Thursday, November 15, 2012


Sorry for this late notice...  Just letting readers of AICL know that I'll be a guest tomorrow (Friday, Nov 16, 2012) on Native America Calling

Friday, November 16, 2012 – Twilight Saga’s Biggest Critics: Native America: 
At the stroke of Midnight this morning moviegoers around the country flooded into theaters to see the last movie chapter in the Twilight saga. There have been several movies that have attracted millions eager to see the storyline unfold. One major element pushing the narrative that began in the pages of Stephenie Meyer's book series includes Native Americans. The Native element of the Twilight saga revolves around the Quileute Nation, and the legend that the tribe is descendent from wolves. Since the first movie in the grouping of vampire versus wolf sequences Native influence has once again made it to Hollywood but, what has been the effect? How has this movie influenced the lives of Natives? Has it added to the growing fire of stereotypes? When it comes to Native cinema has it advanced Natives in front of, and behind the camera or just the opposite? Guests include: Dr. Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo) educator and author of the blog American Indians in Children's Literature.

Native America Calling is an hour-long call-in program that links public radio stations, the Internet, and listeners to discuss issues specific to Native communities.

Terrific news! Louise Erdrich's THE ROUND HOUSE won the 2012 National Book Award

Last night (November 14, 2012), Louise Erdrich's The Round House won the 2012 National Book Award in the fiction category for the adult market, but it will be one of those crossover books, read widely by young adults. 

The story Erdrich tells is a difficult one. 

Geraldine Coutts, thirteen-year-old Joe's mother, is raped. Joe is the narrator. The novel is set in North Dakota in 1988. We meet Joe and his father on the first page. They're outside, working. Turning to the next page, Joe goes inside to his father's study (his dad is a tribal judge):
I took out the law book my father called The Bible. Felix S. Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law. It had been given to my father by his father; the rust red binding was scraped, the long spine cracked, and every page bore handwritten comments. I was trying to get used to the old-fashioned language and constant footnotes. Either my father or my grandfather had placed an exclamation point on page 38, beside the italicized case, which had naturally interested me also: United States v. Forty-three Gallons of Whiskey. I suppose one of them had thought that title was ridiculous, as I did. Nevertheless, I was parsing out the idea, established in other cases and reinforced in this one, that our treaties with the government were like treaties with foreign nations. That the grandeur and power my Mooshum talked about wasn't entirely lost, as it was, at least to some degree I meant to know, still protected by the law.  
That passage is a peek into what readers will find in The Round House. Erdrich gives us a story that has--at its heart--Native Nations, treaties, injustice, and, perseverance. In an interview at the National Book Award website, Erdrich said:
The immense difficulty of prosecuting crimes of sexual violence on reservations has haunted me for many years, but I didn't know how to tell the story. I wanted to write it as a suspense novel. How else to include jurisdictional complexity? I didn't want to bore myself. When my main character, Joe, started talking, I knew I had been waiting for him. A writer's gift. Even now I miss writing in his voice and miss working on this book.
In its October 10, 2012 article on The Round House being listed as a finalist for the award, Indian Country Today wrote:
Erdrich's story, though fictional, is especially timely considering recent news about the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and revelations of rampant sexual abuse on at least one reserve.
Erdrich was on NPR a few weeks ago and read from The Round House

A bonus for those of you who prefer audiobooks to print...  The person who recorded the audiobook is Gary Farmer (Cayuga). He's an actor, musician, activist, and filmmaker. You can listen to an excerpt here: The Round House read by Gary Farmer


Get a signed copy of The Round House from 
Erdrich's bookstore, Birchbark Books. 


If you want to read more about The Round House, the store has compiled links to video, audio, and print interviews. Some librarians and teachers may find the story inappropriate for your patrons and students. If that's the case, I still recommend that you read it yourself. It will make you better able to discern the good from the mediocre or bad in terms of how Native people are portrayed in literature for adults, teens, or children. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Alyson Noel's FATED

A reader wrote to ask if I would take a look at Alyson Noel's young adult novel, Fated. I looked it up, and seeing that it was set in New Mexico, I took it with me on the road to do a workshop with Native people working in libraries.

I'm dismayed with the popularity of this book. As I prepare this review, it has 2,762 ratings on GoodReads, 621 reviews, and has 4 out of 5 stars. On Amazon, its got 94 customer reviews, and 3.5 out of 5 stars. It is in the popular "paranormal young adult" genre.


I'm guessing fans of Fated are people who 
wish to "honor" Native people with mascots... 

What I mean by "people who honor Native people with mascots" means people with little substantive knowledge about Native people. Instead of factual knowledge of who we are, they embrace romantic ideas of us as warriors and shamans with feathers and drums. The people who want to "honor" us are people who mean well; they're people with good intentions.

But heck! How long is ignorance and stereotyping borne of good intentions going to go on?! I guess it'll continue as long as there is a market for stories with hunky "Native American" guys with high cheekbones, smooth brown skin, and long, glossy black hair.

But it will also continue as long as "any book will do, just as long as they're reading" is the stance about reading. The "any book will do" stance--when the depictions of American Indians are stereotypical, biased, or inaccurate--is just a repeat of colonization where colonizers gaze upon American Indians, lusting for bodies.

If you follow me on Twitter (@debreese), you may have seen my snarky tweets about this book. Its hard to take Noel's Fated seriously! I know I'll get some flack for being snarky...  People who feel bad for the author and all her hard work will be irate at my tweets.

