Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Rubbed the wrong way"

In an interview she gave to Vermont Public Radio, Beth Kanell was asked about criticism of her book, Darkness Under the Water. She characterized the people who are critical of her inaccurate, melodramatic, sensationalized presentation of the Vermont Eugenics Project and its effects on the Abenaki people of Vermont as being "rubbed the wrong way" by what she did.

We are, in fact, talking about a genocidal program that she used as a backdrop for a murder mystery. We object to what she did because her melodrama has the effect of negating the truth of what actually happened.

Characterizing us as being "rubbed the wrong way" is another indicator that she lacks the depth and insight to understand that history, Native peoples, and our voices and work. She says she's bringing attention to this history, but she's only hurting the people she apparently wants to help.

We don't need her kind of help.

With this book she adds to the body of misinformation about who American Indians are---the sort of misinformation my students have to unlearn. With this book, she miseducates, and so do teachers who use the book in their classrooms.

Taxpayers reading this post.... some of your tax dollars are going towards undoing the sorts of things students "learn" in school.

Teachers reading this post... when your students take college classes in American Indian Studies, they feel betrayed by what you gave them, and they put what they learned from you in that "lies my teacher told me" framework laid out by James Loewen.

Those who listen to Vermont Public Radio... Ask the station to invite Doris Seale, or Judy Dow, or the author of the book Kanell cites as her primary source of information, Nancy Gallagher, to be interviewed on the station.

NOT bringing their perspective to the program is a lot like repeating what was done with the Eugenics Project itself. Ignoring and silencing the voices of Native people.

[Note: This book has been discussed here several times. Scroll down to the very bottom of this page and see the set of links there.]

Friday, February 27, 2009

Not Recommended: "The Ransom of Red Chief" by O. Henry

Note from Debbie on Dec 17, 2020: A reader wrote to let us know that "The Ransom of Red Chief" also includes the N word and that I did not note it in my review back in 2007. I am grateful to AICL readers who write to tell me when I miss something. Thank you for taking time to let me know. 

--------------------

One of the questions I've received a few times is about O. Henry's short story, The Ransom of Red Chief. (Update on July 17, 2019: The story was first published in 1907 in The Saturday Evening Post. The illustration below is from that issue.)

Illustration from The Saturday Evening Post, July 6, 1907
Source: https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth139425/m1/2/


In the story a ten year old boy named Johnny is kidnapped. His kidnappers think his father will pay $2000 to get him back. Turns out, though, that the boy is a handful. Of course, his dad knows this, and everyone else in town does, too. He's such a troublemaker that the neighbors are glad he's gone. His dad, knowing the kidnappers are discovering they've got more than they bargained for, says he'll take the boy back if the kidnappers will pay him to do so. The kidnappers, instead of gaining $2000, lose $250.

The story has "Red Chief" in the title because that's what Johnny calls himself once settled in the cave where the kidnappers hole up. He's put feathers in his hair, holds a stick and calls out to one of the kidnappers:
"'Ha! cursed paleface, do you dare to enter the camp of Red Chief, the terror of the plains?'"
Johnny is playing Indian. He utters war whoops, and tries to scalp one of his captors. He's having a great time and doesn't want to go home.

I've been looking around the internet this morning to see how the story is used. I've found it used to discuss acquisitions strategies in business journals. I've also found it being used in a study of anxiety in youths. In that study, the participants are asked to read it aloud. No further details are included as to why the researchers chose that book over something else.

Mostly, though, it is used in high schools to teach about irony, and that crime doesn't pay. Looking over the lesson plans, I find things like "Red Chief is a holy terror at the beginning of the story, and he is still a terror at the end."

This reminds me of that phrase "stop running around like a bunch of wild Indians" that some parents say when their kids are, from the parents viewpoint, out of control.

If you recall reading The Ransom of Red Chief in school, please share with us the way it was used in your school. If you're a teacher using it, or if you know of it being used somewhere, I'd like to hear about that, too.

Has anyone seen it used to teach about stereotypes?

What the story does is affirm stereotypes of American Indians as feathered creatures, wild, out of control, and terrorizing whites ("paleface", to use the word Johnny used). That he plays Indian adds another dimension to the problems with the depictions of Indians. Feathers give him further license to act out.

That, of course, isn't who we are as Native people. Not now, and not in the past either. Conflicts of the past that portray Native people as savage fail to place that past in context. Native people who fought white soldiers and settlers did so to protect their families, homes, and homelands.

If you're a teacher who uses this story, consider the lessons you teach if you do not address the stereotyping in the story. Consider its effects on all the children in your classroom. Are any of them Native? Do they become the butt of jokes in the classroom? Are they teased? Does anyone call them "Red Chief"?


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Books by Walter D. Edmonds

Two nights ago I gave a lecture at Westfield State College. Among the books I discussed is The Matchlock Gun, by Walter D. Edmonds. Doris Seale's review of the book is at the Oyate site. I urge you to click on over there to read it. She describes the book, and notes, too, that it gained new life when it was chosen for the "We the People" bookshelf project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities/American Library Association.

