Sunday, April 18, 2010

What Neil Gaiman said...

Oct 10, 2010 Note: If you've reached this page by following a link from Neil Gaiman's "Blog-on-a-train" post, I invite you to read my two responses to his post:
Friday, October 8: "Neil Gaiman on "a few dead Indians"
Sunday, October 10: "Part II---Neil Gaiman on "a few dead Indians"


In a 2008 interview about his The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman said
"The great thing about having an English cemetery is I could go back a very, very, very long way. And in America, you go back 250 years (in a cemetery), and then suddenly you’ve got a few dead Indians, and then you don’t have anybody at all, unless you decide to set it up in Maine or somewhere and sneak in some Vikings.”

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Over the last few days, I've seen a few references to a new series of graphic novels by a Swampy Cree (First Nations, Manitoba) writer, David Robertson.  I read an article about him in the Winnipeg Free Press (posted April 8, 2010, by Trevor Suffield, titled "Graphic novelist feels power of responsibility in latest offering"). In it, Robertson talks about his first graphic novel, titled The Life of Helen Betty Osborne, and that it is being used in some schools in Winnipeg. Below is a book trailer for the novel (link to youtube, if you can't see the video below:

Here's another video about the novel (link from youtube:

I've ordered The Life of Helen Betty Osborne and look forward to reading it. I'll also get a copy of Stone, the first book in the "7 Generations" series Robertson is working on. Here's the book trailer for Stone (here's the link if the video won't play:

Robertson's books are published by Portage & Main Press, who also published In Search of April Raintree.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Angela Shelf Medearis's DANCING WITH THE INDIANS

Angela Shelf Medearis's Dancing with the Indians was picked up by Reading Rainbow and turned into a video. The story has so much potential to enrich our understandings of American Indian and African American relationships in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The author is Angela Shelf Medearis. In a note in the back of the book she writes that her great-grandfather escaped from slavery in 1862 and ended up in "Okehema, Oklahoma" where she says he was accepted as a member of the Seminole tribe. He married a Seminole woman and they had a son. Their marriage did not last, and he moved near Oklahoma City and married an African American woman in 1909 or thereabouts. Twice a year, he would take his family of nine children to Okehema for a week-long powwow.

I taught at Riverside Indian School in Oklahoma, and, my colleagues there (I'm thinking of the Native teachers) spoke of going to Okemah. According to the Okemah website, the town was established in 1902 and named after a Kickapoo chief. Given the date (1902) it likely is not the town that Medearis great grandfather went to.

I can't find any place named Okehema, but in a certain sense, that doesn't mean anything. Not all small towns, much less small Native towns and communities, are on maps, or in books, histories, etc.

There are, as Medearis says in her note, Seminole's in Oklahoma. Through Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act, they were removed there from Florida between 1838 and 1842 where they set up several towns and schools for their children. They are now known as the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Some Seminoles remained in Florida, and are known as the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Do visit the Florida website and read its history pages.

The story of Medearis's great-grandfather and his life with the Seminoles is an important one. There is much to be studied and learned about the lives of African Americans and American Indians. From adoption stories like the one Medearis tells, to the American Indian tribes who owned slaves, we have a lot to learn.

It is because we know so little that I am so disappointed in Dancing with the Indians. The last line in her note says "The text for Dancing with the Indians was inspired by my ancestor's experience." I think, then, the book offers us an important story, but that story is ruined by the stereotypical imagery and factual errors in Medearis's writing and Byrd's illustrations. It is a bit complicated... perhaps by Medearis's knowledge of her own African American cultural traditions.

Take, for example, the page where Medearis writes:
Our wagon nears the camp.
Drums pound and move our feet.
Soon everyone is swaying
to the tom-tom beat.
Tom-tom is a drum, but it is not a phrase used by American Indians. It is, however, used to describe East Indian, Asian, and African drums. Of course, it is a common phrase, and East Indians, Asians, and African and African Americans all probably have their own words for it, in their own languages. Just as we, American Indians, use the English word "drum" but have our own tribally-specific words for drum. Nonetheless, if you go onto the Internet, you'll see a lot of sites that say that a tom-tom is an American Indian drum. There are lot of sites with instructions for making a tom-tom, and from what I've seen, they are tied to American Indians, not any of the other groups that actually make and use tom-toms. Those sites are incorrect. American Indians do not use the word "tom-tom".

