Thursday, December 11, 2014

CRAZY HORSE'S GIRLFRIEND, by Erika Wurth

The setting for Erika Wurth's Crazy Horse's Girlfriend is Idaho Springs, Colorado. The characters in her story all feel real. Their stories, their lives? Real. Something seemingly simple, like this line, for example, is like an echo:
He came in for some coffee and asked me what tribe I was and we got to talking.
By echo, I mean that reading Wurth's writing sounds like listening to a Native person. The main character of Crazy Horse's Girlfriend is a 16 year old girl named Margaritte. As the story opens, Margaritte and her cousin, Jake, are at a party. Two guys laugh when Jake says he and Margaritte are cousins. Jake asks them what they're laughing at (p. 9):
...but he knew. We both knew. My family is Apache, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and white, but my auntie and her husband adopted Jake when he was a baby. He's Nez Perce, Arapahoe, Cheyenne, and black.
That moment leads to a fight. And a visit to a hospital. Wurth opens the story with grit and gripping characters that fly in the face of mainstream expectations. These aren't mystical Indians. With the range of her character's identities, she gives readers a look at who we are: mixed and not, experiencing good and bad of life lived in cities, towns, and reservations, with Native life affirmed, celebrated, and denigrated, too.  

As Wurth's story unfolds, Margaritte meets a guy named Mike who, like her, is a reader. His parents are white. He is adopted, and is from an Indigenous tribe in Columbia. Their relationship is a roller coaster of hope and pain. There's a gay character in here, too, from Pine Ridge. His name is Will. Reading about Will, there are times when I want to cheer, but the way he's treated breaks my heart.

It is easy to see why it garnered praise from leading writers like Sandra Cisneros, who said:
"I found myself wanting to cover my eyes and shout, 'Girl, don't go there' while reading."
And Susan Power said:
"Wurth made me care for everyone in these pages, singing a powerful honor song on behalf of our young people who are fighting their way through difficult times in order to survive."
In many places, Crazy Horse's Girlfriend is unsettling, but the story Wurth tells is ultimately about the perseverance of Native people in the face of great obstacles. Published by Curbside Splendor in 2014, I highly recommend it.

AICL's Best Books of 2014

Lists! People love lists. I do, too. For those of you looking for a list of Best Books published in 2014, by American Indians/First Nations writers, and by writers who aren't Native but got-it-right, here's AICL's incomplete list. A few reviews are still in-process. Links to those reviews will be added as reviews are completed and posted. If you think I've missed something, please let me know!

Age levels are always slippery. I'm using rough categories, with the understanding that older readers can get a lot out of picture books, and because what you/I deem appropriate for any given reader depends on the reader, younger kids can read books intended for middle or high school students.

BOOKS BY NATIVE WRITERS

Comics:


Picture Books


For Middle Grade



For High School



FICTION BY NON-NATIVE WRITERS 

During 2014 I read a few books that have a fleeting reference to Native culture, or, a more in-depth one, that I want to include on this post about Best Books. They are:


NONFICTION BY NON-NATIVE WRITERS 




Yes, just three. I'm sure there are others out there. If you know of one, let me know!

And if you want to add more than just 2014 titles, see the lists in Best Books.

Tim Tingle's HOUSE OF PURPLE CEDAR

Tim Tingle's House of Purple Cedar is one of the best books I've ever read. Here's the cover:



As is the case with Tingle's other books, his storytelling voice radiates from the printed words in his books. Here's the first and last lines in the first paragraph of House of Purple Cedar:
The hour has come to speak of troubled times. It is time we spoke of Skullyville.
The character saying those words is a Choctaw woman named Rose Goode. She's speaking in 1967. The troubled time she speaks of is the late 1800s when she was a young girl. The troubled times themselves? There are many. A boarding school for Choctaw girls burns down, killing 20 girls inside. At the train station, a racist town marshall attacks an elderly Choctaw man in front of his grandchildren, striking him with a plank, for no reason. There's domestic abuse in the story, too.

Lot of troubling things happen, but the ugliness that births such horrors does not suck the air or life from the story Tingle tells. Instead, his story is peopled with goodness like the traveler at the train station who helps that elderly man to his feet, and Maggie, a shopkeeper in town who will play a big part in the story.

There's goodness in endearing characters like Rose's grandparents, Amafo and Pokoni. Amafo is the elderly man at the train station. News of what happened to him at the train station ripples out to Choctaws for miles around. Rose and her brother get him home. People gather there. What will they do? The school is not the only thing that was set afire. Many homes were also burned down. People are angry. Others are afraid.

There's lot of talk as the night wears on. Amafo listens quietly. Rose and Pokoni have been busy all evening cooking and feeding the people who have come to help them, to be with them. After midnight, Pokoni sits to rest. Amafo gets up and makes her some cocoa. It is one of the many moments in this book, of kindness and caring, that warms my heart. Then, Amafo talks to the Choctaws gathered there in his home. He says:
"Marshall Hardwicke expects me to stay far away from town. And if I did, this would all be forgotten. But I will never forget this day and my grandchildren will never forget this day."
Amafo has a plan. He will not show fear. He will go back to town.

Tingle's story is engrossing and inspiring. His characters will linger in your mind when you set his book down and move about your day. There's Choctaw spirituality and Christian hymns, too. There's Choctaw words, and English words. Throughout, there is a confidence in humanity.

I highly recommend House of Purple Cedar. Published in 2014 by Cinco Puntos Press, it received the kind of praise that writers hold especially dear. Gary Hobson, an esteemed scholar of Native literature, called Tingle's book a "crowning achievement" of excellence amongst Choctaw writings of the last fifteen years. Saying again: I highly recommend House of Purple Cedar.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Open Letter to VoWac Publishing Company

December 10, 2014

VoWac Publishing Company
P.O. Box 75
Faulkton, SD 57438-0075
info@vowac.com

Dear VoWac,

From your website, I see that you've been developing and providing curriculum materials for schools for 32 years. I read that you take pride in providing teachers with effective teaching tools.

