Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Does Rosanne Parry Throw Responsibility on Tribal Nations to Object to Her Book?

In 2014, I had a very long public exchange with Rosanne Parry after I posted my review of her book, Written In Stone. When I reviewed Lane Smith's A Tribe Of Kids in 2016, Parry defended that book.

That 2014 exchange was--and is--one of the more frustrating experiences I've had. I stuck with it, though, because I believed it was useful to writers who were creating Native content.

On Monday, Sep 24 2018, Sam Jonson submitted a comment to the 2014 post. I turned his comment into a blog post about LeRoy Appleton's American Indian Design and Decoration. Sam began with a reference to Beverly Slapin's comment in the thread, shared an excerpt from a book that drew from Appleton's book, and closed with a reference to White writers who characterize criticism as an angry vitriolic call-out culture. Sam wrote:

Oh, and about that author Beverly mentioned...was her name, by any chance, Claudia Zaslavsky? Because she was a ethnomathematician, and she wrote a book called Multicultural Math, and on page 204 of that book, she wrote:
Multiple perspectives on customs, practices, and worldview
First I'll tell you about a mistake I made through ignorance. In my activities book Math Comes Alive (1987) I had a lesson on symmetry in the masks of several cultures. To show lack of symmetry, I included an asymmetrical "false face" mask of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), copied from the Dover publication American Indian Design and Decoration, by LeRoy Appleton. At the time I did not realize that this mask was considered sacred. Some time later I had occasion to correspond with the Board of Education at the Akwesasne Mohawk School District in northern New York and southern Ontario.(The Mohawks are one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.) To ascertain that this use of the mask was not offensive, I sent a copy of the lesson to the Board's office. The reply confirmed my worst fears. Fortunately my book was due to undergo a major revision, and this lesson on masks was withdrawn from the new edition, Multicultural Mathematics: Interdisciplinary Cooperative-Learning Activities (1993a).
So, Beverly, I don't know if you corresponded with Zaslavsky or not, but if you did, it seems you mixed up a couple books and/or authors. At least she listened and revised her book. Let's hope Parry eventually does the same. I think her main problem is that she doesn't know any Kwakiutl, Makah, or Quinault who are as vociferous in their objections to the book as she has been in her defense of it (you know, of the kind some whiny white authors love to call "angry vitriolic call-out culture").


Parry replied:

Thanks for chiming in Sam. Just to be clear I'm not calling anyone here angry or vitriolic. Debbie has makes a strong case and argues it vigorously. Though I disagree with her on some of the particulars I don't have any wish to silence or disrespect her. The Quinault and Makah are well aware of this book and this conversation. They are media savvy and have historians and cultural experts of their own. I listened to them in the making of the book and made amendments where they had concerns. I am still listening, should objections arise over time. To date, nobody from either tribe has weighed in with a public request for a change to the text or communicated with me privately. Should they do so I'd be glad to revisit those passages. Random House has been supportive of the concerns of the Quinault and Makah from the start and will gladly amend the text when it comes up for reprint. One of the things that Debbie has consistently advocated for is the recognition that American Indians are not a monolith and that each tribe must speak for themselves on matters of their own culture. So Debbie has given me much to think about and much that I consider in future writing; however, the final say for Written in Stone belongs not with her but with the Quinault and Makah themselves.

There's a lot to respond to there! As written, she suggests that the Quinault and Makah know about her book, my critique, and they're saying nothing. Which means... her book is fine?

I have, as Parry notes, consistently advocated for recognition that we are not a monolith. I have also suggested that writers who are creating Native content do research before writing their book, and that they ought to visit a tribal nation's website as a starting place for that research. Some nations have protocols on their sites, with instructions for writers.

I've having trouble understanding Parry's next words: "each tribe must speak for themselves on matters of their own culture" and that until the Makah or the Quinault nation say 'no' to her book, then we can assume that what she has written in Written In Stone is fine. My criticism of the book, according to her, is therefore, irrelevant. 

It seems to me that Parry thinks that criticism from anyone not of a particular nation can be ignored. Do you read that line that way, too? I imagine that, in some places, people--Parry, perhaps--are creating a parallel between #OwnVoices in the writing of children's and young adult books, and #OwnVoices as critics of those books. That, perhaps, there's a mentality out there that goes something like this: "Those people and their #OwnVoices movement. We'll show them. If they're gonna insist on THAT, we can insist on #OwnVoices critics, too."

