Thursday, July 05, 2012

Recent radio program on the shut-down of TUSD's Mexican American Studies Classes

On July 2nd, Education Radio featured a two-hour program in which they interviewed students and teachers from the now-shut-down Mexican American Studies program in Tucson Unified School District. Here's the link:

Arizona Goddam! Fight for Raza Studies

And here's info about the radio program (pasted from the Education Radio website):

In January 2012, Tucson Unified School District's (TUSD) renowned and highly successful Raza Studies Program, program was shut down. The program was finally eliminated after a prolonged, brutal campaign to demonize the students, the teachers and Tucson Arizona’s Mexican American community;  the latest of a long history of cultural genocide enacted against Mexican Americans and indigenous people in the United States. In this two hour program, we look at the history of the struggle for Raza studies, also known as Mexican American Studies, in the Tucson Unified School District and why the program was so meaningful and successful, and we explore why the program was viciously attacked and shut down - by examining the racist narrative and intent of the state and school administrators who are responsible for its destruction. We hear about the devastating impact the shutting down of this program has had on teachers, students and community members in Tucson. 
Crystal Terriquez and Pricila Rodriguez

There are so many incredibly dedicated people involved in the fight for Raza Studies in Tucson - from those who helped to found and build the program, the many teachers who taught in the program, the students who participated, and the community members and activists who are fighting to reinstate it. We were able to speak to just a few of these many voices, and want to recognize the hard work and varying perspectives of all those with whom we did not speak. 
Jose Gonzalez

We talk with four students who are alumni of the program, who share their experiences: Crystal Terriquez, Pricila Rodriguez, Alfred Chavez and Alfonzo Chavez. We also share testimony from a student, Teresa Mejia, who was present when TUSD adminstrators removed books and materials during classes (this testimony is available on activist Brenda Norrell’s blog: We spoke with Mexican American Studies history teacher Jose Gonzalez about the history and the shutting down of the program. 

Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith
Human rights activist and University of Arizona professor Raquel Rubio Goldsmith helps us understand the link between what is happening in Tucson today and the Chicano movement of the 1960s. We also speak with University of Illinois Chicago Professor of African American History and Educational Policy Studies David Stovall, who conducted a program evaluation of Ethnic Studies programs in Tucson over the 2006-2007 school year, and hear about his findings from that evaluation.

We talk to social theorist Joe Feagin, about the way that racism and white supremacy are playing out in this situation. Banned author and poet Martin Espada reflects on the dangers of censorship, how it feels to have his work banned, and shares a poem that speaks to the power that literature can have when used a tool for resistance and emancipation. Finally, we discover the growing local and national resistance movement that gives hope, not only for the future of this program in Tucson, but to the building of solidarity that will help fight this from happening elsewhere. Alfred and Alfonzo Chavez, members of U.N.I.D.O.S., talk with us about Tucson's Freedom Summer, we speak with Tara Mack, Director of the Education for Liberation Network and member of the Teacher Activist Groups, about the No History is Illegal Campaign, and we hear a clip of Tony Diaz talking about Librotraficante.

Specific examples of this resistance and opportunities to get involved in the fight are listed below:
Save Ethnic Studies   - a website produced by the teachers involved in the struggle. Visit this site to gain a deeper understanding of the issues.
Support the Raza Defense Fund to donate to help two MAS teachers in their lawsuit against incredibly well-funded and vicious opposition.
No History is Illegal - a website produced by Teacher Activist Groups where you can find curriculum based on the banned MAS curriculum to use in your own classroom. 
Librotraficante - a project devoted to fighting back against the censorship and banning of books in Arizona.  
Tucson Freedom Summer  - join the fight to save MAS  - in Tucson - July 2012

Additional Resources
Tucson’s Maiz-Based Curriculum: MAS-TUSD Profundo by Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodríguez 
The Cambium Audit Report and other related materials
And yet there is more...
Due to time constrants there were several pieces we were unable able to fully explore in our radio show. We have tried to include some of those pieces below in hopes that you will be able to deepen your understanding of the struggle in Tuscon. The following quotes are by several of the authors whose books were boxed up and taken out of classrooms as a part of the ban on ethnic studies:

"I don't take it personally, but what I do see is an ongoing plan, a very deliberate plan and antagonism in the US and Southwest. What is obvious is that it's about more than books. ... When they take out Shakespeare, Paulo Freire or Pulitzer Prize winners, that I can't imagine that they read everything and somehow determined this is a threat to democracy. ... This reminded me of McCarthyism and the red-baiting of writers, except now we are targeting a specific people. I feel we have to start paying attention to this trend. Now we are seeing similar laws (to SB 1070) in Georgia and Alabama. I don't think most of the public east of the Mississippi or the East Coast is aware. We have to make them aware" - Ana Castillo, author of the banned books Loverboys and So Far From God

"The last time a book of mine was outlawed was during the state of emergency in apartheid South Africa in 1986, when the regime there banned the curriculum I’d written, Strangers in Their Own Country, likely because it included excerpts from a speech by then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Confronting massive opposition at home and abroad, the white minority government feared for its life in 1986. It’s worth asking what the school authorities in Arizona fear today."- Bill Bigelow, editor of Rethinking Schools and author of the banned book Rethinking Columbus

Let's get one thing out of the way: Mexican immigration is an oxymoron. Mexicans are indigenous. So, in a strange way, I'm pleased that the racist folks of Arizona have officially declared, in banning me alongside Urrea, Baca, and Castillo, that their anti-immigration laws are also anti-Indian. I'm also strangely pleased that the folks of Arizona have officially announced their fear of an educated underclass. You give those brown kids some books about brown folks and what happens? Those brown kids change the world. In the effort to vanish our books, Arizona has actually given them enormous power. Arizona has made our books sacred documents now.” - Sherman Alexie, author of the banned books Ten Little Indians and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven

Monday, June 25, 2012

"God used the 'Trail of Tears' to bring many Indians to Christ"

In August of 2010, a woman I met while on vacation asked me if I knew about the A Beka books. I didn't, and hadn't given them another thought until today, when I saw the multiple references on Twitter to the Sociological Images website and their excerpts from the A Beka books. Here's a screen shot from the video:

Watch the entire video. Interesting excerpts, interesting teaching, funded by your tax dollars. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012