A significant difference in a tom-tom and an American Indian drum is how it is played. In the illustrations of Dancing with the Indians, the men are shown playing the drum with their hands. That is correct, IF they are playing tom-toms, but, in fact, these Seminole's would be playing drums, and using a drumstick, not their hands as shown here:


Prior to that page, Medearis tells us that the first dance they do at the camp is a Ribbon Dance. The text reads: "The women gather around. Shells on wrists and ankles make a tinkling sound." She doesn't say anything about the ribbons the women wear in their hair. It is the ribbons, however, that the illustrator chose to focus on. His illustration, however, is incorrect. He shows the women putting ribbons on their ankles, and holding them in their hands. That is not a correct portrayal of that dance:

I also doubt that the women dance in quite the way Byrd shows on the next page. Two of the women have lifted a foot nearly waist high, kicking it out to the left. I'm a bit confused, however, if the women are doing the Ribbon Dance, or if they've started doing the Rainbow Dance. There is no text that says they're doing a Rainbow Dance other than a "Soon the Rainbow Dance comes to a colorful end." That information is on a page that, interestingly, shows what looks like a Pueblo Indian drum, and, a drumstick. Neither of the two men by that drum are actually playing it. They are looking off into the distance at, I gather, the women doing the Rainbow Dance.

On the next page, "the rattlesnake dancing starts." The first illustration for it is the one I've shown above, where the men are playing the drum with their hands.

Medearis describes the rattlesnake dance, saying the dancers join hands, and then "twist and writhe and curl, the coils of a giant snake. The slithery animal glides into the smoky night."   I have to do more research on the Seminoles Ribbon, Rainbow, and Rattlesnake dances. On the dedication page, Medearis says that her great-uncle and aunt had to search through "sixty years of memories" to answer her questions and provide her with information for the book. That's a lot of years to sift through. Perhaps the names and descriptions of the actual dances they saw are lost in those sixty years. Then again, maybe the Seminole's do those dances, just as she describes them! If you're a Seminole, or, if you're seen these dances, please do submit a comment.

Turning, now to some of the text and illustration that is stereotypical. Medearis describes the dancers as "fiercely painted" and "reckless" and "fearless and untamed."  She says they "stamp and holler." All of those words capture the stereotypical savage Indian that in that stereotypical framework, roamed the land, terrifying the brave pioneers. The accompanying illustrations show a frightened child, drawing back from that "angry cavalcade" as shown:

On the next page, she says, they "sing of ancient battles gloriously fought and won, of shaggy buffalo, and brave deeds they have done."  Battles, definitely, but buffalo? Not likely. That illustration shows a man in Plains Indian style clothing, riding a horse, hunting buffalo with a bow and arrow.

This gathering Medearis writes about takes place at night. As dawn approaches, the Indians invite the visitors to "Dance the Indian Stomp Dance, join us one and all."  They "dip and stomp and sway" and the illustrations show them in very active poses, with legs kicking and arms thrown this way or that, hair caught in the intensity of their motions, bent way forward at the waist. But, none of that looks at all like the Stomp Dance I've seen.

In summary, it is a vitally important story, and we need that story, but not quite the way it is told or shown in this book, and that's too bad. Instead of this book, I suggest you take a look at Tim Tingle's Crossing Bok Chitto.


To cite this page using MLA style:
Reese, Debbie. "Angela Shelf Medearis's Dancing with the Indians." American Indians in Children's Literature. Web. 14, Apr. 2010.

Please share the link to this page with your colleagues and others who work with children and books:

(Thanks, Kristen C., for writing to ask me about this book. I've had notes on it for a long time, and your question prompted me to write up those notes and post this review essay.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

In the early 1950s, Ann Nolan Clark said...

