Monday, April 11, 2016

Beverly Slapin's review of FIRE IN THE VILLAGE, by Anne M. Dunn

Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin submitted this review essay of Anne M. Dunn's Fire in the Village. It may not be used elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved. Copyright 2016. Slapin is currently the publisher/editor of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children.

Dunn, Anne M. (Anishinabe-Ojibwe), Fire in the Village: New and Selected Stories. Holy Cow! Press, 2016.

Everyone knows a circle has no beginning and no end. In Fire in the Village, Anishinabe elder and wisdom-sharer Anne M. Dunn shows us a world in which everything in Creation has life, in which everything has volition, in which everything needs to be thanked and respected. It’s a world inhabited by mischievous Little People and wise elders; by four-leggeds, two-leggeds, flying nations, swimmers and those who creep; by hovering spirits and the children who can see them, and by haunting flashbacks that just won’t go away. Like points in a circle, each story has a place that informs the whole.

Here are 75 stories of how things came to be and how the humans (some of them, anyway) came to understand their responsibilities to all Creation. Stories of how the Little People can make huge things happen and how elders and children may be the only ones who understand and respect them. Stories about why butterflies are beautiful but can’t sing, why Tamarack drops its needles in winter, and why, every season, Anishinabeg give great thanks to the sap-giving maple trees. And gut-wrenching stories of the horrors inflicted on innocent little children in the Indian residential schools and stories of internalized racism and stories of good, loving parents who have alcoholism.

One of my favorite of Anne’s not-so-subtle stories (that reminds me of the US and Canadian governments’ failed attempts at cultural erasure of Indian peoples) involves an elder woman’s dreams to create a monument to fry bread, and the Department of Fry Bread Affairs—“suspicious that the women were engaged in resistance and eager to crush any possibility of dissent”—finds a way to destroy their Great Fry Bread Mountain and outlaw the women’s Fry Bread dances. But, if you know any history, you know that the struggle continues.

Without didacticism, without polemic, Anne gives each story the attention it needs so it can speak its own truth. How a little boy finds the perfect gift for his grandma. How a bear reciprocates for an elder woman’s generosity. How the Little People encourage an old man on his final journey. How a drum dreamed by a woman long ago can bring healing to the community.

Ojibwe artist Annie Humphrey’s beautifully detailed black-and-white pen-and-ink interior illustrations, together with the cover’s bright eye-catching colors in Prismacolor colored pencil, complement Anne’s tellings and will draw readers into the stories.

Children can enjoy acting out many of Anne’s stories about how things came to be, and some of the others as well. But, please—pitch the fake “Indians” with costumes, headdresses, wigs and face paint; also, the “woo-woos,” “hows,” “ughs,” and “hop-hop” dances. The most effective “costumes” I’ve seen were plain t-shirts and jeans for the two-legged characters, and minimal decorations to denote the four-leggeds, flying ones, swimming nations and those who creep.

In her Foreword, Anne writes:

The storyteller is usually a recognized member of the community, one who carries the stories that must be told. Perhaps young tellers will arrive to carry them forward. So our stories will continue to be passed from generation to generation.

 “Some stories are told more often, she also writes, “because those are the stories that want to be told. They are the ones that teach the vital lessons of our culture and traditions.” Depending on what lessons are being imparted, some stories may be for everyone, some for children, some for initiates, and some for adults. I would encourage parents, classroom teachers and librarians to use the same caution with this written collection.

As in the old times, when the people were taught by example and by stories, Anne sits in a circle with her audience and relates teachings and events from the long ago, from the distant past, from almost yesterday, and from now and beyond tomorrow—because every day, you know, brings a new story. If you listen for it. As Anne ends some of her stories, “That’s the way it was. That’s the way it is.”

‘Chi miigwech, Anne. I’m honored to call you friend.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

ANPAO by Jamake Highwater

Friday (April 8, 2016), I used Skype to give a long-distance talk for the Spotlight on Books conference in Minnesota. In the Q&A, I was asked about Jamake Highwater's Anpao. I've mentioned that book in many talks but have not yet done a stand-alone post here. Yesterday's question prompts me to finally do it.

Anpao came out in 1977. It won a Newbery Honor in 1978. The book was published in one of the many eras in which US society realizes its body of literature is too white. Update on May 31, 2019: Here are the book covers. As far as I've been able to determine, the one on the left is the original, with cover and interior art by Fritz Scholder. In the center is the cover from Scholastic's 1991 printing; on the right is the Harper Trophy cover in 1992.

