Friday, October 05, 2012

"What Happened After Chief Short Cake Died?" and "Squaw Bury Short Cake"

The title for today's blog post comes from this math worksheet:

The photo was taken by the mother of a Native student in a school in Wisconsin. Indian Country Today has the full story, and I urge you to read it, talk with fellow teachers in your school, and evaluate teaching materials in your school, library, or home, with an eye towards identifying similarly offensive materials as this math worksheet.

Natives names carry significance---just like the naming of any people, anywhere---and this worksheet trivializes Native people by mocking Native names. It happens a lot. And "squaw" though widely recognized as derogatory, appears in a lot of children books.

Curious about the origin of the question/answer math worksheet, I found the "joke" in these places:

I also figured out that the book the math worksheet is published in is Masterminds Multiplication & Division: Reproducible Skill Builders & Higher Order Thinking Activities Based on NCTM Standards, published 1995 by Incentive Publications. Masterminds Multiplication & Division is apparently used in a lot of schools. Is it in yours?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ms. Warren: Mascots have serious consequences

Did you see the video that started circulating yesterday? The one that shows Scott Brown's staff making war whoops and doing the tomahawk chop at an Elizabeth Warren event? The media is portraying it as a mockery of Warren's Native heritage.

"Outrageous!" the pundits exclaim.

On one hand, I'm glad they're seeing it as outrageous. On the other hand, I'm going to pull on Floyd Red Crow Westerman's song, "Where Were You When":

Did you listen to it?

I wonder where Warren and all the pundits have been all this time? All these years when Native people have been fighting mascots.


Has Warren issued statements 
condemning mascots?

At the University of Illinois, countless people came forward to say they were part Native, and that they like these mascots because they honor American Indians. With their "part Native" proclamation, they felt quite emboldened to attack Native people whose identity is part of our daily lives. By that, I mean Native people who are tribally enrolled or tribally connected to a Native Nation. In his excellent report on Brown and Warren in Indian Country Today, Mark Trahant includes a video clip in which Cherokee Nation Chief Baker said that he wishes "every Congressman and Senator in the U.S. had a... felt a kinship to the Cherokee Nation." Presumably, Baker thinks they would be allies of Native Nations and our needs. My experience at Illinois tells me that kinship of that kind works against us more than it does in support of us.

Warren is saying that if her staff had done what Scott Brown's staff did, there would be "serious consequences." She's telling him to DO something.

I'm asking HER to do something. This is a chance for her to regain support from people who have lost faith in her due to the way she is handling the identity issue.

Ms. Warren: Mascots and stereotyping have serious consequences for Native children and their nations. You're seeking a senate seat in a city that has a stereotypical mascot. Issue a statement condemning it.

Here's another suggestion: To help us displace the stereotypes planted in the minds of children, take a minute each day to highlight a book by a Native author who tell stories of our lives as-we-are, rather than the classics that stereotype us. I can help you select books to highlight.

This is an opportunity for you!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dear Elizabeth Warren: I know kids who would ask their parents for proof of their identity

Yesterday (September 24, 2012), Elizabeth Warren responded to Scott Brown's attack on her heritage by putting out an ad in which she rhetorically asks "What kid would?" ask her parents for documentation of her Native heritage.

Ms. Warren? Here's my answer. A Native kid who is part of her Nation would, that's who!

From her childhood, my kid knew what it meant to be Native, not in a "family lore" way like Elizabeth Warren, but in a day-in-and-day-out way where being a member or citizen of Nambe carries a responsibility to the Native community.

Several hundred years ago, our ancestors fought for our rights as nations. They prevailed in the face of enormous onslaughts of military might, but, they prevailed.

Our responsibility is to continue that fight.

Will you join us in that fight? Right now, your statements undermine our sovereignty.

And, by the way, since you have no idea what it means to be a citizen of a Native Nation, your outrage at Scott Brown's staff for their war whoops and tomahawk chops is superficial.

I'm a Democrat who makes phone calls and knocks on doors. I supported you until I learned of your claims. No more, Ms. Warren. My strongest allegiance is to my ancestors and the status of Native Nations. There are things you could do to regain my support and maybe the support of other Native people who have questioned what you are doing. And you know what sucks (pardon my use of that word)? Democrats need you to win your race so that things we care about are more attainable.

Scott Brown? You're as ignorant and racist as they come. You don't know what Native Americans look like.