Let's meet the characters in Alyson Noel's Fated. 

Daire Lyons/Santos is the main character (that's her on the cover). She's sixteen years old and has been having dreams of a hot guy with glossy black hair who morphs into a scary hot guy with glossy black hair. She's also been seeing glowing people (while she's awake) ever since she turned 16. She has a major incident in Morocco (her mom does make up for Hollywood movies and she's with her mom in Morocco). There are threats to institutionalize her. But out of the blue, her father's mother (Paloma) calls them in Morocco and convinces Daire's mother (Jennica) to bring Daire to "Enchantment, New Mexico" to live with--and be healed--by Paloma. Until this phone call, Paloma has not been part of her life.

Jennica Lyons is Daire's mother.

Django Santos was Daire's father. He died before Jennica was born, but he didn't just die. He was decapitated. Evil people, ya' know! They do wicked things like decapitation to good guys like Django.

Paloma Santos is Daire's grandmother (mother of Django). I'm not altogether sure about Paloma's identity. On page 68, "she's a living picture of Old World, Latina hospitality." Daire sees her at Django's grave "murmuring in her native Spanish" (p. 100). Then on page 130, Paloma tells Daire that years ago, Alejandro (see next paragraph) "was called back to Brazil" for a family emergency, suggesting the two are from Brazil. Then on page 145, Daire's "Irish side" finally meets her "Hispanic side." What do you think about Paloma's identity? One thing is not ambiguous: Paloma is a powerful "Seeker" (previously known, according to Paloma, as shamans) in a long line of shaman/seekers who seek the truth, the spirit, the light, the soul, and it is their destiny to keep things in balance.

Alejandro Santos was Daire's grandfather (father of Django). He was a very powerful "Jaguar Shaman of the highest order" (p. 130). Paloma and Alejandro's marriage was arranged, with hopes that they would have offspring with great powers. He was called back to Brazil and died in a plane accident.

That hot guy with glossy black hair that, in Daire's dreams, morphs into a scary hot guy with glossy black hair? Well, they are real! They are identical twins. The not-scary one is named Dace. The scary one is named Cade.

Chepi is mother to the twins. She is "Native American" (p. ) and her father, Jolon, was a powerful medicine man. She raises Dace on the reservation with her and her uncle, and keeps him there to protect him from Cade. But, he wants to go to Milagro High School when he's old enough, and Chepi relents, and, as Paloma tells Daire, "he didn't leave the reservation till his teens" (p. 203). Honestly--I find that a bit hard to believe. Later, we learn that Dace goes by the name of Whitefeather (p. 227). He doesn't say it is his mom's name, just that he uses Whitefeather because he was raised by his mom.

According to Wikipedia, "Chepi" is a Narragansett ghost that can be called on to defeat an enemy. Really, Ms. Noel?! I see her use of this name as more evidence of ignorance of the diversity amongst "Native Americans." Defending the book on the basis of it being paranormal doesn't work for me because this sort of thing feeds ignorance, and Americans are already too ignorant when it comes to American Indians. (Info on Chepi's name added at 5:36 AM on Nov 12, 2012.)

Leandro Richter is the twins father. He is from a wealthy family that owns most of Enchantment. The Richters are sorcerers who've been fighting the Santos family for centuries. The Richters can alter a person's perceptions, tricking them into doing things. Leandro thought that by impregnating Chepi, he'd unite the power of their two families and with that offspring, overpower the Santos family and take over the world. Reign supreme and all that stuff. Using his mind altering powers, Leandro impregnates Chepi and does some kind of ritual that is supposed to make the soul of the baby dark-hearted. When she gets home, Jolon--in his pain over what has happened to her--is vulnerable. Leandro uses his powers to terrorize Jolan with images of the future havoc his grandson will wreak. Jolan has a heart attack and dies. Chepi is raised by her uncle, "Leftfoot" (yeah, that's his name). Leftfoot is a powerful medicine man, too. And rather than one dark-hearted baby, she has two sons. One dark, and the other light.

And now, the new-age story... 

Noel begins her novel with a few pages about "animal spirit guides" which, for me, screams new age baloney. As noted at the top of this review, Fated is categorized as young adult paranormal. Whether you call it new age or paranormal, it is a misrepresentation of Native people and ways, too.

Noel's characters are "Native American." She sets the novel on a reservation in New Mexico in a fictional town she calls Enchanted that is two hours from Albuquerque. There's a lot of reservations in New Mexico, several of which are two hours from Albuquerque: Santa Ana, Cochiti, Santo Domingo, Jemez, Laguna, maybe Acoma (depending on how fast you drive), Zia, San Felipe, Sandia, and Isleta. She didn't make her characters Pueblo, or any of the tribes I listed.

The two tribes that are specified are Navajo and Zuni. There's a dreamcatcher that is "Navajo in origin" (p. 70) and there are Navajo rugs in Paloma's house (p. 71 and p. 266). And, Daire's spirit animal in rock form is a raven that reminds her of Zuni hand-carved fetishes she saw at a tourist shop in Arizona (p. 129).

In her acknowledgements, she thanks Jardin in Santa Fe who talked with her about reservation life. Given the two-hours-from-Albuquerque location, I'd expect to recognize this "life on the reservation." Though Nambe (my pueblo) is north of Albuquerque by three hours, I think "life on the reservation" is similar enough that I'd recognize the one that Noel provides. But, I don't. Not really. Dirt roads, adobe houses and tumbleweeds don't cut it.

