book, and click here to see my post about I'm an Indian Today (published in 1961).


Betsy McEntarffer, a regular reader of American Indians in Children's Literature submitted a comment to my post about Hank the Cowdog. I'm post her comment here today. She wrote:

I read Hank the Cowdog several years ago when I was a paraeducator at an Elementary School. I tried to convince teachers and the librarian that the coyote images (believe me when I say the visual images are as bad or worse than the verbal ones)would make readers think of American Indians and were terribly derogatory and insulting. Needless to say I was pretty thoroughly ignored - and the series is a best seller! My granddaughter now is reading the series so I talked with her about the coyote images and she said, "I know they're just made up coyotes, Grandma, Indians are totally different." I hope she truly does understand. Thank you for persevering in the face of continual publisher and author insensitivity. Some of us are listening.

I read her words just after reading about a study in brain research that found people 'feel the pain' of people like them more readily than they 'feel the pain' of people who are not like them. You can read about the study in Science Daily. Obviously, Betsy's colleagues were unable to feel the pain of Native children who would see the coyotes as derogatory. Read the study, "Less Empathy Toward Outsiders."

How can we use the study? Is it possible we can say to people who are unmoved by our words "Hey, it isn't your fault, it is your brain's fault. You're hard wired not to care. But it doesn't have to be that way. Take command. Override what your brain is telling you."

I'm glad that Betsy's granddaughter understands that Indians aren't like the coyotes, but WHY is that conversation even necessary? Do we have that conversation about other groups? Any groups? Do you hand your child/student a book and say 'oh, and that part about X group, ignore it. It isn't accurate." How much does that happen?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

American Indian Art

Off topic, maybe, a little bit...

Occasionally, people write to me, asking where (online) they can get Native art. A few days ago, I learned about a website called Native Art Network. Through Native Art Network, you can be confident that the art you buy is made by a Native artist.

For the time being, the link to Native Art Network will be on my site, just below the Native Youth Lit widget that cycles through books I recommend. See my note above that widget? It says "Deb says... If you have a choice, buy from Oyate!" I encourage you to buy books from Oyate because money spent there supports Native people. Same with Native Art Network. Money spent there supports Native people. You can go there from this post, too, by clicking on the banner below:

Native American Art, Artists, Art Shows, Culture, History

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Jeff Berglund's response to "Desecrations and Desires: White Male Fantasy in Will Hobbs' BEARSTONE

Jeff Berglund, a friend and colleague at Northern Arizona University, wrote this essay in response to Jane Haladay’s essay, “Desecrations and Desires: White Male Fantasy in Will Hobbs’ Bearstone.” Jeff is an Associate Professor in the Department of English.


Jeff Berglund's Response to Jane Haladay’s essay, “Desecrations and Desires: White Male Fantasy in Will Hobbs’ Bearstone"

I bring in young adult novels in all of my Native literature courses, particularly because many of my students are English Education majors, but also because it recalls for students so many of the previous renderings of Native peoples and cultures in books they read in junior high and high school, books like Bearstone, Touching Spirit Bear, Sign of the Beaver, Sing Down the Moon, and so forth.

Thanks, Jane, for doing (and recording) the real-world sort of work many of us are called to in our local communities. What I like about Jane's work is that it provides a model to all of us of how we might engage in these debates *and* set the terms of our participation.

So many teachers have basic questions and limited time and resources for doing ground-up investigations on their own. I ask my college students to consider donating copies of Birchbark House and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian so I can donate, on their behalf, reading sets (5-7 books) to schools. In paperback, these books are between $7-10 and give back barely $1-2 in sellback at the bookstore, so many students are willing to donate these.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of guest-lecturing in Jennifer Denetdale's graduate course at Dine College for Dine' educators. In the group of 15 students, all of whom are practicing teachers, not one, as a child, had read a book about the Navajo Long Walk. Two had seen the recent books by Dine' writers, but all were eager to find more. That's not surprising. What is surprising is that everyone had lots of basic questions: how do we figure out what books are the best quality? How can we trust authors to tell us the truth? Of course, Jennifer and I referred them to Debbie's blog, to Oyate, and we then proceeded to look at a number of books with evaluative criteria, such as those listed below in order to remind everyone that we all have to engage in the evaluative/comparative process of critical reading:

Questions to Consider When Purchasing New Books:
  1. Does the author have a connection to Native peoples, communities, or is the author a member of a tribal culture? What stake does the writer have in the lives of indigenous children?
  2. When was this book written? Does the author reflect his or her own time period and contemporary thinking about cultural and ethnic diversity?
  3. Whose story is being told? Do the centering principles of the story reflect the diversity and complexity of this culture and honor this culture’s principles as a means of understanding history or traditions?
  4. Are Native people represented as fully human—full of joy, wonder, wisdom, beauty, sorrow, pain, pleasure? Or, are they rendered as anthropological subjects, distanced from the contemporary world or assumed to be separate from all implied readers?
  5. If different viewpoints could be represented, do the authors or illustrators make efforts to include these different ideas?
  6. If stories are retellings of traditional narratives, is there information about how the author has come to the source information or come into a position to represent such information?
These are starting points that lead to pretty involved discussions.

[Note from Debbie: See my review of Jennifer Denetdale's nonfiction book on the Long Walk.]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond

My colleague, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, hosts a radio program called Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond. She interviewed me for the show that was broadcast on Wednesday, June 24th, 2009. The segment is "For the Seventh Generation: American Indians, Youth, and Education."

In the second half of that episode, Loren Spears, a Narragansett woman, is the guest. She is the Founder and Executive Director of the Nuweetooun School in Rhode Island. Nuweetoon is a Native school, and its curriculum is Native-centered.

Thanks, Keuhaulani, for inviting me to visit with your listeners, and thanks, too, for opening the segment with the Turtle Dance song.

In the interview, I say much of what readers will find here on my site. I want readers to listen to what Loren Spears has to say about a memory from 5th grade, and, especially, the experiences that her children have had in school...

Book trailer: ENCOUNTER by Jane Yolen

In recent years, book trailers are taking off. They are like book talks teachers and librarians do when they're pitching a book to readers, but because book trailers are videos, they can incorporate music and imagery.

But just like book talks, if the person giving the talk does not have a critical eye with respect to the way that American Indians are portrayed, the product (book talk or book trailer) will be flawed and will contribute to the misinformation and misperceptions children--and adults--have about American Indians.

Case in point is the book trailer for Jane Yolen's book, Encounter. The on-screen text that is superimposed on the book pages says "Today the Tainos are all gone." As an American Indian mother, I wonder how Taino parents would react to that line? As a professor in American Indian Studies, and a former schoolteacher with a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction, I do not recommend Yolen's book.

Jean Mendoza wrote an excellent essay about Encounter. Her essay is in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. If you don't have it, order A Broken Flute from Oyate.

Are you, perhaps, surprised that I object to that line ("Today the Tainos are all gone")? History and American society have told you that Native people are all gone. So, don't feel bad that you don't know that the Tainos are still here. The widespread idea that the Tainos were wiped out can change, if you take some time to learn a little bit about them.

Among the Taino people whose work I read and follow is Jose Barreiro. He is Assistant Director for Research at the National Museum of the American Indian. He helped get the American Indian Program launched at Cornell University and has written several books.

