Tuesday, August 21, 2012


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

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

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 The citation is to still unpublished 1920 handwritten notes of Waterman’s at the Smithsonian.

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

Thanks, Miriam, for the recommendation! 

Monday, August 20, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's the trailer:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Debby Dahl Edwardson's WHALE SNOW

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Louise Erdrich's CHICKADEE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


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

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

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

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

One thing that puzzles me...

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


1984: Alwyn Morris holds eagle feather
Librarians looking to add books about the Olympics and athleticism in general will want to order Native Athletes in Action by Vincent Schilling.

One chapter in the book is about kayaker, Alwyn Morris (shown in the photo to the right). Morris is Mohawk. He and his teammate, Hugh Fisher, won a gold medal for Canada in the 1984 Summer Olympics. Standing on the platform to receive his gold medal, Morris honored his ancestors and those who helped him get to the Olympics by holding an eagle feather in his left hand.

Each chapter in Schilling's Native Athletes in Action is rich with detail about each athletes life. You learn, for example, that when Morris's grandfather was sick, he moved in with his grandparents to help his grandmother take care of him. That is a familiar story to me. I've seen it a lot. Last summer, my daughter moved in with my parents to take care of my mom.

Schilling's book has thirteen chapters. In addition to details about each athletes life, he takes care to provide a sidebar with information about each athlete's sport, and, a box about his or her tribe. As you can see by scanning the names of athletes featured in each chapter, the athletes are from tribal nations in the United States or Canada, and their sport of choice is wide-ranging.

  • Richard Dionne (Sioux), Canadian Basketball Association, Basketball Champion
  • Cheri Becerra-Madsen (Omaha), Wheelchair Racing Olympian, World Record Holder
  • Cory Witherill (Navajo), Indy Race Car Driver
  • Alwyn Morris (Mohawk), Olympic Gold Medalist in Kayaking
  • Naomi Lang (Karuk), Ice Dancer, Olympian, Figure Skater
  • Beau Kemp (Choctaw and Chickasaw), Baseball Player
  • Shelly Hruska (Metis), Ringette Team, Canada
  • Jordin Tootoo (Inuit), National Hockey League
  • Mike Edwards (Cherokee), Bowler, Professional Bowler's Association Champion
  • Ross Anderson (Cheyenne/Arapaho, Mescalero Apache), Downhill Speed Skier
  • Stephanie Murata (Osage), National Wrestling Champion
  • Delby Powless (Mohawk), Lacrosse Champion

With the Common Core's emphasis on nonfiction, librarians will do well by adding copies of Native Athletes in Action to their collection of materials for children in third grade and up. Native Athletes in Action is part of the Native Trailblazers series published by 7th Generation.

Monday, August 13, 2012

"In any war between the civilized man and the savage..."

Have you seen this ad? It is, or has been, on buses in New York City and San Francisco. (See an ABC San Francisco news story on the ad: "Pro-Israel ads on Muni buses spark criticism.")

The ad uses "civilized man" and "savage." It doesn't say "savage man"--it simply says "savage."

I'm wondering if the roots of the "savage" idea used by the American Freedom Defense Initiative go back to children's books? One children's book after another uses "savage" or "savages" to describe Indigenous peoples.

Want some examples?

In Carol Ryrie Brink's Caddie Woodlawn, published in 1935, Mrs. Woodlawn says "those frightful savages will eat us out of house and home" (p. 7). 

In Lois Lenski's Indian Captive, published in 1941, Captain Morgan says "An untamed savage, growing up like a wild beast in the forest" (p. 264).

In Elizabeth George Speare's Calico Captive, published in 1957, the narrative reads "Two of the savages came from the bedroom, dragging a shrinking and almost naked Susana between them" (p. 16). 

In Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond, published in 1958, John says to Kit "How did you learn to read when you say you just ran wild like a savage and never did any work? (p. 27).

In her Sign of the Beaver, published in 1983, Matt thinks "How could he possibly teach a savage to read?" (p. 32).
These books are miseducating the young people who read them.