This all reminds me of efforts to validate mascots like "chief illiniwek." Fans of that stereotypical mascot tried for years and years to say it honors the Indigenous people who used to live in what is currently called Illinois. More than once they decided they'd visit the Peoria Nation for their endorsement. Other Native people, they argued, had no say in the matter. More than once, however, the Peoria Nation told the 'chief illiniwek' fans that the mascot is stereotypical and they do not endorse it. Most recently, two members of the university's Board of Trustees went down there for an endorsement and again, were told no.

Because she does not offer it, I assume that Parry has not gone to either nation's tribal council or the office with authority to speak about her book to get their endorsement. So she asks people to assume that her book is fine. Until they say no to it, then, does she want us to ignore criticism of it? Isn't that... morally bankrupt?

In my reply to Rosanne's comment yesterday, I asked if the Makah or Quinault museum stores carry her book. I also got in touch with Janine Ledford, Executive Director of the Makah Cultural and Research Center, where Parry went to do some of her research for the book. Ms. Ledford wrote back to say that they do not sell her book.

Will Parry dismiss it because it is a private communication to me? Given all that she's said to me in the past, I think that is entirely possible. Her audacity is astonishing. And exhausting. That's all I have, for now. On to other tasks.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Recommended! Art Coulson's UNSTOPPABLE: HOW JIM THORPE AND THE CARLISLE INDIAN SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM DEFEATED ARMY

This is a quick post to recommend Art Coulson's Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army. Published by Capstone, it is one that I think teachers can use in the classroom, and that every public and school library ought to have on the shelves.





Do you use Le Roy H. Appleton's American Indian Design & Decoration?