I'm thinking about the book today because last night I watched a film with my daughter (a sophomore in college). She's taking a film class. Screenings for this week include Drums Along the Mohawk. (I'm in New Haven, doing research in the Bienecke, and spending time with Liz, too.) As we drove to my hotel last night, she asked if I wanted to watch a film with her. She told me the title and started reading the accompanying info on the movie box. It reads "Based on the best-selling novel by Walter D. Edmonds..."

So I did spend the late evening last night watching Drums Along the Mohawk. It's came out in 1939. Very early in the film, Peter Fonda takes his bride, Lana, to his homestead. It's a stormy night, there's a lot of flies, and she's pretty unhappy. They go inside his cabin, he lights a fire, and then leaves to tend to the horse and wagon outside. While he's gone, an Indian comes into the cabin.

Lana turns away from the fireplace, sees, him, and starts screaming and races to the farthest corner. The Indian has been walking toward her, holding his gun, a blank expression on his face. Hubby comes in and tries to shake some sense into her, eventually slapping her, which stops her hysterics. He tells her that the Indian, "Blue Back" is helpful, friendly, a Christian. Blue Back calls out "Hallelujah" more than once during the film. Helpful and friendly, he warns the colonists when Indians are "on the warpath."

Doing some research on the book, I see it on a lot of book lists, especially for accelerated readers. I wonder how the book is used? With older children, books with biased presentations of Native people can be used to teach about perspective, but I wonder if its being used that way...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My visit to Westfield State College, MA

I spent yesterday at Westfield State College in Westfield, Massachusetts. I gave a lecture, followed by an hour or so of questions. I didn't get to answer all the questions (sorry!), and, there may be others that weren't asked, or, that came to mind later, or this morning.

If you have a comment or question, please send me an email to debreese at illinois dot edu. (I trust you know how to turn that spelled-out email address into an actual one.) Or, use the comment option below... Click on comment, a dialog box will open, type your comment/question, then the wavy letters that prove you're a person not a computer that's sending spam, and, hit submit.

I do appreciate feedback. If you disagree or object to any part of my presentation, please do share, that, too. Your feedback helps me revisit my thinking on the subject of American Indians and children's literature.

Thanks!

Monday, February 23, 2009

"American Indians" in Google, some data

Passing along some data for your perusal...

I entered American Indians into Google's search window. Google automatically displays a list of popular searches that begin that way. A different set of terms appears if you stop at American Indian (singular), and you can do this with any phrase of your choice. The phrase is followed by the number of searches. Here's what came up. I'm reordering the info by number of hits:

American Indians food = 43,900,000
American Indians history = 30,900,000
American Indians names = 15,700,000
American Indians for kids = 6,570,000
American Indians today = 4,680,000
American Indians pictures = 3,960,000
American Indians culture = 3,880,000
American Indians tribes = 2,860,000
American Indians and alcohol = 2,430,000

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cynthia Leitich Smith presentation on Second Life



For those of you who know how to navigate Second Life, Cynthia Leitich Smith will be there on Tuesday, Feb 24th, at 3:00 CST. She'll talk about Tantalize and Eternal. The graphic sneak-peek's Cynthia has on her site are so cool!! (I copied one here.) I created a Second Life profile last year, but couldn't grasp the skills necessary to figure out how to move around. Click on over to her site for more details.

For those of you in the area of Westfield College in Massachusetts, I'll be giving a public lecture there on Tuesday evening in Scanlon Banquet Hall. There's no charge, so please do come if you can! I'll be there at the invitation of Vanessa Diana, Associate Professor of English at Westfield State.

And a heart congratulations to Cynthia... Eternal is in its 3rd printing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A big thank you

I'm in Sarasota, Florida for a one-day conference at USF, Sarasota-Manatee. The theme of the conference was "Representations of Diversity." I gave a lecture about American Indians in children's literature at the invitation of Professor Thomas Crisp. I met him last summer at a children's lit conference in Normal, Illinois. He's at USF, Sarasota-Manatee, on the faculty. In his opening remarks, Tom spoke about the false perception that the election of Barack Obama means we've left racism behind. He's an eloquent speaker, and USF and its students are fortunate to have him on the faculty.

As part of the conference, books were sold---books recommended by myself and David Rice, the other keynote speaker. When I went by the book desk, I was pleased as could be to learn that all the copies of Richard Van Camp's What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses sold out right away.

Tom introduced me to two women who he went to grad school with: Suzanne Knezek who is at the University of Michigan-Flint, and Jaqueline LaRose, Eastern Michigan University. I spent a lot of time with all three of them. Invigorating conversation, many laughs, thoughtful reflections on children and books. It's been a terrific two days, and this is a public thank you to Tom, Suzy, and Jackie.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Edgar Heap of Birds' Exhibit: BEYOND THE CHIEF


Earlier this week I watched as Edgar Heap of Birds, "Beyond the Chief" was being set up on our campus. All along Nevada Street are signs like the one shown here.