Words are powerful weapons that are used to socialize---to teach---that certain peoples are "other" to be feared, defeated, killed, colonized. Not using nouns that make it clear that Indigenous peoples are human beings, or men, women, children, and babies, helped, and helps, to justify wars and aggression by the "civilized man" on American Indians and anyone else deemed as "enemy." With 'savage' ideology firmly embedded in that "civilized man," all manner of aggression and war are possible. 

I think children's books are part of the socialization that creates an attitude like the one on display in the ad, and I will continue to use American Indians in Children's Literature to point out destructive biases that hurt all of us. I hope you will, too. 


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Documentary: Moccasins and Microphones

If you're in Santa Fe on Saturday, August 25th, head over to the New Mexico History Museum at 6:00 PM for the premiere showing of Moccasins and Microphones: Modern Native Storytelling through Performance Poetry. Here's a clip:

Moccasins & Microphones: Modern Native Storytelling Through Performance Poetry Trailer from Cordillera Productions on Vimeo

If you want the CD of the students performing their poetry, see YA Poetry CD: Moccasins and Microphones

The premise for Scholastic's INFINITY RING

Thanks, Ami, for pointing me to something Elizabeth Bird at SLJ said:
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the upcoming Scholastic series The Infinity Ring.  It looks like it’s getting a big push in the same vein as The 39 Clues and all that.  I hadn’t paid it much mind, until I realized the plot.  So in Book #1 it is imperative to rescue Christopher Columbus so that he can discover America (the reasoning being that if he doesn’t then even worse guys will . . . to which I say, just how much worse?).  That’s Book #1.  Book #2 requires that the bad guys, who want to prevent The French Revolution, be thwarted.  So to recap, the heroes must save Columbus in Book #1 and ensure that Marie Antoinette gets her head separated from her neck in Book #2.  If this is incorrect please tell me now.  Otherwise, I’m utterly baffled.  I demand clarification!!!
I went over to the Scholastic page, where I learned that The Infinity Ring is a series for children ages 8 and up, in which three kids will time travel to save the world. The first book in the series is A Mutiny in Time, by James Dashner. At the Scholastic page, I read:
History is broken, and three kids must travel back in time to set it right!
History, the kids learn, "has gone disastrously off course" because Christopher Columbus was thrown overboard in a mutiny.

Wait, wait, wait... Off course for who?!

I guess, in this story, the entire world is a wreck because Columbus did NOT "discover" America. I wonder what this "undiscovered-by-Columbus" America looks like?! Who is making a wreck of what? Who are the "bad guys" Elizabeth refers to?!


Scholastic sent out some advanced reader copies (arcs) and by reading reviews at Goodreads, I gleaned a bit more info.

Because Columbus didn't "discover America" all sorts of natural disasters are occurring because someone else--"the Amancio brothers"--have done the discovering. I guess they are to blame for the natural disasters. I wonder what the disasters are?

Climate change, anyone? The real one, I mean?

I wonder if the author takes up anything to do with Indigenous peoples?!

Guadalupe Garcia McCall's UNDER THE MESQUITE

I grew up at Nambe Pueblo in what is now called the state of New Mexico. Nambe is one of the over 500 federally recognized sovereign nations within the United States. Nambe is older than the United States (going by the US Declaration of Independence) by over 400 years, and older than New Mexico (statehood granted in 1912) by over 600 years.

The lines that were drawn, delineating what was U.S. and what was Mexico, are lines that nationally and politically divided Indigenous communities and peoples on the southwest, in some cases, quite literally. The Tohono O'Odham Nation is one example, as stated on their website:
Then, in 1853, through the Gadsden Purchase or Treaty of La Mesilla, O'odham land was divided almost in half, between the United States of America and Mexico.

As such, there are a lot of things that the Indigenous peoples of Mexico and the Indigenous Nations of New Mexico and Arizona have in common. That commonality is what endears me to Guadalupe Garcia McCall's Under the Mesquite. The glossary at the back? I didn't need it. All those words are familiar to me, and the ways she writes about family, extended family, and community... It all rang true.

