Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Congratulations to Muscogee (Creek) author, Cynthia Leitich Smith

Good news! The trade and library editions of Jingle Dancer are going into another printing!

Written by Muscogee (Creek) author, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jingle Dancer, is one of my all-time favorites. The story and illustrations reflect the life of a Native child and her family in ways that are realistic, not romantic or tragic.

Cynthia's story speaks back to the "plight" narrative found in so many children's books that romanticize Native peoples. The histories of Native Nations are ones of colonization and war, but we're still here, and our ways of being Native are strong.

In this page from the story, Jenna and her grandmother sit together, working on Jenna's dress. It is like the image I carry in my mind of working with my own grandmother, and watching my daughter work with my mother. Makes me smile, remembering all of it. If you don't have a copy, get one! The book is available from Oyate.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Diane Chen (SLJ) review of Jennifer Denetdale's

Pointing you, today, to Diane Chen's post about Jennifer Denetdale's book, The Long Walk: The Forced Navajo Exile.

Diane's blog is on the website for School Library Journal, one of the influential and hence, important journals librarians use to purchase books for their libraries. I'm glad to see Jennifer's book get this attention. I blogged about it awhile back.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

About Paul Goble and his books...

I get a lot of questions about Paul Goble. Are his books accurate? Reliable? I have not studied them myself, but can refer you to the works of two Native women: Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, and Doris Seale.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn is a Crow Creek Sioux poet, novelist, and scholar and she is one of the founding editors of Wicazo Sa, one of the leading journals in American Indian Studies. In her essay "American Indian Intellectualism and the New Indian Story" Cook-Lynn writes (p. 117-118):

A transplanted Englishman, Paul Goble, who lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota for a time and married a woman from Sturgis, South Dakota, with whom he has a child, has been the most intrepid explorer of this genre [children's stories about Indians] in recent times. He has taken Iktomi (or Unktomi) stories, the star stories, and the creation myths of the Sioux, a vast body of philosophical and spiritual knowledge about the universe, to fashion twenty or more storybooks for children ages 3 to 14 which he, himself, has illustrated in a European aesthetic and style. Now living in Minnesota, he has successfully used several people as "informants," including a popular hoop dancer, Kevin Locke, who lives on one of the South Dakota Indian reservations. It is no wonder, when Native cultural philosophy and religion are used to entertain and inform white American children, that the idea of "Indian Intellectualism" in America is dismissed.
[...]
Goble takes his place not alongside, but a step ahead of those other white writers of children's stories who, knowingly or not, have long trivialized the rather sophisticated notions the Lakotas have held about the universe for thousands of years.
[...]
[C]onsidering the vast ignorance the average person has concerning native intellectualism, the non-Lakota speaking Englishman's interpretation of the native Lakota/Dakota world-view and spirituality through the lens of his own language and art is, at the very least, arrogant.

It has not occurred to anyone, least of all Goble himself, to ask why it is that tribal writers, except in carefully managed instances, have chosen not to use these stories commercially. If one were to inquire about that, one would have to explore the moral and ethical dimensions of who owns bodies of knowledge and literature. That is a difficult exploration in a capitalistic democracy that suggests anything can be bought and sold. Many white American critics refuse to enter into this debate, believe Native American literature and knowledge cannot "belong" to any single group. A discussion of who "transmits" and who "produces" usually follows.


Cook-Lynn's essay is in Devon Mihesuah's Natives and Academics, published in 1998 by the University of Nebraska Press. She's written several books and essays, including a recent article in Indian Country Today about Ward Churchill, who, by the way, is not Native: Lessons of Churchill fiasco: Indian studies needs clear standards.

Doris Seale is Santee/Cree/Abenaki and a co-founder of Oyate. In 2001, she received the American Library Association's Equality Award for her life's work. The essay I'm excerpting from below appears in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children, edited by Seale and Slapin. In the essay, Seale writes (p. 158-160):

In the beginning at least, there seemed to be some understanding, and some humility about the fact that he was venturing into a world that he could never more than partially comprehend.
[...]
Whether Goble has reacted to an increasing insistence in the Native community that it is time for us to tell our own stories, or at the very least that they should be told accurately, or to criticism of himself specifically is unclear, but as a young friend put it, "Man, something happened to him!" His work has come with increasingly longer lists of references, mostly to ethnographic texts from the late 19th- and early 20th Centuries, as a sort of justification. Lately, Goble has been specializing in Iktomi stories--Iktomi, for those who may not know, being the Lakota "trickster" figure. The introductory material in these books, "About Iktomi," gives the impression that Goble has come to believe in his entitlement to do pretty much what he wants to with any of our stories, and that the result should be beyond criticism. In Iktomi Loses His Eyes, a "Note to the Reader" tells us that "there is no 'authentic' version of these stories. The only rule in telling them is to include certain basic themes."
[...]
In the author's note to the Bison edition of Brave Eagle's Account of the Fetterman Fight (1992) Goble said this:

"I wrote the book for Indian children because I wanted them to know about and to feel proud of the courage of their ancestors. I have written all my books primarily with Indian children in mind..."

