Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"I is for Indian Village"

Head on over to Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert's blog, Beyond the Mesas, and read his entry on December 16, 2009: "I is for Indian Village" - Photographs and Hopi Protocols.

When you go to a National Park, there are signs all over the place that tell you not to take items you find on the ground. Some parks have pottery shards. It is against the law to take those, and the federal government can fine you for taking things.

Visitors to Nambe Pueblo cannot take photographs. As Matt's post says, visitors are not allowed to take photographs at Hopi, either.

Please follow instructions! Don't take photographs!

[And of course, don't objectify Indian people by using us as items in your alphabet activities.]

Monday, December 14, 2009


Two of the books on my list of recommended books are The Middle Five by Francis LaFlesche and Indian Boyhood by Charles Alexander Eastman. Both can be used by students in grades 7 through 12. I'm thinking about those two books because I've come across a reference to them. A reference, that is, in a letter written over 100 years ago.  In 1904, Clara D. True wrote to C. J. Crandall. She was a teacher at the Day School in Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Crandall was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, serving as a Superintendent of U.S. Indian Schools. True wrote:
Dear Sir:

Enclosed is [a] new set of Abstract F. I am sorry I did not know of the distinction in books. Those I cannot use myself nor give to the children I have been putting on the magazine and newspaper table I have kept for the returned students, hence the wearing out of the so called "Library" books, or most of them. "Indian Boyhood" and "Middle Five" were enjoyed.

I expend a lot of property, I know, but I try to get the intended good out of it and get rid of it as I have not room enough to turn around in anyway. If I put discarded stuff outside the house I seldom see it again. I kept a variety of junk on the roof until I found it was causing leaks by interfering with the running off of the rain water. To keep from sitting up at night with stove legs and desk irons I have buried them in the chicken yard where they await the final resurrecting.

Very respectfully,
Clara D. True
I don't know what Abstract F is. I don't know (yet) anything about Clara D. True. The letter is in files of the National Archives. In the 1800s, the federal government established boarding and day schools for American Indian students.  From time to time my research takes me into archives. Finding letters and the like that refer to literature is one of my tasks. Clara D. True's letter tells me that Eastman and LaFlesche were being read by Native students in 1904. [Update, Aug 18, 2018: I think I saw the letter when I was at Yale University, studying items in the archives. Information about her is here: Letters received from day school teacher, Clara D. True.]

Indian Boyhood by Charles Alexander Eastman, was published in 1902 by "McClure, Philips &; Co." in New York. Eastman was Dakota (Sioux). He was born in 1858. As a child, his paternal grandmother took him to Canada, leaving Minnesota during the Minnesota Dakota conflict of 1862 (that was the "Minnesota Massacre" Laura Ingalls Wilder referred to via Mrs. Scott in Little House on the Prairie). Eastman's formal education began at Santee Normal School. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1886, and got a medical degree at Boston College in 1889. There's a lot to say about him and his life, both as a child and as an adult.  The first stories he wrote were published in St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks.

The Middle Five: Indian Boys at School by Francis LaFlesche, was published by Small, Maynard in Boston in 1900.  LaFlesche was Omaha. He was born in 1857 in Nebraska. The Middle Five is his autobiographical account of his years at the mission school he attended. That school was run by the Presbyterian Church. Later, he worked with Alice Fletcher on a book about the Omaha's. 

I'm glad to know that True's returning students liked both books, and I'm also glad to know that she was providing students with books by Native writers. I imagine it meant a lot to them, in the same way that Native-authored books mean a lot to me, now, in 2009.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New cover for Erdrich's BIRCHBARK HOUSE

Each semester in my courses at Illinois, we read Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House. It's a terrific book, as are the two that followed it, Game of Silence, and, Porcupine Year.

This time, one of the students had a copy with a cover I'd not seen before. Instead of Louise's art on the cover, this one has a photograph (shown here) of a young girl. No doubt the publisher is following a trend of putting photographs rather than illustrations on book covers when a book is reprinted. The rationale is that the photograph is more appealing to the consumer. I wonder who the girl in the photo is?

[Update: December 14, 10:15 AM CST. Heather (in comment) asked to see both covers, so I've added the original cover.]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sexy Indians...

As soon I wrote the title for this post, I realized it will probably generate a lot of hits from people looking for porn...  As I said last year, Meyer's books (amongst other problems) are like soft porn. Recently I was e-talking about Twilight with Brian Y., a Dine (Navajo) student at Yale. Something he said reminded me of covers on Cassie Edwards books. So here, just for fun, are two "sexy Indians" in the "moon" genre of best selling....  best selling.... hmmm...  I won't call them literature...  I don't recommend either author, by the way...  Meyer or Edwards. Save your money.

Brian is working on a paper. Hopefully, he'll let me quote from it...  In it he makes some astute observations about the appeal of New Moon...

Chaske Spencer, "Sam Uley" of Twilight, visits Yale

On Tuesday, December 9, Chaske Spencer, the actor who plays Sam Uley in New Moon, visited students at Yale.  Read about his visit in Twilight actor speaks in the Yale Daily News. Spencer is a member of the Lakota Sioux tribe.

Reports from Native students at Yale (including my awesome daughter, Liz), are that Spencer is a very cool guy, personable and unpretentious. He spoke with Native students about being a Native actor, and specifically about the politics of casting. Liz is busy with term papers and can't go into detail at this point, but I hope to learn and share more later...

The photo I used here is from his website.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Jonathan Hunt at SLJ responded to my critique of Albert Marrin's Years of Dust. If you're interested in the on-going dialogue, click on over to Years of Dust and read his rebuttal of what I said, comments to his rebuttal, and, my responses to that conversation.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Hopi writer, Polingaysi Qoyawayma

Reading Beyond the Mesas this morning, I see that Matt (my friend and colleague in American Indian Studies here at Illinois) wrote about Polingaysi Qoyawayma. Her book, No Turning Back, is on my list of recommended books (see the text top right of this page that says "Click here to see a list of recommended books and resources). She was Hopi from Orayvi on Third Mesa, and, Matt says, she was the first Hopi teacher to teach Hopi children at a Hopi day school.