He recently gave a lecture titled "A Call to Consciousness on Climate Change." Watch his lecture (below), and then give some thought to whether or not---or how---you will use Yolen's book.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New book by Joy Harjo, author of THE GOOD LUCK CAT

Watching the mail, waiting for my review copy of Joy Harjo's new picture book, For A Girl Becoming. Published by the University of Arizona Press, it is due out in October.

On her blog is a poem with that title. To read an excerpt, go to For A Girl Becoming and click on "Read Excerpt" just beneath the image of the cover. The illustrations are by Mercedes McDonald.

Harjo is Mvskoke/Creek. Her new book is in the Sun Tracks series. Take a look at the books in the series, and order one of each for your library. I've recommended several, like Luci Tapahonso's Blue Horses Rush In, Nora Naranjo Morse's Mud Women: Poems from the Clay, Hershman R. John's I Swallow Turquoise for Courage, and Ofelia Zepeda's Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert.

The University of Arizona Press also published Simon Ortiz's outstanding book, The Good Rainbow Road, illustrated by Michael Lacapa.

Monday, June 22, 2009

William O. Steele's THE BUFFALO KNIFE

A reader wrote to ask about William O. Steele's The Buffalo Knife. I have not read the book and prior to her letter, did not know anything about it. I've spent some time looking into it, though, and am sharing my thoughts here.

The book was first published in the 1952. In 1990 it was reissued with an introduction by Jean Fritz. It is an "Odyssey/Harcourt Young Classic." Another one (Flaming Arrows) with that designation was published later (in 1957). In Flaming Arrows, the protagonist and his family, according to the "Product Description" on Amazon, have to take "refuge from vicious Chickamauga raiding parties." Judy Crowder's review in the Children's Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD) references Fritz's note. Crowder writes:

Jean Fritz, in the 1990 forward, explains that when the author--very much a historian--wrote such words as "redskins" or "savages" he was reflecting the language and attitudes of the times, which Steel found as objectionable as modern readers might. However, more subtle mindsets of the mid-twentieth century may rattle the sensibilities of today's young reader. First, the settlers' shooting the raiders as if they were deadly pests instead of human beings is unsettling. Chad himself yearns to "shoot me an Injun," and when he does, his only reaction is that of a job well done and he is disappointed when he is not praised for it. The pioneers also act as if the forests and wild animals were only there to be exploited--again, probably true to the times, but bothersome none the less. Parents and teachers should stand ready to do some careful debriefing when their children/students read this adventure.

Contrast what she said with Frank Quinby's remarks about Fritz's note in his review of The Buffalo Knife. His review is also in the Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. He wrote:

"A useful introduction by Jean Fritz includes an explanation of Steele's use of such terms as "redskins" and "savages" as being reflective of the language of the time period and as such not offensive."

The Horn Book Guide gave both books its "Superior, well above average" rating.

As I studied the entries in CLCD, I saw that the "Subject" field includes "Prejudices Fiction". That subject is not listed for either book in the Library of Congress record for either book. I'll have to look into that later. For now, I want to return to Jean Fritz's note.

According to Crowder and Quinby, her note says that Steele's book reflects language and attitudes of the time period. I wonder which time period Fritz means. Is she talking about 1782, the setting for The Buffalo Knife? Or is she talking about 1952, when the book was published?

And of course, who is Fritz talking about? Who used that language? And, who had those attitudes?

In my experience, that response "that's what they thought back then" is quickly offered whenever someone questions the bias and racism embodied in that language and attitude in children's and young adult literature. My friend and colleague, Jean Mendoza, says it well when she says that surely the Indian people of that time did not use that language about each other, nor did they harbor those attitudes.

I've said that perhaps those who used that language and held such attitudes were like people on Fox News. Many of us have said that not all the white people held those attitudes either. Just some. Not all.

Several years ago, I was at the Bienecke Rare Books Library at Yale, reading some old papers housed there. I read the diary of a soldier, dated 1759-1762. In several places, he refers to Indians they fought, but he didn't say "savage/savages" and he didn't use words like "bloodthirsty." Just the words "Indian" or "Indians." I also read through a document that was a dialogue between several missionaries. Dated in 1795, it is an account of their work with "the Delawares, the 6 Nations, the Mahikands, and some smaller tribes." For the most part, the missionaries used the word Indians. There were a few uses of "heathen" but not many.

On my desk is Volume I of Documents of American Indian Diplomacy: Treaties, Agreements, and Conventions, 1775-1979 by Vine Deloria, Jr., and Raymond J. DeMallie. Chapter 1 is "Pre-Revolutionary War Treaty Making." With clear (jargon free) language, it provides context and information about treaties. In the book, Deloria and DeMallie provide context and documents (speeches and records of negotiations) that are not generally included with printings of the treaties. I pulled the book off my shelf to read some of the documents of the 1700s (time period for The Buffalo Knife), looking to see if, in these documents, I'd find the words "redskins" or "savages."

In chapter one, Deloria and DeMallie begin with the Delaware treaty of 1778.

There was to be a meeting on September 12th, but the Indian representatives of the Six Nations, Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnees, and Ottawas had not yet arrived. The American commissioners sent two people to meet with the Indians, urging them to come to the meeting. The two messengers delivered a message to the Indians. Those American commissioners addressed the Indians as "our Brothers to the Westward."

On October 6th, the Indian delegates arrived for the meeting. In a speech, they were told about the war between the colonists and England. In that speech, delivered by John Walker of Virginia, Walker starts with "Brothers you have no doubt heard of the dispute..." He went on to ask the tribes to remain neutral, and to let the colonists know if/when they learned that other nearby tribes were going to attack the colonists. He asked them, specifically, to stay home with their "Women and Children." He said women and children, not squaws and papooses.

In the next section "Revolutionary War and Articles of Confederation Treaties," Deloria and DeMallie include several speeches. In some of the speeches, the colonist delivering the speech addressed the Indians as "Bretheren, Chiefs ans Warriors of the several Nations here present." The speeches referred to each other's people as people. On July 4, 1775, Major John Connolly refers to past fighting that resulted in death on both sides as "the rash conduct of foolish people instigated by the spirit."

As I continue my research into language use of any given time period, Deloria and DeMallie's book will prove quite useful. I will also look for other documents, perhaps diaries.

What I find interesting is that in the three distinct sets of documents that I have looked at thus far, soldiers, missionaries, and diplomats do not use the sort of language that is commonly seen in historical fiction. At the very least, this is evidence that not all people used that language.

Other notes:

In 1657, John Amos Comenius, writing in Orbis Pictus, used the word Indian.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists the first use of "redskin" as 1699, by S. Smith. His writing is quoted in Helen Evertson Smith's Colonial Days & Ways as Gathered from Family Papers. Published in 1900, you can see it in Google Books. Here's the quote:

Ye firste Meetinge House was solid mayde to withstande ye wicked onslauts of ye Red Skins. Its Foundations was laide in ye feare of ye Lord, but its Walls was truly laide in ye feare of ye Indians, for many & grate was ye Terrors of em. I do mind me y't alle ye able-bodyed Men did work thereat, & ye olde & feeble did watch in turns to espie if any Salvages was in hiding neare & every Man keept his Musket nighe to his hande. I do not myself remember any of ye Attacks mayde by large bodeys of Indians whilst we did remayne in Weathersfield, but did ofttimes hear of em. Several Families wch did live back a ways from ye River was either Murderdt or Captivated in my Boyood & we all did live in constant feare of ye like. My Father ever declardt there were not be so much to feare iff ye Red Skins were treated wich suche mixture of Justice & Authority as they cld understand, but if he was living now he must see that wee can do naught but fight em & that right heavily.