Click on the photo so you can read the words. The first line is "FIGHTING ILLINI" --- but it's printed backwards. The second and third lines say "TODAY YOUR HOST IS" and the bottom line has the name of a tribe.

I stood outside and watched students for awhile. Some pass right past the signs, absorbed in their thoughts or conversations, but once someone notices one, the entire group slows down, trying to make sense of the sign. One student said to her companion "Are they back?"

Another student stopped, stepped back, and lifted his sunglasses, peering at the sign. He altered his route, walking down Nevada to read some of the other signs, then resumed his route.

Here's the press release of the exhibit.

URBANA, IL -- February 10, 2009

The influential work of HOCK E AYE VI Edgar Heap of Birds, a Cheyenne-Arapaho artist, challenges viewers to re-imagine public spaces as American Indian.

In his exhibit "Beyond the Chief" on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, signs and language remind the campus community whose land they occupy: this includes the Peoria-Piankesaw-Kaskaskia-Wea Homelands. The signs are now installed along West Nevada Street.

By using media that resembles official city and state signage, Heap of Birds creates a conceptual space in a given environment that reinforces the historic and political presence of American Indian communities that live within these lands.

In this exhibit, the words "Fighting Illini" are printed backwards on each sign to provoke the viewer to reflect upon the past and to recognize a more complex history to this land. Read more about the "Beyond the Chief" exhibit, including the Artist’s Statement, on the "Features" page.

Heap of Birds’ other public interventions have included "Building Minnesota," "Day and Night" in Seattle, "Reclaim" in New York, and "Wheel" in Denver, Colorado. More of his work is available online.

Heap of Birds’ art includes multi-disciplinary forms of public art messages, large scale drawings, acrylic paintings, prints and monumental porcelain enamel on steel outdoor sculpture. He currently lives in Oklahoma City and is Professor of painting and Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

An artist’s talk and opening reception is planned for Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at the Asian American Cultural Center, 1210 West Nevada Street, Urbana, at 5:30pm; a campus lecture is scheduled on Thursday, February 19 at School of Art and Design, Room 229 408 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign, at 12 noon. These events are free and open to the public. We especially encourage media to attend the opening reception Wednesday where the artist will be made available to speak about the exhibit.

The exhibit is Paid for by the Student Cultural Programming Fee and sponsored by the Native American House, American Indian Studies, African American Studies, La Casa Cultural Latina, Asian American Studies, and Asian American Cultural Center.

The exhibit will run to December 2009.


And here's our statement about the exhibit, followed by the Artist Statement and Biography.


About

"Beyond the Chief" provides an opportunity for those of us at the University of Illinois to consider the indigenous history of our campus and the state in which we live. The signs in this public art exhibit include the names of a dozen Indigenous peoples whose homelands are within the boundaries of the state of Illinois. Many of these peoples continue today with viable governments, cultures, and languages. All of them remain, even if some are only remnants of what they once were. Members of these groups live, learn, and work on campus. We at Native American House and American Indian Studies hope "Beyond the Chief" helps all of us who share our campus learn more about those whose homelands we occupy.

Artist's Statement

Of course these words ["Beyond the Chief"] speak to extending discussion beyond the campus "chief" and its insensitive history (while still hinting at the problem); yet, the title also is derived from my own Cheyenne tribe where there is a council of 44 chiefs - and from which came four principal chiefs. The first man named Heap of Birds was one of these principal chiefs.

Most non-native people think about the chief position as if he were president or executive. In fact, chiefs often sat as a council representing bands and many families; they also differed from war chiefs or headsmen of warrior societies (one of which I belong to).

In Cheyenne tradition a chief had no personal property. All that he and his family owned was offered to tribal members on request (this is sometimes a demand even today) once the chief took the position. Chiefs were selected because of their generosity. Many men did not wish to become chief because of this point. Chiefs were chosen by chiefs, but could decline.

A chief is far beyond one person and should reflect an honor and allegiance -- as well as truth, tradition, listening, openness, and good way -- to a whole people.

As we install these 12 sign panels, we walk forward on the University of Illinois campus to honor these ideals and intertribal brothers and sisters from a circular position of respect.

Biography

The art of Hock E Aye VI Edgar Heap of Birds includes public art messages, drawings, paintings, prints, works in glass, and sculpture. His work was deployed as a collateral public art project by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian for the 2007 Venice Biennale. He received his M.F.A. from Tyler School of Art, his B.F.A. from the University of Kansas, and has undertaken graduate studies at the Royal College of Art in London and awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Heap of Birds teaches Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma and has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Lila Wallace Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trust, and the Andy Warhol Foundation.


Last, here's a link to the Facebook group, Friends of "Beyond the Chief."


