Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Curated List of Native Responses to Elizabeth Warren

In 2012 when Elizabeth Warren first spoke about being "part Delaware and part Cherokee" and about a photo of someone in her family who had high cheekbones, I wrote several blog posts to help people understand why her remarks were harmful to Native people and Native nations.

Now in 2018, Warren took a DNA test, presumably, to get trump off her back. She released a video about her test. Doing that made matters worse. Because she's more visible now than she was then, the conversations were--and are--much louder. I'm curating some links to articles and posts by Indigenous people that I think will be helpful to teachers and librarians who read AICL. I'll be back to insert more links. Please let me know of ones I should add.

Note on Sun, Oct 21: Some argue that my list is biased because it does not include links to posts from Indigenous people who think Warren's actions are fine. The point of my list is to provide readers with Indigenous points of view that find her decisions, and mainstream media's pro-Warren/anti-trump binary unhelpful to the well being of Indigenous Nations. 


Monday, October 15, 2018
Chuck Hoskin Jr., Cherokee Nation Secretary of State: Cherokee Nation responds to Senator Warren's DNA test

Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Kim TallBear interview at Jezebel's The Slot: 'Our Vote Matters Very Little': Kim TallBear on Elizabeth Warren's Attempt to Claim Native American Heritage.
Dr. TallBear has referenced Polly's Granddaughter as a site with in-depth research on Warren's claims. 

Julian Brave NoiseCat at HuffPost: Elizabeth Warren Is Not Native American

Nick Martin at Splinter: Elizabeth Warren's Deception

Simon Moya-Smith at CNN: I am a Native American. I have some questions or Elizabeth Warren.

Debra Utacia Krol at Vice: Actual Native Americans Have More to Worry About than Warren's DNA

Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Brandon Scott at Vox: Cherokee Nation citizens like me are used to people claiming our heritage. It's exhausting. 

Kelly Hayes and Jacqueline Keeler at NBC News Think: Elizabeth Warren connected DNA and Native American heritage. Here's why that is destructive.

Julie Reed at NY Daily News: Elizabeth Warren, what were you thinking? Her DNA stunt does a disservice to Native Americans

Krystal Tsosie at The Atlantic: Elizabeth Warren's DNA Is Not Her Identity

Thursday, October 18, 2018
Tara Houska, Mark Trahant, and Gyasi Ross on Democracy Now: Native Americans React to Elizabeth Warren's DNA Test: Stop Making Native People "Political Fodder"

Rebecca Nagle at USA Today: Elizabeth Warren's 'part' Cherokee is a joke, and a racist insult to Natives like me
See Nagle's op ed at Think Progress on Nov 30, 2017: I am a Cherokee woman. Elizabeth Warren is not
Crystal Echo Hawk at Indian Country Today: Changing Elizabeth Warren's story to one about Native America

Friday, October 19, 2018
Nick Estes at The Intercept: Native American Sovereignty Is Under Attack. Here's How Elizabeth Warren's DNA Test Hurt Our Struggle.

Mariah Gladstone at Broadly: Native American Is Not My Race--It's Who I Am

Kim TallBear at On The Media: By Blood, and Beyond Blood

Rebecca Nagle interviewed at The Atlantic's Radio Atlantic: The Politics of Ancestry

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Zerlina Maxwell's remarks, on MSNBC, about the Cherokee Freedmen are incorrect. See Rebeccca Nagel's response at her Facebook page. Here's a screen cap of the first two paragraphs, followed by a couple of the links she included on that post.

  1. Native America Calling, September 6, 2017: Court Victory for Cherokee Freedmen
  2. The Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes  
Monday, October 22, 2018

Krystal Tsosie and Matthew Anderson at The Conversation: Two Native American Geneticists Interpret Elizabeth Warren's DNA Test.

January 17, 2019

Saturday, October 13, 2018

My response to "Can you recommend a book about Columbus?"

I get email from people asking me to recommend a good book about Christopher Columbus. Far too many books depict him as a hero. He wasn't, but people in the US ignore the horrible things he did (if they know about them, that is!). Sounds a lot like the way people in the US and elsewhere, too, are responding to the current president of the US. Does ignoring the problems in people like Columbus make it possible for a nation to ignore the problems in someone like trump?