At first, Daire doesn't want to be with Paloma, but that changes soon enough. She gets a horse named Kachina. Paloma gives her an herbal drink that induces a dream state in which Daire meets her spirit animal, a raven. She learns that her element is the wind, and that she is a wind dancer.

Thrilled with Daire's learnings in that dream, Paloma packs her off on a vision quest in a cave. After a couple of days without food or water, the vision itself starts. She meets her dad and his animal spirit, and the animal spirits of other deceased members of the Santos family. Her spirit animal--a raven--pecks her body to pieces. When she wakens, she believes she has been rebuilt and is now "bigger, better, and stronger" (p. 159) than before.

On her way from the cave back to Paloma's house, she sings two songs: a mountain song and a wind song. She communes with the birds. She pauses under a mesquite tree where bees are swarming, sings her songs, and shakes the branches, agitating the bees, but they do not sting her. She comes upon a nest of scorpions, kicks off her shoes and stands in it, singing her song, but they don't sting her either (p. 161).

Daire is now a powerful Seeker. She has telekinetic powers. And by focusing on an animal, she can occupy that animal's mind and see what it sees. She does this with a cat, and a crow, and later, a cockroach. Yeah---a cockroach. Paloma wants her to spy on Cade at a club called the Rabbit Hole, so she gives Daire a cockroach in a jar and tells her to use it to spy on Cade. At the club, Daire occupies the cockroach, finds Cade, and rides on the hem of his jeans down into the Underworld where she learns of his evil plans to resurrect the dead.

During all of this, Paloma is getting weaker. When she's really bad off, Chepi and her uncle (Leftfoot) and one of Leftfoots apprentice's try to help her. The apprentice waves a pendulum over Palomas "chakras" (p. 299). I associate chakras with Hindu or Buddhist traditions, not ours!

See why I think Fated is baloney?! Noel's characters aren't Native. They're New Age. Right now, I'm a bit tired of thinking about this novel. I've laughed aloud at its ludicrous parts, and have felt dismayed that people actually like it. I may post additional thoughts in the next day or two. I'm pushing the 'publish' button and will fix typos I've missed tomorrow.

Update, Monday November 12, 2012, 7:38 AM
Looking at Noel's page for the sequel, Echo, I see photos she took on a trip to NM, to do research for her book. She was in Espanola, which is about three hours north of Albuquerque. It is a small town, but much bigger than the fictional town of Enchanted (in Fated). She was also at Santuario, a church in Chimayo, New Mexico. If you watch the videos at her site, you'll see Noel talking about wanting to incorporate shamanism and witch doctors and medicine men into this "Soul Seekers" series, of which Fated is the first one. She's definitely quite taken with those that are other to her---but not in a good way.

In an interview (got there from a link on her site), she says she tried to portray shamanism and Native American spirituality "in an authentic way and to do so with reverence." Ms. Noel? You didn't do either. You can't be "authentic" if you're using "Native American" and the only "reverence" I see is the deeply flawed kind borne of romantic notions of American Indians rather than a reverence borne out of actual knowledge, personal relationships, and respect.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Dear Gwen Stefani: Please make a video...

Dear Gwen Stefani,

It is good that No Doubt released a statement today, stating that you never intended to offend, hurt, or trivialize Native American people, culture, or history. I understand that you consulted with Native friends and experts at the University of California. Unfortunately, your consultants didn't give you good advice.

It is good that you removed the video and posted the apology, but given your status, you could do a lot more that has the potential to prevent millions from making the sort of error you made.

Ms. Stefani, please make another video... 

Make another video. Not a music one, but one in which you speak directly to your fans, telling them that Americans have a long way to go in understanding what stereotypes of American Indians are, and the ignorance and racism they perpetuate.

Make that video right away. It doesn't need slick production values. Make it right away so that teachers across the nation can use it this month! November is Native American Heritage Month. Teachers and librarians could use it to teach teens about American Indians and stereotyping.

Thank you,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature


For those who want background information, here's one photo that was used to promote the video. Regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature will easily spot the stereotypical aspects of the photo.

Source: Daily Mail

Regular readers will also spot multiple stereotypes in the article the photo came from:
"Yeehaw! Gwen Stefani dresses as a Native American, cavorts with a wolf, and ends up handcuffed in No Doubt's new Wild West themed music video."  In the article, Eleanor Gower reports that Stefani "dresses as a Native American Squaw." There are lot of photos there, with many other stereotypes. See, for example, Stefani doing smoke signals.

Here's a background article from November 2, 2012:
"Gwen Stefani and No Doubt Release Latest Music Video, Its Stereotypical Native Theme Garners Criticism" in Indian Country Today Media Network.

And here's a blog post from Scott Andrews, a Native lit professor:
"Gwen Stefani, Cher, and "Indians" 

And.... here's the apology from No Doubt:

In Regards to Our "Looking Hot" Music Video
Posted 11/3/2012 |As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures. Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialize Native American people, their culture or their history.   Although we consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California, we realize now that we have offended people.  This is of great concern to us and we are removing the video immediately.  The music that inspired us when we started the band, and the community of friends, family, and fans that surrounds us was built upon respect, unity and inclusiveness.  We sincerely apologize to the Native American community and anyone else offended by this video.  Being hurtful to anyone is simply not who we are.- No Doubt

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Presidential Proclamation: National Native American Heritage Month, 2012

The White House Press Secretary released President Obama's Presidential Proclamation, designating November as National Native American Heritage Month, 2012. Below is a screen capture of the webpage with the proclamation, followed by the text of the proclamation.