Update, 6:41 PM, September 25, 2012:

A few people asked what Warren could do. I made some suggestions when this story first broke in May. For your convenience, I'm pasting them and my thoughts on why this matters here:

Instead of asking voters to move on, she could say that: 
  1. She was raised to believe that that she is part Native American, and based on that belief, she claimed Cherokee identity at various times in order to meet people like her. She knows, now, that...
  2. There is a Cherokee Nation that has policies in place that determine who its citizens are, and, she is not a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
  3. There are a lot of people like her who believe they have Cherokee ancestors and they, like her, proudly assert that ancestry. 
  4. The hard reality is that she doesn't know what it means to be a Cherokee, and that her heartfelt pride is based on romantic ideas and stereotypes. That she embraced that identity uncritically because schools in the U.S. don't teach children that, in addition to the federal and state government, there are tribal governments with inherent powers to determine who its citizens are. She could point out that, instead of an education about tribal governments, students learn about Indians at the First Thanksgiving, and how they did cool things like using every part of the buffalo, and that it is sad that Indians are all gone, now.
  5. In other words, she'd be saying she is ignorant, and that America's collective ignorance can't go on unchecked because it gets in the way of being able to see American Indians in today's society for who we are. Instead of knowing American Indians as we should, Americans choose to know and love them in an abstract stereotypical way that does more harm than good.

Why this should matter to you 

I think Warren ought to use her status as a candidate for a national office to educate the public. Her claim is especially problematic because of her prior work on protecting the consumer. Does she know, for example, that there is a federal law that was written to protect the consumer interested in buying American Indian art? Here's some info about that law:
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000.

Under the Act, an Indian is defined as a member of any federally or State recognized Indian Tribe, or an individual certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian Tribe.

The law covers all Indian and Indian-style traditional and contemporary arts and crafts produced after 1935. The Act broadly applies to the marketing of arts and crafts by any person in the United States. Some traditional items frequently copied by non-Indians include Indian-style jewelry, pottery, baskets, carved stone fetishes, woven rugs, kachina dolls, and clothing.

All products must be marketed truthfully regarding the Indian heritage and tribal affiliation of the producers, so as not to mislead the consumer. It is illegal to market an art or craft item using the name of a tribe if a member, or certified Indian artisan, of that tribe did not actually create the art or craft item.
Of course, she is not a product, but I hope you see why this claim by her is especially egregious. I hasten to add that the law excludes Native artists who cannot be enrolled with a tribe because they don't meet the tribe's criteria for enrollment. For example, someone could have four full blood grandparents from four different tribes, making them 1/4 of each one, but if each one requires more than 1/4 blood quantum to be enrolled, that person could not be enrolled in any of them. There's a lot more to say about enrollment and blood quantum, but lets stick with the current discussion of Elizabeth Warren.

A more informed public 

America could emerge from this moment as more-educated about American Indians. And, maybe we'd even have the courage to reject all those disgusting headlines wherein people skewer Warren by playing with racist language and ideas like the Fox News personality who said the first thing she'd say to Warren (if she agreed to an interview) would be "How!"

Warren could do a lot of educating if she had the courage to do so. It would help us (teachers and librarians) do a better job of selecting literature, and it would give us the information we need when a person or group is being brought in to our schools to do Native American workshops or performances. 

Monday, September 24, 2012



Did you watch it? If not, do it now.

I'm not easily given to profuse out-loud exclamations like OMG or WOW, but this trailer prompted me to do just that. THIS IS AMAZING!

The film is based on Richard Van Camp's outstanding YA novel, The Lesser Blessed. For some years now, I knew it was going to be made into a movie, and.... well, I'm at a loss for words. I wish I could see it TODAY. It was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month.

Film critic and columnist Kim Voynar said The Lesser Blessed is a "must see coming-of-age story about an aboriginal teen struggling to stand up against a golden-boy bully." Movie critic Peter Howell of The Toronto Star said it is one of the films in this year's festival in which a "rebel spirit" is seen in which Canadian filmmakers seem to be intent on "breaking as many rules as possible."

Want to know more about the film? Go to its website: The Lesser Blessed.


Haven't read The Lesser Blessed
Do it today. 

And you best read the book (if you haven't yet)! I've written about it several times, including listing it in a Focus On column I wrote for School Library Journal in 2008.

