Friday, January 28, 2011

2011 Opening Minds Conference - Chicago Metro AEYC

A hearty welcome to people who attended Choosing and Using Picture Books about Native Americans: What's New, What's Good, and What's Best Practice at Opening Minds, the 1011 Chicago Metro AEYC conference in January, 2011. (For those who don't know, the conference is for educators in early childhood).

Jean Mendoza and I are glad that you attended our session, and are happy to provide you with this list of books we discussed. Click on the titles for more information about each one. Some may be available from Oyate. Where possible, I provide a link to the webpage for the publisher. As is always the case with a conference presentation, time is limited, and presenters are never able to say something about every book they want to...  So, this is an incomplete list.

Board and Concept Books

Traditional Stories
  • Pia Toya: A Goshute Indian Legend, by Children of Ibapah Elementary School (order used copy from your preferred used bookseller).
  • Muskrat Will Be Swimming, by Cheryl Savageau, available from Tilbury House
  • The Story of the Milk Way: A Cherokee Tale, by Joseph Bruchac and Gayle Ross (order a used copy from your preferred used bookseller).

Contemporary Stories

Historical Settings

Internet Resources

Chicago Area Resources

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Native authored-books on the 2011 Notable Children's Books list

Quoting from the website of the Association for Library Service to Children:
Each year a committee of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) identifies the best of the best in children's books. According to the Notables Criteria, "notable" is defined as: Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children's books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children's interests in exemplary ways.
On the list this year are...

Tim Tingle's extraordinary Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light. I wrote about it last year. Saltypie is one of my favorite books.

Congratulations, Tim!

Matt Dembicki's Trickster: Native American Tales, a collection of 21 trickster stories in graphic novel format is also on the list. (Note 1/15/2011: Dembicki is not, to my knowledge, Native. All the authors who have stories in the book are Native.) I like the book very much, with one quibble...  The designer didn't provide information about each story's origin with the story. It's in the book----in the back! It would have done a lot more teaching if that info was included with the opening panel of each story.

S. D. Nelson's Black Elk's Vision: A Lakota Story.  I've got it on order.

Monday, January 10, 2011

An American Indian perspective on changing "Injun" to "Indian" in TOM SAWYER

On January 3rd, Publisher's Weekly carried an article called Upcoming NewSouth 'Huck Finn' Eliminates the 'N' Word. The article says that NewSouth Books is planning to release a version of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a single volume titled Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  The article also says that the editor, Alan Gribben, replaced "nigger" with "slave" and "injun" with "Indian."

I've received several emails, asking what I think of the change.

I imagine that I probably read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when I was in school, but I don't remember much. Waller Hastings (a colleague on child_lit) pointed to the lack of critical discussion of Twain's portrayals of Indians. News about the NewSouth book, and Waller's comment, too, prompted me to read (reread?) Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

(Note: Page numbers below correspond to the eBook copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that I read in Google books.) 

Some facts:
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was first published in 1875. 
  • Two chapter titles include the phrase "Injun Joe."
  • The phrase "honest injun" appears two times. 
  • The phrase "Injun Joe" appears 33 times.
  • The word "Indian" appears once.
  • The word "Indians" appears twice.
  • The word "powwow" appears once.
  • The phrase "war-whoop" appears three times.

[Update, 1/12/2011: Unless otherwise noted, illustrations shown are from the 1980 printing by the University of California Press, edited by John C. Gerber, Paul Baender, and Terry Fitkins. It includes original illustrations by True E. Williams. Twain selected Williams to do the illustrations. Page 273 of the text quotes Twain as saying "Williams has made about 200 rattling pictures for it."

Summary and my comments.

Summary: The first Indian that Twain introduces readers to is an unnamed figure in Tom's imagination. This takes place in chapter eight on page 74. Tom has been rebuffed by the girl he's sweet on (Becky) and runs off to the woods. There, Tom thinks about running away to "join the Indians" where he'll "hunt buffaloes and go on the warpath in the mountain ranges and the trackless great plains of the Far West." When he returns, he'll be with "a great Indian chief, bristling with feathers, hideous with paint." He'll go into Sunday-school "with a blood-curdling war-whoop."

Deb's comments: Tom's image reflects America's love/hate attitude towards American Indians. On one hand, we're admired and on the other, we're feared. Or----I should say---IMAGES of us are admired and feared. Tom wants to join Indians who (he imagines) are living the good life out west, hunting buffaloes. He is drawn to the warlike image, too, as he images going on the warpath with the Indians of his imagination. Tom dwells more on the aggressive warlike image of Indians in feathers and paint who utter sounds that terrorize courageous Christians and settlers. 

Summary: In the next chapter, Twain introduces the character, "Injun Joe."  Not counting the chapter titles in the table of contents, "Injun Joe" first appears in the story on page 84.

The scene is a graveyard. Tom and Huck are in the graveyard and hear voices. At first they're afraid, thinking the voices belong to devils but they see that the voices belong to three men, Dr. Robinson, Muff Potter, and, "Injun Joe." The doctor has hired Potter and "Injun Joe" to dig up a body. (We aren't told why the doctor needed this body, but the Report of the geological survey of the State of Missouri says that that near Hannibal is a cave where a "Dr. McDowell deposited a relative's corpse to see if it would petrify" (p. 36). The book was published by Bureau of Geology and Mines in 1874.)

Once the body is above ground and wrapped in a blanket, Potter and "Injun Joe" ask for more money. The doctor says he's already paid them, but Potter and "Injun Joe" want more. "Injun Joe" approaches the doctor, saying:
"Five years ago you drove me away from your father's kitchen one night, when I come to ask for something to eat, and you said I warn't there for any good; and when I swore I'd get even with you if it took a hundred years, your father had me jailed for a vagrant. Did you think I'd forget? The Injun blood ain't in me for nothing. And now I've got  you, and you got to settle, you know!" (p. 85)
A fight ensues, during which "Injun Joe," with Potter's knife in hand, goes
"...creeping, catlike and stooping, round and round about the combatants, seeking an opportunity."(p. 86)
The doctor hits Potter, knocking him out and to the ground. Then,
"...the half-breed saw his chance and drove the knife to the hilt in the young man's breast." (p. 86)
The doctor dies and the "half-breed" mutters
"That score is settled--damn you." (p. 86)
"Injun Joe" robs the body and then puts the knife into Potter's hand. When Potter regains consciousness, "Injun Joe" asks Potter why he killed the doctor. Potter can't recall doing it, so Joe (throughout this conversation, Potter calls him Joe, not "Injun Joe"). Joe describes how Potter killed the doctor. Potter begs "Joe" not to tell anyone, and he agrees to keep quiet. The two part ways. The text says that the "half-breed" watched Potter leave. His knife was left behind.

Deb's comments: As developed by Twain, "Injun Joe" is a vengeful, lying murderer who moves like a cat. In framing "Injun Joe" as animal-like, Twain is not alone. Authors then and now do it. A recent example is seen in James Crowley's Blackfeet characters who gnaw on bones (see section on chapter six). 

And, he's a half-breed whose Indian blood/identity is the reason he's a vengeful, lying murderer. 

He uses "Injun" (not "Indian") to describe himself. What, if any, backstory did Twain work up on him? Who did Twain imagine his parents to be? (In Why Mark Twain Murdered Injun Joe Carter Revard says "halfbreeds" were children of white fathers and Indian women, many of whom were prostitutes.) 

Did "Injun Joe" grow up in Hannibal? We know that he was poor and hungry and that five years prior to the murder, he had been poor and hungry enough to ask for a handout. According to Twain's preface, the book is set 30 or 40 years prior to its publication in 1876. A critical companion on SAWYER indicates that there was an Osage man named Indian Joe living in Hannibal. Twain used his name. 

Would it make a difference in how readers view "Injun Joe" if they read "Indian Joe" instead? I think not! He'd still be a vengeful, lying, half-breed murderer. In fact, replacing the derogatory "Injun" to the too-broad-but-not-derogatory "Indian" actually works to make the character even less sympathetic. Readers may not know what an "Injun" is, but they definitely know what an "Indian" is! Removing the slur without changing the character doesn't alleviate anything derogatory... It absolutely pins wicked evil behavior on Indians.