Assuming, apparently, along with many anthropologists, that we have so lost our traditions, cultures and histories that we must be taught them by a white person.

There is no reconciliation for us to the things that have been done to us, to the things that are believed about us, to the fact that, even now, there is nothing of ours that is not fair game. If some white person wants it, there is nothing precious or sacred enough not to be touched.

Is it necessary to say, in the 21st Century, that this is not right?


I am fairly certain that every elementary school and public library has at least one of Goble's books on the shelf, and I'm sure that they circulate pretty well.

I suggest to librarians, when one of them is torn or dirty, that you remove the book and NOT replace it. There are better choices, and readers in your libraries should have those books instead.

I know, I know.... As your eyes read over my words, you are thinking about the Library Bill of Rights, and free speech, and all of those things that America privileges.

Nonetheless, I encourage you to think about what Cook-Lynn and Seale wrote, and give this some thought.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Brits and Americans, Imagining Indians

This morning, I read an article in the Telegraph about the "Latitude Festival," an annual music festival that takes place in Suffolk, England. The first one was in 2006. The article in the Telegraph isn't about the music. Instead, Neil McCormick describes the people and setting. Here's what caught my eye:

People enter into the spirit with colourful costumes: there were parties of American Indians, Smurfs and an engaging posse of pensionable old dears dressed as fairies. The audience is, it has to be said, overwhelmingly white and middle-class (and probably predominantly middle-aged).

Indians, Smurfs, and fairies.

Reading those words reminded me of an email I received on December 30, 2007 in response to critiques I posted about one of Jan Brett's books. In her email, the author wrote:

Why is there always someone who wants to rain on someone else's parade? Why can't children just enjoy a good read? I am sure you don't believe in Santa, the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny because they are incorrect in guiding young children's beliefs.

For those that want to study the American Indian ways and beliefs, good for them. For now I will read and enjoy books, just because.


It struck me that she would cast American Indians in that particular framework---of things-not-real. She is a librarian in a public school in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Santa. The Tooth Fairy. The Easter Bunny.
Indians, Smurfs, and fairies.

Here and in the UK. Evidence of the work that needs doing, and I note with no small amount of concern, the librarians resistance to that work.

To see what prompted the librarian's email, read Theresa Seidel's "An Open Letter to Jan Brett, published here on December 19, 2007. And read a related article "Jan Brett and Sherman Alexie" posted here on December 31, 2007.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

News about TWILIGHT

Warning: This will be a snarky post.

Meyer has found another way to suck. Obviously, my use of the word "suck" has multiple meanings.

First, her books are about vampires who suck blood.

Second, I think her books are poorly written, so, for me, they suck as literature.

Third, I'd rather people buy books that don't make abuse seem exciting and desirable, so, in that respect, the books suck from the status and strength of women.

Fourth, because she misrepresents American Indian sovereignty, her books suck at gains we've made at informing Americans about American Indians.

So what is that new way? First there were the books themselves, and then the movie and all its tie-in items (clothing, the board game, action figures...), and now, Twilight in graphic novel format. Another way to suck more $$ from your bank account.

Sigh.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Intersections: Alice Walker, playing Indian, and real Indians

Searching for information about Bill Wahpepah, a Kickapoo and Sauk and Fox man who worked at the Native American Survival School in the Bay Area in the 1970s, I found myself reading Alice Walker's blog post "The First Time I Saw Dennis Banks: Ojibwa Warrior Introduction." I learned that Alice Walker was involved with the American Indian Movement:

Many years later, after moving to the West Coast, I became involved in the American Indian Movement: Reading poetry with John Trudell, hosting fund raisers with Nilak Butler, Bill Wahpepah and his sculptor wife, Carol. Celebrating Un-Thanksgiving Day at Alcatraz Island, praying-in on top of Black Mesa in Arizona, and joining demonstrations and vigils for Native American rights whenever I could. However it wasn’t until a decade had passed that I once again saw Dennis. This time handcuffed, on trial for a list of crimes designated by the court, having voluntarily returned to face sentencing after leading the FBI on a chase that lasted eleven years.
Go to her blog and read the entire essay. There, she talks about her mother's grandmother, Tallulah, who was African and Cherokee. Clicking around her blog, I ended up at her website, Alice Walker's Garden, where I read her biography. This jumped out at me:

The most shaping experience of Walker’s childhood and adolescence occurred in 1952 when she was eight years old. Playing cowboys and Indians with her older brothers Curtis and Bobby, Curtis shot accidentally Walker in the eye with a BB gun. To avoid punishment, the brothers concocted a fiction and pressured their sister to accept it. The physical result was that Walker lost the sight in her right eye.