Anpao was put forth as the work of a Native man, but "Jamake Highwater" was a pen name for a man named Jack Marks. He was not Native but for many years, he was receiving large grants intended for projects developed by Native people, including some by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

In 1983 Akwesasne Notes published an article by Highwater, in which he talked about being treated as a "second class Indian" because he had mixed heritage. Seeing that article, Hank Adams began meticulous research on him. Adams, Vine Deloria Jr., and Suzan Harjo worked together to get an expose published the following year, in Akwesasne Notes. 

Does it matter that Highwater was not Native (he is deceased)? I think it does. In school, teachers often assign Author Studies--in which students are asked to read other items the author has done, study the works individually and as a whole, and see what sort of observations they may make in changes in an author's work over time. In most of the items I see about "Jamake Highwater," I don't see anything (in materials for children/teens) that includes the fact that he was not Native. They take his writing, then, as the writing of a Native person.

That leads me to Anpao as a work of literature. Can it be used to teach children or young adults about Native people?

My answer: no.

In the author's note, Marks/Highwater tells us that the character, Anpao, is a "central Indian hero" created by him from stories from Plains and Southwest peoples. I'm from one of those nations of the southwest. In one way after another, we're different from the Plains peoples. Just what did Marks/Highwater do to create this character? What did he take from the Plains, versus the Southwest peoples to make this "central Indian hero"?

As he travels, Anpao tells stories. But as he tells them, they are presented as if they belong to Anpao, this "central Indian hero." Everything, if we go along with the story, belongs to, and/or comes from, Anpao, the "central Indian hero." That, ironically, is precisely what the author did in creating this "Jamake Highwater" identity. He took from others, and called what he took, his own. That appropriation is a pattern in his work.

In Native American Representations, First Encounters, Distorted Images, and Literary Appropriations (Bataille, 2001), Kathryn Shanley (a professor in Native American Studies at the University of Montana) analyzed one of his other books (The Primal Mind), and writes that Highwater (p. 38):
"felt he could take license with archived materials and claim the experiences contained in them as if they originate from his own personal knowledge and insight."
Shanley goes on to discuss that so many were duped by Highwater because he spoke in ways that met their expectations of what and how a Native person would be. In that expectation--driven by stereotypical and romantic ideas of who we are--Native people who do not speak in that way are seen as "not Indian." Anpao was published in 1977, but now--39 years later--Native writers are still faced with that sort of rejection of their work.

That is the status quo! Books with mystical Indians--like the grandmother in Emily Henry's The Love That Split the World--are scooped up by major publishers.

That has to change. Everyone in children's literature has a responsibility to work towards that change. In the Summer 2015 issue of Children and Librarians, Kathleen T. Horning included Highwater's fraud in her article, "Milestones for Diversity in Literature and Library Services." I hope you do your part.

For further reading:
Fool's Gold: The Story of Jamake Highwater, the Fake Indian Who Won't Die by Alex Jacobs, in Indian Country Today Media Network
Around the Campfire: Fake Indians by Dean Chavers, in Native Times. 
An Open Letter to the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post by Hank Adams

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Last year, I referenced S. D. Nelson's Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People in an article I did for School Library Journal. I hadn't read it then, and haven't studied it yet, but have had some questions about it (hence, it is now in my "Debbie--have you seen" category). I do have a copy and want to say a few words about it. (Update: It was published in 2015 by Abrams.)

I'm critical of books wherein the writer has invented dialogue for a real person. As a scholar in children's literature who works very hard to help others see biased, stereotypical, inaccurate, romantic and derogatory depictions of Native peoples in children's books, invented dialogue looms large for me.

In short: I need to know if there is evidence or documentation that the person actually said those words. This concern holds, whether the writer is Native or not.

In Nelson's Sitting Bull, the entire text is invented dialogue--and invented thoughts.

It is constructed as a first person biography. It is presented to us as if Sitting Bull is telling us his life story, after he's been killed. Along the way, we have some dialogue, but mostly we have what Nelson imagines Sitting Bull to have thought.

On February 1, 2016 in The Stories in Between, Julie Danielson wrote:
Increasingly, today’s readers also want to see dialogue attribution in the back matter of biographies. That’s because invented dialogue is still a touchy subject. You have those who think that it has no place and that any sort of made-up dialogue puts the biography squarely in the category of historical fiction. Then you have those who think such dialogue is acceptable, helps bring the story to life, and can still be considered nonfiction. In 2014, Betsy Bird wrote here about her changing feelings on the subject (“In general I stand by my anti-faux dialogue stance but recently I’ve been cajoled into softening, if not abandoning, my position”), which made me nod my head a lot.
Here’s where I (and many others) draw the line: if a biographer invents dialogue or shifts around facts in any sort of way, they need to come clean about this in the back matter. A great example of this is Greg Pizzoli’s Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, the story of con artist Robert Miller, published last year and named a Kirkus Best Book of 2015. There’s a line in the starred review of the book that states: “The truth behind Miller’s exploits is often difficult to discern, and Pizzoli notes the research challenges in an afterword.” 
"Come clean" is, perhaps, a loaded way to characterize what Danielson is calling for, but I think it is an important call. I want to know what Nelson made up.