Update, 7:50 PM, September 25, 2018: Earlier today, Rosanne Parry submitted a comment to my review of her book, saying that the Makah and the Quinault nations have final say on the merits of her book. I contacted Janine Ledford, the Executive Director of the Makah Cultural and Research Center to ask if they sell Parry's book in the museum store. Ms. Ledford replied that they do not sell Parry's book in the museum. 


~~~~~  

Sam Jonson submitted a comment to a AICL's 2014 post about Rosanne Parry's Written in Stone. Sam's comment includes a paragraph written by Claudia Zaslavsky in her book, Multicultural Mathematics: Interdisciplinary Cooperative-Learning Activities. More specifically, her comment is about a revision she made:
Multiple perspectives on customs, practices, and worldviewFirst I'll tell you about a mistake I made through ignorance. In my activities book Math Comes Alive (1987) I had a lesson on symmetry in the masks of several cultures. To show lack of symmetry, I included an asymmetrical "false face" mask of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), copied from the Dover publication American Indian Design and Decoration, by LeRoy Appleton. At the time I did not realize that this mask was considered sacred. Some time later I had occasion to correspond with the Board of Education at the Akwesasne Mohawk School District in northern New York and southern Ontario. (The Mohawks are one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.) To ascertain that this use of the mask was not offensive, I sent a copy of the lesson to the Board's office. The reply confirmed my worst fears. Fortunately my book was due to undergo a major revision, and this lesson on masks was withdrawn from the new edition, Multicultural Mathematics: Interdisciplinary Cooperative-Learning Activities (1993a).

When I read the comment, I thought it would be helpful to share it as a stand-alone blog post because it reflects a writer's growth in understanding and respecting Indigenous peoples, and it also references her source for the mask she subsequently removed from her book.

That source is LeRoy Appleton's American Indian Design and Decoration. Appleton's book came out in 1950. A new edition was published in 1971. In 2013 it was published in ebook format. I have not reviewed that book, but its initial publication date is 1950. The contents of the book reflect a way of thinking by a particular person, in 1950. I wonder if it has been revised? Do you have it in your library? Do the teachers in your school use it? I haven't read or reviewed Zaslavsky's book either. Is it in your school?


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Debbie--have you seen THE LEAVING YEAR by Pam McGaffin?


A reader writes to ask if I've seen Pam McGaffin's The Leaving Year. Published in 2018 by Spark Press, it got a starred review from School Library Journal. Here's the description:
As the Summer of Love comes to an end, 15-year-old Ida Petrovich waits for a father who never comes home. While commercial fishing in Alaska, he is lost at sea, but with no body and no wreckage, Ida and her mother are forced to accept a “presumed” death that tests their already strained relationship. While still in shock over the loss of her father, Ida overhears an adult conversation that shatters everything she thought she knew about him. This prompts her to set out on a search for the truth that takes her from her Washington State hometown to Southeast Alaska, where she works at a salmon cannery, develops love for a Filipino classmate, and befriends a Native Alaskan girl. In this wild, rugged place, she also begins to understand the physical and emotional bonds that took her father north and why he kept them secret—a journey of discovery that ultimately brings her family together and helps them heal. Insightful and heartfelt, The Leaving Year is a tale of love and loyalty, family and friendship, and the stories we tell ourselves in our search for meaning.

The "Native Alaskan" girl is, according to the review in Kirkus, Tlingit. That review also notes that Ida's father has an affinity for "the "scoundrel" raven of Alaskan myth." The review in School Library Journey says that McGaffin wove Indigenous legends into Ida's journey.

Using the Google books preview, I see that in chapter two, McGaffin is remembering time with her dad. That he "loves the Native Alaskan myths, with their wild explanations of how things in nature came to be." Wild explanations of Indigenous myths? Hmm. I'll take a wild guess and say that I bet Ida is going to come to an appreciation of Alaska's Indigenous people that she doesn't have when the book starts out.

Her dad, in particular, told her about Raven:
Raven was a sly, crafty fellow who used trickery to get what he wanted, and he wanted that box of stars."
In chapter nine, she's with David who is telling her about her dad being in a bar that has so much in it that it is like a museum. In that bar, he'd tell stories, sometimes reading from a book of Native Alaska myths. Ida tells David her dad liked the creation myth about Raven, "even though he was a bit of a scoundrel" but David says that he likes her dad "liked Raven because he was a scoundrel" and that "his scoundrel-ness made the stories even funnier." They talk about how her dad liked to entertain people. Once, though, David says he was serious. It was when someone else in the bar was telling a story and said "f-ing 'drunken Indians,'" and, when that man said that, Ida's dad laid into the man. Ida wants details:
"Um, I don't remember everything, but he basically talked about the bad things the white men did to the Natives in Alaska, like bringing disease and taking their kids away to live in boarding schools." David's Adam's apple goes up and down as he swallows. "I guess it was really horrible for those kids. First, their parents die of TB or whatever--"
"TB, like tuberculosis?" I flash back on the women in Poe's life.
