Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Is that Native American Encyclopedia website any good?

My answer to that question is a resounding NO.

This is a long overdue post. Some time back--years maybe--I saw an online encyclopedia called "Native American Encyclopedia." It is on Twitter, and Instagram, and no telling where else, but if you start looking carefully---and by that I mean critically---at the content, its legitimacy goes downhill fast.

Who curates the content?  Posts have personal names, like Carol, or Alice, but no last names. Who are they? What is Carol's expertise? What is Alice's expertise?

The "About" page uses "our" elders, etc., which suggests that the curators are Native. It even says that it is "Native owned and operated" but who are the Native people that own and operate it?

In a tweet earlier today, I said I thought perhaps the curator is a robot because there is SO MUCH on the site! Check out a page. You pick the page.

Maybe the "Native American Zodiac" page. Wait. Native American zodiac?! As if all 500+ tribes are the same and have a zodiac that we all use?!

Or maybe the page about naming, that tells you a naming ritual starts with "Harken!" As if Native people use words like "harken" in our rituals.

Or maybe the page about Cherokee, that is full of past tense verbs. As if the Cherokee don't exist anymore?

If you're a regular reader of American Indians in Children's Literature, you know that I recommend you visit websites of Native Nations. On this bogus Native American Encyclopedia site, the source of info on the Cherokee people is a website called "The Wild West." Not ok!

What page did you choose? Are you looking at it now? On the page you've chosen, scroll down to the bottom to see what it says about its source. The sources are definitely questionable. The one for the owl of the zodiac, for example, tells us the source is "xtraastrology." Let's pause there. Are you a teacher? A librarian? A parent? You know that source matters, right?

Scroll down a bit more. See those tiny grayed out words that say "Based on the collective work of NativeAmericanEncyclopedia.com" that are followed by the copyright symbol, saying that Native American Encyclopedia holds the copyright for the page? I wonder if The Wild West site is ok with the Native American Encyclopedia copyrighting their content?

Two big indicators that the people who create and use that site are pretty misinformed about who Native peoples are... First, the site administrator has a sidebar that lists the pages that have been "favourited" a lot. See the spelling of favorite? With that u? That's how it is spelled in Europe. Does that tell us that the curators for the site are in Europe?!  And second, the page most often favourited is the zodiac one. Selecting that page reveals the ignorance of the person choosing it as a favorite!

Please don't use this site, and if you're interested in information about Native Nations, tell others not to use the site either. Tell them why, too. And then, look for the website of a specific nation. Use Lisa Mitten's page, Native Nations, to find one. She is a mixed-blood Native who was president of the American Indian Library Association. Or, look at a credible site, with experts. A good place to start is the National Museum of the American Indian.

Good information is available. Don't be duped by sites like "The Native American Encyclopedia." Skip it.

Oyate's List of Thanksgiving Books to Avoid

A few years ago, Oyate had a list of books about Thanksgiving that they did not recommend. The list was on their website.

Given the number of books that are published every year about that holiday and the ways that Native peoples continue to be misrepresented in children's books, you would be right to guess that their list is long.

That list is not at their website any longer. In a redesign a few years ago they decided to remove it and their Books to Avoid section. They decided that, although a list might seem efficient, it didn't give people the critical thinking skills they need to develop in order to make decisions on their own. I agree--I'd prefer people develop those skills and apply them their selection/deselection activities.

On the other hand, teachers use lists of good books all the time. Generally speaking, they assume that the person who put that list together has the expertise necessary such that their evaluations can be trusted.

I personally have not read all of these books, but I definitely learned a great deal from Oyate's work. I strongly encourage teachers and librarians to get materials published by Oyate.

My guess is that I'd concur with their decision about each of these books, and I'd also guess that any given book on the list got there because it put forth one or more of what Judy Dow and Beverly Slapin called myths in their Deconstructing the Myths of the First Thanksgiving. If one of these books is on your shelf and you're considering weeding it, I recommend you read it and Dow and Slapin's essay and then make a decision.

I've also shared Oyate's list of recommended books here. And, for more books that accurately portray Native people, see my page of Best Books. (Note: the first sentence of his paragraph was not visible enough. Two people submitted comments asking for recommended books. To help it be more visible, I made it a separate paragraph in bold and added the sentence/link to best books to supplement Oyate's list.)

Dow and Slapin's piece on Thanksgiving myths is also in the outstanding resource A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children (published in 2005), as are many (all?) of the in-depth critical reviews that were on Oyate's page of Books to Avoid. Get A Broken Flute, and Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children (published in 1987 and again in 2006), too. Both are vitally important for all that they contain. (Note: I added this paragraph soon after hitting the upload button on this post, and I added Slapin's name as a co-author. My apologies to her for the initial omission.)

Own your knowledge. Own your decisions.



Oyate's list of NOT RECOMMENDED books about Thanksgiving


Accorsi, William. Friendship's First Thanksgiving. Holiday House, 1992.