Clearly, this is not a hard and fast rule. If it was, Sitting Bull would not have been selected as an Honor Book by the American Indian Library Association.  And--this isn't the first time the field of children's literature has looked critically at invented dialogue. Myra Zarnowski's chapter, Intermingling fact and Fiction, published in 2001 in The Best in Children's Nonfiction, has a good overview.

If I do an in-depth look at Sitting Bull, I'll be back. For now, though, I am not comfortable recommending it, and I may revisit what I said about his Buffalo Bird Girl when I wrote about it, back in 2013. It, too, is a biography.

I anticipate questions from readers who wonder if S.D. Nelson ought to get a pass on invented dialogue because he is Lakota. My question is: did he work with any of Sitting Bull's descendants as he wrote the story? Did any of them read the manuscript? If they did, and they found it acceptable, I'd love to see that in the book. On the cover, in fact! If I do hear anything like that, I'll be back to update this post.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Debbie--have you seen Erin Petti's THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE?

Debbie--have you seen...
Adding Erin Petti's The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee to my "have you seen" series. Here's the synopsis:

Eleven-year-old budding scientist Thelma Bee has adventure in her blood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a ghost kidnaps her father. Now her only clues are a strange jewelry box and the word “Return,” whispered to her by the ghost. It’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be more dangerous than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

No mention in the synopsis of a Native character, but Thelma's best friend, Alexander, is "part Native American."

I've got an ARC. If/when I read it, I'll be back!

DRAGONFLY KITES, written by Tomson Highway; illustrated by Julie Flett

Terrific news! Tomson Highway's Dragonfly Kites is available again--this time with art by Julie Flett!

Fifteen years ago, I learned about three delightful picture books by Tomson Highway. Illustrated by Brian Deines, each one had a great story that was presented in English and in Cree. Fox on the IceCaribou Song, and Dragonfly Kites were published by a major publisher (HarperCollins) in Canada but went out of print. In 2008, I was able to get copies of them.

In 2013, Fifth House reissued Caribou Song with a new illustrator, John Rombough. It went on to win the picture book award from the American Indian Library Association. Highway is Cree; Rombough is Dene.

While the art Deines did in the early 2000s was realistic and had appeal for that realism, I gotta say that I really like Rombough's work. It is visually arresting and provides the opportunity to teach children about different kinds of art. I highly recommend Caribou Song.

I am thrilled that Fifth House is giving us DragonFly Kites this year. The illustrator is one of my favorite artists: Julie Flett. Here's the synopsis for Dragonfly Kites:

Joe and Cody, two young Cree brothers, along with their parents and their little dog Ootsie, are spending the summer by one of the hundreds of lakes in northern Manitoba. Summer means a chance to explore the world and make friends with an array of creatures.
But what Joe and Cody like doing best of all is flying dragonfly kites. They catch dragonflies and gently tie a length of thread around the middle of each dragonfly before letting it go. Off soar the dragonflies into the summer sky and off race the brothers and Ootsie too, chasing after their dragonfly kites through trees and meadows and down to the beach before watching them disappear into the night sky.

As kids do, Joe and Cody befriend animals. One summer their pet was a baby Arctic tern they named Freddy. Another summer, they were fond of a baby loon that they named Sally. And on another summer, they were watching two baby eagles (not paginated):
They named one Migisoo, which means "eagle" in Cree. The other they named Wagisoo, which doesn't mean anything but rhymes with Migisoo.
Migisoo! Cracks me up! Here's that page, and look! That dog? That's Ootsie:

Dragonfly Kites will be at the top of my lists this year! And of course, I wonder... will Fifth House be giving us the third book (Fox On Ice), too? I hope so!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

DARK ENERGY by Robison Wells

In January, a reader wrote to ask me about Dark Energy by Robison Wells. I got an ARC (advanced reader copy) from Edelweiss and read it last week. I have a lot of questions. The book itself will be released on March 29, 2016. Let's start with the synopsis:
We are not alone. They are here. And there’s no going back. Perfect for fans of The Fifth Wave and the I Am Number Four series, Dark Energy is a thrilling stand-alone science fiction adventure from Robison Wells, critically acclaimed author ofVariant and Blackout.
Five days ago, a massive UFO crashed in the Midwest. Since then, nothing—or no one—has come out.
If it were up to Alice, she’d be watching the fallout on the news. But her dad is director of special projects at NASA, so she’s been forced to enroll in a boarding school not far from the crash site. Alice is right in the middle of the action, but even she isn’t sure what to expect when the aliens finally emerge. Only one thing is clear: everything has changed.
The synopsis doesn't tell us that Alice is "half Navajo." Her dad is white; her deceased mom was Navajo.