- - - - - - -
As the first people to live on the land we all cherish, American Indians and Alaska Natives have profoundly shaped our country's character and our cultural heritage. Today, Native Americans are leaders in every aspect of our society -- from the classroom, to the boardroom, to the battlefield. This month, we celebrate and honor the many ways American Indians and Alaska Natives have enriched our Nation, and we renew our commitment to respecting each tribe's identity while ensuring equal opportunity to pursue the American dream.
In paying tribute to Native American achievements, we must also acknowledge the parts of our shared history that have been marred by violence and tragic mistreatment. For centuries, Native Americans faced cruelty, injustice, and broken promises. As we work together to forge a brighter future, we cannot shy away from the difficult aspects of our past. That is why, in 2009, I signed a bipartisan resolution that finally recognized the sad and painful chapters in our shared history. My Administration remains dedicated to writing a new chapter in that history by strengthening our government-to-government relationship with tribal nations while enhancing tribal sovereignty and tribal self-determination.
Because we know that the best ideas for tribal nations come from within, my Administration has continued to engage tribal leaders in developing an agenda that respects their expertise on matters affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives. In collaboration with tribal nations, we are making critical investments to improve health and education services, create jobs, and strengthen tribal economies. In July, I was proud to sign the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act into law, which will enhance tribal control over the leasing of Indian lands. Last December, I signed an Executive Order to expand educational opportunities for Native American students. It aims to preserve Native languages, cultures, and histories while offering a competitive education that prepares young people to succeed in college and careers. And under the Tribal Law and Order Act and the Safe Indian Communities initiative, we are continuing to work with tribes to build safer communities. My Administration also supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Many longstanding Native American legal claims against the United States have been resolved, which will help accelerate the restoration of trust in our relationships with tribal nations. The settlements that came out of these claims -- including the historic Cobell and Keepseagle settlements, as well as more than 50 settlements in cases alleging Federal mismanagement of tribal trust funds and resources -- will put an end to decades of litigation and help drive economic development in tribal communities in the years to come.
In partnership with tribal nations, my Administration has addressed injustices and built new avenues of opportunity for American Indians and Alaska Natives. As we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, let us move forward in the spirit of mutual understanding and mutual trust, confident that our challenges can be met and that our shared future is bright.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2012 as National Native American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to celebrate November 23, 2012, as Native American Heritage Day.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.


Today (November 1st, the first day of American Indian Heritage Month), I'd like to introduce you to Patricia Riley's Growing Up Native American. The subtitle is Stories of oppression and survival, of heritage denied and reclaimed--22 American writers recall childhood in their native land. 

Published in 1993, it is an excellent volume for teachers who are using the writings of any of the 22 writers in the book. You'll find short stories, and excerpts from longer works, too, from Native writers I've written about on AICL and elsewhere. Eric Gansworth is one example. The anthology includes his short story, "The Ballad of Plastic Fred." I looked around the Internet. This is close to what Gansworth describes as Plastic Fred:

Just a few days ago, I received Gansworth's YA novel, If I Ever Get Out of Here. I'm working on a review of it and will post it soon. Some of the stories, like the excerpt by Francis La Flesche, are from autobiographies. His The Middle Five: Indian Schoolboys of the Omaha Tribe is set in the 1800s at the Presbyterian mission school in Nebraska. Simon Ortiz's story, "The Language We Knew," is about his childhood at Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico.

Here's the Table of Contents:

"The Language We Know" by Simon Ortiz
"The Warriors" by Anna Lee Walters

From Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria
From Life Among the Piutes by Sara Winnemucca Hopkins
"Ni-Bo-Wi-Se-Gwe" by Ignatia Broker
"Wasichus in the Hills" by Black Elk as told to John G. Neihardt
"At Last I Kill a Buffalo" by Luther Standing Bear

From The Middle Five: Indian Schoolboys of the Omaha Tribe, by Francis La Flesche
From Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions by Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes
From Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
"A Day in the Life of Spanish" by Basil Johnston

From Sundown by John Joseph Mathews
From Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan
From The Names: A Memoir by N. Scott Momaday
"Notes of a Translator's Son" by Joseph Bruchac
"Turbulent Childhood" by Lee Maracle
"The Talking That Trees Does" by Geary Hobson
"Water Witch" by Louis Owens
"Grace" by Vicki L. Sears
"Uncle Tony's Goat" by Leslie Marmon Silko
From Yellow Raft In Blue Water by Michael Dorris
"The Ballad of Plastic Fred" by Eric L. Gansworth

Teachers can select a story to use based on the age and reading level of their students. Some will work for middle school students. And... don't confine your use of Native literature to November! Teach it, and read it, all year long.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Eric Gansworth's IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE

In my mail on Saturday (October 27, 2012), was a galley for Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here, published by Scholastic.  The cover:

Reading the first few pages... Gansworth doesn't hold back. Gritty, very real, and honest. Protagonist is trying hard to fit in. A Native kid.. 7th grade...

Francisco X. Stork, on the back cover, writes:
"The beauty of this novel lies in the powerful friendship between two young men who are so externally different and so internally similar. Wonderful, inspiring, and real."