Aliki. Corn is Maize: The Gift of the Indians. Harper & Row, 1976.

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Ansary, Mir Tamim. Thanksgiving Day. Heinemann, 2002.

Apel, Melanie Ann. The Pilgrims. Kidhaven Press, 2003.

Bartlett, Robert Merrill, The Story of Thanksgiving. HarperCollins, 2001.

Barth, Edna. Turkeys, Pilgrims, and Indian Corn: The Story of Thanksgiving Symbols. Clarion, 1975.

Borden, Louise. Thanksgiving Is... Scholastic, 1997.

Brown, Marc. Arthur's Thanksgiving. Little, Brown. 1983.

Bruchac, Joseph. Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving. Harcourt, 2000.

Buckley, Susan Washburn. Famous Americans: 15 Easy to Read Biography Mini-Books. Scholastic, 2000.

Bulla, Clyde Robert. Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims. Scholastic, 1990.

Celsi, Teresa. Squanto and the First Thanksgiving. Steck-Vaughn, 1989.

Clements, Andrew. Look Who's in the Thanksgiving Play! Simon & Shuster, 1999.

Cohen, Barbara. Molly's Pilgrim. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1983.

Conaway, Judith. Happy Thanksgiving! Things to Make and Do. Troll Communications, 1986.

Crane, Carol and Helle Urban. P is for Pilgrim: A Thanksgiving Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press, 2003.

Dalgliesh, Alice. The Thanksgiving Story. Scholastic, 1954/1982.

Daugherty, James. The Landing of the Pilgrims. Random House, 1987.

Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much About the Pilgrims. HarperCollins, 2002.

DePaola, Tomie. My First Thanksgiving. Putnam, 1992.

Donnelly, Judy. The Pilgrims and Me. Grosset & Dunlap, 2002.

Dubowski, Cathy East. The Story of Squanto, First Friend to the Pilgrims. Dell, 1990.

Fink, Deborah. It's a Family Thanksgiving! A Celebration of an American Tradition for Children and their Families. Harmony Hearth, 2000.

Flindt, Myron. Pilgrims: A Simulation of the First Year at Plymouth Colony. Interact, 1994.

Fritz, Jean. Who's That Stepping on Plymouth Rock? Putnam & Grossett, 1975.

George, Jean Craighead. The First Thanksgiving. Puffin. 1993.

Gibbons, Gail. Thanksgiving Day. Holiday House, 1985.

Gibbons, Gail. Thanksgiving Is... Holiday House, 2004.

Greene, Rhonda Gowler. The Very First Thanksgiving Day. Atheneum, 2002.

Hale, Anna W. The Mayflower People: Triumphs and Tragedies. Harbinger House, 1995.

Hallinan, P. K. Today is Thanksgiving! Ideals Children's Books, 1993.

Harness, Cheryl. Three Young Pilgrims. Aladdin, 1995.

Hayward, Linda. The First Thanksgiving. Random House, 1990.

Hennessy, B. G. One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims. Viking, 1999.

Jackson, Garnet. The First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 2000.

Jassem, Kate. Squanto: The Pilgrim Adventure. Troll Communications. 1979.

Kamma, Anne. If You Were At... The First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 2001.

Kessel, Joyce K. Squanto and the First Thanksgiving. Carolrhoda, 1983.

Kinnealy, Janice. Let's Celebratae Thanksgiving, A Book of Drawing Fun. Watermill, 1988.

Koller, Jackie French. Nickommoh! A Thanksgiving Celebration. Atheneum, 1999.

Marx, David F. Thanksgiving. Children's Press, 2000.

McGovern, Ann. The Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 1973.

McMullan, Kate. Fluffy's Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 1997.

Melmed, Laura Krauss. The First Thanksgiving Day: A Counting Story. HarperCollins, 2001.

Metaxas, Eric. Squanto and the First Thanksgiving. Rabbit Ears Books, 1996.

Moncure, Jane Belk. Word Bird's Thanksgiving Words. Child's World, 2002.

Ochoa, Anna. Sticker Stories: The Thanksgiving Play. Grosset & Dunlap, 2002.

Osborne, Mary Pope. Thanksgiving on Thursday. Random House, 2002.

Parker, Margot. What is Thanksgiving Day? Children's Press, 1988.

Peacock, Carol Antoinette. Pilgrim Cat. Whitman, 2004.

Prelutsky, Jack. It's Thanksgiving. Morrow, 1982.

Rader, Laura J. A Child's Story of Thanksgiving. Ideals Children's Books, 1998

Randall, Ronnie. Thanksgiving Fun: Great Things to Make and Do. Kingfisher, 1994.

Raphael, Elaine and Don Bolognese. The Story of the First Thanksgiving. Scholastic, 1991.

Rau, Dana Meachen. Thanksgiving. Children's Press, 2000.