Notice that Smith used three different terms: "Red Skins," "Salvages," and, "Indians."


As I worked on this blog post, a librarian sent me a scan of Fritz's introduction to The Buffalo Knife. Here's the last two paragraphs:

William Steele pilots a plot as deftly as he does a flatboat. And as swiftly. When you are through with these adventures, you will want to turn around and start over so you can take your time and enjoy the scenery.

Mr. Steele not only writes a good story, he writes good history that accurately reflects the feelings, the worries, the dangers of the times. And the language. When he refers to Native Americans as "redskins" or "savages," the reader understands that he finds these terms as objectionable as we do; he is simply recording what his characters would really have said. Only a skilled writer can tell a story that is true to its times and wind up with a truth that speaks to all times.

What does Fritz mean? I think she assumes that readers will notice the terms and object to them, but I wonder if that happens? Evan, who I gather is a teen reader, did not mention it in his review. None of the customer reviews on Amazon mention it. It isn't addressed in Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children's Literature, published in 2002, or in The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling: Year 2001, or in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education.

Do you teach this book? Have you read it? What do you think?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Patricia Wrede's thinking as she wrote THE THIRTEENTH CHILD

For some time now, I've wondered about the correspondence that takes place between a writer and his/her editor when the author's manuscript has Native content. It could be a main character, or a minor one. It could be setting, or, the story could reference Native history or culture. I cast a broad net. I want to know what they say about that content, if they say anything at all, if there's a pause about it or not. With the Internet, there are opportunties to access a writer's thinking.

Today's post is a look at Patricia Wrede's thoughts as she wrote The Thirteenth Child. Below are excerpts from rec.arts.sf.composition, a Google group about "the writing and publishing of speculative fiction."

The thread from which I'm excerpting the passages is called "Renaming Europe." It was started by Wrede. On rec.arts.sf.composition, Wrede's words are not in italics. I'm presenting them in italics here in order to distinguish them from my words.

Feb. 3, 2006, 10:09 PM
I'm currently in the middle of developing some alternate-history background, for a book set in a very alternate mid-1800s U.S.-equivalent-with-magic, and I find myself wanting very much to have plausible alternative names for "Europe," England/Britain," "France," "Holland/The Netherlands," "Spain," and possibly a few other major European countries, preferrably ones that haven't been over-used already (like "Albion" for England), but at least some of which are more-or-less recognizeable (like "Albion" and "Gaul" and "Hispania"). I don't have enough linguistic or historical background to get away from the really obvious myself, so...suggestions? Brian, Zeborah, anybody?

Someone asked her "is there also an important historical difference, like alternative origins of the first European settlers?" To this, she said:

Feb 3, 2006, 11:36 PM
The current plan is to have the primary difference before 1492 be that the various pre-historic attempts to colonize the Americas were unsuccessful; thus, no Mayans, Incas, Aztecs, Mississippi Valley civilization, or Native Americans of any sort. Up to that point, I expect differences in Europe, Africa, and Asia will be due mainly to this world having magic, and I expect to wiggle things so that things are moderately close to Real Life history. The absence of an indiginous population in the Americas is obviously going to have a significant impact on the way things develop during the exploration and colonization period, and I'm still feeling my way through how I'm going to finagle that to get to where I want.

Which is, basically: A North America in which the threat of Indians was replaced by the threat of un-extinct megafauna, both magical and non-magical in nature (mammoths, wooly rhinocerouses, terror birds, dire wolves, dragons [what else would prey on mammoths and wooly rhinos?]). The U.S. was settled and had a successful revolution and a civil war, but the westward expansion has been slower and stalled for a while at the Mississippi for various reasons. Nobody has yet mapped all the way to the Pacific (I'm thinking of making California an island, the way it was depicted on early maps, but I haven't decided yet); the Lewis and White expedition never came back (no Sacajawea, plus did I mention that the Rockies are a favorite nesting ground for dragons?) East of the Mississippi, the megafauna have mostly been cleared out, especially in settled areas, though the backwoods parts of the country are still pretty dangerous. (Suggestions for place names that can substitute for Indian-language-origin names like Ohio, Chicago, Mississippi, Michigan, etc. are also welcome...)

I know the "feel" I'm after; now I need to work out some plausible backstory
to get me there.

Did you catch that? She said, "A North America in which the threat of Indians was replaced by the threat of un-extinct megafauna." And see what she said in parens? She wanted suggestions for words like Chicago, which are Native words.

Feb 4, 2006, 9:14 AM
The trick, I'm finding, is coming up with names that are sufficiently different, but that don't cause a sort of cognitive dissonance when combined in the same story with names that *would*, very likely, be the same, like Washington and Virginia and Carolina. Of course, I can change those, too, but then I really start to lose the feel I want. It's a delicate balancing act.

Selective erasure! What "feel" is she after?! In the ensuing discussion, someone said "If you nudge history just a little bit in the right place, you'd still have an Angevin Empire." To this, she said:

Feb 4, 2006, 2:38 PM
I don't want to nudge European history until 1492. It's going to be enough trouble to figure out four centuries of alternate history; backing up *another* 500 years or so is more than I really want to do.

Hmmm.... note the use of word "trouble" --- what does that mean? She's willing to mess with our history, but not hers. There was discussion about food, like corn, potatoes, beans... Some angst expressed over not being able to have chocolate, because it was developed by indigenous people. Without indigenous people, no chocolate. As I read through the thread, participants (fellow writers?) in rec.arts.sf.composition were quite engaged with her premise, fleshing it out. So far, nobody saying 'HEY.' As the group talked about names for European countries, someone asked if she wanted the names anglicised, and, asked about the language she would use. She replied:

Feb 5, 2006, 10:32 AM
English, so yes, pretty much anglicised. The *plan* is for it to be a "settling the frontier" book, only without Indians (because I really hate both the older Indians-as-savages viewpoint that was common in that sort of book, *and* the modern Indians-as-gentle-ecologists viewpoint that seems to be so popular lately, and this seems the best way of eliminating the problem, plus it'll let me play with all sorts of cool megafauna). I'm not looking for wildly divergent history, because if it goes too far afield I won't get the right feel. Not that it'll be all that similar anyway; no writing plan survives contact with the characters, and it's already starting to morph.

I don't have to change *all* the European names, but I really, really, really want an alternative to "England." There are already too many people who want to force the Mairelon books and the Kate and Cecy books and even Caroline's "College of Magics" books to be in the same universe, and I'm *not* going to make it easy for them to stick this book in the same pile.

In that passage, she gives us evidence that she knows about problems with the ways that American Indians are presented. Rather than "trouble" (a word she used earlier in the discussion) herself with working through this, she decided to "eliminate" Indians. She's leery of where people will "stick" her book, but it is not Native readers she's worried about.