Title page with Eric's art...

I'm torn between reading it quickly---because I want to---and slowly, because there's so much here...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"This is Not Who I Am, And this is Not OK"

Last year, students in Ohio University's S*T*A*R*S (Students Teaching About Racism in Society) student group launched a campaign to push back on Halloween costumes of cultural groups. They created a series of posters, including this one, in which the people (in the photo) are wearing feathered headbands, in what they believe to be Indian costumes.

The campaign got some national media attention from CNN. Dressing up as an "Indian" is not ok. Though it is often well-intentioned, its outcome is generally one that puts ones ignorance on display. Will you say anything to students you see dressed like Indians this Halloween? I hope so.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Coming up: Native American Month 2012

We're about a week away from the month that the President of the United States designates as Native American Month. Below are suggestions on how you might get your library ready for parents, teachers and students who come into your library looking for materials on American Indians.

In this post, you'll find links to ALA's READ posters that feature Sherman Alexie, author of THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN. You'll also find links to the Indigenous Languages Development Institute, where you can buy a wall clock with numerals in a Native language, and READ posters in Indigenous languages, available from the Tulsa American Indian Resources Center:

Creating a Library Atmosphere that Welcomes American Indians:

In these posts, you'll find recommended books about American Indians, by age group:

Top Board Books
Top Ten Books for Elementary School
Top Ten Books for Middle School
Top Ten Books for High School

If you want some guidance on how to help students do research on American Indians, using encyclopedias and websites, see
Resources for Projects on American Indians

If you're looking for books and materials about boarding schools for American Indians, here's some:
Boarding Schools for American Indians

If you want guidelines on how to evaluate the content of a Native site, here's an excellent page about that:
Guidelines for Evaluating American Indian Web Sites

And, if you want to develop your understandings of the ways that American Indians are not "multicultural" or "people of color", see:
We Are Not "People of Color"

If you're looking for a Question/Answer book about American Indians, this one by the National Museum of the American Indian is outstanding:
Do All Indians Live In Tipis?

Did you know that "papoose" is not the American Indian word for baby?

Did you order Louise Erdrich's newest book in the Birchbark House series? If not, do it today! Chickadee is terrific!
Louise Erdrich's Chickadee

I'll close with this:

Too many people think that American Indians died off, due to warfare and disease. When the emphasis in library displays is American Indians of the past, you inadvertently contribute to that idea. Librarians are a powerful group of people. You can help Americans be less-ignorant about American Indians.  

Research studies show that American Indian students drop out at exceedingly high rates. Scholars attribute this, in part, to their experience with curricular materials in school. Materials set in the past, materials that stereotype American Indians, and materials that are factually incorrect or highly biased against American Indians, cause Native students to disengage from school. Libraries can interrupt that disengagement, or, they can contribute to it...

As human beings, we love to see reflections of ourselves and our hometowns. They can a source of pride or a boost to the self-esteem. But---that is only true if they are accurate. Native people want that, too, but American society has a long way to go to get there. 

Libraries can get us there, but we'll need your help year-round, not just in November. I hope the resources I shared in this post will be ones that you spread out, all year long.

See also Creating a Library Atmosphere that welcomes American Indians

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

DVD: Racing the Rez

In the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Pueblo Indians fought and drove the Spanish out of our homelands. The revolt was carefully planned by tribal leaders, and then it was set in motion by runners who carried instructions to all the Pueblo villages. Today, we mark the revolt with commemorations and runs, too, to remember our ancestors and their fight for our right to exist as Pueblo Indian people.

At a lot of schools in the southwest with Native students, cross country running is the sport-of-choice. Many runners talk of how important running was to our ancestors, and many talk of how running helps them in other ways, too.  

Libraries that want to increase their DVD collection in ways that reflect the diversity of the US, and especially libraries with Native students, will do well by adding Racing the Rez to their shelves. Here's the trailer:

Earlier today I watched the entire film, studying the faces of the students, thinking about their lives and how hard they work on running, and how hard they work to overcome personal struggles, too. In watching Racing the Rez, your emotions won't be manipulated by a narrative of heroic underdogs. Instead, you'll see real kids living their lives. Trying--and sometimes not trying--to do their best. 

The film focuses on the cross country teams at two schools: Tuba City High School, and, Chinle High School. Both are located in Arizona. You'll meet runners on the team who are Navajo or Hopi, but there's also a runner who is White and Puerto Rican. You'll meet their parents, too, and of course, their coaches. And you'll meet the stunning and stark beauty of the landscape of the Navajo reservation. 

Watching the film, I remember going to cross country track meets when I taught at Santa Fe Indian School... Looking out into that beautiful land, seeing runners drop in and out of sight as they ran up hillsides, down into arroyos, and behind pinon trees. 

Racing the Rez was the 2012 Action/Sport selection at the Flagstaff Film Festival. It is an official selection for Best Documentary at the 2012 American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, and if you're out there, you can see it on Tuesday, November 6.  It will be airing on public television stations, too. Contact your station for information.

The DVD is available for purchase from Native American Public Telecommunications. They've got a lot of extraordinary films. Take a few minutes and look through their catalog

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

About Russell Means...

Early yesterday (October 22, 2012), I learned that Russell Means had passed away.

