Saturday, July 28, 2018

Anishinaabek Artist, Maria Hupfield, includes Debbie Reese on JINGLE DRESS

In 2015, artist and author, Julie Flett (she's Cree-Metis) created art that featured me, reading to children. That particular artwork was for Teaching Tolerance magazine. I experienced a range of emotions when she told me what she wanted to do. I was ecstatic, because, well.... Julie Flett's art and books are absolutely outstanding! That she chose to honor me--for the work that I do in children's literature--was overwhelming, in a good way.

Earlier this week, I learned that Maria Hupfield, a member of the Anishinaabek Nation from Wasauksing First Nation in Ontario, Canada, recognized my work in her art, too. Here it is:

See my name, there? On the right edge, see Marcie Rendon's name, too? If you've not read Marcie's Murder on the Red River yet, or her short story, Worry and Wonder, get on it! Marcie's writing is terrific! That photo was taken by Katherine Rose Sabo, a teacher who saw the dress recently in the National Museum of the American Indian, in New York City (Sabo reads AICL).

Here is Hupfield's statement about Jingle Dress:
The work Jingle Dress is a quiet act of cultural empowerment, modeled after the contemporary Native American woman’s healing and dance regalia of the same name, which consists of numerous metal jingles adorning its surface. Made from regular blue lined note paper, the jingles on this artwork carry the names of over 500 Indigenous authors from North America. Each jingle represents one voice; collectively they make visible the written contributions of Native Americans. The stillness and contemplation of this work comments on the dichotomy that exists between the value of objects and knowledge.

Here's a photo of the front and back of Jingle Dress, from Hupfield's website:

I gotta say--if I lived in New York City--or was within driving distance, I'd go there and study the dress. From what I see in the photos, it is exquisite! I don't know Maria Hupfield, but learning that I was included in this gorgeous work gave me a lift that I really needed. This, then, is a public thank you to her for including me in Jingle Dress!

Friday, July 27, 2018

A teacher's account of a critical read of David Arnold's MOSQUITOLAND

Editors note: Among the email I receive are ones from teachers who found a review on AICL helpful to their work with students. In this case, the teacher wrote to me about David Arnold's Mosquitoland. The email I received from "K" was interesting enough that I invited them to write it up for AICL's readers. Here's what K submitted. 


“White people!” I think to myself, about myself, channelling one of my student’s (head-shaking) refrains. I can see his friendly-mocking face and his shaking head as I read Dr. Debbie Reese’s post about her analysis of David Arnold’s Mosquitoland and her subsequent exchange with the author via Twitter. Sigh.

As a white woman from an upper-middle class upbringing, I try to be very conscious of my white and socioeconomic privilege. I spend countless hours trying to choose books that provide both reflections and windows to my diverse students. Looking back on how much of my own studies were focused on white, European male authors, I know that that impacted me as a woman and regardless of how great these great works are, I know that they are not they only examples of greatness and many include dubious content.

And yet, despite my own attempted awareness, I fell into my own trap of privilege, into a reading that I had the luxury of experiencing because I am “white people.” Having read and admittedly enjoyed Mosquitoland a few years ago, I recently found myself needing a book to start a conversation with my students about mental health struggles. I had been somewhat bothered by the protagonist’s casual dismissal of pharmacological treatments but thought that that, in and of itself (which problematic), could be a good conversation starter as non-examples often are. Many of my students have very entrenched views on certain medications and I thought that the book could give us a framework for those valuable discussions.

While I found Mim’s flippant and self-serving treatment of her heritage less than ideal, I did see it as being characteristic of a teenager. I did not initially tie the “war paint” to that heritage but rather while reading too quickly thought about it as a female putting on makeup to face the (male) world (again demonstrating the privilege of my lens). Nor did it occur to me to factcheck the various references to cultural sayings and proverbs--I thought that was why authors had editors...and Google. When the starter curriculum I purchased turned me on to Dr. Reese’s article about the book and the controversy, I was appalled at my errors in judgement. I clearly owed all of my students, Native American or otherwise, an apology, but more than that, I owed them the truth.