As media coverage occurs or other developments unfold, I'll provide updates here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cynthia Leitich Smith's ETERNAL


Cynthia Leitich Smith's new book, Eternal, was launched yesterday. I read a copy a few weeks ago. It is a page-turner about vampires and angels and... It's quite a ride, from Austin to Chicago. I'll leave it there for you to read. If you're a fan of gothic fiction, take a look at Eternal.

As you may know, my blog is about children's books about American Indians. That's what most of the content is about.

However! I think it important that children and teens know that Native people write stories, and that not all of their stories are about Native people. Cynthia's range of books is a good case in point. If you read her YA novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, read her vampire novels, too. Her first one is Tantalize, Eternal is the second, and a third one is in the works.

In Tribal Secrets, Robert Warrior writes about American Indian literature and criticism. He says "producers of American Indian literature continue to push the boundaries of creativity by bringing European vampires to Navajo country..." Warrior notes that such a book "does not fit into standard definitions of Indian writing..." but he goes on to say that the increase in such books "seems more than enough justification for some fundamental reworking of scholarly understandings of American Indian literature, culture, and experience."

In essence, it is important that we be open to what is being written by Native writers. Don't pigeon hole them or their writing. Expand your expectations of what Native writers write about.

Read Native writers, whether their stories are about Native life, or vampires.

So! Eternal. Click on over to Cynsations where you'll learn a lot about the book. There's more at Smith's website including a very cool book trailer that perfectly captures the mood of the book.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"What Students Need to Know about America's Wars"

I'm on a listserv for the National Council of Teachers of Social Studies. Yesterday a subscriber posted information about an upcoming "History Institute for Teachers" called "What Students Need to Know about America's Wars." Curious, I checked out the webpages, looking specifically at the video of a session that was on war with Native peoples.

It was an unpleasant experience. Perhaps I should not have taken the time...

The material is developed by the Foreign Policy Research Institute. The lecturer, a man named Skarstedt, notes that there are ideological disagreements over the ways that history of American Indian/United States conflict is presented, but it is clear in his remarks where he stands in the debate.

He begins by saying students wonder why they need to study the frontier wars. He tells the teachers gathered in the session why it is important, using Apaches as an example.

He shows a photograph of four Apache men. He carefully describes the weapons they hold and talks at length about how skilled they were. How they were able to blend into their surroundings, very resourceful, could survive for days with little food or water. They knew the terrain and were "tough as nails."

Then Skarstedt asks "What did the US do to get them?"

He shows the next photograph: men on horses. It is the cavalry! On horseback, he tells us, the US was able to wear down, defeat, and capture the Apaches. And here is why studying the Frontier Wars matters:  He says the US learned valuable lessons by fighting the Apaches, lessons that it uses today, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of wars with Indians, he says, the US developed its "special ops" teams.

Next slide?

It is a photograph of two men, with weapons, wearing masks. They're in Afghanistan or Iraq (Skarstedt doesn't specify). They, he says, are like those Indians. Tough, well-armed, fast moving, blend into the environment, lots of firepower, willing to endure great sacrifice.

His next photograph is one of soldiers, again, on horseback. They are, he tells us, the special ops unit that is pursuing fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Seeing those images used that way was deeply troubling to me. Apaches and Iraq/Afghan's. Obviously he feels they were/are enemies of the US who must be taken down. Who do you think they are? What do you think they were/are doing?

He argued at the opening of his lecture, for people to recognize the complexity of conflict and how it is presented, and then he goes on to do otherwise. In making his points about war tactics, he introduces and affirms simplistic notions.

Later in the lecture he speaks about the people of Cahokia and Taos Pueblo. Both, he says, are gone. They were very advanced and peaceful, he tells us, but they are no longer around. Probably, he says, due to the warring tribes, of which he names the Apache, Comanche, and Sioux. Of course, the people of Taos are not gone. They're a thriving Native Nation!

I wonder if he's ever tried to give this lecture to an audience that includes American Indians?

______________________
Update, May 3rd, 2011: You can view the entire lecture, or see Skarstedt's slides by going here. Scroll down to the section called "The Frontier Years."

Monday, February 09, 2009

Indigenizing Children's Literature


In 2008, the Journal of Language and Literacy (JoLLE) published an article I wrote. Titled "Indigenizing Children's Literature," it is a critical look at Little House on the Prairie and Thanksgiving Day. The article is one of several published in Volume 4(2), 2008, a special issue devoted to children's literature and literacy. JoLLE is a peer-reviewed online journal. I submitted this paper there, specifically because it is an online journal, thereby making it like my blog (accessible to anyone who has an internet connection).

In the conclusion, I make some connections between images and ideology in those two books and America's wartime activity. I welcome your thoughts and comments on the article.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Nora Naranjo-Morse


Last weekend I watched Nora Naranjo-Morse's lecture, given at the National Museum of the American Indian, in 2007. She was there that summer working on the pieces for the "Always Becoming" installation.