What I learned by reading Beyond the Mesas this morning is that Qoyawayma also wrote a book for younger children! I ordered it right away and look forward to reading it. The title of her children's book is The Sun Girl.

Reading what Matt says about it, I think it may be similar to one of my favorite picture books, Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer. Both are about a Native child learning a dance her people do. (Reminder: Native dance is not entertainment or performance. Pueblo dance in particular is a form of prayer.) Fortunately, Jingle Dancer is still in print. The Sun Girl, published in 1941, is not. I'll blog it when I get it. In the meantime, click on over to Remembering Polingaysi Qoyawayma at Beyond the Mesas and see what Matt says about her and her books.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


Over on Heavy Medal, a blog at School Library Journal, I posted my concerns with Richard Peck's new book, A Season of Gifts. In the course of discussing/defending the book, Jonathan Hunt (one of the blog hosts) referenced another book. That book was Albert Marrin's Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust Bowl. In A Season of Gifts, a preacher is given a box that may or may not have remains of a "Kickapoo Princess" inside. The preacher agrees to rebury the box and waxes poetically in his sermon. As you might imagine, I find the discussion of bones problematic from the get-go. I am working on an essay about that aspect of the book. 

In his post, Jonathan correctly describes the preacher's speech as hokey, sentimental, and, stereotypical in the way it situates Indians in nature. Then, he says, he came across another passage that was like that in Albert Marrin's Years of Dust. Jonathan quoted the passage, which I will quote here as well (it appears on the final page of Marrin's book, p. 122):

Chief Seattle, a leader of the Suqamish tribe, understood our place in nature.  In 1855, President Franklin Pierce offered to buy Suquamish lands in what is now the state of Washington.  Before accepting the president's terms, Seattle is said to have reminded the American envoys of some basic truths.  "Will you teach your children what we have taught our children?  That the earth is our mother?" the chief asked.  Then Seattle answered his own questions.  "What befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth . . . The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth . . . All things are connected like the blood which unites us all.  Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it.  Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."

Then Jonathan tries to equate the fictional preacher in A Season of Gifts with a real person: Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Nation. He asks why it is not ok for Preacher Barnhart to use that sort of language, when, he says, it was ok for Seattle to use it. 

When I read Jonathan's words and the excerpt he quoted, I chuckled to myself, thinking that Marrin had done sloppy research, quoting---not Seattle---but Ted Perry, the person who wrote a version of Seattle's speech for use in a made-for-TV movie in the 1970s. And, I wondered how Jonathan could equate a fictional character with a leader of an American Indian Nation.

Among my comments to his post, I said "oops!" and then something snarky about white-guy-Marrin quoting white-guy-Perry. Maybe I should not do that sort of snarky writing. I know it rubs some people the wrong way. 

I could say, instead, non-Native-Marrin quoting non-Native-Perry...  Or maybe I should say sloppy-researcher-Marrin quoting fiction-as-fact...  Or maybe I shouldn't say anything like that at all. My point is, what are your sources???!!! What is the bias in those sources??? Are you using sources critically???

But setting my rant aside for now...

Jonathan said he'd check into Marrin's source for that speech and let us know. I was surprised (and not) to learn that Marrin's source was....  Al Gore's book, Earth in the Balance! Oops again!!! Now, we have this:

Non-Native-Marrin quoting Non-Native-Gore quoting Non-Native-Perry.

I decided it was time to get Marrin's book, and, Gore's too, and take a look at both books. 

The cover of Marrin's book includes, across the top, "Recipient of the 2008 National Endowment for Humanities Medal."  An impressive accomplishment for Marrin. His Sitting Bull and his World won the 2001 Carter G. Woodson Book Award and the 2000 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Non-Fiction. I wish the selection committees had been able to read Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin's review of the book...  They probably wouldn't have chosen Sitting Bull and his World for either award! Do read the review... once you do, you'll be a bit embarrassed that you or anyone would think the book was worthy of the label "nonfiction."

Back to Years of Dust...  As I flip through it, I love the images on the pages. Photographs, posters, newspaper clippings. Good stuff! Or some of it is...  Some of it is not so good....

Looking right now at page 11 in the section titled "The Great Plains World." there's a sidebar titled "The Buffalo and the Indian." The second sentence is:
 "These hunters [Lakota and Cheyenne] ate buffalo meat at every meal, several pounds at a time." 
Several pounds of buffalo meat at every meal? Really? That'd be one big hamburger! (Want a laugh? Watch Sesame Street's Grover the Waiter in "Big Hamburger.")

The illustration at the bottom of the sidebar is a reproduction of a 1901 painting by Charles Schreyvogel titled "Doomed." It shows an Indian man on horseback, wearing a feathered warbonnet, lance held high, about to plunge it into a buffalo. 

Who was Schreyvogel? I read a little about him in an article called "Racism, Nationalism, and Nostalgia in Cowboy Art" by J. Gray Sweeney, published in Oxford Art Journal in Vol. 15, No. 1, 1992. Here's what Sweeney wrote (p. 72):

The third painter revered by the modern cowboy artists of today is Charles Schreyvogel. Schreyvogel painted about one hundred works in the years from 1900 to his death in 1912, and although he visited the West briefly, his work was executed entirely in his studio in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he frequently posed his 'manly' German-American compatriots on the tin roof of his apartment overlooking New York City. One of his sources of information about Native Americans derived from sketching actors in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Shows. [...] It seems perfectly comprehensible how such representations of war-like Indians would have met the cultural expectations of Schreyvogel's urban audience in New York City around 1910 whose only knowledge of Native Americans was from dime novels and wild west shows. As such the image is disturbingly indicative of the cultural mind-set of the last half of the nineteenth century that approved genocide. One critic of the day put it this way: Schreyvogel is more than a historian of the Indian. He is giving us an invaluable record of those parlous days of the Western frontier when a handful of brave men blazed the path for civilization and extended the boundaries of empire for a growing nation.