Roberts, Bethany. Thanksgiving Mice! Clarion, 2001.

Rockwell, Anne. Thanksgiving Day. HarperCollins, 1999.

Rogers, Lou. The First Thanksgiving. Modern Curriculum Press. 1962.

Roloff, Nan. The First American Thanksgiving. Current. 1980.

Roop, Connie and Peter. Let's Celebrate Thanksgiving. Millbrook, 1999.

Roop, Connie and Peter. Pilgrim Voices: Our First Year in the New World. Walker, 1995.

Ross, Katherine. Crafts for Thanksgiving. Millbrook, 1995.

Ross, Katherine. The Story of the Pilgrims. Random House, 1995.

Ruelle, Karen Gray. The Thanksgiving Beast Feast. Holiday House, 1999.

San Souci, Robert. N.C. Wyeth's Pilgrims. Chronicle, 1991.

Scarry, Richard. Richard Scarry's The First Thanksgiving of Low Leaf Worm. Little Simon, 2003.

Schultz, Charles M. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Sewall, Marcia. People of the Breaking Day. Atheneum, 1990.

Sewall, Marica. The People of Plimoth. Aladdin, 1986.

Sewall, Marcia. Thunder from the Clear Sky. Atheneum, 1995.

Siegel, Beatrice. Fur Traders and Traders: The Indians, the Pilgrims, and the Beaver. Walker, 1981.

Siegel, Beatrice, Indians of the Northeast Woodlands. Walker, 1992.

Silver, Donald M. and Patricia J. Wynne. Easy Make and Learn Projects: The Pilgrims, the Mayflower & More. Scholastic, 2001.

Skarmeas, Nancy J. The Story of Thanksgiving. Ideals Publications, 1999.

Sorenson, Lynda. Holidays: Thanksgiving. Rourke, 1994.

Stamper, Judith Bauer. New Friends in a New Land: A Thanksgiving Story. Steck-Vaughn, 1993.

Stamper, Judith Bauer. Thanksgiving Fun Activity Book. Troll, 1993.

Stanley, Diane. Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation. HarperCollins, 2004.

Steigemeyer, Julie. Thanksgiving: A Harvest Celebration. Concordia, 2003.

Tryon, Leslie. Albert's Thanksgiving. Aladdin, 19983.

Umnik, Sharon Dunn (Ed.). 175 Easy-to-Do Thanksgiving Crafts. Boyds Mills Press, 1996.

Waters, Kate. Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast. Scholastic, 2001.

Waters, Kate. Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy. Scholastic, 1993.

Waters, Kate. Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl. Scholastic, 1989.

Waters, Kate. Tapenum's Day: A Wampanoag Boy in Pilgrim Times. 1996.

Weisgard, Leonard. The Plymouth Thanksgiving. Doubleday, 1967.

Whitehead, Pat. Best Thanksgiving Book, ABC Adventures. Troll Communications, 1985.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Twitter Chat on American Indian Literature for Youth

Note: The chat described below was storifed and is available here: #SupportWNDB Native American Chat

Are you on Twitter? What are you doing a week from today? I'm asking, because...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
9:00 PM Eastern Time

Allie Jane Bruce
and me (Debbie Reese)

Will host a Twitter Chat
Join Us!
#SupportWNDB


I did a post for the We Need Diverse Books page. Below is a screen capture. Please go read it. It has the kind of info that I want to feature in the chat next week. Allie Jane Bruce, by the way, is the kind of librarian that I wish was in every library, every school, around the world. Yes. The world.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Anton Treuer's EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT INDIANS BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

Anton Treuer's Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask is one of the books I think every teacher ought to have on her shelf, and that every library ought to have, too, in multiple copies.

Published in 2012 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, the information in Treuer's book is presented in a question/answer format. If you've already got Do All Indians Live in Tipis from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), add this one to your shopping cart or order form right away. Though there is some overlap (both, for example, discuss use of "American Indian" versus "Native American"), there are definitely a lot of things that are not in the NMAI book, and, because Treuer is Ojibwe, we get more depth on that nation, in particular.

The contents of the book are in question/answer format, with the questions ones that Treuer is asked in lectures and workshops. He's the executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State in Minnesota.

Here's the table of contents:

Introduction: Ambassador
Terminology
History
Religion, Culture & Identity
Powwow
Tribal Languages
Politics
Economics
Education
Perspectives: Coming to Terms and Future Directions
Conclusion: Finding Ways to Make a Difference

Some highlights:

In History, Treuer addresses the land bridge theory of the continent's first inhabitants by pointing to new research of archeological sites that forces us to reconsider that theory. He also answers the oft-posed question "why does it matter" when Indians got here. He says that the question itself is one whose subtext is that everyone is immigrant to this continent, and as such, is an attempt to undermine Native Nations.