A few days ago, Doret (she blogs at The Happy Nappy Bookseller) posted her review of Patricia and Fredrick McKissack Jr.'s Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love. The book is a graphic novel. Here's the summary (in the catalog of the local public library):
From acclaimed authors Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack Jr. comes a thrilling biography of an unforgettable man told in compelling graphic novel form. Born into slavery in 1854, Nat Love, also known as "Deadwood Dick," grew up to become the most famous African-American cowboy in the Old West. A contemporary and acquaintance of Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid, Nat was widely known as an expert roper and driver, a crack shot, and a real Wild West character. Featuring lively full-color artwork by Randy DuBurke, Best Shot in the West is an exhilarating mix of high-interest historical fiction and nonstop adventure.
On page 60 (the book is 130 pages in length), Nat has left his family home and is working with a cattle team in Kansas. It is 1869, and Nat is 15. They're riding out west when the leader of the team calls out "Indians!" They are attacked by "a raiding party of Old Victorios, a renegade group of Apaches" who had been "harassing folks for months." These Apaches are on horseback and have guns. One is wearing a feathered headdress and another is wearing a headband with a feather in the back. Love specifies Apaches, but I don't know who the "Old Victorios" or the "Victorios" were. There was an Apache man named Victorio who led a group of Apaches in the 1870s. They refused to give up their homelands. Maybe that is who Love was thinking about, but I am not sure Victorio was in Kansas. From what I've read, Victorio was primarily in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. 

On page 84, the text reads:
Between Indians and White desperados, life in cattle country was dangerous. We got into fierce fights and long chases. Some got hurt. Some died.
That sentence is a perfect example of the way in which language shows bias. According to that sentence, there were Indians, and there were White desperados. A desperado, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, was a bold or violent criminal, especially "a bandit of the the Western United States in the 19th century." I think we all know that not all Indians were bold or violent criminals. Wouldn't that sentence be better written as "Between the desperados--Indian ones and White ones--life in cattle country was dangerous." That simple difference packs a lot of information! Can you imagine a teacher pointing out that passage to a student? How it exponentially increases the ways in which the student might begin to imagine American Indians?

On page 102, Nat is in Arizona looking for stray cattle. He is attacked by Indians on horseback. They use guns and tomahawks, and are part of "Yellow Dog's tribe." Nat uses up all his bullets and then tries to "fistfight my way out of that canyon."

The only "Yellow Dog" I'm able to find is on a webpage about Black Indians of Texas. Yellow Dog, the web page says, "was said to have more Black Indians than full blood Indians in his band of Comanches." On page 110 of Best Shot in the West, Yellow Dog's spokesman tells Nat that "Many of us share the same blood as you. The blood of slaves. Yellow Dog wants you to be part of this tribe." He then offers Nat "one hundred ponies and my daughter for marriage." I've got to spend time researching that trope... I've seen it in other places---like Westerns.

On page 116 is Nat's last mention of Indians. He is in Old Fort Dodge, Kansas, and thinks he ought to steal a cannon to help them fight off rustlers and Indians. That passage is like the "Indians and White desperados" on page 84. Could Indians be rustlers? Or were Indians just Indians?!

The author's note says that they relied on Love's autobiography for the material they used to write Best Shot in the West. I wish they'd used it more selectively, or, that they'd figured out how, in their narrative, to put some context around Love's words about Indians. Why were the Apache men attacking settlers? Were those settlers on land that didn't belong to them? What had the settlers done to the Apaches? As-is, the take-away about Indians is that they were all just bad.

An interesting exception to the all-bad Indian is Yellow Dog and the Black Indians. As-is, the story suggests that if Indians are mixed with someone else, Indians could be good guys. Nat may have thought that was true, but surely the talented McKissack's could figure out a way to frame Nat's views so that today's readers gain the information necessary to put all of it into context.

My take-away? The all-bad Indians ruin the story. I can't recommend Best Shot in the West. 

 I'd like to see stories for children about Black Indians. If you know of one, let me know. (Medearis's Dancing with the Indians is full of problems. See my review: Angela Shelf Medearis's Dancing with the Indians.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Jodi Lynn Anderson's TIGER LILY

I'm reading reviews on goodreads of Jodi Lynn Anderson's new book, Tiger Lily. 

In which there's a shaman named Tik Tok who also happens to be Tiger Lily's adoptive father, and, a guy the same age as Tiger Lily... His name is Pine Sap.

According to reviewers, Tiger Lily is shunned because her tribe thinks she is cursed. They also shun Pine Sap because he's very small (physically) and to them, that's not ok...

The first lines in the publisher's promo for the book:

"Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . ."

Crow feather in her hair?

Reading some of it at the HarperCollins site, I see that Tiger Lily is of the "Sky Eaters" tribe. She stands out because she's like a cross between a roving panther and a girl. She stalks instead of walks. And, because she's female, she's out in a field when the story opens, cultivating tubers, because that is a woman's job.

I don't have an ARC. If someone wants to send me theirs, send me an email and I'll send the mailing address. The book is due out on July 3rd.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Ethnic Studies Under Fire: The Role of Publishers, Librarians, Teachers, and Activists"

On Monday, June 25, 2012, from 1:30 to 3:30 at the American Library Association conference in Anaheim, Adriana McCleer, Carmen Tafolla, Oralia Garza de Cortes, and Tony Diaz will present "Ethnic Studies Under Fire: The Role of Publishers, Librarians, Teachers, and Activists." Sponsors include REFORMA and ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee.

The description for their panel:

The removal of educational materials in connection with the elimination of Mexican American Studies classes in the Tucson (AZ) Unified School District sparked a national outcry and resolutions in opposition from the American Library Association, REFORMA, the American Indian Library Association, and others. At this panel, hear from represntatives from the publishing, library, teaching, and activist communities as they discuss the genesis and implications of this controversial decision. This program is sponsored by IFC/AAP/REFORMA.

Location: Anaheim Convention Center, 201D

Carmen Tafolla's books are amongst those that could no longer be taught by teachers who used to teach in the Mexican American Studies department that was shut down in the Tucson Unified School District (for background, see the list of chronological links under the "Mexican American Studies" button on the tool bar above). In March, San Antonio, TX named her as the cities first poet laureate, and the publisher of Curandera reissued the book in a 30th anniversary edition.

