Monday, October 22, 2012

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

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

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

Kinew wrote:

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


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

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

This morning, Kinew posted this Instagram on Twitter:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stereotypes and the Canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha

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

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

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

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

NBC's coverage includes this line:

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

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

Here's the photo directly beneath that paragraph:

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

Creating a Library Atmosphere that Welcomes American Indians

Eds. Note: Updated on October 6, 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Coming Up: Native American Month for more suggestions.

Your suggestions:

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

Update, October 6, 2015

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ben Esposito's "Kachina"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

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

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

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

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

I have a couple of other recommendations...

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

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

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

Monday, October 08, 2012

Anyone in TUSD teaching from RETHINKING COLUMBUS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Friday, October 05, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

    Ms. Warren: Mascots have serious consequences

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

    "Outrageous!" the pundits exclaim.

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

    Did you listen to it?

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


    Has Warren issued statements 
    condemning mascots?

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

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

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

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

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

    This is an opportunity for you!

    Tuesday, September 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

    Our responsibility is to continue that fight.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Why this should matter to you 

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

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

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

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

    A more informed public 

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

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

    Monday, September 24, 2012



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

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

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

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

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


    Haven't read The Lesser Blessed
    Do it today. 

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

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

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

    Saturday, September 22, 2012

    Library of Congress: "52 Great Reads"

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

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

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

    Here's a larger image of the cover:

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

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

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

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

    Friday, September 21, 2012

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

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

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

    Scott Brown's ignorance is showing!


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

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

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

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

    Scott Brown ought to watch that video!

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

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

    Thursday, September 20, 2012

    AICL on Pinterest

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

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

    Barbara Cooney's MISS RUMPHIUS: Take Two

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

    Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius

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

    (Source for image:

    Here's the text for that page:

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

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

    Source: Oklahoma Historical Society

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

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

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

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

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

    Saturday, September 15, 2012

    Horn Book interviews Louise Erdrich

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

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

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

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

    (Photo credit:

    Wednesday, September 12, 2012

    New website: Chickasaw TV

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

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

    At Chickasaw TV you can choose from several different channels:

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

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

    Thursday, September 06, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, September 04, 2012

    LIFE IN A SIOUX VILLAGE, by Sally Senzell Isaacs

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

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

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

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

    Friday, August 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Shall I stop?

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

    This humor doesn't work for me. 

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

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

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

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

    Update: Saturday, August 25

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

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012


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

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

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

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

    Thanks, Miriam, for the recommendation! 

    Monday, August 20, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here's the trailer: