Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Richard Peck's A SEASON OF GIFTS

I've had a flurry of email of late, asking if I've read Richard Peck's new book, A Season of Gifts. For my readers outside of children's literature, Peck is a much-acclaimed writer. His A Year Down Yonder won the prestigious Newbery Medal in 2000 and his A Long Way from Chicago was a Newbery Honor winner in 1998.

These emails were not the first I'd heard about the book. A few weeks ago, Roger Sutton mentioned it at his blog, saying something like "pass the popcorn" and that the PC police were not going to like the book.

I went out this morning and bought the book. I'm writing as I read...  If you have not read the book and do not want any part of it to be "spoiled" then you best stop reading right now. Come back to this page after you've finished the book.


Chapter One: Locked and Loaded

Bobby is the narrator. He is talking about the woman who lives in the "haunted house" next door. She's old and rather eccentric. People think she's got well-armed, with an arsenal of weapons behind her woodbox. That she has a woodbox is a clue to the time in which the book is set.

Bobby tells us there are many rumors about her. He says "One was that her property was on top of an ancient Kickapoo burying grounds, and that's spooky right there."

Ok! Two and a half-pages into the book, I see why people wonder what I think of the novel. These three books are set in Illinois. The Kickapoo are (note present tense verb, ARE) one of the tribes that was moved out of the state of Illinois. Not far from here (Urbana, Illinois) are their ancestral grounds. You can read about their history at the website maintained by the Kansas Kickapoo Tribe.

Note that Peck says it is "spooky" that the woman's house is on top of a Kickapoo "burying grounds." How many stories do YOU know about ghosts and Indian burial grounds? Its certainly a popular theme in ghost stories...  Hmm...  Is it equally popular with other people? And what about that phrase, "burying ground." Why say that instead of cemetery? Would it matter? Probably not.

The old woman next door does have a name - Mrs. Dowdel. In chapter six, "The Haunted Melon Patch," she gives an interview to a local newspaper. The subject? "Strange sightings" in her melon patch. This quote is from page 55:

However, the elderly landowner admitted that her property and outbuildings are built over an ancient Kickapoo burial ground.

"Oh pshaw," Mrs. Dowdel expostulated. "As kids we was forever digging up arrowheads and calabashes and all them ancient relics. Beadwork and such stuff. Once in a great while a skull would surface, or a dog would dig up something."

And the Unexplained Presence?

"Some used to say they'd seen the ghost of a girl in a feathered headdress and moccasins," Mrs. Dowdell recalled. "You know how people talk. They called her the Kickapoo Princess."

When our reporter inquired if she'd ever seen the ghostly Kickapoo Princess herself, the aged matron replied, "Me? I got enough aggravation from the living without messing with the dead."

As I read the words "Kickapoo Princess" and "feathered headdress and moccasins," I recalled that during World War II, a female student was chosen to portray the school's mascot, "chief illiniwek." She was called "princess illiniwek." She wore a feathered headdress. In available photos I can't tell if she has moccasins or not. For some odd reason, "chief illiniwek" has been barefoot for some time.  (NOTE: I was active in getting the university to get rid of its stereotypical mascot.)

Ghost stories and high school students... it is inevitable that Peck's story is going to have teens in the melon patch in the dark of night. Sure enough, that's what happens. On page 60, Edna-Earl (teen girl):

"clearly saw the Kickapoo Princess descending from a great height, probably heaven or the Happy Hunting Ground. Edna-Earl saw a pair of beaded moccasins dangling a good six feet above the ground. Maybe higher.

They wee all scared too speechless to warn Barbara Jean. But they all agreed on one point: The Kickapoo Princess was wearing a full feathered headdress and carried a pair of gourd rattles in her weirdly pale little hands. And they all said her hair was in braids."

Mrs. Dowdel fires her gun in the ruckus caused by these teen girls. The police come and Police Chief C. P. Snokes tells her it is a crime to discharge a firearm in city limits. Mrs. Dowdel says her property is not in city limits. Snokes points to a fence that marks the city limits, but Mrs. Dowdel say:

"You talking white man's law? I'd say this ancient Kickapoo burial ground was here long before the first so-called pioneers."