That incident played a major role in her writing. Not the playing Indian part, but the effect of agreeing to hide what happened. Read the entire biographical essay, too. She doesn't say more about Indians or playing Indian there. Maybe she does elsewhere. I'm not trying to interpret it in any way, good or bad, because I don't know her work. It just strikes me, on this July day, the ways that peoples lives intersect, how they touch each other.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Book signing: Simon Ortiz and Evelina Zuni Lucero



If you can, head for downtown Santa Fe next Tuesday. At 3:00, Simon Ortiz and Evelina Zuni Lucero will be at the Museum of Contemporary Arts for an event celebrating the publication of Simon J. Ortiz: A Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance. Evelina is one of the editors of the book.

For directions and details, check out the Facebook page about the event.



High school English teachers who teach any of his writings will find the book an excellent resource. And, if you're interested in his books for children, I have a chapter in the book you might find helpful.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

"Moccasins and Microphones" Poetry Performance, Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Team

Back in November, 2008, NewsHour on PBS featured a handful of high school poets from Santa Fe Indian School. They are in the Spoken Word Club and were getting ready for the 2009 Brave New Voices Poetry Slam. If you click here, you'll go to the page I posted in November. It's got links to audio and visual clips of them reading. Shown here is a photo taken of their performance at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.

On July 20th, from 6 to 7:30 PM, the Spoken Word Team will be performing at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Admission is free.

The members of the team are:

Nolan Eskeets (Navajo)
Davin Coriz (Santo Domingo/Ohkay Owingeh/Picuris)
Santana Shorty (Navajo)
Clara Natonabah (Navajo)
Stuart Chavez (Havasupai/Navajo/Zuni)
Ariel Antone (Tohono O'odham)

Their coaches are Tim McLaughlin and Amaryllis Moleski. The Spoken Word Team is nationally recognized for their poetry, which incorporates Native languages and philosophies.

If you're in the Chicago area on the 20th, add this to your day. Or, plan a trip there and cap it off with this event. Click here to see PBS video of their readings.

-----
UPDATE, 4:00 PM, July 9, 2009. The event is at the Newberry Library, and is hosted by the D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian History. Information about Moccasins and Microphones is here. Scroll down on that page to find the information about Moccasins and Microphones, but also scroll way down and click on the link to read the Meeting Ground Newsletter. Spend some time on the McNickle pages! The McNickle Center is a terrific resource for anyone interested in American Indians.

Last, driving directions to the Newberry are here.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Quileute Response to TWILIGHT

Pasting below an extended excerpt from a New York Post article. Called "Vampire Vacation: Twilight Fans Turn a Quiet Indian Reservation into an Unwitting Tourist Mecca," it is the first time I've seen a Quileute response to Twilight. The news article was posted online at 1:32 AM on July 5th, 2009.