"Yeah, then they're stuck in these schools that force them to become Christians. Imagine being taken away from every you know... forever." 
Obviously, it is good to have Ida's dad lay into that man for using that stereotype and it is good that Ida's dad has knowledge of the Indigenous people of Alaska.... But, McGaffin's story is set in Washington State. The way that particular passage is written is accurate but it also seems to suggest that the boarding schools were not in Washington. In fact, they were. Not including that fact seems odd to me. The passage continues:
"Did Dad turn that guy around?"
"Who knows? I've never forgotten it, I can tell you that. I think the reason he got so mad was because he had friends up there. Natives. There was this one Aleut lady he talked about alot. She ... uh, worked on Creek Street." He pauses, like that's significant. "Do you know about Creek Street?"
I shake my head.
"Well, its pretty famous for... a certain activity. The joke is that it's the only place where both salmon and men come to spawn."
It takes me a while, but when I finally get it, heat creeps up my cheeks. David's too wrapped up in his story to notice.
"Anyway, this lady had a nickname that her own people used against her. It was really rude, but she started using it herself to show she wasn't..."
"Ashamed?"
"Exactly."
"So what was it?"
David tells her the name was "Two-Bit" but that she was retired from that work (the word is in italics in the book) by the time Ida's dad got to know her. David says he'll tell her more, tomorrow, but he doesn't show up. The Kirkus review says that Ida decides to go to Ketchikan after contacting a woman her father knew there.

In chapter 27, both Ida and her mom are in Ketchikan. They go to a center for Native kids where a man takes them to see "Trinity." She is "a woman with long gray hair" dressed like a hippie and wearing rings and bracelets, "all silver, all with Indian designs." Ida expected her to be a lot younger. Trinity greets them:
"Yakíei yee yŸŸ  xwal geini. That means, 'It is wonderful to look upon your faces.' You must be Ida." She turns to my mom. "And you the mother."
I found that exact phrase at a Chilikat Indian Village page of Tlingit phrases. Is Trinity "Two-Bit?"  She shows them around the center. There's a totem pole there. Ida touches it and thinks she senses spirits. Trinity is telling them that the totem pole is important for the center. Some kids there know their clans, and those who don't know, chose one--or
"rather the totems chose them. They went on spirit walks and thought about those who came before."
 I am wondering at this point if Ida is going to have a clan or totem by the end of The Leaving Year.

Back in the office, Trinity shows Ida and her mom photographs. Ida's dad is is many of them. He helped raise that totem pole. Ida thinks that her dad wasn't doing something shameful (having an affair). He was doing something more "saintly." As they look at more photos, Ida interrupts to ask who "Miss Red" is. Seems Ida has a note that refers to her dad and Miss Red, and she thinks Miss Red is someone her dad was carrying on with. Trinity tells her that Miss Red is what they call his boat. He calls it "Lady Rose" but they call it "Miss Red."

Then, Ida's mother says:
"Okay, so Miss Red was the boat," she says. "But how do you explain the condoms? I'd find condoms in Steve's pockets."
Trinity tells them that she provides condoms to the teens in the center. People donate items to help run the center but she dare not ask anyone for condoms. Turns out, Ida's dad was Trinity's source for condoms. Ida's mom grabs for the desk and then falls backwards. She's mostly ok.

And now I'm hitting the pause button. Will I read this book? I don't know! It is definitely unusual, but right now, it doesn't feel unusual in a good way. If the local library gets it, then perhaps I will. If so, I'll be back.




Thursday, September 20, 2018

Debbie--have you seen CODE WORD COURAGE by Kirby Larson?



A reader wrote to ask about Kirby Larson's Code Word Courage. Due out in 2018 from Scholastic, it is part of Larson's "Dogs of World War II" series. Here's the description:

Billie has lived with her great-aunt ever since her mom passed away and her dad left. Billie's big brother, Leo, is about to leave, too, for the warfront. But first, she gets one more weekend with him at the ranch.
Billie's surprised when Leo brings home a fellow Marine from boot camp, Denny. She has so much to ask Leo -- about losing her best friend and trying to find their father -- but Denny, who is Navajo, or Diné, comes with something special: a gorgeous, but injured, stray dog. As Billie cares for the dog, whom they name Bear, she and Bear grow deeply attached to each other.
Soon enough, it's time for Leo and Denny, a Navajo Code Talker, to ship out. Billie does her part for the war effort, but she worries whether Leo and Denny will make it home, whether she'll find a new friend, and if her father will ever come back. Can Bear help Billie -- and Denny -- find what's most important?


Kirby Larson is not Native. One of the characters in her book, Denny, is Navajo. With Code Word Courage she's creating words and thoughts of someone who is very different from who she is. Denny isn't a minor character. Code Word Courage is one of those books where the story is told in alternating chapters. Chapter one, for example, is Billie, and chapter two is Denny, then back to Billie for chapter three, and Denny for chapter four. Significant research has to be done in order for Denny's character to be an accurate depiction of a Navajo person of that time period. 

From what I can see via the preview at Google books, I'm having doubts about it.

In chapter thirteen, Denny is with eighteen Navajo radiomen. They're all Marines, and they've got to prove to General Vandergrift that their code is useful. "Can we provide it?" a sergeant asks. They reply, "Sir, yes, sir." Denny wonders if any of them feel like they're back in their boarding school. 