Summary: From their spot in the graveyard, Tom and Huck witnessed the murder. In chapter ten, they run off and wonder what to do.  They decide to stay quiet because
"That Injun devil wouldn't make any more of drownding us than a couple of cats, if we was to squeak 'bout this and they didn't hang him." (p. 91)
They go through an elaborate ritual, burying their written oath to remain quiet.

Deb's comments: Twain tacks on "devil" to "Injun Joe's" character. Other classic works of literature frame Indians as devils or engaged in "devilment" (see page 284 of Wilder's LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE where the text reads "Mr. Scott said he didn't know why so many of those savages were coming together, if they didn't mean devilment." That text is followed by Mr. Scott saying "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." Death will be precisely how Twain deals with his Indian character.)

Summary: The next day (in chapter 11), the body and Potter's knife are found. "Injun Joe" tells the townspeople that he saw Potter kill the doctor. Tom and Huck watch in disbelief as "the stony-hearted liar" (p. 100) talks.  The two boys expect God to strike the liar with lightning but nothing happens,
"for plainly this miscreant had sold himself to Satan and it would be fatal to meddle with the property of such a power as that."  (p. 100)

"Injun Joe" repeats his lie at an inquest. Again, no lightning strikes him down, and so, Tom and Huck's fear that "Injun Joe" sold himself to the devil is confirmed.  They're fascinated with him and decide to watch him, night and day, in the hopes of actually seeing him with the devil. The townspeople are angry at "Injun Joe" for participating in the grave-digging and body-snatching, but are afraid of him and leave him be.    

Deb's comments: Earlier he was called a devil; now he's sold himself to the Satan, and not even God is willing to use his power against Satan... 

Summary: Worried over what he's seen, Tom feels low and dreary. In chapter 12, his aunt tries various remedies and then starts giving him "Pain-killer." Bored, Tom gives some to the cat, Peter, by prying the cats mouth open and pouring Pain-killer in it:
Peter sprang a couple of yards in the air, and then delivered a war-whoop and set off round an round the room, banging against furniture, upsetting flower-pots, and making general havoc. (p. 107)

Deb's comment: Here, Twain is using the running-around-like-a-wild-Indian imagery, and, he's added the war-whooping sound to make sure the reader sees what he is imagining. 

Summary: Tom is better and heads on to school, wondering where Becky might be. Not seeing her, he goes inside the school house and then sees her pass by the gate:
...Tom's heart gave a great bound. The next instant he was out, and "going on" like an Indian; yelling, laughing, chasing boys, jumping over the fence at risk of life and limb, throwing hand-springs, standing on his head--doing all the heroic things he could conceive of, and keeping a furtive eye out, all the while, to see if Becky Thatcher was noticing. (p.109)

She doesn't notice, so...
He carried his exploits to her immediate vicinity; came war-whooping around, snatched a boy's cap, hurled it to the roof of the school-house... (p. 110)

Becky rebuffs him, he's embarrassed, and sneaks off, crestfallen.

The next few chapters are about Tom, Huck, and Joe Harper, who've run off to an island where they play pirates. They get sick smoking cigarettes. When the boys don't return home, the townspeople think they drowned. At one point when Huck and Joe fall asleep, Tom takes off, headed home. Tom sneaks into his aunt's house and hears her, his brother, and Joe's mother lament the loss of the boys. He also hears when their funeral will be held. After they go to bed, Tom takes off again and returns to their camp on the island.

The boys swim and play, but start to feel lonely for home. When Huck and Joe decide to leave. Tom convinces them to stay by planning their return during the funeral (readers don't know the plan till it happens). That night a storm comes and soaks their camp. The next morning, the boys try to leave again, and Tom reminds them of the plan. They stay and decide to quit being pirates and "be Indians for a change" (p. 147): was not long before they were stripped, and striped from head to toe with black mud, like so many zebras--all of them chiefs, of course--and then they went tearing through the woods to attack an English settlement.

By and by they separated into three hostile tribes, and darted upon each other from ambush with dreadful war-whoops, and killed and scalped each other by thousands. It was a gory day. Consequently it was an extremely satisfactory one.

They assembled in camp toward supper-time, hungry and happy; but now a difficulty arose--hostile Indians could not break the bread of hospitality together without first making peace, and this was a simple impossibility without smoking a pipe of peace. There was no other process that ever they had heard of. Two of the savages almost wished they had remained pirates. However, there was no other way; so with much show of cheerfulness as they could muster they called for the pipe and took their whiff as it passed, in due form.

And behold, they were glad they had gone into savagery, for they had gained something; they found that they could now smoke a little without having to go and hunt for a lost knife; they did not get sick enough to be seriously uncomfortable. They were not likely to fool away this high promise for lack of effort. No, they practiced cautiously, after supper, with right fair success, and so they spent a jubilant evening. They were prouder and happier in their new acquirement than they would have been in the scalping and skinning of the Six Nations. We will leave them to smoke and chatter and brag, since we have no further use for them at present. (pp. 147-148)

Deb's comments: They play Indian much as Tom imagined it earlier in the book. Mud serves as paint. They attack, ambush, kill, and scalp. Because they'd gotten sick smoking cigarettes, they're reluctant to smoke tobacco again. But, they're Indians, and they've got to smoke the peace pipe. They smoke just a little. It doesn't make them sick, and, that's what makes them jubilant---more proud and happy, even, than if they had been scalping and skinning Indians of the Six Nations. 

Skinning Indians? Hmmm... What does Twain mean by that? Skinning Indians meant taking advantage of them. Is that what Twain meant? Or did he mean literally skinning Indians? 

And what is Twain doing with the whole smoking theme? Did he own stock in tobacco?! Did he want boys to know that they should not be afraid to smoke if, on their first try, it made them sick?

Summary: The boys return home in the midst of the funeral service. They are greeted with joy. Summer comes and school is out. Potter's trial is about to take place. Tom talks with Huck, asking him if there is anyone who could force him to talk. Huck says:
"Get me to tell? Why, if I wanted that half-breed devil to drownd me they could get me to tell. They ain't no different way." (p. 190)

Deb's comment: Clearly, Huck is afraid "Injun Joe" will kill him. 

Summary: The two boys swear again to each other to keep quiet, but they feel bad for Potter, knowing he is innocent and that the lie told by "Injun Joe" is the only evidence against him. Everyone gathers at the courthouse. "Injun Joe" is there, too. To almost everyone's surprise (readers learn later that, feeling guilty, Tom met with Potter's lawyer the night before), Tom is called to the stand and is asked where he was that night. Tom glances at "Injun Joe" and after a few minutes, says that he was in the graveyard and starts testifying. When he gets to the part about "Injun Joe" jumping up with the knife,
Crash! Quick as lightening the half-breed sprang for a window, tore his way through all opposers, and was gone! (p. 197)

Tom is a hero to the townspeople. Both Tom and Huck are afraid (Tom has bad dreams), now that "Injun Joe" is on the loose. Huck is glad he didn't have to testify. He's afraid, though, that it'll come out that he, too, was a witness to the murder.

In chapter 25, Tom and Huck embark on another adventure: hunting for buried treasure. They dig in several places. Finding nothing, they head to Cardiff Hill, the location of a haunted house. They go inside to look around. While inside they hear voices of men approaching the house. One of them is "Injun Joe." He and the other man talk about their "dangerous" plans. They've got silver coins with them that they decide to bury before they leave, returning for it later.  "Injun Joe" remembers seeing a pick (it is Tom's pick) and uses it to dig. He notices fresh dirt on it. As he's digging, he finds a box of gold coins.

Tom and Huck happily consider all the money they'll have once the two men leave the house. But, the two men decide not to leave the silver or gold there, but to hide it "under the cross" in "Injun Joe's" "Number Two" den.

"Injun Joe's" companion tells him they have enough money and don't need to do that other job, but with "a wicked light" in his eyes, "Injun Joe" says its not about robbery, it's about revenge.  The men leave, and the boys leave, too.

The next day Tom and Huck plan to find Number Two den. In chapter 29, Huck follows two men who have the box of gold. They go to Widow Douglas's house. Listening to them talk, Huck learns that her husband was a justice of the peace who had judged "Injun Joe" to be a vagrant and
...had me horsewhipped! ---horsewhipped in front of the jail, like a nigger! ---with all the town looking on! HORSEWHIPPED! --do you understand? He took advantage of me and died. But I'll take it out on her." (p. 236)

His companion tells him not to kill her. "Injun Joe" replies:
"Kill? Who said anything about killing? I would kill him if he was here; but not her. When you want to get revenge on a woman you don't kill her--both! you go for her looks. You slit her nostrils--you notch her ears like a sow!"