As I thought about Russell Means, I remembered when I first learned about him. I was an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico. It was the late 1970s, and I found a book in the library about the Trail of Broken Treaties. My memory is that the book was, in large part, comprised of newspaper stories about the Trail of Broken Treaties. With that info, I did a quick search and think I found it. I think it was Trail of Broken Treaties: B.I.A., I'm Not Your Indian Anymore.  I've ordered a copy and will write about it when I receive it.

Today, I've spent several hours poking around databases searching for children or young adult biographies about Russell Means, or, books about the American Indian Movement that might have information about him. 

I didn't find any biographies of Means. There is, of course, his autobiography, Where White Men Fear To Tread, but I didn't find any biographies for children or young adults. He is one of six Native people in Ruth Hull Chatlien's Modern American Indian Leaders, published in 2009 by Mason Crest, but I can't find a copy in the local libraries. 

I did find that Chelsea House published Red Power: The Native American Civil Rights Movement in 2007. The man in the foreground is Russell Means. 

Having found a copy at the local library, I read it quickly, and think it has much to offer to readers in middle school and on up. Troy Johnson has done several books on American Indian activism. My quibble is with the title.  I think our activism is more about treaty rights than civil rights. 

There are several pages in it about Means, but I do think we need a full-length biography of him.

Native Media on Russell Means
Russell Means: A Look at His Journey Through Life, at Indian Country Today (Oct 22, 2012)
American Indians to Honor Russell Means' Life Tomorrow, at Native News Network (Oct 22, 2012)
Indian Country Reacts to Russell Means Passing, at Indian Country Today (Oct 24, 2012)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kateri Tekakwitha a "squaw"?! Her father "pagan"? Nun in toy headdress?!

I spent some of the last 24 hours following news coverage of the canonizaton of Kateri Tekakwitha.

As I noted yesterday, for Native people that are Catholic, Tekakwitha's canonization is a complex and important moment. Thousands of Native people were in Rome for her canonization. Among the thousands is Wab Kinew, Director of Indigenous Inclusion at the University of Winnipeg. His article, titled 'It's the same great spirit', published in the Winnipeg Free Press captures the complexity of Tekakwitha's canonization.

Kinew wrote:

During his remarks, the Pope noted that although Saint Kateri "worked, faithful to the traditions of her people," she "renounc[ed] their religious convictions." 


Talking to many of the indigenous people at the canonization ceremony, many of them residential school survivors, I don't think this is what they have in mind. They speak of embracing Catholicism, but also of practising their traditional spirituality. It is precisely this pluralistic approach that made the inclusion of smudging and indigenous language so important to them. It is that same reason that motivated so many of them to wear their traditional clothing to Vatican City. 

As Chief Littlechild says: "We can have both spiritual beliefs, although it's the same great spirit and the same Creator."

This morning, Kinew posted this Instagram on Twitter:

His photo of the Italian newspaper and the ones I'm sharing below point to another dimension of the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha: stereotypes.

The photo of this nun, in a toy headdress that she apparently (hopefully) didn't recognize as a stereotypical toy, was on major newspapers and online news sources. This one is from NBC Australia:


That photo was also used at "Global Post: America's World News site." A photo of her and another nun is also being used. I saw it early yesterday on the website of The Daily Gazette, a Syracuse newspaper, but as the day went on, it appeared in a lot of stories. Here it is at the New York Times:

The photo was used in by the The Chronicle Herald in Canada, The Star Phoenix in Arizona,

Huffington Post/Italy carried the photo, too, and has "Squaw Santa" as one of its tags (categories) for the article (small print at bottom)

The Daily Mail in the UK ran this photo, with a Getty Images watermark on the lower left corner:

See the man to the left of the nun, also holding an image of Tekakwitha? He seems to be looking at the nun. Maybe he is wondering why the photographer wants to take a photo of a nun in a toy headdress rather than an actual Indigenous person.

This photo, also at the Daily Mail, blows me away. Is that guy dressed like a conquistador?! Update, 9:15 AM, October 22, 2012: He is a member of the Vatican's Swiss Guard. They dress like that everyday. Thanks to TVA for providing that information. For more info, see the Vatican's The Roman Curia: Swiss Guard

Check out "pagan" in the caption for this photo, also from the Daily Mail story:

If I learn of any comments from the media, in which they critique their use of the nun-in-toy-headdress photo, or a critique of their use of "pagan" or "squaw", or, explanations of what photos they chose and why, I'll provide an update. If you read anything related to that, please let me know so I can share that information here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stereotypes and the Canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha

Catholics and a great many Native people know that Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized a few hours ago in Rome. She is now a saint. Some news stories acknowledge the complex history and emotions around the idea of Native people embracing a faith that saw their own as pagan and therefore its practitioners as less-than-human. For those who are able to set aside the human impulse to see others as less-than and instead focus on a creator, the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha is an important moment.

I know a great many people---many whom I care about---that are in Rome for the canonization. As I search the news media for stories about it, I'm disappointed in the ways in which stereotypes of American Indians are part of this moment. There's this photo:

Compare it to this photo, from the same news gallery.

The difference is notable, and it makes me wonder who the nun is, where she got that headdress, and why she wanted to wear it. (The source for both photos is The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, NY:

NBC's coverage includes this line:

And yet, at the age of 20, Kateri swapped the Totem for the Crucifix.
I wonder what that reporter means by "Totem"? Sadly, Tekakwitha's canonization is being used as another opportunity to dress up like Indians:

The date of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization is going to be October 21, 2012! (Yay!) The cool thing about soon-to-be-Saint Kateri is that she was Native American. This opens up all kinds of crafting possibilities! ;-) Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha’s feast day is July 14. We made some fun, Native American dress up crafts to celebrate St. Kateri’s canonization with my kids!