If you're teaching his novel, see how a university professor works with it in Teaching Van Camp's The Lesser Blessed

Waiting... for my chance to see The Lesser Blessed...  Will be hard.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Library of Congress: "52 Great Reads"

With the National Book Festival happening this weekend in DC, I was looking over their webpages. On the "Educator's Share" page is this: 

Every year, a list of books representing the literary heritage of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands is distributed by the Library of Congress's Center for the Book during the National Book Festival. Why not read the book suggested for your state or district and then learn, through these books, about the other places that interest you?

I downloaded the page and am happy to see Debby Dahl Edwardson's outstanding My Name Is Not Easy, a finalist for the National Book Award, on the Alaska list:

Here's a larger image of the cover:

States submit several titles, but only one is listed on the "52 Great Reads" list that you can download. If, however, you click on the map on that page, you can see additional books. If you click on Minnesota, this is what you see:

The book on the bottom is Awesiinyensag. Here's a larger image of it:

Available from Birchbark Books, Awesiiyensag is written entirely in Anishinaabemowin, which is the language spoken by the Ojibwe people. It is a big hit in Minnesota and was featured last year at the National Book Festival. 

Congratulations, Debby, and Wiigwaas Press! I'm glad to see your work featured in DC.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dear Scott Brown: Do you know what Native Americans look like?

At the end of May, I wrote about Elizabeth Warren (running for US Senate against incumbent Scott Brown) and her family story about how they are part Cherokee.

Last night was the first debate between Warren and Brown. The first thing Scott Brown brought up was Warren's identity. He said "Professor Warren claimed she was a Native American, a person of color. And as you can see, she's not."

Scott Brown's ignorance is showing!


Brown's remark suggests that a blue-eyed blonde could not be American Indian. He is wrong about that. 

Being a tribally enrolled member or citizen of a federally recognized tribe is what matters (and yes, there is a lot of debate about federal recognition and state recognition). Is Native identity determined by skin color? Nope. Hair color? Nope. Obviously, his idea of what an American Indian should look like is based on stereotypes!

The Cherokee Nation has several videos about being a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Here's one:

As the video demonstrates, Cherokee's "look" lots of different ways with regard to hair and skin color.

Scott Brown ought to watch that video!

And maybe he should read Cynthia Leitich Smith's short story, "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" in Moccasin Thunder, edited by Lori Marie Carlson.

There's a lot of ignorance in America (around the world, in fact) about who American Indians are, but there are a lot of outstanding children's and young adult books that can unseat that ignorance. Moccasin Thunder has short stories by several leading Native writers: Joy Harjo, Sherman Alexie, Richard Van Camp, Linda Hogan, Joseph Bruchac, Greg Sarris, Lee Francis, and Susan Power. Pick it up today. Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown could learn a lot by reading it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

AICL on Pinterest

Recently, I created a Pinterest account for the purpose of promoting selected literature by and about American Indians. Here's a screen shot of what I've loaded so far:

Pretty cool, huh? It allows me to visually provide people with books that I find outstanding. They're tribally specific! They're award winning books! And of course, there are no stereotypes in these books! Wanna follow me on Pinterest? Here's the link:
American Indians in Children's Literature on Pinterest

Barbara Cooney's MISS RUMPHIUS: Take Two

Editor's Note: Back in 2009, I wrote up a short note about Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius. Because the book is on the We Give Books site, I decided to revisit that short post, add to it, and repost a cleaned up version of it here, today:

Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius

Though it is much loved and winner of an American Book Award, every time I think of Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius, the image that I recall is not the lovely lupines she walks amongst or the landscapes people adore. Instead, I remember this page:

(Source for image:

Here's the text for that page:

Now he worked in the shop at the bottom of the house, making figureheads for the prows of ships, and carving Indians out of wood to put in front of cigar stores.

"He" is Cooney's great grandfather. He's the one who carved cigar store Indians. So... what is wrong with that page?

Source: Oklahoma Historical Society

Noted Creek writer, Alexander Lawrence Poseysaid that the cigar store Indians "are the product of a white mans's factory, and bear no resemblance to the real article." Posey died in 1908.

Is Cooney wrong for including this information in her book? It is factual as Cooney wrote it--carvers of that time period did carve figureheads for ships and wooden Indians, too--but given that Miss Rumphius was published in 1982 and the information about these carvings being stereotypical is quite old, perhaps she could have inserted "stereotypical" in front of "Indians."

