Saturday, March 13, 2010

American Indians in California - Resources

On When Turtles Fly, Deborah Miranda is compiling resources for teachers to use in lesson plans about California. She began this project a few weeks ago, with her post titled 4th Grade California Mission Projects.

When we think of California today, we do not, for the most part, teach about American Indians who were there prior to it becoming "California." When we teach about the Gold Rush, we do it in a celebratory or adventurous fashion, and we fail to teach students that those miners (amongst others) committed horrific crimes against Native people. When we teach about the Missions, we gloss over the treatment of Native people at those missions, and we ignore the legacy the Missions had on the lives of Native people. Some Native people embraced Christianity; some imported elements of Christianity to their existing systems of worship; others rejected it.

Here's Deborah's bio, from her page:
I am a member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of the Greater Monterey Bay area in California. Currently I am an Associate Professor in the English Department at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. I teach Composition, Native American Literatures, American Ethnic Literatures, Women's Literatures, Creative Writing (Poetry and Memoir), among other courses. My first book of poetry, Indian Cartography, was published by Greenfield Review Press in 1999 and won the First Book Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas. The Zen of La Llorona, my second collection, was published by Salt Press in 2004.

We can do better, if we are open to revisiting what we were taught. Bookmark her site!
  • If you're a teacher, use it to develop your lesson plans. 
  • If you're a writer, use it to do research.
  • If you're an editor or reviewer, use it to fact check manuscripts and books.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Anne Rockwell's BIG GEORGE: HOW A SHY BOY BECAME PRESIDENT WASHINGTON - Part 2

Yesterday, I posted initial thoughts about Anne Rockwell's picture book biography of George Washington. I'm returning to it today, and will do so again later this week.

In yesterday's post I wrote about the word shared and how Rockwell uses it in two of her books, and I wrote about the persistence with which writers put American Indians in the same sentence as animals.

Today, I want to look at the opening paragraph in the book.
Three hundred years ago, there was no United States of America. Instead, there were thirteen English colonies in North America. 
I'm focusing on that paragraph to show you how bias looks and what it teaches.

Anne Rockwell is a prolific writer. Though I've not studied her picture books for very young children, I can see by perusing the titles, that an early childhood teacher would use many of them.

How might her biography look if the focus was George Washington and his interactions with American Indians? That's not the book she wrote, so, some may deem it unfair to criticize her treatment of American Indians and American Indian history. Her first sentence is
Three hundred years ago, there was no United States of America.  
Rockwell's book was published in 2008. Three hundred years ago puts the story in the year 1708. Rockwell is correct. At that point in time, there was no United States of America. Her next sentence could be "Instead, there were hundreds of Native Nations." But this is her next sentence:
Instead, there were thirteen English colonies in North America.
That sentence is also correct. In 1708, there were thirteen English colonies in North America. But! I'd insert an additional sentence, and, I'd rewrite her sentence so that the paragraph would say "Europeans who had fled Europe had come to North American and were occupying the lands that belonged to the Native Nations. These Europeans set up thirteen English colonies."

You following that? I'll put it here, in clean copy. Here's Rockwell's opening paragraph, followed by my rewrite of her opening paragraph:
Three hundred years ago, there was no United States of America. Instead, there were thirteen English colonies in North America.

Three hundred years ago, there was no United States of America. Instead, there were hundreds of Native Nations. Europeans who had fled Europe had come to North America and were occupying lands that belonged to the Native Nations. These Europeans set up thirteen English colonies.
See the difference? See how she shapes the story with her choice of what to say and how to say it? She's telling this story from her point of view as an American. I'm revising her story from the point of view of an American Indian.  Her statements are factually true. So are mine.

But, she avoids telling her readers that the birth of the United States was complicated. She  keeps some information from her readers, and as we saw yesterday, she presents bears, wolves, and, American Indians as something George wasn't afraid of.

She's creating an image for her readers. In that image, American Indians are animal-like and living in the woods. The Indians she presents are not civilized, living in colonies like the Europeans.

But, her presentation is not true! American Indians were, in fact, highly developed, self-governing societies. They had leaders with whom Washington and the like had diplomatic negotiations with.  She is concealing that information from her readers. Being generous, I can say that she probably does not know she's doing that. It isn't a deliberate decision.

[Personal note: I grow weary and angry at myself for constantly saying "Native people were not primitive." But, that false idea is so well taught in America that it needs to be said again and again and again.]

Presenting Indians as primitive and uncivilized savages lets Rockwell (she's not the only person who does this. Most writers do it.) portray the Europeans as superior to the indigenous peoples, which ultimately works to say that Europeans were right to take Native lands as their own. I said as much when I critiqued Rockwell's book about Thanksgiving. She responded, saying that she never thought that, and that I was twisting her words. You could say that I am "reading between the lines."

Some might say I'm reading too much into what Rockwell says in that opening paragraph. Again, it isn't an isolated case. Most people who write about that period omit or inaccurately portray American Indians.  I think it is wrong to do so. What do you think?

Update, March 9, 6:30 AM: --- In a comment (see comments section), K pointed out that there are still hundreds of Native Nations and said my sentence suggests there are no longer any Native Nations. Regular readers of this site, and, readers with knowledge about American Indians know that there are, in the present day, hundreds of tribes.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Anne Rockwell's BIG GEORGE: HOW A SHY BOY BECAME PRESIDENT WASHINGTON

Several years ago, Anne Rockwell wrote a book called Thanksgiving Day. Reading it as a Native mother and scholar in American Indian Studies, Thanksgiving Day book is a mess. Rockwell seems not to know that a lot of American Indian people call that day "Thankstaking" or "A day of mourning." In that book, one of her characters, playing the part of a Pilgrim, says (bold is mine):
Michiko was thankful that she and all the other Pilgrims were greeted kindly by the Wampanoag people, who shared the land with them.

Last year, that word "shared" appeared in her picture book biography, Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President Washington (published in 2008 by Harcourt). On the opening page, she writes (bold is mine):

Three hundred years ago, there was no United States of America. Instead, there were thirteen English colonies in North America.

In the one called Virginia, a tall boy loved to get on his horse and gallop through the woods alone. He wasn't afraid of bears, or wolves, or the native hunters with bows and arrows who shared those woods.

Sharing is a big part of what we teach children in early childhood classrooms. Hence, the sharing aspect in both of these books work well in those settings.  Course, in those settings we're talking about a toy, or a book, or a special chair. Rockwell is talking about something else completely. The land and woods she's referring to are not the same thing as a toy, or a book, or a special chair.

Note that in the Thanksgiving Day excerpt above, Rockwell says the Pilgrims were greeted "kindly" by the Wampanoag people. In text and illustration of the book, it looks like the Pilgrims and Wampanoags were great friends! Course, by then, the historical record shows, the Wampanoags were familiar with the ways of the Europeans.

In Big George, Rockwell tells her readers that the woods are dangerous... The young George has to be mindful of bears, wolves, and Native hunters with bows and arrows.  Putting Indians-to-be-feared in the same sentence as animals-to-be-feared is a common thing for writers to do. It is, however, a problem, because it equates Indian people with animals. Laura Ingalls Wilder did it, too, in Little House on the Prairie way back in 1935, but Rockwell repeats that error 74 years later. When will that stop?

Let's look at the sentence again...

He wasn't afraid of [...] the native hunters with bows and arrows who shared those woods.

Doesn't make sense, does it? Why should he be afraid of Indians who share the woods with George?

Please see Part 2 of my analysis of Big George.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

"An Author Responds"

I thought it might be useful to my readers to identify blog posts that prompted an author to reply, in protest, of my review.

So, I added a label called "An Author Responds" to the "LABELS" section. To find it, look over at the right side of the page and scroll down to LABELS. It is beneath the "BOOKS REVIEWED ON THIS SITE..." section.

Among the authors that have responded to critiques on American Indians in Children's Literature are Sharon Creech, Beth Kanell, Ben Mikaelsen, Anne Rockwell, and John Smelcer.

American Indians in Children's Literature featured at DIVERSE: ISSUES IN HIGHER EDUCATION

I read this article when it came out in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education and meant to link to it, but can't find a link. So, I'm pointing to it today. They sent Nick Burchell, a professional photographer to my office.  That's the photo he took.  I think vanity is the reason I didn't point to the article when it came out. The work I do is about the work, not about me, and the article is mostly about me. I enjoyed talking with Mary Annette Pember, the reporter who did the article.  