Back in January, I noted that I was interested in the author's note. I'll begin with it. There, Wells writes that he used to live on the Navajo reservation. Because he wanted to be respectful "of the tribes and ancestors of tribes mentioned in the book" he sent the manuscript out to several readers. He names seven individuals (Orlando Tsosie, Sammy Jim, Thomas Begay, Angelina Begay, Nadine Padilla, Susie Sandoval, and Thomasita Yazzie). Some of their surnames are clearly Navajo. Wells listened to what they had to say:
The small amount we see of ceremony and meeting with the Elders is a very whittled down version of a real Navajo ceremony. Originally we saw all of it, but the Navajos I spoke to--with only one exception--said it was too sacred to depict. I cut it back and and back until they were satisfied.
I am glad to read that Wells cut it more than once until his readers were satisfied. But--I have many questions, because equally important to the story Wells tells are Pueblo peoples. He doesn't say he sent the manuscript to Pueblo Indian readers. I'm not sure what I'd have said...

Let's back up.

From the synopsis, we know an alien ship has crashed in Iowa and that Alice's dad has to go there. The boarding school Alice is sent to is the Minnetonka School for the Gifted and Talented. Soon after Alice and her dad get to the site, the aliens start to emerge. The US government welcomes them and through a translator, figures out they call themselves the Guides. All but two are housed in a tent city next to the giant ship.

The school's gifted and talented student body is important to the story. Alice and her friends befriend the two Guides (these two are a brother and sister). Brynne, one of the Minnetonka students, tests the DNA of the girl alien (they call her Coya) and finds out that she's not an alien at all. She is human. Another student who is into languages records some of Coya's words, analyzes them, and figures out that Coya and her brother are speaking a Pueblo language:
"Keresan is a language spoken by half a dozen tribes in New Mexico. They're Pueblo tribes. Acoma, Laguna--those are the ones I've been to. There are others to the east."
Brynne says:
"...the DNA databases I've searched say they're not any one of those tribes, but they have markers for being an older tribe that those are descendants from."   
Alice says:
"the language is like a puebloan nation, but not. And the DNA is like a puebloan nation, but not. Are we talking about the Anasazi here?"
The conversation continues, with Brynne and Rachel giving the rest of the group some information about the Anasazi, including that the preferred name is Ancestral Puebloans.

So--Coya and her sibling and the Guides who were on that ship are not aliens. They're Ancestral Puebloans who were abducted by some bad aliens (they're called Masters), who we'll learn later, look like lizards. These bad aliens enslaved the Ancestral Puebloans and used them as incubators for parasites the Masters grow till they become like the Masters, too. How all that becomes known is laid out in the story in a gruesome discovery when Alice and her friends go onto the ship and find bloody rooms where, Alice's dad tells her, they think thousands committed mass suicide after puncturing their abdomens.

Are you unsettled by any of that? I am, and while that part of Dark Energy has nothing to do with ceremony, it does a few things that I would have asked Wells to revisit.

This alien abduction idea is one that appears here and there. As I did some research, I read that tourists tell tour guides at Chaco Canyon that abduction story. It is part of an X-Files episode, too. All of this feeds into New Age activity that is harmful to the sites, which have significance to us today. Will Dark Energy inadvertently encourage that abduction idea? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, consider sacred or significant aspects of your own spiritual or cultural or religious life and how they are (or could be) exploited by others who don't understand those ways.

I wonder if Wells took the feelings of Pueblo people into consideration? Why did he not ask Pueblo readers to read his manuscript? I think I can offer an answer. The entire story is dependent on abducted Ancestral Puebloans. If I said "no, don't go there," I can't imagine how this story could be told. Can you?