"He'd been a kid when he'd been taken from his mother and put with people who could see only skin color, nothing more." 
Skin color is not why Native children were taken from their homes and put in boarding schools. They were taken there as a way to destroy their identity as Native people of specific Native nations. The schools were designed to 'kill the Indian and save the man.' Skin color is not why kids ended up there. The government goal was to destroy Native identity and thereby, Native Nations.  

Elsewhere, Denny is talking with Tito, a Mexican kid who wants to become an astronomer. He shows Denny a book that has an illustration of Cassiopeia's Chair. Pointing to the North Star, Denny tells Tito: 
"In Navajo, we call that star Northern Fire."
That doesn't quite make sense. As written, it suggests he is going to tell Tito the Navajo word for that star. Instead, he tells him the English translation of the Navajo word(s) for that star. 

There are 34 chapters in Code Word Courage. Most of them alternate from Billie to Denny. If I get a copy of the book, I'll be back with a more complete review.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Problems with "Americans" by Douglas Wood


What’s it supposed to mean, to be American these days? White supremacists are loud & proud at the highest level of government. Oligarchs quietly funnel fortunes into campaigns against the public interest. The chief executive and his minions gleefully disrespect entire populations of (usually brown) human beings. A shameful number of people don’t even know that Puerto Rico is part of the US … Being an American can feel, well, ugly.

Since the US was founded, Native people and people of color have dealt with definitions of Americanness that excluded and marginalize them and in the case of Native peoples, strip them of sovereignty, autonomy, and culture.

So it’s been hard to review the new picture book Americans by Douglas Wood (Simon & Schuster, 2018). Wood and illustrator Elizabeth Sayles are clearly calling children’s attention to the UNITED part of “United States”: “Americans share certain ways of doing and being that hold us all together.” 

The book communicates on several levels: full-page illustrations, smaller spotlight illustrations, text, and several pages in the back explaining the illustrations.

The first double-page spread begins, “Americans love.” The text goes on, “We love our ideals of human dignity and freedom…” then mentions families, neighbors, friends, and the beauty of the land. Several pages later is, “One thing Americans do really well is disagree.” Images there refer to the Boston Tea Party, public protests for women’s suffrage, civil rights, the labor movement, peace movements, and LGBTQ rights. One child-figure carries a Black Lives Matter placard. 

So where are the Indigenous people in Americans?

·      In the cover illustration: Black Elk (Oglala Lakota) is one of 7 public figures depicted. Explanatory text in the back notes that he witnessed the defeat of Custer, spoke out against forcing Native people from their lands, and told his life story in Black Elk Speaks. With him are Woody Guthrie, John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed), Eleanor Roosevelt, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michelle Obama, and…. Laura Ingalls Wilder?! What the actual heck. Given how Wilder wrote about Native people, her presence in the cover illustration positions Native people as objects of a conflicted white gaze. (Black Elk Speaks is itself a problematic product of a non-Native scribe/filter/editor.)

·      On the “Americans love” pages about beauty of the land: spot illustration labeled “Totem Pole (Tlingit) of the Pacific Northwest.” Explanatory text in the back basically says what totem poles are. I’m not in a position to judge the accuracy of that text, but I know there’s more to Tlingit totem poles than that. So I wish the author and illustrator had included their sources.

·      On the “Americans believe” pages about the First Amendment, and freedom to worship: spot illustration of  “Pueblo Eagle Dance”. The author doesn’t specify which Pueblo, and that’s a problem, especially since in the back pages, it’s called “Native American Eagle Dance” – far too general. Debbie sees some other important shortcomings that we can go into at another time. The explanation emphasizes that the US government outlawed Native religious practices until 1978 (with follow-up legislation in 1993), which is important stuff for kids to know: the US ideal of religious freedom has always been selective.

And that’s it for the intentional representations of Indigenous people.

So, where AREN’T Native people in Americans?

·       “Sometimes Americans fight” depicts the settler revolution against Britain, the Tuskegee airmen, and some WWII scenes. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t acknowledge the longest fight of all -- settler-colonial warfare against Indigenous people that eventually involved Native nations from sea to sea.

·      “But Americans also make peace.” It’s just as well that those pages don’t depict the US military signing treaties with Indigenous nations – treaties that the government broke as soon as settlers wanted the land and other resources.

·      The “Americans disagree” page doesn’t refer to any influential protests specific to justice for Native people, like the occupation of Alcatraz or Standing Rock. But it does include the Boston Tea Party, during which colonizer men dressed in facsimiles of traditional Native clothing while protesting taxes.

·      “Americans choose” shows a wagon train on the Oregon Trail, in the heart of Native lands, the heart of their existence -- but we don’t see any Native people on these two pages. And the back-matter explanation doesn’t mention Native homelands, or the fact that Native nations, in order to survive, resisted the settler-colonizer invasion. Was that “a choice”? Maybe so, but not much like the “choices” depicted in spot illustrations (a “Vote” button, a young woman in a graduation cap).