Getting to Know Debbie Reese

Recent articles Pember did include one about graduation rates of American Indian and Alaska Native students, and another about elders as educators at tribal colleges. On the Diverse site, enter her name in the search engine to see other topics she's done.

American Indians in Children's Literature featured at COLOR ONLINE

On Thursday, March 4th,  COLOR ONLINE featured American Indians in Children's Literature. This is from their "About Us" page:

We are a community organization dedicated to empowering young women. We operate a library and offer support to young girls at local non-profit in Detroit. Our blog focuses on women writers of color. Founded in September 2005, my vision was to engage reluctant and non-readers. We were a lit studies group. To call us a book club is not only limiting but it fails to describe what I envisioned for us: a collective that explored the arts and made a connection between all art forms and our lives, a community where we encouraged one another and discovered our voices, a space where girls felt empowered by experiencing a cultural, political and a spiritual awakening.

Click on over to COLOR ONLINE and spend some time going through the site. They've got a lot of reviews there, and, thought provoking writing, too.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Congrats to Cynthia Leitich Smith: ETERNAL on NY Times best seller list

Wow!  Eternal, Cynthia Leitich Smith's vampire novel, will appear on the New York Times "Children's Best Sellers - Paperback" list this coming Sunday. She's Muscogee Creek. The book is for ages 14 and up.

Read her reaction at her site, "Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith Debuts at #5 on The New York Times Best Seller List." Visit her web page on the book, where you will find a link to an excerpt, and, a trailer for the book, too. 

Congratulations, Cyn!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Something Will Rogers said...

A friend asked me what I know about Will Rogers, famous TV and radio personality, part Cherokee...

He asked, in particular, about this:

"My ancestors may not have come over on the 'Mayflower' but they met 'em at the boat!"

Those seventeen words are all over the Internet, from one quotations page to the next. But!!! That is not all Rogers said...

Take a look at The Papers of Will Rogers: The Early Years, by Will Rogers, Arthur Frank Wertheim, and Barbara Bair. See, specifically, page 31. I'm using bold to mark the part that is left off in all those quotation sites:

"When questioned about his heritage in a scene in one of his films, he informed a passport officer, who had inquired whether he was an American citizen, that his mother and father were both part Cherokee and he "was born and raised in Indian Territory. Course I'm not one of these Americans whose ancestors come over on the Mayflower, but we met 'em at the boat when they landed. And its always been to the everlasting discredit of the Indian race that we ever let 'em land."

That passage is footnoted, and the corresponding note reads (p. 39):

"This passport office scene is from the 1930 Fox film, So This Is London. Rogers continued his soliloquy by reaffirming his statement in the face of scandalized expressions from a pair of onlookers: "It was," he said, referring to the discredit due the Indians for letting the Pilgrims land. "That's the only thing that I'd ever blame the Indians for."

Interesting, isn't it? What gets left off?  I wonder about biographies of him, written for children and young adults. Is the full quote in them?

As a society, America reveres Will Rogers, 
but I wonder if they know he said that Indians 
never should have let the Pilgrims land?

(Thanks, Brian, for asking me about him...  Given the embrace of Will Rogers, it is worth looking into what children and young adults are told about Rogers!)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thoughts on Sharon Creech's WALK TWO MOONS

Have you ever used Google Earth? It's a fascinating tool that lets you look at a place (like your hometown) via satellite photographs.

A few years ago, I started seeing "lit trips" online.  Using Google Earth, people put together a webpage that shows places named in any given book. A few days ago while reading Open Culture, I came across a site called Google Lit Trips, where "lit trips" for books are categorized by grade level. There, teachers have uploaded the lit trips they created.

Google Lit Trips is a great project. As a person who loves technology, travel, and children's literature, I find great value in the project itself.  I wondered what books teachers have created lit trips for...

In the K-5 category is Holling Clancy Holling's Paddle-to-the-Sea. It's an old book, published in 1941. It won a Caldecott Honor Medal, which attributes to its staying power. In it, an Indian boy (his tribal nation is not named and he does not have a name) carves an Indian in a canoe (from the illustration, the canoe is about ten inches long) and puts it into the water in Canada.  The Indian--called "Injun" by some characters--travels to the Great Lakes, the ocean...   I can see the allure of doing a Lit Trip for this book, but I wonder what the teacher does with the word Injun?

In the 6-8 grade category is Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. Her book is the focus of today's post.

Walk Two Moons won the top prize in children's literature--the Newbery Medal--in 1995. Obviously, the committee believed the book is extraordinary. As I noted on Feb 17, 2010, the book is on the Top 100 list of novels on Elizabeth Bird's blog, A Fuse#8 Production. There, Elizabeth writes:
The plot as described by School Library Journal reads, "13-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle travels west with her Grams and Gramps to Lewiston, Idaho, the destination from which her mother did not return. As Sal entertains her grandparents with stories of her friend, Phoebe, who sees "lunatics" around every corner, threads from many life stories are seamlessly entwined. This pilgrimage wonderfully mirrors the journey of discovery that is adolescence, as Sal's search for the truth about her mother becomes a journey of discovery about much more."

Most of what I've read about the book focuses on the themes of loss, grieving, acceptance. Here, I provide a close reading of the Native content in the book.

In an interview, Creech says that the idea for the story came from the fortune in a fortune cookie. This is from the Scholastic interview:
How did you come up with the title Walk Two Moons?
I had discovered a fortune cookie message in the bottom of my purse and the message was: “Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins.” I realized that everything that I was trying to say in this book had to do with that message; that you need to get to know someone well before you form an opinion about them, and in a way, that's what we writers are doing every day with our characters. So I liked the parallel there.
The words on that fortune sound familiar, right? Perhaps you know the phrase as "never judge a man until you walk a mile in his shoes." The Yale Book of Quotations has the "walk a mile in his moccasins" phrase listed in its "Modern Proverbs" section as follows:
Never criticize anybody until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.
Lincoln (Neb.) Star, 10 Oct. 1930. This 1930 usage is actually worded "never criticize the other boy or girl unless," etc., described as an "Indian maxim." Later versions sometimes refer to "shoes" rather than "moccasins."
I've never seen the "two moons" variation, but, I'm not doubting that Creech found it in a fortune cookie. Above it is called a maxim. Other places, I've seen it called "An American Indian proverb." It, like so many other Indian "sayings" is poetic, sounds cool, just like an Indian might say, etc. Kind of like "happy hunting grounds" but did it, in fact, originate with an American Indian?! Research to do on that... 

In the interview, she said that the saying itself captured what she was doing with the story, so, she used it for the title. In her Newbery Medal acceptance speech, she said:
My cousins maintain that one of our ancestors was an American Indian. As a child, I loved that notion, and often exaggerated it by telling people that I was a full-blooded Indian. I inhaled Indian myths...  I crept through the woods near our house, reenacting these myths, and wishing, wishing, for a pair of soft leather moccasins. (I admit --but without apology--that my view of American Indians was a romantic one.)
"without apology" --- I find that remark unsettling. Substitute "American Indians" with, say, "African Americans." One romantic view of African Americans is the one of happy slaves. Might Creech be unapologetic for holding a romantic view of African Americans as happy slaves? I'm thinking about "without apology" and what it means. 

Going back to the saying (walk two moons), and Creech's notion (her word) that she is part American Indian...  Both are significant to the story that is Walk Two Moons

The name of the main character is Salamanca (or Sal, which is short for Salamanca). She is thirteen years old and has long black hair---so long, in fact, that classmates ask her if she can sit on it. The book is realistic fiction, meant for ages 10 to 14 or thereabouts.

Sal lives in Euclid, Ohio with her dad. Creech herself grew up in South Euclid, Ohio. In 1957, Creech was 12. Her family took a trip from Ohio to Idaho. In Walk Two Moons, Creech recreates that trip. Hence, what she includes in the book are childhood memories.

I'll assume then, that the setting for Walk Two Moons is also 1957. But when I do that, some aspects of the story don't make sense.

On page 7, we learn that Sal's parents thought her great grandmother's tribe was called Salamanca. So, they named their daughter Salamanca. Later, they found out the name of the tribe was actually Seneca. (Note: There is no tribe named Salamanca.) We aren't told how old Sal was when her parents figured out what the correct tribal name is.