Oralia Garza de Cortes was amongst the librarians who worked on developing the ALA resolution condemning the actions taken by administrators in TUSD. This photo was taken at ALA Midwinter, where the resolution was drafted and passed:

Tony Diaz launched Librotraficante, a project through which book lovers collected copies of the banned books and delivered them to students in Tucson Unified School District. Here's a video of Diaz on Democracy Now:

I can't be at ALA, but look forward to the hashtag tweets from audience members who attend the panel. The hashtag to follow on Twitter is #alaif.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Guest post by Betsy McEntarffer: "Getting Culturally Accurate and Positive Books in the Hands of Students and Teachers - One Idea that Works

Editor's note: I am pleased to share this post by Betsy McEntarffer of Lincoln Public Schools in Lincoln, Nebraska. A few weeks ago, Betsy and I were writing to each other about children's books with Native content. She mentioned one of the ways she and the Library Media Staff work with teachers. I asked her to write it up for me. The work Betsy describes is important for two reasons. First, they offer teachers works in the multicultural category that they believe accurately reflect the population the book is about. Second, when they learned that teachers needed more than the positive lists of books, they developed a "not chosen" initiative that, she writes, really helped teachers see things they weren't seeing before. Betsy writes below: 
"Many visitors told us when they studied these examples and read the rationale used for their reviews, they could clearly see how students would be adversely affected and felt these materials were excellent learning opportunities." 
Their model is important. Thanks, Betsy, for sharing it with me, and I hope others try it out!

Getting culturally accurate and positive books 
in the hands of students and teachers – one idea that works.
Betsy McEntarffer

Like other educators in Lincoln, Nebraska, I’m interested in ensuring that all of our students have books and other materials in which they can see themselves and their lives positively and accurately mirrored. As a fairly large school district of over 35,000 students and with a diverse population of students from over 40 different countries speaking 50+ different languages, communication is the key to sharing information about those books and materials with all.

Before relating all the events leading to such a diverse and caring community, let me say that neither my journey nor the school district’s began with such wide diversity. I’m a white, middle class girl from the midwest who now works as a secretary for Staff Library Media Services of Lincoln Public Schools. Of course, there have long been schools in the district with diversity, but not in the part of town where I lived nor in the schools I attended. This was not intentional (at least not on my part), it was the way the population of our Midwestern college town was divided. I didn’t have any close encounters with persons of another culture until a small group of refugee families moved into the area where I worked as a library aide in my children’s elementary school. As I became acquainted with Assad, Nasifah, Yuriy, and Tuan I discovered that our library collection couldn’t supply them with books with which they could identify.  Not only were the geographical books on their home countries old and out-dated, but we had no stories with Afghan, Russian or Vietnamese characters.  Actually, I did find one book for Yuriy by Frank Asch that was in the Russian language. It’s about a colony of mice concerned with the arrival of a cat: Here Comes the Cat! = Siuda idet kot! [Scholastic, ©1989]. In my naivety I thought he would be thrilled and while he was kind of tickled to see his own language the story didn’t excite a 10 year old.  At the same time, when Assad looked at me with very sad eyes and said “nothing in Farsi?” I knew our collection and my knowledge needed updating.  I learned that I wasn’t alone and that others were concerned about incorporating the diversity of the community, country and the world into our schools.

Twenty years ago a group of students from Norfolk, Nebraska lobbied the state legislature to infuse multicultural education into the K-12 curriculum of schools in the state. LB 922 and LB 27 eventually became law and required the Nebraska Department of Education to design a process of evaluation of the implementation and effectiveness of multicultural programs. As a result, Rule 16: Rules and Regulations for Approval of School District Multicultural Education Programs was written. In 2003 Rule 16: Multicultural Education was rolled into Rule 10 and became part of the schools’ accreditation process. The bill states: 
“this act, multicultural education shall include, but not be limited to, studies relative to the culture, history and contributions of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans. Special emphasis shall be placed on human relations and sensitivity toward all races.”
As the law was being discussed in 1992, a group of media educators from Lincoln Public Schools voluntarily gathered to discuss how best to meet the evaluation guidelines of Rule 16 that impacted school libraries. These guidelines are:
  • How adequate is the library/media center’s collection of multicultural resource materials for staff?
  • How adequate is the library/media center’s collection of multicultural resource materials for students?
  • How adequate is the process for selecting appropriate multicultural education curriculum materials for the core curriculum? [which often uses library/media center materials]
  • How often does the library/media center use multicultural resource and reference materials for displays and special presentations?
  • Are there specific guidelines or procedures in place regarding the acquisition of additional multicultural materials in the library or resource room?
They decided to form the Library Media Services Multicultural Book Review Committee to provide students with quality literature that mirrors the lives of all our students, especially those of under-represented cultures. What they envisioned to communicate this work has now evolved into MOSAIC, a yearly display of some the best, most recently published culturally-related books available to children and youth.  Grade leveled portions of each year’s MOSAIC travel to schools throughout the year so students, staff and parents can see them. The committee of current and retired educator reviewers continues to read and make recommendations for books that will comprise the content of the next display. Their reviews and comments as well as those from professional sources are inserted inside each book. Titles from each yearly MOSAIC form a Multicultural Collection, housed at the district office, which provides books for all schools, students and staff, to read and use. Since school librarians use this display as a collection development tool, 35,000+ students and over 2000 staff members in all 56 schools and other special programs of our district benefit from this collection.  Lincoln Public Schools may not have been the first school district to develop plans to serve all children but we were catching up fast.  So was I as I helped coordinate the MOSAIC displays while serving as a volunteer of a Fair Trade Organization. Then I became a secretary for the district’s Library Media Services department and discovered so much more that I did not know.

Three years ago as the committee was discussing the increase in availability of better and more inclusive books for children and youth, they also noted that teachers and support staff were still confused and uncertain about how to identify accurate and positive cultural content in those resources.  As a result, a collection of ‘Not Chosen for MOSAIC’ materials was begun. Books that were poorly reviewed due to questionable or incorrect content both in text and illustration, were clearly marked and displayed in addition to the excellent examples. Again, reviews and rationale for the book’s exclusion from the display were included in each title.  