·      The “Americans make mistakes” pages show the Dust Bowl, a child in a Japanese internment camp, Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation, and children wearing protective gloves while cleaning a polluted river. There’s no acknowledgement that systemic greed, bigotry, racism, classism, sexism, and short-sightedness are foundational problems, deeply rooted in “American” society. They have spawned terrible “mistakes” like water pollution and slavery -- not to mention genocide against Indigenous people. And indeed, Americans doesn’t mention it.

Americans doesn’t entirely erase Native people, but it relegates them to spots on the historical landscape, footnotes in a narrative that embraces an ideal of “acceptable differences.” It barely hints at the complex and painful relationship between the US and Indigenous nations/peoples, and turns away from the challenge of acknowledging that larger story.

Americans as a social studies offering nods in the direction of a few serious issues, but it seems to me to fall short of opening readers' eyes to ugly but real aspects of Americanness -- like racism, bigotry, genocide, greed for resources, exceptionalism that rationalizes bad behavior -- that kids will have to see if they are to fully grasp what it means to be “an American” now.

--Jean Mendoza

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Recommended! BABY RAVEN and BABY EAGLE by Crystal Worl

If there is a basket (or shelf) of board books in your home, classroom, or library, you best get Baby Eagle and Baby Raven.





They're part of the Baby Raven Reads series published in 2016 by Sealaska Heritage Institute. Once you open each book, you'll see they're bilingual. Here's the page for otter, in Baby Raven (I am sharing that page because someone very dear to me likes otters):


There, you see the word otter (in English) and in Lingit (that is what the Tlingit language is called), and beneath the words, you see Worl's clan illustration of an otter. All that is layered on top of an illustration by Nobu Koch. I love these books, and Worl's work! Get these two books but head over to her website and see what else she does!


Friday, September 07, 2018

Not recommended: THE SPIRIT TRACKERS by Jan Bourdreau Waboose and Francois Thisdale

A reader wrote to ask me about The Spirit Trackers by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (illustrations by Francois Thisdale). Here's the description:
Cousins Will and Tom have always wanted to become Trackers just like their uncle.
While spending time with Uncle he shares the story of the Windigo with the boys. A story that seems to be coming true when Will and Tom hear strange noises outside of their bedroom window. And then they find the huge tracks in the snow. It has to be the Windigo - the Wandering Night Spirit of Winter!
And the boys know what good trackers would do so they follow the trail deep into the dark forest to uncover the mystery.
Young readers will be able to improve their tracking skills as they find clues hidden in the illustrations along with Will and Tom.
I like Waboose's other books very much, and thought I'd be using a "recommended" label for this one. But then I got to the page where the boys are outside about to follow that trail into the forest. They're afraid but intrigued, too.
The cousins stand like totems.
Totems? That threw me. I asked a lot of Ojibwe friends and colleagues in Education and English, and they all thought it an odd word to use there. The cousins are standing, still. Does "totems" gesture somehow to totem poles? I didn't like Thisdale's illustrations, either. There is a new age quality to them that I don't like at all. Published in 2017 by Fifth House Publishing, I do not recommend The Spirit Trackers. 

Some thoughts on the use of the word "tribe" by teachers and schools...

Eds. note on Sunday, Sept 9, 2018: Many people responded to the thread I started on Sept. 7. Several asked if I knew about the Tribes Learning Community program. That question prompted me to add to the thread. I am adding the additional tweets as an update at the bottom of the post, along with a summary of some of the responses.


_____


"Some thoughts on the use of the word "tribe" by teachers and schools..."
September 7, 2018

Below is a thread I did on Twitter this morning. I used the spool app to compile the individual tweets so I could paste them here.

A conversation is taking place on Twitter, where some teachers are asking other teachers not to use "tribe" to describe their classrooms of students. 

Some people are trying to push back on those asking that it not be done. They are pointing to dictionary definitions of the word (tribe) to say that it does not mean only Native people--that it has roots elsewhere. 

That's true. The word 'tribe' is not an Indigenous word. It is used to describe many other nations/peoples around the world. But--we are talking about the US. Here, that is precisely what it evokes. 

And one need only do some google image searching to see that teachers are definitely using their ideas of Indigenous people to create classroom materials for their "tribe" of kids. (I did the red x overlay to indicate NOPE.)


Here's another one (and again, I added the red x):

And here's another! I could do this all day long. If you are a teacher, please reconsider. This is a new-ish fad, but like many fads, it is harmful. Don't do it!

I took a look at the site "Teachers Pay Teachers" and found many similar problematic ideas there. "Create a tribe" is one. It is like the too-many "what is your Indian name" activities that are everywhere. They draw on stereotypes. 