This Seneca heritage is from Sal's mother, who is called Sugar. Her family name is Pickford. Sal says that these grandparents "stand straight up, as if sturdy, steel poles ran down their backs. They wear starched, ironed clothing," they never laugh, and they work very hard at being respectable.  Grandmother Pickford's name is Gayfeather. Her single act of defiance is to name her daughter Chanhassen (p. 16)
It's an Indian name, meaning "tree sweet juice," or--in other words--maple sugar. Only Grandmother Pickford ever called my mother by her Indian name, though. Everyone else called my mother Sugar.
What, I wonder, was Gayfeather acting in defiance of? Being respectable? Or, was she defying her husband? Was her husband white? Did he not like that his wife was Indian? It seems that Gayfeather wants to pass an Indian identity down to her daughter, but why doesn't she tell her daughter what tribe they are? Was Gayfeather trying to live like a "civilized" Indian? An assimilated one who'd been through government boarding school?  And the name, Gayfeather...  It is the name of a plant, and it sounds plausible as an Indian name, but it also sounds-like-an-Indian-name that someone (in this case Creech) made up.

I looked up the word chanhassen, and found a town in Minnesota called Chanhassen. According to the town's website, Chanhassen is a Dakota word that means tree with sweet sap, or sugar maple tree. I also found it in American Place-Names: A Concise and Selective Dictionary, published in 1970. The entry there reads (p. 86)
Chanhassen MN  From two Siouan words, coined by R. M. Nichols, 'tree sweet juice,' to mean maple sugar.
Clearly, Creech used the latter in naming Sal's mother Chanhassen. Note that the Place-Names dictionary says it is from two Siouan (Sioux) words. The info on the Chanhassen town website says it is a Dakota word. Dakota's are Sioux.

Nobody, however, calls Sugar by her Indian name, Chanhassen, except her own mother who gave her that name.

Let's imagine Creech imagining Salamanca's parents as they try to think of a name for their child. Sal's mother says "Let's name her after my great great grandmother's tribe. I'm not sure what it was...  It started with an S. Maybe it was Salamanca." Her father says "Ok, we'll name her Salamenca."

Creech could have said Sioux, because that is the source of the word Chanhassen, but instead, she chose  Seneca as her character's tribal heritage. So, Gayfeather, a Seneca woman, gave her daughter a name based on Sioux words. Ok, that's plausible.

For whatever reason, Gayfeather does not tell Chanhassen/Sugar their tribe, or, if she does, Chanhassen/Sugar doesn't remember it. That may be the case because they aren't living amongst that tribe, nor do they have any contact with them.

Sugar grows up, gets married, and has a child. She wants to give her daughter the name of her tribe as her daughter's personal name. Except, she can't remember "Seneca" and names her "Salamanca" instead.  

Later, Sal's parents find out the actual name was Seneca, not Salamanca. As the story unfolds, we learn that Sal's mom was proud of her Seneca heritage. We don't know how old Sal was when this remembered conversation took place: (p. 57): 
My mother had not liked the term Native Americans. She thought it sounded primitive and stiff. She said "My great-grandmother was a Seneca Indian, and I'm proud of it. She wasn't a Seneca Native American. Indian sounds much more brave and elegant." 

Recall that Sharon Creech has a cousin that said they are part American Indian, and that Creech herself likes that idea...   This "part American Indian" family story is familiar. There are a lot of people who, through a family story, believe that they have American Indian heritage. They don't know the name of the tribe, but, they have a certain love of romantic, noble, heroic Indian imagery. They know very little about who American Indian people were, or are....  Hence, Sal's mother (and maybe Creech, too) likes "Indian" because it sounds "more brave and elegant."Brave and elegant fit in the romantic image.

Earlier in this post I said that some aspects of the story Creech tells don't make sense. The discussion of Native American is one example. That phrase, Native American, was not in use in 1957. It is unlikely that Creech, in school in the 50s, had a teacher who taught her students to say Native American instead of Indian. That teaching came later, possibly in the 70s in a handful of places, and more with the passing of time. This is an instance of "presentism" --- a word in literary analysis that means an author has put today's ideas into someone of the past. The hotel name is another example (p. 74-75):
     That night we stayed in Injun Joe's Peace Palace Motel. On a sign in the lobby, someone had crossed out "Injun" and written "Native American" so the whole sign read "Native American Joe's Peace Palace Motel." In our room, the "Injun Joe's" embroidered on the towels had been changed with black marker to "Indian Joe's." I wished everybody would just make up their minds.
That last line, "I wished everybody would just make up their minds" gives me pause. Who, or what perspective, does that reflect? It sounds to me a lot an emotion that emanates from someone who derisively says "PC run amok." But again---the time period doesn't make sense, IF we say the book is set in 1957.

If, however, we say the book is set in, say, the 1990s when it came out, Creech's references to Native American, and Injun make sense.

But! When Sal and her grandparents stop at Wisconsin Dells, they see Indian dances. In talking with Native colleagues and friends in that area today, they said there used to be dances done there at a place called Stand Rock, or Standing Rock. Here's what Creech writes (p. 56)
     Gram and I poked our noses into an old fort, and then sat on the grass watching a group of Native Americans dance and beat drums.

There's more on p. 57:
     The crowd was clapping, the drums were beating. I was all turned around and could not remember which way we had come. There were three signs indicating different parking areas. The drums thundered. I pushed further into the crowd of people, who were now clapping louder, in time with the drums.
And more on page 58: 

     The Indians had formed two circles, one inside the other, and were hopping up and down. The men danced in the outer circle and wore feather headdresses and short leather aprons. On their feet were moccasins, and I thought again about Phoebe's message: Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins.
     Inside the circle of men, the women in long dresses and ropes of beads had joined arms and were dancing around one older woman who was wearing a regular cotton dress. On her head was an enormous headdress, which had slipped down over her forehead.
     I leaned closer. The woman in the center was hopping up and down. On her feet were flat, white shoes. In the space between drum beats, I heard her say, "Huzza, huzza."
Apparently, what 12-year-old Creech saw in 1957 was a dance program put on for tourists. The dancers were, in fact, Native dancers. The crowd of tourists would (not knowing any better) clap along with the drums.

Sal's/Creech's description of dancers "hopping up and down" bothers me.

The dance itself sounds like a Round Dance, which is a social dance. Click on this youtube video to see one being done. (Note: the people in the video are not wearing traditional clothes. But see? They're not hopping.)  I'm not sure how Sal's grandma ended up in the middle, with the Indians dancing around her. That doesn't make sense either. And that headdress she's wearing? Where did she get that? There's no mention of it at all anywhere in the story.

After Wisconsin Dells, they stop at Pipestone National Monument. Sal watches Indians working in the quarry. She asks one if he is a Native American. He says he is "a person" (p. 73), and Sal asks if he is a "Native American person" (p. 73). He replies, "No, I'm an American Indian person." and Sal says that she is, too, "in my blood."

Again (as in the hotel name), Creech, through Sal, shares a view of these different phrases. In this case, she creates a Native character who, presumably, grew up with his Native community (unlike Sal or her mother), and he, like Sal's mother, prefers 'American Indian' to 'Native American.' He validates Sal's mom, and Creech, too.

Sal and her grandparents then smoke a peace pipe with "an American Indian person" and then decide to buy two pipes to take with them.

You can, in fact, buy pipes there that are made by Native people.  I suppose it is possible that a visitor to the monument might find "an American Indian person" sitting outside under a tree smoking a pipe much like someone would smoke a pipe they buy at a cigar shop, but it doesn't quite fit with  how those pipes are typically used by the various tribal nations who use them.