They got to see me make a mistake and own up to it. We discussed the importance of this in and of itself. As we continued reading, I pointed to these and other problematic points, which in turn seemed to give them permission to call out the author on other things:
“Walt seems more Autistic than Down Syndrome.”
“Is Caleb really schizophrenic or does he have multiple personalities?”
“Yeah, if you meet a white person who says they’re Native, they're probably Cherokee.” 
My Native students are primarily Paiute and Shoshone. The ones who made this last comment explained that what they meant was not white people claiming (à la Mim) to be Native American, but rather Native people who have more Caucasian features (i.e. blue eyes and/or blond hair). But none of them being Cherokee they’d had no clue about the misappropriated proverbs either. Thankfully, I was able to share Dr. Reese’s article “David Arnold’s Cherokee protagonist in MOSQUITOLAND” (March 07, 2015) with them, then we progressed to the Twitter exchange, compared Dr. Reese’s resume with that of David Arnold, discussed credibility and citing your sources, spent a period troubleshooting Arnold’s repeated fall-back to Mim’s “Cherokee” heritage and what alternatives he could have used (like, why not make her heritage Celtic?). We read an article about Elizabeth Warren’s similar claim to Cherokee heritage and the controversy it caused during her bid for Senate. We read about “Americans,” the current exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. dealing with the troubled history of the prominent use of Native American imagery in the U.S. since its inception. My students questioned and engaged with the problems of the story and the real life application but they did reflect that if they had been Cherokee, they would have felt hurt and offended by the misrepresentations in the novel. Where, we wondered, does an author’s responsibility to be accurate lie? Largely, my Native American students shrugged off the white author’s use of a character’s “Nativeness” as a plot tool. I worry that this is what they are used to seeing in literature.

Thanks to Dr. Reese, what could have been an ignorant passing on of ignorance was instead a lesson for the whole class, myself included. We all got more out of the unit for the non-example Mosquitoland provided. All of my students learned about not only the complicated struggles surrounding mental illness, but also about how the Cherokee tribes determine enrollment and why; the history of using Native American imagery to represent “America” while the government disenfranchises those same indigenous populations; the problem of using another culture in one’s writing, especially when the history between those cultures is so fraught; and to question authority, whether it be an author, a teacher, or anyone who says something wrong or problematic, especially if you know better.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Not recommended: LUMP LUMP AND THE BLANKET OF DREAMS by Gwen Jackson

Over the last year or so, I've had several emails asking me about Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams. Written by Gwen Jackson, the subtitle is "Inspired by Navajo Culture and Folklore." It was published in 2016 by Friesen Press.

When I see "inspired" or "based on" in a book title or in related information about the book, my critical lens kicks in pretty hard. Non-Native people are inspired to create a whole lot of not-good things! Mascots, for example. Those who created them were often "inspired" by some imagined aspect of how Indigenous people fight. In this case, we have a writer who is inspired--by a weaver and by what the writer perceives to be Native story--to create a picture book.

The author of Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams is not Native. This is not an #OwnVoices story. Indeed, I think some would say (me, for example) that she's appropriating something for her own purposes. A quick look at the first page of her book shows me this:
Awake in beauty!
Awake in beauty!
Today we will live in beauty!
Those of you who are Diné (or Navajo), or who know something about people of the Navajo Nation, will recognize the "in beauty" phrase as something that is significant to Navajo people. It is part of the Blessingway Ceremony. Lot of not-Navajo people are taken with "in beauty." It resonates, of course, and so people.... use it. Like Jackson did. She uses the phrase elsewhere in the book, too.

In the story, Lump Lump is a little bear who doesn't like the idea of going to sleep for the winter. Blue Bird is a blue bird who is a storyteller who, on hearing Lump Lump's resistance to the idea of hibernation, tells him a story about a blanket of dreams. It is made up of items like "the white light of morning" and "the red light of evening." Lump Lump wants a blanket like that, and so, Blue Bird sets out to make it happen. With the help of others, all the items necessary to make this "blanket of dreams" are assembled and taken to Spider Woman, who makes the blanket for Lump Lump.