"By God, that's--"

"Keep your opinion to yourself! It will be safest for you. I'll tie her to the bed. If she bleeds to death, is that my fault? I'll not cry, if she does. My friend, you'll help in this thing--for my sake--that's why you're here--I mightn't be able alone. If you flinch, I'll kill you. Do you understand that? And if I have to kill you, I'll kill her--and then I reckon nobody'll ever know much about who done this business." (pp. 236-237)

Deb's comment:  At the widow's house, readers learn that "Injun Joe" is not just a thieving, lying murderer. He's also racist and barbaric. Racist because he was humiliated at being treated "like a nigger" in front of everyone, and barbaric because he plans to torture and horribly mutilate the widow. 

 At this point in the book, Twain makes "Injun Joe" even more despicable. Now he's not only a liar, a thief, and a murder. He's racist and barbaric, too. 

Summary: Huck races for help, stopping at the Welshman's house to tell him that two men are planning to hurt the widow. Huck goes with the Welshman and his sons, who take their guns to rescue the widow. When he hears their guns fire, Huck runs home. The next morning (chapter 30), Huck goes to the Welshman's house and learns that they did not catch the men. The Welshman questions Huck, trying to get info from him about the two men. Huck, intent on keeping his own identity as a witness to the murder a secret, stumbles over his words trying to describe the two men. But the Welshman is on to him, presses him, and gets Huck to blurt out that it was "Injun Joe." The Welshman says:
"It's all plain enough, now. When you talked about notching ears and slitting noses I judged that that was your own embellishment, because white men don't take that sort of revenge. But an Injun! That's a different matter altogether." (p. 243)

Deb's comment: Again---if we replace "Injun" with "Indian," does it make a difference in how readers view that character? I think not! 

Summary: There is a plan to find the two men, but then everyone realizes Becky and Tom are missing. There is fear they're lost in a cave, and the townspeople spend three days searching for them.

In chapter 31, Tom and Becky are in the cave, lost. They discover that "Injun Joe" is also in the cave. In the next chapter, Tom and Becky are rescued and the cave entrance is sealed. Days pass. When Tom learns that the entrance to the cave is sealed off, he tells the judge that "Injun Joe" is in the cave. In chapter 33, the judge, Tom, and townspeople return to the cave and open the door.
Injun Joe lay stretched upon the ground, dead, with his face close to the crack of the door, as if his longing eyes had been fixed, to the latest moment, upon the light and the cheer of the free world outside. Tom was touched, for he knew by his own experience how this wretch had suffered. His pity was moved, but nevertheless he felt an abounding sense of relief and security, now, which revealed to him in a degree which he had not fully appreciated before how vast a weight of dread had been lying upon him since the day he lifted his voice against this bloody-minded outcast.

Injun Joe's bowie-knife lay close by, its blade broken in two. The great foundation-beam of the door had been chipped and hacked through, with tedious labor; useless labor, too, it was, for the native rock formed a sill outside it, and upon that stubborn material the knife had wrought no effect. (p. 267)

"Injun Joe" died a slow death. Knowing that it was useless to hack at the door with his knife, he ate candle stubs and bats. He had made a crude cup to collect water from drops that fell from a stalactite.

Deb's comments: Having just been lost in the cave, Tom feels some empathy for "Injun Joe" but is glad he's dead and safe from the "bloody-minded outcast." Twain gives readers a lot of details to help readers see the suffering he endured in his last days.  

Summary: "Injun Joe" was buried near the mouth of the cave.

[P]eople flocked there in boats and wagons from the towns and from all the farms and hamlets for seven miles around; they brought their children, and all sorts of provisions,  and confessed that they had had almost as satisfactory a time at the funeral as they could have had at the hanging. (p. 269)

Deb's comments: What is that flaw in humanity, that wants to see grisly events like hangings? Why is witnessing such things "satisfying"?! People attended "Injun Joe's" funeral, not to mourn him, but to celebrate his death. 

Summary: Between finding the body and his funeral, some "sappy women" (p. 269) felt sympathy for "Injun Joe" and wanted the Governor to pardon him:
This funeral stopped the further growth of one thing---the petition to the Governor for Injun Joe's pardon. The petition had been largely signed; many tearful and eloquent meetings had been held, and a committee of sappy women appointed to go in deep mourning and wail around the Governor, and implore him to be a merciful ass and trample his duty under foot. Injun Joe was believed to have killed five citizens of the village, but what of that? If he had been Satan himself there would have been plenty of weaklings ready to scribble their names to a pardon petition, and drip a tear on it from their permanently impaired and leaky waterworks. (p. 269)

Deb's comments: Why did Twain add that bit about the pardon? Did he imagine some of his readers might have sympathy for "Injun Joe"? Framing the signers of the petition as "sappy" and "weaklings" he may be asking his reader who they wish to be. Sappy weaklings? Not likely!


Summary: The day after the funeral, Tom and Huck go back to the cave and find the gold and silver. Though they're rich, they promise each other to follow through on their plans to become robbers.

Debbie's thoughts about "honest injun"...
The first use of "injun" in the story occurs on page 17, and it isn't in reference to a specific character.  By that point, we've already met Tom and Jim.  Tom's aunt Polly has punished him, setting him to whitewash a fence. As he works, he realizes a boy named Ben is nearby. He doesn't want Ben to tease him, so, Tom steps back, admires his work, adds another brush stroke, studies it, adds another, and so on, as though its art, not work. Ben asks if he can try it, but Tom says no, that only one boy in a thousand or two could do it the way it needs to be done. Ben asks again if he can do it, and Tom replies:
"Ben, I'd like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly---well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn't let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn't let Sid. Now don't you see how I'm fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it---"
The phrase "honest injun" came up about a year ago in U.S. politics when chair of the GOP used it. I did a bit of research on it then, and thought that Twain was the first to use to in print. Today, I found an older use of it...  It appeared in 1830 1880 in a collection of items called Very Funny, Not too Funny; Just Funny Enough. The correct year for Very Funny is 1880, not 1830. My colleagues in children's literature may be interested to know that Very Funny was also in an 1880 volume of St. Nicholas, the monthly magazine for children. Back to Tom Sawyer.... the phrase appears again on page 271.

It is a slur but I'm not sure how many people know it is derogatory. A lot of people don't know that "redskins" or "squaw" are derogatory. As I said earlier, I'm not sure what image comes to mind when a child hears the word "injun".  I'm certain that a specific (stereotypical, monolithic) image comes to a child's mind when he or she hears the word "Indian." 

My conclusions about the revised edition of Tom Sawyer?

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is not helped by changing "Injun" to "Indian."  Alan Gribben (the editor of the revised volume) says in the Introduction to the volume that:
The editor’s decision for this edition of Tom Sawyer has been to render the sixty-seven repetitions of the outcast’s name as “Indian Joe” to assist in retiring another antiquated and insulting word (even though the very name “Indian” itself commemorates a misnomer dating back to Columbus). But the substitution of a merely informative racial sobriquet salvages Twain’s ethnic innuendoes regarding the motivation for Indian Joe’s animosity toward the town’s residents. A total of seventeen miscellaneous usages of the I-word have similarly been altered in both novels. For the same reasons the eight references in Tom Sawyer to “half-breed” have been converted to “half-blood,” which is less disrespectful and has even taken on a degree of panache since J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005).

I've never used "I-word" for "Injun" and I don't know of any Native scholars who've used it either. If you've seen it used, please let me know (send email or submit a comment below).

Earlier in the introduction Gribben says that Twain didn't have to concern himself with African American or Native American readers because they were occupied with recovering from degradation and trying to survive and hence, too busy "to bother about objectionable vocabulary choices in two popular books." Perhaps, but I'd like to see evidence of that claim. In saying that, I think Gribben inadvertently says that we (remember, I'm a tribally enrolled American Indian) couldn't do both---survive and engage in literary study and political activism. I know that's not true. We've been doing both for literally hundreds of years. In 1829, for example, William Apess, a Pequot man, wrote A Son of the Forest in which he said:
[T]he great fear I entertained of my brethren was occasioned by the many stories I had heard of their cruelty toward the whites—how they were in the habit of killing and scalping men, women, and children. But the whites did not tell me that they were in a great majority of instances the aggressors—that they had imbrued their hands in the lifeblood of my brethren, driven them from their once peaceful and happy homes—that they introduced among them the fatal and exterminating diseases of civilized life. 
Gribben thinks changing "Injun" to "Indian" will make the book more likely to be used in schools. What schools, I wonder, does he mean? Does he think the change makes it more likely to be used in tribally-run schools? Or does he mean schools that don't have Native children in them?

