Friday, October 23, 2009

Has Stephanie Meyer read this?

I do not recall seeing "Please read Indian Country Etiquette" on the Quileute Nation website last time I was on there...  Clicking on the link (located bottom right of the main page) will take you to a statement, that reads in part:

Traditionally, our people are hospitable and generous in nature. However, spiritual teachings, sacred ceremonies and burial grounds, are not openly shared with the public.

We are proud of our teachings, and our heritage. They have been passed to us by our ancestors, and represent thousands of years of our individual histories. Your patience and understanding of our traditions and cultures is appreciated.

I wonder if it is in response to crowds of Twilight fans showing up there? Meyer's books have a lot of material in them that may be interpreted by her readers as Quileute. She does, of course, present it that way. But is it? What did she use as a source? As the statement above indicates, this information is not shared with the public...

If you want to read more on the ways that the Quileute's are portrayed in the series, look over to the right side of this page. Scroll up or down till you see the section labeled TWILIGHT SAGA. There you'll see several links to posts about the series.

"Evolution" video

Have you seen the video that shows a girl being made-up, photographed, and then the photograph retouched for use in an advertisement?  It's pretty stunning and is one (of many I've seen) good example of how the media tinkers with image to create "beauty."

Here's the link:[cp-documentid=9150719]/

(Update: Oops. I meant to put this on the blog for a class I teach. I'll leave it here anyway. There is nothing about the video that is specifically about American Indians.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving

Available in a pdf from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving. Ten pages in length, it begins with:

Each November educators across the country teach their students about the First Thanksgiving, a quintessentially American holiday. They try to give students an accurate picture of what happened in Plymouth in 1621 and explain how that event fits into American history. Unfortunately, many teaching materials give an incomplete, if not inaccurate, portrayal of the first Thanksgiving, particularly of the event's Native American participants.

Most texts and supplementary materials portray Native Americans at the gathering as supporting players. They are depicted as nameless, faceless, generic "Indians" who merely shared a meal with the intrepid Pilgrims.

The pamphlet is designed for use in 4th through 8th grade classrooms. It is divided in sections:
  • Environment: Understanding the Natural World
  • Community: Group Identity in Culture
  • Encounters: Effects on Cultures
  • Sharing: New Perspectives Year-Round

Each section includes several photographs as well as "Ideas for the Classroom." As I read through it, I was struck by the verb tense.

"Native peoples were and continue to be..."
"The Inupiaq people of Alaska are..."
"The whalers are..."
The Yakama continue to celebrate..."

Download American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving and study it as you prepare for the upcoming month (November).

DO spend time at the Education pages of NMAI. The NMAI staff is working hard at developing materials for teachers.

And, order and use these children's books, too! Here's some:

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, by Margaret M. Bruchac (Abenaki) and Catherine Grace O'Neill. 
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, by Jake Swamp (Mohawk).
    And, read books to your students that portray American Indian children of the present day. There's some terrific picture books you can use. Among my favorites are:

    The Good Luck Cat, by Joy Harjo 
    Less than Half, More than Whole, by Michael and Kathleen Lacapa
    Muskrat Will be Swimming, by Cheryl Savageau 
    Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith 
    What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses, by Richard Van Camp

    Last year, School Library Journal published a list of 30 recommended books: "Native Voices." I introduced and link to the article here.

    And if you want to see other things I've written about Thanksgiving, look to the left of this page, scroll down to the section called POSTS ABOUT THANKSGIVING.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Who is John Smelcer (author of THE TRAP and THE GREAT DEATH)

    John Smelcer, author of The Trap, has a new young adult novel out (The Great Death). Many believe he is a good writer. That may be the case, but, I find his claims to Native identity troubling, for two reasons. First, in schools, students often do author studies. Smelcer's website says he is Native. But, John Smelcer is not a Native person by birth or, and, according to the man who adopted him (Charlie Smelcer), he did not grow up on a reservation or with Native people. Second, in schools, we teach children to be honest. It seems that, if we herald an author who has not been honest with his identity, we are saying one thing (be honest) and doing another (by assigning his books, we say his deceit does not matter).