In several places, Sal talks about her mother's love of Indian stories. Here's an excerpt from page 150-151:
   My mother once told me the Blackfoot story of Napi, the Old Man who created men and women. To decide if these new people should live forever or die, Napi selected a stone. "If the stone floats," he said, "you will live forever. If it sinks, you will die." Napi dropped the stone into the water. It sank. People die. 
     "Why did Napi use a stone?" I asked. "Why not a leaf?"
     My mother shrugged. "If you had been there, you could have made the rock float," she said. She was referring to my habit of skipping stones across the water.
That story is similar to a much longer story called "The Blackfeet Creation" that appears on page 145 of George Bird Grinnell's Blackfeet Indian Stories, published in 1913. Grinnell was not Blackfeet. He was an outsider to the Blackfeet, studying them (and others, too, like the Pawnee), and publishing books about them in the early 1900s. I haven't studied his work, so I don't know if it is reliable as a source of stories about the Blackfeet.  In Grinnell's book, Napi created a woman and child out of clay and then made them human. They walked to a river together (p. 148-149):
     As they were standing there looking at the water as it flowed by, the woman asked Old Man, saying, "How is it; shall we live always? Will there be no end to us?"
     Old Man said, "I have not thought of that. We must decide it. I will take this buffalo chip and throw it in the river. If it floats, people will become alive again four days after they have died; they will die for four days only. But if it sinks, there will be an end to them." He threw the chip into the river, and it floated.
     The woman turned and picked up a stone and said, "No, I will throw this stone in the river. If it floats, we shall live always; if it sinks, people must die, so that their friends who are left alive may always remember them." The woman threw the stone in the water, and it sank.
     "Well," said Old Man, "you have chosen; there will be an end to them."
     "Not many nights after that the woman's child died, and she cried a great deal for it. She said to Old Man, "Let us change this. The law that you first made, let that be the law."
     He said, "Not so; what is made law must be law. We will undo nothing that we have done. The child is dead, but it cannot be changed. People will have to die."
I don't (yet) know if Grinnell's account is, in fact, a story that the Blackfeet people tell. It sounds a lot like the Christian story of Creation, so it is possible that the story emerged as a result of missionaries and their influence on the Blackfeet. It is also possible that Grinnell changed the Blackfeet story as he listened and then recorded it according to his perspective.

And, it is possible that Creech found a different version of the story. Hers differs from Grinnell's with regard to who threw the stone. Creech specifically selected a story about life and death, because Sal is struggling to make sense of life and death. At some point, I may return to this particular portion of Walk Two Moons and study Grinnell's work.

Same goes for the story she uses near the end of the book (p. 278):
When I drive Gramps around in his truck, I also tell him all the stories my mother told me. His favorite is a Navajo one about Estsanatlehi. She's a woman who never dies. She grows from baby to mother to old woman and then turns into a baby again, and on and on she goes, living a thousand, thousand lives.
Where, I wonder, did Creech find that story? I found some information about Estsanatlehi in the American Folklore Society's journal (see Memoirs of the American Folk-lore Society, Volume 5, 1897) that says the English translation for Estsanatlehi is Woman Who Changes (p. 34):
The name Estsanatlehi is derived by syncopation from estan, woman, and natlehi, to change or transform. She is so called because, it is supposed, she never remains in one condition, but that she grows to be an old woman, and in the course of time because a young girl again, and so passes through an endless course of lives, changing but never dying.
Note the publication year of 1897. Again, we have an account by an outsider. In this case, it was Washington Matthews, a major in the U.S. Army who later lived amongst the Navajo people, reportedly making friends with them and gaining admittance to ceremonies to which they did not generally admit white people. And again, I may at some point study Navajo texts about Estsanatlehi and compare them to what Matthews recorded.

Like the Napi story that Creech excerpted above, I expect there's a lot more to this Navajo story than is related by Creech. Like the Napi one, it is about life and death. Hence, Creech chose to use it in telling Sal's story.

There's more...  Sal and her grandparents visit the Black Hills in South Dakota, and Sal wonders if her mother hated having white President's faces carved in Sioux Holy Land. She says (p. 179):
    It was fine seeing the presidents [on Mt. Rushmore], but you'd think the Sioux would be mighty sad to have those white faces carved into their sacred hill. I bet my mother was upset. I wondered why whoever carved them couldn't put a couple Indians up there too.
Her choice of the word 'sad' points to the tragic Indian "plight" - the romantic image that Creech is unapologetic for in her speech. That unapologetic stance resulted in a book with a lot of romantic and stereotypical imagery. Creech incorporated a lot of information about identity, too, but it doesn't work--at least for me.

She's an outsider to Native culture, trying to write a story as if she's an insider. But her story is based on outsider's writings, and outsider's understandings, and it doesn't work. Yes, the book won a Newbery Medal, but if the committee had analyzed the Native content, I'm not sure they would have made the same decision. For the committee and all the people who love the book, it seems to me that the Indian content doesn't really matter. It is simply a device, or, a decoration on a story about a young girl coming to terms with life and death. All of this Indian decoration is embraced by readers because readers, too, know little about the life and death of Native people.

In the end, Creech's story unapologietically adds to the already too large body of stereotypical "knowledge" people carry around with them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Elizabeth Bird's Survey of Top 100 Children's Novels, #90 thru #66

A week ago (Feb 10, 2010), I wrote about Elizabeth Bird's survey at SLJ. She asked readers to send her a list of their all time favorite novels. With that info, she's compiling a list, providing quite a lot of information about each book that is on the list of Top 100. On Feb 10, I wrote about two of the books on the list: Indian in the Cupboard, and, Caddie Woodlawn. Today, I'm taking a quick look at books between #90 and #66.


Number 94 is Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransom, published in 1930. (Note, April 17, 2010: I'm adding this book today.)
  • On page 16, Roger is "keeping a sharp lookout lest he should be shot by a savage with a poisoned arrow from behind a tree."
  • On page 137, the children come across what they call a "Red Indian wigwam" from which emerges "a very friendly savage".  Ransom's use of "Red Indian" was (is?) common in the United Kingdom.
  • On page 231, Nancy shouts "Honest Injun" .
  • On page 267, Nancy writes that John had "come at risk of his life to warn you that savage natives were planning an attack on your houseboat."
I think I'll have to find some time to study Swallows and Amazons.... 

Number 85 is On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The word "Indian" appears 12 times in the book, most of them about their time in Indian Territory. 
  • On page 143, Mary tells Laura to keep her sunbonnet on or "You'll be as brown as an Indian, and what will the town girls think of us?"
  • On page 218, Laura says "I wish I was an Indian and never had to wear clothes!" Course, Ma chides her for saying that, especially for saying it "on Sunday!"
I've written a lot about Wilder's books (see set of links at the bottom of this page), specifically, Little House on the Prairie, which I expect will be in the top tier of Elizabeth's survey. 

Number 78 is Johnny Tremain, written by Esther Forbes, published in 1943.  I'm going to have to reread that one...  I pulled it up on Google books and it looks like Forbes may have done a reasonable job describing the way the colonists dressed for the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773. The popular perception in America (thanks to a lithograph titled "The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor" done in 1846, 73 years after the event took place) is that the colonists dressed in fringe, face paint and feathered headdresses, but they did not do that. Here's what Forbes wrote in Johnny Tremain about the colonists getting ready (p. 140):
...they started to assume their disguises, smootch their faces with soot, paint them with red paint, pull on nightcaps, old frocks, torn jackets, blankets with holes cut for their arms...
See? No fringed buckskin. On page 141, Forbes writes that Johnny "had a fine mop of feathers standing upright in the old knitted cap he would wear on his head..."

I have notes on this somewhere....  I don't recall red paint and feather caps, but the rest of what Forbes writes matches what I recall. I'm mostly glad to see the accuracy of her description of the disguises, but disappointed when I get to page 143:
"Quick!" he [Rab] said, and smootched his face with soot, drew a red line across his mouth running from ear to ear. Johnny saw Rab's eyes through the mask of soot. They were glowing with that dark excitement he had seen but twice before. His lips were parted. His teeth looked sharp and white as an animals.
The character, Rab, in his painted face, becomes animal like. That is a familiar frame: Indian people and animals, very much alike. And of course, it is wrong.

In her discussion of Johnny Tremain, Bird includes a clip from the 1957 Disney film of the movie. In the clip, the colonists, some in fringed clothes, some in knit caps with feathers stuck into them, some with headbands and feathers, and some with painted faces, sing "Sons of Liberty."

Number 66 is Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. On February 5, 2007, I published Beverly Slapin's review of the book here. In a nutshell? Not recommended! [Note, April 16, 2010: Also see my review essay, "Thoughts on Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons", published on Feb. 25, 2010.]

Number 63 is Gone Away Lake written by Elizabeth Enrich in 1957. I did a search of content (used Google Books) and found four uses of "Indian" in the book.


