Thursday, May 31, 2012

About Elizabeth Warren's Family Story about being Cherokee

Several weeks ago, the news media began to cover a story about Elizabeth Warren's claim of being Cherokee. I've followed developments in that story, and wish that Warren had chosen a different strategy in response to challenges to her claim.

I'm writing about this because Warren is not alone in that claim.

I think it is accurate to say that thousands of U.S. citizens believe they are part Native American. According to the polls of voters, the majority of voters in Massachusetts say that the controversy over her claim is a non-issue for them. I have some thoughts on that, but lets start with the beginning.


For those who don't follow national politics, Elizabeth Warren is running against Scott Brown for a seat in the United States Senate. Brown found out she claimed to be Cherokee and didn't believe her. He challenged her claim and since then, there have been lots of media stories on her claim.

Last night (May 30, 2011), she issued this statement:
Growing up, my mother and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles often talked about our family’s Native American heritage. As a kid, I never thought to ask them for documentation - what kid would? - but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a part of who I am and part of my family heritage.

The people involved in recruiting and hiring me for my teaching jobs, including Charles Fried - solicitor-general under Ronald Reagan who has publicly said he voted for Scott Brown in 2010 - have said unequivocally they were not aware of my heritage and that it played no role in my hiring. Public documents that reporters have examined also show I did not benefit from my heritage when applying to college or law school. As I have confirmed before, I let people know about my Native American heritage in a national directory of law school personnel. At some point after I was hired by them, I also provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I’m proud of it and I have been open about it.

The people of Massachusetts are concerned about their jobs, the future for their kids, and the security of retirement. It’s past time we moved on to the important issues facing middle class families in Massachusetts.
Obviously, she is not backing away from her claim to Native identity, but she is changing it a bit... She is not saying Cherokee anymore. That may be because Twila Barnes, a Cherokee genealogist, has been doing an extensive study and finding nothing that could support Warren's claim to Cherokee status. And, the group "Cherokees Demand Truth from Elizabeth Warren" was launched yesterday.

Why this matters to me

I am not one of the people of Massachusetts, but I am a citizen of the United States, and, I'm enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, a federally recognized sovereign nation. If elected, Warren will vote on legislation that will have bearing on me and Nambe Pueblo. To do that and do it well (from an informed position), she's got to let go of this story!

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.

But, I doubt Warren will ever step away from her family story, because she's running for a political office. In campaigns, people don't generally say "I was wrong" because those admissions will be called "flip flops" and work against the candidate. She won't do it, and, in the end, we all lose an opportunity. That's too bad.


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

Finding, Assessing, and Celebrating Authentic Indigenous Literature

Are you going to the 2012 conference of the Pacific Northwest Library Association? If so, head over a day early for a free workshop (costs will be covered by the Alaska State Library)!

Debby Dahl Edwardson, author of the outstanding My Name Is Not Easy, and I will do a four hour pre-conference session on "Finding, Assessing, and Celebrating Authentic Indigenous Literature."

See the sticker on the cover of Debby's book? "National Book Award Finalist." Saying it again, Debby's book is outstanding.

Each time I look at that cover, I think of all my uncles. When I look through the yearbooks from Santa Fe Indian School (the ones my parents saved), I see my uncles with that haircut... I suppose it was "the thing" back then (the 1950s), but nonetheless, that cover gives me pause every time I look at it. I'm excited to work with Debby on this session.

Date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Place: Sheraton Anchorage Hotel and Spa

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Peter D. Sieruta

On March 25, 2011 on his "Collecting Children's Books" blog, Peter D. Sieruta wrote about Laura Adams Armer's Waterless Mountain, a story about a Navajo boy. He shared his thoughts about the book (it won the Newbery Medal in 1932) and then said:
I'd be curious to know what Dr. Debbie Reese, who writes the American Indians in Children's Literature blog thinks of the book.
I submitted a comment to Peter (you can see it and our conversation below), and we began talking on our blogs, on Facebook, and most recently, by email. We never met in person, but the few exchanges we had meant a lot to me. On Facebook, we went beyond the professional and scholarly conversations about books.

I felt bad when I read his Facebook post on May 21 (a Monday). He fell down the stairs on the 18th and broke his ankle. I posted on his wall about some research I've done on Scott O'Dell, hoping it might distract him from the dismal recovery he was having. In the weeks prior to that, Peter sent me a few articles about O'Dell. I was looking forward to conversations with him.

But on Saturday morning (May 26th) when I opened Facebook, I read that Peter had died.

I was stunned, and my thoughts have turned to him a lot since then. I've read several tributes to him and his work and I visit his Facebook page, where his brother is sharing memories of Peter. My tribute is this post, wherein I've gathered the exchanges I had with Peter. They are arranged chronologically.

March 25, 2011: Sunday Brunch with Fire and Water

Here's screenshots of our comments to each other (sorry they don't align properly):

April 1, 2012: Facebook
I loaded a photo of my husband's freshly-baked bread onto Facebook:

May 8th, 2012: Facebook
I couldn't access an article about Scott O'Dell and posted a 'help' to child_lit. A few minutes later, I was on Facebook and saw Peter's post to my wall:


May 13th, 2011: Sunday Brunch for Mothers and Maurice
In his last blog post on May 13th, Peter pointed his readers to my site, saying:
Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature is an important blog that "provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society." Do I always agree with Debbie? No, but I definitely respect her thought-provoking opinions. I've learned a lot from her blog and am pleased we are friends on Facebook. (And if anyone reading this wants to keep in touch with me on Facebook, feel free to "friend" me.)

This week Debbie posted the following paper doll figures on Facebook, with the message: "These two paper dolls are excellent! Please SHARE with students in Education or Library School."

I love them too and want to share them here:

These are the paper dolls he posted:

In his post, he quoted Steven Paul Judd, the Native artist who made the paper dolls. From there, he went on to talk about paper dolls based on characters in children's literature.