Her lecture was part of the Vine Deloria, Jr. Native Writers Series. It is archived on the NMAI website and is about an hour long. She read several poems, including one that especially struck me--for its imagery, for its emotion, for its power. It is called "A Telegram." Prior to reading it, she talked about writing that poem when she was a teenager, and finishing it last year.

"A Telegram" is about learning that her brother had been wounded in Vietnam. The poem she read at NMAI has not yet been published, but an earlier version of it is in Hirschfelder and Singer's Rising Voices: Writing of Young Native Americans, published in 1992.

Nora is working on a documentary about Always Becoming. She is blogging about it, too. You can follow the project at her blog, also called Always Becoming. She's a poet, a sculptor, a filmmaker. Studying her work, in an art, lit, or film class, would be an incredibly rich experience.

Her book, Mud Woman, is available from Oyate.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

SLJ Column: "A DIRTY LITTLE SECRET"

Over at School Library Journal's website, there's a column about self-censorship that is worth a look. It's provocative title is "A Dirty Little Secret."

The bulk of the column is about what does not get bought by librarians. The columnist, Whelen (a senior editor at SLJ), writes about their fears and anxieties. Fear of parents, school boards, community members, and students who will object to books with sexual content and gay themes. To avoid confrontation, they do not buy the books.

Rather than provide students with books that reflect reality, then, librarians play it safe. In effect, the librarians are choosing to let the gay students suffer. Is it really that simple? Preserve ones self and well-being, one's job? It's easy to rationalize the decision... "If I avoid that book, I avoid trouble and keep my job, and I can work subtly on this topic in other ways..."

The article also includes a brief mention of a writer who wrote a book about the Trail of Tears. Her publisher asked her to "...tone down her criticism of Andrew Jackson and his treatment of Native Americans..." I don't know the book at all, so can't comment on it one way or another. It is called The Trail of Tears: An American Tragedy, by Tracy Barrett. Rather than change what she wrote, Barrett went with another publisher.

Tone it down? Right! Let's not tell anyone, especially children, that our presidents did terrible things!

The SLJ column calls this decision not to buy a book "self-censorship." In education circles, this is akin to "the selective tradition" or "the hidden curriculum."

Whatever label we use, it is more than just fear and anxiety at work, it is the affirmation of the status quo, an unspoken, and generally unaware desire to perpetuate and preserve a certain image of America. A certain false image that hurts us all as individuals, as members of our communities, and as citizens of the United States.

How long will we deceive ourselves?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

3rd post: Capaldi bio on Montezuma

From the archives, I found a copy of the letter from Holmes to Montezuma. Dated August 31, 1905, it reads:


My Dear Sir:
I am very desirous of procuring a brief biographical sketch of yourself for incorporation in the “Handbook of the Indians” to be published by this Bureau, and shall be greatly obliged if you will furnish the necessary data for this purpose. As the first part of the work is now being put in type, I shall appreciate any effort you may make to furnish the sketch at your earliest opportunity.
Very truly yours,
H. W. Holmes
Chief

When Montezuma wrote back to Holmes on October 7th, 1905, this is how he started:

My dear Friend:-
I am sorry that I delayed your request of August 31st.

In her presentation of Montezuma's letter, dated October 7, 1905, Capaldi starts with this:

My dear friend,
I know that you are gathering information on me and what befell my people. I am, therefore, delighted to answer your questions. I hope that what I write will add knowledge, acceptance and understanding for all.

In comparing her presentation of the letter to the letters exchanged between Holmes and Montezuma, I don't like what she did. I wish Capaldi had not used this technique, pulling Montezuma's words from several documents that span many years, weaving them (she says "I interwove") into the original letter to, she says "more fully present" his life. She says "I have made every effort to be true to the original sources and have only added brief phrases to make the text flow smoothly."

I'm really uncomfortable with Capaldi putting words in Montezuma's mouth. She tells us in her notes that she has done this, but that doesn't work for me.

I wish Capaldi had written this book more like the books in the Diaries, Letters, and Memoirs series published by Capstone Press, where the primary material is clearly set apart from additional information that does what Capaldi wanted (more fully present the person's life).



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

2nd post: Capaldi's biography of Carlos Montezuma

A few days ago I wrote my initial thoughts about Gina Capaldi's picture book biography, A Boy Named Beckoning: The True Story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Native American Hero. The phrase "true story" leaped out at me, as did Capaldi's note, in which she said she drew from various documents written by Montezuma.

Today, I'll lay out comparisons between Montezuma's letter (I found a copy yesterday) and Capaldi's presentation of that letter.

The opening paragraphs...

The first paragraphs of Montezuma's letter:

My dear Friend: -

I am sorry that I delayed your request of August 31st.

I am a full-blooded Apache Indian, born about the year 1866 or '67 some where [sic] near the Four Peaks, Arizona Territory.