His remarks (quoted above) indicate that he thinks that there's enough in the book for readers to understand the motivations for Joe's animosity. What do you think? Do you know of a teacher who is helping children see and understand the anti-Indian racism in the book?

I suppose there may be teachers who can do that, but my experience with other classics (like Little House on the Prairie) tells me otherwise.  Teachers are over-worked, underpaid, and they are not respected for the tremendous job they do, so please know that I'm not dumping on them.

Instead, I am pointing to an overall lack of critical engagement with the ways that American Indians are portrayed in books and movies and textbooks. That lack of engagement spans most universities, from their colleges of Education to their English departments, to their schools of Medicine.

I wouldn't use the old or new versions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in any elementary classroom. I might use it in a high school course in a unit that studies racism in literature...

What would you do? Do you know of teachers who teach the book? How do they address "injun" or "Indian"? Do you think they point out anything at all to counter the image generated by Twain?

Note, 1:57 PM CST, Jan 10, 2012

This is a public thank-you to colleagues on child_lit who've been discussing SAWYER and FINN over the last week. I highly recommend the child_lit listserv to anyone interested in children's books. Subscribe to child_lit today.

I shared the link to this post on child_lit. Waller noted something I didn't catch. I pointed out that "Injun Joe" is described as cat-like and I pointed out that when Tom gives the cat some of the pain-killer, the cat races about wildly and does a war-whoop. I didn't connect the two incidents. Usually, the animal characteristics used to describe Indians are wolves. I wonder why Twain used cats? On another note, there's an animated Tom Sawyer in which "Injun Joe" is a bear.

Update, 2:45 PM CST, March 16, 2011

This thank you is long overdue. On Jan 10, 2011, child_lit colleague Helen Schinske wrote that the correct date for Very Funny, Not Too Funny is 1880, not 1830. Thanks, Helen! I made the changes above and wanted to thank Helen for her research and expertise.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Joseph Bruchac's HIDDEN ROOTS back in print!

Sharing terrific news today!

After much back and forth over if/when/how Joseph Bruchac's award-winning Hidden Roots would be back in print, I can---today---tell you where to get it!

Some back story....   

Hidden Roots is about a forced sterilization program in Vermont that sought to "breed better Vermonters" by sterilizing Native peoples of that state. These programs were in other states, too. Bruchac's book is about the Abenaki people in Vermont, many of whom literally hid their identities to avoid being sterilized. Nancy L. Gallagher's Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State is an excellent work of non-fiction about the eugenics project in Vermont (not marketed as a book for children but definitely can be used with high school students).

Hidden Roots was---and is---an important book. I featured it in a Google Search Story I put together in the summer of 2010. In 2006, it was the first recipient of the American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award, in the Young Adult category.

But, Scholastic opted to let it go out of print. I was disappointed to hear that news, especially since Scholastic continues to books about Thanksgiving that are questionable for their bias and stereotyping.

Myself and colleagues began a writing campaign to Scholastic, asking them to give Bruchac rights to publish the book himself.  I don't know how successful our letters were, but Scholastic did give Bruchac the rights, and the book is now available at Lulu for $9.95.

Are you a bookseller who wants multiple copies of Hidden Roots?

In an email to me, Joe said bookstores and other retailers can be multiple copies at the standard 40% discount by

1) emailing or,

2) by faxing a purchase order to (518) 583-9741.

For those of you who do not know about Hidden Roots, I'm republishing (below) a previous post about the book, originally published here on American Indians in Children's Literature on September 16, 2010. It includes information about small revisions to the original book (note: the post below has been edited for clarity on Aug 31 2014). 


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Joseph Bruchac's HIDDEN ROOTS

A few weeks ago, I featured Joseph Bruchac's Hidden Roots in a Google Search Story I put together. Then I started hearing from people that it is out of print. I checked with Joe, and yes, it did go out of print. Scholastic was the publisher.

Those of you who have not read the book may not know what form I'm talking about. I'm not worried about spoilers here. I'm much more interested in telling you about the book and why you should order it.

Hidden Roots is about sterilization of Native people. The book is set in 1954 in New York. When the story begins, Sonny (the sixth-grade protagonist; his legal name is Howard Camp) doesn't know that he's Abenaki. He thinks he is white. He's growing up like other kids. By that I mean he watches cowboy and Indian films at the theater and picks up a lot of stereotypical information about Indians. His mother has taught him to sleep lightly, lest someone sneak up on him. Ironically, he imagines Indians sneaking up on him.

Called Sonny by his mother, father, and the man he's called Uncle Louis since he was a baby, he learns towards the end of the book that Uncle Louis is actually his grandfather. Sonny learns that he is Abenaki, and that his parents and many other Abenaki's have been hiding that identity in order to protect themselves from being sterilized. He learns this towards the end of the book when Uncle Louis shows him a yellowed paper that he carries in his wallet. Here's that part of the book.

It was some kind of printed-out form, like you get from a doctor's office. I could tell that because of what the first lines said. Most of it had been printed up, but the names and the dates on the paper that had been filled in were all written in ink.

We, Harmon P. Wilcox and Frederick Daniels Murtaugh, physicians and surgeons legally qualified to practice in the State of Vermont, hereby certify that on the 12th day of March 1932, we examined Sophia Lester, a resident of Highgate, Vermont, and decided:
(1). That she is an idiot feebleminded insane person and likely (Strike out inappropriate words) to procreate imbecile feebleminded insane persons if not sexually sterilized; (Strike out inappropriate words)
(2). That the health and physical condition of such person will not be injured by the operation of vasectomy salpingectomy; (Strike out inappropriate word)
(3). That the welfare of such person and the public will be improved if such person is sterilized;
(4). That such person is not of sufficient intelligence to understand that she cannot beget children after such operation is performed.

Signed in duplicate this 12th day of March, 1932,
     Harmon P. Wilcox
     Frederick Daniels Murtaugh

Sonny asks Uncle Louis who Sophia Lester was, and learns that she was Uncle Louis's wife, and that both are Indian. He also learns that Uncle Louis is actually his grandfather, and that his grandmother died as a result of the sterilization. To protect their daughter--Sonny's mom--from being sterilized, Uncle Louis had given her to a white family to raise.

In his Author's Note, Bruchac writes that Vermont was one of thirty-one states in the United States that enacted legislation to sterilize the "feeble-minded." The note also says that Abenaki's weren't the sole target of this law. The poor and those who were different from most Vermonters were also targets. Bruchac refers to Nancy Gallagher's Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State, published in 1999. You can get her book, or, look at a website she's helped develop at the University of Vermont: Vermont Eugenics: A Documentary History.

Hidden Roots is a very important book. 
We ought to teach children all of America's 
history, not just the part that 
makes its history look good. 
It wasn't all good.  


Further information:

There are several research articles coming out of American Indian Studies about the sterilization of Native women that took place as late as the 1970s.

"The Lost Generation: American Indian women and sterilization abuse" by Myla Vicenti Carpio was published in 2004 in Social Justice (send me an email if you'd like a copy of the article). She opens the article by quoting from a Native America Calling radio show about sterilization:
I had been sterilized at the age of eleven, at the IHS [Indian Health Service] hospital here in the 1950s. I got married in the 1960s and I went to the doctor and he told me that I had a partial hysterectomy. [When I was a child] they were giving us vaccinations and mine got infected and a nurse came and gave me some kind of shot so I wouldn't hurt. When I woke up my stomach was hurting and I was bleeding (Woman speaking on radio show, "Native America Calling," 2002).

"The Indian Health Service and the Sterilization of Native American Women" by Jane Lawrence, published in American Indian Quarterly in 2000. The first two paragraphs describe the experiences of a woman and her husband, and, two fifteen year old girls who went into the hospital for appendectomies and follows that with an overview of the Indian Health Service and its development over time. Because Native women began to come forward saying they had been sterilized, the Government Accounting Office conducted an investigation and found that
IHS performed twenty-three sterilizations on women under the age of twenty-one between July 1, 1973 and April 30, 1974, and thirteen more between April 30, 1974 and March 30, 1976. The doctors at the IHS hospitals didn't understand the regulations, and, the doctors under contract for IHS weren't required to follow the regulations.