Ouch! Ouch! And OUCH again!!! Nineteenth century? Ironically, the date of the painting is almost 100 years ago....  Why did Marrin choose that art?! Probably because it reflects what he knows! Sweeney closes the article by discussing how popular this art has become for collectors, and, as subject matter for scholarly studies of its ideology. That scholarship is attacked, as Sweeney says (p. 79):

[R]ecent attacks by conservative critics make it abundantly apparent that the supporters of western art are willing to do everything in their power to protect the cherished fantasy of America's 'winning of the West' promoted in this art. 

Moving along in Years of Dust, I come across another winner in terms of source...  At the bottom of page 14, Marrin quotes from Laura Ingalls WIlder's On the Banks of Plum Creek, where she writes about grasshoppers on the Great Plains. Would you be ok with students in your classroom citing Wilder as though what she provided was a work of non-fiction?

It is interesting to me that in the text---not the illustrations or photographs or sidebars---Marrin does not mention American Indians. When he starts talking about buffalo on page 12, he says 

The lord of the Great Plains was the American bison, or buffalo. When the first Europeans reached the New World, some 40 to 60 million buffalo roamed the region in their endless search for pasture.

And on the next page, he talks about Laura Ingalls Wilder. His final paragraph in that section says (p. 16):

The Great Plains, then, was (and is) a harsh land. Despite the hardships, Americans still saw the plains as a place of opportunity. A place where, through hard work and good luck, they could buld a better future. And so, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, settlers flocked to the rolling grasslands west of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, the arrival of settlers would change the delicate ecology of the plains.

The one mention American Indians get in this section is the sidebar. In the text itself, the indigenous people of the Great Plains don't get any attention at all. Marrin talks about Europeans, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and, Americans, but, not Indians.

Course, that changes in the next section, "Conquering the Great Plains."

Marrin starts by talking about Daniel Boone, pioneers, Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark, and, an army officer who was mapping the land who said that the Plains were unfit for cultivation. Then Marrin says (p. 20)

Flat, treeless, and dry, the grasslands were fit only for wild beasts and nomadic Indians. 

Marrin sounds like Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie! What does that say about the Wilder apologists who say "that's what they thought back then." Marrin isn't quoting the Army officer at that point. Those are Marrin's words.

Most people were only moving through the Plains, headed for the West Coast. But then after the Civil War, some decided they wanted to become cattle ranchers. To do that, they needed to get rid of the buffalo, which the Indians depended on for food. Here's what Marrin says (p. 22),

"Progress," as white people saw it, demanded that both the buffalo and the Indians should go.

Hence, the wholesale slaughter of buffalo began, followed by moving Indians onto reservations. Marrin's next section "The Coming of the Farmers" is a good example of bias in selection of information to include. He talks about the Homestead Act, how it offered public land to any citizen or immigrant intending to become a citizen.  Public land? Wait! What? How did that happen? I guess it doesn't matter. 

In this section, Marrin includes a sidebar titled "For Want of Rain" that is about the Anasazi. In the sidebar, Marrin writes (page 32): 

The drought drove the Anasazi away, but it is unclear where they went.

Let's see... when did Marrin's book come out? 2009??? What research did he do??? From Wikipedia to the online Encyclopedia Brittanica, I see something I've known for a long time.... the Anasazi are ancestors of the Pueblo people! (That's me. Pueblo person, Debbie Reese, enrolled at Nambe, established in its present location in 1200 AD). 

What do you think so far? I'm on page 32 of a book that 128 pages long. One fourth of the book, and, I think its kind of a mess. Worthy of a medal? I don't think so, and I'm not even at the part of the book that Jonathan Hunt quoted from! I'll flip to that page...

Oh but wait!!! As I flip pages, I spy with my little eye on page 55 and 56, some more Indians. On page 55 is a sidebar "The Hopi Snake Dance." Marrin provides a photograph of "a snake priest." The caption is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy telling us about snake dances. I wonder what my Hopi friend, Matt Sakiestewa Gilbert, would think about this: 

These dances are prayers or invocations for rain, the crowning blessing in this dry land. The rain is adored and invoked both as male and female; the gentle steady downpour is the female, the storm with the lightning the male... The snakes, the brothers of men, as are all living things in the Hopi creed, are besought to tell the beings of the underworld man's need of water.

On page 56 is an 1899 photograph of a Hopi "snake priest with a snake in his mouth in the Hopi snake dance." Hmmmm...  Does Marrin know that those photographs are off limits? That the Hopi people disallowed photographs of their dances because those photographers did not understand what they were photographing and/or describing???

On page 102 is something rather intriguing about this famous photograph.

Taken by Dorothea Lange, it is known as "Migrant Mother." Lange was working for the Farm Security Administration, documenting the lives of Dust Bowl refugees. Lange described the woman as a hungry, desperate mother who told Lange that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the fields, and, birds her children killed. She has just sold the tires from their car to buy food. The photo was taken at a pea picker's labor camp in California.

But!!! Marrin tells us...

Forty years later, the two older children in Lange's photo remembered the incident differently. Their mother was FLorence Owens Means, a full-blooded Native American who had left Oklahoma ten years earlier, and so was no Dust Bowl refugee, as the photo suggests. The family had not been living on frozen peas and dead birds. Nor had Mrs. Thompson sold her tires. Her husband had taken the car for repairs, and she had moved to the pea camp from another camp. Before leaving, she had left word for her husband to come to the new location. She looked worried in the picture because she was not sure he got the message.

Lange, the children recalled, had promised not to publish the photo, but had done exactly that. It appeared on March 10, 1936, in the San Francisco News, agove First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's weekly "My Day" column. Thompson saw the picture and felt betrayed. For the rest of her life, she resented Lange's use of her image for publicity. Thompson was an active woman, who had helped organize farmworkers' unions. "She was a very strong woman," said daughter Katherine, seen in the photo of her mother's right shoulder. "She was a leader. I think that's one of the reasons she resented the photo--because it didn't show her in that light. (5) "What upsets us is that people are making money out of our mother's pain," (6) said daughter Katherine. 