The Apache tribe roamed at will the country covering Ft. McDowell, Camp Date Creek, Prescott, Canon of Colorado, Ft. Defiance, Ft. Apache, San Carlos andSuperstition [sic] Mountains, for the Indians whom I have found at these places over thirty four years ago on my way east spoke the same dialect as I did. Since then the Apaches have been divided into various tribes.

My distant relatives are known as the Mohave Apaches;but [sic] the real Mohave Indians have a didtinct [sic] language of their own and were enemies to the Apaches.

For five years I lived in a most primitive state with my people-a band of about one hundred and fifty souls. Fortunately I was captured by the Pima Indians in the month of October, 1871 from the plateau known as Iron Peak, 10 or 12 miles north-west of the great Silver King mine;about [sic] 60 or 70 miles north-east of Florence and about 40 or 50 miles west of Globe in the Superstition range of mountains.


Page 4 of Capaldi's book includes an illustration of the letter she created as the framework to write the biography. Her presentation of this letter reads:

My dear friend,

I know that you are gathering information on me and what befell my people. I am, therefore, delighted to answer your questions. I hope that what I write will add knowledge, acceptance and understanding for all.

I am a full-blooded American* Indian, born in 1866 near Fish Canyon Creek in the Arizona Territory. Until the time I was five years old I was called Wassaja which means "beckoning." My people, a band of about one hundred and fifty souls, roamed the red earth plateaus. We searched for food and lived in small grass huts called oo-wahs.

Life was safe and simple in my grandfather's day. It was deadly and dangerous in mine, for we had many enemies...

Debbie's thoughts/observations:

  1. In Montezuma's letter, he does not use the word "oo-wahs" anywhere.
  2. On page three of his letter, he says that his Indian name is "Was-sa-jah" and that it means "Beckoning."
  3. Capaldi substituted "Apache" for "American Indian." The information the asterisk references is on the same page of her book. It says "When Dr. Montezuma wrote this letter to Professor Holmes, he stated that he was an Apache. Years later, he came to learn that he was not Apache but Yavapai." First, I don't think she should have made that substitution. Putting words in someone's mouth, especially about how they self-identify, is pretty egregious and presumptive. Second, why choose "American Indian" instead of "Yavapai"? Did she reason that her readers would know what "American Indian" means but be confused by "Yavapai"? Countless times, Native people have stated that they prefer the name of their tribal nation over the generic "American Indian" or "Native American." Using one of the latter obscures the diversity within those terms.
As Capaldi said in her author's note, she pulled from various documents Montezuma wrote. What she presents in the book as a letter is actually drawn from several places and times. Below are some specific comparisons. Somewhere, I may find that Montezuma actually wrote the words Capaldi brings into her presentation of the 1905 letter. Finding out where those words actually are, in document and in chronological time, requires more research. I'll do more of that research later today. For now, I'll look at the information in the opening pages:

Date of his capture:
  • Montezuma's letter says "...I was captured by the Pima Indians in the month of October, 1871..."
  • Capaldi's presentation of this point of his life is on page 6. The first line is "The Awful Night at Iron Peak Plateau; the second line is "October 1871" and the text reads: "In the month when the shadows run long..."
My thoughts? Did he say, somewhere, "when the shadows run long..." or is this Capaldi's creative hand at work?


Details of his capture:
  • Montezuma's letter says "...our camp was raided at midnight. Thirty or more were killed and about 16 or 18 children taken captive. I was one of that number and with the others was taken down into the valley and carried off.
  • Capaldi's presentation says "When it turned midnight, we were awakened by the sound of gunshots. There were screams everywhere. My mother and sisters ran for their lives. I scrambled under a clump of bushes and waited for the terror to end. But the full moon rose over the peaks, and its bright light revealed my hiding place. A strange man spotted me. He snatched me up by the arm and bound me with rope. I stood terrified and watched my village burn. Before that horrible night, I had never seen a horse. Nor had I ever seen a dead person. That night I saw both. that night I cried."

There's a lot of detail in Capaldi's presentation. I hope to find those details as I continue my research of his writing.


Where was his father during this capture?
  • Montezuma says "During the raid all the braves of the village were at San Pedro on a mission for a Peace treaty, and as my father was on his way back he received, from an Indian runner, the sad news of the massacre of his little band by the Pimas. "
  • Capaldi tells us "...my father and the other men rode away toward the rising sun to make peace with the U. S. Army." She places these words right before her description of the chapter, right after the words "when the shadows run long,".

A "Peace treaty," he says. Capaldi tells us "make peace with the U. S. Army." That phrase "make peace" is pretty common, or at least quite familiar to me. Sort of, that is, because I think I remember it a little different... It is "make peace with the Indians" --- not the U.S. Army. I'll check into Native use of the phrase in historical writings.