In "The Continuing Struggle Against Genocide: Indigenous Women's Reproductive Rights," D. Marie Ralstin-Lewis writes that Congress authorized sterilization of the poor in 1970 through the Family Planning Act. In 1974, she writes that the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW):
circulated pamphlets among Indian communities extolling the benefits of sterilization. One, called "Plan Your Family," contains a cartoon depiction of Indians "before" and "after" sterilization. The Indians before sterilization appear sad and downtrodden. The couple has ten little Indian children and only one horse, implying they are poor because they have too many mouths to feed. In contrast, the Indian couple in the "after" picture is happy; they have one child and many [ten] horses."
She also documents that DepoProvera and Norplant were used on Native women, the majority of whom were mentally retarded, in the early 1970s. Neither drug was approved by the FDA at that time, and wouldn't be available for widespread use until the 1990s. Her article is in Wicazo Sa Review, Spring 2005, pp. 71-95.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Elizabeth Burns review of EVERY BONE TELLS A STORY

How much do you know about the remains of American Indians, and, laws to protect those remains? Did you even know there are special laws in place to protect Native remains?

Elizabeth Burns knows about the law, and she refers to it in her review of Every Bone Tells a Story by Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw. I've ordered a copy of the book. Subtitled Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates, the publisher's website says it is about "the unearthing of four hominins--Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and Iceman."

If you want some background about the topic of Native remains, here's an excellent video:


There's also an excellent children's book about it by Robert C. Echo-Hawk and Walter R. Echo-Hawk called Battlefields and Burial Grounds. Published by Lerner in 1994, it is out of print but definitely worth ordering from a used bookstore. I wonder who Rubalcaba and Robertshaw cite in their book? Do they mention the Native American Rights Fund, a nonprofit law firm whose work is at the heart of NAGPRA and other Native issues? If you've got some time, you might want to visit the NARF website. There's lot to learn there...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Beverly Blacksheep's Board Books

I'm currently doing some research on board books by Native authors...  Ones that feature Native children, or stories, or concept books (books that teach something like numbers, colors, etc.).  Previously, I've written about board books such as Boozhoo, Come Play With Us, and today I'm pointing to the series of board books written and illustrated by Beverly Blacksheep. 

What are board books? 

In The Essential Guide to Children's Books and their Creators, Anita Silvey tells us that Rosemary Wells's board books featuring a rabbit named Max sparked the publication of what we call board books. The Max books came out in 1979. Remember them?  Max's Breakfast was a favorite in our house.

Rather than pages made of paper, the pages in a board book are thick cardboard pages. The thickness makes them relatively indestructible (they don't tear or rip or bend like paper does) and because the pages are stiff, a toddler is able to more easily turn from one page to the next. 

We had many board books in our home, but there weren't any that I knew of that featured Native children or stories. So, I made a lot of books for my daughter. I glued photographs of her family and cousins onto cardboard, covered the cardboard with clear vinyl shelfpaper, and then bound several of those pages together with tape or string. They are treasures and played a role in my daughter's love of books. I wish I had a photograph of us with one of our homemade books, but I don't. Here, though, are three photos of our reading life. Top right is me reading to Liz. I think its Blueberries for Sal. Bottom right is Brooke, Liz's cousin, reading Dear Zoo to Liz. And on the left is a photo of Liz in the "chair and a half" that belonged to her grandmother, Betty (my husband's mother). It is the right size for a parent and child to sit, side-by-side, as they read.

As far as I know, there aren't any board books that reflect Pueblo life. I'll turn now, to the subject of this essay, the board books by Beverly Blacksheep. Here's the cover of Baby Learns about Colors:

I find Blacksheep's books absolutely gorgeous, from the colors she uses to the design of the books, they are wonderful. The colors range from soft pastels to brilliant purples that leap out from the crisp white background used throughout the books.

With the exception of the covers, each page has two languages: Navajo and English as seen in this page from Baby's First Laugh:

The people in the books are all shown wearing traditional clothing that is also worn today by some people as everyday attire.

In all there are eight books, published in 2003 and 2005 as follows:

Baby's First Laugh
Baby Learns about Colors
Baby Learns to Count
Baby Learns about Animals

Baby Learns about Seasons
Baby Learns about Senses
Baby Learns about Time
Baby Learns about Weather

To write my review, I've ordered the books---not by year of publication---but by a chronological ordering of the age of the Navajo baby featured in the series. (FYI: The Navajo Nation spans Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. They maintain an extensive website where you can learn about tribal government and history.)

Blacksheep has a website where you can see some of her art. The books, however, are available from Salina Bookshelf. Let's begin!

A new baby presents many moments for its family to look forward to...  That first laugh is a big one. We wait and wait and do all manner of things to make a baby smile and laugh. And we delight! We delight in that first laugh. That's what Baby's First Laugh is about.

The book opens with baby, sleeping in her cradleboard. (If you want to learn a bit about a Navajo cradleboard, go here and view a slide show.) Her parents are nearby, wondering "Who will make baby laugh?" It won't be her dad or her mom or her sister or her brother or her grandfather, either. All of them make her cry while trying to elicit that laugh. Then we get to grandma, who, of course, makes baby laugh.

Native families, particularly those on reservations, live near each other, with grandparents figuring prominently in a child's life and are there for many of the "firsts" that a child experiences. My mom, for example, was with me when my daughter, Liz, took her first steps. She spent many hours playing with Liz and singing to her. Here's a photo that captures both, play and singing:

In Baby Learns About Seasons, the baby's mom takes her out of the cradleboard. She's old enough to sit by herself.

In the spring she laughs as she watches her sister give a bottle to newborn lambs. She watches her dad prepare the fields and in the summer she sees the plants growing. She goes with her grandmother to gather corn pollen and is with her mom when she is picking peaches. In the fall she sits amongst pumpkins and leaves and she gathers pinon nuts. And in the winter, she is with her family as they gather and tell winter stories:

In Baby Learns to Count, Baby counts the familiar things in her life: her kitten, shoes, birds, rabbits, fingers, toys, butterflies, letters, marbles, and buttons.

Here's the page about her shoes, or, to use a common word, "moccasins." You don't see "moccasins" in the Navajo text because moccasins is not a Navajo word. It's not a Tewa (at Nambe our language is Tewa) word, either. There is no glossary that tells us which of the words in the Navajo text is their word for shoes. Navajo speakers will know which one it is, though, which points to an interesting aspect of the series. Readers who know and speak and read Navajo can read the Navajo text. The book isn't meant to teach the Navajo language. Instead, it works beautifully for readers for whom Navajo is their first language. Blacksheep's book, then, is unique because of what it does for Navajo families who use their language as their first language. (For a reader-friendly research article on bilingual books, see Bilingual Books: Promoting Literacy and Biliteracy in the Second-Language and Mainstream Classroom, by Gisela Ernst-Slavit and Margaret Mulhern, published in 2003 by the International Reading Association.)

Baby turns two years old in Baby Learns About Time.

The book opens with Baby in her bed on the morning of her birthday. She watches the sun rise and at noon, she helps her sister make lunch and serves everyone the mutton stew they made. In the afternoon her older brother plays with her outside. At sunset she's back inside, blowing out the candles on her birthday cake and in the evening she opens her present and gets a new pony (rocking horse) that she wanted.

Then its bedtime, and her mom sings her to sleep. In Baby Learns About Time, we see elements of mainstream American culture (big bows on wrapped gifts), and, elements of Navajo ways of being (learning to prepare traditional foods) as Baby goes through a day marked, not by the clock, but, by the natural progression of any given day.

A lot of people think that New Mexico and Arizona are deserts with intense heat, but there are four seasons in the northern parts of each state, as shown in Baby Learns About Weather.

Baby is shown on sunny days, but also on rainy days (where she sees a rainbow) and on snowy days where she tries to catch snowflakes. In this and the last three books, you can see that Baby is older.

In Baby Learns About Colors, she plays catch with a red ball and builds a tiny hogan with brown twigs. To do that she needs the dexterity of a slightly older child, and to feed green grass to rabbits and give bread crumbs to blue birds, she needs to know how to be still and quiet.

In Baby Learns About Senses, she helps her grandmother prepare a meal.