I did not know anything about that woman being Native... I'm going to have to look into that! I'll see what I find and follow up when I have more information.

Again, back to the reason I started this particular study...  The speech attributed to Seattle. Hunt quoted Marrin who cited Gore who doesn't cite anybody. 

Here's what Gore wrote on page 259:

Native American religions, for instance, offer a rich tapestry of ideas about our relationship to the earth. One of the most moving and frequently quoted explanations was attributed to Chief Seattle in 1855, when President Franklin Pierce stated that he would buy the land of Chief Seattle's tribe. The power of his response has survived numerous translations and retellings:

How can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people...

If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his firt breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth. 

This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. 

One thing we know: Our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator.

A few years ago, Jean Mendoza and I did some work on Brother Eagle Sister Sky, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. My copy of that book is at the office, so I can't do a line by line comparison of Gore's excerpt to the text in Brother Eagle...  

I will, however, point you to our analysis. It is in our article, Examining Multicultural Picture Books for the Early Childhood Classroom: Possibilities and Pitfalls, published in Early Childhood Research & Practice, Volume 3, #2, Fall, 2001.  In it, we talk about several children's picture books. Here's what we said about Brother Eagle, Sister Sky:

The text of Brother Eagle, Sister Sky has an interesting history. According to a 1993 memorandum from the Washington/Northwest Collections office of the Washington State Library (see Appendix I), at least four versions of the speech attributed to Seattle have appeared through history. In January of 1854, he spoke at length during negotiations involving the Suquamish, the Duwamish, and the U.S. government. Historians agree that the speech was translated into Chinook jargon "on the spot" since Seattle did not speak English. The first print version of what he said was not published until October 29, 1887, in a Seattle Sunday Star column by Dr. Henry A. Smith, a witness to the 1854 speech who had reconstructed and translated the speech from his notes. In the late 1960s, poet William Arrowsmith rewrote the speech in a somewhat more contemporary style, though it is still similar to Smith's version (Ellen Levesque, personal communication, September 29, 1993).
Later, Ted Perry created another version for "Home," a historical program about the northwest rain forest televised in 1971 (Jones & Sawhill, 1992). This version was constructed as if it were a letter to President Franklin Pierce, though "no such letter was ever written by or for Chief Seattle" (Ellen Levesque, personal communication, September 29, 1993). A shortened edition of the "letter" was exhibited at Expo '74 in Spokane, Washington.

At the end of Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, Susan Jeffers writes, "The origins of Chief Seattle's words are partly obscured by the mists of time." She mentions Smith's version and states that, like Joseph Campbell and unnamed others, she has adapted the message. Readers and listeners are left with the impression that the book offers perhaps an abridged version of the actual speech. The Suquamish tribe's Web site reproduces the 1854 1887 version, which addresses with great depth of feeling the state of Native-White relations in that place and time. In it, Seattle reluctantly, and perhaps with some anger, agrees that he and his people will move to a reservation, on the condition that they be able to visit their ancestors' graves without interference. Environmental responsibility does not appear to be the topic.

Take a look, too, at what Paul Chaat Smith wrote about the book. At the top of his page is a quote from Brother Eagle, Sister Sky that is a lot like what Gore quoted. Sigh. Big, big sigh. 

Sloppy research by Gore. Sloppy research by Marrin. Should Marrin's book be considered for any award, from anyone? I don't think so. If you have read Marrin's book, and want to weigh in on the discussion, head over to Team Nonfiction: The Second Wave.

I'll post there, letting readers there know that I've done this post.

Update, 12:27 PM CST, December 7, 2009
Julia Good Fox directed me to a NY Review of Books essay about Dorothea Lange and the Migrant Mother photograph. Here's some of it, but do read the entire essay. Interesting!

In 1958 the hitherto nameless woman surfaced as Florence Thompson, author of an angry letter, written in amateur legalese, to the magazine U.S. Camera, which had recently republished Migrant Mother:
...It was called to My attention...request you Recall all the un-Sold Magazines...should the picture appear in Any magazine again I and my Three Daughters shall be Forced to Protect our rights...Remove the magazine from Circulation Without Due Permission...
Years later, Thompson's grandson, Roger Sprague, who maintains a Web site called, described what he believed to be her version of the encounter with Lange:
Then a shiny new car (it was only two years old) pulled into the entrance, stopped some twenty yards in front of Florence and a well-dressed woman got out with a large camera. She started taking Florence's picture. With each picture the woman would step closer. Florence thought to herself, "Pay no mind. The woman thinks I'm quaint, and wants to take my picture." The woman took the last picture not four feet away then spoke to Florence: "Hello, I'm Dorothea Lange, I work for the Farm Security Administration documenting the plight of the migrant worker. The photos will never be published, I promise."
Some of these details ring false, and Sprague has his own interest in promoting a counternarrative, but the essence of the passage, with its insistence on the gulf of class and wealth between photographer and subject, sounds broadly right. "The woman thinks I'm quaint" might be the resentful observation of every goatherd, shepherd, and leech-gatherer faced with a well-heeled poet or documentarian on his or her turf.
It also emerged that Florence Thompson was not just a representative "Okie," as Lange had thought, but a Cherokee Indian, born on an Oklahoma reservation. So, in retrospect, Migrant Mother can be read as intertwining two "mythical cult-figures": that of the refugee sharecropper from the Dust Bowl (though Thompson had originally come to California with her first husband, a millworker, in 1924) and that of the Noble Red Man. There is a strikingly visible connection, however unnoticed by Lange, between her picture of Florence Thompson and Edward S. Curtis's elaborately staged sepia portraits of dignified Native American women in tribal regalia in his extensive collection The North American Indian (1900–1930), perhaps the single most ambitious—and contentious—work of American pastoral ever created by a visual artist.