Immediately after his capture
  • Montezuma's letter says: "Two days travel over the hot desert brought me to what is known as Black Water Camp, twenty-five miiles above the present site of Sacston [sic].
  • On page 8, Capaldi presents "The Trek over the Hot Desert" again dated "October 1871." She says:
A Pima warrior lifted me upon a horse, and we rode for two days over the hot Arizona desert. When we reached their village, I was given pumpkin, corn, and horsemeat to eat, but I could not stomach these. Perhaps it was because I had never tasted these foods before. Perhaps it was because I was too scared.

There were close to four hundred men, women, and children in the village. I was afraid they might kill me and therefore resolved to do whatever I could to please them. During this time, the Pima were very kind to me.

On the third day of my captivity, I saw several Pima pointing at me. Some laughed. Others looked sad when my eyes met theirs. My captors painted their faces and began their war dance. The whole village danced around me. The men threatened me with spears and war clubs. The women threw dirty rags, and the children spat. An enemy captive was quite a prize--even if it was a mere sobbing child.

Everyone I knew and loved was gone. The Pima gave me a new name, Hejelweiikan, which means, "left alone."

Debbie's comments: Nowhere in his letter is there anything like what she describes. No face painting or war dance, and no spitting. It is possible he wrote something like this, perhaps, in Red Man. Capaldi cites Red Man in her bibliography. It was published at Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Though many read and use them as-is, scholars have shown that the Indian Helper, in particular, was heavily dictated and edited by teachers to portray the school as a happy place with happy students.

_________________________________

That's all for now..... Back to the archives.

__________________________________

Note, 3:35 PM, Jan 28, 2009:

I've spent the day in the archives. On the Bibliography page of her book, Capaldi says "I reconstructed the accounts of Montezuma's early life mainly from an interview he gave in 1921 to writer, N. M. Clark." I found that interview. It is called "Dr. Montezuma, Apache: Warrior in Two Worlds" and appeared in Montana: The Magazine of Western History, in volume 23, no. 2 (April, 1973). The interviewer, Neil M. Clark, prefaced the actual interview with this (excerpt from p. 57):

Late in the year 1921, I sat down with Dr. Montezuma in the front room of his home on the south side of Chicago. He was a man of medium height, solidly built, with eyes that were black and sometimes mystical. His hair was black and straight, his features unmistakably those of a pureblood Indian. There was nothing unusual about the room where we first sat down. But we had not been there long when Dr. Montezuma rose.

"Come with me, he said, "it is too civilized here." He led the way to his study. Here we might have been in a miniature museum. The walls were covered with pictures of the people and scenes of his race and his friends. On strings across the ceiling hung moccasins, skins, ears of corn, and a host of trinkets.

"This," Montezuma smiled, "is the medicine man's workroom!"


The interview corresponds pretty close to the episodes Capaldi relates. As she said in her note, she drew from this interview to present Montezuma's early life. Clark says that Montezuma stood and closed his eyes to tell this part of his story (excerpt from p. 58-59):

I, little WASSAJA, was asleep in our grass hut. I woke to the sound of war cries, the echoes of guns, and the crackle of fires. I ran for my life, and soon overtook my two sisters, the older one carrying the younger on her back. I passed them, but presently stumbled and fell. Too frightened to go on, I crawled under a bush, small than myself, and curled up, hardly daring to breath. I might have been safe there, but at that moment the moon rose above the rim of Iron Peak and revealed my hiding-place as if it had been mid-day. I caught sight of someone stealing toward me -- a stranger, I knew, for he had a queer high hat on his head, and a cape around his shoulders. I had never seen anybody clothed, and I could think of nothing but this was some god coming after me. The figure came close, put out a swift hand and seized my arm."


Here's another excerpt (p. 59):

Alone, friendless, frightened, I sat there and cried with all my might. Occasionally a warrior would make a motion at me with a tomahawk or a spear, and I would scream. The women kicked sand in my face and threw their dirty rags at me. The children spat on me. Their dance around the captive of the feared and hated Apaches, though the captive was only a small boy, lasted for an hour.


As I continue reading the Clark interview alongside the Capaldi book, in the context of what I know about Native voice, Native history, appropriation and interpretation of voice, I can't help wondering about this interview. The prefatory material about Montezuma characterizing his front room as "too civilized" and taking Clark to a room filled with "moccasins, skins" and other things does not match what I know about Montezuma and his thinking about American Indians and what he thinks progress would look like. Clark seems to portray a tragic Indian who cherishes an Indian existence. That does not sound like Montezuma, but I'm still reading, still studying.

Still working, still thinking....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Univ of North Carolina students share their thoughts...

Susan Gardner teaches "American Indians in Children's Literature" at the University of North Carolina. Over the course of the semester (Spring 2009), her students will use this space to post comments about what they're reading, learning and doing. Some of their comments may be in reference to things they've read on this blog. I've not hosted another professor's course before. I'm not sure how it will work, but we're going to give it a try and see what we learn. By "we" I mean me, Susan, her students, and readers of this blog.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Meyer's BREAKING DAWN...

Meyer's BREAKING DAWN...


... is CRACKING ME UP and GROSSING ME OUT.