Early on, someone asked her about the Aleuts and Eskimos, and then someone said that they'd seen a "programme" (must be a Brit) that traced the Clovis people to France or northern Spain. That individual then said "Skin boats, Inuit technology, they would find the Atlantic no problem. Stone Age people were pretty impressive." To this, Wrede replied:

Feb 5, 2006, 10:44 AM
That's why I abandoned my original idea, which was just to have had no land bridge. There are too many other possible settlement routes for that to account for *no* human presence in the Americas prior to 1492. The current plan is to beef up the nastiness of some of the megafauna, to the point where all previous colonization attempts up to and including the Viking "Vinland" settlement failed because they got trampled or eaten or something. (From my research so far, this won't be all that tough to do...) By 1492+, the combination of magic and technology (i.e., guns) is good enough that people can make headway, though it's still not exactly easy. I may slow down technological development just a tad, on the grounds of that being a side-effect of having magic to do certain things (though I think I could just as easily use that as a justification for speeding up technological advances, if I wanted to. But for this story, I don't want to).

Then, again on the name for England, someone suggested "Angleterre", which is a French word for England, and, the individual said "...using the French name for England would be... _not very British!_ Wrede replied:

Feb 5, 2006, 11:00 AM
Well, yeah, there's that... And I *don't* want to have to change history very much just to get a name.

I take that to mean that she doesn't want to raise the ire of her Brit readers. There was some discussion about calling the Louisiana territory "New Egypt", and an "Alas, there wont [sic] be any Natchez nor mounds to really base an Egypt comparison on." and then, "...assuming that the Euro settlers still import african [sic] slaves, then I can imagine some explicitly Exodus-from-Egypt related gospel lyrics." Wrede's response to that is:

Feb 5, 2006, 11:15 AM
I'm currently assuming there will be African slaves, possibly even more (since there won't be any Native Americans to have already done a certain amount of prepping land for human occupation, nor to be exploited later). I'm speculating that South America (which is outside the scope of the story I'm doing, and therefore wide open for changes) will look *very* different. The Spanish seem to have been initially motivated by all the gold they swiped from the Aztecs; I'm not sure they'd have been as forward about claiming territory and establishing colonies without that. Which means there's room for all sorts of other nations (including maybe some that weren't quite so into seafaring, like the Ottoman Empire) to have New World colonies, which is in turn going to change things back home in Europe...

At this point in her thinking, she needs more African slaves to do the work that Indians had done, and, she needs them to exploit later since the people she's imagining will need to exploit SOMEONE. Someone of color, that is...

Somewhere along the thread, Wrede said that sea serpents make crossing the Pacific difficult for her Europeans, and someone suggested that those same sea serpents could be used to explain why Indians didn't get there via the land bridge. Wrede replies:

Feb 5, 2006, 2:14 pm
I definitely have to do something about migrations, but since they come from both directions (trans-Pacific *and* trans-Atlantic), I think I need to kill them off after they arrive. Unless I want to make Columbus' voyage (and subsequent Atlantic crossings) a whole lot more dangerous than they were, which would interfere *too* much with post-1492 colonization.

She will kill off her sea serpents so they don't interfere with Columbus...

Later, someone suggests having the Indians killed off by disease or parasite. Wrede replies:

Feb. 9, 2006, 4:00 PM
I'm not fond of the disease-or-parasite solution; it raises too many other questions (like why it didn't spread the *other* way across the Bering Straights and depopulate Asia and eventually Africa and Europe -- we're talking around 20,000 years here, remember). Being eaten on arrival is a nice, effective, tidy solution without much in the way of additional complications.

She rejects that suggestion because she wants to be effective and tidy, without complications, and revisits the sea creature possibility, saying:

Feb 9, 2006, 4:00 PM
What I really need, though, is a coastal-water predator, or possibly two, with limited range. One that sticks to cold water, to patrol the Alaska coastline and maybe part of the northern Russian coast, but that won't go far enough south to mess up the development of Japan and the Pacific Islanders; one that sticks to warmer waters, to patrol from about Vancouver down to South America without going around the tip and spreading into the Atlantic. At the least, I want *something* nasty in the California Channel.

A few hours later, she writes:

Feb 9, 2006, 10:08 PM
Of course, the Gold Rush is going to be considerably later and more dangerous in this world...

More dangerous? She must not know much about it and the lives of California's indigenous people during the mad rush of the rush.

From there, the group talked about research sources, discussing merits of Wikipedia, and sharing a lot of information and resources. The thread ended soon after that. Her book came out in the spring of 2009.

Reading through rec.arts.sf.composition, it is clear that Wrede is helpful to others there, participating in discussions, answering questions. It looks to me like a supportive space for writers to work through ideas. All of that is a plus for Wrede. She's a well-established writer helping other writers, and that is terrific.

Given her influence and standing, I wonder how much impact she'd have on the field if she reflected, publicly, on the controversy over her novel? I think there's a lot to learn from it. Learning that could shift the field forward in the United States and elsewhere, too. Her books are translated and sold around the world (an example from her website..." DEALING WITH DRAGONS, first volume in the Chronicles of the Enchanted Forest, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, September, 1990. Children's hardcover. Mass Market
paperback from Scholastic Books, July, 1992. Danish trade paperback edition, DRAGEPRINSESSEN, Gyldendal, 1991. British mass market paperback, DRAGONSBANE, from Scholastic publications, 1993. Swedish hardcover edition PRINSESSA SOKER DRAKE, Raben & Sjogren, 1995. Russian edition, 1996. Finnish edition, ICBS, 2001. French, CENDORINE ET LES DRAGONS, Beyard Jeunesse, 2004. Korean, Daekyo Publishing, 2004. Indonesian, Kaifa for Teens, 2004. Thai, Tuttle-Mori, 2004.
Russian, Azbuka, 2004."

See that? Impressive! There is obviously a huge market for her books. She could really make a difference...

(Note: At the top of this post is a hyperlink to the Google group discussion. I invite you to read the entire discussion. Words are always open to interpretation.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Heated debate is taking place over Patricia Wrede's book, The Thirteenth Child. Many people defend her decision to write a "settling the frontier book, only without Indians" story while others, me included, think it was thoughtless or lazy or... you fill in the blank.

In the midst of that heated debate, yesterday's mail included Jennifer Denetdale's The Long Walk: The Forced Navajo Exile, a nonfiction volume aimed at high school students. It is one of the books in Chelsea House's "Landmark Events in Native American History" set.

Here's the opening lines from Denetdale's first chapter, "Who are the Dine?" (Note: The letter e in Dine should have an accent mark over it, but I can't do it in Blogger.)

It is one of those hot summer days when the gathering clouds promise rain but are still too far away to tell if rain will fall. In Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation, Dine Tribal Council delegates dressed in a combination of Western and Navajo style clothing begin to fill the chambers for the summer legislative session. (Dine means the People and is the word Navajos call themselves.)

That's a terrific opening for this book! Denetdale's first sentence embraces the reader's senses, inviting that reader to be with her, in that space, as she tells him or her about the Dine and the Long Walk. There are five chapters, followed by a Chronology, Timeline, Notes, Bibliography, and, Further Reading. The latter are all standard items in a work of non-fiction, but what distinguishes Denetdale's book is that the history and life of the Dine is given by someone who knows, on multiple levels, what she's talking about. Denetdale is Dine. And, she's a historian on the faculty at Northern Arizona University. As such, she brings a lived experience and a scholarly perspective to this book. Quoting again from her first chapter:

In the twenty-first century, it might appear that the Dine are no different than other modern Americans who drive to work in their cars, shop at malls for the latest fashions, grab a quick lunch with co-workers at a local fast food restaurant, or, after work, change into Nike sportswear and go for a jog. On the other hand, Navajos struggle with high rates of poverty and unemployment, with all of its accompanying ills such as disease, domestic violence, and homicides. In many ways, the Dine have become accustomed to American culture, for they are just as proud as others to be Americans. Nevertheless, Navajos remain mindful of how their ancestors have left them a powerful legacy, a determination to remain a sovereign people who have land, a still vital language, and a strong cultural identity.