Jean Mendoza's visit to La Push and Forks

My friend, Jean Mendoza, was up in La Push and Forks recently. She sent me some notes and photographs of her visit. I am featuring them today...

The Cullen kids would have had to call in sick to school on both days we spent in and around Forks, Washington. Beautiful bright sunshine…. First Beach, Ruby Beach, and Kalaloch (say “clay-lock”) sparkled, and Edward’s shimmeriness would be as nothing compared to that of the waves crashing on the beach at midmorning.Jacob’s wolfen crew would have had to contend with a salmon derby in LaPush: fisherman from all over crowding the tiny reservation town that sits at the mouth of the Quillayute River.

Vampire and werewolf alike would seek in vain for forested shelter along the road between Forks and LaPush. The forest has been clearcut and mile after mile is nothing but graying, decaying stumps and snags of cedar and pine sticking up among ragged-looking green scrub that grows about 3 feet high. Hills in the distance do have some tree cover, some of it 2nd or 3rd growth forest. Once in awhile, passing a clearcut one can spot a bit of Dadaist endeavor: a boulder that must weigh 300 pounds, balanced atop a 4-foot-high flat cedar stump. Sometimes there’s a smaller rock (150-200 pounds, maybe) perched on the larger boulder. This is clearly the work of humans, but why?

Impressions of Forks:
  • Ubiquitous movie posters in windows of businesses including a Chinese restaurant. Bella! Edward! Jacob, not so much.
  • Life-size cutouts of the actors who play Bella and Edward, positioned in the 2nd-floor windows of a popular off-the-main-drag Twilight-themed shop
  • At least five different businesses with “Twilight” in the name, including a karaoke bar
  • Various forms of “Welcome Twilight fans” on signs and in windows of businesses that don’t actually sell Twilight stuff
  • Motels that mention Twilight on their signs
  • Twilight paper napkins, shot glasses, coffee mugs sold in virtually every shop
  • Advertisements for a Forks-based tour business which for a price will take you to places in town that might have been (but were not actually) the bases for various sites in the books
  • A Timber Museum featuring some artifacts of the timber industry, lifeblood of Forks for more than a century. The museum seems neglected, especially the monument to those who lost their lives in work-related accidents, with its faded decade-by-decade roster of the dead inside an outdoor plexiglass case. I would have thought that the monument at least would be cared for still.
  • The bearded, early-forties middle school librarian, owner of a 1916 Craftsman style home in Forks that is now known as “Bella’s house” (because an entrepreneur decided that it outshone all others in looking like the home described in the books), who tells me that
    • Twilight has been a real boost for the town’s motels and restaurants – usually they experience up-down cycles based on lumber, hunting, fishing, and general OP tourism but Twilight tourism is steady year-round
    • When he read the first book, he was not overly impressed but thought, “Well, it’s okay, but I’ll have to buy it for the school because it’s set in Forks”
    • The books seem to be just as popular locally as nationally
    • The Twilight tourist explosion started even before the movie was made and has increased with perhaps a different flavor after the movie.

Impressions of LaPush (from 2008 and 2009)
  • A small reservation town (population in the low-to-mid hundreds) right on the water, with a lot of blue buildings and a few small houses
  • Very small harbor
  • Resort (multiple oceanfront cabins, a motel, a restaurant) providing the tribe with some income
  • Resort employee who assures me monosyllabically that I will not see whales in late September if we stay there in late September
  • Bald eagle soaring over water between LaPush and James Island; gulls and a few Canada geese
  • Quileute waitress, a very nice and earnest young woman, in the restaurant who tells us that LaPush is a corruption of the French “la bouche” which refers to “the mouth” of the Quillayate River; invites us to come to the tribe’s annual celebration
  • Pretty good salmon dinner in the tribally-owned restaurant
  • Site of an annual salmon derby which has apparently filled the motel for the 2009 weekend we hoped to stay there
  • A LaPush based tour business that will take you on a boat ride to see “Bella’s cliff” and other sites for a mere $250
  • “Jacob’s Java” coffee stand run by two tribal members – new for 2009
  • A newspaper “The Talking Raven” being revived after a hiatus by a young journalist
  • Not nearly as interesting to Twilight fans as Forks is
  • Straightforward tribal Web site includes downloadable tsunami evacuation instructions

Jean passed along a few photographs, too. The motels advertise "Twilight Rooms" and signs say "Home of Twilight" and the like...  Check out the one below from the pharmacy...  First aid for Bella? She needs more than first aid, in my opinion....

I like this one:

This one is interesting....  8.5 vampires---is the .5 the baby Bella carries?!

I can imagine fans loving this one... see Bella in the window?

Thanks, Jean, for all of those photographs of what one of the signs called "The Twilight Zone." I'm ending this particular post with one of Jean's photographs...  One that I like. I'd love to visit La Push someday.

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.

Quileute elder on Quileute stories

Thanks to Miriam B. for letting me know about two newspaper articles in the Peninsula Daily News, published in Port Angeles, Washington. (For the not-Twilight fans, Port Angeles is one of the settings Meyer used in her Twilight saga.) I think both of these articles were published on November 29th.

First is "Twilight fiction doesn't always jibe with Quileute legend." In this article, Paige Dickerson (the reporter) talked with Chris Morganroth III (shown above) about Quileute stories. Here's some excerpts from the article:

The Quileute people are ready to embrace the fans and teach them the real legends -- which do not include the werewolves Meyer's books describe.

Though the legends about the origins of the Quileute people in the best-selling vampire books set in Forks and LaPush have some resemblance to the real stories -- they both involve wolves -- the tribe wants to make sure fans are aware of the rich reality of their true culture.
Dickerson talks a little about Twilight, but devotes most of her article to what Morganroth said about the origin of the Quileutes. Here's that excerpt:

Quileute beginnings

If you begin to look into the stories and how we got to be here, they go back to the beginnings of time.

Before that, Spirit beings could transform themselves into animals or people at will. There were even living beings in outer space, such as the sun. They called those people the fire sky people.

After some time, the Spirit beings had to choose what they would be and were no longer able to transform.