  • Page 141: "Now and then (unnecessarily since they never looked back), he would freeze and stand still as an Indian in the shadows."
  • Page 198: "She just sat there, Baby-Belle did, with her arms folded on her chest staring at Mrs. Brace-Gideon severely, like an Indian chief or a judge or somebody like that."
  • Page 217: "the pale little crowds of Indian pipes and the orange jack-o'-lantern mushrooms that pushed up the needles."
  • Page 756: "in the distance, by the river's edge, a tiny Indian campfire burned with the colors of an opal."

In Gone Away Lake, one of the characters is named Minnehaha, which is from Longfellow. I don't know why she's named that. It is commonly regarded as an "Indian" name, but it is not. We can thank (or blame) Longfellow for so much of the mistaken information that circulates!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Video: Do All Indians Live in Tipis?

Over on the right side of this page, I feature a link to a book called Do All Indians Live in Tipis? I wrote about the book when it came out, and just found a video of the same name at the Library of Congress webcast page.

The video is a lecture given by Edwin Schupman, one of the authors of the book. It is 48 minutes long. Schupman starts by engaging his audience in a "Name that tune" game (he doesn't call it that). The meat of his presentation starts about 20 minutes into the video. He asks pointed and provocative questions about "perpetual ignorance" of Americans when the subject is American Indians. 

Click over to Do All Indians Live in Tipis. Watch. Listen. Think. Do what you can to interrupt the cycle of perpetual ignorance.

Buy several copies of  the book, and host a showing of the video at your library.

Schupman is Muscogee and works at the National Museum of the American Indian. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Elizabeth Bird's survey of Top 100 Children's Novels

A while back, SLJ (School Library Journal) columnist Elizabeth Bird invited her readers to send her a list of their top ten children's novels. She asked them to rank the books, in terms of "biggest impact" and "second biggest" and so on.

She compiled the information she received, and on Feb 8, 2010, she started blogging her findings on her blog, "A Fuse #8 Production." On that day, she presented books #100 through 91. She's done a terrific job presenting the books. Quoting from people who submitted them, reviews of them, criticism, discussion guides, and, providing book covers (some books have had many covers over the years) and links to videos of those that were made into films. As she posts over the next couple of weeks, I'll respond as I can.

In the opening paragraphs to her Feb 8 post, she said there "are heroes and villains" in the list, and she guarantees that

"you will see one book that makes you boo, and another that makes you cheer, perhaps in the same post. There are books included here that I adore and there are definitely books here that I abhor. My job is to never show the difference. So sit back and get ready to complain or cheer in turns. It's totally within your rights."

I don't like her use of "complain." Especially as the flip side of cheer. The word "complain" (for me) has negative connotations. It suggests a whiny orientation that lacks in substance. Instead of thinking about negative criticism, people are prone to wave it off as "politically correct." 


Anyway, it is no surprise that Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks is on this list. Bird quotes Eric Carpenter, one of the readers who submitted his list of top ten books:
My third grade teacher read this one to the class. Three years later I remember scraping my birthday money together to order the 3 book set from Scholastic. I read these books until the covers came off. Rereading this brought me right back to those childhood days when I would challenge myself to read all three in a weekend (cold central NY winters made such feats a necessity.)
I like that Bird provides her readers with links to the Oyate critique of the book, and that she quotes  from the Oyate review.  Here's what Bird used:

"The object here was not to draw an authentic Native person, but to create an arresting literary device. Although the little 'Indian' is called Iroquois, no attempt has been made, either in text or illustrations, to have him look or behave appropriately. For example, he is dressed as a Plains Indian, and is given a tipi and a horse. This is how he talks: 'I help... I go... Big hole. I go through... Want fire. Want make dance. Call spirits.' Et cetera. There are characteristic speech patterns for those who are also Native speakers, but nobody in the history of the world ever spoke this way."  

I wish, however, that she had used the excerpt below instead of, or in addition to, the one she chose (by the way, Bird's post is missing a paragraph break after "spoke this way." Her "School Library Journal ascribed this in part..." are Bird's words and are not part of the Oyate review). Doris Seale wrote the Oyate review, and it it includes an except right out of the book.

He saw an Indian making straight for him. His face, in the torchlight, was twisted with fury. For a second, Omri saw, under the shaven scalplock, the mindless destructive face of a skinhead just before he lashed out... .The Algonquin licked his lips, snarling like a dog... .Their headdresses... even their movements... were alien. Their faces, too—their faces! They were wild, distorted, terrifying masks of hatred and rage.
See the difference? The part Bird used is about stereotypes. That is important information about the book. But, the one I wish she had used is about the way the Indian is characterized as animal-like. I wonder if there were any Native children in Eric Carpenter's 3rd grade New York City classroom? I wonder how they may have felt, reading that passage in the book?

The book in spot #93 is Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink. In discussing Caddie Woodlawn, Bird links to "Reflections on Caddie Woodlawn" posted on American Indians in Children's Literature in March of 2007, where I recount my daughter's experience with the book. Please click on Reflections and read Jeff Berglund's comment.  I saw Jeff just last week. We were both at the American Indian Studies conference at Arizona State University.

Bird includes links for teachers. Among those links is a bibliography of "books on American Indians to help young people develop an awareness of an alternative point of view" and to "broaden cultural understanding."  I looked at the books on there and, while I was glad to see Birchbark House at the top, the point of view it offers is overwhelmed by most of the other books on the list, including a book by Kathy Jo Wargin. If you're interested in a Native critique of Wargin's work, read Lois Beardlee on Mackinac Island Press. Beardslee writes
Lewis’s business, Sleeping Bear Press, produced several books that profoundly offended the local Native American community and received scathing reviews by Native American scholars, including me. Among the offending books are: The Legend of Sleeping Bear (1998), The Legend of Mackinac Island (1999), The Legend of the Lady’s Slipper (2001), The Legend of Leelanau (2003), and The Legend of the Petoskey Stone (2004) all written by Kathy-jo Wargin and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuysen. All of these “Indian legends” were either manufactured by the author and publisher or based upon the historically tainted writings of nineteenth century ethnologist/Indian agent/wannabe-writer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. All are written in the style of Schoolcraft’s nineteenth century syrupy language and all promote nineteenth century stereotypes of Native Americans as simple, docile, primitive people—motifs that were used to justify the usurpation of Native lands and resources through the near extirpation of aboriginal residents.
The bibliography also includes Douglas Wood's The Windigo's Return, a book that Betsy Hearne took to task in "Swapping Tales and Stealing Stories" and one of Paul Goble's books. Goble's books have been soundly critiqued by a leader in American Indian Studies, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. For details, see "About Paul Goble and his books..."

In addition to Birchbark House, the bibliography does have some books that I, too, would recommend. Patty Loew's Native People of Wisconsin is an excellent book that I've not yet written about.

At the end of the Feb 8 post is a link to the next set of books. I wonder what I'll find there?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Editorial: "Sucking the Quileute Dry"

Yesterday's New York Times ran an Op-Ed by Angela R. Riley. She's the director of the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA. Titled "Sucking the Quileute Dry," Riley's editorial is about the sovereign nation status of Native Nations, and our intellectual and cultural property. She focuses on Twilight and how Stephenie Meyer and the industry that has sprouted around her books violates Quileute sovereignty.

Riley is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma. She has a law degree from Harvard, and, she has served on her tribe's Supreme Court. 

Click over to Riley's editorial at the Times page.  If you're a librarian, print the editorial and post it where your patrons can read it. Librarians and teachers can also set up a time to talk with students about the issues Riley raises.

IF YOU ARE A WRITER, OR AN EDITOR, OR A BOOK REVIEWER...  Study the editorial. Apply Riley's words to your writing, or editing, or reviewing.

-----

If you want to read more on the ways that the Quileute's are portrayed in the series, look over to the bottom of this page. There you'll see several links to posts about the series.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Tony Hillerman

I had an email earlier today, asking if I recommend Tony Hillerman's books.  I've skimmed some of them and didn't like what I read. Though I've not analyzed them, I do not recommend them.