C. P. Snokes scratched up under his cap. "Mrs. Dowdel, are you telling me you live on an Indian reser---"

"I reserve the right to protect my property is what I'm telling you."

I wonder where Peck is going with all this?!

In chapter seven, "Fuss and Feathers," we learn that the story of the Kickapoo Princess is big news. People come from everywhere to see the melon patch. Mrs. Dowdel sets up a roadside stand and sells corn relish and apple butter. She also sells "Authentic Kickapoo Headdress Feathers" for 5 cents each, or, 3 for a dime.  She tells the reporters who turn up to

"go down to the southern part of the state, down there at Cahokia. I know it's the rough end of creation, but the old prehistoric people buried their folks in mounds down there. A good many has been dug up and put on display. Bones of course."

Through Mrs. Dowdel, Peck is telling his readers a little about Cahokia Mounds, and he's also telling readers that Indian bones were dug up and put on display. That certainly did--and DOES--happen.

Bobby's little sister, Ruth Ann, has taken to hanging out with Mrs. Dowdel and is starting to talk like her (p. 69):

"...this whole town is built where two old Indian trails crossed. The Kickapoos goin' one way, the Illini the other. Hoo-boy, no wonder they's restless spirits underfoot."

Indian trails. Just like in Little House on the Prairie! Illini? Is Peck/Dowdel referring to citizens of the state of Illinois, who, going back to the 1800s called themselves "Illini" or is he referring to American Indians who were part of the Illini Confederacy?


On page 72, Mrs. Dowdel goes to Bobby's house, carrying a bundle. She says it is the Kickapoo Princess. Out of respect for my readers, I will not quote from that portion of the book. I will not describe it either. In fact, reading that passage made me very uneasy. Peck has merrily constructed a scene that demonstrates his utter lack of respect for the dead.

It isn't funny. 

It isn't entertaining.

He, like so many authors, assumes that his readers do not include American Indians, much less Kickapoos.

He's wrong.

Why did this sail past his editors?! What about reviewers?!

I don't know what to say. I have stopped reading Peck's book.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Pueblo" in Shoulders and Brannen's THE ABC BOOK OF AMERICAN HOMES

This morning, I am looking (online) at the "P" page in Michael Shoulders and Sarah S. Brannen's picture book, The ABC Book of American Homes.

The text reads:

P is for Pueblo. These communal homes were invented by the Pueblo Indians of America's Southwest. Pueblos are apartment-like dwellings with thick walls of adobe, a mixture of dirt, clay, and straw. Since pueblos are made of earthen materials, rain can damage them. For that reason, pueblos are built in very dry places. Although some pueblos are painted, many owners leave them their natural color. These pueblos blend into their surroundings as if they sprang from the earth.

Reading that Pueblo Indians "invented" this style of dwelling sounds odd. Is that word used to describe the structures cultures of the world created? Maybe so. I have to look into it.

Shoulders and Brannen's description of adobe walls is not wrong, but it isn't right either. The walls are made of dirt, clay, and straw. But how? These are raw materials, but just how do they become walls?

I know the answer to that question because I helped my father and grandfather make adobe bricks. We made thousands for the home that my parents live in today. "Dirt, clay, and straw" is only partially correct. The "dirt" in New Mexico has a lot of clay in it. We use dirt, sand, and straw. I know the straw makes the adobe brick hold together better, much like rebar strengthens cement. I assume the sand does the same thing, but I'd have to ask my dad. (Regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know that I am tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Nambe is a couple of hours away from Taos.)

Because the adobe brick (and the walls) have a lot of clay in them, they are actually quite resistant to water. New Mexico is considered to be a dry place, but it does rain and snow a lot. The adobe brick walls are plastered with an adobe plaster. Though rain does erode the plaster and it can get to the adobe bricks beneath, repairs are simple.