The reaction was instantaneous. Many visitors told us when they studied these examples and read the rationale used for their reviews, they could clearly see how students would be adversely affected and felt these materials were excellent learning opportunities. The ‘not chosen’ books are kept for teachers to use as a compare/contrast activity with students or for use with University classes, teacher and librarian training, and other learning opportunities. We have one community college instructor who regularly uses them with her children's literature class. To be sure there is no confusion, an additional note is inserted in each book stating “This book is used for presentations by media staff as a poor example of Multicultural Children’s Literature. Please read the rationale for this poor rating as presented inside the front cover of the book. It is recommended that students/staff compare and contrast this material with the excellent examples of Multicultural Children’s Literature from the Multicultural Collection.”  We inform the school librarians in each of our schools about the books we exclude from the display. It is their choice whether to have the materials in their school library collections.  I am proud to be a part of the Library Media Services Multicultural Review Committee and thrilled that it is ‘my job’ to help our Library Media Specialist coordinate and facilitate their work.

Of the books in this collection that include American Indian content the rationale given for the reviews is often taken from Debbie Reese’s ‘American Indians in Children’s Literature’ blog or from ‘A Broken Flute’ and the ‘Oyate’ website and used with their permission. We are indebted to these dedicated advocates of positive children’s literature for their expertise and willingness to share their knowledge.  I am indebted to them as well, for now I certainly realize how much I have to learn and I’m thankful to have the opportunity.


Link: Library Media Services, Lincoln Public Schools

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dorothy Kunhardt's BRAVE MR. BUCKINGHAM

Dorothy Kunhardt's Pat the Bunny is a classic. Published in 1940 by Simon & Schuster, I'd be willing to bet it is one of those books that has never gone out of print. We got it for our daughter when she was a baby and read it lots of times.

In early June, I learned that Dorothy Kunhardt also did Brave Mr. Buckingham a book that Emily Temple of Flavorwire listed in "10 of the Most Terrifying Children's Books From Around The World."

Note: 5:30 PM CST, June 14---Brave Mr. Buckingham is an OLD book published in 1935. It isn't new, and it is hard to find.

"Terrifying" is right! 

 Here's the cover:

And here's a page from inside the book:

Doesn't that illustration just creep you out?! Temple wrote:
As a child, I knew her best as the craziest mothereffer on the planet.   Mr. Buckingham is a Native American gentleman who just can’t win.  He puts his FOOT NEXT TO A BUZZSAW because it gives him “a nice tickly feeling.”  Bam!  Bye-bye, foot.  He goes to the aquarium to visit the fish, jumps in and BAM!  A fish eats the other foot.  You know.  Like they do.

The pattern continues as Mr. B’s curiosity (or general lack of awareness) gets the better of him:  he loses an arm to a gardener, gets sliced in two by a passing truck (while sunbathing, natch), and so on.  After each and every accident, he smiles and says, “That didn’t hurt!”  And in the end, when Brave Mr. Buckingham is nothing but a severed head–wearing a crudely drawn cartoon headdress because Ms. Kunhardt was not just a sadist but an enemy of cultural competence–still he is feeling just fine, thank you.
I'd love to have more info on this book! What was Kunhardt thinking? Why did she pick an Indian?! I've got lots of questions. The book is titled Brave Mr. Buckingham. Is Mr. Buckingham a British gent? A British gent playing Indian?   

Apparently, the story is one meant to prove to Billy that it won't hurt to pull on his loose front tooth. Such an odd way to persuade him, don't you think? 

The Kirkus review in 1935 was:
This doesn't measure up to her earlier books, Junket is Nice, etc. But on the sale of those, this will be in demand. A picture story book with a moral -- the story of the Indian who lost first a leg, then an arm, then another leg, and so on until nothing but his head was left, and who still said ""That didn't hurt"".
It looks like there's a copy of the book in the University of Illinois Rare Books library. I'm going to request to see it!

Update, 3:34, June 14, 2012
In Mary-Lou Weisman's Intensive Care: A Family Love Story is some of the text of Brave Mr. Buckingham (note: I don't know what Weisman's book is about):
"Once there was an Indian named brave Mr. Buckingham. He was called brave Mr. Buckingham because he was very, very, very brave, and no matter how frightfully terrible an accident was that happened to him, brave Mr. Buckingham just smiled a brave smile and he said, 'That didn't hurt!'"

"One day Mr. Buckingham was playing a blindfold game, and he held his foot up to see if he could guess what it was that made such a nice tickly feeling like air blowing... all of a sudden he felt another feeling, only not tickly, and it was his foot being cut off."

"But brave Mr. Buckingham smiled a brave smile and he said "That didn't hurt."

"One day Mr. Buckingham went to the aquarium because he wanted to find if fishes can tell time, and he jumped in with a quite large fish and he asked, "What time does my watch say?" And the fish said, "Dinner time!" and he bit Mr. Buckingham's foot right off and ate it. But brave Mr. Buckingham smiled a brave smile, and he said 'That didn't hurt!'"

Weisman goes on:

Page of page, picture by picture, limb by limb, "That didn't hurt" by "That didn't hurt," brave Mr. Buckingham loses his parts. While he is trimming the hollylocks, the pincers slip and pinch off one of of his arms. A kitchen accident burns brave Mr. Buckingham's leg off, right to the top of the thigh. A saw, carelessly thrown from an airplane, saws Mr. Buckingham's hand off. Finally, one day when a handless, footless, armless, legless Mr. Buckingham is taking a sunbath in the middle of the road, a truck comes along and slices his body off.

On the last page there's nothing left of brave Mr. Buckingham except a head. Just a head, a neatly severed head, set on a kitchen table. He is wearing a headband with eight jaunty feathers. His lips smile. His eyes twinkle merrily. A little girl stands nearby, spooking large ripe strawberries into his mouth.

"And that was the very last terrible accident that brave Mr. Buckingham ever had. After that he lived happily, happily ever after, and whenever he was hungry, his dear little granddaughter would help Mr. Buckingham to eat a big plateful of beautiful red strawberries, because strawberries were brave Mr. Buckingham's favorite thing. And brave Mr. Buckingham was so used to saying, "That didn't hurt," that as soon as he had eaten the last beautiful strawberry, he smiled a very, very brave smile, and he said, 'That didn't hurt!'"