    This particular blog post about John Smelcer is a difficult one to post for several reasons. First, it treads on concerns regarding adoption and identity of an adopted child. That is a body of literature that I have not studied. Second, Native identity is a contentious issue in many ways, with people claiming to be Native for personal or professional gain within a society (America) that does not understand the complex issue of Native identity and claims to Native identity. There are over 500 tribal nations in the U.S. Each one has its own determinations as to who it lists or otherwise recognizes as members or citizens. Last year, I was at a conference in Michigan at which Ojibwe elders spoke about this issue. Among their most powerful statements was that our ancestors fought like hell to defend our nations against Europeans who came here and wanted our land. They fought to protect the land, and their families, elders, grandparents, men, women, and children.  If they had not done that, we would not be here today as sovereign nations. It is in that framework that I offer this post.

    December, 2007
    I learned of a young adult novel titled The Trap, by John Smelcer, who said he was Ahtna (Native Alaskan). I ordered a copy of the book.

    January 27, 2008
    I started reading The Trap. The opening pages reminded me of my grandmother's kitchen. I blogged the memory. Upon uploading that blog post, I began hearing from people in Alaska who told me that Smelcer is not Native. The next day, I posted an updated to the Jan 27th entry.

    January  29, 2008
    I posted another update. In this one, I shared what I'd learned in the Anchorage Daily News. I'm pasting it here, for your reference. In brackets [ ] and bold are comments I'm adding today.

    "UAA Finds Professor Isn't Native. University Reviewing Records." It was in the Metro Section of the Final Edition on May 3, 1994, on page 1.

    • Smelcer was hired the previous year by the University of Alaska Anchorage in their effort to increase the ethnic diversity among its faculty. Administrators at the university were under the impression he was Native. [Why did they think he was Native? Because...]
    • In a letter sent to UAA prior to his hire, he said he was "affiliated with Ahtna" and referred to his "Native American Indian heritage." [Ahtna is Ahtna, Inc., which is, quoting from the website, "one of 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations" and is comprised of eight villages, all of which are federally recognized tribes.]
    • The head of Ahtna , a man named Roy Ewan, wrote a letter of recommendation for Smelcer, that said "Ahtna recognizes John Smelcer's tribal membership."
    It isn't clear to me yet how or why his identity was challenged. Information about that identity was brought to the attention of the university. Some of that [as reported in the newspaper] is:
    • John Smelcer was adopted by a Native man named Charlie Smelcer, who said "He's a blond, blue-eyed Caucasian just like anyone else is." ["He" is John. Here's a photo from John Smelcer's website. He's older now. The mess at the University of Alaska took place in 1994, or, 15 years ago. ]
    • Ewan said his letter was a mistake. He said "When they told me this guy was Charlie Smelcer's son, I just assumed it was his blood son," Ewan said.
    The article said that Smelcer did not believe he had misrepresented himself. This is an excerpt from that portion of the article:
    "I was very careful with the dictionary, finding that word 'affiliated,'" he said, "After all, I was an English major." [Very careful? Why? And "after all"??? He seems to, rather boldly, proclaim that he had to be careful with his word choice. Why?]

    Smelcer also said he knew his letter would leave the impression that he was an Alaska Native by birth. [He knew the ramifications of presenting his identity the way he did...  That's disingenuous.]  He said he considered himself a Native even though his parents were not. "My entire life has been surrounded by my Alaska Native family," he said.

    But in a telephone interview from Juneau, Charlie Smelcer flatly denied that description. The senior Smelcer, a retired Army officer, said that, "in no way, shape or form" was John Smelcer raised in a Native environment.