This morning, Elizabeth Bird at School Library Journal posted the book that is at the top spot in her series of Top 100 Children's Novels. To prepare the series, she asked her readers to submit a list of their favorite novels. Up top is Charlotte's Web. In her discussion of the novel, she notes that it did not win the Newbery Medal. The following paragraph prompted the title for my own blog post today ("In the early 1950s Ann Nolan Clark said...):

The book won a Newbery Honor in 1952, losing out the gold to The Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark. To determine why this might be, the blog Heavy Medal decided to conduct a formal reading of Clark's book. In Part One they simply discuss the decision to read it. In Part Two and Part Three they really pick it apart and thoroughly consider it. From my own point of view, and as I understand it, the simplified reason for why Clark beat White may have something to do with the fact that the librarians on the Newbery committee were tired of handing out medals to books about middle American white kids. The Secret of the Andes took place in Peru! It was new and exciting. And to steal from Nina Lindsay, this is what Clark said in her Newbery acceptance speech, "I have worked with Spanish children from New Mexico to Central and South America, with Indian children from Canada to Peru. I have worked with them because I like them. I write about them because their stories need to be told. All children need understanding, but children of segregated racial groups need even more. All children need someone to make a bridge from their world to the world of the adults who surround them."

Notice that? Ann Nolan Clark, speaking in the early 1950s, said "I write about them [Spanish and Indian children] because their stories need to be told." Clark was not Spanish or American Indian. She was an outsider to the people she wrote about. Like many, she meant well. Today's writers mean well too, just as Clark did, over 50 years ago. But why aren't today's non-Native writers helping Native people get published?

I am one amongst many that ask that question. Connie A. Jacobs asks that question in her review of Native American Picture Books of Change. Here's an excerpt of her review, published in Studies in American Indian Literature, (Volume 17.3, 2005, 123-126):

Central to Benes's study is the work of Clark who taught for the Indian Service and worked at Zuni and Tesuque Pueblos and who retold oral tales and wrote stories about life on the Navajo, Lakota, Taos, Picuris, and Blackfeet reservations. Benes claims Clark's authority to tell these stories as she quotes from the dustcover of Clark's award-winning book In My Mother's House, 1941: "'Clark found there was a need in Indian schools for books written from the Indian point of view.' It explains that the stories she tells took form in children's notebooks, capturing the original rhythm and pattern of their thinking" (43). It is statements like this that call into question how much Benes really understands about the validity of non-Native writers telling and retelling tribal stories and legends. How could Clark, who is not Native, claim the need for books written from a Native point of view and then tell the stories herself?

Non-Native people who, for what ever reason, find themselves working with Native people today could do more than "tell their stories" the way that Clark did. I wish they would.

Monday, April 05, 2010

"Fairy Tales: Zero Tolerance?"

Over on Worlds of Words, Marilyn Carpenter has an essay up called "Fairy Tales: Zero Tolerance?"

I read it this morning, and, like what I read. Carpenter's essay is about details of Chinese culture in Donna Jo Napoli's Bound. Click on over and read what she has to say.

I make similar arguments here on American Indians in Children's Literature. Course, here I refer to American Indian content, while Carpenter is focused on Chinese culture. The larger point is that authors must get the details right!

For examples of problems I've found, take a look at:

Gerald McDermott's ARROW TO THE SUN

McDermott made up the "Dance of Life" in ARROW TO THE SUN

Also see "Proceed with Caution: Using Native American Folktales in the Classroom" published in Language Arts in January, 2007, where I discuss Penny Pollock's Turkey Girl, and Kristina Rodanas's Dragonfly's Tale. (Send me an email [dreese dot nambe at gmail dot com] and I'll send you a copy.)

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Tim Tingle's SALTYPIE

Before you read Tim Tingle's Saltypie to your child or students in your classroom or library, spend some time studying what Tingle says at the end of the book, on the pages titled "How Much Can We Tell Them?"

There, you'll learn a little about Tim's childhood, and some about his father, grandmother, the Choctaw Nation, and, the rock-throwing incident in the book. Here's an excerpt:
I always knew we were Choctaws, but as a child I never understood that we were Indians. The movies and books about Indians showed Indians on horseback. My family drove cars and pickup trucks. Movie Indians lived in teepees. We lived in modern houses. Indians in books and on television hunted with bows and arrows. My father and my uncles hunted, too, with shotguns, but mostly they fished.
I have similar memories of my own. I watched the Indians on television and thought they weren't really Indians. I knew that we were Pueblo Indians, but we didn't look or live anything at all like the ones on TV, so I figured they weren't real. Tingle's note has a lot of very powerful information in it:
We know our history never included teepees or buffaloes. We were people of the woods and swamps of what is now called Mississippi. Early Choctaws had gardens and farms. For hundreds of years, they lived in wooden houses.
Long before explorers arrived from Europe, we had a government, a Choctaw national government. We selected local and national leaders. We recognized women as equal citizens. 
Did you do a double take as you read his words? I bet your students will! Indian people---prior to Europeans arrival on the continent that came to be known as North America---had governments?! Women were equal citizens?!! Those are powerful and important words for you (the adult) to carry with you every single time you pick up a book that has American Indians in it. We weren't primitive. We weren't savage. 