From there, Denetdale talks about Dine origin stories, and, she tells us that these stories differ from theories of non-Navajo archaeologists and anthropologists. She describes Dine contact with the Spanish, and then with the Americans as she talks about manifest destiny and Navajo resistance. She devotes two chapters to the Long Walk, and the Dine's return to their homelands, and finishes with Chapter 5, "Remembering the Long Walk and Hweeldi." Facing the page on which chapter 5 begins is a photograph of an absolutely stunning rug that depicts the Long Walk. In that chapter, Denetdale brings the reader right up to the present day. There is, for example, a photograph of Dine singers (Verdell Primeaux and Johnny Mike) who won a Grammy in 2002 for the best Native American Music Album.

Her final words in the book are the ones with which I'll end this review. Order The Long Walk. It belongs in every school library, and every public library, too. And, listen to her radio interview on "Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond" about her book, Reclaiming Diné History: The Legacies of Navajo Chief Manuelito and Juanita, and order it, too. Reading The Long Walk gave my day a decidedly different trajectory yesterday, effectively countering the story that Wrede's book tells. Thanks, Jennifer!

The Navajo people have not allowed non-Navajo interpretations of this important event in their history to be controlled by non-Navajos. They have taken initiatives to ensure that Americans do not forget the unjust treatment of native peoples; however, at the same time, they are determined to rise above the nightmare of the past that continues to haunt them and reclaim the vitality of their cultural inheritance. The stories of the Long Walk and Hweeldi and what happened to their people has made the Navajos determined to create a better world for the coming generations.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Among America's exports....

Among America's exports is stereotypical imagery of American Indians. Take, for example, O. Henry's short story, "The Ransom of Red Chief." I wrote about it a few months ago, and, came across it today on the Voice of America (VOA) website.

VOA's purpose? From the website:

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts approximately 1,500 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of 138 million people.

"Voice" - singular. Maybe that's the problem! The page the story is on is designed specifically to help people learn English. Here's an except from the story. You can read the entire thing, or, listen to it read aloud.

That boy put up a fight like a wild animal. But, at last, we got him down in the bottom of the carriage and drove away.

We took him up to the cave. The boy had two large bird feathers stuck in his hair. He points a stick at me and says:

"Ha! Paleface, do you dare to enter the camp of Red Chief, the terror of the plains?"

"He's all right now," says Bill, rolling up his pants and examining wounds on his legs. "We're playing Indian. I'm Old Hank, the trapper, Red Chief's captive. I'm going to be scalped at daybreak. By Geronimo! That kid can kick hard."

Along with learning English, readers/listeners at VOA "learn" a lot about... About... About what O. Henry thought about American Indians. Or playing Indian. Readers/listeners certainly don't learn anything at all about American Indians, but I wonder if they know that?!

Anyway, I am pasting below comments to the story. If you want to see the page they appear, and maybe those that appear later, click here...


I love this story! Thank you, VOA!
Submitted by: Doll (Vietnam)
06-17-2009 - 03:47:03

2. comment

Thank you for letting us audio-read American short stories. However, I found this one a least imaginative and surprisingly unworthy of the name of the author of "The gift of the Magi" and famed VOA. I know there are far many rich American short stories than VOA has to start digging the trash field.
Submitted by: Kazuhiro Nagamitz (Japan)
06-16-2009 - 01:25:49

3. Very funny story

Such a funny story! I expect VOA will give us more stories like this one!
Submitted by: Hai (Vietnam)
06-15-2009 - 14:14:06

4. comment

Thank you for the funny story.I read this story when I was a smal girl/ thank you for good impressions Sv
Submitted by: svetlana (Israel)
06-14-2009 - 12:44:20

5. the ransom of red chief

i think everyone should read this story specially the leaders . this is my first sent to you and i belief that voa is the best
Submitted by: ragab (tripoli libya)
06-14-2009 - 12:33:24

6. A humorous story

Thank you for bringing the good story. But it took me for reading several times to understand the story completely. When I was a senior high school student about 40 years ago. we learned "The gift of the Magi" in the English class. I still remember the story well. We have always something to learn from his short stories. Thank you again for your good service.
Submitted by: H.Mori (Japan)
06-13-2009 - 21:44:50

7. Sunshine after rain

A rollicking and hilarious story which develops in a totally unexpected way. It somehow reminds me of Laurel & Hardy immortal movies. We listeners needed it, after the masterly but heart-rending story by B. Harte told last saturday. And many thanks to Mr. 'O Neal for his superb reading. The clearness and elegance of his pronunciation are astonishing.
Submitted by: gian paolo nardoianni (Italy)
06-13-2009 - 16:51:55

8. english

I want to improve my English.
Submitted by: eh ku (myanmar)
06-13-2009 - 15:09:37

9. The funny story I have ever heard.

I really feel sorry for Bill. He thought kidnapping is easy work to do. First he kidnaps the boy to get some money than he want just to return the boy and he will pay for that. Finally I would like to thank every one especially O, Henry I felt as a true story thank you.
Submitted by: khalid (Iraq)
06-13-2009 - 12:46:49

Hank the Cowdog

Earlier today I had an email from a woman, asking if I'd read the series, Hank the Cowdog. I have not, so checked into it a little.... Here's what I found:

Hank is a ranch dog in charge of security on the ranch. From

Coyotes are the bad guys: Rip, Snort, and -- most feared of all -- Scraunch. They like the freedom of roaming the canyons and forests. Coyotes are an ever present danger to the ranch; and yet, for Hank, there's an irresistible fascination with their devil-may-care lifestyle. In fact, one day, Hank decided to see how life was on the other side of the septic tank:

"About a week after I joined the tribe, I made friends with two brothers named Rip and Snort. They were what you'd call typical good-old-boy coyotes: filthy, smelled awful, not real smart, loved to fight and have a good time, and had no more ambition than a couple of fence posts. If Rip and Snort took a shine to you, you had two of the best friends in the world. If they didn't happen to like your looks or your attitude, you were in a world of trouble. I got along with them."

From Wikipedia and elsewhere, I read that the characters in the series include...

Missy Coyote, a coyote princess. Hank meets her in the first book in the series and has a crush on her. Her name is Girl-Who-Drink-Blood.

Chief Gut, Missy's father. His full name is "Many-Rabbit-Gut-Eat-In-Full-Moon."

Scraunch the Terrible, Missy's brother.

In one of the books, Rip and Snort sing the Coyote Sacred Hymn, "Me Just a Worthless Coyote"

In MURDER IN THE MIDDLE PASTURE, Hank pursues "a gang of wild dogs and a clan of coyotes." He gets caught by "the coyote nation" and faces certain death.