Shoulders and Brannen say that, due to the problems of rain, pueblos are built in 'very dry places.' That doesn't make sense. It suggests that the pueblo people tried to build adobe homes in other places but decided they could only be built in a dry place, so, they (Pueblo people), wanting to make homes out of adobe, had to look for a dry place to build them. That's backwards. Any culture, any people, anywhere around the world, builds with resources at-hand.

The text says "some pueblos are painted."  As I read the text, the use of "pueblos" is incorrect. Its used indiscriminately. A more correct use would be "some pueblo homes" are painted. Pueblo is the entire village, not just the structure. The book is showing Taos Pueblo. Most of the structures like the one they show are hundreds of years old and generally speaking they have an adobe mud plaster that cannot be painted. Walls that are painted today are those that are plastered with a cement-based stucco.


As I study the illustration, it is obvious that the illustrator is depicting Taos Pueblo, located in northern New Mexico. Cues are the mountains in the background, and the blue doors and windows on some of the homes.  Errors in the illustration include:

  • If you study photographs of Taos, you will see that most of those blue doors are screendoors, not front doors. The homes have both---screen doors, and front doors, and windows with glass and screens over those glass windows. One might argue that it is a small distinction, but, the illustration in ABC Book of American Homes also includes children in present-day clothing, so, it is reasonable to show the screen doors. I notice this particular aspect of the doors because in a lot of tourist brochures, items like screens, glass windows, telephone wires and the like are photo-shopped out of the image in order to portray a more "untouched by civilization" image.

  • The logs that protrude from the upper section of the walls are vigas (beams) that support the roof. The home in the foreground on the "P" page has tiny logs protruding, and most of the ones in the background have none at all.

  • The illustrator put way too many ladders in the illustrations. One way I can interpret that is that Shoulders/Brannen thought that every family would have a ladder all their own rather than sharing one ladder amongst several families. The idea of 'community' is lost.

My analysis of this page might seem picky, but these small details add up, on this page, and to the already-massive body of misinformation about American Indians.

It would not have been difficult to get these items right. I don't have the book itself, so my comments are specific to a single page in the book.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Who is "Mary Whitebird"

Who is Mary Whitebird?

A post to LM_NET prompted my search to see what I could find out about Mary Whitebird and a story called "Ta-Na-E-Ka." The person using that name (Mary Whitebird) wrote the story. From what I am able to determine, the story was first published in 1972 in Scholastic Voices. Since then, the short story has been published in reading textbooks for use in schools. I've found many references to the story.

For example, Carl A. Grant and Christine E. Sleeter reference it in their Turning on Learning: Five Approaches for Multicultural Teaching Plans for Race, Class, Gender and Disability, published in 2006. At the end of chapter six, "Multicultural and Social Justice Education" is a list of suggested procedures. The first item reads "Choose multicultural selections from the literature text Elements of Literature (Anderson, 2005) that highlight issues of social class and power in the United States--for example, Ta-Na-E-Ka, by Mary Whitebird" (p. 280). Later in the paragraph, they write "Each week throughout the quarter, the students will read, discuss, and explore these stories using the textbook's critical reading questions and exercises that highlight marginalized peoples' experiences with injustice. For possible extension, students could research a marginalized culture's history such as the Kaw Indians, introduced in the story Ta-Na-E-Ka, by Mary Whitebird." (p. 280).

I found the story itself on a worksheet published (and copyrighted) by the International Baccalaureate Organization in 2006.

Set in the present day, the story is about a soon-to-be eleven year old Kaw girl named Mary and her eleven year old cousin, Roger. Eleven is "a magic word" among the Kaws, because that is the year when children go through a test of endurance and survival called Ta-Na-E-Ka by which they become adults. Mary does not want to go through this ritual. She complains to her mom and her schoolteacher. Her mother tells her she'll be proud she did it, and her teacher tells her not to look down on her heritage.

According to Mary's grandfather, they should spend five days in the wilderness, naked and barefoot, living off the land. Mary's grandfather puts them through one month of training that includes how to eat grasshoppers.  Mary and Roger's parents object to the naked part, so, the children get to wear bathing suits. This all takes place somewhere along the Missouri River, in the springtime.