Here's the photo directly beneath that paragraph:

There's no excuse for the NBC reporter's comment. I do not know what to think about the nun in the headdress. The Catholics-playing-Indian activities are well-intentioned, but ignorant and ought to be set aside. As a society, we need not do these sorts of activities. We see it a lot in the context of "Indian" mascots for sports teams. There's a lot more awareness of stereotyping in that context, and a lot of schools have abandoned those stereotypical mascots. That same awareness--apparently--needs to be developed amongst Catholics who dress their kids up in stereotypical attire to be "Saint Kateri."

Update, Sunday Oct 21, 2012
Native news media coverage of the canonization:
Turtle Island Indigenous Flock to Vatican to Witness CanonizationIndian Country Today 
Chicago Delegation Joins Thousands of American Indians for Canonization, Native News Network 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Creating a Library Atmosphere that Welcomes American Indians

Eds. Note: Updated on October 6, 2015.

Recently on LM-NET, a librarian asked what she can do to make her library's atmosphere culturally sensitive towards Native children. One way to think about doing this is to work to "indigenize your library."

The librarian poses an excellent question, especially right now, with November a few weeks away. November is usually designated as American Indian Month. I don't like the heritage months because I'd rather that children in all libraries and all grade levels and all classrooms be reading about American Indians all year long. Limiting it to, or emphasizing it only, in November--the month of Thanksgiving--automatically frames us in a past tense.

So! How to make the library more culturally sensitive towards Native children...  What makes anyone---generally speaking---feel comfortable in a place? Most people, I think, love reading books set in places they know. When their hometown is the setting of a book, it gives them a charge and a sense of pride, but only if the setting and characters accurately reflect their town. I don't mean positive reflections, I mean accurate ones. Every town has good and not-so-good qualities. When an author gets something wrong, people roll their eyes, and they don't feel like that author cares enough to get it right.

Let's think about a Native child coming in to your library.

How likely is it that the child (and her parents, if they read together) are going to find books that accurately reflect her specific tribal nation, or (more broadly speaking), American Indians?

Will that child be able to find Native authors on your shelves? If you're a regular reader of American Indians in Children's Literature, you know that I've got lists of recommended books.

Do you, at any time in the year, prominently feature books by Native authors? When you do a display about music, you could include the picture book biography of Robbie Robertson, and Eric Gansworth's MG/YA novel, in which the main character loves the Beatles and wants to go to a Paul McCartney concert in Toronto:

Do you have any posters that depict Native authors? Here's one from the ALA site (no longer available):

Here's another one, featuring Tim Tingle's Crossing Bok Chitto. Get it, and the bookmarks, too, from the ALA site (poster no longer available).

And here's another one that is sure to appeal to readers who like graphic novels and super heroes. The character shown is Super Indian, from the creative mind of Arigon Starr:

Some years ago, I visited a high school English class with primarily African American students. They were enthusiastic about books that accurately portrayed their history, but they were also experiencing a bit of fatigue and wanted some light-hearted books by African American writers. In the US, there's such a tendency to romanticize and lament the history of American Indians, but the fact that we're still here, that we persevered--and persevere--is important. We have many stories to tell, and not all of them are specifically about our Native experiences. Consider setting up a display that shows the range of writing done by Native authors.

For example, Cynthia Leitich Smith has a lot of terrific books. Some, like Jingle Dancer and Indian Shoes and Rain is Not My Indian Name feature Native protagonists, but introduce readers to her other books too.  Santa Knows , her picture book--written with her husband--Greg, is terrific!

And teens looking for gothic fantasy will love her Tantalize series: Here's a montage of them from her site:

Here's another suggestion: Do some research on your locale. Are you near a reservation? If not, what nations were in your locale prior to removal? Find out, and then see if you can find a wall clock with a Native language spoken there. The Indigenous Languages Institute in Santa Fe already has clocks available in several different languages. Here's one with Tewa (my language):

Along these lines, consider the READ posters created at the American Indian Resource Center at the Tulsa City Council Library. You can get a simple READ poster, with the word READ in several different languages:

Or, you can get one that features a person from a specific tribe and the word READ in their specific language: Here's the ones featuring Mvskoke and Ponca:

Aren't they gorgeous? You can download pdfs of them, and if you want ones with a higher resolution, you can write to Teresa Runnels to get them (that's what I would do).

Those are some suggestions on what you can do to make the library more visibly welcoming to Native patrons. The suggestions affirm the lives of Native peoples, but they also impart a lot of information to non-Native patrons who tend to romanticize Native peoples and who don't realize that a lot of what they "know" is inaccurate.

I'd love to hear your suggestions. What have you done? What have you seen elsewhere?

See Coming Up: Native American Month for more suggestions.