If she had done that, the text on that page would be:

"Now he worked in the shop at the bottom of the house, making figureheads for the prows of ships and carving stereotypical Indians out of wood to put in front of cigar stores."

Course, if Cooney did that, the story wouldn't be as charming as it is, but it would be more accurate, and it could prompt teachers, parents, and librarians to address stereotypes whenever they read the book to children. What do you think?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Horn Book interviews Louise Erdrich

Head over to Horn Book to read Martha Parravano's interview with Louise Erdrich!

Martha asked her about the two men who kidnap Chickadee (the protagonist in Chickadee). Though the two are kidnappers, they are also the comic relief in the story. They're goofy as can be! Erdrich talks a little about them in the interview, and she also talks about the next book in the Birchbark House series...

LE: The next book, a twin to Chickadee, is titled Makoons. That book is going to be very personal for me because for the first time I will be writing from the living memory of my relatives. I was fortunate enough as a child to remember my great-grandfather, The Kingfisher, who lived into his nineties and had been part of some of the last buffalo hunts along the Milk River in Montana. So what I will be describing has incredible resonance for me.

Makoons will be the fifth book. Chickadee just came out, and it is outstanding. Have you read it yet? And have you ordered it for your library? I hope your answer is "yes" and "I ordered several copies!"

(Photo credit:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

New website: Chickasaw TV

One of the very best things teachers and librarians can do is to select a single tribe and learn all they can about it. Going in-depth with a single tribe provides you with a depth of knowledge that will help you recognize bias, stereotyping, and errors in materials about other tribes. This is especially important as school districts across the United States implement the Common Core and increase their use of nonfiction materials. It is vital that students get the very best out there.

Today, I highly recommend you visit Chickasaw TV. Here's a screenshot:

At Chickasaw TV you can choose from several different channels:

  • Government
  • Commerce
  • News
  • History and Culture
  • Language
  • Cultural Center
  • Arts and Creativity
  • Destinations
  • People

This is a primary source! There is no reason to rely on biased or outdated information in standard encyclopedias! Check out Chickasaw TV today. 

Thursday, September 06, 2012


This is exciting news out of Canada from CODE, a Canadian NGO that supports literacy and learning! From the CODE website:

The Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature is a unique literary award and readership initiative established by CODE with the generous support of philanthropist William Burt and the Literary Prizes Foundation that recognizes excellence in First Nations, Métis and Inuit literature for youth and provide engaging and culturally-relevant books for young people across Canada.

In partnership with the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the National Association of Friendship Centres, the Association of Canadian Publishers, and the Canada Council for the Arts, the Award will be given annually to three English-language literary works for young adults (aged 12 through 18) by First Nations, Métis or Inuit authors or translators (if applicable). The Canada Council for the Arts will be responsible for establishing the selection criteria and administering the jury process. A First Prize of $12,000, a Second Prize of $8,000 and a Third Prize of $5,000 will be awarded to the authors and translators (if applicable) of the winning titles. Winning publishers will participate in a guaranteed book purchase and distribution program in which CODE commits to purchasing a minimum of 2500 copies of each title at a bulk discount for distribution to schools, libraries, and Friendship Centres that serve First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth across Canada.

Publishers operating in Canada can submit English works of prose fiction or non-fiction written by First Nations, Métis or Inuit authors. Published books and unpublished manuscripts are eligible. In the case of published entries, they must have been published between May 1, 2010 and April 30, 2013.

The deadline for submissions for the inaugural Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature is May 1, 2013. Winning titles will be announced in September 2013.

For the full guidelines and publisher's registration form, visit the Canada Council website at:

For further Information on the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature, please contact Catherine Belshaw, Literary Awards Officer, at 613-232-3569 ext. 233 or

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

LIFE IN A SIOUX VILLAGE, by Sally Senzell Isaacs

Capstone Classoom is offering a "Common Core Grade 3 Curriculum Bundle" that includes Sally Senzell Isaacs's Life in a Sioux Village. I took a quick look at it and set it aside when I saw this page:

Look at the map. It isn't dated. Nowhere are we given information about what time period the map reflects... See the southwest part? Four states are missing: New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. The first two became states in 1912, while Utah gained statehood in 1896 and Nevada in 1864. Do you have this book in your library? Or, one of the other books in this "Life in a..." series? What do those maps look like?