May 16th, 2012: Facebook

I posted a link to a Prezi I did about Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins. Peter viewed the Prezi and asked me a question:

Two days later, Peter fell. As many others have written, his death is a tragic loss to children's literature. Though we never met in person, I feel that I've lost a friend with whom I would have had lots of interesting conversations with about books like Island of the Blue Dolphins. 

I'm glad to have known Peter and like Elizabeth Bird so many others, I will miss him.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Children's Book Council's "CBC Diversity" hosting "It's Complicated"

The roots of Children's Book Week and the Children's Book Council goes back to 1919, when Children's Book Week "was introduced to focus attention on the need for quality children's books and the importance of childhood literacy."

The Council is a national nonprofit trade association for children's trade book publishers. In my quick count of its members, there's over fifty different book publishers in the Council.

This week, CBC Diversity will take up a discussion about diversity. They've titled it "It's Complicated" and invited me to submit a post for it. I did, and I look forward to reading the discussion it generates.

There will also be a post by Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of several terrific books, including one of my all-time favorites, Jingle Dancer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


As regular readers of AICL know, I'm working on a Master's in Library Science at San Jose State University. This semester, I learned how to use Prezi. It is all-the-rage in presentation-land, but my final assessment is that I doubt that I'll use it for presentations. While it may be more engaging, it also fails to meet accessibility standards for special needs populations. In order to make mine as accessible as possible, I didn't use all the toys in Prezi. My presentation is as straightforward as I could make it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


At his blog, Matt Sakiestewa Gilbert offered a sneak peak at the cover of his new book The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue, due out in the fall of 2012.

The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue is not a children's book, but books like it are a must-read for people who work in children's literature. Given the growing body of children's and young adult books about boarding schools for American Indian children, critics of children's literature must know what the schools were like in order to accurately review books set in boarding schools.

In those schools, the goal was to "Christianize and civilize" American Indians, or, to use another phrase used to describe the schools, "to kill the Indian and save the man." The cover of The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue brilliantly demonstrates the import of the curriculum:

The children in the photo are shown reading Peter's Family, a basal reader published by Scott, Foresman in the 1930s. Here's some inside pages from a teachers guide (source for the pages is Etsy bookseller PalabrasdeMaria). I wonder if Scott, Foresman thought Native children would be amongst the audience for their books?

On this page, the text on the right has the word "Help." We can interpret this page in at least two ways. Combined with the illustrations on the left, it suggests that this page is about how children ought to help out at home. That would mean it is didactic or instructional, a "how to be a good kid" sort of thing. Or, we could use today's metaphor of literature as a mirror and could read the page as a reflection of (White) children and what they do. (These early readers did not include children who weren't White.) Although the children shown in the book don't look like the child on the cover of The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue, I bet that child knew all about helping out at home.

Part of the goal to "civilize" American Indians meant that they ought to move to cities where they could be Americanized and ride trains and buses or drive their own cars to their places of work. That idea became a federal policy in the 1950s with the Relocation programs by which Native families were moved to urban areas. This page of Peter's Family shows that work meant being a dentist, working at a gas station, as a lumberjack, or as a pilot. 

The public perception might have been that American Indians didn't do anything at all, or, that they were hunters with nothing left to hunt. The fact is, Native men were statesmen and diplomats who signed treaties with their European and U.S. counterparts. They were doctors, too. A good case in point is Carlos Montezuma, a Yavapai man who became a doctor and invented the mentholatum we know today as "Vicks". And, American Indians were pilots in WWII.

I look forward to Matt's book. Maybe the cover is a clue that one chapter will be about basal readers or the curriculum. The full title is The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue: Voices and Images from Sherman Institute. Sherman is in California and the school itself is still in operation. One of Matt's coauthors is Lorene Sisquoc. She's the curator of the school's museum. You might want to spend some time at the museum' website: Sherman Indian Museum.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Jim Blasingame: "Ethnic Studies Ban Hits Tucson Hard: YA and Canon Alike Take a Hit"

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

With permission of Jim Blasingame, I'm republishing his article from the Assembly on Literature for Adolescent's April 2012 online newsletter.  Jim and Simon Ortiz have done some excellent work together with high school students in Arizona. 
I wrote about their work two years ago in "I come to school for this class. I deal with the other ones." Here's Jim's article from the ALAN newsletter:
Things in Tucson continue to go south (pun intended). Just when it seems nothing worse could happen, someone gets fired or the truth is once again held hostage, or some representative of the Arizona Department of Education or the Tucson Unified School Board makes an even more outrageous and racist claim. The recent announcement that the contract of Sean Arce, Director of the now defunct Mexican American Studies program for the Tucson Unified School District, was not renewed comes on the heels of another announcement: Arce was named winner of the 2012 Myles Horton Education Award for Teaching People's History.

The Horton award is given by the Zinn Education Project, an organization that believes "through taking a more engaging and more honest look at the past, we can help equip students with the analytical tools to make sense of - and improve - the world today" (Zinn). The award is named for Myles Horton, who founded the Highlander Folk School in 1932. According to the Civil Rights Digital Library: Between 1932 and 1962, the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, provided a valuable training ground for two generations of southern labor organizers and Civil Rights activists. During the 1930s and 1940s, the school was instrumental in unionizing textile, timber, and mine workers throughout the region, often working in concert with national organizations such as the Congress of Industrial Organizations. In the 1950s, Highlander became a seedbed of Civil Rights activism, holding regular educational workshops to promote nonviolent protest and encourage black voter registration.

Myles Horton's students at Highlander included Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, and Rosa Parks, all of whom would become emblematic of the Civil Rights Movement. "We Shall Overcome," often recognized as the anthem of the Movement, was adapted from a gospel song by Horton's wife, Zilphia.

After southern newspaper ran frequent attacks on the school for allegedly generating racial unrest and promoting communism, the state of Tennessee revoked the Highlander Folk School's charter in 1961. Which are almost exactly the charges against the Mexican American Studies Program filed by the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) against the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD).

For those who have not been following this series of events, a quick recap in chronological order may be helpful.