After this, K'wati came into the area of LaPush and found that there were no humans. He went to the mouth of the river and there were wolves, timber wolves.

Now these wolves always travel in pairs and they mate for life.

K'wati saw that there were no people in this area near LaPush. So he transformed that pair of wolves into the Quileute people.

K'wati is a supernatural figure in Quileute stories who transforms people or objects.

K'wati wasn't a "sorcerer" or "witch king," as Meyer's has it.

"He wasn't really a god, but a transformer -- he was put on Earth to make things better," Morganroth said.

Although Meyer's teen werewolves are not part of Quileute legends, she draws from the tribal connection to wolves.

Even in present times, the wolf is often referred to as a brother of the tribe, as is the orca -- which also is said to have descended from the wolf, Morganroth said.

The New Moon werewolves aren't your average, hairy-faced cross between a man and a wolf. The boys "phase" into bear-sized wolves with enough superpowers to kill vampires.

And they developed out of a need to protect the people of Forks and LaPush from vampires.

The Quileute have no such legend.

The second article, What did Jacob say to Bella?, begins by describing the Quileute response to that question. If you've seen New Moon, you know that Jacob says something to Bella in the Quileute language. Fans are determined to figure out what he said. The Quileute's won't say. The bulk of the article is about the premiere of the film, specifically, about the Quileute's who attended the premier in Los Angeles.  According to the newspaper article, they had a great time. What stands out to me is what Page Foster (a thirteen-year-old Quileute member who went to the premiere) experienced:

Foster said that her father, Tony Foster, who is on the tribal council, showed several his business card from the council.

"They were so shocked that he was the real deal," Foster said.

The fans were shocked. A telling statement! A telling statement that should motivate you to do all you can to teach children and teens in your schools and libraries that the Indigenous Peoples of the United States are very much "the real deal." Instead of myths and legends (many of which are deeply flawed), purchase books written by Native writers. See my list of recommended books, and another list I put together for School Library Journal last year.

My most recent post about Twilight  (We saw New Moon on Friday) includes several links, including one to the Quileute Nation's facebook page, essays on the Native content in the books, and links to my previous posts about the book.

I should note, too, that I do not recommend Meyer's books or the films. The Quileute's are doing what they can to make the best of the situation. So is the town of Forks. My friend, Jean Mendoza,visited Forks recently. She wasn't making a pilgrimage as a fan of Twilight. She was in the area to visit family. Jean sent me some notes and photos of her visit. They're going to be featured in my next post about Twilight.

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.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Chamoru Childhood

On Tuesday of this week (December 1st), I was given an astounding gift. My colleague and friend, Keith L. Camacho, came into my office and handed me, John McKinn and Matt Sakiestewa Gilbert copies of Chamoru Childhood, edited by Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero,  and Craig Santos Perez. John flipped through it right away and noticed that Keith has a poem in the book. We asked him to read it aloud to us.

The book and his reading were (and are) terrific gifts that will warm my heart whenever I think of that day. Keith has a deep, warm voice and a terrific sense of pace.

I met Keith in August when he joined us in American Indian Studies as a post doctoral fellow. He is a Chamorro scholar from the Mariana Islands and is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. His area of expertise concerns the study of colonization, decolonization and militarization in the Pacific Islands, with an emphasis on indigenous narratives of survival and sovereignty.

And as I learned that day, he is also a poet. His "my friend, jose"  is a thoughtful piece about how money and some experiences can corrupt us, turn us into something else.

Published by Achiote Press, Chamoru Childhood includes poems and stories by three generations of Chamorus. The last piece in the book is by Samantha Marley Barnett, who was eleven years old when the book went to press. Samantha's "The Stick" is a letter that starts "Dear Everyone," and recounts a game that sent her (inadvertently) to the hospital with a gash on her head. I leave you to imagine the details! Playing with sticks is something we did a lot at Nambe Pueblo, so, reading "The Stick" I found myself laughing out loud.

I laughed a lot, too, reading "The Back of the Pick-up" by Evelyn Sam Miguel Flores. Other than the beach, that particular story could have been me, my cousins, and one of my uncles---again---at Nambe!

Some of the stories are sad or painful to read. Coming from three generations of Chamorus, they provide a broad and deep story of the Chamorus experiences. Meeting Keith and talking with him, I'm learning a lot about the Chamoru people, Guam, and some more ugly truths about the United States and its treatment of Indigenous peoples in the Mariana Islands. 

A chapbook, Chamoru Childhood is ten dollars. In November, it was in the spotlight on Critical Mass: The blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors. See "In the Spotlight: I HEART Poetry Chapbooks, by Rigoberto Gonzales.

Order a copy from Achiote Press. I'm pretty sure most libraries have nothing at all like it... That is, I'm sure most libraries have nothing at all written by Chamoru writers. You should. We should all know more about Guam and the Mariana Islands.

[Update, December 6, 8:47 AM----A reader wrote to ask who (age group) the book's audience is....  Chamoru Childhood is not a picture book, but I would definitely read-aloud "The Stick" to a group of children in elementary school. As for who-would-I-hand-the-book-to, I'd say middle and high school students and of course, adults.]

Friday, December 04, 2009

American Indians in Children's Literature in TRIBAL COLLEGE JOURNAL

The Winter 2009 online issue of Tribal College Journal includes a link to American Indians in Children's Literature. The link is in an article by Michael W. Simpson, J.D., M. Ed. Titled "Evaluating Classroom Materials for Bias Against American Indians," it is a resource guide.

Read the history of Tribal College Journal on its Our History page.   It is published by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), which is comprised of 35 Indian-controlled colleges in the United States and Canada. Spend time on the site! There's a lot to learn about tribal colleges... 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

We saw NEW MOON on Friday...

Friday afternoon, daughter Liz and I went to see New Moon. Sitting next to each other in the dark, we heckled, rolled our eyes, and laughed in the wrong parts. Not wanting to draw the ire of others in the theater, we weren't obnoxious. We kept our critiques relatively quiet.