Though Under the Mesquite is generally seen as Latino literature---it won, for example, the 2012 Pure Belpre Award---it is also correct to see it as an Indigenous text.

In this beautiful story, told in free verse, Lupita tells us about her Aztec ancestors. As I read Under the Mesquite I paused again and again to be--just be--with McCall's gorgeous phrases. Sitting on my couch, her words summoned from my memory so much... the way the southwest sun feels on your skin, the images of women caring for their gardens or preparing food for their families.

Her description of children looking for chicharras (cicadas) was priceless. She didn't tell us why anyone would look for them. I suspect too many American readers would freak out to learn that a lot of us Indigenous peoples gather and roast those chicarras!

I was captivated by Under the Mesquite. Published by Lee and Low, I highly recommend it.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Earlier this week, NPR released the results of its survey of its listeners favorite young adult novels. Like Shaker Laurie (teacher in Minneapolis), I was struck by how White the list is... As she pointed out, there are only two books by authors who are not White. Those two are House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.

Do the responses to the survey and the list NPR created based on the responses and their judgements on what qualified for the list reflect the Whiteness of the listeners and of the NPR staff, too?

I think so.

NPR has a lot of work to do with regard to diversity. Given that NPR recently received a 1.5 million dollar grant to work on diversity, let's hope that we'd see a difference list from a more informed NPR.

If their coverage becomes more inclusive, maybe more people of color will tune in. And when NPR administers another survey, the results would be different.

And if they hire a more diverse staff, maybe that staff would notice how White the list is, and develop a story ABOUT that whiteness. Such a story would inform listeners of the outstanding literature being written by writers of color.

That "P" in NPR has got to stop standing in for "White" because the public in the US isn't predominantly White.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

New cover for TINTIN IN AMERICA?

This morning at the Kirkus page, I noticed a contest in which people can win complete sets of Herge's Tintin series. Here's the image that accompanies the story:

See the cover for Tintin in America? It is not the cover I'm most familiar with, shown here:

I wonder what prompted the new cover? Instead of Tintin tied to a stake (which, by the way, is an inaccurate or misleading bit of info about Indians that was popularized by Westerns), we see Tintin riding a horse. Here's another version of the on-a-horse cover. It is the one offered at Amazon:

In doing an Internet search of covers for Tintin in America, I came across a couple of others. This one has a "II" after it, so maybe there's a Part 2 for this particular book in the series.

And this one, according to a fan, is the original cover.  The original artwork for this cover was recently sold for $1.6 million dollars.

The Tintinologist site has a great deal of information about Tintin in America, including the changes publishers wanted made: 

Finding a publisher for this book in the USA was impossible. Even in the mid-1940s, American publishers insisted that Hergé replaced the 'coloured' people featured in the comic with 'whites'. Then again, the USA was not the only country that gave Hergé a hard time publishing this comic. Most foreign publishers (i.e. non-Belgian or French) seemed to have problems with the almost apocalyptical scene in which the soldiers move out the Indians of the reserve, and the speed in which the new town is created. 

I've got to do some research on Tintin in America...  

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

American Indians in Children's Literature receives Wordcraft Circle Award

I am pleased to announce that American Indians in Children's Literature was named as a recipient of one of its 2012 Wordcraft Circle Honors and Awards.

I'm especially pleased that Wordcraft has selected Tim Tingle's Saltypie for its children's book award.

As I understand it, writers especially like being selected for the National Book Award, because selections for it are made by fellow writers who understand the art of writing.

Wordcraft Circle is composed of people who understand the work of Native people who seek to create greater understandings of who we are as Indigenous peoples. Being recognized by them is a special honor.

Here is info from the WordCraft page:

Our Vision: To ensure the voices of Native American and Indigenous writers and storytellers - past, present, and future - are heard throughout the world!

Our Mission: To support the work and words of Native and Indigenous people in order to strengthen the impact of their voices in asserting community sovereignty, individual self-determination, traditional and cultural values, and creative expression.

Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers was founded in 1992 by Lee Francis III after attending the first Returning the Gift gathering of Native writers and storytellers in Norman, Oklahoma. Dr. Francis wanted to honor the memory of a former student who had passed away during the gathering by creating an organization that would continue to promote the work of Native American writers and storytellers. Throughout the 1990's, Dr. Francis helped promote the work of numerous Native American and Indigenous writers, both emerging and professional, throughout North and South America. Writers such as Joseph Bruchac, Dianne Glancy, MariJo Moore, Chris Eyre, and E.K. Caldwell were all a part of the organization during it's first decade. For over ten years, Wordcraft connected hundreds of Native writers in gatherings throughout the U.S. In 2003, Dr. Francis passed away after a short struggle with cancer and the organization was inherited by Dr. Kimberly Roppolo and Lee Francis IV.

Update, May 2, 2016:
In addition to AICL and Saltypie, I want to note awards given to:

  • Arigon Starr, Lee Frances III Memorial Award for Wordcrafter of the Year
  • Sara Hoklotubbe, Mystery, for The American Cafe 

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Indigenous peoples in Victoria Foyt's REVEALING EDEN

Tweets I read yesterday prompted me to read Victoria Foyt's young adult novel, Revealing Eden. Some call it provocative, others call it misguided, and others call it utterly racist.

Revealing Eden came out in January of 2012 from Sand Dollar Press. It didn't get reviewed by any of the major review journals. That is due to it being published by Sand Dollar Press, which has only published one book: Revealing Eden. 

In an interview posted at Amazon, Foyt said she drew on her "deep fears about Global Warming" to write this story in which "an overheated earth turned social standards upside down." On her website, she writes that she wanted to create a world where "environmental chaos turns today's prevailing beauty standards upside down."

So... she created a story set in the future in which "Coals" are black people whose dark skin makes them more resistant to "the Heat" (skin cancer). That makes them more powerful than the "Pearls" whose white skin makes them more susceptible to skin cancer. The Coals survived "The Great Meltdown" (caused by depletion of the ozone) in greater numbers and are now the ruling class. The Pearls are the lowest class. They all live together underground. The Pearls coat their white skin and blonde hair so their skin is darker and their hair is black. The product they use is called "Midnight Luster." It has to be reapplied every few days. It wears off, and if it gets wet, it comes off. It can also be rubbed off. They wear it for protection from the sun (which would make sense if they went above ground, which they don't) and so that their white skin doesn't antagonize the coals. "Midnight Luster" allows Pearls to pass as Coals. Lowest in class are "Cottons" (Albinos). Between the Coals and the Pearls are the Ambers (Asians) and just above them are the Latinos who I think are "Tigers Eye."

It is difficult to follow the story itself. There are gaps and inconsistencies that an editor would have caught. The logic of the world Foyt creates doesn't hold up. I suggest you read Margaret J. B. Bates's critique at Legendary Women. It has links to other sites with information about the book and does an excellent job of discussing blackface. 

Writing about Foyt's book lets me call attention to the ways that Foyt (and those who like the book) are caught up in stereotypical ideas about Indigenous people.

Yeah... Indigenous people are in her book, too.

But they don't have a category like Coal or Pearl.  They don't live in the tunnels. Instead, they're on the surface near the equator, and they're the Huaorani. Somehow, they've made it into Foyt's future (on the surface), but she doesn't tell us how they were able to survive the Meltdown. 

In the story, Eden and her father (a scientist experimenting on "Interspecies Structural Adaptation") and a coal named Bramford leave the underground when a radical Coal group led by a guy named Jamal attacks the lab. But before they leave, Bramford asks her father to do his experiment on him, which turns him into a creature that is part jaguar.

They fly to Sector Six which is "a lawless, barren land" where "drug lords," or "The Heat" or predators might kill them (p. 48). As we'll see, Sector Six is near the equator. This reference to drug lords is one of the things that doesn't make sense and isn't explained. Instead, it just IS. It is not unlike the ways that a lot of Americans---today---blame Latin America for drug problems.