1998: TUSD initiated the La Raza Studies Department in an effort to improve the retention and graduation rates among Latino students. The program yielded some pretty impressive results. More than 97% of students in the program graduated from high school, compared to 44% nationally, and 70% entered college compared to 24% nationally. Students scored higher on the AIMS test compared to other Hispanic students who did not take the classes.

2006: Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farm Workers, speaks to students at Tucson Magnet High School that "Republicans hate Latinos" (Sagara), after which ADE Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne sends Assistant Superintendent and fellow Republican Margaret Garcia Dugan to Tucson to give a speech on recognizing stereotyping of the nature allegedly committed by Huerta. Dugan's own ethnic loyalty was challenged by students attending her presentation. (Page) Horne attacks the Mexican American Studies program in the media, asking for TUSD to examine and eliminate it. A new school board votes 4-1 to retain the program despite Horne's diatribes.

2008, 2009: Superintendent Horne enlists AZ Representative Steve Montenegro to draft legislation to ban "Ethnic Studies," which Montenegro introduces in the House Education committee, failing to cite any statistics on the educational impact of the bill but, rather, descrying it as "anti-American, racist . . . [and] otherwise unfit for teaching in public schools" (Lundholm, 1047). AS Senator Russell Pearce, author of Arizona's SB 1070 sponsors a bill to ban any sort of campus activities or classes that promote ethnic solidarity in Arizona's public schools. This legislation fails to get traction two years in a row in the Arizona Legislature.

2010 (May ): Three weeks after the enactment of Arizona's SB 1070, legislation requiring people stopped by police on suspicion of having committed a crime to present documents proving their citizenship, the bill banning Ethnic Studies HB 2281 also passes. As reported in the Los Angeles Times on May 12, 2010: A bill that aims to ban ethnic studies in Arizona schools was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jan Brewer, cheering critics who called such classes divisive and alarming others who said it's yet another law targeting Latinos in the state. (Santa Cruz)

According to the bill: Section 15-112. "Prohibited courses and classes; enforcement" states

A. A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in
its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:
1) Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2) Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
3) Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4) Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as
(HB 2281)

2010 (October 18): Anticipating the law's passage, [Curtis Acosta] and 10 other Tucson high school teachers filed a lawsuit Oct. 18, 2010, against the superintendent of public instruction (Horne has since moved up to attorney general of Arizona) and the Board of Education, maintaining House Bill 2281 violates the First and 14th Amendments (Fleming).

2010 (December 30): The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board, in agreement with TUSD Superintendent of Schools, John Pedicone, unanimously passes the "Resolution to Implement Ethnic Studies in Tucson Unified School District in Accordance with All Applicable Laws."

2010 (December 30): Just days before leaving office, Tom Horne declares the TUSD Mexican Studies program to be in violation of the law. He does not observe any of the classes but, rather, bases his judgment on his own perusal of the textbooks and his conversation with five former teachers of the class (Lundholm, 1043). Horne says the only way TUSD can be in compliance with state statute is to completely discontinue the program (1043).

2011: Newly elected ADE Superintendent, John Hupenthal, hires an educational consulting firm to complete a study of the program at the cost of $110,000. Consultants evaluate the textbooks, observe classes, conduct interviews and focus groups with people connected with the program and conclude that it in no way violates the state law. Hupenthal vacates the firm's findings and issues his own findings in June that conclude the program violates three of the four tests in 15-112 based on his "independent research" (1044). It is interesting to note that Hupenthal was a member of the Arizona Senate who had added amendments to the bill while in office.

2011 (December 27): Administrative Law Judge Lewis Kowal rules that Mexican American Studies as taught in TUSD violates H.B. 2281 (now A.R.S. 15-111 and 112), as written, validating ADE's power to withhold 10 percent of Tucson Unified School District's funding.

2012 (January 10): The TUSD votes 4-1 to discontinue the Mexican American Studies program.

2012 (January 17): The following books are boxed and relocated to the TUSD storage facility: Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado; 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez; Message to AZTLAN, by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales; Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement, by Arturo Rosales; Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuña; Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire; and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelow. District spokesperson Cara Rene says the books are not banned from school libraries but will not be used in classes (Gersema). For a complete list of additional books from courses in the now defunct Mexican American Studies Program, see Debbie Reese's excellent blog, American Indians in Children's Literature. According to Tucson officials, these books remain available in school libraries.

2012 (April): School Board member Michael Hicks and TUSD teacher Curtis Acosta are interviewed on The Daily Show.

2012 (April): Constitutionality of the law, as challenged by 10 TUSD teachers will be examined at the federal level by Judge Wallace Tashima of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The elimination of the courses which used these books amounts to 10 giant steps backwards to all the teachers, librarians, parents, authors, and scholars who have tried to provide quality, engaging literature that represents as many ways to be a human being as we know of after so many years of the elitist (and boring) DOWM curriculum, as Ted Hipple referred to it (dead, old, white men).

Among these books are many we have been promoting heavily for their power to help young people make sense of the world and understand the valuable part they have to play in it. The loss of these classes means the quieting of the voices of Sherman Alexie, James Baldwin, Jane Yolen, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Sandra Cisneros, Isabella Allende, Matt de la Peña, bell hooks, Malcom X, Francisco Jimenez, Luis Rodriguez, Rudolfo Anaya, Martin Luther King, and even our own local treasures, Ofelia Zepeda and Stella Pope Duarte. Lori Carlson's collections of Latino/a and Native American pieces are boxed and stored, too. The voice of Cesar Chavez, for whom the center square in
downtown Phoenix is named, has been removed, as well as the voice of our own United
States President, Barack Obama.

Which brings us to now, April 16, 2012, a few days after the TUSD school board voted 3-2 not to renew the contract of Mexican American Studies Director Sean Arce in a heavily protested school board meeting. This is also a few days after Arce won the Horton Award for his efforts to teach the truth about history and politics in the Southwest. Perhaps no one said it better than Myle's Horton himself when the state of Tennessee attempted to bring an end to the efforts of the Highlander Folk School: "A school is an idea, and you can't padlock an idea" (Zinn).