------
"Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer chose Forks after Googling for the rainiest place in America and was pleased to find the Quileute nearby.
Locals marvel at how much she got right, but the economically depressed reservation is ambivalent about "Twilight" and how its 350 residents should capitalize on it. Compared to Forks, where visitors can pose with Bella's truck and participate in a "Twilight" look-alike contest, the reservation is cloaked in centuries-old anonymity.
"There are mixed feelings," says tribal council member Anna Rose Counsell. Over the last three months, the tribe has struggled over what to do. "This is a phenomenon that is happening whether we like it or not."
Tribal leaders hired a p.r. pro, Jackie Jacobs, in February after being inundated with "Twilight" inquiries. The tribe opened its Wednesday night drum circle to all visitors, which recently included two families of "Twilight" fans.
At the tribe-owned Oceanside Resort, director Renee Rux says business is up 30 percent, thanks to "Twilight." "It's been huge for us," Rux says. The resort recently partnered with a charter boat company to offer "Twilight" tour packages for $250.
At the moment, the shop stocks few "Twilight" souvenirs, including hand-knit hats emblazoned with "Bella," "Jacob" and "Edward." Another holds $8 bottles of sand, labeled "Jacob's Treasure."
Rux, a non-native, retrained the staff to reach out to visitors. "That's the paradigm shift," she says. "People [now] want that experience of being with the Quileute."
A hospitality industry veteran, Rux promised to add $1 million to the resort's $2 million in revenue when she was hired last September. It's just not clear how much the Quileute people want to share their culture for profit.
Hospitality is an ingrained part of their culture, but elders are worried about building a tourist economy. They fret about how their creation story is portrayed in the book. The tribe says they were changed from wolves to humans by a traveler. Meyer took literary liberty, enabling them to change back at will in an eternal battle against vampires.
"This is our opportunity to educate people on Quileute history," Counsell says.
At the Wednesday drum circle, artist and grandmother Ann Penn-Charles works up a sweat in the kitchen while a group of men sing traditional songs. More than 75 people have come on this night for the tribe's free dinner and music.
Quileute artists take pride in harvesting their own materials, whether it's raw animal sinew for a drum or cedar bark for baskets. Penn-Charles says she's felt judged by some tribal members because she knits the names of "Twilight" characters into traditional cowichin hats. They sell for $50 at the resort store, or $25 directly from her.
"They're resentful. They think we're selling out," Penn-Charles says. "It's not. It makes your car payment, or those braces your kids need."
The tribe has hired a business developer, Justin Finkbonner, who also spearheads a crusade to market Quileute and other native artists.
"We have so many talented artists here, so many untapped," Counsell says. "They don't know how to market."
In Forks, Chinook Pharmacy owner Chuck Carlson, agrees. He's seen a 20 percent jump in business thanks to "Twilight" merchandise, but the store only carries one Quileute craft -- tiny hand-woven cedar baskets that sit behind a glass case and sell for $49.
"They need to take more advantage of what's going on," Carlson says. "I don't think they understand how to do that."
In particular, he feels the tribe should profit from the tour buses that rumble through the reservation. "I would be saying, 'Hey, you're coming down here, you're making a lot of money off us. You need to share some of that profit.' "
The tribe is now talking about working with tour operator Dazzled by Twilight. Its evolution as a business likely will only grow as the rest of the books are made into movies. In later books, the Quileutes' role becomes nearly as prominent as the Cullens'.
Fans of La Push hope visitors who come for "Twilight" will learn to appreciate the area's natural allure. That could help connect the Quileutes to more sustainable tourism, such as fishing trips with a Native American guide, kayak rentals and eateries focused on fresh seafood that will attract culinary tourists.
Tribal publicist Jacobs practically scoffs at questions about what the Quileutes will do once "Twilight" fades.
"The Quileute have traced their ancestry to the Ice Age," she says. "One day, 'Twilight' will go away and they will continue being the hospitable, welcoming people they've always been, practicing the culture they have been practicing for tens of thousands of years.

Some time back, I saw something that said cast members would be at Quileute Days July 17-19th, but there is nothing about it on the tribe's website and no mention of it in the news story above.

Update, October 23, 2009

Want to see more that I've written about Twilight? Try...
"Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT" (May 19, 2008)
"Meyer's TWILIGHT, Second Post" (May 25, 2008)
Terrific essays about Meyer's character "Jacob" (June 30, 2008)
"Has Stephenie Meyer read this?" (Oct 23, 2009)

"Do you know what a bow and arrow is?"

I read a newspaper article this morning about a tutoring program in San Jose that helps refugees assimilate. A family from Myanmar is the focus of the story. They are taught English, but also taught about America and American culture.

Here's the excerpt that caught my attention:

"I'm helping him gain the confidence to put his own sentences together. It helps him formulate sentences and teaches me about who he is," says Finigan, 20, who worked with refugees in Thailand in 2008 with missionaries along the border and wanted to continue his work when he came back to the states.

The two worked on a lesson plan on the Native Americans, and Thar Hto Lay's eyes grew big as he looked at the pictures of tepees and bow and arrows.

"Do you know what a bow and arrow is?" asks Finigan.

The teenager just looks up at him and shakes his head.

"They are used to hunt. Do you hunt back in Burma? Or do they use guns?" he ask.

"They use guns," Thar Hto Lay says quietly.

Finigan has been working with Thar Hto Lay since January, coming to his home once a week for two hours at a time. The two talk about favorite movies and food to break the ice and move on to the lesson plan of the day.

I'm going to write to the program for more information. It sounds like the lesson plan on Native Americans rests heavily on stereotypes. The article is "Volunteers help refugees assimilate in the South Bay." It is viewable today (July 7, 2009) in the San Jose Mercury News.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Gloria Whelan's AFTER THE TRAIN

Directing you, today, to Rebecca Rabinowitz's "Source fiction is no excuse for racism."

Her essay is about Gloria Whelan's book, After the Train. In it, Rebecca hones in on the play-Indian theme in the book.

Barbara Bietz, in her review in the Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter didn't note the play-Indian theme at all. Hazel Rochman's review in Booklist doesn't mention it. Neither does independent reviewer Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger, or the unsigned Kirkus reviewer, or Hope Morrison of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

On page 108, Whelan writes:

We pool our money and buy a copy of a Western by Karl May, Winnetou, the Apache Knight. Karl May has written all these great books about the American West, and the amazing thing is he's never been there! You have to wonder how he can make it all seem real.

I wonder why all those other reviewers did not mention the Karl May book? Did they not see it? Did it not matter?

Thanks, Rebecca, for your essay and the link.

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

Indians in LITTLE GOLDEN BOOKS

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
Hiawatha
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).

Response to HANK THE COWDOG

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?