To do that, all her senses come into play. She tastes the goats milk they will use, she smells the mutton cooking over the fire, and she listens for the bubbling of the stew. And, she uses her sense of touch when she helps make the frybread:

The last book in my presentation of the series is Baby Learns About Animals.

Thus far, Baby has learned to help her family, and she's learned how to be around wild animals. In Baby Learns About Animals, she learns to take care of the domestic animals that are significant to her and to the Navajo people. She feeds oats to the horse, gives grain to the sheep, and teaches the sheepdog how to sit. She gives water to the colt:

and after all her work is done, she goes to sleep. In this series, readers can learn a lot about a Navajo family, and readers who are Navajo have a terrific set of books that reflect their lives, or, the lives of a Navajo family living a life infused with Navajo ways of being. I love the books and recommend them to everyone. They have something to offer all of us.  They're available from booksellers like Amazon, but if you can, order them from Salina Bookshelf. Its a small press, and I much prefer to send my dollars to a small press. Or, order them from Oyate and support the work that Oyate does.

And if you know of other board books by Native writers, let me know! Here's some that I've written about already:

Boozhoo: Come Play With Us, by Deanna Himanga
I See Me, by Margaret Manuel
Welcome Song for Baby, by Richard Van Camp

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Niimiwin - Everyone Dance

A few years ago the Fond du Lac Head Start program published a terrific board book called Boozhoo: Come Play With Us. Set at the headstart, the book consists of photographs of Native children at play. Text on each page is in Ojibwe and English.

This year they published another board book. This one is Niimiwin - Everyone Dance. I've ordered it. What I've read about it so far is that it is about pow wows. I look forward to getting it! If its anything like Boozhoo, it'll be on my list of Top Ten Books for Preschool-Aged Children.  You can order a copy from the Fond du Lac Head Start for $5.95. Here's the cover:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Brenda Stanley's I AM NUCHU

Several weeks ago a reader wrote to ask if I'd seen Brenda Stanley's I Am Nuchu. I hadn't, and that reader sent me a copy. I've read it and am sharing thoughts today. I apologize up-front for the disjointed qualities of this review. I had a hard time reading the book, following threads, making notes...  That difficulty is evident in my review. The book itself feels very superficial. And it feels like I'm reading a movie script (kind of like when I read Crowley's Starfish) or when I read a student paper... the ones that feel like a rush-job... Leaps, gaps, mistakes.  Anyway... here goes. I've tried to put description in regular type and my own thoughts/comments in italics.

The cover and design

On the front cover is a photograph of a young man who, I presume, is meant to be Cal, the protagonist. He's got long brown hair and is wearing a white t-shirt. He appears to be leaning on something that is chest-high because his arms are crossed in front of him, up high. On his wrists are several beaded bracelets. Behind him is a beautiful, sweeping vista. Overlaid on that vista is what I think are two layers of an artists rendering of petroglyphs. One is in brown, the other is in blue-gray. Layered on that in large white letters outlined in black is the title of the book I AM NUCHU.

There are 21 chapters in the book. The text for each one begins partway down the page. The upper portion of the page has the chapter number (in the same font as the title) and six petroglyphs.

My thoughts: There's too much on the cover. The petroglyphs only clutter the scene. I think they're meant to signal that this is a story about American Indians. I guess the publisher/designer decided the photograph of the guy wasn't enough of a signal. "Nuchu" is the spelling Stanley used in her book. The book doesn't list sources, but I found that spelling in the 1907 Handbook of American Indians, published by the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology. Tribal members use "Noochew". Both would likely be pronounced the same and some might say its a small detail. I think it does matter and would have liked to see Noochew. 

The characters
The protagonist is a 17 year old boy named Cal Burton. He's got two younger teen sibs: Doran and Rachel. Their mother is Mona. She's Ute, born and raised on the "Fort Duchesne reservation."  She's married to David. He's white and lived in Roosevelt, a town near "the Fort." Mona's father, Raymond, is an elder.  His wife, Dorothy, is long-dead and so is Raymond's other daughter, Jackie.  The non-Native characters include teenager Mitch, who Cal gets into a couple of fights with, and Mitch's dad, the sheriff. Cal calls him "Silver Hair" because of the way he wears his hair (slicked back, shiny gray). His actual name is Franklin Grayson.

The Native characters are teen boys: Fly, Johnny, Puck, and Jackie's older son who has fetal alcohol syndrome.

My thoughts: Stanley's character's say "on the Fort" a lot. I don't know if people who live there say "on the Fort" or "on the reservation" or something else entirely. I called out to the library there to ask about it and librarians I spoke with couldn't recall anyone saying "on the Fort." My conclusion: It is possible, but not probable. 

In chapter one, we read "It was the fall of 2009, and the war in Iraq was entering its seventh year" (p. 7). In terms of place, the family in the story has moved from "the crystal clean, lush foothills of the Spokane Valley" to "barren, insipid" (p. 7) Eastern Utah, specifically, the "Fort Duchesne Indian Reservation." To get to their grandfather's house (where they're going to live), they turn at a large cluster of triangular shaped adobe buildings" that "bore an obvious semblance to a gathering of teepees."

My thoughts: Based on photos I've seen, I don't think its barren or insipid, but, those sorts of judgments are relative. Stanley is trying to make a stark contrast in Cal's life before this move, and she is using geography to help with that contrast. 

I don't think the Utes call it the "Fort Duchesne Indian Reservation." From all that I've seen, it is the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. Fort Duchesne, an old army fort, is on the reservation, and its the location of the tribal offices.

I was surprised to see "adobe" in Stanley's description of the buildings. I think she was referring to the Bottle Hollow Resort, which was torn down in 2009. Some of the buildings looked like teepees, but I don't think they were made of adobe. They were wooden structures, built in the 1970s. The photo at left is from a March, 2009 news story about the demolition.

There is an interview of Stanley on Bethany Hegedus's LiveJournal. There, Stanley says that she wrote the book nearly thirty years ago when she was 17 and living near the Fort Duchesne reservation. Reading that helped me understand why Cal and his friends would be listening to "More than a Feeling" by the rock group Boston---- a song I recall from my teen years. It seemed a little odd that Cal and his friends would be listening to it.  Reading about the demolition of the resort's history in the 70s and 80s makes me think that when Stanley revised the manuscript for publication, she added the Iraq war and year in her opening pages but didn't go through the rest of the manuscript to update things like music and place.

They drive into "town" where the street is lined with "paltry little homes." In the yards, "Indian men and women sat on mismatched patio furniture, each of them with a tall bottle of beer resting somewhere close by" (p. 16).  The next morning, Cal and Doran head into Roosevelt (that's where they meet "Silver Hair") and when they return at 10:00 in the morning, there are three "shiny new pick-ups" in the driveway. Inside are an Indian man and two Indian women in the kitchen with Mona. When Cal walked in, Mona turned toward the sink, trying to hide a beer from him.  Cal yells at her for drinking in the morning. On page 48, Cal and Doran are talking about their mother and Cal says that she's different and that she "never drank back home" (p. 48).  His first morning at his new high school, his first-hour teacher (subject is not specified) assumes that because he's Indian, he's behind academically. The students giggle and whisper about him because he's Indian. We read:
It embarrassed him to think about the pride he used to feel in his dark skin and black hair, his Indian blood, how the girls had loved it. The images of fierce warriors, their bodies sculpted and strong, were what he'd always pictured his ancestors to be. Not the unemployed alcoholics he saw around his kitchen table every night.

My thoughts: Alcohol is referenced many times in the book. Beer cans are everywhere, the Indian teens drink, the adults drink, and eventually, Cal drinks, too. There is a lot of alcohol in Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian, too, but not as much as Stanley works into her book. To me, Alexie's references are more contextualized and sad, while Stanley's are superficial and judgmental. 

I think that observation applies to the way poverty is presented, too. 

I'm also not sure that the people who actually live in those houses would call it a "town." It sounds to me like a subdivision much like the one at Nambe---or on many reservations. The houses are, in some cases, run-down. Though Stanley tries to blame the Indians for the condition of the houses, the fact is that too many of them are poorly constructed HUD houses that are hard to maintain no matter who you are. This housing is part of treaty obligations that the U.S. government fails to adequately fulfill.