    "He was a middle-class kid who grew up around a military environment, with cars and television and everything else like that," Smelcer said. "If he's used my Native heritage for his personal or professional gain, then that's wrong."
    John Smelcer said that nobody at UAA ever asked him "point blank" if he was "a blood Indian." The article concludes with this:
    But Smelcer said he did not know whether he would be able to pursue his academic career now. The recent interest in his birth and background had left him feeling confused, he said. "Suddenly, I don't know who I am anymore." [He said he is confused, and it sounds like he was also troubled by this not-knowing who he is. Yet, he continues to identity and mislead his readers. Does he not care that he is confusing and misleading the young people who read his books and think he is Native by birth?]
    Additional articles in the Anchorage Daily News indicate that he resigned his position in the middle of the university's investigation--not about his identity--but on "whether he told the truth about having poetry accepted for publication in the New Yorker magazine and other journals," (see "UAA Professor Quits among Credentials Probe," August 3rd). The paper says there was a forged letter in his files from an editor at the New Yorker. Smelcer says he didn't put it there. Other presses Smelcer was going to have poems published in denied that they were going to publish his poems.

    January 31, 2008
    Charlie Smelcer wrote to me. In short, he verified everything in the newspaper article. On Feb. 3, 2008, I posted his confirmation as an update to the post pasted above.

    March 26, 2008
    I was away at the Returning the Gift conference where I received a Native Writer's Circle Award for my blog. While there, I got two emails from John Smelcer, asking me to remove what I said about him on my blog. He said he wanted to avoid a libel suit, and that he would mail me documentation showing he is Alaska Native. In the second email, he said that he has never lied about who he is. I did not respond to either email from him.

    March 28, 2008
    Still at the conference, I got a third email from John Smelcer. He said that, after 1994, he did "everything to 'straighten out' the Native issue." That he corrected the problem to the satisfaction of all. He said, that since 1994, his work has been published in many Native literature anthologies because he was able to "give them all my documents." Again, he asked me to remove what I'd written on my blog. I replied that I had spoken with his Charlie Smelcer and that he had verified everything in the newspaper. John Smelcer did not write to me again.

    October 20, 2009
    Earlier this year, I learned that John Smelcer has a new book coming out. It is called The Great Death. The November-December "Stars" in Horn Book include The Great Death. As yet, I don't know who reviewed it for Horn Book, but I do know that they review books for literary merit only. It doesn't matter who the author is. In this case, it obviously does not matter that the author is misrepresenting who he is.

    So... what IS the story about John Smelcer? How does he happen to have those documents to prove he is enrolled at Ahtna? Charlie Smelcer told me that John tricked Charlies's mother into giving him some shares in Ahtna, Inc. Because of those shares, he has a document that he presents as though it proves he is Native. Charlie has talked with John about misrepresenting who he is, but John continues to mislead people. 

    Right now, Smelcer's website says he "John Smelcer is the son of an Alaskan Native father from the Ahtna Tribe of Alaska." and "John's mother is white."

    And, in "The Future of Native American Literature: A Conversation with John E. Smelcer," published in MELUS (a journal published by the Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States) in Fall 2002 (Volume 27, Number 3), the interview says "His Tennessee-born mother is part Cherokee and his half-blood Indian father was born and raised in the Copper region of Alaska." (p. 135). So, what IS the story on his mother? Charlie Smelcer told me that his wife (the woman John says is his mother) is not Cherokee and that John is misrepresenting this, too.

    John Smelcer has a champion out there who sticks up for him, explaining that there is friction and dysfunction in the family, and that Charlie Smelcer's brother is the one who taught John what he knows about Ahtna traditions, but that brother has yet to speak up himself.

    I've got a question for librarians and teachers who work with young adult and high school students. When you ask them to do an author study of John Smelcer, what will you tell them about him? Will you let them believe he is Native by birth? What are you going to say?

    News about Nicola Campbell's SHI-SHI-ETKO

    Nicola Campbell's picture book, Shi-shi-etko, was recently released as a short film. Here's the trailer. As soon as I have info on its availability, I will post that information. Campbell's story and the illustrations in the picture book, by Kim LaFave, are stunning. I highly recommend the book and its sequel (Shin-chi's Canoe) and look forward to the film.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Ann Rinaldi's LEIGH ANN'S CIVIL WAR

    Last week I made some preliminary notes about Ann Rinaldi’s Leigh Ann’s Civil War. I’ve finished reading the book and am sharing some thoughts.

    The protagonist is Leigh Ann, a girl living in Georgia on a plantation. She is the youngest of four children. Her sister is named Viola and she has two older brothers, Teddy, and Louis. They all live with their father (Pa) who is going mad.

    I think the reviewer at Kirkus (their reviews are unsigned) is dead-on:
    “Veteran Rinaldi spins a tale that combines low melodrama, cringeworthy faux-Indian mysticism, a back story only the author could possibly understand, a saccharine depiction of slavery, two pregnancies of convenience and only a passing regard for historical accuracy for a nearly 300 page slog that seems to have enjoyed zero editorial intervention.”
    As I slogged through the 300 pages, I thought Rinaldi's Leigh Ann is a lot like Scarlett O'Hara. Young, pretty, bratty. Some of the content surprised me. Jon, for example, and what he does to Leigh Ann. He is a man Teddy and Louis hire to look after Pa while they're away. Viola doesn't trust him. On page 82, the text reads: 
    My sister had confided to me that she thought Jon wanted to "take liberties" with her, and told me never to be alone with him. "And if he starts anything with you, scream, kick him, bite him."

    Apparently, Viola makes Leigh Ann promise that she will not tell Teddy about Jon's advances, because on page 91, Leigh Ann considers telling Teddy but, remembering her promise, she does not tell him. In chapter thirteeen, Leigh Ann is collecting clothes for the children who work at the mill. Teddy asks Jon to drive her. She objects, he wonders why, she drops her objection, and keeps her promise to Viola. Then as she's getting out of the carriage, Jon:
    ...put his hand on my bottom. I stomped on his foot.

    "Ow! You little witch!"

    "Don't you dare touch me! Ever!"

    "Or you'll what? Tell your big brother?"
    This dialogue continues with Jon telling Leigh Ann that if she tells him, he would kill Teddy in the likely duel, and that he'd killed someone that way before. So, Leigh Ann keeps quiet.

    On page 113 (in chapter fifteen), Louis asks Leigh Ann why she does not want Jon to drive her somewhere. The text reads:

    I couldn’t lie to Louis. With his Indian powers he saw through lies.

    “He touched me.”


    I blushed. “On my bottom.”

    She goes on to tell Louis that Jon said he'd kill Teddy in a duel. Louis says only gentlemen duel, and that Jon is not a gentleman. Louis then takes him out to the barn and whips him. 

    This child molestation thread stood out to me. So far, none of the reviews (professionals, bloggers, or customers at Amazon) have noted it. Another thread that caught my eye has to do with Leigh Ann's behavior towards boys. Teddy talks with Leigh Ann about proper ways for a young girl to behave around a boy she likes…  Twelve-year-old Leigh Ann meets a 16 year old boy and kisses him on the cheek. Teddy is angry with her for doing that. She doesn’t understand what is wrong with kissing a boy on the cheek. Teddy tells her (p. 135):

    “About boys and how they become aroused. I got embarrassed, but he didn’t care. “That kiss was a sign,” he said. “It is not fair to give such encouragement to a boy unless you are willing to carry through with it. Do you know what I mean by ‘carry through with it’?”

    Oh, sweet God in heaven, will he never stop?

    He sighed. “It means to let him go further,” he said. “Much further. And touch you in other ways.”

    Please don’t let him tell me the ways!

    “Now, a young man of honor cannot act upon his impulses, but once aroused must suffer instead. And when a girl acts like that she is known as a ‘tease’ and there is nothing worse to be known as among boys than a tease.’”