Larry Emerson, Dine (Navajo) said this about Hillerman:

"Tony Hillerman privileged & authorized himself to write about Navajos & in doing so appropriated, re-imagined, and recreated "Hillerman Navajos" at the expense of Diné realities. Hillerman created a new domain [read dominion] of knowledge while cashing in at the same time."
I met Larry a few years ago when he was a post doctoral fellow here with us (American Indian Studies, University of Illinois).  Consider his words "...at the expense of Dine realities."  Hillerman wrote mysteries that sold well, but what do his books do for the people he wrote about? Glancing at the titles, it is clear he liked writing about sacred aspects of the Dine people, but what are the Dine realities Emerson refers to?  You might read Navajo news media to get a sense of their realities, the things they contend with. Here's some sites to read:

Navajo Nation (tribal website)
Navajo Times.
Navajo Hopi Observer

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Second Post: The POC Challenge

Near the end of my post About the POC Challenge, I wondered if people participating in the POC Challenge are reading critics of color. I posed the question because my research on children's books about American Indians shows that most reviewers do not have the expertise necessary to recognize flaws in the way that authors and illustrators portray American Indians.

This lack of knowledge means that some deeply flawed books get starred reviews, nominated for (and win) awards, and end up on "Best Books" lists. All of this praise means the book is purchased by more people, and the flaws are passed on to more and more readers. Hence, misconceptions and erroneous information flows into the child or young adult who reads the book, and they go on to select and read books whose images of Indians feels familiar to them.  It's a cyclical and burgeoning problem for all of us.

A handful of new and old books that have been discussed here on American Indians in Children's Literature demonstrate the depth and breadth of the problem. I note them below, but start looking around on this blog and you'll find many others.

Arrow to the Sun, by Gerald McDermott, won the Caldecott in 1978.

Bearstone, by Will Hobbs, a popular writer with many books about American Indians.  

Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech, won the Newbery in 1995.

Take a look at the lists of books discussed on this site (lists are by title and by label). There, you'll find Touching Spirit Bear, Sign of the Beaver, Twilight, Little House on the Prairie...

I thought, at first, that the books eligible for the Challenge were books written by people of color, but I see now that any book with a character of color is eligible, and, based on the book list being generated, the "color" is not limited to the four groups in the United States commonly labeled as "underrepresented" (American Indian, African American, Asian American, Latino/a American). To gain insight to those four populations and books about them, read Teaching Multicultural Literature in Grades K-8 and Using Multiethnic Literature in the K-8 Classroom. Both are edited by Violet J. Harris.

To focus specifically on American Indians, participants can read my site, but they can also read A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin.

In comments to my first post about the POC Challenge, Thomas Crisp referenced the GLBT challenge. He referenced the work of David Levithan's work on this body of literature, but look for articles by Crisp, too. I like a word Cynthia Leitich Smith used in her comment: Commitment.  I hope the bloggers participating in the challenge become committed to reading criticism, and applying that criticism to their reviews.

 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

About the "POC Challenge"

In the land of the mostly-white-world of children's lit, bloggers who review books are joining the POC Challenge.  whose motto is "Read Brown."  The goal of that challenge is to read books by authors of color. (Note, Friday, January 29th: The people who started the POC Challenge do not have a motto. As I started searching blogs to figure out what this challenge is about, one of the top bloggers said the goal is "Read brown." My apologies to the people who initiated the challenge.)

I know everyone involved means well. Good intentions and this attention WILL make a difference in what is bought, what is read, etc.  Still, it unsettles me, and I'm mulling over WHY it unsettles me.

I think it bothers me because I wish we were further than that, as a society. Obviously, even though we went through the 60s, and diversity and multiculturalism are big buzz words, we've got a long way to go. And so, it is a good thing for influential people in the field to be making it a point to read books by writers of color.

The challenge is evidence, I suppose, that all the influential people who pushed this literature in the 60s and 70s and 80s and 90s were largely unsuccessful.

So! I appreciate the effort and I understand the intent.

But! One aspect of the POC Challenge that I really don't like is that prizes are now being added. There are levels in the challenge regarding how many books any given participant will read in a specific time period. All in good fun, I know, but by adding prizes, it replicates incentive programs for kids that many of us find problematic.

And, it smacks, somehow that I can't quite put into words. You get prizes for hanging with us people of color (via our books). It turns a serious issue into a game.

Now, I know that this post will get some hackles up. You're only trying to help. I know. I get it. But I hope you'll think about what I'm saying. Mull it over.

I took a look at the list of books being generated.  I'm glad to see Louise Erdrich on the list, but where are her children's books? The books on the list are books she wrote for adult readers. Sherman Alexie isn't on the list. Neither is Joseph Bruchac. Lot of Native writers could be added to that list.

And! Some people should be taken off that list. The one I'm thinking of is Dee Brown, author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. He is not a Native writer.

This may come off as self-serving, but I'll toss it out there anyway.

When I look at the blog rolls of major bloggers, they list blogs they read. Do their blog rolls list critics of color?  I'm uncomfortable asking the question because it can come off as defensive, but, where's my blog in those lists? On some of those blogs, things I write are taken up as conversation, and that's a good thing, but why not include a link to my blog in the blog roll?

That, I suppose, is my challenge to the people taking the POC Challenge. Read criticism by people of color.

UPDATE, JANUARY 31, 2009.
I followed up with "Second Post: The POC Challenge"

Monday, January 25, 2010

A conversation about book covers and race

Of late in the children's lit world---especially in blogland---there's been a lot of discussion about book covers.

The discussion is centered on this question: "Do books sell better if the character on the cover is white?" Mitali Perkins is asking librarians and booksellers to vote on the question. Head over to Brown Faces Don't Sell Books? to vote if you're a librarian or bookseller.

I wonder how readers or buyers respond to one of my favorite book covers (and books)? I'm thinking of the cover for Rain is Not My Indian Name, shown here.




It is a terrific cover. In it, I see a lot that others might not see. American Indians have been photographed so much, with and WITHOUT our permission. Many of us have signs on our reservations now, telling visitors that they may not take photographs.  It is astounding that people will read the signs and STILL take the pictures.

 Mitali's question and the discussion remind me of an episode of This American Life. In that episode, a clerk at FAO Schwartz talked about working in the "adoption" area of the store, where shoppers could adopt a baby doll. That area was set up just like a nursery. (I thought it was kind of creepy.) What was very troubling about it, was that the first dolls to sell out were the white ones. And then the Latino and Asian dolls. But the African American dolls? No takers. You can listen to the episode here. If you missed that episode, listen to it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Third American Indian Youth Literature Awards announced by American Indian Library Association

The American Indian Library Association  (AILA), an affiliate of the American Library Association, announced the recipients of its American Indian Youth Literature Awards...


Best Picture Book is Thomas King's A Coyote Solstice Tale, illustrated by Gary Clement, published by Groundwood Books, 2009. Louise Erdrich, author of Birchbark House, says that A Coyote Solstice Tale is:

"The perfect book to read in the Birchbark Loft.  This is a wonderful coyote sweet and funny book, a gentle anti-Christmas craziness story that resonated with me and will, I think, with every mother and father whose children's visions of sugar plums require them to visit a crowded mall.  It made me want to drink hot chocolate and curl up with a good book."
You can get the book from her shop, Birchbark Books.

____________________________________________________




Best Middle School Book is Meet Christopher: An Osage Indian Boy from Oklahoma. Written by Genevieve Simermeyer, with photographs by Katherine Fogden, Meet Christopher is published by the National Museum of the American Indian, in association with Council Oak Books, 2008. It is the fourth book in the "My World: Young Native Americans Today" series, in which each book is written and photographed by Native contributors.

It is available from the National Museum of the American Indian. The website includes this excerpt from the book:

One of my favorite activities outside of school is Osage language class. I go to the language class at the public library one evening a week with my mom, dad, and Geoffrey. The class is special because I’m learning a language that could disappear soon if no one works to keep it going. About 130 years ago, Osage children—like other Native kids—were sent away from their families to live at boarding schools, where they were supposed to speak only English. Over time, a lot of people forgot their language. Most boarding schools for Native children were shut down in the 1930s, but today not many people can speak Osage fluently. In my family, people stopped speaking it when Iko’s [Christopher’s grandmother] grandmother died. Her mom was still a little girl when her grandfather told all of his children that they needed to learn to speak English, since they didn’t have a mother to take care of them anymore.


_____________________________________________________


AILA's choice for the Best Young Adult Book is Lurline Wailana McGregor's Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me: A Novel, published by Kamehameha Publishing, 2008.