In Perspectives, Treur takes on the "my great grandmother was a Cherokee princess" statement that so many of us hear. He does the usual rebuttal that royalty is not part of Cherokee societal structure, but he also says this:
If your great-grandmother was Cherokee, then one of your grandparents was too, and one of your parents, and in actuality you are Cherokee as well. Someone who truly identifies with his or her native ancestry will say, "I am Cherokee."
He goes on to say that the "my great grandmother" statement, though well-intended, demonstrates a level of ignorance about Cherokee history and culture, and posits that those who have actually investigated that family story and Cherokee culture would come away saying "I'm Cherokee" (if the story is legitimized) and would abandon the "princess" claim because it is not valid.

In the Conclusion, Treuer writes about a grassroots effort amongst local businessmen in Bemidji to add Ojibwe words to their signage. A simple action, it brings visibility to a people and their language that is rare. And, it welcomes Ojibwe people in ways that affirm who they are. Here's a photo from the book, showing the signage at the hospital:



If you want to make your classroom, school, or library more welcoming to Native peoples, signage is a good option. A couple of years ago, I pointed to a number of resources you can turn to do that.

If you've got a choice, I encourage you to get Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask from an independent bookstore like Birchbark Books.

I like Treuer's book. He writes directly and conveys nuances to, amongst the 500+ federally recognized tribal nations. I highly recommend you add it to your collections.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Some thoughts about Native American Month and Thanksgiving

In the opening chapter of Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Our Of Here (2013, Arthur A. Levine Books), the main character, Lewis, is walking home. The time of year is August.  Lewis lives on the Tuscarora Reservation. Here's what Lewis is thinking:
As I turned the corner at Dog Street, where I lived, I could see my old elementary school. The teachers would be in their classrooms now, decorating bulletin boards with WELCOME TO THE 1975-1976 SCHOOL YEAR! in big construction-paper letters. They were going to be puzzled by the fact that the United States Bicentennial Celebration wasn't exactly a reservation priority, since we'd been here for a lot longer than two hundred years.
That puzzlement is what today's post is about. Lewis's people identify with a tribal nation that has been here far longer than the nation we know as the United States of America. I think it fair to say that the US marks two moments of historical significance. One is its independence on July 4, 1776. But Independence Day is preceded by "the first Thanksgiving" in 1621. (Set aside time to read and study What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving: The Wampanoag Side of the Tale.)

In schools across the country, Native peoples appear in the curriculum at specific times of the year. Like this month. November. Thanksgiving.

Coincidentally (?), November is Native American Month. I suspect November may have been chosen because that is the month when the US celebrates Thanksgiving. As such, I think it seemed (to someone) to be the ideal month for Americans to "reflect on the profound ways the First Americans have shaped our country's character and culture." That phrase is in the opening line of President Obama's 2014 Presidential Proclamation designating this as National Native American Heritage Month. The first president to proclaim November as Native American Month was George H. W. Bush, in 1990 (see the full list of proclamations here).

People mean well. They have good intentions. But even President Obama's opening remark indicates a framework that doesn't work. Are Native peoples "the First Americans?" I know a good many Native people who would say they're citizens of their tribal nation first and foremost, and I've read that Native leaders who fought the U.S. in the 1800s wouldn't call themselves Americans at all.

A fact: 
Native Nations pre-date the 
United States and all its holidays. 

Our timelines, in other words, don't start at 1621 or 1776, or the year at which any given state in the US celebrates its statehood.

President Obama is right. Native peoples did shape the country's character and culture. Watch this video from Vision Maker Media. It has terrific information about how the Founding Fathers were guided by, and turned to, the Haudenosaunee.



So here we are, a few weeks away from Thanksgiving, in a month designated as one in which US citizens are invited to "work to build a world where all people are valued and no child ever has to wonder if he or she has a place in our society." That is another phrase in President Obama's proclamation. In it, he also talks about sovereignty.

I want librarians, teachers, parents, writers... everyone, really, to move away from talking about Native peoples in the past tense context of Thanksgiving. I want everyone to move away from talking about us only in November.

Buy and share the books I recommend below year-round. Doing that conveys the respect and inclusion that everyone in the U.S. should have as a given. Not an exception, but as a given. Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here and the ones I discuss below are among my favorite books.


Every people has a creation story. Not every person within a group believes in those creation stories, but I think most people respect those stories and the people who hold them as truths.

Simon J. Ortiz's The People Shall Continue starts with Native creation stories (plural because there are over 500 federally recognized Native Nations in the U.S., with tremendous difference in language, location, spirituality, and material culture) and moves through contact with Europeans, wars, treaties, capitalism, and the need for peoples to unite against forces that can destroy the humanity in all of us. Published in 1977, 1988 and again in 1994 by Children's Book Press, this picture book is no longer in print. Used copies, however, are available online, and I highly recommend it for children and adults, too. It offers a lot to think about. Ortiz is a member of Acoma Pueblo, in New Mexico.