Another thread that I am uncomfortable with is the ways in which Alice and her friends go about teaching "our culture" to Coya. There are places in the story where Alice says something that tells us she's well aware of politics, history, and oppression of Native peoples, but there are other places where that orientation disappears, like when teaching Coya "our" culture. Alice is clearly a US teen, into things most other US teens are into, but for me, she slips in and out of a Navajo orientation in ways that I find jarring. At one point she talks sarcastically about small pox, and then at this "our culture" part, there's this:
It was amazing the things that she didn't have any concept of: awards, winning, competition, prizes.
And there is another part where another student (he's from India and has applied for US citizenship) and Alice are talking about what the government will do with the Guides. He says:
"I wonder what they'll do about the Guides' citizenship. They landed in America--does that make them American? It's not like we can load them on a bus and send them back to where they came from. Besides, from what you said, putting them on a bus would just be shipping them back to Mesa Verde, right?"
"I don't see us creating a new little nation for them, I said. "We've seen how well that's worked out in the past, with Native American reservations."
"I don't know what they'll be," I said. "These Guides are going to need a lot of education, and they don't have any money. Are we just going to give them free houses?"
See? Her voice, her orientation, her political knowledge.. it seems uneven, or, inconsistent.

As the story draws to a close, Alice and her friends are running, along with Coya and her brother, to the Navajo reservation where a ceremony will be done by a Hopi man who talks of monsters who came from the sky, and, a bundle with the skull of one of those monsters. It isn't clear to me who does a sandpainting of the ship... is it a Navajo man or the Hopi one? I can't tell, but, we learn that the Hopi learned how to kill the monsters, using a poison they make from juniper berries, dried insects, and dried flowers. Arrows are dipped into that poison. Alice and her friends go to Chaco Canyon, the Masters/Monsters arrive there.

Alice talks with one (through a translator mechanism that Coya and her brother have been using). It is angry. It asks her if she knows what her friends have cost his people. She says they're her people. It replies:
"What do you mean 'your people'? These slaves were taken from this weak little planet more than eight hundred of your Earth years ago. We took only what we needed--we bred the rest. Your population is exploding. You seem to have more than enough to spare a few."
Some dramatic fighting ensues, but those poison tipped arrows do the trick. The four Masters/Monsters are killed.

These parts about enslavement are meant to make a point about enslavement of Africans and they're the part about history that the Kirkus reviewer referenced, but I don't know... It doesn't sit well with me.

What Wells does in Dark Energy is too over-the-top and, as noted earlier, the abduction/alien theme plays into New Age abuses of our ancestral sites. I've read and re-read what I've written here, trying to bring it into a useful and coherent sharing of my thoughts, but I feel confounded by what I read in Dark Energy. Obviously, I've decided to stop trying and just hit the upload button.

Published in 2016 by HarperCollins (a major publisher), I conclude with this: I do not recommend Dark Energy by Robison Wells. I invite your thoughts.

Update, March 28, 2016

I'm back to address something that I didn't include above. Alice learns that Coya is human because of a DNA test that was done without Coya's knowledge or consent. In real life, that should not happen. Readers might say it is ok because at the time the sample was taken, they didn't know she was human, but in that case, I think Wells could circle back to it later and say it was not right. A key point I want to make: the taking of DNA from marginalized peoples or vulnerable populations is a serious concern. You may be interested in the misuse of DNA samples taken from the Havaupai Tribe in the 1980s.

Readers may also be interested in knowing that a DNA test that has markers of Native heritage does not mean the individual with that DNA is one who can say they are Native American. Being a citizen of a tribe is far more than that. To gain insight about that, you can read this interview with Kim Tallbear (she's a scientist): 'There is no DNA test to prove you're Native American'. You can also get Tallbear's book, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science

Debbie--have you seen JOURNEY INTO MOHAWK COUNTRY by Harmen Meyndertsz von den Bogaert and George O'Connor

Debbie, have you seen...
A reader writes to ask me if I've read Journey Into Hawk Country. I haven't. Here's the synopsis from WorldCat:
An illustrated children's version of the journal of a young Dutch trader, Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, who journeyed into the land of the Iroquois Indians, a Mowhawk tribe that controlled the trade routes in the area, in 1634, seeking to bolster the Dutch trade in what is now New York State.

It came out in 2006 and there's quite a lot written about it. Here's one well-sourced essay, written by Melissa L. Melon: Our Minds in the Gutters: Sexuality and Reader Responsibility in George O'Connor's Graphic Novel, Journey into Mohawk Country.

If I get the book, I'll be back.

Debbie--have you seen THE NIGHT TOURIST by Katherine Marsh

This "have you seen" post is, more or less, a note to myself to put Katherine Marsh's The Night Tourist on my list of books to read. Of late, I'm finding/learning about several books that are set in New York City and have Native content--in the form of ghosts or Indians-of-the-past.