When they land, Eden sees "a half-dozen, short, muscular Indians wearing a rag-tag assortment of clothes" (p. 50). Some have machetes, some have blowguns (and poison darts), and, "Despite fanciful feathers tucked into simple bowl-cut hairstyles, the warriors appeared fierce" as they stood by their vehicles (p. 50).

Her father is excited to see "The Huaorani" (and yeah, Foyt uses a capital T every time she references The Huorani) who, he says, are "the world's last independent indigenous tribe. No one knows how or where they've survived." Course, that is his (outsider) perspective (Foyt's, that is). Obviously, the Huaorani know how and where they survived. Not telling us (readers) keeps them in the realm of an unknowable exotic mythical tribe.

They're expert hunters, her father says, who hunt "cowode" which are "non-humans or anyone different from them" (p. 50).  Since Bramford isn't human, Eden thinks she can get the Huaorani to kill him. Eden, Bramford, and her father get off the plane, and she yells "cowode" and points to Bramford, but instead of killing him, they "fell to their knees and began to chant in ecstatic voices" (p 51):

"El Tigre! El Tigre!"

I'm guessing that the Huaorani people of Ecuador speak their own language and Spanish, too, so their use of Spanish in the novel is plausible.

Anyway, it turns out that the Huaorani think Bramford is El Tigre ("the Jaguar Man") who is the "long-awaited Aztec God" and because Eden is with him, they look upon her with "equal reverence" (p. 51). I guess Foyt want us to think that the Huaorani and Aztec have the same gods. Indigenous people, whether we're in North or South America... some writers think our ways are the same, no matter our location or history. Monolithic, ya' know! Interchangeable!

The Huaorani take Bramford, Eden, and her father to a village where (p. 54):
Native women and children in tattered rags stood by, staring blankly at the arrivals. They looked ill with patchy hair, and red, scaly rashes on their brown skin. Their stomachs were swollen, their eyes lifeless. Two drunken men sprawled in a heap of garbage. One of them raised his head, eyed the commotion, then spit and turned over.
Blank stares and lifeless eyes? This portrayal of the Huaorani isn't consistent across the novel. Here, it sounds like she's looking at a 'save the children' commercial. And drunken men?! Why is THAT there?

The nearby river is covered with green and black layers, which her father says is residue from oil mining (p. 54):
"My hypothesis is the tribe sold their oil rights long ago, probably for worthless cash. I suspect no one ever explained the consequences."
Ah, yes! Primitive, ignorant savages! Except that's not the case in reality. It is a trope, however, that works when the author and her audience are all steeped in stereotypes of primitive Indians.

From that village, Eden and Bramford go to another one where the people aren't as destitute. They are mostly naked, and wear their "ragtag" clothes when they're going to town (p. 85).  They make no sound when they walk (ah, yes! Another stereotype!) and boys become warriors only after they've been initiated by being stung by dozens of "bullet ants" (p. 88). They are a happy people with shamans and remedies and a lifestyle that Bramford wants to preserve and emulate. Sounds like Lieutenant Dunbar in Dances With Wolves! Or that guy in Avatar!

Soon, Eden wants to be Native, too!

She asks Maria, a Huaorani woman, to cut her hair in the Huaorani style (bowl-cut). As her blonde hair falls to the floor, she wonders if Maria's daughters think it "held some potent magic or evil" (p. 112). As she looks in the mirror, she thinks she "might pass as a tribeswoman" (p. 112). Her father asks her and asks if she's "going Native" (p. 114).

Towards the end of the novel, Eden and Bramford go to "Heaven's Gate" to get a root they need to save her father's life. There, they see an "ancient, fortress-like stone terrace" that Bramford tells her was built by the Aztecs.

Did they really go all the way from Ecuador to northern Mexico?! Or, has Foyt got us back in the interchangeable Indian space again?

At Heaven's Gate, Bramford tells Eden that the Aztecs are watching them but are afraid of Eden's skin color. The pair dig up roots that Eden realizes are the "proverbial Fountain of Youth" (p. 130). Later, Aztec warriors help Eden and Bramford fight the radical group that wanted to take over the underground. The warriors appear and disappear without a sound.