Update, Saturday, June 16, 2012

Published by Harcourt, Brace and Company in New York in 1935, the story is about six year old Billy Buckingham. Time magazine had this to say about it (3/25/1935, Volume 25, Issue 12):

A toy Indian made of Nugg could always say, in spite of calamities, "THAT DIDN'T HURT." Nonsense with a moral for children (and adults) by the author of Junket is Nice.
The copy of Brave Mr. Buckingham that I requested was ready for me yesterday (Friday) at the University of Illinois Rare Books Library. What follows are excerpts and my thoughts so far (my thoughts are in italics).
Billy, the protagonist, has a loose tooth but won't let anybody tie a string around it to pull it out because "Billy was not a very brave boy and cried every time something hurt him." One day, it was very loose:
Billy was playing Indian that day. He had some feathers on his head and they must have been feathers from a very big kind of bird--maybe an eagle or maybe a turkey. Billy had a string of beads around his neck and he had bare feet, like Indians' bare feet. He was seeing how fast he could climb a tree and look around to find out if there was anybody coming, because Indians are very fast at climbing trees and finding out if there is anybody coming.
Debbie's thoughts:
Playing Indian has been popular in the United States for hundreds of years. In Playing Indian, Philip Deloria provides an in-depth analysis of the activity. He starts with colonists dressed in Indian disguises (no feathers or facepaint, by the way) at the Boston Tea Party and moves on through things like the Society of Red Men (founded in 1812) and current day scouting programs. 

What did Kunhardt know about American Indians? In 1930 when the book was published, she was living in New York and had gone to school at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. In her book, she gives us a barefoot Indian who climbs trees very fast. When and where did that barefoot-Indian image start? Interestingly, the former mascot at the University of Illinois went barefoot. And Indians who can climb trees fast is a new one (to me)...

Billy is sitting on a branch in the tree. His mother pleads with him about pulling the loose tooth. This makes Billy cry, but his Uncle Alexander (who always has stories and is just at that moment returning from the store) is surprised Billy is crying and says "Why, Billy, what are you crying about. Have you had an accident? You sound as if you had had a terrible accident."

Billy's mother explains that Billy is "silly to cry" over the tooth and that it would be "very wonderful" if Billy would let her pull the tooth and have Billy smile a brave smile and say "That didn't hurt." That prompts Uncle Alexander to tell Billy that a loose tooth being pulled out isn't a bad accident, and that some people have "terrible, awful, frightful accidents." Then he says "I know a good story. It is a very funny story and it is about an Indian who had lots and lots of terrible accidents. But every time he was just as brave as brave could be."

Billy asks for the story, and Uncle Alexander tells him "...after you hear this funny story you will be brave too--you will be just like the Indian in the stor--you will be as brave as brave can be. This is a story that makes people brave."

And so, Uncle Alexander starts:

Once there was an Indian named brave Mr. Buckingham. His real name was Singing Moon Walking Fox Laughing Water Sitting Bull in the Forest, but everybody called him Mr. Buckingham because Singing Moon Walking Fox Laughing Water Sitting Bull in the Forest was such a nuisance to say. He was called brave Mr. Buckingham because he was very, very, very brave.
Debbie's thoughts
 In constructing that "real" name, Kunhardt is being pretty derisive. Obviously she thought it was funny. I trust most readers of AICL know that Sitting Bull was a leader of great significance. Adding "in the forest" to his name is not funny at all. I wondered about the other names Kunhardt strung together. "Singing Moon," might be from Ralph Hubbard's Queer Person published in 1930 by Doubleday. In Hubbard's ridiculous story (I haven't read it; I'm looking at the information in Gillespie and Naden's Newbery Companion) Singing Moon is a character.  

Mr. Buckingham, Uncle Alexander goes on, had terrible accidents because he was foolish and didn't seem able to stop himself from doing foolish things. He did them again and again. But no matter what happened, he just smiled a brave smile and said "THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

Before launching into the story of all these accidents, Uncle Alexander explains that Mr. Buckingham is not made out of
blood and bones and things like most people. He was made out of NUGG, and NUGG is a kind of stuff that is a little bit like clay and a little bit like iron and a little bit like wood and a little bit like rubber and a little bit like blotting paper. But Mr. Buckingham didn't mind at all being made out of NUGG, he was so used to it, and even when he was a little baby Indian he had been made out of NUGG. And the fact is that being made out of blood and bones and things instead of NUGG would have made Mr. Buckingham feel very queer, but since Mr. Buckingham was lucky enough to be made out of NUGG he didn't feel queer at all, he only felt brave--he felt very, very brave.
The illustration for the page shows Mr. Buckingham as a baby in a high chair. Wearing a headdress with feathers that would be the same height as the baby if he stood upright.

Debbie's thoughts:
What do you think? Is Mr. Buckingham brave? Or just stupid?! Course, Mr. Buckingham is not a real person. He's made out of NUGG. Was that some sort of a modeling clay in the 30s?

Mr. Buckingham's first accident is when he is trying to catch bees and keep them in a bottle so they won't sting anyone. He isn't watching where he's going, and falls into a deep hole with pointy rocks at the bottom. His ear is cut off. The two pages show him falling headfirst into the hole, and the second one shows him standing there, smiling, with his ear at his feet, and saying "THAT DIDN'T HURT!" Along with the headdress, he wears what must Kunhardt's version of a loin cloth, except that it looks more like a grass skirt.

Debbie's thoughts:
And, truth be told, it doesn't cover his crotch. A mischievous kid could add some anatomy to this! (I'd show you the photos if I could, but I signed the standard rare-books-agreements in which you promise not to publish the photos.)

The second accident is when Mr. Buckingham wonders if fish can tell time. He jumps into an aquarium and shows his watch to a large fish. He asks the fish what time it is, but the fish bites off his foot and eats it. Mr. Buckinham smiles and says 'THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

In the third accident, Mr. Buckingham is going to cut off the top flowers of a hollyhock. He's shown on stilts. One foot rests on a stilt and the other just leg (which is missing from knee on down) is just hanging there. The tool (pincers) he uses is the same size as he is. He squeezes it shut using one hand and his mouth. When he opens his mouth to say "There, THAT'S DONE!" the pincers bounce down and pinch off his arm. The next page shows him standing on one foot, looking down at his right arm at his feet (and saying "THAT DIDN'T HURT!").