And you can't keep books in boxes forever.

James Blasingame
Past president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of
Past co-editor of The ALAN Review.
Resident of Chandler, Arizona

Works Cited

Fleming, Susan Domagalski. "A Teacher Put to the Test." Willamette University The Scene. Winter 2012. Web. 16 4 2012.
Gersema, Emily. "Tucson District Denies Ban of Mexican-American Books." Arizona Republic. 17 1 2012. Web. 16 4 2012. district-denies-ban-mexican-american-books.html

"Highlander Folk School 25th Anniversary." Civil Rights Digital Library. 11 7 2012. Web. 16 4 2012.

Huicochea, Alexis. "TUSD Board Shuts Down Mexican American Studies." Arizona Daily Star. 11 1 2012. Web. 16 4 2012.

Lundholm, Nicholas B. "Cutting Class: Why Arizona's Ethnic Studies Ban Won't Ban Ethnic Studies." Arizona Law Review 53.1041: 1041-1088.

Menkart, Deborah. April 2, 2012. "Zinn Education Project Honors Sean Arce." Teaching a People's History: Zinn Education Project. 2 4 2012. Retrieved 16 4 2012 from

Page, Clarence. "Ethnic Studies Can Unite Us." Chicago Tribune. 16 5 2010. Web. 16 4 2012. column,0,6783724.column

Reese, Debbie. "Mexican American Studies Reading List." American Indians in Children's Literature. 15 1 2012. Web. 16 4 2012.

Sagara, Eric. "'Hate-Speak' at School Draws Scrutiny." Tucson Citizen. 13 4 2006. Web. 16 4 2012.

Santa Cruz, Nicole. "Arizona Bill Targeting Ethnic Studies Signed into Law." Los Angeles Times. 12 5 2010. Web. 16 4 2012.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Is "Queen Chief Warhorse" Native? And who gets to decide?

Yesterday (May 2nd, 2012), Latoya Paterson of Racialicious published my post about "Queen Chief Warhorse" at her site. In it I questioned the use of "Queen." Latoya also posted an essay by Gyasi Ross, and one of her own. The three generated many comments. Some people question the import of federal recognition. Some people see the discussion as racist. This is my response to that conversation.

In Part One (below), I return to the remarks made by "Queen Chief Warhorse" that night in New Orleans. Here's the video, and beneath it are her remarks, followed by my thoughts (then and now) about what she said. In Part Two, I address some of the Latoya's questions.


"All glory go to the Creator. It's an honor to be here today, but I love the theme: America Healing. But first, let's think about something. Where did America come from? Have it always been America? Or was it just created to be America? Who are the real Americans? America keep changing and changing and changing."

Debbie's response: 
With her "let's think about something," she asked the audience to hit the pause button and be critical thinkers. That's a good thing for any speaker to do.

I invite you (and her) to think critically about her question "Who are the real Americans?" It is factually incorrect for her to call the Indigenous peoples of this land Americans. When Europeans arrived here, they entered into diplomatic negotiations with leaders of Indigenous nations. The outcome of those negotiations were treaties, just like the treaties the US makes today with nations around the world. They didn't make treaties with "First Americans." They made treaties with hundreds of Indigenous nations. None of them were called "America" and their citizens didn't call themselves "Americans." (If you're interested in treaties, you can read some of them online, but I urge you to get the two-volume set, Documents of American Indian Diplomacy, edited by Vine Deloria, Jr. and Raymond J. DeMallie. It is more comprehensive and it provides context for reading the treaties.)

We were, and are, sovereign nations. Categorizing us beneath the multicultural umbrella obscures our status as sovereign nations and leads people to think that we want to be Americans, just like everybody else. In some ways we do, and some ways we don't. For the most part, that multicultural umbrella is about people of color. We (Indigenous peoples) might be people of color, but we are first-and-foremost, citizens of sovereign nations. Some of us look the way people think Indians should look, but some of us don't. Some of us look like we ought to be called "African American" instead, and some of us look White. What we look like doesn't matter.

Some might think that the "we are not people of color" statement is racist, I hope you see it isn't about race. It is about sovereignty.

Any nation---the U.S., or Canada, or Spain---has the power to decide who its citizens are and what criteria they will use to made such determinations. We might not like the criteria, and we can work to change that criteria, but until it is changed, it is pretty much what we abide by. Indigenous nations in the United States also have that power. Most people in the United States don't know that, because most people in the United States think we vanished, that we came to the end of the trail. We're still here, however, and when we see errors, some of us point them out. If you were in France and someone said something incorrect about the United States, you might speak up and correct that error.

By the way, "Queen Chief Warhorse" isn't the only person to make that error. President Obama made it, too, in his children's book wherein he writes about "thirteen groundbreaking Americans." Among those thirteen is Sitting Bull. One of Sitting Bull's grandson's said emphatically that Sitting Bull did not consider himself "American."  That error is made a lot because people don't know enough about who we were, and who we are. Given Racialicious's audience, I'm glad to see the conversation because having it creates the opportunity for knowledge to be gained, and spread.

"Let's go back in time when the American Indians look like I look..."

Debbie's response:
Does she really think that all Indigenous peoples were phenotypically Black? Or did she misspeak?

Later on (her remarks went far longer than the minute-long video), she said that reservations are "prison camps" and like the "projects". There is a kernel of truth in that statement. There was a time when one had to have permission from a federal agent to leave the reservation, but that isn't the case today. Does her audience know that? Does she? There is poverty and substandard housing on reservations but for some of us, they are far more than that. We (at Nambe) are on a reservation, but we were never moved. We are on the land we've been on for hundreds of years. (Through carbon dating, our current village is dated to 1300, and ones we were in before are far older than that.) Our traditions are strong. 

"...and roamed the southeast part of the United States, freely."

Debbie's response:
Her use of "roam" is another indicator (to me) that she is steeped in stereotypes of American Indians.