Katelyn Martens, a Literacy Media Specialist, shared a page from one of your workbooks that I'd like you to reconsider. Martens received her Masters of Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin. She was part of the Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums Project there, where she, along with a great many people, received training in the accurate depiction of Native peoples. Such programs are vitally important because they prepare young people to work with an increasingly diverse US population. This is the page she shared with me:



The bottom half of that worksheet (and the first line, too, "The Indian___...") reflect a monolithic view of Native peoples. By that, I mean that children who use this page come away associating "Indian" with a feathered headdress, a tipi, a drum, moccasins, and a peace pipe. In fact, there are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations in the US, and there is tremendous variety in language, stories, and material culture. The headdress you use, for example, is crudely rendered but similar to what Plains Indians wear, but nothing like the headdresses worn by other men of Native Nations in other parts of the country.

The other problem is that Plains men who wear such headdresses are esteemed amongst their people for their diplomatic and spiritual leadership, and peace pipes are items of diplomacy. The way that you've shown this "Indian" not only misinforms the children completing the worksheet, it demeans Native people overall by showing that Indian in this maze activity. It may be helpful to think of other esteemed leaders in a similar maze activity. Like, perhaps, the Catholic Pope, looking for his sceptre.

With this in mind, I encourage you to remove that page and look throughout your materials for ones similar to it. These are the sorts of things that a Native child may have trouble with because it throws that child into cognitive dissonance. That dissonance may cause the child to perform poorly on that page--not because he doesn't know the rule being taught--but because Native heritage is being misrepresented and demeaned. Because there is such a high drop out rate amongst Native children, I'm sure you want to do everything you can to help, rather than hinder, their success in school.

With this worksheet, you are not providing teachers with an effective teaching tool.

Sincerely,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature
cc: Facebook, Twitter

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Concerns with McGraw Hill's "Reading Wonders" Curriculum

Do you remember the books you used in elementary school? The ones you used for Reading? Maybe your kids are in elementary school and their Reading books are in your home, right now. I certainly remember mine!

During November, I began to hear about the McGraw Hill "Reading Wonders" series. Or rather, I began to hear about four books in that series that people in Juneau had concerns about. The four are supplemental materials in the Reading Wonders series for 4th graders. In response to concerns, the district asked Paul Berg, a cross-cultural specialist to analyze the books. He found problems in them, as indicated in his report: Assessment of Reading Wonders Publications. The book about the Trail of Tears was evaluated by education specialists, Gloria Sly and Joseph Erb, with the Cherokee Nation. In their analysis, they stated that none of the historical information is correct.

There were meetings at the school about the books, the outcome of which is that the superintendent has set the four books aside and written to McGraw Hill about them. The four books are:

  • The Visit, written by Terry Miller Shannon, illustrated by Joanne Renaud. Historical fiction. Parents visit their daughter in a boarding school.
  • Continuing On, written by Terry Miller Shannon, illustrated by Dan Bridy. Historical fiction. Young Cherokee boy recounts the Trail of Tears.
  • Our Teacher the Hero, written by Terry Miller Shannon, illustrated by Gina Capaldi. Historical fiction. Biography of Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute woman who founded a school.
  • History Detectives, written by Sandy McKay. Nonfiction. Students learn about the work of archaeologists at digs of Native sites. 

I've read the analysis Mr. Berg did, and, having read the books, concur with his findings.

No doubt that McGraw Hill meant well. No doubt, Terry Miller Shannon did some research and meant to provide children with information they may not otherwise have seen. To an outsider to Native culture or to someone who doesn't study it for a living (example would be a non-Native professor in American Indian Studies), the information that Shannon provides seems good. But to a Native person for whom the content of the stories is part of family life, past and present? The books rub salt in wounds that are still raw.

In their January 2010 report for the UCLA Civil Rights Project, Education professors Faircloth and Tippeconnic studied data from the National Center for Education Statistics and called the drop out rates of Native students a crisis. This, they wrote, is not new. Native students didn't do well in the 20th century either. Here's a chilling line from their report (p. 27):
As Reyhner and others (e.g. Rumberger, 2004; Brandt, 1992) have argued, the process of dropping out or being pushed out of school is a cumulative process often precipitated by academic and personal difficulties causing students to detach from school."
Pushed out. Detached from school. Those thoughts stand out for me as I think about the McGraw Hill books. These four books are supposed to be used in the 4th grade classroom. That's one year out of a 12 year education. I wonder what is in the books for children in the grades K-3?

Most people like reading something set in their home town, or that is in some way, about them, personally or culturally. If it is well done, it feels good! Makes you smile and want to share it with others. But! If it isn't done right, it is infuriating. Some will write to the publisher or author. Some people will set that material aside and move on.

For the non-Native kids across the country who are being assigned these books, they're getting biased and incorrect information. You and I might argue about bias but I think we'd agree: incorrect information is not good. Period. In a school, there is no room for incorrect information.

Let's think now about the Native kids across the country who are reading those books and asked to respond to the questions in them. In The Visit, one question students must answer is this:
What does chatter on page 13 mean? What other word could the author use instead of chatter
A Native kid who has heard stories from his parents or grandparents who went to boarding school is likely going to be working pretty hard to set aside the whitewashing in the story so that he/she can focus on the word chatter. The "paired text" for The Visit is several pages of expository text about boarding schools. Here's a line from there:
During the 1800s, the government wanted Native Americans to learn the ways of white people.
A more accurate way to say that is this:
In the 1800s, the government wanted Native Americans to stop being Indians and be like White people. 
An even more accurate way to say it is this:
In the 1800s, the government established an educational policy for Native Americans designed around an intent to "Kill the Indian and save the man."
See the difference? All three are accurate but what they convey is different. Later, the expository text reads (p. 18):
Girls learned how to cook, sew, and do laundry.
Are McGraw-Hill and Ms. Shannon telling us that Native girls didn't know how cook, sew, and do laundry?! Think about that for a moment... Does it fit with your ideas that Indians were primitive people who lived primitive lifestyles? If so, it isn't true! You were miseducated, and kids who are reading this text are learning the same thing you did.

All four of those books cast Native people in a past tense framework. As such, the four echo and confirm misconceptions that we are not part of the present day. McGraw Hill would be taking a huge step in the right direction by including realistic fiction that shows us in the here-and-now.

Is your district using the McGraw Hill series? Should it be using these four books?

The superintendent for Juneau School District indicated that new materials will be developed to replace these. I'd love to see them. I hope they are sent to McGraw Hill, too, and that McGraw Hill steps away from well-meaning writers and turns to those with expertise on the subject. We'd all be better off.