The book is available from Kamehameha Publishing, where you can also read an extensive interview with the author.  Joy Harjo, author of The Good Luck Cat and For a Girl Becoming, worked with McGregor on development of the screenplay that evolved into this book. On her blog, Harjo said:
"Though this is a particularly Hawaiian story, the issues, characters, and sensibilities are similar to indigenous people all over the world."


 ___________________________________________________

Winners of the AILA Youth Literature Award receive a cash award and a beaded medallion featuring the AILA awards logo.Winners will receive their award and medallion at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday, June 28th.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Michael Steele, "Honest Injun," and, "Injun" in children's books

When Harry Reid's remarks about Obama hit the news yesterday, Michael Steele (head of the Republican Party) said Reid ought to resign. When called out on his own language (Steele said "Honest Injun" on January 4), he said, at first, that he did not to apologize or step down from his own position. Now, he's issuing the classic "IF" I offended anyone..... (not)apology.

There's been a lot of spin about both men and what they said. With this post, I focus on the terms "Injun" and "Honest Injun."

Steel says his use of the phrase was not intended as a racial slur. I imagine a lot of people were surprised to learn that "injun" is derogatory.

Surprised, because, it is, after all, quite common. You can find "Injun" and "Honest Injun" in older books that are widely read today, like:

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - published in 1876, where "evil is embodied in the treacherous figure of Injun Joe," (p. x of the intro to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Signet Classic book published in 2002) and in the oath used several times by characters.

Seems to me, in my cursory study of the phrase, that it may have been coined by Twain. In the entry on "Injun," the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists Twain as the first person to use "Injun." It also lists several other noted writers who used "Honest Injun." Some are George Bernard Shaw in 1896 and James Joyce (in Ulysses) in 1922.

And you can find "Injun" in new books, like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly, published in 2009. It appears twice in Kelly's book, on page 135 and 251. In both instances, it is used as an oath. Here's the relevant excerpt on page 135?

"Double-Injun-blood-brothers-swear-to-die-promise?"

"Double Injun."

"It doesn't count unless you say the whole thing," he said.

"Saaaam."

"Okay, okay, okay. But say it, huh?"

"Double Injun blood brothers swear to die," I said. "Now leave me alone."

Kelly used it again on page 251:

She swore the deepest double-Injun-blood-brothers oath for me.
I have not read Kelly's book, so I have no idea what the two characters in the exchange are talking about. The novel is set in 1899 and the oath was in use by then. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is getting a lot of buzz this year. There's a lot of people hoping it'll get one of the top prizes (the Newberry Medal).

Given that attention, I hope that teachers are taking the opportunity to talk with students about that word, "Injun." I wonder if Steele's schoolteachers used Holling C. Holling's Paddle-to-the-Sea? Published in 1941, it was awarded a Caldecott Honor Medal. In Holling's book, a toy Indian in a toy canoe is put into the water. It makes its way downriver, and ends up in Lake Superior, where a fisherman catches it (page 23):
'Best catch in weeks!" one man was saying. 'And that's not all---look! we're even netting red Injuns in canoes!

I've also come across the word "Injun" in The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories compiled by Barbara M. Walker, published in 1989. It includes a recipe for "Rye'N'Injun, a kind of bread. "Rye'N'Injun" appears several times in Farmer Boy, published in 1953.  Walker says that bread is known today as Boston Brown Bread. On page 86, she writes
"Its history reaches back to the first New England colonists, whose only grains were the rye they brought from Europe and the corn they got from the Indians (hence "injun" for cornmeal).
Was "Injun" a word for cornmeal? I don't know, and I'm not going to take time right now to find out...  Staying on point with "Injun"...

It's in Elizabeth George Speare's Calico Captive, and Lois Lenski's Indian Captiv, The Story of Mary Jemison.  I understand it being used in historical fiction. It was a phrase used in the past, but not today, and it'd be terrific if, when they come across it, teachers would point out that "Injun" is a derogatory word.

It's in Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys.  You can find it in Lynne Reid Banks's The Key to the Indian. But, did Benjamin Franklin use the phrase, "Honest Injun," as suggested by Augusta Stevenson in her biography, Benjamin Franklin: Young Printer

Another children's book author uses it...  Joseph Bruchac. In his The Heart of a Chief, you'll find him pushing back on the use of it and other words. His protagonist, Chris, and his friends are at a football game. His friend is Anthony, or Tony, or Pizza. Here's the excerpt (p. 55):

People are going crazy on our side of the field. A bunch of kids are doing the tomahawk chop while others are patting their hands against their mouths to do phony war whoops.

The cheerleaders are doing cartwheels. They hold up their pom-poms and sing out together, "TONY, TONY, HE'S OUR MAN. IF HE CAN'T DO IT, NO ONE CAN!"

Just as I realize they are talking about Pizza--Anthony is his given name, which no one at Penacook ever uses--the big man in the New England Patriots jersey stands up, "Scalp 'em, Injun, scalp 'em!" he bellows. Other people take up his chant.

"SCALP 'EM, INJUN, SCALP 'EM"

I realize for the first time what it is like to be excited and depressed all at once. I look at my friends and see the same look on their faces that must be on mine. Should we laugh or cry?

In his book, Bruchac calls attention to a lot of words and to the mascot issue. For that reason alone, I encourage teachers and librarians to get and use his book, especially right now, in the wake of William Michael Steele's remarks. You might also want to talk with students about Native response to Steele. See "GOP leader uses racist term" by Rob Capriccioso in Indian Country Today on January 12, 2010 and  "Michael Steele's 'honest injun' comment sparks backlash", in the Chicago Tribune on January 7, 2010.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

American Indians/American Presidents

Last semester, Matt Gilbert gave me a book called American Indians/American Presidents: A History. Published by the Smithsonian, it looks to be quite promising, and something libraries ought to get. I say "looks to be" because I've not had time to read or study it. I'm drawn to the photographs.... 

The book is full of photographs. Richard Nixon in a headdress? Wondering why he's in a headdress?!

The book includes an introduction by Clifford E. Trafzer, followed by:

  1. "Native Nations and the New Nation, 1776-1820," by Robert W. Venables
  2. "Native Nations in an Age of Western Expansion, 1820-80," by Donna Akers
  3. "Dark Days, American Presidents and Native Sovereignty, 1880-1930," by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert
  4. "From Full Citizenship to Self-Determination, 1930-75," by Duane Champagne
  5. "The Era of Self-Determination: 1975-Today," by Troy Johnson

As I look at the photographs, I like that they're straight-up black and white. They have not been reproduced in that sepia tone that we've come to associate with the past in a romantic way (or at least that's what it seems to me.) Some are in sepia, but I'm guessing they were originally preserved that way. A lot of photo software programs allow users to turn photos into sepia, and it seems to me people do that a LOT with Native photos. Its an aesthetic choice, but I don't like it. I think its one of the ways that representations of American Indians are done to frame us in the past, or, in a timeless way.


Check out Matt's blog, Beyond the Mesas. Reading what he writes provides you with the opportunity to become deeply knowledgeable about the Hopi Nation, thereby becoming a more-informed librarian or teacher. Being more-informed will help you better-select children's and young adult literature.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Judy Dow and Robette Dias Comment on SIGN OF THE BEAVER

Elizabeth George Speare's Sign of the Beaver has been discussed here several times...

On March 20th, 2007, I posted "Eighth Graders Analyze SIGN OF THE BEAVER." It is an essay submitted by Karen, a classroom teacher.  

On Wednesday, April 11, 2007, I posted a report on the book, put together by Students and Teachers Against Racism, located in Fairfield, Connecticut.

And then on Monday, October 22, 2007, I discussed the use of the word squaw in the book, in the context of the use of that word in larger societal contexts.

What I'm sharing today was submitted by Judy Dow and Robette Dias as a response to the Oct 2007 discussion of the word squaw. Rather than add it to that discussion, I'm featuring it as a stand-alone piece. I'm grateful to Judy and Robette for this contribution. Judy is Abenaki, and Robette is Karuk. They are on the board of Oyate.