Think critically about that word, who uses it, and when it is used. Basically, what she is describing is the movement of a people. That movement may be due to seasonal changes, or to follow herds, or, to go where water or resources are more plentiful at a given time of the year. That movement is different than what the word "roam" means. You can look it up if you wish. It means to move about without purpose or plan, or to wander over or through. See why it doesn't work when applied to the movement of a people?

In 2009, I did some research on the use of the word roam. It is often used to describe the movement of Indigenous peoples. Here's what I found:

On the web---

  • Search phrase: "Pioneers roamed": 129 hits
  • Search phrase: "Cowboys roamed": 938 hits
  • Search phrase: "Indians roamed": 9,910 hits

I repeated the search in Google books---
  • Pioneers roamed: 23 hits
  • Cowboys roamed: 135
  • Indians roamed: 688 hits
Obviously, pioneers and cowboys were doing the same thing Indians were doing (moving from one place to another) but I think the discrepancy in use of the word is worth noting. The Indigenous peoples in the southeast part of the United States weren't roaming. Using that word takes away from their intellect, their agency, and their humanity. It lets us think of them as "primitive" or animal-like.

"I love what the Mayor said...  We have to tell the truth. We cannot heal America till we fix the foundation. Can we start right there?"

Debbie's response:
I agree. We do have to tell the truth and fix the foundation, but given her lack of substantive knowledge about Indigenous peoples, we can't start with her.


Latoya poses the question: Who gets to say if "Queen Chief Warhorse" is Native? She, like anyone in the world, can say anything they want to. My guess is that she (like Elizabeth Warren) learned about a Native ancestor from stories handed down from family members. And with that story, she built a way of "being" Indian that is based on stereotypes. That's too bad. It undermines the work she is trying to do to get recognition.

"Queen Chief Warhorse" has organized a group of people who share that story. They're trying to get recognized but they've got a long way to go. As Gyasi pointed out, it is a difficult process, but an important one. Among other things, it protects all of you (Americans) from being ripped off by someone who claims they're a tribe and then charges you for performances or products that aren't, in fact, accurate or authentic.

Do you know about the Indian Arts and Crafts Act? It is a federal law that says that items marketed as being American Indian must be supported by documentation that the maker is a citizen of a federally recognized tribe. There's a lot of push-back on that law, because a lot of people who are Native can't get enrolled due to the way that a tribe's criteria is laid out. It isn't fair, as many point out, but changes can be made to those criterion, and many tribes are making those changes, and many have other ways of recognizing individuals who don't fit the criteria for enrollment.

The thing is, there's a lot of hucksters out there, claiming American Indian identity. 

Do you remember when that Sacajawea coin came out? There was a group in the midwest who said they were a tribe, and, they marketed a small bag in which you could store your coin. When they were called out as fake, they had to return the money to people who bought those bags (I didn't bookmark the page. I'll look for it, but in the meantime, if anyone finds it, please let me know).

And do you remember that group that said it was a tribe, and was selling "citizenship" to people in other countries (particularly Mexico)? Those individuals bought that citizenship and came to the U.S., only to find out they'd been the victims of a fraud.

Latoya points to the idea of sovereignty, and how a group decides. "Queen Chief Warhorse" has a group, and, she's Queen and Chief of that group. Apparently, they think that's fine. Therein is the key. Who is "the group" and what are they doing to become recognized? If Latoya has Native ancestry in her family line and she starts researching it, I don't think she would create a tribe and start wearing a headdress at various functions. I don't think "Queen Chief Warhorse" is like the two fraudulent tribes I noted above, but I do think her speech and adoption of stereotypes is undermining her claim and chance of recognition. "Queen Chief Warhorse" says she is Chahta, which is Choctaw. Does she have any contact with the Choctaw Nation in Mississippi? Or the one in Oklahoma ? If she and her group want to learn what Chahta's culture was/is, they could go to either one of those nations and learn from them. Have they done that? If you're trying to recover something you lost, where do you start looking?

Latoya also says that the conversation leaves us "not much further than before" but I think she's wrong about that. She knows a lot more, as do her readers. Prior to this, I think the conversations at her site (regarding identity) were grounded in pop culture, and Gyasi and I are trying to ground them in the politics of Indigenous nations.

If you want to learn more, the Cherokee Nation has an excellent video:

As David Cornsilk (citizen of the Cherokee Nation) said to me, Mayor Landreau's recommendation of her as a speaker isn't without context, too. If she's successful in convincing people of her group's status as a Native nation, the city stands to gain money from those who would give her group funding, based on its claim as a Native nation.

If you read Gyasi's piece and you've read this far on mine, I hope you feel that you know a lot more now than you did before. Carry that information with you, and share it with others. And the next time you could across someone who says she's the queen of an Indian tribe, I think you'll hear that claim in a different way than you did before.  

Part of why you accepted the idea of an Indian "Queen" is due in large part to what you learned in school. Most children's books you read were full of errors. The stories might have been page-turners or award-winning, and they might have felt accurate, but they weren't. American Indians in Children's Literature, in publication since 2005, has been providing readers with critical analysis of those books, and, tools to help you spot the problems yourself. If you're reading this essay at another site, please visit American Indians in Children's Literature, and let parents and teachers know about the site, too. In the top right are lists of books that accurately represent American Indians. For your convenience, they are grouped by grade level.

Update: Sunday, May 6, 2012, 4:38 PM

Over the last couple of days, I've watched several videos in which "Queen Chief Warhorse" talks about her group. To view them, search Youtube and Google videos using "Chief Warhorse" as your search term. In watching them, I found some answers to questions I posed above:

When she said "Let's go back in time when the American Indians look like I look" she means it. By watching the videos, I understand that she means it just as she said it. She believes that this continent was first populated by Africans who came here on entrepreneur ships. The people of federally recognized sovereign Native nations today, she says, are descendents of her people who came here from Africa and mixed with people who weren't from Africa. The real Indigenous people, she says, look like her. To use her words, real Indigenous people would look "cocoa brown" like her and not "vanilla." We (federally recognized sovereign nations), she says, are not legitimate and the federal government is being ripped off by us.

She says she is from a long line of royal chiefs. Hence, she believes it is correct for her to use "Queen" as her title. 