    Again, none of that is mentioned in reviews I've seen. But, back to the way that Rinaldi brings Native content into her story... 

    In chapter one, Pa, referencing the Yankees, says (p. 16):

    “They want the Southern lands,” he shouted. “First the Indians wanted it and now the Northerners. I’d rather give it all back to the Indians, though they didn’t have the courage to fight for it but let the white man take it from them!”

    These words make Louis angry and he comes storming down the stairs. Leigh Ann bursts into tears. Pa pulls her onto his lap at the bottom of the stairs and says (p. 17):

    “Don’t worry your pretty little head about Louis,” he soothed. “He acts like that because he’s part Indian.”

    I just started up at Pa’s face. Was this part of his “madness” coming on?

    “He most positively is,” he assured me. “Can’t you see his dark hair? And eyes? And how he’d rather ride with no saddle? And his high cheekbones? And how good he is working with silver?”

    I saw only one thing. That if Louis was part Indian, he was not my brother. Mother’s hair was fair. Pa’s was white. Violet’s and mine was light brown and sun-streaked. Teddy’s hair was the same as ours.

    Leigh Ann runs outside and hides under some trees, crying. Louis finds her there, and that closes chapter one. Chapter two opens with Louis saying (p. 18):

    “Come on Leigh Ann, before I come over there and scalp you.”

    They bicker back and forth, and then he says (p. 19)

    “You’ve been told by Pa that I’m an Indian. Am I correct?” […] “And you’ve been shocked and hurt and you likely have come to the ugly conclusion that I’m not your brother. Am I right, sweetie?”

    I looked at him. “What did you study at college? Hoodoo?”

    Louis laughed and replied:

    “I have the gift of hoodoo because I am half Indian. Do you want to know about it?”

    The hoodoo thread is odd. I did not know what hoodoo was, so I looked it up. It is African American healing/folk medicine. I read Zora Hurston's "Hoodoo in America" published in October-December, 1931 in The Journal of American Folk-Lore.  Is Rinaldi confusing African American traditions with American Indian ones?

    At the stream, Louis has a box with him. Leigh Ann asks what is in it. Louis tells her its contents are a secret that he will reveal shortly. The two walk towards the stream. Across the way, Leigh Ann sees two deer. She feels a sense of peace like she’s never felt before. Louis says (p. 20):

    “Pa is a full-blooded Indian,” he said quietly. […] “A Cherokee,” he elaborated, just in case I needed to know.

    He goes on (p. 21):

    “It’ll take time,” he said, “for it to sink in. But not long. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

    My first thought was, Do I look Indian? My hand flew to my face.

    “No, you don’t,” Louis said, reading my thoughts. “You don’t look Indian at all.”

    He tells her (p. 22):

    “You should know that the Cherokees were the first American Indians to have an alphabet and written language. One of their chiefs, Sequoyah, was a talented silversmith. They had the first American Indian newspaper. They tried to get along with the white people. They had their own shops and businesses.”

    “Where does Pa come in?”

    “He was one of the Cherokees who was living with the white men. He worked for one named Hunter Conners, who had no children and who gave him a fine piece of land and, in the end, his name. Then gold was discovered and hundreds of settlers came and the government took the land back from the Cherokees.”

    In chapter three, Louis opens the box. Inside are silver necklaces, bracelets, rings, and armbands. He gives Leigh Ann a medallion on a silver cord. On the medallion is a profile of  Sequoyah. Leigh Ann asks him if she can wear it in front of others, and he says (p. 27):

    “I’d like to see anybody try to take it away from you. I’ve got these special Indian powers, remember. I can do some bad things with smoke and prayers.”

    Rinaldi makes Louis more Indian than Teddy, Viola, or Leigh Ann. He looks different, and, he has powers. That is just, well, hokey. Or, as the Kirkus reviewer said "cringeworthy faux-Indian." He does "bad things" with smoke and prayers. This does not make sense at all!