Do the Navajo people have a story like that?

Or did Jackson make it up? My guess is the latter, but we don't know. For hundreds of years, non-Native writers have been "inspired" by some story they think is Native, and go on to make their own. When that story is of that author's creation, I think it is inappropriate for the writer to use "inspired by" in the title, subtitle, or anyway in the book, because... it isn't of that nation any longer!

Jackson thanks several Indigenous people in the back of the book. I ask writers to consult with Native people before doing this sort of book, but I grow increasingly wary of how they go about it--especially when the outcome is like Jackson's Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams. As you might imagine, Jackson's book is not recommended.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Dear Charlesbridge: It's not too late! Please do not release BEYOND THE GREEN

Editors note: On Tuesday, July 24, 2018, Charlesbridge tweeted their decision to cancel publication of this book. Thank you to all who shared this Open Letter. Speaking up makes a difference to the well-being of Native and non-Native children. 

Their tweets say:

After careful consideration, Charlesbridge has decided to cancel publication of the middle-grade novel BEYOND THE GREEN. We are grateful to those who have given us the chance to learn, grow, and apply these lessons to the future. We apologize to everyone affected by this situation. 

Below is the Open Letter I wrote on Saturday, July 18. 


Saturday, July 18, 2018

Dear Charlesbridge,

It's not too late for you to make a decision about releasing Sharlee Glenn's Beyond the Green. From what I see, it is scheduled to come out on October 2, 2018.

This is an Open Letter, which means that I hope others will read it and think hard before publishing stories about fostering or adoption of Native children. Let me explain why I think you need to take this action.

In Beyond the Green, Sharlee Glenn is telling a story about her own life. When she was a child, her family took in a Ute baby. In her author's note, Glenn tells readers that the baby (Gina) was five months old. She doesn't give us details about how social services selected Glenn's family as a placement for Gina. And she doesn't tell us how Gina left their home to rejoin her Ute mother.

What she does tell readers is that "Before 1978, children like Dori [Dori is the fictional Ute child in Beyond the Green] who were removed from their homes because of neglect or abuse..."

Here's why that sentence is a problem. Some children are removed from their homes because of neglect or abuse. In every demographic in the US, there are parents who are neglectful or abusive of their children. For their safety, those children are appropriately removed from their parents homes.


Prior to 1978, Native children were being taken from their homes at astonishing rates. Were Native parents worse than others? Of course not. A four year investigation into these removals led Congress to pass the Indian Child Welfare Act.

In her author's note, Glenn tells readers a little bit about the law. I imagine that she thinks her note is helpful...


Those readers will have read 230 pages of a White child's pain. Who causes that pain? ICWA and the Ute mother and grandmother.

The scant information in that author's note is not just thin--it is also incorrect. The most helpful action I can take right now is to ask people to read about the law from people who know what it says.

To start, take a look at the website of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. There, you will read that ICWA's intent was to protect the best interests of Native children, and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families.