As I read the story, I had a lot of questions, and, like the post on LM_NET, I wondered about the author. One individual emailed me, saying that there is no biographical information in the textbook for this author. That sort of information is provided for all the other authors in the textbook. I'm hoping to get a copy of the textbook so I can see how the story is presented.

So far, all roads-of-research on 'who is Mary Whitebird' lead to the Wikipedia site that says Mary Whitebird is a pseudonym for "a writer who has long had an interest in the life of the American Indian in the late 20th century." This writer is "In reality, [...] a very private writer and film-maker who was born in Arizona." That information is followed by an explanation on why someone might assume a pen name and write Indian stories. In reply is a quote attributed to the person who writes as "Mary Whitebird."

Ever since I could remember, I've been interested in the American Indian. I went to high school with a number of Seneca and Onondaga Indians, who lived in Rochester, New York. While I was in the army, I was stationed in west Texas. I was the editor of the post newspaper, and had more free time than most soldiers and more access on and off the military base. One of my friends was a Sac and Fox Indian from Oklahoma. With him, we drove to all the neighboring reservations (mostly Apache) and I saw firsthand some of the injustices (this was in the early 50s) accorded he Indians. I wrote some letters about it to the local newspaper. Since the army did not look kindly toward soldiers getting involved in controversial public issues, I signed my letters M. Whitebird. It was just a name that sounded generally Indian to me.

I met a teenage Navajo girl who was having a hard time balancing her desire to explore the greater world and her allegiance to Navajo customs. From Jenny (whose Navajo name was Granddaughter-of-he-who-Sings) I got the character of Mary Whitebird. 

Of the story, he says:

Ta-Na-E-Ka is based on a ceremony of the Kaw Indians. My wife comes from Nebraska. My father-in-law visits the Omaha and Winnebago reservations in Nebraska regularly, and there are few Indians there of Kaw ancestry. Almost no full-blooded Kaw exist; they were a subtribe of the Kansas. Tuburculosis and cholera wiped them out about 70 years ago. But I learned of the ceremony from my father-in-law. And, I wrote the story.

The Wikipedia page on "Mary Whitebird" ends with two quotes from letters the author of Ta-Na-E-Ka has received. The first is from a Cherokee girl in Oklahoma (no name is provided) who writes "Only an Indian could have written this." The last line is "Of course, the author was pleased" with the letter because he is not Indian.

Though this is not a folktale, we can pose Betsy Hearne's source note questions to "Mary Whitebird's" notes about this story.

  • He went to high school with Seneca and Onondaga students.
  • One of his friends (while in the army) was Sac and Fox.
  • He and his Sac and Fox friend visited Apache reservations.
  • He met a Navajo girl.
  • His wife is from Nebraska.
  • His father-in-law visits Omaha and Winnebago reservations, where there are a few Kaw Indians.
  • His father in law told him about the Ta-Na-E-Ka ceremony.

Apparently, that set of facts are meant to tell his readers that he knows what he is talking about. But does he? 

When he does talk about the Kaw people, he speaks of them in the past tense because, he says, they were wiped out 70 years ago.  But...

When did he say all that? In 1972? Is it with the story, somewhere, maybe in Scholastic Voice?

You can go to the Kaw Nation's website. Their site says they have 3,039 tribal members "scattered across the United States." It is possible, then, that "Mary Whitebird's" father-in-law came across some in Nebraska...   The website also includes a lot of Kaw language materials. I can't find any of the words "Mary Whitebird" uses on their site.

All in all, "Mary Whitebird's" background info (source note) sounds odd. Unreliable. Stereotypical. Exotic.

And, WHY, is that story STILL being printed in the textbook? WHY has the publisher not looked for a story by a KNOWN NATIVE AUTHOR? And WHY are Grant and Sleeter referencing it so uncritically?

It is disheartening, how much we (Americans, generally speaking) STILL DO NOT KNOW about American Indians.