Tingle's note goes on to talk about things the Choctaw people experienced, such as the Trail of Tears, boarding school and racism. And, he talks about stereotypes in children's books, and he suggests that teachers can use Saltypie to dispel some of those stereotypes.

Turning now, to the book itself. In it are several stories.

The first double-paged spread of the book shows a young boy with bees around him. He's wearing a bright green button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. That boy is Tim, and the stories in the book are from his life.

First up is getting stung by a bee. His opening sentences capture the reader right away:
A bee sting on the bottom! Who could ever forget a bee sting on the bottom?
No doubt, those lines will elicit both laughs and groans from children--especially those who know the throbbing pain of a bee sting!  Obviously in distress, Tim runs to an arbor where his grandmother, who he calls Mawmaw, comforts him, but teaches him, too, when she asks "Didn't you hear the bees?" and says the bee sting was "some kind of saltypie." 

From there, Tingle takes his readers back to his grandmother's early years as a mother, and tells us about the word "saltypie."

The year was 1915, and Tim's grandparents (and Tim's dad, who was then two years old), moved to Texas. On that first morning his grandmother stepped outside her new home, and was struck in the face by a stone, thrown, Tingle writes, by a boy. Covering her face with her hands, blood seeped between her fingers. Not knowing it was blood, Tim's father (then a toddler), thought it was cherry pie filling. He reached up, got some on his fingertip, and tasted it. Course, it wasn't the sweet taste he expected, and he uttered "Saltypie!" and spit it out.  His mother hugged him. Though she was crying and shaken by the incident, she saw humor in her son's unmet expectation of something sweet, and laughed as she held him.

Moving forward in time to 1954, Tim is six years old, and he and his dad are visiting Mawmaw and Pawpaw, who still live in that house they moved to in 1915. Tim asks if he, like the adults gathered around the table, can have a cup of coffee. He watches as Mawmaw pours coffee, and sees that she puts her thumb into each cup before she fills it. He doesn't want her thumb in his cup, and covers it with his hand. Pawpaw and Tim's aunt are surprised by his action, and his aunt takes him outside for a moment, where he learns that Mawmaw is blind.

In a family gathering that night, Tim learns a lot about his grandmother's life. From his uncle, he learns about the stone that was thrown at her, and that people back then didn't like Indians. When he asks his uncle "What is saltypie?" his uncle says
"It's a way of dealing with trouble, son. Sometimes you don't know where the trouble comes from. You just kinda shrug it off, say saltypie. It helps you carry on."
The next story Tingle relates is set in 1970, when his grandmother is hospitalized for an eye transplant through which they hope she will regain her sight. His extended family is gathered round, waiting, telling stories to pass the time. By then, Tingle is a college student.

One of the stories Tim told is about his grandmother's years at Tuskahoma Academy, a boarding school for American Indian girls. The color palette on the page for that story is, appropriately, a somber blue. There, Mawmaw as a young child, stands, looking wistful, stuck at the school at Christmas time. That illustration is exceedingly powerful. Actually, it is only one of many illustrations in the book that are astounding in what they convey.

The illustrator for the book is Karen Clarkson. Like Tingle, she is enrolled with the Choctaw Nation. As I noted earlier, the very first page shows us young Tim, in agony, having been stung by a bee. Page after page, Clarkson's illustrations portray a modern Native family. From bright sunny pages bursting with life to the quiet ones that slow us (readers) down to absorb the stories told on that page, Clarkson's illustrations are terrific.  