And the caption that says "over 30" Native groups "once lived" on the Great Plains? It was--and is--a lot more than 30.

I wonder what the other books in the bundle are like? If you've purchased this bundle, remove this book. Life in a Sioux Village -- not recommended.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Indians in Booklist's 2012 "Top 10 Westerns for Youth" - THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS

Earlier today, Erin wrote to me to ask if I'd seen the list of books in the "Top 10 Westerns for Youth" in the August 2012 issue of Booklist.  She had purchased one of the books on the list and is concerned with the depictions of American Indians in it.

Here's my thoughts on Caroline Lawrence's The Case of the Deadly Desperados: Western Mysteries, Book One

The cover has a blurb from the Times that says it is "rip roaring." In other words, hilariously funny. However, what is funny to one may be something else to another...

The protagonist is known as "Pinky" (short for Pinkerton, the surname of his "original pa"). At the time of the story, Pinky is living with his "Christian ma" and pa in a small town in Nevada in 1862. He is twelve years old.

When Pinky was two, his "original pa" left Pinky and his mother to be a railroad detective. Pinky never saw him again. Later, his "Indian ma" (she was "Lakota, which some people call Sioux") took up with another white guy. 

When Pinky was seven, his "Indian ma," the other guy, and Pinky headed west to find Pinky's dad. On the way, their wagon train was attacked by Indians. There was a massacre and Pinky ended up an orphan. Pinky has a medicine bag, given to him by his "Indian ma." It is:
made of buffalo hide & decorated with red & blue beads in a little arrow shape. It was as big as my right hand with the fingers spread out. My Indian ma had given it to me before we set out on the wagon train west.  

I had been wearing it around my neck during the massacre but I had not seen it since my foster parents put it in the hiding place under the floorboard.
That was in 1857. 

When the novel opens, it is 1862. Pinky comes home from school on September 26, and finds his "foster parents lying on the floor in a pool of blood." They'd been scalped and there's a tomahawk in his pa's chest. 

He runs to his mother, who is still alive. She tells him that white men dressed like Indians had attacked them, and that those men were looking for Pinky's medicine bag. Before she dies, she tells Pinky that the bag holds his destiny. He is to get it and leave before the men come back. 

Pinky gets the bag, but before he can leave, Pinky hears the killers returning and climbs into the rafters to hide. He uses a "Bush Trick" his "Indian ma" told him about. "If you hide behind a small bush and imagine that you are that bush, they say you become invisible."  

The men leave. Pinky, wearing a buckskin outfit that his Ma made for his birthday, crawls through the dirt to wait for the stage coach. As he lies in the dirt, he opens the medicine bag. Inside is his "Indian ma's" flint knife, a folded up piece of paper, and a brass button "that belonged to my original pa." That paper will turn out to be a letter from his "original pa," and its contents are the reason he is being chased.
That "original pa" was named Robert Pinkerton. When Pinky's "Christian ma" learned that Pinky's father was a Pinkerton, she wrote to Allan Pinkerton in Chicago to "ask him if his dead brother had ever fathered a child by a Lakota squaw around the year 1850."  

Shall I stop?

Or do you want to know about the part where some schoolyard bullies stop punching Pinky when they see "[t]he rest of his filthy tribe" coming to save him. Or, maybe you want to know about Pinky staring in a mirror and seeing "a grubby Blanket Indian with an expressionless face staring back at me."

This humor doesn't work for me. 

Kirkus gave it a starred review for its pacing, deadpan humor and appealing protagonist. The reviewer for The New York Times Book Review thinks that Pinky has Asperger's syndrome, or, high functioning autism and that "Any child who's felt like a 'Misfit' or 'Freak of Nature' as P.K. does will identify with his despair and cheer him" (review posted at Amazon in Editorial Reviews). Maybe so, but what will Native children make of Native identity as the vehicle that carries the humor?

Did you note the subtitle says "Book One"? With those starred reviews, there will likely be additional books about Pinky (who is, by the way, is a girl, not a boy). 

And the contents of that letter? It is a deed to land with silver mines in the mountains of Nevada. 

The idea of a half-Lakota Pinky encroaching on lands belong to other Indians doesn't work for me. The Case of the Deadly Desperados? Not recommended. 

Update: Saturday, August 25

Last night I went over to Goodreads to post my review and see what reviews there were like. I found that Erin had posted her review there. Do read what she said

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


In an effort to draw on the expertise of librarians who work at tribal libraries, I put out a call for nonfiction recommendations.