Believe it or not, a lot of people express surprise to learn that we are still here. People think we were all killed or died of disease... gone from the face of the earth. Some people think we are still here, but that to be "real" Indians, we have to live like we did hundreds of years ago.

Picture books like Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer (2000, Morrow Junior Books) push against those ideas. The protagonist is Jenna, a Muscogee Creek girl who is going to do the Jingle Dance for the first time at an upcoming powwow. The story of Jenna getting ready reflects what happens in Native communities when a young child is going to dance for the first time. Everyone helps. The cover shows Jenna at the powwow. Inside you'll find her walking down a tree-lined street as she visits friends and family members. At one point she feels a bit overwhelmed at all the work she needs to do to be ready, but her Great Aunt Sis tells her a traditional story about not giving up. Smith is enrolled with the Muscogee Creek Nation.




Native spiritualities are misrepresented as pagan and mystic, and rather than seen as religions with their own integrity, are cast as superstitions of primitive people.

Tim Tingle's How I Became A Ghost (2013, RoadRunner Press) bats down those two ideas beautifully. His middle-grade novel opens with these words on the first page: "Chapter 1: Talking Ghost, Choctaw Nation, Mississippi, 1830." Bam! Spirituality is there from the start. Not in a mystic way. It is an IS. A matter of fact. And nationhood, too! Right from the start.

This is a story about the Choctaw Trail of Tears, told from the vantage point of Isaac, a ten year old boy. Given its topic, it could be a very raw story, but Tingle's storytelling voice and humor (yes, humor) keep the focus of the story on the humanity of all the people involved. Tingle is enrolled with the Choctaw Nation and is working on a sequel to How I Became A Ghost. 




I'll close with a board book that features a Native language. In the U.S. and Canada, government policy was to 'kill the Indian and save the man' in boarding schools run by churches or by the government. Kids were forced to attend those boarding schools (starting in the 1800s) and were punished and beaten for speaking their own languages. The direct result was that many Native languages were lost. Today there are language revitalization programs in which elders who still speak their language are teaching it. In some places, language remained strong.

We All Count (2014, Native Northwest) is a board book for toddlers who are learning to count in English, but in Cree, too. Written and illustrated by Julie Flett, who is Cree Metis (First Nations in Canada), each page is beautifully illustrated, with the Cree word for each numeral written in a large font that complements the page itself.

Get those books! Order them from your local bookstore, and ask your librarian to get them, too. There are a great many that I could write about here, but instead, I'll direct you to my page of links to Best Books lists. Check out my gallery of Native Artists and Illustrators, too. Learn their names. Look for their books. And if you want to learn a bit more about sovereignty, read We Are Not People of Color.

Playing Indian in Victoria Kann's PINKALICIOUS: THANKSGIVING HELPER

Will we ever get to the point in time where creators of children's books stop showing kids playing Indian at Thanksgiving?!

Here's the cover of Pinkalicious: Thanksgiving Helper. In the story, Pinkalicious invites her brother to "pretend it's the first Thanksgiving." She puts on a pink feather and will be Princess Pink Feather (cue moans, groans, and lots of eye rolling). I guess Kann and her publisher and all the people who buy and read/review the book do not know that playing Indian--or Indian princess--is stereotyping of the worst kind, because it seems harmless and innocent and, to quote some of the reviews "cute!". It isn't harmless or innocent or cute. It is stereotyping and ought not be happening in a book published in 2014 by HarperFestival.

Pinkalicious: Thanksgiving Helper is not recommended.






Beverly Slapin's review of RABBIT STORIES by Kim Shuck

Shuck, Kim (Tsalagi, Sauk/Fox, Polish), Rabbit Stories. Poetic Matrix Press, 2013, high school-up

Rabbit (the Being) has awesome responsibilities. He weighs and measures leaves so they can exist. He sings to bring the flowers into bloom. He dances to turn the seasons. He cradles subatomic particles and powwow dancers in his sight—whispers, “beautiful, happy”—and they dance, dance, dance, dance. All these things (and more) he has been given to do, else the world—or at least this corner of the cosmos—will get bent. No small feats and no small responsibilities, those. Rabbit is also a mentor (in his magical way) to Rabbit Food, the human girl he’s named for a wild rose, the human girl he brings to maturity as a smart, loving, responsible, talented Indian woman; a quantum physicist who knows who she is and what she comes from. Under Rabbit’s auspices (and, of course, those of her Aunties and Grandmas), Rabbit Food is a “child of multiple cultures, of Tsalagi and Polish and fantasy and sci-fi, she knows that around any corner there may be a paradigm shift… (And) she will be prepared if stuck in an alternate reality.”

The two—(or three if you count the polyvalent reality of Robin and Fox)—trickster-mentor and quantum physicist, naturally acknowledge each other without actually speaking or touching. Since Rabbit Food was a child, it has never occurred to her to mention him to anyone. Rather, she tosses him a cookie now and then, or lets the cilantro stolen from the fridge go unnoticed, or hides a cashew where he will find it, and she “keeps learning the things she needs.” And Rabbit “loves Rabbit Food, loves her…with the completeness that only someone thoroughly self-absorbed can achieve, and only then for small moments.” 