The novel ends with Eden and Bramford kissing, ready for part two in Foyt's "Save the Pearls" series.

A too-kind word that sums up my appraisal of the book? Ick.

My concluding thoughts

Foyt's book is a mess. Through most of the story, her main character is racist. She says and thinks things about Coals and Huaorani that are racist, arrogant, and ignorant. Because of that, her early comment that she wants to mate with a Coal (Jamal) to improve her standing doesn't make sense. She is sexually attracted to Jamal and later transfers that attraction to Bramford, but she detests Coals, and, what are we to make of the title of the series title, "Save the Pearls"?!

Eden does blackface and isn't happy. Happiness only comes when she goes Native, with "going Native" an act that is based on stereotypes and romantic notions of what it means to be Indigenous. In that way, Revealing Eden is a lot like the picture book, Brother Eagle Sister Sky, in which white people learn to take care of the earth only when they adopt romanticized ideas of Native views.

Foyt is asserting that the story is about global warming, and while that is part of the story, it seems to me that the overwhelming storyline is calculated to stir things up in a bid for attention... Like an internet troll. There's nothing to learn or think about in this story. Its too rife with stereotypes and us-versus-them binaries. The writing is bad, and I struggled to read the book. I thought I could just stop, but given the rise in self-published novels and the apparent success this one is receiving, I stuck with it, in hopes that other might-be-self-published authors would read it and revisit any Indigenous themes they may be exploring. Stereotypes will sell, but don't do it.
The book cover (shown here), story, and video promoting the book caused a great deal of conversation on the Internet. Given the way Foyt described Eden when she goes Native (with the "bowl-cut"), some clever person could figure out how to show the three faces of Eden. But then again, maybe Foyt will do that herself on the cover of her next book.

Let's hope that there is no next-book.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Indian in the... Dishwasher?!

Though the toy Indians seen in Indian in the Cupboard are not available in the numbers they once were, they still appear in interesting places...

This morning, I was reading Huff Post's "Uncommon Items to Put in the Dishwasher" and item #2 is a plastic toy Indian. Here's a screenshot:

Where, I wonder, did they get it? How and why did they choose it over something else?!

"Books that Shaped America" at the Library of Congress

Recently, I began to see links to a new exhibit at the Library of Congress. Titled "Books That Shaped America," it consists of 91 books.

When I learned of the list, I wondered who selected them and if those individuals had an inclusive view of the peoples of America. I've since learned that the list was developed by "curators and experts from throughout the Library of Congress."

There are some great items on that list, but, there isn't a single title on the "Books that Shaped America" by an American Indian, which makes me wonder about the curators and experts who selected the books. Is there not an American Indian amongst them? Or, perhaps, an expert in American Indian writings?

That list of books should include Vine Deloria Jr.'s bestseller, Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. It led a great many people to think critically about the U.S. government and American Indians. Deloria's ideas shaped a lot of thinkers who were and influential in government policies that shaped and continue to shape America. Custer Died For Your Sins was (and is) very influential in other places, too. It shaped the ways that many American Indian Studies programs at universities are structured, and, it changed the shape of the ways that anthropology departments study American Indians. Deloria's work is so influential that symposiums are named after him.

The overview to the list of Books that Shaped America includes a link to submit a title you think ought to be on a future list. I invite you to use the link, and pick up a copy of the book, too, at your local library or bookstore. If it isn't there, request it. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Robopocalypse is summer reading in Champaign, Illinois

I was at the Champaign Public Library a few weeks ago and saw that the local public school has Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse on its list of summer reading. What a treat for local high school students who select it!

Wilson is Cherokee (enrolled) and has a new book due out, by the way, titled Amped. Kathy Ceceri of Wired said "Wilson has a voice and style very much like Stephen King. But unlike King, Wilson also had the chops to base weird things in his stories on science." I liked Robopocalypse and look forward to Amped.

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: http://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/). 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