Miriam Bobkoff, librarian at the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Library in Port Angeles, Washington, wrote to me to recommend a book about the tribes on the Olympic Peninsula. Here's what she said:

Luckily there is a book I can recommend which the tribes on the Olympic Peninsula worked together to produce in 2002, Native Peoples of the Olympic Peninsula: Who We Are by the Olympic Peninsula Intertribal Cultural Advisory Committee, edited by Jacilee Wray (historian for Olympic National Park). Each of 9 tribes contributed a chapter written by their culture teachers. The Elwha Klallam chapter was written by Elwha’s  Jamie Valadez. It begins with a description of the creation site taken from the work of ethnologist T. T. Waterman. The citation is to still unpublished 1920 handwritten notes of Waterman’s at the Smithsonian.

I used Google Books to get a sense of the reading level. It is definitely accessible to middle and high school students, and teachers in elementary grades will find it useful as they develop instructional materials for their students. The book has maps and photographs, a chronology, and a pronunciation guide. Here's the chapters and authors:
  • The S'Klallam: Elwha, Jamestown and Port Gamble
  • Elwha Klallam, by Jamie Valadez
  • Jamestown S'Klallam, by Trina Bridges & Kathy Duncan
  • Port Gamble S'Klallam, by Gina Beckwith, Marie Hebert, and Tallis Woodward
  • Skokomish: Twana Descendants, by the Skokomish Culture and Art Committee
  • Squaxin Island, by Theresa Henderson, Andi VanderWal, and the Squaxin Island Heritage and Culture Committee
  • Quinault, by Justine E. James, Jr., with Leilani A. Chubby
  • Hoh, by Viola Riebe and Helen Lee
  • Quileute, by Chris Morganroth III
  • Makah, by Melissa Peterson and the Makah Cultural and Research Center
I recognize Morganroth's name (he's the author of the chapter on the Quileute's); I wrote about Morganroth's Quileute storytelling in 2009.

Thanks, Miriam, for the recommendation! 

Monday, August 20, 2012


Bruce Grant's Concise Encyclopedia of the American Indian was first published in 1958 as American Indians, Yesterday and Today. 

I'm reading a 2000 edition, "published by Wing Books, an imprint of Random House Value Publishing, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, by arrangement with E. P. Dutton, an imprint of Viking Penguin USA." The copy I have is from the juvenile nonfiction section of the local public library.

If you've got Concise Encyclopedia of the American Indian in your library, it can be deselected on the basis of outdated content.

Believe it or not, the appendix "Indian Population on Reservation in the United States" includes a "Distribution of Indian Tribes by States" that is based on the census of 1950. Some of the figures are from "the World Almanac and Book of Facts for 1959" (bold mine).

In the "Books to read if you want to know more" section, there are over 30 fiction and nonfiction books, ranging in publication year from 1928 to 1957.

I'm actually shocked that it has been published so many times without an update to the appendices! 

Bias and misinformation characterize the entries. Here's some examples:

  • "BIG HEART," Grant tells us, is "Indian term for 'brave. Indians spoke of 'keeping their hearts big' and having no fear" (p. 43). 
  • The entry for "COUNTING" reads: "The system of tens generally was used by Indians in counting. The white man calls this the decimal system. The Indians called it the finger and hand count."
  • Christopher Columbus has an entry, wherein Grant tells us that Columbus discovered America.
  • There is a "DIGGERS" entry, in which Grant writes "These Indians were reported to be very dirty and ill clothed and were considered the lowest form of Indian life" (p. 110). 
  • "FIRE WATER" is the "Indian name for distilled spirits" (p. 128). 
  • "HOW" is "Word of greeting used by Indians, who had no expressions for 'good morning,' 'good day,' or 'good evening.' (p. 154)
  • Of the Pueblo Indians, Grant writes that "they have become famous because of their peculiar customs and ceremonies, for instance, such a custom of men instead of women working in the fields" (p. 257).

A far better choice is the five-volume American Indian Contributions to the World by Keoke and Porterfield. As of today (August 20, 2012), it is available from Oyate for $175. 