I particularly like the one of the family, waiting for news about the operation. The waiting room is crowded with members of their family who catch up on news and tell stories. I've spent many hours with my own family---siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles---as we waited for the outcome of a family members surgery. That large gathering often takes hospital staff by surprise when they first start working amongst Native people.

From Tingle's note at the end of the book, to the stories he tells, and Clarkson's illustrations, this book is exceptional. As I said in my earlier post today, order your copy from Cinco Puntos Press. Here, I'll say ORDER SEVERAL COPIES!  And, learn more about Tim Tingle and Karen Clarkson. While you're at it, order Tingle's other books, too. Crossing Bok Chitto and When Turtle Grew Feathers are gems.

And yes, if you're wondering, Mawmaw does regain her sight:
It was so right that my father, who had given us this word [saltypie] fifty years ago in a moment of childhood misunderstanding, would now take it away in a moment of enlightenment. He lifted his eyes and spoke.
"No more saltypie," he said. "Mawmaw can see."

The closing paragraph in this very fine book is the one I'll end this post with, too:
We all leave footfalls, everywhere we go. We change the people we meet. If we learn to listen to the quiet and secret music, as my Mawmaw did, we will leave happy footfalls behind us in our going.
We can, if we choose, leave happy footfalls, and books like this one can help us do that.

Words about Words

This morning's "Google Alert" (I have one set up to let me know when someone has written about my blog) included a link to Scientist Gone Wordy, where Rachel (the blog owner) talked about the power of words. In her post this morning (April 2, 2010), she pointed readers to my site (hence the alert from Google Alerts).

As anyone that has heard me speak at a conference or invited lecture knows, I have uttered plenty of words that expose my own biases. Paying attention and recognizing the power in the words we use is an on-going process. I self-disclose my own ignorance and examples of offensive speech to demonstrate that I'm just like most people. There's a lot we don't know, and having it brought to our attention is unsettling and embarrassing.

I like to think of myself as being tuned in for bias in the media, but once I started reading NPR Check (now NPR Team), I realized I had not been applying my critical media skills to NPR!. I had assumed (incorrectly) that NPR was more on the liberal and progressive end of the political spectrum.

Towards the end of her post, Rachel ended by talking about gender.  It reminded me of one of the findings in my doctoral dissertation. There, I examined illustrations of American Indians (actual American Indians, non-Native characters playing Indian, images on objects such as the Indian head penny) in children's books recommended in Young Children, the practitioners journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Whether it was an actual American Indian character, or a character playing Indian, or an image on an object, the majority of the images were male.

I'd need to do a study of the gender of the Native people in historical fiction in order to make a definitive statement, but thinking about classics like Little House on the Prairie or Matchlock Gun, most of the portrayals are of Native men...   

New book! Tim Tingle's SALTYPIE

I just read Tim Tingle's new picture book, Saltypie...  First impression? Wow! When people ask me for a short list of recommended books, Saltypie is going to be on that list.

Tingle is Choctaw, and author of the award winning Crossing Bok Chitto. Order your copy of  Saltypie from Cinco Puntos Press.

More soon...

Monday, March 29, 2010


I recently read a galley copy of Nancy Bo Flood's Warriors in the Crossfire (Front Street, 2010). Flood is a gifted writer. Her book is a page-turner and a quick read. 

There are, however, specific parts of the book that give me pause. One example is her descriptions of a dance that Joseph (the main character) does. Given my study of the (inaccurate/romanticized/stereotypical) ways that American Indians are portrayed in most children's and young adult literature, I wondered if Flood's portrayals of the Chamoru (also spelled Chamorro) and Carolinian people---from their dance to their stories---was accurate.