The McGraw Hill response (quoted in Alaska Dispatch News), however, to the superintendent doesn't make me optimistic. Brian Belardi, director of media relations said that McGraw Hill is:
"respectful of the feelings of the Native communities and mindful of sensitive issues raised in these books. We are confident they are appropriate at a fourth-grade level as starting points for discussion around the experience of Native Americans."
Mr. Belardi? You are wrong. The books are not good starting points. The Native community said as much. The superintendent said so, too. You really don't sound "respectful" at all.

_____________________________________

A sampling of news stories on the meetings:
November 2, 2014: Emotions high over school curriculum, Juneau Empire.
November 11, 2014: Questioned books came as a surprise, Juneau Empire.
November 26, 2014: Decision due soon on 'distorted' school texts depicting Native tragedies, Alaska Public Media.
December 4, 2014: Juneau superintendent removes 4 Native history books from 4th-grade curriculum, Alaska Dispatch News (Note: the books are historical fiction, not history books.)

Oliver Herford's THE PETER PAN ALPHABET

A colleague in children's literature, Perry Nodelman, has been sharing his collection of images of Indians in Peter Pan books illustrated by various authors over the last 100 years. If you want to see them, search twitter using #EthnographicInaccuracy.

Among them is Oliver Herford's The Peter Pan Alphabet, published in 1907. Here's the cover:



Here's the title page:



You can read the whole thing if you want to: The Peter Pan Alphabet.  I'm interested in two pages. Here's the page for the letter I:



And here's the page for the letter R:



Some of you might be sighing with relief, thinking that the 1907 publication year of this book means that such things are of-the-past. They aren't.

In the ever-popular Caddie Woodlawn a "scalp belt" figures prominently. The townspeople fear being scalped. And I trust readers of AICL are well aware of a professional football team in Washington DC that is named "Redskins." Setting aside that word, note Herbert's "What a Treat to see "Injuns" sit up and Behave!" Why did he put Injuns in quotation marks? The "sit up and behave" indicates he thought that Native people were... Lazy? Wild? Out of control? Naughty?!

Interestingly, that "wild Indian" appears in Caddie Woodlawn! Caddie is a tomboy. People ask her mom when she's going to make a "young lady" out of this "wild Indian."

My point in sharing these two pages from Herford's 1907 book? To note that those sentiments are still very much a part of today's society. 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Rebecca Heller's FALLING ROCK

Sometime in November I received an email from Rebecca Heller asking if I'd review her book, Falling Rock. What little I saw of it suggested it was stereotypical. Because it was a self-published book, I chose not to review it. But I'm hearing from others who have been asked to review it, so decided to take a look.

The main character is a boy named Falling Rock. Because there are tipis in the illustrations, I think the author and illustrator (Joyce Robertson, the author's mother) would like us to think the story is about Plains Indians. The boy loves his horse, Runs Like Thunder. But one day, the horse is stolen by men from another tribe. The boy, distraught, is told by his grandmother that his ancestors will give him a sign when it is time for him to go find his horse.

He has a dream about a coyote and takes that as the sign to go off in search of his horse. His grandma gives him a feather before he goes, that will "help guide you." So off he goes in search of his horse. As Heller's story continues, there's an eagle, and a canoe and a turtle--all of which come to mind when a lot of people think about Native people.

As he travels, more and more people hear about his search and want to help him. Here's what they do:
They wanted to help Falling Rock know where he had already looked, so they placed large yellow signs with his name in big black letters at the bends in the roads, high in the mountains, and down in the valleys--anywhere that the boy searched for his horse.
The art for that page is this (it is also the cover of the book):


Yes--that's a road sign. You've seen it before. I've seen it before. This story was in trouble before I got to that page.

As the boy continues his search he comes across a group of people (unstated, but they are Native people) traveling. Falling Rock asks them why they're sad. One of the men says:
"We are being taken to a reservation."
Suffice it to say that I'd been growing more and more frustrated with this story, and on reading "being taken to a reservation" -- well, I was appalled.

In the end, the boy finds his horse. Here's what the author says at the very end of her story:
There are many written and oral versions of the story of Falling Rock, which are often told when a sign is passed on a long and windy mountain road. This tale is told with respect and honor to all of them. 
In interviews, Heller says that she heard this story as a child, at camp, and that it stayed with her:
The concept of the story of Falling Rock is not a new one, it has been told around the campfire hundreds of times in many different forms. It was first told to me as a camper by my camp counselor. I was probably around eight years old, and can vividly remember hiking through the woods in Northern California while my counselor unfolded the tale. He told me that whenever you see a road sign that reads "Falling Rock" it is because a Native American named Falling Rock was spotted in that place. I don't remember if he told me any other details, but that idea always stayed with me. I love the magic of something so ordinary meaning something extraordinary. I think even at eight years old, I knew it wasn't true, but I loved the idea just the same. Even as an adult when I pass one of the signs, I still think, "Falling Rock was here." - See more at: http://www.wanderingeducators.com/best/stories/falling-rock.html#sthash.aojlceNf.dpuf
The concept of the story of Falling Rock is not a new one, it has been told around the campfire hundreds of times in many different forms. It was first told to me as a camper by my camp counselor. I was probably around eight years old, and can vividly remember hiking through the woods in Northern California while my counselor unfolded the tale. He told me that whenever you see a road sign that reads "Falling Rock" it is because a Native American named Falling Rock was spotted in that place. I don't remember if he told me any other details, but that idea always stayed with me. I love the magic of something so ordinary meaning something extraordinary. I think even at eight years old, I knew it wasn't true, but I loved the idea just the same. Even as an adult when I pass one of the signs, I still think, "Falling Rock was here." - See more at: http://www.wanderingeducators.com/best/stories/falling-rock.html#sthash.aojlceNf.dpuf
The concept of the story of Falling Rock is not a new one, it has been told around the campfire hundreds of times in many different forms. It was first told to me as a camper by my camp counselor. I was probably around eight years old, and can vividly remember hiking through the woods in Northern California while my counselor unfolded the tale. He told me that whenever you see a road sign that reads "Falling Rock" it is because a Native American named Falling Rock was spotted in that place. I don't remember if he told me any other details, but that idea always stayed with me. I love the magic of something so ordinary meaning something extraordinary. I think even at eight years old, I knew it wasn't true, but I loved the idea just the same. Even as an adult when I pass one of the signs, I still think, "Falling Rock was here." - See more at: http://www.wanderingeducators.com/best/stories/falling-rock.html#sthash.aojlceNf.dpuf
It was first told to me as a camper by a camp counselor. I was probably around eight years old, and can vividly remember hiking through the woods in Northern California while my counselor unfolded the tale. He told me that whenever you see a road sign that reads "Falling Rock" it is because a Native American named Falling Rock was spotted in that place.
I want to be kind to Ms. Heller, but again, I'm appalled. That she turned a camp story into this story, and that she's contacting Native people, asking us to read her story leaves me staring at my screen, fingers hovering over my keyboard, wondering what to say!