The stories—of Rabbit Food’s lifetime as girl, young woman, new mother and mature artist, and, of course, ever the student of trickster-cum-life coach Rabbit—weave up, down, around and through. They’re brilliantly crafted and lovingly told, semi-autobiographical stories that take place in parallel worlds full of spirit and magic and wonder and grace; intertwined like the tight stitches of a Tsalagi double-woven basket.

Indian students will appreciate these stories for their many cultural and historical references, their nuances and word plays, their multiple layers of dream and memory, and their fast-paced, wise cracking humor—everything that makes Rabbit Stories Indian. They will also probably appreciate that the author did not, as non-Native authors often do with “Indian” material, turn the stories into mind-numbing ethnographic expositions. Students who are from outside the community may not “get” everything, but will appreciate the stories as well. I encourage teachers to allow these appealing stories to resonate with their students and not to ruin the experience by attempting to analyze or interpret them.

Rabbit Stories, as is Kim’s first book of poetry, Smuggling Cherokee, is amazing; and Kim—an accomplished artist and master storyteller, poet, and educator—is an international treasure. Not one eagle feather dropped here, no pickup dance necessary.

—Beverly Slapin



HOW TO WRITE A DYSTOPIAN YOUNG ADULT NOVEL (or short story) WITH NATIVE CHARACTERS FOR FUN AND PROFIT, by Kim Shuck and Beverly Slapin

Editor's Note: Kim Shuck and Beverly Slapin submitted this satirical "how to" piece in response to my review of Neal Shusterman and Michelle Knowlden's short story, Unstrung. Shusterman responded to that review (see point 13 below). I am currently working on a review of the first three books in Shusterman's series. 

 HOW TO WRITE A DYSTOPIAN YOUNG ADULT NOVEL (or short story)
WITH NATIVE CHARACTERS FOR FUN AND PROFIT
by Kim Shuck and Beverly Slapin
  1. Strive to know nothing about the real lives and histories of Native peoples. Knowing is counterproductive and can be used against you if you accidentally let something real slip in. Do not do any research at all. That way, your tribe will be a genuine object of your invention, and no one will be able to accuse you of cultural appropriation. 
  2. Invent a tribe. Give it a name that sounds kind of sort of like an Indian word. Or forget it—don’t give your tribe an actual name. Rather, refer to your tribe in a way that relates to a well-known stereotype. “People of Chance,” as an example, works well, because it will remind readers of casinos and how wealthy Indian people are. If you’re a little unsure, feel free to work in a backstory about gaming and skilled tribal lawyers.
  3. Write as though your invented tribe is just like any other transplanted culture with the exception of periodic decorative localized mythology. There should be no long memory stories of things that have happened where your tribe lives. Rather, for instance, you might go on and on about your tribe’s ostentatious show of material wealth—curbs that “gleam with gold,” an abundance of luxury cars, “gold plaques embedded in the adobe walls” and everyone wearing business suits “finer than the best designer fashions.”
  4. Assign at least some of your tribal characters names that sound vaguely “Indian.” To do that, make sure that the names contain lots of vowels; something like “Chowilawu” might be a good example. Don’t worry that someone might think the names of your Indian characters mean something. They don’t have to—they’re Indian.
  5. Describe your tribal characters as having small but important Indian mannerisms. For example, make sure that at least one of your Indian characters sits cross-legged on an animal skin. That will remind readers of the good times in kindergarten when they were instructed to sit “Indian style” for long periods of time.
  6. Make sure that the main character (preferably white and male) bonds with a member of your invented culture. Your Indian character need not be developed in any sense, because his only purpose is to teach your main character a major life lesson, after which he expires or goes back to whatever mystical land he comes from. Feel free to use this Native mentor in the style of any of the old tropes: Black nanny, Asian martial arts master, or supernaturally animated Indian doll who lives in a cupboard.
  7. Create new racial slurs to take the place of discredited old ones. “Redskins,” for instance, would be totally last century for a dystopian story. Try something like “slot monger,” or something else that you can make sound vaguely sexual, yet have a backstory that creates deniability.
  8. Put the power in the hands of your invented culture. Make sure that some of the members of your tribe express xenophobic opinions, such as referring to other tribes as “Low-Rez.” This will make the point that xenophobia is logical when it exists in empowered communities.
  9. Because there is no cultural attribution, feel free to use whatever stereotype or debunked expectation you may envision. It’s totally appropriate in this case to evoke offensively weird stories as long as you don’t name your tribe. For instance, you can have characters in your tribe hunting for a male mountain lion in order to transplant his heart into a dying Native elder for whom this animal is his “spirit guide.”
  10. Make sure to work in tropes that are pseudo-spiritual-cultural givens for your tribe: spirit animals and vision quests, for instance. And, above all, make sure that your main Native character, despite—or because of—his otherworldly psychic gifts, gets killed off.
  11. Now, take out your checklist. Invented tribe—check. No real reference to land, language, culture, community–check. No history or memory stories—check. No Indigenous meaning to names or anything else—check. Stereotypical mannerisms—check. Trope-type mentor—check. New racial slur to replace old ones—check. Xenophobic power—check. Offensively weird rituals—check. More tropes—check. Main Native character gets killed off—check.
  12. Done! Now sit back and collect your starred reviews for creating a multicultural dystopian novel with mystical Indian characters whose only raison d’etre is to interact with a white hero in a mentor role worthy of inclusion in a 1950s flick.
  13. On the off chance that you are criticized for inaccuracy, cultural appropriation, racism, or just plain abysmal writing, make sure to respond immediately—preferably with a vague reference to political correctness, reverse racism and/or the humorless nature of the critic. Mention how sensitive you tried to be. Use the phrase “considered carefully” to insure that everyone understands how hard you worked at appropriate representation. You can always fall back on the fact that you invented your tribe and therefore are immune to criticism, but it is worth trying to put the reviewer on the defensive—especially if the reviewer happens to be Native and has worked in the area of American Indians in children’s literature for many years.