In the fourth accident, Mr. Buckingham is playing a blindfold game. He is shown in blindfold. He wonders what is making the nice tickly feeling on his face so, standing on the cut-off leg, he holds the other leg up to see if he can guess what kind of machine it is. "...all of a sudden he felt another feeling, only not tickly, and it was his foot being cut off." On the next page, he is shown standing on stumps, looking down at his foot and saying 'THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

Accident number five is when he's cooking. He decides it would be fun to cook in the dark and stands on the hot stove, reaching up to turn off the light. His leg goes down into one of the holes (this is a wood stove) and into the fire and is burned up. He is shown standing on one stump, with just a bit of his burned leg showing beneath his loin cloth. Or skirt.

The sixth accident is when he's out in a field and sees an airplane in the sky. A man is fixing the wing with a saw. Mr. Buckingham shouts out "boo" to tease the man. He drops the saw and it falls down, cutting off Mr. Buckingham's hand. Standing on his stump, he looks down at his hand, smiles, and says "THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

Debbie's thoughts:
Can you imagine being Kunhardt, coming up with ways to have his limbs cut off?

In accident number seven, Mr. Buckingham is riding a horse on a merry-go-round. A friend in top hat, coat and tails, comes along and says he can shoot the horses tail off, even though the horse is going up and down and up and down. He misses, and shoots off Mr. Buckingham's remaining arm. As before, the next page shows him with the dismembered body part, and he's smiling saying "THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

At this point, all he has left is a torso and one leg that ends at his knee. In accident eight, he's shown riding a sled (the hill is so long it takes him two weeks), and to avoid crashing into a flagpole at the bottom, he drags his leg in the snow. That leg is worn off, and he bumps gently into the flagpole, which breaks off his ear (Kunhardt says 'broken off'). On the next page, an armless, legless, and earless Mr. Buckingham says "THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

The ninth accident is when Mr. Buckingham decides to sunbathe in the middle of the road. A truck comes along. The driver thinks someone has put a log in the road as a joke, and runs right over it. This slices Mr. Buckingham's body off. All that's left now, is an earless head in a headdress. After that he lives "happily, happily ever after"and whenever he was hungry, his granddaughter would feed him strawberries. In the illustration, his head in headdress is on a table. His granddaughter is shown standing beside it, feeding him the strawberries. She's wearing a headdress, too, but her skin is a very light pink, not the bright red of his. And she is wearing a dress and red shoes. When he finishes eating the strawberries, he says "THAT DIDN'T HURT" because he is so used to saying it.

Debbie's thoughts:
I'm curious as to why Kunhardt made the granddaughter White. The drawing of the granddaughter (shown above) is in sharp contrast to the drawing of Mr. Buckingham. Kunhardt took more care in drawing her, Billy's mother, Uncle Alexander, and Mr. Buckingham's friend. The two characters shown consistently in crude fashion (like what you'd see in a coloring book) are Billy and Mr. Buckingham. 

That concludes Uncle Alexander's story. Billy's mother comes back with a string. Billy is ready now, to have his tooth pulled. His mother pulls it.  Billy "smiled a brave smile, and he said "That's didn't hurt!" His mother says
"Well, Alexander, this is a nice surprise for me. You said you could make Billy brave with your funny story and you really did. Oh, I am so pleased, now Billy is just as brave as a real Indian."
She gives him a gift of strawberries and the book ends with a drawing of Billy minus the loose tooth and in large letters, 'THAT DIDN'T HURT!"

By counting the stamped date-due on the due-date slip still in the book, I see it circulated 56 times.

I'm currently waiting for a copy of The Dreaming Game: A Portrait of a Passionate Life. It is a biography of Kunhardt, written by her son, Philip. In 1990, he wrote "The Original Touchy Feely: 'Pat the Bunny' Turns 50" for the New York Times Book Review. His article was published on December 23, 1990. In it, he wrote that his mother slept very little and had
many obsessions stirring her heart" including "interest in anything old, in every animal in the world, in Indians, in medicine, in photographs, in Abraham Lincoln, in slaves, in spiritualism, in subways, in freaks, in crime, in death, in love--the list went on and on.
I hope I'll learn a bit more about her that might help me understand this book. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Elizabeth Bird at SLJ: 2012 "Top 100" Picture Books & Novels

Betsy's photo at Goodreads
Elizabeth Bird, author of SLJ's A Fuse 8 Production blog has, for the past few weeks, been posting the results of the 2012 survey of the "Top 100" picture books and novels of readers who responded to her survey.

When she first did the Top 100 survey a few years ago, I did some analysis of the titles on the list. I'll do a similar analysis when she's finished sharing the Top 100.

Today (June 12, 2012), Betsy wrote about book #19 in the Top 100 novels: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. Betsy pointed her readers to my site:
Be sure to check out Debbie Reese’s reaction to this book the last time it appeared on this poll, including a problematic section regarding American Indians in the book.  There is another piece following the book’s inclusion on the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac.  The book is also mentioned in conjunction with the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts.
This isn't the first time Betsy has pointed her readers to my site. I'm glad each time she does it, because her readers to click on her links and read what I have to say. That, in my view, is a good thing for all of us, Native and not, who value children and the books they read.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

NIGHT OF THE FULL MOON, by Gloria Whelan

Danielle wrote to ask me about Gloria Whelan's Night of the Full Moon. It is regarded as a "first chapter book" (for children who want to read chapter books on their own).

The main characters in the story are Libby (the white girl) and Fawn (the Native girl). In the author's note, Whelan tells us that although the story is fiction, it is (p. 63):
based, in part, on various accounts of the removal of the Potawatomi Indians from Indiana and southern Michigan in 1840. Throughout the summer of that year, soldiers of the U.S. Army, under Brigadier General Hugh Brady, rounded up the Potawatomi from their homes and villages. On August 17, over 500 Potawatomis embarked on a forced migration to Kansas, leaving their homelands behind forever.
I'm glad to see the note but wish Whelan had provided a list of those accounts.

Whelan's book takes the side of Native people who are losing their land. In this case, it is the Potawatomi who are losing their land. The bad guys are the soldiers who round up the Potawatomi people to forcibly move them from their homeland.

In chapter two, for example, Indian agents (white men who work for the federal government) tell Libby's family they are looking for Potawatomi's because "There's talk of sending them west across the Mississippi" (p. 15) because "Topnebi has agreed to having his people sent west. Proper treaties have been signed by him giving Potawatomi land over to the government" (p. 16). Libby's parents voice objections to the removal plan, and her father plans to warn Fawn's family.

The treaty Whelan points to was actually signed in 1821, which is almost 20 years before the year in which Whelan sets her story (1840). Removal had been going on for decades. The agent who talked with Libby's family makes it sound like it had not happened yet, and the forced removal that the agent oversees actually happened before 1840. To most people, that might be a small point. To the Potawatomi, I doubt it is a small point.

Libby and her father go to the camp of Fawn's family to warn them of the agent's plan. Fawn's father, Sanatuwa, tells Libby's father that Potawatomi's who lived south of Saginaw had been forcibly moved "some years ago." Sanatuwa says his group will probably not return from their next winter hunt. He invites Libby's family to a naming ceremony for Fawn's baby brother, which will take place on the "day of the night of the full moon" (hence the title) which sounds "Indian" but for which I couldn't find any reference to support that naming ceremony.

Before all of that happens, Whelan tells us that the Native people at the heart of her story (Potawatomi) prefer their name for themselves (Neshnabek), but Whelan doesn't use that word again. Whether it is in the narrative or in the dialog of her characters, the words used are "Indians" or "Potawatomi(s)".

Also in chapter one, we learn that Fawn's actual name is "Taw-cum-e-go-qua" but it is hard to say, so Libby calls her Fawn, which is the name Libby's father came up with because "she's like a young deer... graceful, with those long legs and big eyes" (p. 7).

I find the choice to use Fawn instead of Taw-cum-e-go-qua odd, because Whelan uses Potawatomi/Neshnabek names for all of Fawn's family members. None of them get a nickname. Fawn's father is Sanatuwa; her mother is Menisikwe, and the baby brother who died was Namah. I'm also curious as to why there aren't any hyphens in their names.

In chapter one when Whelan introduces us to Fawn, we learn that it was a good trapping season:
Each day in the forest the spirits of the animals called to my father. They told him where to put his snares and traps. He brought back many skins" (p. 7). 
While that passage sure sounds "Indian" (according to romantic notions of American Indians), I don't think Potawatomi--or any Native spirituality--works that way. Instead, there is a respect for all living things and a fundamental idea that human beings are one creature on the planet, not the creature who is superior to all others. 

As noted, Libby's family warns Fawn's family of impending trouble. That sounds nice, but I'm pretty sure a Potawatomi family during that time would be aware of that trouble and wouldn't have needed a White family to warn them.

Later in the story, Libby is at Fawn's camp when the soldiers round them up. The soldiers don't believe Libby is a White girl, and she's forced to get on a wagon and be taken away, too. We learn that, as a young child, Fawn had been sick and nursed (saved) by Libby's family, but I wonder what illness Fawn had that her own people couldn't nurse her?

Because Libby's family saved Fawn, Sanatuwa feels it is his duty to return Libby to her family. That night, Sanatuwa, Menisikwe, Fawn, the new baby, and Libby escape. Libby feels bad that Sanatuwa has put his family at risk in trying to return Libby, but he tells her not to feel bad, because his decision to return her is "the means of our freedom" (p. 54). If it wasn't for Libby, Sanatuwa and his family would be leaving their homelands.

Once Libby is reunited with her family, Sanatuwa and his family leave.

In Night of the Full Moon, Whelan tried to do some things right, but couldn't break out of stereotypical tropes that characterize far too many stories about American Indians. And because those stereotypes are so predominant and not recognized as problematic, the book was listed on a few "best books" lists when it came out.

Is it on your shelves? Maybe it is one you can weed out of your collection to make room for books that don't stereotype American Indians.

NOTE: Check out Rebecca Rabinowitz's "Source fiction is no excuse for racism." It is a review of Whelan's After the Train, and read the comments to her review, too! Rebecca's critique is excellent.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Bunky Echo-Hawk, Bunky Echo-Hawk, and, Bunky Echo-Hawk

An unusual photo. Bunky Echo-Hawk was doing his performance art at the 2012 conference of the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums. In the photo, he's stage right, at work. Projected on the large screen are camera angles of him at work. One camera is behind him, and one is in front of him. Bunky does awesome work.

Here's the finished piece:

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

BATTLEFIELDS AND BURIAL GROUNDS, by Roger C. and Walter B. Echo-Hawk

Reposting an old post (from Jan 2008) because today, at the 2012 mtg of the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums, I'm listening to Walter B. Echo-Hawk address the rights of Indigenous Peoples. As he talks, Bunky Echo-Hawk does his art on the right of the stage (and it is featured in a large screen center of the stage itself).


Thinking, today, about three four items: Museums, American Indians, the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, and a book called Battlefield's and Burial Grounds.

On Friday I was in Chicago giving a workshop for teachers. It took place at Chicago's Field Museum. During my presentation, I showed slides of the ways that American Indians are portrayed in children's books. Among the slides is one from Sid Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur. Published in 1958 it is a perennial favorite and part of HarperCollins I Can Read series. In the story, Danny goes to a museum. Inside he sees "An Indian, a bear, and an Eskimo" in one of the exhibits. I showed a slide of that page in my presentation. There is much to say about why American Indians are placed alongside animals, but the point I wish to make today is about American Indian artifacts and remains that are held by museums across the country.

In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). From the NAGPRA website:

NAGPRA provides a process for museums and Federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items -- human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony -- to lineal descendants, and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. NAGPRA includes provisions for unclaimed and culturally unidentifiable Native American cultural items, intentional and inadvertent discovery of Native American cultural items on Federal and tribal lands, and penalties for noncompliance and illegal trafficking.