You can also read the section on ICWA in Matthew Fletcher's Federal Indian Law (2016). Fletcher is a lawyer, and a law professor at Michigan State University. Because his book is written in a way that I think is accessible to people who aren't trained as lawyers, I highly recommend it. Here's an extensive passage from the section about ICWA:
Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978, after more than four years of hearings, deliberation, and debate, in order to alleviate a terrible crisis of national proportions—the “wholesale separation of Indian children from their families….” Hundreds of pages of legislative testimony taken from Indian Country over the course of four years confirmed for Congress that many state and county social service agencies and workers, with the approval and backing of many state courts and some federal Bureau of Indian Affairs officials, had engaged in the systematic, automatic, and across-the-board removal of Indian children from Indian families and into non-Indian families and communities. State governmental actors following this pattern and practice removed between between 25 and 35 percent of all Indian children nationwide from their families, placing about 90 percent of those removed children in non-Indian homes. 
In a 1973 federal case involving children arising out of the Hannahville Indian Community, Wisconsin Potawatomies v. Houston, a tribal expert witness, Dr. James Clifton, “testified that the assumption of jurisdiction in forced adoption by white courts is a matter of great bitterness among the Indian community.” Michigan Indians grow up with oral traditions and stories about the day that a state or church authority figure would show up at the family’s house to take away Indian children. In 1974, a representative of the Native American Child Protection Council, based in Detroit and serving urban Indians, alleged before Congress that state officials had engaged in the “kidnapping” of urban Indian children. By the 1970s, one out of 8 Indian children in Michigan were adopted out of their families and communities, a rate 370 percent higher than with non-Indians.
A critical aspect to the legislative history of ICWA is the “wholesale” and automatic character of Indian child removal by state actors nationally. As the Executive Director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, William Byler, testified, the “[r]emoval of Indian children is so often the most casual kind of operation….” During the 1974 hearings, witness after witness would testify to the automatic removal of Indian children, often without due process. Byler testified that at the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, state social workers believed that the reservation was, by definition, an unacceptable environment for children and would remove Indian children without providing services or even the barest investigation whatsoever. State actors made decisions to remove Indian children with “few standards and no systematic review of judgments” by impartial tribunals. A member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota testified that state actors had taken Indian children without even providing notice to Indian families, with state courts then placing the burden on the Indian parent to prove suitability to retain custody. The President of the National Congress of American Indians testified that a state caseworker came to an Indian woman’s house without warning or notice and took custody of an Indian child by force. Senator Abourezk, chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, stated after hearing much of this testimony: 
"[W]elfare workers and social workers who are handling child welfare caseloads use any means available, whether legal or illegal, coercive or cajoling or whatever, to get the children away from mothers they think are not fit. In many cases they were lied to, they given documents to sign and they were deceived about the contents of the documents."
More insidiously, state officials often arrived to take Indian children away from their families without any paperwork whatsoever. And then those children often were adopted by non-Indian families far from Indian Country, literally without a scrap of paperwork to conclude the deal. 
To remedy the problem, Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act, a statute designed to guarantee minimum procedural safeguards for Indian tribes and Indian families in non-tribal adjudicative forums and to clarify jurisdictional gray areas between state and tribal courts. 

Because Beyond the Green is a semi-autobiographical story, Glenn and her publisher must think it is ok to put this book--with an alcoholic mother who leaves a five month old in a car while that mother gets "drunk as a skunk"--into the world, but I think it ultimately does more harm than good. It exploits a tremendous harm that was done to Native children and their parents. And, Beyond the Green foregrounds the pain of a White child and her family over the harm that was--and is--done to Native children and their families, at the hands of White people.

I have a lot more to say about this book, and may be back to do that. The parts about alcoholism and the part where Dori asks "what's a squash" are only two parts that I find very troubling. I've ordered Glenn's previous telling of this same story. In 1998, it was published as Circle Dance. 

For now, I am pleading with you, Charlesbridge, don't release Beyond the Green. 

Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature


Update: Sunday, July 22, 2018

Several people have asked me to append my Twitter review of Beyond the Green to this letter. After looking into options to do that (I used to use Storify but that's gone), I've settled on "Spooler." To use it, you take the last tweet in your thread, paste its URL into the Spooler window, and wait for the app to run. Then, you've got the tweets and images or gifs, compiled like what I've pasting below (I've inserted returns to separate the tweets because they appeared as long paragraphs, and I'm removing the gif because the animation didn't work). I started this numbered twitter review thread on July 15 (Spooler removed the numbering). The last tweet in that thread was yesterday (Jul 21) after I received the 1998 version of Beyond the Green. Here you go!

Wow. I'm reading an ARC of a story for middle grade readers that has a Ute mother that is an alcoholic. She loses custody of her baby, who she has left in the car while she's in a bar "drunk as a skunk."

The baby is placed with a Mormon family. When she turns 4, the Native mother wants her back. ICWA has been passed, so, the White family has to give her up. But, they make terms. One is that it take place gradually. 

The second term is that the Native mother joins Alcoholics Anonymous so that she stays sober. Honestly--I'm furious that this author and this publisher are doing this book. It is due out later this year. 