Once settled in our seats, Liz said she wished we could live-blog our viewing. She's right! That would have been cool. I don't know how theater managers feel about such things, but maybe its worth finding out.

Perhaps the best line in the film is the one delivered by Graham Greene. When he learns that the Cullens have left, he says "Good riddance." Later in the movie, while on the hunt for the bear the townspeople think is killing people, he is attacked by Victoria, one of the vampires that kills humans. She's not a Cullen. (Remember, the Cullens are good vampires. They don't attack humans. They drink animal blood.) Greene plays the part of Harry Clearwater.

When Jacob whispers to Bella in another language, Liz and I wondered "was that supposed to be Quileute?!" Looking at the Quileute Nation's facebook page, the status is:
"Dear Fans: Thank you for all the calls and emails regarding the scene in the movie where Jacob whispers to Bella in Quileute. Please know, we would love to translate the phrase for you, but out of respect for Jacob's feelings for Bella we are unable to at this time."

There are several Native men in New Moon. I hope the massive exposure creates opportunities for them to do other films. (The woman in the film who is saying she is Native... well, it looks like that may not be the case.)  

I don't recommend the books or the film for many reasons. Of course I make that statement based on the Native content of them, but there are other reasons as well. This is a good analysis:  Running With the Wolves - A Racialicious Reading of the Twilight Saga.

And last year, I blogged about a couple of sites about the Native content. One of those essays is also excerpted in Running With the Wolves (linked above).
Terrific essays about Meyer's character, Jacob.

The Quileute Nation has been inundated with fans of the film. A few weeks ago, I pointed readers of American Indians in Children's Literature to a statement on the Quileute's website: "Has Stephanie Meyer Seen this?" More recently, it looks like the Quileute's are doing what they can to address the flood of visitors to their reservation. I've been following the Quileute Nation facebook page for awhile now, and traffic is definitely up. Its amusing, reading what people write on the wall...

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.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who is Grandma Dowdel?

As I work on a critical essay about Richard Peck's A Season of Gifts, I will share interesting bits...

Like the one I came across just now. When Peck gave his acceptance speech for the Newberry Medal (available in Horn Book July/August 2001), he said:

And who is Grandma Dowdel? Since nobody but a reader ever became a writer, Grandma Dowdel marches in a long tradition. She is the American tall tale in a Lane Bryant dress. There's more than a bit of Paul Bunyan about her, and a touch of the Native American trickster tradition: she may just be Kokopelli without the flute. (p. 399-400)

Interesting, eh? Kokopelli without the flute...  Back then (2000), Peck had Native American imagery in his mind. I wonder what he knows about Kokopelli?And, I wonder if his other novels or writings reference American Indians in some way?

Previously, on American Indians in Children's Literature, I wrote about A Season of Gifts...
Tuesday, September 29, 2009: Richard Peck's A SEASON OF GIFTS

Friday, November 27, 2009

Beyond the Mesas

On this day, November 27, 2009, most people are out shopping. It is the day after Thanksgiving, known as "Black Friday."

But did you know that today is also Native American Day? Yep, someone decided that the day after Thanksgiving would be designated as Native American Day. Along with that designation, there's words to the effect that teachers provide children with information about American Indians.

But oops! Wait! No school on Native American Day! I know some teachers and librarians provide students with instruction and books about American Indians during the month of November because the entire month is "Native American Month." I'd rather all the info about us not be delivered or confined to this month... And I'd certainly prefer that Native American Day be on some other day, when school is in session.

It does strike me as pretty ironic that Black Friday and Native American Day are on the same day. Rant over....

My real reason for writing today is to send you over to Beyond the Mesas. It is a new blog, hosted by my colleague in American Indian Studies, Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert. Many times on American Indians in Children's Literature, I've written about boarding schools, children's books about boarding schools, and films about boarding schools. Today, I'm talking with you about Matt and his work. 

Matt has a DVD called Beyond the Mesas. His blog is about about boarding schools. If you have not ordered his DVD yet, there's a link to get it on his blog. So on this day, Native American Day 2009, I'm not out at a shopping mall or store spending money. I'm reading Matt's blog.

Monday, November 23, 2009

‘Myth, Colonialism, and the Next Generation’ by Shelley A. Welch

Today's post is submitted to American Indians in Children's Literature by Shelley A. Welch, MA, LMHC, of The Capturing Spirit Project.  


Myth, Colonialism, and the Next Generation
by Shelley A. Welch

I write this from the perspective of a mother, a school counselor, and elementary educator of 15 years.  My father’s Eastern Cherokee family relocated to the Northeast where I grew up and later met my husband, an enrolled member of a Massachusetts tribe.  My sons were born here in this ‘New England’ where the term ‘colonialism’ prevails.  This year, my oldest son began 1st grade.  Thanksgiving approached the public school calendar and with it came the perpetuation of historical myths that some educators just don’t want to let go of.  I am assuming, if you are reading this, you know the accurate chronological order of how Thanksgiving came to be.  If not, please refer to the following stated resources.

I knew the Massachusetts frameworks for elementary education and that it included Columbus and Colonial life, therefore I laid down the resources with the school before my son ever stepped foot in the building:  Plimoth Planatation, Oyate, Cradleboard Teaching Project, the National Museum of the American Indian, and American Indians in Children's Literature.  School staff ensured their understanding and sensitivity.

I allowed myself to believe that the sources would be utilized.  In retrospect, I should have requested to see all the material before they were presented yet I let my little one enter that building day after day and he and his classmates were exposed to the same old mis-teachings of my youth.  As parents, our feelings were  intense and included anger, frustration, guilt that we put him in this vulnerable position, fear, and the whole thing had fine strands that connected to historical traumas.