The Night Tourist came to my attention as I read an article in the March 27 edition of The Washington Post. Written by Katherine Marsh (author of The Night Tourist), the photograph at the top of her article is what caught my eye. Here's a screen cap:

That soldier, with machine gun, standing in front of a book display is, of course, chilling. As my eyes moved to the books on the shelves, I realized the soldier is standing in front of a wall of Tintin books. The one on the top shelf, 3rd from the left, is Tintin in America. It is one of the much loved Tintin books have stereotypical, racist, derogatory content.

As I started looking into Tintin articles to link to in this post, I found an article in Salon: Tintin's racist history: Symbol of Brussels solidarity is uncomfortably divisive. In it is a link to an article in Vox: How Tintin became the symbol of solidarity in the Brussels attacks. The Vox article is mostly a series of tweets of Tintin crying.

I don't know if Marsh chose the photo that was used with her article. She doesn't mention the Tintin books. My guess is that someone in the editorial department at the Post has read the Vox article and thought it a good choice, given that Marsh writes children's books. The image did something else for me: it caught my eye and led me to look at Marsh's first book, which (as noted above) has Native content of the no-longer-around kind, but it also captures the importance of children's books.

Far too many people look down on children and the books created for them, but they're important. They shape the ways we view the world. How they do that is something that needs more attention. When I read Marsh's book, what will I find? Does that book add to the misinformation that Native peoples no longer exist? If/when I read her book, I'll be back. If you've read it, let me know what you noticed when you read it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Eric Jennings, Sherman Alexie, and Damaging Perceptions about Alcohol Use Amongst Native Peoples

Editors Note on Feb 25, 2018: Please see my apology about promoting Alexie's work. 

This post is about one of the ways that Alexie's words harm readers--Native and not. Words shape expectations of what Native writing should be. Alexie is affirming stereotypical ideas.  --Debbie


Yesterday on Twitter, Annie Pho tweeted this image:

The words in the image she tweeted are a 2016 article by Eric Jennings, titled "The librarian stereotype: How librarians are damaging their image and profession." People on twitter were, appropriately, angry that Jennings used that excerpt in the way that he did. Here's the words Jennings used (shown in the image above):
When I was at the 2009 Association of College and Research Libraries conference, I saw Sherman Alexie speak, and one of the things that stuck with me is that there's always some truth to a stereotype. He was talking specifically about how the stereotype for many Native Americans is that they are alcoholics. And, in fact, most of his family members are alcoholics. He even went on record as saying that the whole race is filled with alcoholics and that pretending that alcoholism is a stereotype among Native Americans is a form of denial (Alexie, 2009).
I took a look at the source for Jennings's quote. It is a video. I watched it. Alexie did, in fact, say what Jennings says he did. 

Was it wise for Jennings to use that excerpt in his article about stereotypes of librarians? I think not. Here's why.

Most people know what a stereotype of a librarian looks like. They know it is a stereotype, because they know a librarian in real life who is nothing like that stereotype. 

Most people, however, do not know a Native person. So, there's no way for them--in the course of their everyday life--to know that most of us are not, in fact, alcoholics.

Let's think about that a minute.
Alexie said it is a stereotype that Native people are alcoholics. 
The truth? Alcoholism is a widespread disease. 

Alcoholism is a social disease. It does not exist in higher incidences amongst Native communities. Alexie tells us about his specific family. What he says is not true for every Native family. It is not true for my own family. I'm not saying "Not us" out of a holier-than-thou space.

A research study released earlier this year says it isn't true for most Native people in the US either. Holding that view, however, has costs to Native people. The news report about the article included this:
"Of course, debunking a stereotype doesn’t mean that alcohol problems don’t exist," Cunningham said. "All major U.S. racial and ethnic groups face problems due to alcohol abuse, and alcohol use within those groups can vary with geographic location, age and gender.
"But falsely stereotyping a group regarding alcohol can have its own unique consequences. For example, some employers might be reluctant to hire individuals from a group that has been stereotyped regarding alcohol. Patients from such a group, possibly wanting to avoid embarrassment, may be reluctant to discuss alcohol-related problems with their doctors."
And here's another paragraph:
"Negative stereotyping of groups of people who have less access to health care creates even more health disparities," Muramoto said. "Based on a false negative stereotype, some health care providers may inaccurately attribute a presenting health problem to alcohol use and fail to appropriately diagnose and treat the problem."
Several years ago, a dear elder in my tribal nation dealt with that very thing. He wasn't well. He had tests done. Based on those test results, his doctors assumed he was alcoholic, and that alcohol abuse was the cause of what they saw in tests. He told them he didn't drink, but, they didn't believe him. Now, he's finally been diagnosed with a fatal disease, unrelated to alcohol. He was telling the truth, but, the doctors did not believe him. Just writing those words brings tears to my eyes. 