Update: Aug 20, 2012, 3:15 PM Central Time

Several librarians wrote to ask me for citations to deselection criteria. Here is some:

Evans and Saponaro (2005) write that the top five reasons for weeding are: 1) accuracy and currency of the information, 2) physical condition of the book, 3) space needs, 4) usage history, and 5) duplicate copy. Disher (2007) lists the following criteria: condition, use, misleading or inaccurate, superceded, duplication, trivial and irrelevant, space, and, balance. The CREW manual advises that “for all items” (p. 16) problem categories are poor content, poor appearance, and unused materials. Similar guidelines are contained in the MUSTIE mnemonic, wherein the M stands for “Misleading information,” and the S stands for “Superceded by better works” (Dickinson, 2005).  

Criteria that applies to the encyclopedia are:
  • Evans & Saponaro's #1 (accuracy and currency of the information)
  • Disher's "misleading or inaccurate,"
  • CREW's "poor content"
  • MUSTIE's "misleading information." 
Disher and MUSTIE also note "superceded." The encyclopedia is easily superceded by the Keoke and Porterfield set.

Dickinson, G. (2005). Crying over spilled milk. Library Media Connection 23(7), 24-26.

Disher, W. (2007). Crash Course in Collection Development. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Evans, G. E. & Saponaro, M. Z. (2005). Developing Library and Information Center Collections. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Larson, J. (2008). Crew: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries. Austin, TX: Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

PBS documentary on "Forrest Carter" and THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE

On August 26th, a handful of PBS stations will air The Reconstruction of Asa Carter.  He wrote The Education of Little Tree, passing it off as an autobiography by a Cherokee man named "Forrest Carter." It was accepted as an autobiography upon publication, as evidenced by the abstract in WorldCat: "The autobiographical remembrances of the author's Indian boyhood with his eastern Cherokee hill country grandparents during the Great Depression." Some library systems still have old information in them:
Forrest Carter is best known for his autobiographical work, The Education of Little Tree (1976). Carter was orphaned at the age of ten and raised by his grandfather. In the Education of Little Tree, he wrote of his happy childhood in the isolated woods of the Tennesee Hill Country and lovingly recalls his grandfather who gave him a unique education based heavily on his Cherokee heritage. Carter once estimated that he never spent more than six months in a formal educational setting.

The Education of Little Tree is not the autobiography of a Cherokee man.

In fact, Asa Carter was in the KKK and a speechwriter for George Wallace, and the book itself is a hoax.

A couple of years ago, I asked librarians "Where is your copy of The Education of Little Tree? Though Carter's book was exposed as a fake in the New York Times in the 1990s, there are still a lot of people who don't know it is a fake. About one-third of the libraries in the Illinois Heartland Library System, for example, still have it cataloged as biography or autobiography, and I imagine that is the case across the country. Perhaps the PBS film will get a conversation started again and it will get reshelved or deselected completely.

Here's the trailer:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Debby Dahl Edwardson's WHALE SNOW

We (Indigenous peoples) are diverse in a great many ways based on things like our location and history, but there are some commonalities amongst us. These commonalities shine in books like Debby Dahl Edwardson's Whale Snow. Like the Inupiaq, we (Pueblo Indians) hunt. Our coexistence with the animals we hunt and our dependence on them is part of our spirituality.

As Whale Snow opens, Amiqqaq, a young Inupiat boy, is with his grandma. She's making donuts. I love that donuts is part of this story! It is like us having jello and chocolate cake on our tables at traditional feasts. Some of our non-Pueblo guests are surprised to see them amidst all our traditional stews. Because they didn't originate with us, some people think our use of things like that means we're "less authentic." Are Americans less-American because they don't eat the exact foods (and nothing else) that the Founding Fathers ate?! Of course not! Back to Whale Snow...    

Amiqqaq looks out the window at the "fat snow" that falls, wishing he was out on the ocean ice with his dad and the other whalers. His grandma tells him it is "whale snow" that "comes when a whale has given itself to the People" (no page numbers). By the end of the story, we know why Amiqqaq is named Amiqqaq, we know a little about how his family prepares whale meat, and Amiqqaq's mom has taught him about the "spirit of the whale." That page (shown below) is one of my favorites:

The page shows Amiqqaq and his mom. The text in the page I loaded is from the Inupiaq version of the book (download it from Edwardson's website). Amiqqaq tells his mom he's happy inside. He says "Inside is like a giant smile. Bigger than a house. Wider than a whole village." I remember that feeling! I experienced it, too, when my dad or uncle or cousins went hunting and came home with a deer (that was in the 60s). We'd all gather at my grandmother's house. As someone arrived, they'd bless the deer in the way that we do, and then we'd revel in just being together in her kitchen, some of us warming our backsides on the wood stove that heated her house.