When they first drove into "town," Cal and Doran saw brand new cars and trucks and wonder why, if the Indians can afford those cars, they stay in their "diseased looking houses" (p. 48).  Later, Cal tells Doran that Mona told him they "get money from the oil that comes off the reservation. So they buy all these killer cars and let their houses turn into slums."

My thoughts: I did a bit of research and found that there's a lot of oil and gas on the Ute's land and in the Uintah Basin and that there was a boom period in the 70s and 80s.     

I Am Nuchu is being characterized as a mystery because everyone seems to be keeping something from Cal. If you pay attention, you'll know part of the "mystery" pretty early via some not-so-subtle foreshadowing. Cal's father is not actually David, the man Mona (his mother) married when she left the reservation. Instead, Cal's father is the sleazy, racist sheriff who, as a young man, had sex with lot of Native girls and got three different ones pregnant. That bit of info is revealed near the end of the book. Throughout the book he utters ugly racist statements about the Utes.

Because of those statements, Cal is convinced that Silver Hair killed Mona and her near-term baby. An investigation at the time of her death came up empty, which Cal attributes to a corrupt sheriff's department.

We eventually learn that Mona killed Jackie because Mona wanted the sheriff to marry her, not Jackie.

In the final chapters, Mona, having confessed to Cal that she killed her sister, manages to run off to the lake where she killed her. Cal finds her there with a gun and persuades her not to commit suicide.  Later she runs away from the courthouse where she's gone to give a statement. They find her again at the lake, but this time, she's dead, having driven her car into the lake.

My thoughts: All the high drama throughout the story reminds me of some of the celebrity TV programs people watch today. Like Keeping up with the Kardashian's! The Wikipedia entry for that show reads 
Tabloid protagonist Kim Kardashian and her colorfully blended family, which includes step-dad Bruce Jenner, are the subjects of this reality series that chronicles their often chaotic domestic life together. Although the family members frequently are at odds, especially Kim and sisters Kourtney and Khloé, they always support one another in the end.
That paragraph could be about the Burtons! Cal storms about, declaring loudly what younger sister Rachel can and cannot do, making judgments on her makeup and clothes. Mona is always yelling or shouting. And she must be drunk most of the time because at one point Cal notes that at least she is sober. All the sexual activity that sets the plot in motion... All the beer.... Flashy cars...   

It was quite a surprise to see this word appear on page 144. Cal is worried that the sheriff will come after him on "the Fort" but Fly, one of the Ute teens, tells him that the sheriff has no power on the reservation because "We're a sovereign nation." Fly goes on to tell Cal that the sheriff has no jurisdiction on the reservation, and that the B.I.A. (Bureau of Indian Affairs) enforces laws on the reservation.

My thoughts: That's accurate but I imagine readers might wonder why the Utes (or any tribe, for that matter) is sovereign. Sovereignty is at the heart of our standing as Native Nations. It is very important. The BIA website has an accessible definition explanation:
The United States has a unique legal and political relationship with Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities as provided by the Constitution of the United States, treaties, court decisions and Federal statutes. Within the government-to-government relationship, Indian Affairs provides services directly or through contracts, grants, or compacts to 565 Federally recognized tribes with a service population of about 1.9 million American Indian and Alaska Natives. While the role of Indian Affairs has changed significantly in the last three decades in response to a greater emphasis on Indian self-governance and self-determination, Tribes still look to Indian Affairs for a broad spectrum of services.
Later on Cal, Doran, Fly, Johnny, and Puck drive out to Bitter Creek to hunt "Deer, elk, whatever" (p. 146) they want to, Puck says, because Bitter Creek is part of the reservation and because they're a sovereign nation. Johnny says "On the reservation, we have the right to hunt whenever we need the food" (p. 147). Johnny tells him a Ute creation story, and where he learns that they prefer to be called "Nuchu." On their next hunting trip out there a few days later, they see Mitch and his friends down in the valley painting the petroglyphs there. Cal shoots to get their attention and make them stop, which makes Mitch climb up to the ridge, where he shoots and kills Doran.

My thoughts: Again, Stanley is correct. Native people do have hunting and fishing rights on our lands, but it isn't quite the "whenever" she suggests. We do have hunting seasons, too, that we observe. Mitch and his friends have guns, too, though Stanley doesn't say they're there to hunt.

In the first chapter, Doran asks Cal why he isn't curious about "the Indians" especially since, growing up in Spokane where they stand out as not-white, the boys have been asked about their identity all their lives.  As the book progresses, however, we learn that Mona told them a lot about their Ute heritage.  For example, on page 21, there's this:
"When Cal was a child, his mother sat in his room at night and told him stories about the tribe and the teachings of the Creator. [...] And while his interest in the Utes teachings faded, the appeal of being Ute was exciting. Cal's distinctive dark skin and hair made him different and he liked it. He often talked about his Ute blood as a way to draw even more attention to his unique characteristics."
And this is on page 23:
"He'd heard Mona talk many times about the ceremonies and beliefs of the Ute people. Her dark eyes sparkled as she told about the Bear Dance and the summer night rituals."
The family moves to Utah during the fall. On page 23, Mona tells Cal that Raymond is an "Elder of the tribe" and that he is goes to meetings "to make decisions about the reservation and stuff." That evening he's going to be at a meeting "to prepare for" the Bear Dance which they will do the next day.  I think that is an error.  Information provided by the tribe says that they do the Bear Dance in the spring, as shown on this 2009 poster. In one of the last chapters, several months have passed. It is winter again, and Cal is back from college. He told the school he needed to be back on the reservation for the Bear Dance. (Again, wrong season!)

Some closing thoughts
I could keep going...  But I think I'll stop. As I said to a colleague on Facebook, I wish with all my heart that this was a book I could recommend, but I can't. I said to another colleague that it screams outsider perspective. Stanley tried hard, and having spent her teen years there, she could have given us something really well-informed, but she doesn't.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

What does Sitting Bull's great grandson think about Obama's OF THEE I SING?

Yesterday I bought a copy of Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, written by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long. The day before that, I listened to Eric LaPointe, the great grandson of Sitting Bull, talk about Obama's inclusion of Sitting Bull in Of Thee I Sing...

Here's a nice image of the lower half of the book, overlaid with a photograph of President Obama. We (my husband and myself) campaigned for him in Indiana, driving there to do some get-out-the-vote knocking on doors. Like many, we were inspired by the promise of his energy and vision. (I understand, appreciate, and admire what he is trying to do as President and wish that he was having more success with bipartisan efforts.)

The book flap on the inside-front cover says the book is a "tender, beautiful letter to his daughters" consisting of "a moving tribute to thirteen groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that have shaped our nation."  Of the illustrations, the book flap says that Loren Long has captured "the personalities and achievements of these great Americans and the innocence and promise of childhood."

Among those thirteen individuals in the book is Sitting Bull.  Including Sitting Bull caused a stir that generated commentary from many quarters. Here's what ran in The New Yorker on November 18th:

In one corner is Fox Nation, a news and opinion Web site run by Fox News, which on Monday ran this headline about Obama’s new book: “Obama Praises Indian Chief Who Killed U.S. General.” (The site has since defanged the headline, “for historical accuracy” as an editor’s note puts it, to “Obama Praises Indian Chief Who Defeated U.S. General,” but the hyperlink remains: “”)

Prompted by Roger Sutton at Horn Book, I poked around and found the image of Sitting Bull that Roger asked me about. 

I wrote about the illustration and included a video Long made about his work on the book. A few days later, Scott Andrews, a colleague in American Indian Studies wrote about it, too. I especially like his line "Seeing the image of Sitting Bull as Real Estate..."
Roger, myself, and Scott noted that of the thirteen people in the book, Sitting Bull is the only person who isn't a person---as far as the illustrations go...  Everyone else is rendered as human beings. Instead of being shown as a human being, Sitting Bull is landscape, or as Scott said, "Real Estate."  Enough has been said about that illustration...

As I open the book and gaze for a while at the title page, I can see why so many people love the book, how and why it is being embraced by so many people. On the title page, we see over Obama's right shoulder.  He's watching his daughters stride off on a sidewalk. He's got one arm raised toward his chest, a gesture many parents recognize. As we watch our young ones walk away from us, we bring that arm up to our chest...  We want our children to have positive and happy experiences. Perhaps we are reaching for our heart, or maybe we're, in our unconscious imagination, holding our children close to us.