What Alexie says, matters. Words shape what people think and what people do. Words shaped those doctors who didn't believe this elder. 

In a recent article in Booklist, Cynthia Leitich Smith wrote this:
I’ve had allied non-Indian librarians tell me, one way or another, that they’re committed to telling stories about “real Indians” and go on to clarify that they mean alcoholics living in reservation communities. As if, say, my tribal town and urban characters were somehow less “real.” 
I cringed reading Cynthia's words because what she's encountering--like the elder did--is a belief in a stereotype. Those doctors and these librarians think it is real. Others think it is, too. I'm seeing it in books by non-Native writers, a lot. Writers seem to have an idea that, if they're writing a story about Native people or our communities, they better make sure to have an alcoholic in it. 

Writers who do that are damaging us, and they're damaging non-Native readers, too. They are taking a social illness and making it a NATIVE social illness. My guess is that they have read Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. That story has alcoholism in it. Because he's got it in his book, I think writers are thinking that they should make sure to include it in their stories, too.

Writers: Don't do that.

Editors: Don't let your writers do that.

Book reviewers and bloggers: Your reviews/posts influence purchasing decisions. Pay attention. See what I see, which is the overrepresentation of alcoholism as a part of Native life. 

Everyone: Read the study. See for yourself. 

See the news article:
Study Debunks Notions about Native Americans, Alcohol

Read the study: 
Alcohol use among Native Americans compared to whites: Examining the veracity of the 'Native American elevated alcohol consumption' belief

And--read widely. Alexie is one writer. There are others. Don't let him and the stories he tells be the "single story" you know about Native peoples. You can start with Gansworth, Leitich Smith, Edwardson, Erdrich, Tingle, Van Camp, and Taylor

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Following up on Emily Henry's THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD

Back in January, a reader wrote to ask me about Emily Henry's The Love that Split the World. I've now gotten a copy, read it, and am working on an in-depth review of it. Due out in 2016, it is being published by Razorbill (Penguin).

However! Last week I learned it was being picked up by Lionsgate. If all goes according to plan, it will be a movie. That troubled me deeply because of the errors I found in the book.

I started tweeting about it, and got some pretty fierce pushback from people who are friends of the writer.

If you're interested in the tweets and my response to the pushback, I created two Storify's about them (Storify is a way to capture a series of tweets in a single place.) I've also got them available as pdf's--let me know by email if you want a copy of the pdf.

Here's the first one:
What Emily Henry got wrong in THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD

And here's the second one:
Derailing Native Critique of THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Beverly Slapin's Review of Bruchac's THE HUNTER'S PROMISE: AN ABENAKI TALE

Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin submitted this review essay of Joseph Bruchac's The Hunter's Promise. It may not be used elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved. Copyright 2016. Slapin is currently the publisher/editor of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children.


Bruchac, Joseph (Abenaki), The Hunter’s Promise: An Abenaki Tale, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. Wisdom Tales (2015), kindergarten-up

Without didacticism or stated “morals,” Indigenous traditional stories often portray some of the Original Instructions given by the Creator, and children (and other listeners as well), depending on their own levels of understanding, may slowly come to know the stories and their embedded lessons.

Bruchac’s own retelling of the “Moose Wife” story, traditionally told by the Wabanaki and Haudenosaunee peoples of what is now known as the Northeastern US and Canada, is a deep story that maintains its important teaching elements in this accessible children’s picture book. 

Here, a young hunter travels alone to winter camp to bring back moose meat and skins.  Lonely and wishing for companionship, he finds the presence of someone who, unseen, has provided for his needs: in the lodge a fire is burning, food has been cooked, meat has been hung on drying racks and hide has been prepared for drying. On the seventh day, a mysterious woman appears, but is silent. The two stay together all winter and, when spring arrives and the hunter leaves for his village, the woman says only, “promise to remember me.”

As the story continues, young readers will intuit some things that may not make “sense.” Why does the hunter travel alone to and from winter camp? Why doesn’t the woman return with the hunter to the village? Why do their children grow up so quickly? Why does she ask only that the hunter promise to remember her? Who is she really? The story’s end is deeply satisfying and will evoke questions and answers, as well as ideas about how this old story may have connections to contemporary issues involving respect for all life.

Farnsworth’s heavily saturated oil paintings, with fall settings on a palette of mostly oranges and browns; and winter settings in mostly blues and whites, evoke the seasons in the forested mountains and closely follow Bruchac’s narrative. Cultural details of housing, weapons, transportation and clothing are also well done. The canoes, for instance, are accurately built (with the outside of the birch bark on the inside); and the women’s clothing display designs of quillwork and shell rather than beadwork (which would have been the mark of a later time).