—Kim Shuck and Beverly Slapin

(We would like to acknowledge Neal Shusterman and Michelle Knowlden—and the many other authors of “children’s books about Indians” [you know who you are]—without whose important research and writing these helpful hints would not have been possible. Wado, y’all!)


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

DOESN'T FALL OFF HIS HORSE by Virginia A. Stroud


One of the things I love to see in a picture book about Indigenous peoples is a visual that puts the story and its teller in the present day. Virginia A. Stroud's Doesn't Fall Off His Horse does that beautifully.

The first page from Stroud's book is to the right. See the little girl? See the wallpaper on the walls? See the glass windows in the house?

To a good many of you it might sound ridiculous to point out those things, but there are so many people who think Native peoples are long gone, or if we're still here, that we live exactly like we did several hundred years ago. Some even think that if we do NOT still live that way, that we can't be "real" anymore, as if being Native is about material culture and nothing else.

We're far more than that, of course. Every culture or nation or ethnicity is more than its material culture. Stories, for example, are an unseen part of a people's culture.

In Doesn't Fall Off His Horse, Stroud tells us a story about her grandfather. Specifically, it is a story about how he got his name.

The little girl is called Saygee. There's a glossary that tells us Saygee is a Kiowa word that means youngest one, or, little one. She wants him to tell her a story,
"but which one? He was like a living book; nearly a hundred years had passed under his footsteps during his walk upon the earth. He had followed the buffalo, he had roamed the open plains with tepee and lodge poles, he'd seen the non-Indian wagons come to Indian Territory and watched from a hilltop as the settlers staked out the land. He saw one of the first locomotives cut across the prairie, then an automobile, and an airplane; he had received the citizenship given to the Native American people."
Sensing she wants a story, he says "Doesn't Fall Off His Horse." Saygee asks him who doesn't fall off his horse, and he says "Me." and "That's my Indian name." From there, he begins this thrilling story. In its telling, we learn that he is Kiowa. I chose that excerpt (above) quite deliberately. Another thing I look for in a children's book is a way of telling that sounds like the people I know. I don't know any Native elder--or any Native person, in fact--who calls a train an "iron horse." I've seen non-Native writers put that phrase in the mouths of their characters, or, in their stories, but I don't think it originates with any particular Native people.

I highly recommend Doesn't Fall Off His Horse. First published in 1994 by Dial Books for Young Readers, it is also available in ebook format.


Monday, October 27, 2014

What is wrong with Buzzfeed's WHAT IS YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL and Neal Shusterman's UNWIND dystology

Sheesh. The activities that let people figure out what their Indian name is, or what their spirit animal is, are so freaking bogus!

So many assumptions and ignorance go into their making. Let's look at WHAT IS YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL, created by Brieanna Watts Elmore (if that is a real name/person) at Buzzfeed.

It assumes, for starters, that we are monolithic, that no matter where our homeland might be, we think the same way about salmon. And buffalo. And wolves. Fact? We don't. We're over 500 distinct nations, located across the US.

We don't speak the same language. Our traditional clothing differs. And so do our spiritual beliefs!

Some of us have clans associated with animals but not all of us, and, frankly, I know a lot of Native people from a lot of different Native Nations, and nobody has ever said to me "my spirit animal is..."

I think that "spirit animal" thing is the White Man's Indian.

But gosh darn! So many people (who don't know better) love love love the White Man's Indian.

It is in a lot of children's and young adult books. Case in point? Neal Shusterman's Unwind dystology. I'm (grudgingly) reading Unsouled right now. One of his main characters (Lev) has just figured out that his spirit animal is a kinkajou.