For now I'll say this: camp stories are often campy. And they're often stereotypical with regards to Native peoples. This one about "Falling Rock" is not campy. It is a mockery of names, and with the "taken to a reservation" page, Heller weaves horrific history into this mockery. (I found one similar to it here at a scout page, with a character named Falling Rock in a story called "The Story of Running Deer.")

How did she not know this would be problematic?

My thought? Her story, well-meaning and well-intentioned, shows just how ignorant the American public can be about Native peoples. The one good thing? She couldn't get it published. I'd like to say that editors were turning it down because they saw its many flaws, but similarly bad things have been published--and have done very well, too.

Need I say: Rebecca Heller's Falling Rock is not recommended.

  

Friday, December 05, 2014

"True Blood Brothers" in NBC's production of Peter Pan

In an earlier post, I wrote about how NBC had hired a Chickasaw man to rework the "Ugg-A-Wugg" song, replacing that phrase with a word used by the Wyandott people. Other musical changes were made, too, he said. That song was replaced with a new one, called True Blood Brothers. NBC's live production of Peter Pan aired last night (December 4, 2014).

So how did it turn out?

As Tiger Lily stands before Peter Pan for this song, she says something like "O a hay" instead of Ugg a wugg. The music that plays during this song? Classic Hollywood fakery. Below are some screen captures from the video available on YouTube. At the very bottom is the video itself.

Tiger Lily steps back from Peter and crosses her arms in front of her:



Tiger Lily and her tribe begin to dance. Note their attire:



Here, they sing "Beat on a drum!" And I will come and save our brave noble warrior." With their hands, Tiger Lily and Peter Pan 'play' the drum (the backs of the men on whom they stand). Because they're both singing, I guess Tiger Lily is saying Peter is a brave noble warrior, and he is saying it of her, too:



Everyone dances to that Hollywood Indian music, and then John and Michael start singing "Hickory Dickory Dock" (rather than O-a-hay o-a-hay o-a-hay). They're pretending to be Indians at that point. See that blue feather? And that loin-cloth-thingy?



More Hollywood Indian music, more dancing, a dummy meant to be Captain Hook, and the number ends with Tiger Lily and Peter Pan singing they'll be blood brothers to the end.

As I watched the clip, I didn't see any Indian women. Just Tiger Lily. All the rest of her "tribe" are men.

The take away? Lot of stereotyping:

Indians with crossed arms: check
Scantily clad Indians: check
Playing drum with hands: check
Kids playing Indian: check
Hollywood Indian music: check
Overrepresentation of men: check

So--a question.

"O-a-hey" is supposed to be a Wyandotte word. Does that make this all better? No. Not at all.

I wonder how many kids are at school today singing "o-a-hey o-a-hey o-a-hey" as they prance about with their arms crossed? I wonder about the Native kids at school today. Are they looking at their peers doing this silly song and dance?

Here's the video:




Did you tune in? It is getting slammed by reviewers this morning. What do you think about it?

Update, 4:00 PM
As requested by Rebecca (in comment section to this post), I'll add critiques of the Native content.

#NotYourTigerLily: Nine Months Later and they Still Don't Get the Point by Johnnie Jae at Native Max Magazine

Why Fix Tiger Lily? Why Can't We Just Let Her Go? by Adrienne Keene at Indian Country Today

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Thumbs up for Cynthia Leitich Smith's FERAL CURSE

The protagonist of Cynthia Leitich Smith's Feral Curse is named Kayla. Her parents are white. She is black. She was adopted. From Ethiopia.

Intrigued?

There's more. Lots more. And though it might seem like a lot for any story to take on, Smith pulls it off.

Kayla is a senior in high school. She is dating a guy named Ben. He's white, and deeply religious.

A bit more about Kayla. She's a werecat. A shapeshifter. For those who might be weirded out by that, Smith bats it down, making space for the existence of shapeshifters, with this:
Shifters aren't magical or demonic. Many of the Lord's creatures can transform. Frogs can change their gender. Snakes can change their skins. So what if we can change on the cellular level? Creation is ever the more glorious for its variety. Ever more miraculous.
Isn't that cool? People in the world Kayla lives in know about shapeshifters. She's going to meet other shapeshifters in this story. That's cool, too. Some people don't like them. Others don't know what to do about them. And others don't care. But that's changing, and not in a good way for the shapeshifters.

Early on in the story, Kayla decides to reveal her shifter self to Ben. He is glad for her having trusted him enough to do that but he's also unsettled by it and tells her that he will help her find a cure for her condition. They argue. He takes off. The things he does next unleash the story. That carousel you see on the cover? Woah! I'll leave you to read it yourself to get why I said 'woah.'

Among Kayla's friends is a girl named Jess Bigheart. Jess is Osage. The two girls were best friends for awhile. Kayla went to powwows with Jess and her family, had sleepovers, all that good stuff. That was before Kayla knew she was a shapeshifter. She was thirteen when she first experienced a shift in her body. It scared her and she withdrew from friendships, becoming somewhat of a loner. Jess, though, remains a steadfast friend. That's going to matter. A lot.

Reviews note that the end of the book is a cliffhanger. It is. And it makes me want to read the next one right away, but I'll have to wait. I will say this about that ending. I like anything--well-written, of course--that takes me to Indian Country, because it reflects a segment of society that isn't often seen out there in the land of children's and young adult books.  

Published in 2014 by Candlewick Press, Feral Curse is the second book in Smith's "Feral" series. Here's the cover of the first one. I wonder what the third will be?! Can't wait!







Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Roy Boney's WE SPEAK IN SECRET

Roy Boney's We Speak in Secret is one of many stories that will be in Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers: Volume 1, to be published by the Indigenous Narratives Collective (INC Comics). Boney's story was released in November and is available for $1.99. Here's the first page. The symbols at top are in the Cherokee syllabery, developed by Sequoyah. Development of that syllabery is included in We Speak in Secret: 



Some months back, I recommended Arigon Starr's comic about the Choctaw Code Talkers. Both Starr and Boney tell us a lot about the servicemen Americans know as the Code Talkers. Hopefully, readers of AICL have seen recent media coverage of code talkers.

In their respective comics, Starr and Boney, tell us who the code talkers were, as young people in the wars in which they served.

The first page of Boney's story tells us a lot about his character. His name, written using the Cherokee syllabary is ᎠᏟᏐᎢ.* Mr. Boney told me it is pronounced ah-thlee-so-ee. ᎠᏟᏐᎢ thinks about his childhood, playing with his friends. He wants to soak his feet in the creek where he caught crawdads. He tells us his name in Cherokee, and that it means "I habitually run."  Some fellow soldiers call him Runabout Smoke. He talks about stereotypes and how they shape the way some soldiers interact with him. One calls him "chief" and tells him that they won't be using "smoke signals" on the battlefield. For the most part, they call him Runny. He isn't keen on that name either, but in the midst of a war, he let such things slide off his back in order to stay alive. In his group is a Cherokee from North Carolina who is going by the name of Moses Mouse. He, too, speaks Cherokee.

Boney uses a sepia tone on some pages, to show us his character's childhood. On one, he's a six-year-old in Indian Territory, listening to his dad and uncle talk about how their mother, a full blood Cherokee, was declared incompetent, thereby making it possible for land grabs to take place. These land grabs were part of the US government efforts to dissolve Native Nations through the Dawes Act. His uncle says "Allotment. Fancy word for stealin'."

The heart of We Speak in Secret is about how the Cherokee language came to be used for transmissions. The Germans were intercepting communications and able to figure out where to direct their bombs. At one point, Runny's group is hit pretty hard. He looks for Moses, calling to him in Cherokee. Moses responds, also in Cherokee. Dauber, their sergeant, is already digging Moses out of the debris and hears the two men speaking in Cherokee to each other. Of course, he doesn't understand them. The two Cherokee men realize that they can use Cherokee for transmissions. Thereafter, "Using our language proved to be a winning strategy. We confounded the enemy."

Boney's story concludes by telling readers that "U.S. Public Law 110-420 states that the Code Talkers, first reported in use October 17, 1918, deserve immediate recognition for their dedication and valor." On November 30, 2013, the U.S. Congress honored Code Talkers with the Congressional Gold Medal. The Cherokee Phoenix (the Cherokee Nation's newspaper) has an article about it that includes an image of the medal the Cherokee Nation made, in collaboration with the US Mint. It, too, uses the Cherokee syllabary.

In twelve short pages, Boney conveys a lot of history. I enjoyed every word, and highly recommend his story. A curator at the Heard Museum Library purchased and printed it right away. He, too, found it exceptional. He catalogued it and put it on World Cat.

If We Speak in Secret is an indicator of what we'll see in Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers: Volume I, we're all in for a magnificent treat.

A bit more info about Roy Boney. He's a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He does terrific work, much of it described on his website.

Order and download your copy today from the INC website.

*Post updated to include the character's name, written using the Cherokee syllabary, and the way it is pronounced.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Debbie Reese (me!) on CUNY's INDEPENDENT SOURCES

Finally had a chance to watch the segment that CUNY's Independent Sources asked me to do with them about children's books and Thanksgiving. My belly is always in knots when I do something like this. But! The people I worked with there are terrific. Thanks, Nicole and Zyphus! I think it turned out great and hope AICL's readers will take a few minutes to watch/share it, and of course, get the books I recommend!

Scroll down to see the video. Here's some screen captures of it. I'm sharing them because THEY LOOK SO COOL!








And here's the video:






How 'bout we all pan NBC's PETER PAN and Warner Bros PAN, too.

Over the weekend, Heather (a reader of AICL) wrote to ask if I'd seen a Salon article about changes made to music and lyrics in the version of Peter Pan that NBC is going to air in December. Though I knew about the production, I didn't know about these changes. Thanks, Heather, for letting me know.

In a nutshell, NBC hired Jerod Tate, artistic director of the Chickasaw Chamber Music Festival. He's Chickasaw but I don't know anything else about him other than what his bio (linked with his name) says.

With his assistance, the song "Ugg-a-Wugg" was changed.

Ugg-a-Wugg is a duet sung by Peter Pan and Tiger Lily. If either one is in trouble, they'll call on the other for help. The code word they'll use as a signal is ugg-a-wugg. If Tiger Lily needs help, she'll use that code word and Peter will come to save "the brave noble redskin." And if Peter Pan needs help, Tiger Lily will help him. They will be "blood brothers to the end." I think it was/is ludicrous but people love it. Do you remember it? Here. Take a look:
 (Update, Dec 6, 2014: The video was taken down. You may find other videos of the song online, but my guess is that they'll be taken down, too. Perhaps your library has a video you can borrow if you want to see how that song was performed.)




Enter Jerod Tate. Here's what he said, in the Salon article, about that song: 
And then the really big thing that we worked on was the replacement of [the lyrics] “ugg-a-wugg.” Just a little background: In general, what we all know is that the Indian tribe that’s represented in Peter Pan was influenced by knowledge of Northeast Indians of the United States. So we’re talking Iroquois, Huron, Wyandotte, Algonquin, these kinds of cultural regions. So what I did was I set out to find a replacement word for “ugg-a-wugg” that was literally a Wyandotte word.
Tate won't say what the word is, but he does say it means "come here." The interviewer asked him if he also worked on the costumes, but he said he only worked on the music and lyrics for the songs. He thinks the change is great, because the phrase is accurate. I disagree. The show and story will always be one in which the point of view is of Indians as exotic and detribalized. In chapter ten of Barrie's book, the Indians prostrate themselves in front of Peter Pan, calling him "the Great White Father." That point of view is the foundation for Barrie's story.

Now let's look at the new film from Warner Brothers.