I wonder how the coyote's are drawn? The references to American Indians are undeniable... Some people will blast me for saying "not recommended" when I haven't read the book yet, but right now, my instinct is to say "not recommended."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Newsletter: Winding Rivers Library System

Earlier this year I visited the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse to talk with teachers and librarians about American Indians in children's literature. I just got an email directing me to a newsletter about the talk. I'm always a bit nervous when I give a lecture, wondering if the audience is hearing me, if I need to restate something... If I'm making sense... Talking too fast... Alienating the audience...

Reading this newsletter feels terrific. Marcia Sarnowski, its author, understood the points I was making. If I could draw myself waving at her, I'd do it. She is with the Winding Rivers Library System. Thank you, Marcia, for writing up the session, and sharing it with readers of your newsletter. The logo shown here is from their website.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Would you want to be an Indian?"

Doing some research on use of Gerald McDermott's not-to-be-used-book-about-Pueblo-Indians, Arrow to the Sun, I found a page about global diversity, wherein a kindergarten teacher uses the book....

A culminating activity asks students to draw a picture, and, the teacher poses some questions. She posted two drawings and the Q&A. Here's one set of Q&A (red font is hers):

1. Can you tell me something about Indians? They shoot arrows
2. Would you want to be an Indian? Why or why not? No, because I would be dead

In her reflection of the activity, the teacher says:

State evidence in two or more sentences to show that your students gained knowledge during your Global Diversity lesson.

Through this lesson, my students gained knowledge about Indians that they did not know prior to this lesson. They learned what Indians ate, how they lived, some myths the Indians had, and much more information they did not know previously.

Note the use of past tense, and, the statement that her students gained information. Sadly, they gained MISinformation.

Patricia Wrede on THIRTEENTH CHILD

A few weeks ago, I pointed readers to Internet discussions of Patricia Wrede's book, Thirteenth Child. Miriam at the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Library submitted this comment:

It's really damning that it didn't occur to her that it at least needed explaining within the context of the world she built-- it's as if Natives were already invisible to her, and she swept them out of her alternate world without noticing what she had done, so she never felt she had to account for it. But kids aren't dumb; lots of readers, not just Natives, will be wondering, "but where are the native people in the New World in this alternate history?"

Over at dreamwidth on LiveJournal (so grateful to you, spiralsheep!), I found this excerpt and its link.

Wrede said:

The *plan* is for it to be a "settling the frontier" book, only without Indians (because I really hate both the older Indians-as-savages viewpoint that was common in that sort of book, *and* the modern Indians-as-gentle-ecologists viewpoint that seems to be so popular lately, and this seems the best way of eliminating the problem, plus it'll let me play with all sorts of cool megafauna). I'm not looking for wildly divergent history, because if it goes too far afield I won't get the right feel.
I agree with her on the 'hate' of what she calls "viewpoints." I don't think of them as viewpoints, though. Framing them as viewpoints legitimates them in a way they do not deserve. They are, in short, stereotypes. The bad and the good Indian, the bloodthirsty and the holier-than-thou. And forgive this bit of snarkyness: EARTH TO WREDE. YOU SAID WAS COMMON, SUGGESTING THAT THE 'INDIANS-AS-SAVAGES' PORTRAYAL DOESN'T HAPPEN ANYMORE. WRONG. IT IS STILL THERE.

Where she falls off the cliff, though, is when she says "without Indians." Beneath her words is an assumption about her audience: who it is, what they will buy, what they will revere, what they will notice... or not. It is pretty interesting for me to think about, especially because, as her bio on the Amazon website says, she lives in Minnesota! Lots of reservations there, and lots of Ojibwe's and Dakotas. Are they invisible to Wrede?!

The product description at Amazon says
"With wit and wonder, Patricia Wrede creates an alternative history of westward expansion that will delight fans of both J. K. Rowling and Laura Ingalls Wilder."
Wilder? Bingo! Elizabeth Bird at SLJ blogged the book, too. Read her review, and the comments. I am glad that the book is being discussed. I am confident that some writers will read everything being written about it, and be mindful of what they do with their own books. Course, there will be those who dig in their heels, too, and go along their Merry Manifest Destiny Way.

I wonder what Wrede will do with the discussion. The book is the FIRST in a series she's launched. I wonder what her editor is thinking, too. Controversy. Some writers (like Ann Rinaldi) say (with glee, it seems) that the controversy over a book makes it sell better. Likely so, but, Rinaldi didn't write any more books about American Indians after that, so, controversy also has a plus side for those of us who are tired of books like Thirteenth Child.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Native Literary Nationalism and Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Simon Ortiz's Books for Youth"

Eds. Note: Today, friend and colleague Tom Crisp, assistant professor at the University of South Florida, will read a paper I wrote for the 36th Annual Children's Literature Association Conference. I opted to stay on-task with my book manuscript rather than attend the conference. I miss it, though, as I imagine the goings-on there yesterday, today, and tomorrow. My paper is one of four papers in the panel on Linguistic Diversity in Children's and Young Adult Literature. Last year was the first time I attended the conference. It was terrific to meet so many people with whom I've corresponded over the last ten years. My paper title is "Native Literary Nationalism and Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Simon Ortiz's Books for Youth." I'm sharing the paper here, today, on AICL. If you're at ChLA and want to respond to it, I hope you do so there, in the room where the panel is speaking, but I hope you'll also comment here, or, write to me directly.


I am sorry not to be with you today, to deliver this paper myself. I thank Dr. Tom Crisp for agreeing to read it for me. The paper is in first person, so remember that these are my words, not Tom’s. I preface my paper with some reflection and observation. The goal of this paper is to bring a Native perspective to ChLA. I will do that in two ways. First, I will briefly turn my lens on the association itself, and then, I will introduce you to an Acoma writer and poet named Simon Ortiz. First, my perspective on ChLA.

The theme of this year’s conference is “The Best of Three.” The program reads:
In the world of children's literature, the number three has special connotations. The third pig has the best house, the third wish is the best wish, and the third bear always has the best stuff. Thus, the theme for the 2009 conference is "The Best of Three."
Those words prompted some questions for me. In what world of children’s literature is three an important number? Is it an important number in what Nancy Larrick called the “all white world of children’s literature”? Three is not the number with special connotations in Native Nations. Our special number is four. Note, too, “best house” and “best wish” and “best stuff” in the program. Best for... whom? Why does best matter? It sounds like the American Dream. It makes me think of Perry Nodelman’s writings about assumptions. What assumptions does the theme reflect?