Some people--including Shusterman--tried to persuade me that he's doing a good thing with his Native characters and content (like this spirit animal stuff). He means well, just like the person who created this ridiculous Spirit Animal quiz at Buzzfeed.

But!!! Good intentions don't matter.

The quiz isn't harmless. Neither is Shusterman's book.  Perpetuating and affirming ignorance doesn't do anyone any good.

Do some good!

If you found yourself taking that Buzzfeed quiz or if you found yourself liking Shusterman's Native content, but this post makes you think otherwise, push back on The White Man's Indian. Reject it and tell others to reject it, too.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sebastian Robertson's ROCK & ROLL HIGHWAY: THE ROBBIE ROBERTSON STORY

Decades ago--and now, too--I revel in the music of The Band. I was amongst those who went to see the film The Last Waltz. Of course, I bought CDs, too. At the time, I knew Robbie Robertson was Native, but didn't know much else about him. Today, I'm pleased as can be to share Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story. Here's the cover:



Thanks to this book, I've had the opportunity to learn a lot more about Robertson. Released this year (2014) by Henry Holt, the biography is written by Sebastian Robertson (yeah, Robbie's son). The illustrations by Adam Gustavson are terrific.

Robertson is Mohawk.

The second page of Rock and Roll Highway is titled "We Are the People of the Longhouse." There, we learn that his given name is Jaime Royal Robertson. His mother is Mohawk; his father is Jewish.

Allow me to dwell on the title for that page... "We Are the People of the Longhouse." That is so cool... so very cool... Why? Because this book is published by a major publisher, which means lots of libraries are likely to get it, and lots of kids--Mohawk ones, too!--are going to read that title. And look at young Robbie on the cover. Sitting on a car. Wearing a tie. The potential for this book to push back on stereotypes of Native people is spectacular!

In the summers, Robertson and his mom went to the Six Nations Indian Reservation where his mom grew up (I'm guessing that "Indian Reservation" was added to Six Nations because the former is more familiar to US readers, but I see that decision as a missed opportunity to increase what kids know about First Nations). There were lots of relatives at Six Nations, and lots of gatherings, too, where elders told stories. The young Robbie liked those stories and told his mom that one day, he wanted to be a storyteller, too.

That life--as a storyteller who tells with music--is wonderfully presented in Rock and Roll Highway. Introduce students to Robertson using this bio and his music. Make sure you have the CDs specific to his Mohawk identity. The first one is Music for Native Americans. Ulali, one of my favorite groups, is part of that CD. Check out this video from 2010. In it, Robertson and Ulali are on stage together (Ulali's song, Mahk Jchi, is one of my all time favorites. It starts at the 4:39 mark in this video):




The second album is Contact from the Underworld of Redboy. Get it, too.

Back to the book: Ronnie Hawkins. Bob Dylan. They figure prominently in Robertson's life. The closing page has terrific photographs of Robertson as a young child, a teen, and a dad, too.

Teachers are gonna love the pages titled "An Interview with My Dad, Robbie Robertson" in which Sebastian tells readers to interview their own parents. That page shows a post card Robertson sent to his mother while he was on the road. Things like post cards carry a good deal of family history. I pore over the ones I have--that my parents and grandparents sent to each other.

Deeply satisfied with Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story, I highly recommend it. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Julie Flett's WE ALL COUNT: A BOOK OF CREE NUMBERS

There's a new board book out by Cree Metis artist, Julie Flett, and like her other ones, it is a winner!





Like her previous works, We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers is a bilingual board book. In this one, the numbers 1-10 are presented in English and Cree.

Flett's collage work is gorgeous. I love the quiet and bold colors she uses in her compositions. Here's the page for number 1. The text reads "One prairie dog perching."




And here's the page for number 10, where the text reads "Ten elk crossing." 





Flett's book is excellent for parents, teachers, or librarians to read to young children. Obviously, this is a counting book, so counting will happen, but the words!

Prairie dogs perching! Can you imagine showing the child you're reading to, how to perch like a prairie dog? On the page for number three, aunties are laughing. The joy on their faces is, well, joyful! Laugh along with them! Those owls on the cover? They're six owls spotting. It'd be great fun to pause on that page, and peer about, spotting things nearby.

I really like this book. I'm as joyful as those aunties! The pages in Flett's book provide a chance to do something that extends the reading itself, enriching what a young child knows about words and actions.

Though I'm sure Flett didn't have diversity in mind when she came up with the title, We All Count, the title and her book do a beautiful job of saying We--people who are Indigenous or who speak Cree--we count, too.

Your book is brilliant, Julie Flett! Kų́'daa! (That is 'thank you' in Tewa, my language.)

We All Count: A Book of Numbers is highly recommended. Written and illustrated by Julie Flett, it was published in 2014 by Native Northwest.