Above, I wondered if she has made efforts to visit the Mississippi Choctaw or Oklahoma Choctaw Nations to reestablish connections with them. By watching the videos, I understand that she doesn't feel the need to do so. She says that the Oklahoma Choctaws use of "Choctaw" is incorrect. She says that the people who moved to Oklahoma started using "Choctaw" and then went down to Louisiana to observe her people and how they did things. Then, they went back to Oklahoma and mimicked the ways of her people.

My thoughts on that? I find it interesting and when I have time, will look into it. In some ways she seems to be determined to discredit and even usurp the federally recognized tribes, putting her people in place as the "First Americans" who have rightful claim to this continent. On one hand she seems to dismiss us, and on the other, she adopts stereotypical Plains Indian ways of being, but it is possible she addresses that in one of the videos and I didn't see it. (Several people have written to me privately about horses, and how they weren't in the swampland.)

Why do I bother, some of you might wonder, with any of this?!

Here's why... In the 1950s, the federal government instituted the "Termination" program through which it hoped to be rid of federally recognized tribes. In American Indian Politics and the American Political System, David Wilkins writes that over 100 tribes were, in fact, terminated. Carrying out the policy proved disastrous and it ended in the 1960s. Some tribes have been successful in having their sovereign status restored. In comments at Racialicious, someone pointed to a news article that reports that U.S. Department of Interior officials met with her in Louisiana, and that it is the first time the government has met with a group that doesn't have federal recognition. I also found an article about her success in getting a three-digit code from the U.S. Census by which to count the members of her group. It seems she is making in-roads with the federal government, but to what end, and what does the federal government stand to gain by meeting with her? 

Update, Monday, May 7, 6:13 PM

Indian Country Today ran a story today about Elizabeth Warren. Here's an excerpt:

“The mainstream media definitely has added to this controversy due to their well-known ignorance about tribal citizenship and other tribal issues,” says Julia Good Fox, a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University. Good Fox notes that the media has largely failed to explain tribal citizenry and blood quantum issues to give context to the situation because these aren’t easy stories to tell. It’s easier to label the case “convoluted,” blame Warren, and move on to the next political gotcha story.

“Unfortunately, for the most part, their coverage is just adding to the confusion and threatens to feed racism or anti-Indianism,” Good Fox says. To do better, she says the media should start by noting that tribal nations have a right to determine who their citizens are, rather than focusing on the misunderstood notion that tribal citizens can only be determined by U.S.-imposed mathematical fractions.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

American Indians in Common Core, Appendix B, K-1 Text Exemplars

Dear K-1 Teachers,

I am writing to let you know about the ways that American Indians are presented in Appendix B of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts.

There are 54 items listed on Appendix B. Some of them are terrific. I vividly remember, for example, my daughter giggling when we read "Strange Bumps" in Arnold Lobel's Owl at Home.

Though the Common Core booklets say that the items on the list are only meant to serve as "useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range" for your own classroom, I know many of you will use the items on the lists. With the Common Core bearing down on you like a freight train, some of you will find it easier to teach the items on the list. Some of you are very busy, working far harder than most Americans realize. As a former elementary school teacher, I know how hard teaching can be. 

I'm writing to ask that---if you choose to teach the items on the list---that you not read Little House in the Big Woods. It is listed on the "Read-Aloud Stories" section of Appendix B. Here's an excerpt that I find troubling. It is on page 53 of Little House in the Big Woods. The first two paragraphs are context. It is the third paragraph that I want you to pay attention to:

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

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

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

Now, I want you to imagine reading that passage aloud (remember---this is a book the Common Core folks want you to read aloud) to children in your K-1 classroom, and, imagine that one or more of those children are Native children for whom their identity as Native is a day-to-day lived experience (as opposed to a family story of an ancestor, or, someone who is enrolled at their nation but not growing up in a way with that nation's ways of being Native).

Seems a bit cruel, doesn't it? To imagine what that Native child might feel like hearing that dear old Pa was stalking Indians or, as he says "wild men"? How can we possibly describe Little House in the Big Woods  as an exemplary text?!

As far as I can tell, other than the Indians/wild men that Pa stalks/fights, there aren't any other Native people in the other 52 books on the Common Core lists for K-1. So, if you were only going to use that set of items, Native children in your classroom would not see themselves reflected in the materials you're using.

I'm pretty sure, though, that most of you will use other items. I hope that some of them are children's books that portray American Indians in tribally specific ways (naming a specific tribal nation, and, providing accurate information about that tribe). I can recommend some wonderful books. They may be in your school library, or the local public library.

The ones that I want you to use are books written by Native authors. Each of them feature Native girls. I'm sharing those three today for a specific reason. Most people, when they think of American Indians, think of "chiefs" or "braves" or "warriors" --- males, in other words. This is, I think, in large part due to history books and historical fiction that focuses on wars, and "hostile Indians" who attack those poor innocent settlers. What gets lost in that narrow depiction is that those men (not "chiefs" or "braves" etc.) have mothers and sisters. They may have daughters, too! And as for "hostile" ---- they were fighting, not because they were "bloodthirsty savages" but because they were protecting their homelands! And, they were protecting their grandparents, mothers, wives, children...

Here's the three books I recommend you read aloud.

If you want to show children that Native children are part of today's society, and that our lives reflect modern American society and our Native societies, you could read them Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith. In it, Jenna is getting ready to dance at a pow wow for the first time. She lives in a pretty typical American house in a neighborhood with tree-lined streets and sidewalks. Her family helps her get ready. Using Jingle Dancer you can say "this book is by Cynthia Leitich Smith, a writer who is Muscogee Creek." Introducing Jenna and her identity, and Cynthia and her identity, can go a long way towards situating Native people in the present, not that long-ago past where you usually find us.