In some ways, this review says more about me than it does about Whale Snow. But that is precisely why it is an important book. I connect with it! It reflects my experience as a Pueblo Indian girl who grew up in a village where we hunted and co-existed with the animals in the mountains around us, and in fact, it reflects the experience of my great niece, Hayle, who is having a childhood much like mine was, over 40 years ago.

Whale Snow is an outstanding book. If you can't tell, I highly recommend it.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Louise Erdrich's CHICKADEE

With immense satisfaction and a deep sigh, I read the last words in Louise Erdrich's Chickadee and then gazed at the cover. Chickadee is the fourth book in her Birchbark House series, launched in 1999.

My copy arrived yesterday afternoon and I immediately began reading--but not racing--through Chickadee, because it is written with such beauty, power, and elegance that I knew I'd reach the end and wish I could go on, reading about Omakayas and her eight-year-old twin boys, Chickadee and Makoons.

There was delight as Erdrich reintroduced Omakayas and Old Tallow, and when she introduced a man in a black robe, I felt a knot in my belly as I wondered how Erdrich would tell her young readers about missionaries.

The sadness I felt reading about smallpox in Birchbark House gripped me, too, as did the anger at those who called us savage and pagan.

Resilience, though, and the strength of family and community is woven throughout Chickadee.  I'll provide a more in-depth analysis later. For now, I want to bask in the words and stories that Louise Erdrich gives to us Chickadee and throughout the Birchbark House series.

You can order a signed copy of Chickadee from Birchbark Books. And if you don't have the first three books in the series, order them, too.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


If you've got Peter Lourie's The Lost World of the Anasazi: Exploring the Mysteries of Chaco Canyon on your shelf, you can deselect it based on outdated information in a work of nonfiction.

The prologue says:
Around A.D. 1300, the semiarid Four Corners region of the American Southwest, where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico join, the ancient culture of the Anasazi simply vanished. The Anasazi people, who had flourished in the region for hundreds of years, abandoned their communities and centers of commerce and ceremony.

Why did they leave? Where did they go? [...] The mysteries remain, and sciences are unsure what happened.
That idea that the people who lived there 'vanished' permeates the book. We did not, however, 'vanish.'

We (remember--I'm Pueblo) have always known that our history extends to Bandelier, Chaco Canyon, and similar sites, and today, the National Park Service uses Ancestral Pueblos rather than "Anasazi."

One thing that puzzles me...

In the Author's Note, Lourie writes "The term Anasazi refers to the ancient Puebloan people" and that archaeologists now use the phrase "Ancient Puebloan People, which more accurately describes the vanished culture and connects these ancients to their living descendants" (p. 4).

So--he knew about the connection! Why did he stick with the vanishing theme?


If Alex Bealer's Only the Names Remain: The Cherokees and the Trail of Tears is still in your library, it ought to be deselected post-haste. Published in 1972, its title tell readers that there are no Cherokees anymore! Its closing paragraph and text elsewhere in the book specify that there are no Cherokees anymore in Georgia, and that only their names remain (p. 84):
Now, in all of Georgia and Alabama, there is nothing left of the nation that had lived there for a thousand years before the white man came. The Cherokees are gone, pulled up by the roots and cast to the westward wind.

They are gone like the buffalo and the elk which once roamed the mountain valleys. They have disappeared like the passenger pigeons which once darkened the sky as great flocks flew over the river routes from north to south and back again. Live wayah, the wolf, and like the chestnut trees, the Cherokees are no longer found in the mountains of Georgia.

Now only the names remain: Dahlonega, Chattahoochee,Oostenaula, Etowah, Nantahala, Tennessee, Ellijay, Tallulah, Chatooga, Nacoochee, Hiawassee, Chickamauga, Tugaloo, Chattanooga...

Crocodile tears, anyone? While there are no federally recognized Cherokee Nations in Alabama or Georgia, there are a lot of Cherokees around, including Jace Weaver, director of the Institute of Native American Studies at (wait for it...) the University of Georgia, but that is beside the point. The book is old and misleading. "Misleading" is among the criteria for deselecting (weeding) books.

Bealer's book might have been redeemed if he'd included information about the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, but I doubt it. There's too much wrong with it.