Anyway, the first page of the book pulls on our emotions. Obama writes:
Have I told you lately how wonderful you are? How the sound of your running from afar brings dancing rhythms to my day? How you laugh and sunshine spills into the room? 
Powerful words, at least for me! My daughter is now in college. Obama's words bring back lots of memories for me...  Of her first day in kindergarten, and how she ran down the sidewalk towards me at the end of the day, her face bright with excitement...  Or of her toddler years when she'd erupt into giggles each time she watched Pooh and Piglet slide from one side of Owl's house to another as the wind blew the tree from side to side...

Turning the page, Obama starts talking about the thirteen Americans.
He begins with Georgia O'Keeffe.  She lived many years in New Mexico (that's where I'm from; specifically, Nambe Pueblo, north of Santa Fe). Long's illustration of O'Keeffe painting a white rose is presumably set in her studio at Abiquiu.  On the right side of the illustration is a window. Outside that window, Long included a saguaro cactus. That's an error. Abiquiu is in northern New Mexico, just like Nambe, and there aren't saguaro's there. You'll find them in Arizona. Maybe she also worked in Arizona? Course, Long took his cue from Obama's text, which said that O'Keeffe "moved to the desert." If he'd have written high desert, then perhaps Long's illustration would not have included that saguaro. Northern New Mexico is much more like Colorado than the dry, barren deserts of Arizona. Some might say I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, but, I love Nambe and northern New Mexico, and I want people to know what its like there. It is NOT a desert! (I hasten to add that I don't dislike deserts; they've got a beauty all their own, but what I'm striving for is accuracy in what we know, what we teach, what we impart to children via the text and illustration in children's books...)

I should, at this moment, point out that Long's illustration is on the right side of the page. On the left-hand side is a question Obama poses ("Have I told you that you are creative?") that corresponds to the figure he's writing about. Beneath the questions stand Obama's daughters. In front of them is a single child who I think is meant to be that figure (e.g. O'Keefe) as a child. All the children gaze up at the illustration on the right side of the page. This pattern continues through the entire book.

On the next page is Einstein, followed by Jackie Robinson, and then, Sitting Bull. On the left Obama writes "Have I told you that you are a healer?" Beneath the question is Sitting Bull as a little boy. He's got a single eagle feather in his hair, sticking straight up. He's wearing moccasins, trousers with medallions down the side, and a vest. He's looking up at the illustration (shown above). Beneath that illustration, the text reads:
Sitting Bull was a Sioux medicine man who healed broken hearts and broken promises. It is fine that we are different, he said. "For peace, it is not necessary for eagles to be crows." Though he was put in prison, his spirit soared free on the plains, and his wisdom touched the generations." 
That's a bit of a misquote I think. Sitting Bull is quoted as saying "it is not necessary for eagles to be crows" but that line did not start with "For peace." Here's the full quote from Vine Deloria Jr.'s God Is Red (p. 198). Deloria writes that this was Sitting Bull's reply to a question about why he did not surrender and return to the U.S. to live on a reservation:
Because I am a red man. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place. He put in your heart certain wishes and plans, in my heart he put other and different desires. Each man is god in his sight. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows.
What do you make of Obama's change to Sitting Bull's words?

On December 2nd, Native America Calling (a radio talk show) featured Sitting Bull's great grandson, Eric LaPointe, and Rhonda Le Valdo (she's president of the Native American Journalists Association.) She spoke about Fox, while LaPointe (shown below) talked about Sitting Bull. 

Some of the things LaPointe said in the interview are:
"I told her [a reporter] my great grandfather was never American. He was Lakota."
and he said he did not like his great grandfather in a book that also had Washington and Lincoln, because of what they did to Native peoples. Specifically, LaPointe spoke about Lincoln being the president who authorized the largest mass execution that ever took place in the United States. You'd be hard pressed to find it in a children's biography of Lincoln, but it did happen. In December of 1862, he ordered the execution of 38 Native men. Here's an excerpt from "A Half-Forgotten Lincoln," by Charles A. Eastman:
A strange scene was enacted at the then raw, frontier village of Mankato, Minnesota, the day after Christmas, 1862. Both white and red men, woman, and children--some yelling in triumph, others weeping in despair--were in the public scquare to witness the mass execution of 38 "blanket Sioux."

Behind the incident is a story of the sad transitional period of the once proud, generous, and hospitable Eastern Sioux. By the treaty of 1851 at Traverse de Sioux they were confined to a small tract of land and cut off from game on which they had subsisted. In return they were to be fed for a period and to receive interest from a 1 1/2 million-dollar trust fund.

But in 1862 Congress was busily occupied by the War between the States and for almost two years no annuities had been paid. Such cash as came was retained by traders in settlement of alleged debts. The Indians were destitute.
Eastman's article says that four "reckless young braves" attacked and killed two settlers families. Reading Eastman's article, you'll see his own position... He says his father counseled against warfare but that he was outvoted. Too many were starving and angry at the trader who, rather than provide the Indians with the annuities (food), said "If they're hungry, let them eat grass." Warfare ensued, the Dakota lost, and, 303 Dakota men were tried in military court and found guilty of murder. They were sentenced to hang. It was up to Lincoln to authorize the hanging, but instead, he asked for all the files. After reviewing them, he issued a warrant that led to the execution of 38 of the men. The others were sentenced to life in prison. Here's a popular engraving of it. Three thousand people watched:

There's a lot more to learn about what happened. You can read more at the Minnesota State History Museum website, and you may understand what LaPointe says when he said Lincoln was responsible for one of the worst atrocities in Native history.

At the start of his remarks, LaPointe said that Sitting Bull was not American. It wasn't until 1924 that American Indians became citizens of the United States via the Indian Citizenship Act. LaPointe also said that Sitting Bull was not Sioux. That, he said is a generalized word, and such generalizations are not helpful. Sitting Bull was Lakota, LaPointe tells us.  Those of you who've read things I've written, or heard me speak, know that specificity matters. I encourage people to be tribally specific when they're talking about me, for example. Instead of saying "Debbie Reese, a Native American (or American Indian)" or "Debbie Reese, a Pueblo Indian," I much prefer people say "Debbie Reese, a Nambe Pueblo Indian from the Upper Village." With that specificity, we can start breaking down that stereotypical, monolithic image of "Indian" that most people hold in their mind. "Sioux" and "Pueblo" are categories but they obscure a lot of diversity! There are, for example, 19 different pueblos in New Mexico, and within those 19, there are several different villages. There are differences across all of them, from language to dance!

LaPointe said he's proud that Obama looked at Sitting Bull admiringly, but not alongside Washington and Lincoln. His viewpoint is radically different from readers who like what Obama did. The thirteen people Obama chose to recognize in some way represent what we call America, and hence, Americans. After Sitting Bull are Billy Holiday, Helen Keller, Maya Lin, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Neil Armstrong, Cesar Chavez, Abraham Lincoln, and last, George Washington. I've seen some critiques about Obama's choices, what they signify, etc. so I know there's other ways of analyzing the book. Given my area of work, I'm focusing on Sitting Bull.

On the final page of the book is a double-page spread of over 50 children, all gazing at the reader. The front line is the child-selves of the thirteen individuals, plus Obama's two daughter's, and at either end of the line, a child who could be any-child. In studying their clothing, it seems to me Long tries to show us children from different time periods. From historic (Washington in his knickers and red bow tie, holding an axe [to chop down that cherry tree???]) to the present day.

I can, for example, imagine that the girl in the top row with the green t-shirt and braids is meant to be a Native girl of the present day, or that the boy who looks African American (also in the back row) could be a Black Indian child...  But I gotta say that Long's illustration of Sitting Bull as a child who wears that eagle feather all the time... well, I have my doubts about that. It looks to me like Long's inspiration for that illustration is the famous photograph of Sitting Bull shown above in the photograph of La Pointe.

What I'm saying is that I think many children could study that final page and find someone on it that could be them. As such, I can almost say that Obama's book works for Native children, but... then... I come back to the Sitting-Bull-as-Landscape illustration, and, I wish that Long had given us Sitting Bull as a person instead.

I wonder how--and if--parents and teachers will explain that page? Will it jump out at them the way it did to me, or to Scott, or to Eric LaPointe? I hope so! I hope you share the link to this page with your friends and colleagues. This book---as widely as it will be bought and read---provides all of us with an opportunity to teach children and each other, too, about the ways that American Indians are portrayed and how those portrayals could be so much better...