I'm halfway through, laughing out loud in some parts. Is this a comedy?! A bad one, if that!!! It is stunning in its ludicrous dialogue and gratuitously bloody scenes.

I'm making notes on the parts about the Quileute's and the "treaty" between the vampires and the Quileute's --- there's interesting things to note about that, but my gosh!!! It is so..... STUPID.

Stop reading this if you're worried about spoilers.

During the birth, Bella vomits a fountain of blood. Jacob's nickname for the "little monster" is Nessie. Bella is furious that he nicknamed her after the Loch Ness Monster.

I am so glad I did not pay full price for this book. It's a joke! I know her readers were disappointed. I'll have to see why once I finish the book.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

News from the American Indian Library Association

The Winter 2009 newsletter of the American Indian Library Association is out. I want to share some of it with you...

Chief Joseph Medicine Crow, author of Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond, was awarded the U.S. Bronze Star and the French Legion of Honor on June 25, 2008. Also in June, he was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Naomi Caldwell, chair of their Youth Literature Awards committee said that Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will be coming out in paperback, and that its publisher (Little, Brown and Company) will provide free copies to every tribal library in the United States.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Initial Thoughts: Capaldi's A BOY NAMED BECKONING: THE TRUE STORY OF DR. CARLOS MONTEZUMA, NATIVE AMERICAN HERO

On page 3 of Gina Capaldi's A Boy Named Beckoning: The True Story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Native American Hero is her Author's Note. As I read through her words, I pause again and again. For example: she calls him a civil rights activist, but he was an Indian Rights activist. There is a difference. In her note, Capaldi tells us that this book is based on a letter Montezuma wrote. That letter was sent to a professor at the Smithsonian who was working on a book about American Indians. The first paragraphs of that letter are on page 5 of Capaldi's book. But, wait! Are those first paragraphs from Montezuma's letter? The last paragraph of Capaldi's note reads:

"Montezuma would later reveal other, more complete versions of his life through interviews, newspaper and magazine articles, speeches, and letters--all of which have been saved in various libraries in museums throughout the United States. These documents were my source for Dr. Montezuma's own words, which I interwove into the original letter to more fully present the doctor's life. I have made every effort to be true to the original sources and have only added brief phrases to make the text flow smoothly."
Hmm... I'm not sure about that... Combining his words from various places to "more fully present" his life story. Those details would definitely have been fine if they'd been part of the information she provides, but, presenting them as if they're part of the letter he wrote, the words he chose to share about who he is? That doesn't feel right.

Information provided on page 4, left side of the page reads:

"The Yavapai Indians have lived in central and western Arizona for centuries. In the days that they roamed the deserts of the Southwest, the men were mainly hunters and gatherers and the women were known for their intricate woven baskets."


They "roamed" the deserts? I bristle at the use of that word. Indians roam. Just like the deer and the antelope in the song Home on the Range... " Did the pioneers or the cowboys roam, too?

Curious, I did a few searches using Google:

On the web---
  • Search phrase: "Pioneers roamed": 129 hits
  • Search phrase: "Cowboys roamed": 938 hits
  • Search phrase: "Indians roamed": 9,910 hits

I repeated the search in Google books---
  • Pioneers roamed: 23 hits
  • Cowboys roamed: 135
  • Indians roamed: 688 hits

Interesting numbers, eh? Given the ubiquitous image of roaming Indians, it is not surprising that Capaldi did it, too. But that doesn't make it ok.

And the illustrations that accompany the text on that page?

Above the text that says "roamed" is a black and white photograph that "shows a Yavapai family in the 1880s." The boy in the photograph is wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt. The girls and women are wearing what look like calico dresses. Capaldi's illustration, which spans the double-paged spread, depicts a barefoot man and boy wearing breechclouts. The man carries a spear. To my eye, Capaldi's illustration of the man screams stone-age caveman.

Overlaying the illustration is the opening paragraphs of the letter that Capaldi uses as the frame to tell this story. But again, are these the words he actually wrote in that letter?

Ah, yes, some of you may say "HE used the word "roamed" in his letter..." In fact, he may have. Some Native people adopt(ed) words use(d) by white writers, but because of what Capaldi said in her Author's Note, we don't know if "roamed" is Montezuma's word or hers.

I'm searching for a copy of that letter. When I find it, I'll be able to make some comparisons.

To be continued...
_________________
Update: March 14, 2009

Capaldi's book was discussed two other times:
Monday, January 28
Sunday, Feb 1, 2009

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. americanindiansinchildrensliterature.net
December 7, 2008 3:48 PM
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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 BethKanell.com. 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 http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.net
January 19, 2009 8:51 AM
Delete
Blogger 
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
Delete
Blogger  
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

Blogger
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
Delete
Blogger  
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

Blogger  
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
Delete

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
Delete

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
Delete

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."

KLIATT
'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."
But!

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 "...it 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.

July...
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.

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 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.
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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 ksheahan@illinois.edu