Native people are not new to ChLA. A Narragansett woman was at the very first conference in 1974, but she wasn’t there to give a paper. She was the entertainment at the banquet. That is, she was a storyteller. Her name was Princess Redwing. Given that notions of royalty were placed onto Native societies by Europeans, the word “princess” always gives me pause. From a 1997 article in the Providence Journal, I learned that Princess Red Wing was named Mary Congdon. She died in 1987 at the age of 92. The newspaper article says, “she was taught that her family descended from the Narragansett and Wampanoag tribes” (see notes 1 and 2, below). I am troubled by phrases she used and stories she told. From my perspective, they play to an audience that reveres the image of the romantic Indian. As a Native woman and scholar studying literatures and representation at this moment in time, I am, perhaps too often, critical of activities by Native peoples whose work affirmed—and affirms—negative or positive stereotypes that I view as harmful to our well-being as Native peoples in the present day. I want different stories, ones that make the reader uncomfortable, ones that replace the savage or romantic Indian with Native peoples of the past and present who were and are intellectuals and diplomats. Instead, it seems to me that a lot of people choose to tell what the field of children’s literature calls myths and folktales. Some turn to archived stories as their sources. There is a wealth of material for them to look into, but a lot of it was gathered in the 1800s and early 1900s by individuals who interpreted the material from an outsider’s perspective. In some instances, I think it is fair to say that their informants were tricksters. Case in point: Elsie Clews Parsons was a Smithsonian anthropologist working amongst the Pueblo Indians in the 1920s. In the preface to her monograph, she wrote:

Information from San Ildefonso was least satisfactory. The women were particularly timid and not well informed; the man was a threefold liar, lying from secretiveness, from his sense of burlesque, and from sheer laziness. (p. 7)

Though she does not say, I assume Parsons did not use information provided by the man from San Ildefonso, but I wonder how she knows that the information from her other informants was ok? My point is that these archived stories may not be a reliable resource. Anyone that wants to use these archives must do so with a critical lens, developed by reading journals used in American Indian studies and books published by presses specializing in Native Studies.

But, back to Princess Red Wing. I purposefully said that she was the entertainment at the banquet. I have been asked many times to come tell stories at this or that gathering. I reply that I am not a storyteller who tells Native stories, but I would be happy to give a talk about Pueblo Indians and our history. At that point, the invitation is withdrawn. Americans want performing Indians who can entertain them with myths and legends. Stories are one way, in fact, that people educate others. A lot of what is marketed as American Indian stories may be well written from an aesthetic viewpoint, but all my selves—the mother, the schoolteacher, the professor—want more than well-written stories. I want stories that accurately convey who American Indians were, and are—emphasis on the word are—in all our humanity.

As a society, America knows very little about American Indians and the things that we care about. So, you might wonder, what do I think is the most important thing about American Indians that children should learn? That we are sovereign nations; that we are political entities, not ethnic or racial ones. With the rise of multicultural education and the call for multicultural literature, American Indians were categorized as one of America’s ‘underrepresented minorities.’ And in fact, as a group, we are underrepresented, and due to our small population, we are a minority. As such, that categorization is accurate, but it obscures a great deal.

What it obscures is what I want Americans to learn. We have our own governments, constitutions, justice systems, police, and lands over which we have jurisdiction. Our tribal leaders enter into state-to-state agreements with other nations around the world. Our leaders do that today, just like they did in the 1600s and 1700s and 1800s and 1900s. Our status as nations brings me to Simon Ortiz.

In 1981, Simon Ortiz wrote an essay that Native scholars mark as a foundational text. Published in MELUS, it is called “Towards a National Indian Literature: Cultural Authenticity in Nationalism.” Ortiz is from Acoma, one of the 19 Pueblos in New Mexico. By 1981, he had written several acclaimed stories, books, and poems. The year prior to the publication of his MELUS essay, he had read at the “White House Salute to Poetry and American Poets.” He begins the MELUS essay by talking about celebrations and names at Acoma: Fiesta. Juana. Pedro. Anticipating his reader’s questions as to why Acoma Indians have a fiesta and why they use Spanish words and names, he offers this explanation:
[T]his celebration speaks of the creative ability of Indian people to gather in many forms of the socio-political colonizing force which beset them and to make these forms meaningful in their own terms. In fact, it is a celebration of the human spirit and the Indian struggle for liberation.
The socio-political colonizing force he is talking about is the arrival of the Europeans, and the celebration is a creative response to colonization that took place across the US and Canada:
[I]n every case where European culture was cast upon Indian people of this nation there was similar creative response and development… [T]his [creative ability] was the primary element of a nationalistic impulse to make use of foreign ritual, ideas, and material in their own—Indian—terms. Today’s writing by Indian authors is a continuation of that elemental impulse.
Without these creative responses, Ortiz writes, those hard experiences “would be driven into the dark recesses of the indigenous mind and psyche.” This, he says, is poison, and a detriment to growth. Through prayer, song, and story, Native peoples make meaning and meaningfulness, as we work towards maintaining our Nationhood and identity as sovereign Native Nations. And that, he says, is what literature is about. In Reinventing the Enemy’s Language (1997), acclaimed Mvskoke Creek author, poet, and musician Joy Harjo (author of The Good Luck Cat) says:
When our lands were colonized the language of the colonizer was forced on us. It was when we began to create with this new language that we named it ours, made it usefully tough and beautiful. (p. 23-24)
Native writers, Ortiz says, acknowledge:
…a responsibility to advocate for their people’s self-government, sovereignty, and control of land and resources; and to look also at racism, political and economic oppression, sexism, supremacism, and the needless and wasteful exploitation of land and people, especially in the U.S.
In his picture books for children, Ortiz takes that new language and uses it and his own Native tongue to advocate for community, and, to look at racism and oppression. Throughout, he emphasizes the well-being of community, and the connection to land and culture.

His first book, The People Shall Continue was published in 1977 by Children’s Book Press. As you know, the sixties and seventies were marked by social unrest. While everyone knows about the work of African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement, few know that Native peoples were very active, too. They occupied Alcatraz Island, Wounded Knee, and, federal buildings in Washington DC. This activism was designed to draw attention to treaty violations and treatment of American Indians. At that time, Simon Ortiz was living in the Bay Area. Harriet Rohmer, founding publisher of Children’s Book Press was there, too, helping out at the Native American Survival School. She wanted to do a book of interviews of Native teens talking about their lives and their thoughts about the future. This, she thought, would go a long way to countering the perception that Indians had vanished. She talked with school leaders about her book idea, but they expressed concern for the students, saying the raw qualities of their stories, in print form, might hurt them. Bill Wahpepah suggested she get a “university Indian” [3] to do the book, and to that end, he helped her get in touch with Simon Ortiz.

When Rohmer met with Ortiz, he talked at length about survival, and then he began work on the manuscript that would become The People Shall Continue. Given its content, the book was and is hailed as an honest history of colonization in North America. Doris Seale, an Abenaki/Santee Dakota-Cree librarian said “If you give only one book about Native peoples to your young children, let this be the one.”[4] Ortiz begins the first page in this way:
Many, many years ago, all things came to be.
The stars, rocks, plants, rivers, animals.
Mountains, sun, moon, birds, all things.
And the People were born.
Some say, “From the ocean.”
Some say, “From a hollow log.”
Some say, “From an opening in the ground.”
Some say, “From the mountains.”
And the People came to live
in the Northern Mountains and on the Plains,
in the Western Hills and on the Seacoasts,
in the Southern Deserts and in the Canyons,
in the Eastern Woodlands and on the Piedmonts. (2)

Eloquently, Ortiz tells us that there is more than one creation story. He acknowledges the presence of indigenous Peoples throughout the hemisphere, in all directions, each with their respective origins, histories, and beliefs. He privileges no one and no place. He goes on to tell us that the Peoples knew each other and had much to learn and share with each other. Without romanticizing Native peoples and our history, he continues, quietly and gently, preparing the reader for the changes to come. He writes:
[O]ne day, something unusual began to happen.
Maybe there was a small change in the wind.
Maybe there was a shift in the stars.
Maybe it was a dream that someone dreamed.
Maybe it was the strange behavior of an animal. (7)