The trailer for the new movie due out next year has a scene where Pan is on the floor, spears aimed at him. It looks like he's about to be killed, but an older man (which I imagine the script says is an elder or maybe Tiger Lily's dad) stops them. In his hand is a necklace of some sort that Peter was wearing. The man says:
"The little one. He wears the pan."
Here's a screen capture of that scene in the trailer:




The trailer cuts to Tiger Lily, played by Rooney Mara, who says:
"The Pan is our tribe's bravest warrior." 
Here she is in that moment: 



Her line (Pan is our tribe's greatest warrior) points right at the foundation for Barrie's film. Indians who worship whites. That's not ok. It was't ok then, and it isn't ok to give that racist garbage to kids today. Right?

Some of you know that there was a lot of discussion when Rooney was selected as the actress for the part. Many people said that a Native actress ought to be cast instead of Rooney. I disagree with that idea, too. 

Fixing the words in the song, and/or casting a Native person in that role does not change the point of view(s) on which the story rests. These are, through and through, "the white man's Indian." There is no fixing this story or any production of it so that the Native content is authentic. 

Attempts to do so remind me of the many schools that sought/seek to make their Indian mascots more "authentic" so that they could keep objectifying Native people, using their ideas of who Native people are for their own purposes. 

Can we just let that stuff go? 

Wouldn't we all be better off with a major studio production of a story written by a Native person? One that shows us as-we-are (or were if it is in the past), as human beings who do not say things about how we worship a "great white father" or a white guy who is our "greatest warrior"?  

By remaking this story, and/or by staging it in schools and theaters, we're just recycling problematic, stereotypic, racist images. Why do it?! 

Here's an irony. NBC released a promo featuring Allison Williams talking about the production. There's a part near the end where Williams is singing "it never never ends" as Tiger Lily drops to the stage:  




I want it to end. Don't you?

Friday, November 21, 2014

TEEN SPIRIT by Francesca Lia Block

I'll start with this: I think Francesca Lia Block likes Indians.

I'm just not sure what she knows about us. I kinda think she doesn't know a Native person.

By that, I mean one who is on-the-ground Native, as in living on the reservation, or hanging with the Native community in whatever city or suburb they're in, or, if they're in a part of the country where there is not a Native community, then, one who goes home to that community and/or talks to people from there a lot.

That on-the-ground identity is in stark contrast to the person who has a family story where a great great ancestor was Native. This group tends to romanticize who Native people are, and it comes out in dreadful ways. Case in point: mystical Indians. With powers.

Let's talk about Francesca Lia Block's Teen Spirit, published by HarperCollins. I'll start with the synopsis (pasted here from Amazon):

Francesca Lia Block, critically acclaimed author of Weetzie Bat, brings this eerie and redemptive ghost story to life with her signature, poetic prose. It's perfect for fans of supernatural stories with a touch of romance like the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

After Julie's grandmother passes away, she is forced to move across town to the not-so-fancy end of Beverly Hills and start over at a new school. The only silver lining to the perpetual dark cloud that seems to be following her? Clark—a die-hard fan ofBuffy and all things Joss Whedon, who is just as awkward and damaged as she is. Her kindred spirit.

When the two try to contact Julie's grandmother with a Ouija board, they make contact with a different spirit altogether. The real kind. And this ghost will do whatever it takes to come back to the world of the living.

Francesca Lia Block's latest young adult novel is a haunting work about family, loss, love, and redemption.

Block has tons of fans. You can go to Goodreads and read all the things people like about her book. I'm giving you my view on what she does with Native content.

In the first chapter, Julie is with her grandma. First clue that you gotta pay attention to is that her grandma is wearing "Native American turquoise" (p. 13). That's fine. I hope it was the real thing, though, made by a Native person.

Hitting the pause button: did you know it is against the law to sell something as though it is Native if it isn't? Go read the text of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. My best guess, given what Block did in the Weetzie Bat books and in Teen Spirit, is that she doesn't know about that law because she doesn't know much about us at all. Somehow, I think that she has some image in her head, some super cool image of who she thinks we are, and that is what shapes what she does when she writes us into her books.

Back to Teen Spirit.

Julie is living with her grandma and her mom. But, alas, Julie's grandma dies suddenly. Right there in front of her. As she is dying, she tells Julie she has something to tell her but doesn't get it out. Looking at her lifeless body, Julie sees "a pale lavender radiance" (p. 14) hovering over her body and she hears some "baroque and strange, otherworldly" music playing, too. She doesn't tell her mom about it. With grandma dead, there's other things to worry about.

As that chapter closes, we learn about Julie's dad. She never met him. Julie was an in vitro baby. All her mom told her about him is (p. 18):
"that he was over six feet tall, full-blooded Cherokee, and had a master's degree in psychology."
And that he was a sperm donor.

Let's hit that pause button again. That bit of info raised all kinds of questions for me that I kinda doubt even occurred to Block. I went to a donor site online to see what I might learn. I wondered, for example, how they know a person is "full blooded Cherokee" or "Blackfoot." On one site, a chat window popped up immediately. I asked my "how do you know" question and they answer was that it is self-reported. I asked about tribal ID and learned they don't ask for it. Those questions matter, in light of another law (that I'm guessing Block doesn't know about): the Indian Child Welfare Act. It was passed in 1978, to keep Native children within Native communities. I could do some research to see if there have been any cases in which a sperm donor sought information about his child and how that would play out in a courtroom. But, I'll set that aside and get back to Teen Spirit. 

Why did Block go with a "full blooded Cherokee" sperm donor? Asking that question makes me think that maybe she knows that claiming a great great Cherokee grandma wouldn't cut it. If she has Julie's dad be Cherokee, for real, does that mean we're to believe that Julie's ability to see those lights around her grandma are legitimized by the sperm donor? Scary thought! Scary because it isn't any better. It is STILL mystical Indian stuff that does not work.

In the next chapters, Julie and her mom move across town, she gets a job in a dress shop that sells vintage clothes, and she meets a guy named Clark (his aura is green) at her new school. She also finds a Ouija board in the dresser drawer in her new room. She is intrigued by it, wondering if she can use it to talk with her grandma. Clark is freaked by it. Later, she meets another guy. His name is Grant (his aura is red), and though he tells her he is Clark's twin, we're going to learn that Grant IS Clark's twin, but that he died a year ago and that his spirit has entered Clark and takes over Clark's body from time to time.

So. Julie finds a card that a lady at an occult store had given her, to a place in Chinatown called Black Jade. Julie and Clark go there and learn from the lady there that Julie is "an intuitive" and that she probably got that gift from her dad. She gives them some treatments and tells them to see Tatiana Gonzales to get rose petals they need for a tea she wants them to use.