That having been said, it would have been helpful to see representations of individual characteristics and emotion in facial expressions here. While Farnsworth’s illustrations aptly convey the “long ago” in Bruchac’s tale, this lack of delineation evokes an eerie, ghost-like presence that may create an unnecessary distance between young readers and the Indian characters.

Bruchac’s narrative is circular, a technique that might be unfamiliar with some young listeners and readers who will initially interpret the story literally as something “only” about loyalty and trust in human familial relationships; how these ethics encompass the kinship of humans to all things in the natural world might come at another time. I would encourage classroom teachers, librarians and other adults who work with young people to allow them to sit with this story. They’ll probably “get” it—if not at the first reading, then later on.

And I would save Bruchac’s helpful Author’s Note for after the story, maybe even days or weeks later:

It’s long been understood among the Wabanaki…that a bond exists between the hunter and those animals whose lives he must take for his people to survive. It is more than just the relationship between predator and prey. When the animal people give themselves to us, we must take only what we need and return thanks to their spirits. Otherwise, the balance will be broken. Everything suffers when human beings fail to show respect for the great family of life.

—Beverly Slapin

Debbie Reese to Host IndigenousXca from March 17 through March 24

Sharing some great news! Chelsea Vowell of apihtawikosisan asked me to host IndigenousXca from March 17 through March 24. If you're not tapped into Native networks on Twitter, you're probably wondering what IndigenousXca is...

Back in 2012, Luke Pearson started IndigenousX in Australia as a way to provide Indigenous people a way to reach a broader audience than those who follow the individual's Twitter account. Inspired by it, Chelsea launched IndigenousXca on October 30, 2014. Hosts are primarily First Nations, but the reality? The line between the US and Canada is a blurry one when you center Indigenous Peoples as the peoples of North America.

Each week, an Indigenous person is invited to tweet using the IndigenousXca account. The subject of the tweets is up to the host.

IndigenousXca's first host was Paul Seesequasis. Since then, there have been over 60 hosts. Right now (March 10-17), Dale Turner (he's a professor at Dartmouth) is the host.

People who follow my Twitter account (@debreese) know that I generally tweet about representations of Native peoples in children's and young adult books, but that I also tweet items I've read and want to promote. Some of those are specific to Native people, but some aren't.

During my week as a host of IndigenousXca, I'll stick to tweets about my area of research and expertise (representations of Native peoples in children's and young adult books). That includes sharing books I've reviewed here on AICL as well as items other Native people are writing about--including their responses to J.K. Rowling's Magic in North America series. Those tweets will be sent out using the @IndigenousXca account. If you're on Twitter, I hope you'll check out, and then follow that account. There's some excellent content shared via that account.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Did JK Rowling Change the Images on her Magic In North America Series at the Pottermore Site?

If you're following the response of Native people to JK Rowling for her "History of Magic in North America" stories that are short backgrounds for the next movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I think you'll be interested in this bit of info.

The info? 
Evidence (maybe) that someone (Rowling, maybe?!) 
is, in fact, doing some tinkering with the 
problematic content on the 
Pottermore website.

Last Thursday (March 10, 2016) I began compiling a list of blog posts and threaded tweets by Native people who were responding to JK Rowling's "History of Magic in North America" series. I included a screen cap from the Pottermore site that had a flying eagle as the image for the story. Seeing that eagle struck me as odd, because the day of my first tweet (March 8, 2016) I had seen a different image on the Pottermore site--the one of an Indian standing on a cliff.

This morning (Tuesday, March 2016) I read an article at Hypable that describes a person's search to figure out who the founding group of Ilvermorny would be (in the movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) that is due out later this year. (There's a lot to say about the Hypable article but that's for another post.) The article is by Andrew Sims. I looked him up on Twitter, found him, and found an interesting tweet from him, dated March 10 at 8:34 AM. Here's a screen cap:

Using the Internet WayBack Machine, I figured out that the image changed sometime between March 9 at 8:10:58 PM and March 10 at 5:17:17 AM.

Here's the image time stamped March 9 at 8:10:58 PM:

And here's the image time stamped March 10 at 5:17:17 AM:

As far as I know, JK Rowling has not responded to any of the criticisms Native people began putting forth on March 8th. Someone did make a change to the site. I suspect it was Rowling.

Will we hear more from her? Because she has tweeted in support of various marginalized groups before, her lack of response to us is troubling. As they say on TV "stay tuned" to AICL for updates.