He continues, telling us about strange men who arrived, seeking treasures and slaves and land, men causing destruction. Ortiz tells us the People fought back:
In the West, Popé called warriors from the Pueblo and Apache Nations.
In the East, Tecumseh gathered the Shawnee and the Nations of the Great Lakes,
the Appalachians, and the Ohio Valley to fight for their People.
In the Midwest, Black Hawk fought to save the Sauk (sock) and Fox Nation.
In the Great Plains, Crazy Horse led the Sioux in the struggle to keep their land.
Osceola in the Southeast, Geronimo in the Southwest, Chief Joseph in the Northwest, Sitting Bull, Captain Jack, all were warriors. (12)

How does anyone, at this point, tell children what happened next? Instead of a feel-good narrative of people living in harmony, Ortiz tells his readers the truth. Many adults feel such truths are beyond the understanding of a young child, but in Native communities, our children know these histories. Ortiz knows this, and he does not pull back from the hardships of those years as the People sought to protect their sovereignty. Ortiz writes:
From the 1500s to the late years of the 1800s,
The People fought for their lives and lands.
In battle after battle, they fought until they grew weak.
Their food supplies were gone, and their warriors were killed or imprisoned.(13)

From there, Ortiz goes on to talk of treaties. Reservations. Promises broken. Government agents. Boarding schools. Relocation. Poverty. But, he does not use the word “plight” nor does he draw on “tragic Indian” tropes. Instead, he tells his readers that parents told their children:
“You are Shawnee. You are Lakota.
You are Pima. You are Acoma.
You are Tlingit. You are Mohawk.
You are all these Nations of the People.”
And, he says, the People told each other stories:,
These are the stories and these are the songs.
This is our heritage.
And the children listened. (18)

Note the last line: “And the children listened.” A simple, yet powerful statement that conveys his confidence in children and the purpose that storytelling serves in a Native community.

Survival and well being depend on caring for each other. That caring ethic is seen in Ortiz’s second children’s book Blue and Red, published in 1981 by the Pueblo of Acoma Press. The title of the book refers to two horses who are brothers. In the story, Red challenges his older brother, Blue, to a race. With longer legs, Blue could easily get to the top of the mesa before Red, but, instead, he makes decisions that allow them to safely reach the top of the mesa together. Blue is living what he has been taught, which is responsibility to others and by extension, to the well-being of the community. It is that responsibility to community that is at the heart of our survival.

Ortiz had one other book published by the Pueblo of Acoma Press: The Importance of Childhood, published in 1982. The book is about games Ortiz played as a child. In it, he talks about a game most of you recall playing. “Red Rover.” But it isn’t just “Red Rover Red Rover, let Evelina come over” that is in the book. That “Red Rover” phrase is followed by “Ne baitsashru!” which in the Acoma language means “Run!” In Ortiz’s account of playing this and other childhood games, the children at AcomaPueblo people remade something from the outside into something of our own, something that reflects who we are as Pueblo people. use English and Keres. It illustrates how

His fourth book is The Good Rainbow Road, published by the University of Arizona Press in 2004. It is a trilingual book, published in English, Spanish, and Keres. The Spanish translation was done by Mayan writer, poet, and anthropologist Victor Montejo. In the Author’s Note, Ortiz says: “I was happy Professor Montejo could do it because I wanted a translation into Spanish by a Native-language speaker who knew at first-hand pertinent matters that have bearing on Spanish language use by Native people in the Americas” (n.p.). Though he does not elaborate on those first-hand matters, it is likely that Ortiz is referring to the complex history and relationships between the Pueblo peoples of the southwest and the Spanish who were the first Europeans to come into our midst. Brutal treatment by the Spanish led to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 by which the Pueblo people successfully drove the Spanish out of Pueblo homelands. Upon their return, delicate negotiations took place as, over the ensuing centuries, Pueblo people adapted, rejected, and reworked Spanish influences on PuebloThe Good Rainbow Road is the story of two boys, “First One” and “Next One” whose people have forgotten about the spirits of rain and snow, the Shiwana, and hence, they are in a drought. The boys are charged with going to the Shiwana for help. Their journey is long and difficult. At one point, Next One is unable to leap over a canyon of hot lava. He sits down, crying. An old blind woman comes down the path. Forgetting his fear, he leaps up to prevent her from falling into the canyon. She thanks him and gives him a stone that, when tied to his arrow and then shot from his bow, creates a rainbow across the canyon. She tells him to climb it and continue his journey. Next One looks back, remembering from where they came and thinks of their people, and he looks to the east where the Shiwana live. Then he continues the journey on the rainbow road across the canyon. society, thereby making external forces meaningful to us on our own terms.

Though The Good Rainbow Road is not a traditional story, it has elements of traditional Native stories. These elements include beliefs in the power of language and of memory. Both are central to the existence of the human race, and both are at the core of stories all peoples tell. It is memory of what once was (a time of plenty), and what has been forgotten (to ask the Shiwana for help) that serves as the impetus for the journey of First One and Next One. It is memory of their people that helps Next One climb onto the rainbow road. It is the power of language (a belief in the words the old woman says) that creates the road that will lead to the survival of the people.

Reflecting on his body of work, Ortiz says he has a mantra: land, culture, community. As Pueblo people, we are blessed in that our traditional ways are still strong and intact. Is it because we are so rooted in land, culture, and community? While his poetry, short stories and essays are important in their own right, his writing for children demonstrates the reason we continue. It is the importance of children. Whether it is his poems about his own children, or, his stories about his own childhood, he writes about the importance of childhood.

In The People Shall Continue, the children listen. In Blue and Red, children learn to help other children, and in The Importance of Childhood, children’s play incorporates the colonizer’s language. In The Good Rainbow Road, the survival of our communities is in the hands of children. Because of story, and because of children, the People Shall Continue.


Harjo, Joy. Reinventing the Enemies Language. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.

Larrick, Nancy. “The All-White World of Children’s Books.” Saturday Review September 1965: 63-85.

Ortiz, Simon. Blue and Red. Acoma: Pueblo of Acoma Press, 1981.

---. The Good Rainbow Road: Rawa ‘Kashtyaa’tsi Hiyaani. Tucson: University of Arizona Press,

---. The Importance of Childhood. Acoma: Pueblo of Acoma Press, 1982.

---. The People Shall Continue. Emeryville: Children’s Book Press, 1977.

---. Personal Interview. May. 2008.

---. “Towards a National Indian Literature: Cultural Authenticity in Nationalism,” in American Indian Literary Nationalism, edited by J. Weaver, C. S. Womack, and R. Warrior. Albuquerque: UNM Press. 2006.

Parsons, Elsie Clews. The Social Organization of the Tewa of New Mexico. The American Anthropological Association, 1929.

[1] See the website for more information:

[2] John Cech, Princess Red Wing: Keeper of the Past, Children's Literature - Volume 10, 1982, pp. 83-101

[3] By this time, Ortiz had been a student at the University of New Mexico and the University of Iowa. With several successful publications, he was adept at using the printed word to share Native experiences and perspectives. As such, he was well-positioned to take on the project.

[4] Her review of the book is in Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children, edited by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale, first published in 1987. Through Indian Eyes is widely regarded as a touchstone volume in the field of children’s literature. Slapin would later be involved in the development of Ortiz’s The Good Rainbow Road.