As of this writing (March 29, 2010), reviews from two journals are available. Kirkus gave the book a favorable review, saying
"The understated design, which includes Japanese characters in the chapter titles and brief, impressionistic poems as chapter lead-ins, makes this volume stand out. An important and little-known perspective on World War II." 
while the review in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books was more qualified:
The narration, however, rings with the formal, stilted cadence generally associated with Hollywood portrayals of cultural outsiders in films of decades past: “‘Kento, I must carry my father to the sea. I cannot carry my father alone.’ Kento did not look up. ‘I am sorry, Joseph. I cannot help you’; “You have turned your back on us. . . . You have become . . . Japanese.” Nonetheless, readers who can visualize the living, breathing characters behind the awkwardly mannered voices will be rewarded with a heart-pounding reimagining of desperate times. A historical note is appended Review Code: Ad -- Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area. 
The Bulletin's reviewer zeroed in on cadence, referencing Hollywood portrayals of cultural outsiders. That is similar to my concerns with the ways that Flood describes dance (p. 40):
“I had learned from my father the ancient words of the chants and the ancient movements–the leaping, twisting, striking stick against stick. Gleaming with sweat and coconut oil, we danced, beating the rhythm faster and louder. Slapping, whirling, chanting our battle cries, we called to our ancestors. Guide us! Give us strength to leap, to fly, to defeat our enemies.” 
"Leaping", and "twisting" and "faster and "louder"...  Flood's words and image sound a lot like outsider description. In a lot of children’s and YA lit, outsiders describing Native dance say that Native people “stomp” and “leap” and “hop.” See, as one example, page 8 of Sign of the Beaver, or, the illustrations of dance in Dancing with the Indians, or Peter Pan, or, Little House on the Prairie, or, Touching Spirit Bear, or Walk Two Moons, or.... (you get the picture).

I've seen videos of the stick dancing Flood is describing, and it doesn't match with her description. Maybe it is not the same dance.  Still, though, I can't imagine an indigenous person describing dance quite that way. That whole section of her book could have been done differently. She could have had Joseph telling the reader how the Japanese describe the indigenous dances. She does this a little bit on page 32, when she writes "But to the Japanese, we are all the same, we are natives, barbaric outsiders, gai-jin."

Like Lyn Miller-Lachman, Warriors in the Crossfire inspired me to learn more about WWII, Saipan, the indigenous peoples of Saipan, Japanese occupation of Saipan, and, the samurai.

I have a copy of Chamoru Childhood, a collection of stories written by Chamoru people. I wrote about it a few months ago here. Knowing Keith Camacho, one of the Chamoru authors in the book, also figures prominently in how I'm responding to Flood's book.

From Keith, I learned about We Drank Our Tears: Memories of the Battles for Saipan and Tinian. The latter is a collection of stories told by men and women who lived through the invasion of Saipan. If you wish, you can go here and see a little of what the book contains. The page includes a bit of info about Benita Borja Cepeda's story, as told to her granddaughter, Madisa Lisa Messo Omni. There are photographs of both, and, the art at the bottom of the page is done by Madisa. Here's an excerpt about the book:
A project of the Pacific STAR Young Writers Foundation under the direction of Katharyn Tuten-Puckett, this new book is a moving collection of stories told to CNMI school children by their elders who experienced the war when they, themselves, were children. Each of the 74 stories, related by the students and accompanied by hand-drawn illustrations and photographs of the students and the elder who's story is being told, is a unique and memorable experience. No one who reads these stories can help but be struck with a profound sense of awe, respect and admiration for these families who's courage and perseverance brought them through the war.

We Drank Our Tears is important as a history. But perhaps its greater value is in the sharing of the collective experiences that define modern-day Chamorros and Refalawash people. Whether you live on-island or off, this book belongs on your shelf and in the hands of young readers who can only benefit from knowing something of the recent past that had such a profound affect on their parents and grandparents who lived it. It can go a long way toward bridging the generation gap with appreciation and understanding.
I've ordered a copy of We Drank Our Tears and look forward to it. 

In the meantime, I'll work on my analysis of Warriors in the Crossfire. I've got lots of questions. Like on page 39, the Emperor has ordered a victory celebration, and Japanese officials command the men and women of the village to perform. They do "sacred warrior dances." The Japanese men and women sit in chairs and watch the dance. I'd like to know more about that command to dance.