From there, you could read Joy Harjo's The Good Luck Cat to your students. In it, Harjo works with the idea that cats have nine lives. In The Good Luck Cat, a Native girl's cat--named Woogie--goes missing. As you turn the pages of the book, you'll learn about other times when Woogie's life was in danger. And, as you turn those pages, you see the girl's Native identity in visual markers throughout the book. Harjo is also Muscogee Creek.  You could pull out a map and show your students where the Muscogee Creek Nation is located. Head over to their website and learn all you can about them, and share it with your students. In my visit to their site today, I learned that as of May 2012, they have 72,740 enrolled citizens. What a cool bit of info to share! Smith and Harjo are two of 72,740 citizens. That could even be a math problem. (Subtract two from 72,740, and what do you get?)

My third recommendation is Jan Bourdeau Waboose's SkySisters. In it, two Ojibway sisters walk, in the night, to see the SkySpirits (Northern Lights).  As the girls are out, they view the things around them, not from a mainstream American perspective, but from their Ojibway perspective where a rabbit or deer or coyote is more than just an animal in the world. Waboose is Ojibway.

For the record, I think the Common Core is a bad idea. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jacqueline Joseph Pata, Exec Dir of National Congress of American Indians, on Curriculum/American Indian Students

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]
Jacqueline Joseph Pata (Tlingit)
Jacqueline Johnson Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, was on the lunchtime plenary panel yesterday at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's America Healing conference. Among her remarks was one that stood out to me.

We (American Indians) don't need, Pata said, state departments of education telling us what is, or is not, acceptable curriculum for our children. 
Pata is absolutely on-target with that remark.
Too many of the books our children are asked to read give them stereotypical portrayals of monolithic American Indians as savages who terrorized pioneers, or, tragic heroic figures of the past who fought the good fight but are now all dead and gone.
Too many of the assignments our children are asked to complete ask them to answer questions where the right answer is one in which they must agree with that point of view. 

It is no wonder American Indian students disengage from school. Wouldn't you?! It is no surprise that our children drop out at such high rates, and, that so many of them choose to end their own lives. 

We can all do a lot to interrupt that way of teaching, but we've got to have the courage to do it. 
Do you have the courage to stop teaching Little House on the Prairie? Though it is much beloved in the United States, it is full of stereotypes, bias, and errors. In it, you see savage Indians scaring Ma, and you see heroic ones who choose to protect Laura and her family from the savage ones. The thing is, both portrayals are incorrect. Embracing them, however, lets Americans feel good about what they have today. In teaching Little House, teachers are miseducating the students in their care.

Native children in those classrooms are not only miseducated, they are--in effect--assaulted. State departments of education are populated by people who love Little House. In that light, it is easy to see why Pata is calling for state departments of education to revisit their actions. 

If you're interested in critical writing about Little House on the Prairie, you're in the right place. I've written a lot about it. You can read my blog posts (there's a list of them on the right side of the page), or you can read my full text article, "Indigenizing Children's Literature."

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has video of some of Pata's remarks here:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Primitive" Indians?

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

Based on what you see in most children's books, you likely think Alaska Natives have a primitive existence, living in igloos... Maybe you think their life is exotic and exciting, or beautiful, too. But! Let's set aside those stereotypes. Alaska Natives have some outstanding programs... 

A highlight of yesterday's events at the W.R. Kellogg Foundation's Healing for Democracy conference in New Orleans was listening to Valerie Davidson talk about an innovative program to provide dental care to Alaska Native communities.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium established a "mid-level" program by which Alaska Natives were trained to provide dental care to communities that were not receiving dental care. Sounds good, right?

It is, but they were sued by the American Dental Association who objected to the program. Obviously, the ADA saw the program as a threat, particularly if similar programs developed in other, less-isolated places.

Along with the lawsuit, there was an effort to cast Alaska Natives in a bad light. Members of the ADA in Alaska made outrageous statements, saying that Alaska Native parents were unfit parents for letting their kids get cavities, and that their kids should be taken from them.

Davidson said the ADA lost the lawsuit and the program is doing well. And, she pointed out, their program is innovative and successful enough such that 15 other states are seeking to replicate it.

Davidson concluded her remarks by talking about bias and how it can prevent people from stepping up to interrupt the care that all children should receive. To do that, we have to see the bias. Next time you pick up a children's book about Alaska Natives, give some thought to how they are being portrayed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 25: Liveblog of America Healing

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

This will be my first attempt at liveblogging an event... Hoping the internet connection doesn't give me problems.

8:45 AM

Beautiful slide show of people who have gone on... started with a Navajo Code Talker. I hope the slide show is put online...  It include Eloise Cobell, too.

8:48 AM

Plenary session: "Unconscious Bias and Race" moderated by Maria Hinojosa of Latino USA. Panelists include Rachel Godsil, Director of Research at the American Values Institute; Phillip Goff, Assistant Professor, Dept of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles; john powell, Director of the Haas Center for Diversity and Inclusion and Robert D. Haas Chancellor's Chair in Equity and Inclusion, University of California, Berkeley; David Williams, Professor African and African American Studies, Harvard.

8:50 AM

MH: Not ready to heal right now, trying to understand all my anger, fear, and sadness. Conversation in Supreme Court today...  State of AZ saying it is ok to racially profile people with a law that says we can call a race and class "illegal." Dehumanizes a population.

Latino teens highest rate of suicide in the country. They are our future.

Introducing David Williams of Harvard.

8:53 AM

David Williams sharing research on differences in treatment of people of color in emergency rooms. "Hispanic ethnicity was the strongest predictor of no analgesia." Similar results found in research across the country. Explanation? Unconscious discrmination. Stereotypes undergird our behavior.
(Note: readers of AICL are familiar with these ideas. They are what I write about.)

8:58 AM

David Williams: Where do stereotypes come from? American culture. People aren't being mean, they're just reflecting what they learn from stereotypes in American culture. This guides behavior. References research studies that show that white person with criminal background will get a call-back for a job than a black person with criminal background.

Experiencing discrimination leads to health problems.

Internalized racism...  African Americans believe the stereotypes. Cites Jerome Taylor's research.