    In chapter four, Leigh Ann goes back to the house and talks with Teddy who tells her

    “Look,” he said, “just because we’re half Indian, you’re not to confuse us with wild Indians out west. Even Pa’s generation removed themselves from that culture.”

    Then, moving all the way up to chapter sixteen, Louis, now Mayor of Roswell, wants to rejoin the Confederate Army, but his ankle (it was shot while he was in the army earlier in the story) did not heal well, and he is persuaded not to go back. He is unhappy, though, and takes to spending a lot of time alone. One night, Leigh Ann and Teddy (who is now running the mill) look for him. They find him by the stream (page 126).

    He had built a small fire. Four long logs jutted out on each side and in the middle of these were smaller pieces of wood. Cooking in the center were pieces of venison. A great deal of smoke curled up overhead.

    His only clothing was a leather breechclout to cover his private parts. His legs, folded under him, were bare, as was his chest. Around his neck he wore a large silver medallion. He huddled in an old gray blanket. His hair was wet, as if he had just come out of the stream. He was moving his lips, praying.

    And on his shoulder was a hooty owl. It stared at us out of yellow-green eyes. But it never moved.

    I became frightened and moved closer to Teddy, who put a protective arm around my shoulder and said, “Don’t be afraid.”

    But I was. This was my beloved Louis, my darling brother, whom I looked up to so. Had he gone mad? I looked up at Teddy.

    “Eh, Louis,” he said, “you going to include us in your prayers?”

    Louis nodded yes. He had heard.

    “Look at that,” Teddy told me. “There’s wind around us. But none around him.”

    It was true. The bitter February wind that whipped around us stopped in the line bounding Louis. My mouth fell open. Teddy grinned down at me.

    “Damn, that venison smells good,” he said.

    That Teddy was taking this all so lightly made me feel better.

    “Is he going to stay here all night?” I asked.

    “He better not. Or I’ll have Primus fetch him in. Well, good night now, brother. I’ve got to get to the mill. Can I trust you to tell the Indian powers good night and come in soon to see to the safety of our women?”

    Louis looked at us placidly, first at Teddy, then at me. “Go in peace,” he said. It was in his regular Louis voice.

    We turned and left. I felt a sense of peace come over me, as if everything was going to be all right and I would never have to worry again.

    By the time chapter 22 rolls around, the war is not going well for the south. Louis is sending the women to a grandmother in Philadelphia. His wife, Camille, asks him if he wants her to go (p. 157).

    “Everyone was silent for a moment.

    Louis’s face had about it that Indian mask that you could not read. It was a long enough moment for him to contact his inner spirit.”
    Contact his inner spirit?! No comment. Things continue to go downhill. Leigh Ann begins working as a bummer for the Yankees. She must search for food. On page 241:

    I stopped to fill my canteen and in the distance saw what appeared to be a peach orchard. Beyond that I could have sworn I saw wigwams.

    I stood up to better focus my vision. I was right! Just on the other side of the peach orchard were at least six wigwams that seemed to be built out of bark and evergreen boughs.”

    She goes towards them. She’s surprised because she thought Indians had been driven out “ages ago.” She wonders if she’s dreaming, wonders if Louis had guided her there, She enters the camp:

    The women looked up as I approached and smiled. And what I had feared, that they would be afraid of my rifle, did not happen.

    Though they were all busy, either sewing beads on moccasins or ornamenting deerskin pouches or frying bacon, they looked up and smiled as I approached. They nodded their heads.

    “You’ve come at last,” one said.

    At last? Had they been waiting for me? Known of me?

    “Yes,” I said. “I suppose I lost my way. But now I have found you. Have you been waiting for me a long time?”

    “Long enough,” another said. “We were told by the owl that a little girl of our people would soon come and she would be in trouble and we were to help her. From where do you come, little one?”