Update, March 30, 6:52 PM
To see a previous discussion of tribal protocols on intellectual property, go here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hopi Runners

For young adults who visit your library looking for information about athletes or marathon runners, consider offering them an article from a journal....  Here's the opening sentences:
On the afternoon of April 20, 1912, fifteen-thousand people lined the streets of Los Angeles to witness 151 contestants compete in the Los Angeles Times Modified Marathon. Officials of the Times hosted the marathon to secure a Western candidate for the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, and news of the event attracted runners from across the nation. Two Hopi runners, Guy Maktima and Philip Zeyouma, from the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona, stood beside the many athletes who gathered near the start line and waited for the sound of the pistol to begin the race.
Sound good? The author of the article, Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert (he is Hopi), continues, saying that nobody took much notice of the Hopi runners. That changed halfway through the race:
When word spread among the thousands of spectators that the "Little Hopis" had broken away from the lead group, people rushed to the finish line and waited for the runners to make their final approach.
Want more? The article, "Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930" is in the March 2010 issue of American Quarterly.  I read about the article at Matt's blog, Beyond the Mesas. Here's an excerpt from there:
Not long after the school established its cross-country team, Zeyouma won the Los Angeles Times Modified Marathon in April 1912. His victory also gave him an opportunity to compete in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.
Congratulations, Matt, on the article, AND on having YOUR photographs used on the journal's front and back cover!

Teacher, librarians, parents... if you want a copy of the article and don't have access to it, send me an email and I'll send it to you. Write to me at dreese dot nambe at gmail dot com. 

Stereotyping, Bias, and American Indians

What are you doing at 11:00 AM on April 13th? Set aside an hour to attend a free, online conversation called "How do we change a stereotype?"

The session part of the Smithsonian Institution's Problem Solving with Smithsonian Experts series. The host for "How do we change a stereotype?" will be Paul Chaat Smith. I've written about him several times here on American Indians in Children's Literature. (See Paul Chaat Smith on Brother Eagle Sister Sky and The Education of Little Tree. And buy a copy of his book, Everything You Know about Indians is Wrong.)

The promo for the session is: 
The American Indian Experience: From the Margins to the Center
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) opened its doors in Washington in 2004. The goal? Nothing less than to change how we see the lives of Native peoples. NMAI curator Paul Chaat Smith leads a discussion on hard lessons and brilliant mistakes from the front lines of Washington’s most controversial museum.
Hard lessons? Brilliant mistakes? Most educators have been learned some hard lessons, and, we've made some brilliant mistakes, too! And why is it "Washington's most controversial museum"? I wonder what we will learn from Smith? I registered for the session and encourage you to do so, too. Go to "How do we change a stereotype" for details. The registration link is bottom right of the page.

As you think about your teaching---how, when, and why---you include American Indians, take a look at Julia Good Fox's blog post, "Texas is Not Alone: Moving Past U.S. Dis-education about Tribal Nations."  For those of you who follow Education news, you know she's referring to the textbook fiasco in Texas. Good Fox talks about her work with public school teachers. She is Pawnee.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pa (as a kid) played that he was hunting Indians

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is Favorite Book #23 in Elizabeth Bird's SLJ "Top 100 Novels" countdown. Published in 1932, Bird says "As of right now, it has sold about sixty million copies in thirty-three languages."

Sixty million! That's a lot of people reading these words in "The Story of Pa and the Voice in the Woods" that begins on page 53:

"When I was a little boy, not much bigger than Mary, I had to go every afternoon to find the cows in the woods and drive them home. My father told me never to play by the way, but to hurry and bring the cows home before dark, because there were bears and wolves and panthers in the woods.    

"One day I started earlier than usual, so I thought I did not need to hurry. There were so many things to see in the woods that I forgot that dark was coming. There were red squirrels in the trees, chipmunks scurrying through the leaves, and little rabbits playing games together  in the open places. Little rabbits, you know, always have games together before they go to bed.    

"I began to play I was a mighty hunter, stalking the wild animals and the Indians. I played I was fighting the Indians, until all woods seemed full of wild men, and then all at once I heard the birds twittering 'good night.' It was dusky in the path, and dark in the woods.

There is no further mention of Indians as Pa continues his story. (The voice he heard was actually an owl.)

It is that last paragraph above that gives me pause. Wilder writes "I began to play I was a mighty hunter, stalking the wild animals and the Indians." Indians who she then calls "wild men." Wilder tells us this story, presumably a story her Pa told to her... A story wherein Pa tells her how he imagined himself, as a kid, hunting Indians. Hunting Indians. 

Pa (the adult) told Laura (the child) and Laura (the writer) told children that Indians are like animals to be hunted.

Did that paragraph leap out at you as you read the book?

When you read the book to children now, what do you do with that passage?