They call Tatiana Gonzales and then go to her house. There, they see milagros embedded in the outer adobe walls of her house. Tatiana greets them (her aura is indigo). She has powers, too (of course). She's petite, black curls "adorned with fresh gardenias and cascading to her minuscule waist" (p. 151). She tells Julia that her ability to see auras can be developed with practice.

Back at her house, Julia picks up a book with a poem by Emily Dickinson. She'd been reading aloud from it to her grandmother when she died. A piece of paper falls out of it. It is an advertisement for a store called Ed Rainwater Designs. It sells figures carved of bone, dream catchers, jewelry, and sage. Since sage is one of the things that they need, Julie and Clark go to that store (p. 166):
When we walk in we see an extravagantly tall man in sunglasses, sitting on a stool behind a counter. At his side was a three-legged dog that resembled a coyote. Both of them shone with almost blinding white light in spit of the dimness of the room.
They tell him they need sage for a ritual. He asks them (p. 167):
"Looking for some kicks? Some native enlightenment?"
Julie replies:
"No, sir," I said. "With all respect, we take this seriously. And even though I don't know anything about it, I'm half Cherokee."
Ed looks them over and then takes them out back. He gives them some special sage he grows and tells her to burn it, and that she'll know when the time to do that is right. Like the others, he tells her to develop her skills. Clark asks if he means the ability to see the auras, and Ed replies:
"More than that. Your friend has a gift that can magnetize certain spirits."
Enter another character! Amrita (her aura is metallic gold). She has very long black hair, wears a bunch of gold bracelets, and looks (p. 70):
"like a Hindu goddess statue. I wouldn't have have been surprised if she was hiding a few extra arms behind her back."
A Hindu goddess. Are you groaning? Or shaking your head? Or your fist, perhaps?! Ed and Amrita invite Julie and Clark to stay for dinner. Amrita teaches Julie how to meditate and then it is time for a sweat.

Pause button! I gotta get up and walk around a bit. Shake off some of this nonsense.

.....

Back.

Inside, Ed pours water on rocks that are on top of coals. They sweat. Ed prays. They come out feeling great (sigh).

Things eventually get resolved for both, Julie and Clark. And of course, they figure out that Ed is her father. She thinks she'll go visit him sometime. For now, she's gonna explore her relationship with Clark.

THE END

I hope that is the end. I hope Block isn't going to go from this to a book where Julie's "powers" are more developed. My overall sense is that Block is really taken with "other." She likes not-white peoples. She's put them in this book and in Weetzie Bat, too. People obviously love her writing. I wish she'd stay away from this kind of writing, though.

In a twitter exchange earlier this month, she apologized for the problems I described in Weetzie Bat. I thought it was a sincere apology, but she didn't say a word about Teen Spirit. I wish she would. Without addressing it, her apology rings very hollow. Very hollow, indeed.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Francesca Lia Block apologized for Native stereotyping in WEETZIE BAT (but see update)

Editor's note: I added "but see update" to the title of this post because after reading Block's Teen Spirit the apology rang hollow.

On November 11, 2014, the We Need Diverse Books campaign hosted a twitter chat about LGBTQ literature. During that chat, Emily Campbell (@Ms_Librarian) tweeted that Francesca Lia Block's book, Baby Bebop, was important to her. She included Block in the tweet. I replied, saying "The Native content in her bks is stereotyping 101." Here's a screencap:



Campbell asked for more information, and I sent her a link to my analysis of Weetzie Bat. The next day, November 12, Block replied to me and Campbell, saying "No offense meant. My apologies. All respect for all." Here's that screencap:



I thanked her, saying "Most ppl mean well but lack awareness, esp of Native ppl & how culture is used/misused." Here's the screencap of that; I don't know why its font is larger than the others:


She replied again, saying "I would like to learn and grow, until I am no longer alive." And I thanked her again, saying "Your voice as ally pushing back on broad/deep misrepresentations of Native ppl is important." Here's the screencap of that exchange:



I don't know what, if anything, Francesca Lia Block has said or done about this since then. Most authors who respond to my critiques of their work are defensive. Her response was different, and I appreciate that, but I wonder if she's said anything more about my critique, elsewhere, to friends, perhaps?

Block's apology came up this morning in a tweet exchange I had with a colleague about Daniel Handler, the author of Lemony Snicket books who made several racist remarks last night (November 19) at the National Book Awards. He called them "ill conceived humor" in an apology he tweeted today (November 20). His remarks weren't "ill conceived." They were racist.

Block and Handler are key figures in children's and young adult literature. They are authors of best selling books. They could change a lot of hearts and minds if they'd say more than either has said so far.

Update, November 20

There I was (above) thinking well of Block and that exchange, feeling optimistic about her response and the possibilities for change. But then I heard from a colleague about her new book. It came out this year. The title, Teen Spirit. And the spirit? Cherokee.

How to interpret her apology, now?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mass Media Fail(s): Describing Indian man's singing as "chants" and "yowls" and "wails"

Yowls? Chant? Wail?!! This is a wild guess, but I wonder...

When they were kids, did Dina Capiello of the Associated Press, Andrew Kirell of Mediaite, and the nameless person who posted a video at CNN read children's books like Little House on the Prairie that told them that Native people "yowl" or "chant" or "wail"?!

While any person might do any of those things for one reason or another, those words are not what took place in the Senate Gallery yesterday. Something happened when the Senate voted down the Keystone pipeline bill.

Greg Grey Cloud sang a song.

Grey Cloud is an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and co-founder of Wica Agli, an organization dedicated to helping men and boys create communities that value self, family, and community. That work includes protesting the Keystone pipeline, and that is why Greg Grey Cloud was in the Senate gallery yesterday. The bill being voted down marked a victory for the protest work he and Native people have been doing.

So Greg Grey Cloud sang a song, but the three news media I noted at the top of this post didn't call it a song. The first news source I read about the vote was Mediaite. Initially, their headline was "Native American Chant Interrupts Senate as Keystone Vote Fails." The word "chant" bothered me and I set about to create a graphic that corrected the use of "chant." As I did that, a colleague said it was a Victory song, so I added that to the correction I made. This is what I came up with (it needed another correction, as you'll see later):


This morning, I saw that CNN called it wailing:




And, I saw that the AP reporter used "yowls" in the final paragraph of her report:



In getting this blog post ready, I went back to the Mediate article and saw that they had changed the wording in their headline. The new one is on the left. My edited one is on the right. I am glad they changed their headline, and I imagine that those involved in that change will not make that mistake again!