It reminds me of Alexie telling people that if there's not a Native alcoholic in the story, then, it isn't authentic. That's such a destructive thing for him to say. It gives cover to writers who do crap like this. 

When the White family takes in this baby, they give her a new name: Dorinda, and call her Dori for short. That's another WTF moment for me. Was that a norm in the 70s? For white people to just up and rename a child they were fostering? 

The author either has no idea that there's a dark history of Native children being given White names at boarding/mission schools, or else knows but doesn't realize that her White characters doing this is not going to be well-received by Native readers who know that history. 

Another unsettling point is when the 4 year old starts to spend time with her Ute mother and grandmother (she doesn't know these two women are her family). She returns to the White family after an outing and asks what a "squash" is. 

Irene's mother, the 4 yr old says, lives with someone named "Did She Wash It Yet" who is a squash. Britt (main char) figures out that 4yr old is trying to say "squaw."

Irene's mother had told the 4 yr old that she is "an old squaw who loves you very much."

Would a Ute woman call herself a squaw? I doubt it. Why did the author of this book create that?!

Oh! Realizing I haven't identified author/book title. The author is Sharlee Glenn; the book is BEYOND THE GREEN. 

I have lot of notes on the book but am pausing for now. @charlesbridge really ought to pull it before it comes out. 

It sounds just like Sharlee Mullins Glenn's CIRCLE DANCE, published in 1998 by Deseret Book Company. 

Before I pause... The author's note says that before 1978, children like Dori (4 yr old) were removed from homes due to neglect or abuse. Some, yes, but ICWA came about because of nefarious removals. This author is misinforming the public. 

That author's note is incomplete. It mentions culture and language but not a word about sovereignty. What is the publisher's rationale for bringing it out? They expect it to sell, but, on what basis?! This is terrible. 

Back on Jul 21 to add to my Jul 15 thread on Glenn's BEYOND THE GREEN. I finished the ARC. Today, I wrote an Open Letter (and tweeted it to the publisher): (……)

In my mail this afternoon was a copy of CIRCLE DANCE, which is the 1998 version of BEYOND THE GREEN. I'm reading through it now. Some minor changes but pretty much the same story. 

In my Open Letter, I did not note all the problems I've noted in this thread, or the others that I found as I read BEYOND THE GREEN. I may do a follow up blog post, later. 

One thing I noted that is different: In the 1998 CIRCLE DANCE, the Ute mother is named Irene Uncasam. In the 2018 BEYOND THE GREEN, her name is Irene Uncarow. 

In CIRCLE DANCE on p. 64, the Ute child, Dori, meets her birth mother (Irene) but doesn't know that's her real mother. She's introduced to her as "Miss Uncasam." Dori says "Your hair is pretty, Uncle Sam."

Of course, the Mormon family corrects what Dori said. But that stands out to me because on p. 98 of BEYOND THE GREEN, Dori talks about a "squash" Irene lives with, that is named "Did She Wash It Yet". 

Glenn uses a 4 year old Ute child's spoken words to mock the Ute names that she (Glenn) gave to the Ute child's mother and grandmother. That is... messed up. 

The Mormon family corrected the 4 yr old when she said "Uncle Sam" and that happens again. Britta (main char) tells the child not to use the word squaw. I skimmed reviews on Goodreads & NetGalley. Frightening that they don't note these problems! 

In BEYOND THE GREEN, after Dori has spent a lot of time with Irene and is back with the Mormon family, Dori takes the Mormon mother's face in her hands and says "Mama, you're a white person." In CIRCLE DANCE, it is "Mama, you're a honky."

Another change from CIRCLE DANCE to BEYOND THE GREEN is name of an elderly Ute man who Britta (main char) thinks is a drunk. In CD his name is Red Ant Colorow. In BtG his name is Red Hawk Samawop. 

Some of these changes will strike some people as indicative of growth on author's part, from 1998 to 2018, but the things that are in BtG are so bad that the changes strike me as similar to what Drake did in THE CONTINENT: superficial.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Debbie--have you seen WILLA OF THE WOOD by Robert Beatty?