When you do these kinds of activities, teachers, you are introducing and/or affirming stereotypes. Remember! You're a teacher and you have a responsibility to educate children. Stereotypes do not educate! They misinform! 

Librarians: when you do these kinds of activities in your libraries, you are also misinforming children. 

Writers/illustrators: when you use stereotypes in your books for kids, you contribute to this problem. Case in point: Lane Smith's picture book, THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS, and kids in it shown like this: (…ansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2016/07/lane-s…)



Bottom line: there's too many ways this can--will--and DOES go wrong in a society that knows so very little about Indigenous people and our nations. I recommend you step away from using "tribe" to describe your classrooms.

Update on September 9, 2018:


Picking up on my thread yesterday about teachers using "tribe" to refer to their classrooms.... Several people have written to ask me about the pre-packaged "Tribes Learning Community" and its use of "tribes". 

I gather it was created in the 1970s by Jeanne Gibbs and that its goal is to create classrooms where there was an emphasis on positive environments in the school and classroom. As the project was being developed, someone said "We feel like a family... we feel like a tribe."

Gibbs and all those involved in the development and implementation of this "Tribes Learning Community" meant well. But I wonder--given the length of time it has been in use--if any of the teachers using it had a Native child in the classroom? 

If one of my daughter's teachers had been using it, I would have had a meeting with the teacher. I support efforts to foster a positive environment (I was a classroom teacher, too), but there's no need to use "tribe" to do it. 

When I started this thread yesterday, I shared a few images of how "Tribes" materials look. A lot of those materials reference the Tribes Learning Community. Gibbs and her team are probably not monitoring the kinds of materials teachers use when they adopt Gibbs's program. 

But Gibbs and her team -- however -- are aware that some question its use. One of their trainers is Ron Patrick. On her website, Gibbs has a letter written by him, defending the use of the word. 

Correction: it isn't a letter. It is a statement 'Why the Name "Tribes"'. In it he says his tribe is Eastern Band of Cherokee. In his signature line, he used a phrase I associate with Navajo people (May you walk in Beauty). That's a bit odd, to me. 

Also on Gibbs's website is a pdf "What Tribes Are and How They Work" that opens with this:
"A Native American teacher, Paula Swift Robin, is talking with four other teachers at a conference in eastern Washington."
Let's look at that sentence, critically. 

Why did TLC start with that particular person? With that particular name? I think they are using that person and her identity to protect them from being questioned. 

Now let's look at how they described her, as a "Native American." Is Paula Swift Robin a real person? If so, what is her nation? Does Gibbs know that Native people prefer to be identified by their specific nation? 

Gibbs writes that the Tribes Learning Community is used in Native schools. There's a comment from a person in one, in Ontario, but I don't think she is Native. If you are Native and it is used in your child's school, what have you seen? 

Given that the Tribes Learning Community emphasizes listening and positive classroom environments, I wonder if there's anything in any of their books about stereotyping of Native people? Do they help teachers with any of that? 

I can see parts of REACHING ALL BY CREATING TRIBES LEARNING COMMUNITIES online. It has a "Matrix for Achieving Equity in Classrooms." Columns include linguistic bias, stereotyping, invisibility/exclusion. But

... there's a reference to having a "council meeting" where students can make presentations. A council meeting? Hmm...

On page 140 of the book is a:
"Step by Step Process for Group Problem Solving. 1) Ask the tribes to discuss how they feel about people spraying paint on the wall of the school." 
The "tribes" discuss & then "tribe by tribe" they vote on a solution. 

Are there more than one tribe in any given classroom? Or is this example one where all the 3rd grade classrooms (for example) are participating? How does the person managing all of this designate a particular "tribe"? Is it by teacher name? 

If you have the book, can you share (in a reply, here) how tribes are delineated?

Summary of responses:

One parent said that her child's classroom has a "tribes agreement" and asks if it is part of the Learning Communities program. It is a key component. She also says that arrows, dreamcatchers, and teepees are everywhere. She plans to speak to the principle and is optimistic. 

Many people asked about other words they could use. Others responded, suggesting team, squad, house, and family. In daughter's middle school they used "pathfinders" and "navigators" which I liked ok because they're about action and don't default to imagery that has problematic stereotyping associated with them. 

A parallel conversation evolved about the use of "spirit animal." I've written about that before: What is wrong with Buzzfeed's WHAT IS YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL and Neal Shusterman's UNWIND dystology

Some raised questions over other problematic phrases. I've been working on a list of them, here: Common phrases

Some are working hard to understand why it is a problem. They see or use the word to describe their (or a friend's) classroom. I appreciate that they're trying to understand. They strike me as receptive to critical thinking. Others are resistant. They assert that they (or their children) are "part Native American" and think that carries weight. A claim to being "part Native American" is used as a defense of mascots, too. These are well-meaning but ignorant and ultimately, harmful to education.