As it turns out, my corrections needed a correction, too! In an interview today, Grey Cloud said he was overcome with joy at the outcome of the vote:

I looked down and thought we need to honor these Senators for having the courage to make the right decision, for not only Indian country but for America as a whole. As a singer, I know only one way to honor someone, and that’s to sing. I didn’t mean to disrupt the Senate, only to honor the conviction shown by the Senators.

Grey Cloud was singing in his language. Here's the Lakota words, and the English translation (provided to Grey Cloud by Pat Bad Hand Sr., of the Sicangu Oyate. Grey Cloud stated that Mr. Bad Hand is a renowned hoka wicasa (keeper of songs):

Lakota language for Unci Maka Olowan song: “Tunkasila wamayanka yo, le miye ca tehiya nawazin yelo. unci maka nawacincina wowahwala wa yuha waun welo”

English translation Grandmother Earth song: “Grandfather look at me, I am standing here struggling, I am defending grandmother earth and I am chasing peace.”
And here's the video of that moment in the Senate:




Though that language and style of singing may be unfamiliar to most people, the words in the song are ones spoken by a people who is Indigenous to this land, and whose culture has been misrepresented and marginalized so much that those three reporters, and perhaps most of the people there, did not recognize it for what it is.

That has to change. That means replacing books that misrepresent Native peoples with books that don't have problems of misrepresentation. Please let go of those classics. They have not served us well. Choose, instead, books that present all peoples as people. Start with the books on AICL's Best Books list.




Monday, November 17, 2014

PUKAWISS THE OUTCAST by Jay Jordan Hawke

Pukawiss the Outcast by Jay Jordan Hawke is an unusual book. The protagonist--Joshua--is a 14 year old teen who is gay. Because his mother is a fundamentalist Christian, he has not shared that identity with anyone. The story is set in the June of 1999, when President Clinton issued a proclamation naming June as Gay and Lesbian Pride month.

What makes the book unusual is not that he is gay, but that Joshua is Native.

Joshua's mother is white, and his father is Ojibwe. They met when his mother went to his father's reservation to do missionary work. They fell in love, but she was sure he was going to hell for his Ojibwe beliefs. He had to choose between her and his Ojibwe identity. He chose her, but struggled with that choice. He eventually became an alcoholic.

Joshua wasn't raised Ojibwe, nor did he visit the reservation, which is an hour from his mom and dad's house.

But when his dad leaves and his mom needs time to sort things out, she drops him off at the home of "Gentle Eagle" -- his grandfather -- on the reservation.

Joshua meets several teens who work at Wiigwaas, a recreated village Gentle Eagle established to help the Ojibwe people remember and learn their heritage.

Among the teens who work at the village are "Mokwa" and "Little Deer." Mokwa means angry bear, we're told in the book. Information shared about the names of the characters follows pop culture ideas about how Native names are given. Pop culture, I hasten to add, that doesn't reflect how Native names are given. "Gentle Eagle" is a gentle elder who everyone turns to for guidance. "Mokwa" is called that because he fought some older boys who were bullying "Little Deer" who is quiet and skittish. Later in the book is a new character, Black Crow, who is a loud-mouthed bully.

Naming figures prominently in the story. Joshua wants an Indian name. He's got a crush on Mokwa, who he hangs out with a lot at the village. Mokwa gives him a nickname: Pukawiss.

According to Mokwa, Pukawiss is a manitou who was an outcast because he didn't do what was expected of him (hunt and fish). Instead, he watched animals and mimicked their movements. His mimicry gave birth to "the art of dancing." He also gave the people Fancy Dance and powwows. The latter is definitely not accurate. Both are contemporary or modern in nature, rather than traditional ceremonies/dances that have been done for a very long time.

Later, Mokwa tells Joshua that he thinks Pukawiss was gay because when he went from village to village teaching the dances, women threw themselves at him and he ignored them. And, because he "loved bright-colored clothing." Mokwa's says "I think he was gay. It makes sense to me." Those two sentences function as a disclaimer, I think, for what the author is telling us via Mokwa.

I haven't found anything from Ojibwe writers or scholars that says Pukawiss was gay. It seems to me that the author--an outsider to Ojibwe culture--is putting this interpretation onto Pukawiss. I find that rather troubling, given that the author is not Native. He is also using markers (colored clothing) that fits in the framework of gay-people-as-flamboyant that Malinda Lo notes as a mixed blessing in terms of characters who are portrayed that way.

There are other problems... Mokwa does the Fancy Dance at powwows. He's taught Joshua how to do that dance. Joshua practices it and does it at the village for the tourists. Near the end of the book they all go to a powwow at Bay Mills where Mokwa is competing. During the dance, Mokwa sprains his ankle. He finishes the dance well enough to be selected as a finalist who has to dance again. He tells Joshua to take his place. He quickly takes off all his regalia and Joshua puts it on. That doesn't sound plausible. Regalia doesn't go on and off quickly. There's a lot of parts, each one requiring care in terms of the item itself but also regarding how it is put on.

Joshua is worried everyone will know he isn't Mokwa because he is shorter than Mokwa, but Mokwa thinks nobody will notice. They grab a porcupine roach and put it on Joshua to hide the fact that he doesn't have a Mohawk haircut like Mokwa does. Off he goes to dance, and, nobody notices the substitution. I found that switcheroo troubling, and, taking of the roach, too. That sort of thing just isn't done.

Another point that didn't ring true for me was the use of the word "chanting" to describe the drumming and singing. There's a lot more in my notes but I think I'll stop and say this:

I wish Hawke's book didn't have these problems. We need books about Native youth who are gay. Though a gay identity is shown as positive in this book, that positive note is greatly overshadowed by the amount of misinformation about Ojibwe people that is in this book.

Within children's and young adult literature, a book like this is about intersections of two or more identities. We need those books, but it is unacceptable for one identity to be misrepresented. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend Pukawiss the Outcast. It was published in 2014 by Harmony Ink Press.

Note: November 17, 4:45
There is a great deal of LGBTQ writing in Native Studies. A recent book is Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature, edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Daniel Justice, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti.

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.