9:05 AM

Rachel Godsil is talking about murder of Trayvon and polling on whether or not Zimmerman should be arrested. First poll, 77% of whites said yes. Most recent poll, 58% whites say yes, while 85% of Blacks say yes.  Why the discrepancy? Polls of white indicate they think it is fine to marry someone who is not white... Godsil asks if Whites are hiding their real attitudes? The desire to believe they are fair means that we can stop seeing race. That we're to be a colorblind society. Godsil points out that idea is an illusion to people of color. Research shows NOT talking about race allows negative stereotypes to grow and affect behavior.

9:21 AM

Just learned that the power point presentations may be available on a thumb drive in the registration packet. I hope so! There's so much information on the slides that I'd like to share.

9:23: Phillip Goff. Presentation is "Identity Traps: The Shape of Contemporary Discrimination Through the Lens of Law Enforcement."

Powell starts out with slide of stereotypes that Whites hold about Blacks. Some change in the stereotypes people hold, but the quality of life getting worse.

Bigotry is not the whole story. Attitudes only predict 10% of behavior. What about the 90%? Introduces phrase "identity traps" which are tendencies of the human mind to take shortcuts.

Fast traps are automatic, uncontrolled, hard to prevent. "Not thinking" brings out implicit bias.

Slow traps are conscious, self-directed, ruminative, negotiated over time.

9:34 AM


9:46 AM

john powell walking the audience through several tests of perception, what we tune into, what we are primed to tune into...

"Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchufuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe"

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

I registered for the Healing for Democracy conference yesterday, found a place to sit, and pulled out the conference program. Among the speakers for the Welcome was "Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchefuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe."

"Queen" gave me pause right away and its use cast doubt on the rest of the information provided. "Tchefuncta" and "Chahta" are not nations or tribes I have heard of before, but there are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations and I don't pretend to know about all, or even most, of them. Still, "Queen" made me uneasy.

That unease was confirmed when "Queen Chief Warhorse" took the stage and began delivering her remarks. She was wearing a necklace that was supposed to suggest Pueblo Indian or Navajo turquoise and silver. To most, it probably looked like the real thing. To me, it screamed imitation. I wondered where she got it.

Right away, she had most of the audience eating out of her hand. Working with the theme of "healing," her opening remarks began with calling out the limits of a black/white paradigm. That was fine, but then--for me--her train went off a cliff.

She started using "we" in ways that demonstrate she doesn't know much about tribal nations and our reservations. One statement after another was problematic. It was a "poor Indians" narrative, living on our "prison camp" and "the projects" reservations.

Her remarks were, in short, a mess for lot of reasons.

Her use of "we" was wrong. Using "we" as a keynote speaker to an audience who, I hazard to say, is fairly lacking in knowledge of American Indians, only added to the already-too-big body of misinformation about American Indians.

I did a quick bit of research and found photos of her in a Plains style headdress. Why was she wearing that?! When I have more time, I'll do some research on her and the "Tchunfuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe." Will I learn that the "Chahta Tribe" or the "Tchunfuncta Nation" are Plains people?

For now, I'll say this:

Healing requires accurate information, not sensational remarks that generate a righteous anger and create or affirm a body of misinformation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Healing for Democracy 2012, New Orleans

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

Yesterday, I wrote that I'll be in New Orleans this week at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation's Healing for Democracy 2012.  I spent some time on their website. The foundation is doing a lot for a lot of communities, including American Indians. Here's an excerpt from the press release for the event:
The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Mich., and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti.
Two things in that excerpt stand out to me: "sovereign tribes" and "New Mexico." Recently, there was a gathering of Kellogg grantees at Santa Ana Pueblo. Watch the video and read about the work being done in my homelands.

This morning, I walked around the French Quarter. If you pay attention to racism and bias, you see it everywhere. Some of it is blatant, and some of the racism isn't obvious. In a bookstore, I flipped through a board book meant to introduce toddlers to the city of New Orleans:

In Hello, New Orleans! there's a page about plantations where "old fashioned" folks used to live.  I read the page several times. Is "old fashioned" code for racist?!

The book isn't meant for all children.... I think its audience is families who prefer not to talk about America's racist history with their children. Those of us who have children who must contend with racism every day... well, that book isn't meant for us. 

I wonder what Harry Bellafonte would say about it? Or, Lisa Delpit? Or Peggy Macintosh? They're three of the many people who will be speaking at Healing for Democracy 2012. I look forward to the next few days. Being amongst people committed to social justice and racial equity is very affirming and empowering.

More later.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Healing for Democracy 2012, and, Images that Heal and those that Hurt

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

This week, I'll be in New Orleans at the Healing for Democracy 2012 meetings, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's America Healing initiative. Here's the opening paragraph from their webpage:
In 2010, we launched the America Healing initiative, to support programs that promote racial healing and address racial inequity, with the goal to ensure that all children in America have an equitable and promising future.
As I read those words earlier today, my thoughts turned to news and images that have been in my mind the last couple of weeks. I'm disappointed (again), that people continue to defend playing Indian as harmless fun. When I wrote about Ladybug Girl dressed like an Indian, several people objected to my critique. And when I heard about Swamplandia! being on the short list for the Pulitzer, I shook my head in dismay. I did an in-depth study of it here on AICL in January (see Day One with Russell's Swamplandia! and Day Two with Russell's Swamplania! and Day Three with Karen Russell's Swamplandia!). 

Society seems determined to inflict hurt through illustrations in picture books (like Ladybug Girl) and through images generated when you read about the playing-Indian family at the heart of a young adult novel (Swamplandia!). When Native children are inundated with this imagery, they are denied the promising future the America Healing initiative is committed to.

This morning, I read Betsy Bird's post at School Library Journal. There, she short lists Cradle Me, a beautiful board book that features American Indian babies. The book and Betsy's decision to promote it...  Therein lies the promise of racial healing and an equitable and promising future.

Here's the images, side by side. On the left is the healing image, one of a Native baby just starting out in the world. On the right is what that Native baby will have to contend with... People who insist on "playing Indian" and defend it as "harmless fun" or "honoring" American Indians...

What will your choice be? Heal? or Hurt?