My 7 year old son expressed feeling pressured to try and ‘correct’ what he knew was wrong in school, but he also felt that he might ‘get in trouble’ for speaking his mind.  It certainly was not his responsibility to monitor curriculum.  I can’t tell you how complicated it was to un-teach what was taught to him in those brief weeks.  He would actually hang his head and exclaim, “I am confused.”  In those moments, with burning eyes, I felt like home schooling.   My son’s sense of self that was so confident in September was now shaky.  The more my husband and I scrutinized the upcoming material, the more the system back-pedaled and tripped up.  The educator in me knew this was a systematic issue that required a long- term commitment to examining personal bias and creating a bias-free learning environment, but the mother in me wanted to pack up and get the heck out of here.

Some teachers will say that historical realities are too heavy for young children.  Actually, it seems to be the adults that shy away from those topics because they are personally conflicted in what they know about Indigenous existence, European influence, and the development of America.  It is the adults who don’t seem to want to let go of American myths of ‘friendship and good will’ between the first settlers and the Indigenous people, a People who were once the majority and are now the smallest minority.  As a mental health professional specializing in child development, I can say that when children are told that one group bullied another, they are quite amazing peacemakers, acknowledging the breach of civil rights and offering cooperative resolutions.  It is true, elementary-aged students aren’t developmentally ready for the specifics of genocide, but they can understand the inhumanity of racism. 

And it isn’t just about the misrepresentation (or lack of representation) of Native presence that arises.  It also makes me question all of the curriculum material our children are exposed to and the complacency of parents and educators who don’t question the curriculum materials nor who demand a bias free education for all children.  

Shelley A. Welch, MA, LMHC

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dene writer blogs about HOUSE OF NIGHT

Sending you to "displaced Dene," a blog run by Tenille Campbell. She's got some things to say about the House of Night series... New link to Tenille Campbell's post about the House of Night series. (And thanks to Jennie for pointing me to the new link. Note: Link changed on April 26, 2011.)

Tenille Campbell is Dene (First Nations) from Northern Saskatchewan. From reading her site, I gather Campbell is studying writing at the University of British Columbia with the AWESOME Richard Van Camp. Regular readers know I think Richard's work is terrific. If I'm not mistaken, Nicola I. Campbell also studied writing with Richard. As noted earlier today, Nicola's book, Shin-chi's Canoe just won a major literature prize. So! We should keep an eye out for Tenille Campbell. She says that Richard has a new comic book out...  I should follow up on that!

Congratulations to Nicola I. Campbell... Shin-chi's Canoe wins major award

Sending my congratulations to Nicola I. Campbell, author of Shin-chi's Canoe. In the news today...  "Residential school story wins $25,000 kids' book award."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving, 2009

In this morning's "Google Alert" email (the one I set up using "Debbie Reese" +blog), I learned that Carol Rasco, the CEO of Reading is Fundamental, had blogged about Thanksgiving on her RIF blog. There, she wrote about American Indians in Children's Literature, and how it has impacted her thinking about Thanksgiving. (I must say, though, that as I read the excerpts she used from my site, I saw how unpolished my writing can be.)

Some time ago, I was invited to be on the Reading is Fundamental Literature Advisory Committee. Prior to that, I had come across the RIF's page for November and was, frankly, pretty upset. As I recall that day (this is a two-year-old memory), I was multi-tasking on my computer. I had several websites open in my browser, moving from one to the other. (As I compose this particular post, I've got seven pages open. This morning I watched the Cherokee Nation's video "What is a real Indian Nation? What is a fake tribe?" and I read an article on Slate about book trailers.) That morning, I went to the RIF page for November. It was garrish in appearance, with cartoon Indians and a mish-mash of elements of different tribes.

While I was studying that page, a song started playing. It was a Pueblo song that I know and listen to often because of its meaning for me. I quickly started looking around my computer, wondering how I had managed to turn it on with realizing it. (Think absent-minded professor.) None of the ways that I listen to the song were activated. I realized it was coming from the RIF page. Something there, with good intentions, had created that November page using stereotypical images and a Pueblo song. It was a grab-bag. Anything Indian, slammed together. Good to go. Of course, it was not good to go.  Through my work with RIF, they took that page down.

And so this morning, one week before Thanksgiving Day, reading Carol's blog, I am heartened to learn that my interaction with RIF is making a difference in Carol's views. Among other things, she wrote:

"I hear you, Debbie, and have several copies of The Good Luck Cat and Jingle Dancer among other titles in the “to be wrapped pile” for the coming holidays for presentation to special young friends."  

Saying "awesome!" to those words doesn't begin to capture how I feel.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What Debby Edwardson said...

I've spent the last week engaging in an online conversation on a site called Through the Tollbooth. There, like on American Indians in Children's Literature, I push writers to think about appropriation. Some people understand what I mean, others do not. It may be a failing in the way I say things. Debby Edwardson, one of the hosts of that week-long conversation, has some closing thoughts that I am sending you to read. She understands issues of appropriation, stereotyping, power, retellings of stories...  And, she did a terrific job of laying them out for her fellow writers on the Tollbooth site.

Here's an excerpt:

Debbie Reese said, “There are some things that I think non-Native writers ought to stay away from: religion, spirituality, worship.”

She also said something very provocative: “Most Native writers don't even put that in their books. Why do non-Native writers feel the need to do it?”

The question you, as a non-Native writer, should ask yourself is this: why don’t Native writers put overt references to Native religion, spirituality and worship in their books? Take a minute to think about it. This is important.

Okay. Time's up. Let’s be totally honest here. We all know that if we as writers are, say, Christian, it is not okay to preach in our books, not even obliquely. It’s not even okay to mention religion except in passing, very casually, in a nondenominational sort of way. Unless of course it’s a problem novel in which religion is the problem. These are the rules and we all know that if we don’t follow the rules we will not sell our books, except maybe to Christian niche publishers.

In fact, what Debbie said about Native writers not writing about their religious beliefs is also true for most Christian writers—writers like Katherine Patterson, for example, or Madeline L’Engle. They do not take us into their inner sanctuary of their own spiritual world. CS Lewis has been soundly criticized for sliding his Christianity in sideways.

See what I mean? Go over and read the rest of what she said. And, if you're inclined, read over posts going back to November 9th.