Editors note: Please see Jean Mendoza's review, posted to AICL on March 3, 2018. We do not recommend Willa of the Wood. 

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen Robert Beatty's Willa of the Wood. Published on July 10, 2018 by Disney Hyperion, a sneak preview of the first chapters was made available three weeks ago (mid to late June).  Willa of the Wood is set in the Great Smoky Mountains, in 1900. The book's description at Amazon does not say anything at all about Cherokees.... 

Move without a sound. Steal without a trace.
To Willa, a young night-spirit, humans are the murderers of trees. She's been taught to despise them and steal from them. She's her clan's best thief, creeping into the log cabins of the day-folk under cover of darkness and taking what they won't miss. It's dangerous work, but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people.
When Willa's curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day-folk world, she calls upon the old powers of her beloved grandmother, and the unbreakable bonds of her forest allies, to survive. Only then does she begin to discover the shocking truth: that not all of her human enemies are the same, and that the foundations of her own Faeran society are crumbling. What do you do when you realize that the society you were born and raised in is rife with evil? Do you raise your voice? Do you stand up against it?
As forces of unfathomable destruction attack her forest home, Willa must decide who she truly is--facing deadly force with warm compassion, sinister corruption with trusted alliance, and finding a home for her longing heart.

But take a look at this excerpt of chapter 1 (source is The Laurel of Asheville): 
She came from a clan of forest people that the Cherokee called “the old ones” and told stories about around their campfires at night. The white-skinned homesteaders referred to her kind as night-thieves, or sometimes night-spirits, even though she was as flesh and blood as a deer, a fox, or any other creature of the forest. But she seldom heard the true name of her people. In the old language—which she only spoke with her grandmother now—her people were called the Faeran.
And this excerpt from the review at Kirkus tells us a bit about the Faeran:
Under the rule of the padaran, the old ways of speaking to animals and plants, foraging and caretaking, and using the old language are forbidden. Instead, Faeran children are forced to speak English and drafted into his fearsome army of trained hunter-thieves called jaetters, who must steal from the day-folk, or white homesteaders.
Those who know some Native history will see the parallel that Beatty seems to be developing. The "padaran" treat the "Faeran" a lot like the ways that Native children were treated in mission and boarding schools in the US.  Beatty's story--what I've seen so far--makes me uneasy. If I'm able to get the book, I'll be back with some thoughts on it.

Debbie--have you seen 24 HOURS IN NOWHERE by Dusti Bowling?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen 24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling.

It is due out on Sept 4, 2018 from Sterling Children's Books. Here's the description (from Amazon):
Welcome to Nowhere, Arizona, the least livable town in the United States. For Gus, a bright 13-year-old with dreams of getting out and going to college, life there is made even worse by Bo Taylor, Nowhere’s biggest, baddest bully. When Bo tries to force Gus to eat a dangerously spiny cactus, Rossi Scott, one of the best racers in Nowhere, comes to his rescue—but in return she has to give Bo her prized dirt bike. Determined to buy it back, Gus agrees to go searching for gold in Dead Frenchman Mine, joined by his old friends Jessie Navarro and Matthew Dufort, and Rossi herself. As they hunt for treasure, narrowly surviving everything from cave-ins to mountain lions, they bond over shared stories of how hard life in Nowhere is—and they realize this adventure just may be their way out. Author Dusti Bowling (Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus) returns to the desert to create a gripping story about friendship, hope, and finding the power we all have within ourselves.

The description doesn't say that Rossi is Tohono O'odham, but the reviews do. The reviewer at Kirkus, said this:
Although Gus is careful to point out that Rossi is Tohono O’odham, and later Rossi reveals some factoids about her heritage, his fascination with her dark ponytail and her general inscrutability reinforce stereotypes—as does the obviousness of the setup.