______________________________


After reading the concern and comments about the use of the word “Squaw” in The Sign of the Beaver we are concerned. It is our hopes that people don’t see this as the only thing wrong with this book because there are far too many other things wrong to just stop there. Judy's two children were forced to read this book in their fourth grade classes. She still has her son’s copy of the book filled with hand-drawn doodles and arrows. Some twenty years later we can visually see the disgust he must have felt as he read through this book.
Why is it books like this are used in a classroom to teach what the “period” was like as if it is an historical book? There is nothing historical about this book except that twenty-seven years later it is still being read in many classrooms and is on some mandatory reading lists.  Why is it some parents and some teachers protect their children and students from the truth? Is it because truths can be painful? So is this book to some. Why is it people feel they must hide the facts about genocide, acculturation, assimilation, and ethnocide? Is it because they are difficult topics for young people to understand? The proper words exist to teach these topics to young people. As educators of the generations that will be caring for us when we get older we believe it is important that we start using the proper words to teach these difficult topics. It can be done. We cannot continue to hide or protect our children from the truth. Let’s teach them instead to be seekers of the truths.

Here is one truth that wasn't discussed on Debbie’s blog posts, and, that is never even mentioned in The Sign of the Beaver.
In the year of 1755, a mere thirteen years before The Sign of the Beaver story takes place, the Indians of Norridgewock, Arresaguntacook, Weweenock, the St. Johns Tribes and other tribes inhabiting the Eastern and Northern Parts of New England had seen a bounty placed on their heads by His Majesty.
Details of the bounty proclamation are in a volume titled Documentary History of the State of Maine, published in 1908 by the Maine Historical Society.

The proclamation stated what colonists would be paid:


For every Male Indian Prisoner above the Age of Twelve Years, that shall be taken and brought to Boston, fifty pounds. 

For every Male Indian Scalp, brought in as Evidence of their being killed, forty Pounds.

For every Female Indian Prisoner, taken and brought in as aforesaid, and for every Male Indian Prisoner under the Age of Twelve Years, taken and brought in as aforesaid, Twenty-five Pounds.

For every Scalp of such Female Indian or Male Indian under twelve Years of Age, brought as Evidence of their being killed, as aforesaid, Twenty Pounds.


Signed on the twelfth day of June 1755 by His Excellency William Shirley, Esq.


Knowing this, how can someone possibly believe that Sign of the Beaver can be used to teach this “period” of history? This proclamation was never talked about or even alluded to in the book. Sign of the Beaver certainly never mentioned that the good people from Massachusetts Bay Colony were scalping Indian people for a bounty. This was the reality of the "period". The relationship as it is written in Sign of the Beaver between Matt and Attean would never have existed in a place such as Maine so soon after the above proclamation was written. Let us teach our children to seek the truth. 
Judy Dow (Abenaki)
Robette Dias (Karuk)


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Those romance-novel-authors and their indian-love

I've written about Cassie Edwards and her "Savage Indian" series, and today, am directing you to the blog maintained by the Santa Ysabel Tribal Library.  These books are not meant for young adults. I discuss them as an example of the sort of imagery that permeates society.

So---click on over to "Book using Kumeyaay Words and the Lucas Name." I gather that the novel is supposed to be about the Kumeyaay, but, the author offers up the usual stereotypes...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

We saw AVATAR...

We saw Avatar a few days before Christmas. Using my cell phone, I thought I'd take a few notes as I watched the film, sending the notes as brief text messages to my email account. There was so much wrong that I quit after a few minutes. My txts are in bold. In parenthesis are my off-the-cuff response.

arrows in tires
(Modern day covered wagons!!)


sig weaver (anthro) wears bead necklace.
(She's the Indian lover. I guess Cameron never read Deloria or listened to Westerman's "Here Come the Anthros")


indigenous school provided by humans
(Hearing that part made me think that Cameron HAS read some history and DOES know a little... )

na'vi are called savages
(no surprise)

their homeland most hostile environment known to man.
(the wild west)


braids and tail. 
(Drawing from lots of "other" there, collapsing them all into na'vi... )

flute and drum music
(Of course!)

they're (na'vi)  watching us
(Just like the Indians in Little House on the Prairie!!!)

riders on horses
(Plains Indians!!)

the riders whoop 
(Classic Western)


A lot of people say that the special effects make the movie enjoyable. A lot of people wave away problems with the story because of the special effects. Those defenses are given again and again in response to critiques of children's books. A lot---a WHOLE LOT---of people defend Brother Eagle Sister Sky because taking care of the environment is more important than Indian stereotypes. Same thing with Touching Spirit Bear. The "good" it does for students who are bullies is more important than its misrepresentations of American Indians.

Support of books like Brother Eagle, Sister Sky and Touching Spirit Bear plays a role in the embrace of films like Avatar.  In my view, we're all kidding ourselves. None of it is worth defending.

---------
UPDATE. Monday, January 4, 2010

This post has generated a lot of email to me, mostly from people who share my view of the film. In some, people are surprised that this sort of thing is still happening. I think some of those individuals are not close readers of film or children's and young adult literature. AVATAR is only one film of the last two months that has given viewers Indian stereotypes. Here's others:

BLIND SIDE---I did not see the film. I saw the trailer, though, and in it, Sandra Bullock and her husband (that's a guess) and her little boy are in their car. The child is in the backseat, wearing a headdress. I can only imagine why. If anyone has seen it, let me know!

THE PROMISE---Betty White's character is out in the woods "dancing" and chanting. This movie mostly takes place in Alaska.

INGLORIOUS BASTARDS---Lots of references to "Indian" methods of killing. And of course, scalping was a big piece of the story.


Saturday, January 02, 2010

Native blog: "Last Woman: Political & Cultural Snaps"

Julia Good Fox (Pawnee) publishes Last Woman, a blog that I read. Julia is on the faculty at Haskell Indian Nations University, in its Indigenous Nations and American Indian Studies department.

I was especially thrilled to learn that she reads my site. In fact, I'm one of her "Seven Must-Read Blogs." Also on her list are a couple of blogs I read (in addition to hers): Turtle Talk, a blog on Indigenous Law and Policy, and, Brenda Norell's CENSORED NEWS.

Thanks, Julia, for including my site.

I encourage people who read my site to read Last Woman, Turtle Talk, and, Censored News. By reading these sites, you'll gain a lot of insight into how to think critically about the ways that American Indian peoples are portrayed in children's and young adult literature.  To do a good job of selecting books about us, you must know what we care about. What world and legal matters affect us? How? Why?

As you start this new decade, I want you to help me to help us all. I don't mean to spout self-righteous pap. I'm serious. I'm one person out of literally hundreds of thousands involved with children's and young adult literature. Some of you are already doing what you can, but we must do a lot more.

Friday, January 01, 2010

California Indians Critique Lesson Plans on California Missions

A colleague, Deborah Miranda, publishes a blog called When Turtles Fly. A few days ago, she wrote about the California Missions and how they're taught. I'm copying her first four paragraphs below as a sample of what you'll find if you click on over to "4th Grade California Mission Projects: A Thought Experiment for Parents, Educators, and Students."

Deborah's site has links to books you should read if you're interested in developing a critical understanding of American Indians in California. One example is Rupert Costo and Jeannette Henry Costo's 1984 The Missions of California, A Legacy of Genocide. The information accompanying the book reads:
For two hundred years the native people of California have borne the stigma of "Mission Indians." The names of their nations and tribes are Hupa, Kumeyaay, Chuilla, Pauma, Malki, Cupa and Pamo to name a few.
Do you refer to the indigenous peoples of California as "Mission Indians" or do you use specific names? Deborah's site has much to offer. Do add When Turtles Fly to your reading this year.  

----------------------------------------------------
4TH GRADE CALIFORNIA MISSION PROJECTS: A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT FOR PARENTS, EDUCATORS AND STUDENTS

In California schools, students come up against the "Mission Unit" in fourth grade, although the same children have been breathing in the lies most of their lives. Part of California’s history curriculum, the unit is entrenched in the system, and impossible to avoid.

Because this assignment is typically started over Winter Vacation, I’m posting this note for parents and children who are starting their research now. Please be aware that I have other blog posts about the missions as well; please take a look at them too.

The Mission Unit is a powerfully authoritative indoctrination in Mission Mythology against which fourth graders have little if any resistance, and intense pressure is put upon students (and their parents) to create a "Mission Project" that glorifies the era and glosses over both Spanish and Mexican exploitation of Indians, as well as American enslavement of those same Indians during American rule.

In other words, the Mission Unit is all too often a lesson in imperialism, racism, and Manifest Destiny than actually educational or a jumping off point for critical thinking or accurate history.