    So they knew I was a girl, in spite of my boys’ clothes. “Roswell,” I said.

    They nodded to one another. They said something in Indian language. What language. Cherokee? Oh, why had I never asked Louis to teach me Cherokee?

    And then, in the middle of the Indian language I caught his name. Louis.

    So I was right. He had guided me here. They knew of him.

    “Do you travel with the Yankees?” the one who was beading the moccasins asked me.

    I told them yes, I traveled with the Yankees. I was being sent to Marietta with the other women who had been arrested.

    “Well you are not to worry,” the one who was frying bacon said. “Your Father in heaven will protect you. And the two who travel with you. Last evening we saw it in the smoke of our fire. Now, how can we help you today?”
    Your father in heaven?! What about Louis and his powers with smoke and prayer?! Leigh Ann tells the women that Mulholland has sent her to look for a turkey. They laughed and told her “Mulholland Bad Face” knows there are no turkeys and that he intends to whip her for not finding a turkey. The women tell her:

    But we tell you now, that if you go to the other side of the bridge that goes over the stream that is pure, you will see one standing there and waiting for you. Shoot him. Then kneel over him and tell him you are sorry. And thank him for his life. And bring him back to Mulholland Bad Face.”

    Leigh Ann embraces each one of the women. They “said some Indian prayers" over her. They give her a cake from the ashes. She leaves the camp, looks back, but they entire camp is gone. She still has the cake in her hand. She walked to the bridge and found the turkey. She shoots it and kneels, as she was told to do, and thanks the turkey for its life.Leigh Ann returns to the army camp and gives “Mulholland Bad Face” (her words, not mine) the turkey. He takes her into the forest, and tells her there have been no turkeys there for two years. He thinks she’s lying to him, so starts to whip her. Then out of nowhere came an owl---Louis’s owl. (What about her Father in heaven?!) It attacks Mulholland. Leigh Ann calls to it “It’s all right, Owl, it’s all right now. He won’t hurt me anymore. Thank you, thank you. It’s all right now.” The owl stops its attack and then goes to her, resting on her shoulder. Mulholland thinks she’s crazy, talking to birds.

    I'm tempted to say that Rinaldi is crazy. Her editor must be equally crazy. How did this novel get published?! The Native-related content makes no sense.  Most children and young adults know very little about the Cherokees, and this novel doesn't help. What makes it more troubling for me is the blurbs on the back of the book. Titled "Praise for Ann Rinaldi's Historical Fiction, the blurb at top is from Kirkus. It reads:

    "Readers will not soon forget these characters, whose actions and passions illuminate and enliven a historical era about which they may have heard much, but understood little. Vivid in the best sense of the word."

    I've read the entire Kirkus review for Leigh Ann's Civil War, and those words do not appear in that review. In fact, the reviewer's last two sentences are:

    Dialogue is breathtakingly wooden, character development arbitrary, sentiment sodden. A mess.

    What book does the blurb on the back of the book refer to??? What are the people over at Harcourt trying to do? Isn't this false advertising? I haven't seen the Booklist review yet, but, the blurb says:

    "Rinaldi's books are always impeccably researched, vividly detailed, and filled with very human characters; they are also about something that matters."

    As the extensive review of Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground demonstrated, her books are not always impeccably researched. Why then, does Harcourt have that particular blurb on the back of the book? And, when did Booklist say that about Rinaldi's work?

    My study (thus far) of this book is intriguing and raises many questions. Years ago, Rinaldi told me she'd never write a book about American Indians again. She obviously changed her mind, and, that change-of-mind was a mistake.

    UPDATE: Tuesday, Oct 20th.
    In this "impeccably researched" book, here's more of what the Kirkus reviewer had to say...

    The painful trials endured by Southern civilians are given only perfunctory mention; the loving negroes (not called slaves) stay with the family even after the brother graciously frees them after the end of the war, in blatant narrative disregard of the Emancipation Proclamation.