On the Edelweiss site, I am able to see the first pages. The main character, Gus, is being held down by the bully, Bo and his sidekicks, Jacob and Matthew (p. 3-4):
"Let him go, Bo," a voice said from behind me. Not just any voice--an unusually deep, raspy voice. A voice I would recognize anywhere.
"Go away, Rossi. This doesn't concern you," Bo said.
"Yeah, this doesn't concern you." Matthew echoed Bo. 
"Yes, it does," Rossi said. "You're angry I beat you again this morning, so you're taking it out on someone smaller and weaker than you. You're pathetic."
I pursed my lips. "Not that much small and weaker," I muttered.
"You're pathetic," Bo said. "Why don't you do us all a favor and go back to Mexico?"
I gritted my teeth. I tried to turn my head out of his grasp, but he gripped my hair tighter.
"Are you for real?" Rossie said. "You do realize not all brown people are Mexican, don't you?"
"Oh, excuse me," Bo crooned. "Then go back to the reservation."
"Yeah, go back to the Navajos," Jacob added, and I heard him and Matthew snicker together. What a couple of suck-ups.
I ground my teeth so hard, it was a wonder they hadn't already turned to dust like everything else around us. "She's Tohono O'odham, not Navajo," I grumbled.
Those opening lines... "go back to Mexico" and "go back to the reservation" are spoken by bullies. We're not supposed to like those guys. In a way, they're a modern form of Mrs. Scott, in Little House on the Prairie, saying "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."

With the "go back to Mexico" line,  Bowling (the author) is clearly playing on present-day politics and the hate that the current US president has emboldened in so many people. But does it work? If you happen to be Native, or if you happen to have roots or family in Mexico, those lines may sting.

I am also curious about the mine the characters go into. How is that mine presented?

When the teens are trapped in that mine and talk about their worst day ever, what does the Native character talk about? What about Jessi, who is Mexican American?

I've requested a copy of the book. If I get it, I'll be back with my thoughts on it.

Saturday, July 14, 2018


Editors note: Alexis Blendel submitted this review at the end of May, 2018. AICL is pleased to have her essay on She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader featured here. Alexis Blendel is one of the Seminole and Miccosukee teens who tweet from @OfGlades. 


Alexis Blendel's review essay of 
She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader

This is my last year of Florida Virtual School. Soon I will take a trip with my cousin to the Glades to visit the Big Cypress Reservation. My mother is originally from Hollywood, but I want to see the Glades again. It is a sacred place for Seminole people. It is an ecosystem where both alligators and crocodiles live. During many wars, the Everglades hid us from our enemies who were too scared to go there.

The history of my people in Florida is more complicated than I was taught by white teachers in school. They still have the conqueror’s hive mind. They are obsessed by the purity of what they call the original tribes of Florida. That’s a misunderstanding and a way to criticize our land rights and income. We are descendants of the Creek people. We lived for thousands of years as hundreds of tribes with the same linguistic family—Maskókî. Our families were free blacks and fugitive slaves. We are survivors of Spanish Missions. It is only the name Seminole that came later.

When I think about our history, I think about Betty Mae Jumper. Have you read this beautiful book about her?

She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader, is by Jan Godown Annino; illustrations by Lisa Desimini. It is a book for young children. Like many Seminole stories, it is interesting and enjoyable for all ages.

The book is written like poetry. It is a creative telling of Betty Mae’s life. It starts in the Glades. In words and colorful images it shows what that kind of life was like.

An itchy black bear takes a palm tree scratch, leaving soft fur tufts that swamp mice fetch. Seminole women trailing patchwork skirts reach across chickee floors. 

This is a place of belonging and peace. Betty Mae Tiger is from there.

The baby, born in the wild heart of Florida,
daughter to Seminole Medicine Woman 
Ada Tiger, granddaughter to Seminole 
Medicine Woman Mary Tiger, is
Betty Mae Tiger.

I don’t like the word WILD. I’m not sure I like the word HEART either. There have always been wild plants and animals in the Glades and it is the heart of Florida Seminole country. But those words remind me of books by white writers, like Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. I think She Sang Promise is a good book, but it also shows that a white writer will make some choices that a Seminole writer would not choose.