I'm still thinking about this story, and will continue to research it and its author...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Cheryl Savageau's picture book, MUSKRAT WILL BE SWIMMING

In 2007, I wrote about Cheryl Savageau's picture book, Muskrat Will Be Swimming. I'm revisiting it today, pointing you to a companion resource for her book. Calling it "Teachers Take Note" Tilbury House has put together some helpful material and internet links, too.

The story itself is outstanding, and the art by Robert Hynes is gorgeous.

At the Tilbury website is a comment by Joseph Bruchac: ". . . one of my favorite books for young readers, not just for the beautiful illustrations which avoid stereotypes while portraying northeast Native reality, but for its poetic, memorable text. No children's writer I know has done a better job of putting our traditions into the context of modern times while also dealing with the issue of mixed-blood ancestry in a way that is both honest and heart-lifting."

Muskrat is one of my favorite books, too. There is a lot to say about the story and why it is such an outstanding book. Set in the present day, a realistic story, accurate portrayal of a Native family, significant role of a grandparent, Native traditional story...

I'd love to hear Cheryl read Muskrat Will Be Swimming. She is giving a reading on September 13th at 3:00 in Concord, New Hampshire at the Sculpture Garden.

The end of Reading Rainbow

Due to low ratings and lack of funds, PBS's "Reading Rainbow" is no longer being broadcast.That's too bad. I have fond memories of watching the show with my daughter. They featured some terrific books, like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and, Everett Anderson's Goodbye. (Neither one is by a Native writer or features any Native content. They're just two books I like.)

Native-authored books (that I recommend) that were on the show include:

  • Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp
  • The Goat in the Rug, by Charles L. Blood, illustrated by Nancy Winslow Parker
In looking over the books they've featured over the years, I am puzzled that none of Joseph Bruchac's books are on the list.That was a tremendous oversight by the show's producers, and, a loss to its viewers who could have found some terrific books by him.


Among the Reading Rainbow books I do NOT recommend are:
  • Dancing with the Indians, by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Samuel Byrd - Depiction of a ribbon dance is wrong, playing drum with hands is wrong, Native dancers are just plain scary... 
  • Knots on a Counting Rope, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Ted Rand. Among other problems, Rand depicts Native dancers watching a horse race in their traditional clothing, suggesting it is worn everyday. In reality, the men would be wearing jeans, shirts, and boots, just like the other spectators.  
  • Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back, by Penny Pollock. She (like "Jamake Highwater" did in Anpao) collapses the diversity within the hundreds of Native tribes into a single "Native American" portrayal. [9/11/2009 - This is an error. Pollock wrote a different book, titled When the Moon is Full. The error is on the Reading Rainbow site. The book they feature is by Joseph Bruchac. They incorrectly list Pollock as the author. My sincere apologies to Joseph Bruchac.]

There are a handful of others I could have listed here as 'not recommended' but those three jumped out at me. One of Paul Goble's books is on it, but that is not ok....   Looking over the list on their site, it just seems to me that their 'rainbow' did not have much space on it for Native authors.

Friday, September 04, 2009

SLJ's "Writer's Against Racism"

Amy Bowllan, a blogger at School Library Journal, is running a series of interviews called "Writers Against Racism." My interview was posted September 3rd. Please take a look at the entire series.  Don Tate's interview is definitely worth a look. There, he says "racism lied to me."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Joseph Bruchac's biography of Jim Thorpe to be adapted into documentary

An August 22, 2009 article in the Times News in Lehighton, Pennsylvania says that Joseph Bruchac's biography of Jim Thorpe is being adapted into a documentary for PBS. Bruchac wrote two books about Thorpe. The first, a picture book, was published in 2004 is Jim Thorpe's Bright Path. Two years later, Bruchac's Jim Thorpe: Original All-American came out. I have not read either one (yet).

Both were favorably reviewed. I'll keep an eye out for more news on the documentary. An Olympic medalist, Thorpe was Sauk and Fox. There's a lot of material at the film's website: Jim Thorpe.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The National Museum of American Indian has a blog...

Just a quick pointer, today, to the blog over at the National Museum of the American Indian... Read through it for insights about Native views on museums, artifacts, etc.

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.

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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.

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"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?