    The book is in the "Great Episodes" series. Wondering what that means...

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Joy Harjo

    Joy Harjo was our Artist in Residence this semester. We (faculty, staff, students of UIUC's Native American House and American Indian Studies program) had a gathering on Thursday evening to mark the end of her residency. The photograph was taken by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert.

    On Thursday, October 7th, she gave a reading of her children's books, The Good Luck Cat and For a Girl Becoming. She read to a group of about 20 children and a larger group of adults. When reading The Good Luck Cat, she cued us when to make a purring sound as she read.

    While here, she gave a concert at the student union. A few days later, we learned that she had won Best Female Artist at the 2009 Native American Music Awards

    While reading For a Girl Becoming, she sang to us. Before reading For a Girl Becoming, Joy told us about moments of becoming, how they are powerful and dangerous, and that good words in those moments can help by providing a path. As she read For a Girl Becoming I thought of my own daughter and her moments of becoming.

    Both of her children's books are rooted in her own life, in the experiences of her own family. Each one speaks to a different moment, a different need.

    I'm taking a signed copy of For a Girl Becoming with me to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in early November, to give away there at an event hosted by the American Indian Curriculum Services.

    If you're available, please attend! Thursday, November 5, 2009, at 3:00 in the afternoon. Janice Rice and I will talk with you about children's books about American Indians. My talk will include both of Joy Harjo's picture books.

    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Trying to catch up! Watching: Richard Peck, Ann Rinaldi, and John Smelcer

    Lot of action of late...

    My last post was about Richard Peck's new book A Season of Gifts. I've got more to say, but not sufficient time yet to say it. Conversation took place on School Library Journal, where reviewer Jonathan Hunt asked me some pointed questions.

    He posed those questions while I was home, at Nambe, for the Elk Dance. Time home on our reservation, in our kiva, with family, is always affirming. Two of my nephews were dancing (remember---Pueblo dance is like  prayer-in-motion as opposed to dance-for-fun-or-entertainment).

    When I got back to the University of Illinois where I teach, I had a lot of catching up to do that included prep for courses I am teaching this semester (Intro to American Indian Studies, and, Politics of Children's Literature). In the latter, we read and discussed some of Clare Bradford's Unsettling Narratives

    I had an email, too, from a reader who asked if I'd read Ann Rinaldi's new book, Leigh Ann's Civil War. In that book, the protagonist learns that her father was Cherokee. That surprised me because, several years ago, Rinaldi told me she would not write another book about American Indians. Her response was due to the review of her book in the Dear America series, in which her character is a student at Carlisle Indian Industrial School.  Published in several educational and social justice publications, the most complete review of that book is at the Oyate site. Go here to read it. And, do read the accompanying essay "Literary License or Muted Plagiarism." I've ordered Leigh Ann's Civil War. Rinaldi's author note is available at the Amazon site. It reads, in part:

    In researching this story, what led me to write it was that this same land, before King came along, once belonged to the Cherokee Indians, the most intellectually advanced tribe at the time, who had an alphabet, a newspaper, established schools, and written laws. Indeed, this was the place where the famous and tragic Trail of Tears began, when the white men, motivated by the discovery of gold on this very land, drove the Cherokee out of their six-thousand-acre area.

    Reading that note, one thing that leaped out was "the most intellectual advanced tribe at that time." As the title says, her book is a Civil War story.  I don't want to take anything away from the Cherokees, but I do think Rinaldi is in err calling them "the most intellectual advanced." Early in the book she refers to "hoodoo" --- a sort of Cherokee mysticism, it looks like, but I don't know WHAT that could possibly be.

    The third item on my plate is John Smelcer's new young adult novel, The Great Death. It got a starred review in Horn Book. Obviously some find him a gifted writer, but, for me, his claims to Native identity are deeply troubling, as I've written here.

    So! Lot of work ahead of me. Reading, writing, thinking.

    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.