This book repeats a story I have heard from other sources. Betty Mae’s mother is from the powerful Snake Clan. As a matter of fact, Betty Mae will become the last living matriarch of the Snake Clan. Betty Mae’s father is a French trapper.  Elders believe that Betty Mae’s French father and her family’s Christianity gave her bad spirits: How-la-wa-gus. Some elders come to grab five year old Betty Mae away from her home in Indiantown, to throw her bad spirits in the swamp! Her uncle chases them away and her family packs up and takes her to live safely at the Dania Reservation in Fort Lauderdale.

Betty Mae told that story all her life. I wonder if the people in Indiantown were afraid--not of bad spirits--but of her white father having some control over them and coming into their community. When Betty Mae was born in 1923, white men had already done every terrible thing they could think of to Seminole people. Maybe that was the real How-la-wa-gus. No one that I know can say for sure.

My father is white and I don’t know him. Not because my mother’s family chased him away, but because he is not interested. I’m glad this book never uses the hate word ‘half-breed.’ I have been called that. I’m sure Betty Mae was called that many times. Some people think it’s a normal word to use.

She Sang Promise includes Seminole lessons about Little Turtle and the Wolf and Grey Bear. It talks about the food we ate, the medicine we used and the clothes we wore in the days when Betty Mae was young. The traditional patchwork long skirt is something white Floridians think of when they think of Seminole women. I wear this dress on certain occasions. I do not do it to entertain white people. I don’t live someplace where I can wear it naturally, every day. If I wore it every day, tourists would think I was doing it for them. 

I love seeing pictures of Betty Mae. She always dressed in Seminole style, as shown on the cover. The vibrant colors of the cover are reflected in the illustrations, which accurately show Seminole culture, throughout the book. 

Betty Mae saw people reading and she wanted to learn to read. The problem was that she wasn’t allowed to go to white schools in Florida and she wasn’t allowed to go to black schools either! White men made these decisions then, and they still do. You can see that in Florida schools today.

Betty Mae went to the Cherokee Indian Boarding School in North Carolina. Her teachers were Quakers. This was a good experience for her, unlike other Native children in boarding schools. She learned fast and skipped many grades. Then she went to Kiowa Teaching Hospital and trained as a nurse. Then,  

Betty Mae returns home to work with the 
people she loves on the land she loves. 

She becomes a nurse in Seminole country, like her mother, who was a Medicine Woman. These pages in the book are beautiful!

Betty marries Moses Jumper of the Panther clan. He is a star alligator wrestler. One day when he is sick, Betty Mae gets in the ring to wrestle alligators. Desimini's illustration of that will inspire children and make them laugh. Some animal rights people will not like it because they don’t understand Seminole culture.

Betty Mae grew up in a time of change for the Seminole. She accomplished many things. As an adult, 

Betty Mae travels throughout the Everglades.
Where families live, interpreting in two
Seminole languages—Creek and Mikasuki.
Working with the people to represent their
Choice, she helps set up a Tribal Council
In 1957.

She helps start Seminole Indian News in 1961.
She is an interpreter in courtrooms and
Emergency rooms.

She is a voice for her people. 

I feel such pride, reading about Betty Mae! Especially because, in 1967, Betty Mae is elected as the first woman Tribal Chairman! I’m glad that Annino calls her a Tribal Chairman instead of the Chief.

She Sang Promise was published the year I turned ten and I grew up with it. My mother read it to me many times. I think it was important for me to see this book.  Reading it now as a young woman, I see some things in it that I would want to change. I don’t like that it includes the Seminole name Betty Mae’s grandmother gave to her. I won’t write it here. In her lifetime, white people always asked Betty Mae, “What is your Indian name?” I think it’s none of their business.

I would still share the book with Seminole children. Betty Mae’s son, Moses Jumper, Jr. wrote the afterward. That means he respects the book. It’s important for Florida Seminole children to have role models and for everyone to realize that Seminoles are not just a college football team!

Sho na' bish for reading my review!

PS: If your children like this book, they will really like the book Betty Mae Tiger Jumper wrote. It is called Legends of the Seminoles.