Your suggestions:

Vicky in Maine recommends subscribing to Native newspapers. While serving as director in her library, she subscribed to Native American Times and had it amongst all the other newspapers her library subscribed to. That is an excellent idea, Vicky. I don't know if Native American Times offers a print copy any more. Here's a link to their site: Native American Times. You can definitely get a print subscription to Indian Country Today from the Indian Country Today Media Network (subscribe to paper copy using box on right side of page). There are a lot of tribal newspapers. If you're located near one of them, or if there is a significant population of that tribe in your area, consider subscribing to their newspaper. One example is the Navajo Hopi Observer

Update, October 6, 2015

See this article and links in it: Indigenizing Library Services in Canada's Prairie and Pacific University Libraries. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Anita Silvey: DANNY AND THE DINOSAUR "works brilliantly as a way to chase the blues away from all children."

Today (October 18, 2012) at her popular Children's Book-A-Day Almanac, Anita Silvey is featuring Syd Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur. She writes that "This book works brilliantly as a way to chase the blues away for all children."

Maybe not for all children, Anita! For readers who are aware of stereotyping of American Indians and Alaska Natives, this page might actually bring on the blues!

Silvey writes that Danny and the Dinosaur  "has been enticing children ages two through eight into reading for more than forty years." Given its publication history, I think she's probably right about it enticing readers, but it is also introducing or affirming stereotypes.


Silvey is a powerful figure in children's literature. If she would say something critical about a book like Danny and the Dinosaur, how might her critique impact books being written today?

If she was more critical, I think a book like Bailey at the Museum would be different than it is (currently working on a post about Bailey and will link to it here as soon as it is ready).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ben Esposito's "Kachina"

Note on March 18: Please see an update to this: "I decided to prove her wrong".

IndieCade, or, the International Festival of Independent Games was held last week, October 4-7, 2012.

Ben Esposito's "Kachina" (which I gather is still in development) was designated as a 2012 Official Selection. Here's a screenshot from the website:

Here's what the description says. See, in particular, the text I put in bold:
Kachina is a physics-based toy that evokes Katamari Damacy's sense of order & scale mixed with Windowill's childlike wonder. Drawing as readily from Hopi folklore as it does Bruce Springsteen, Kachina invites you to play with the creatures and artifacts of North American mythology.
And, here's a video from IndieCade, showing the game being played:

I taught elementary school for several years and know the value of games that help children understand physics, but...

Esposito and the IndieCade people who selected it as an Official Selection must not know that teepees and totem poles have nothing to do with the Hopi people. They obviously have no idea what kachinas mean to the Hopi people, and they also likely have no idea that calling the religious traditions of an Indigenous people "folklore" is derogatory.

It may not matter to Esposito, but I think teachers who want games like this for their students and who have knowledge of American Indians would reject it. I'm going to tweet this post to Esposito. Maybe he can change it before it is finished.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Read Bruchac's SKELETON MAN for "All Hallows Read"

On Sunday, October 7, 2012, the Eat Sleep Read group on Facebook posted this image:

Isn't the image cool? I like it a lot and am sharing it here, along with a book recommendation...

I recommend you give, and read, Joe Bruchac's Skeleton Man. It is one of my favorites. I still remember reading it aloud with my daughter. We were so engrossed in it that we were startled when my husband came home from work that day!

I have a couple of other recommendations...

Avoid wearing "Indian costumes" to events. They are usually stereotypical.

And all those stories with Indian ghosts? Avoid them, too! I see those ghosts in a lot of stories, and it irks me (sometimes, 'irks' is an understatement).

People sure seem to like Indian ghosts that haunt places! I know, for example, that a lot of people liked Gensler's The Revenant but I didn't. Her ghosts put me off. So did the ghosts in the melon patch in Peck's Season of Gifts

Monday, October 08, 2012

Anyone in TUSD teaching from RETHINKING COLUMBUS?

Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson's edited volume, Rethinking Columbus, was being used in the Tucson Unified School District a year ago, but was subsequently removed from the classrooms when the district shut down its Mexican American Studies classes.

Rethinking Columbus is an outstanding book, offering readers the opportunity to develop and apply critical thinking skills to events--like Columbus Day--that carry bias in favor of one viewpoint, at the expense of the viewpoint and perspective of others.

When Rethinking Columbus was removed from the classrooms in Tucson, essays and poems by Native writers were also removed. Their essays and poems are in Rethinking Columbus. Among them are:

  • Suzan Shown Harjo, who wrote "We Have No Reason to Celebrate"
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie, who wrote "My Country, 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying"
  • Joseph Bruchac, who wrote "A Friend of the Indians"
  • Cornel Pewewardy, who wrote "A Barbie-Doll Pocahontas"
  • N. Scott Momaday, who wrote "The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee"
  • Michael Dorris, who wrote "Why I'm Not Thankful for Thanksgiving"
  • Leslie Marmon, who wrote "Ceremony"
  • Wendy Rose, who wrote "Three Thousand Dollar Death Song"
  • Winona LaDuke, who wrote "To the Women of the World: Our Future, Our Responsibility"

In addition to Rethinking Columbus and the Alexie and Zepeda books, over 50 other books were removed.

When you remove a class, you remove its 
syllabus and everything on it. 

As TUSD administrators moved forward in shutting down the Mexican American Studies courses, they prevented students from reading Sherman Alexie's Ten Little Indians and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and Ofelia Zepeda's Ocean Power. 

The teachers who taught in the program were reassigned and no longer called Mexican American Studies teachers. As they created new syllabi, they were also told they could not teach from a Mexican American Studies perspective.

But, I wonder...  Are teachers who were not previously teaching in the Mexican American Studies classes teaching Rethinking Columbus this year? Or Alexie? Or Zepeda?

    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?