In 1994, Lerner published a terrific book for children about the work of American Indians whose work led to NAGPRA. The book is called Battlefields and Burial Grounds: The Indian Struggle to Protect Ancestral Graves in the United States, by Roger C. Echo-Hawk and Walter R. Echo-Hawk. Unfortunately, it is out of print. Both men are Pawnee. This is an important book. Each year, hundreds of teachers take their students on field trips to museums. As you plan this year's trip, will you visit a museum that has American Indian exhibits? If so, spend time with Battlefields and Burial Grounds before you go. It will be time well spent.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Not Recommended: Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose by Tina Nichols Coury

A reader wrote to ask me about Tina Nichols Coury's Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose: Growing Up On Mount Rushmore, a new picture book about the father and son who carved Mount Rushmore.

Gutzon Borglum started carving faces into what most people know today as Mount Rushmore. When he died, Lincoln (his son) finished the project.

I gather the book is an interesting story of the work involved, but that it is also a 'hurray' for America that doesn't provide a thoughtful look at the complete story of the place or people.

Gutzon Borglum was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and worked on the "Confederate Memorial Carving" -- a monument to the Confederacy. (Update, 10:20 AM, June 12, 2012: Elizabeth Burns at School Library Journal asked for a link about Borglum and the Klan. It is mentioned in several books, and at the PBS American Experience webpage about him.)

Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose is a picture book by Tina Nichols Coury. Here's an excerpt from her website:
In character as “The Rushmore Kid” she [Coury] visits schools across the United States to present her popular "Why I Love America” program, which promotes an understanding and appreciation of the essential qualities that make America great.
I understand and appreciate love of ones nation, but we ought to be critical of the things about America that are not great. Mistakes made by America's leaders, for example, must be something that children are taught, and there are plenty of mistakes made with regard to the ownership of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore.

That land was taken without the consent of the Lakota people. The U.S. government has tried to settle with them by offering them money, but, that land is sacred to the Lakota people. They were not, and are not interested in the money. They want the land.

Lakota people do appear in Coury's book, but not in the way I just described. Here's the page they're on:

I'll start by noting problems with Sally Wern Comport's illustrations. She shows several men dancing around a fire in a stereotypical way. The man in the foreground on the left is playing a drum with his open palm. That is an error. Native peoples across the United States use a drumstick to play the drum.

I'd like to know about Comport's sources. Old black/white silent-film footage of the time shows some Native dancers at an event at Mount Rushmore. It was during the day, not at night, and the dancers weren't dancing around a fire.

The text on that page offers a clue about that event:
Winters were harsh in the Black Hills. For the Lakota Indians who lived there, food was scarce. The Borglum family helped out often and went so far as to arrange for a buffalo herd to be donated to the tribe. At the powwow to celebrate, the grateful Indians made Lincoln and his dad blood brothers of the Oglala Lakota Tribe at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Lincoln was happy to lend a hand but dog-tired after dancing all night.
They had a powwow to celebrate? Again, I'd like to know the source of that information.

In The Great White Fathers: The Obsessive Quest to Create Mount Rushmore, John Taliaferro writes that the Borglum's provided a herd of cattle (not buffalo) and blankets and that the Oglala's were grateful to him and held a ceremony at Pine Ridge during which they made him an honorary member. Taliaferro also writes that Borglum wanted buffalo meat served at the dinner, but his efforts to hunt and kill one didn't work out. Was the ceremony a powwow, as Coury describes? Did they dance all night? Was there a fire that they danced around?

The text prompts other questions... Why was food scarce? Was it scarce for everyone, or, did this scarcity have something to do with policies of the federal government? Without sufficient context, the Oglala's are portrayed as pitiful and in need of rescue by kind hearted whites.

I'll keep looking for other accounts. Presumably, Coury has one that says it was a powwow and that they Oglala's made the Borglum's "blood brothers". Is it a Native source, I wonder?

About "blood brothers"...

"Blood brothers" is one of those cliche's associated with American Indians. It is supposed to mean a deep friendship between a white guy and an Indian guy. It figures in a lot of old westerns and, interestingly, it is also in Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, on page 167, where Omri tells Little Bear that he'll make Boone his blood brother. Little Bear doesn't know what Omri is talking about:
"When Boone is better, do you know what you're going to do? You're going to make him your blood brother!"

Little Bear shot him a quick, startled look. "Blood brother?"

"You both make cuts on your wrists and tie them together so the blood mingles, and after that you can't be enemies ever again. It's an old Indian custom."

Little Bear looked baffled. "Not Indian custom."

"I'm sure it is! It was in a film I saw."

"White man idea. Not Indian."

"Well, couldn't you do it, just this once?"
Banks apparently knew it was not legit. Too bad she didn't get the larger problems in making a Native man under complete control of a white boy.

Anyway! I recommend libraries not order Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose. Some people argue that you can't reject a book for what it leaves out (in this case, the context by which the Black Hills were taken from the Lakota people), but you can reject it for stereotyping.

Friday, June 01, 2012

"E99.P85, Or: The Case of Pocahontas in the Library"

Thaddeus Andracki is one of the most outstanding people I came to know at the University of Illinois when I taught there. As an undergrad, he took my Politics of Children's Literature course and is now in Library School there.

Thaddeus publishes a blog called I'll get there. It'll be worth the trip. I like looking at the bookshelf that is the background for his blog. I especially like seeing Joseph Bruchac's Hidden Roots there. I think it is one of the most important books around.

Yesterday, Thaddeus posted "E99.P85, Or: The Case of Pocahontas in the Library." Read this excerpt, and then go read his entire post. And, then, bookmark or follow his blog. He is a librarian-in-training, but he's already someone we can all learn from.
Disney’s Pocahontas was assigned a main entry of E99.P85. For those who don’t have LoC call numbers memorized (which I’m assuming is most people), E is the broad heading for American History. Numbers in the range around E90 are specifically American Indian History, and E99 is for Biography of American Indians. The P85 specifies further the person the biography is about.

Pocahontas was being classified as a historically accurate documentary.

I’d like to think this was some sort of mistake. But according to OCLC Classify, there are 1242 holdings of this film classified under this call number in libraries that submit data to OCLC. Pocahontas was deliberately assigned a call number such that it could pose as Native history.

I doubt I need to convince you that this film does not accurately represent the history of the woman who was Matoaka, but just in case, here’s a statement from the Powhatan Renape Nation, as well as information from multiple other sources. What I’m concerned about is the carelessness that librarians have taken in curating information about people.

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.