Columbus did not "discover" America. That's an easy error to spot. With that in mind, I'm trying to come up with a critical literacy lesson that teachers can do to help their students develop the skills to read critically. Here's what I've roughed out so far:

First, get as many different Christopher Columbus picture books as you can, from libraries, yard sales, or used bookstores. Old or new, it doesn't matter. They're easy to get from online booksellers.

Second, create a large chart. In the first column, put the title of one of the books and do that for all the others you want to use. You can use as many as you want. This is a group activity. If you have the option of putting an image of the cover in that column, do that, too. The second column will be for the year the book was published (you'll need to do a mini-lesson on where to find that information in the book). The third column will be for a page number, the fourth column will be for notes. The chart might look something like this:

Third, create and deliver a short lesson that teaches students that Columbus did not "discover" America. Tailor that lesson to the students in your particular grade level. You can do this activity at different grade levels--using picture books or chapter books. If you use picture books and your students are 6th graders, you can frame this as "the books your little brothers and sisters will see..." Back (at 3:05 PM Central time) to strongly add that picture books are not only for little children. Thanks to Jillian Heise for reminding me of that important fact.

Fourth, put students in groups. Show them the chart. Distribute the books (one or two per group, depending on how many you have). Tell them to look for the first occurrence of "discover" in the book they will use in their group. Write the page number(s) on the chart. Step back to do an overall appraisal of that data: how many books use it, what year they were published in, etc.

Fifth, ask them about the language used to describe Columbus. Add that info to the 4th column, and then invite a discussion about the findings.

So... that's what I have for now. Have you seen -- or done -- this sort of activity with students? If so, let me know! I bet Jess5th has! I'll ask and see.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Connecting Some Dots: Picture Books about Museums, White Privilege, and Brett Kavanaugh

I have an invitation to be interviewed for a podcast. I said yes, and went to that person's website to see what all they have been saying there about children's books. They'd been to the Eric Carle museum, and to the Seuss one, too. I saw they'd linked to other sites that have lists of picture books about museums.

I knew, before looking at any of the lists, that Bailey at the Museum would be on some of them. When that book came out, an AICL reader wrote to me about it because Harry Bliss (the author/illustrator) included Native content in the book. Most responses to my review are along the lines of 'it is for little kids' and so, the problems with the Native content don't matter. Response to Native critiques--of Halloween costumes that objectify Native women, or mascots that stereotype Native people--includes indignant 'grow up' and 'don't you have something better to do?'

Those responses are White Privilege in action. And, they are wrong. When people dismiss misrepresentations of Native people, they are inadvertently--and perhaps intentionally--saying it is ok to dehumanize anyone who is not like themselves. In that mindset, "those" people and their humanity don't matter.

There are consequences for that dismissal.

We're seeing those consequences, right now, in national politics as we wait to see if the US Senate is going to vote yes on Brett Kavanaugh.

The video of Orrin Hatch shooing women away, telling them to "grow up" is White Male Privilege, in action, but there are many White Women doing that very same thing. Here's Hatch:

His response to them is similar in tone and judgement to people who tell me and others who critique misrepresentations in children's and young adult books that our objections are misplaced. To them, children's books are harmless, and inconsequential. Critiques of them, they argue, can be ignored.

Of course, children's books do matter. They shape how readers think about the world. Critiques of misrepresentations of Native people are efforts to get everyone to see us as human beings.

Many women are feeling dismissed right now. Dr. Ford's testimony reminds them of their experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment. They're speaking up, but the president and most of the GOP and all those who are chanting "We want Kavanaugh" are dismissing them.

We'll know, soon, if Kavanaugh will become a justice. I suspect he will be confirmed. Those who feel he has no place on the court will feel defeated.

I have no doubt whatsoever that--amongst them--there are many who said misrepresentations of Native people in children's books don't matter. So, I hope that they will reflect on the ways that they may have inadvertently contributed to a status quo that says the voices of those who have spoken about injustice do not matter. And of course, I hope that everyone who is involved with children's books will reflect on the ways that they, too, are inadvertently contributing to a status quo that says this or that voice does not matter.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Hmmm... What was Sendak thinking about when he created WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE?

A few months ago, a reader sent me a link that she'd know I'd be interested in... to an auction site that was auctioning a framed collage (collage might not be the right word) of three items. Here's the framed item, titled by the auction house "Sendak Drawing on Wild Things Proof Sheet W/Photograph."

Here's the unedited description from the auction house (retrieved today, Oct 2 2018):

Rare 1963 original ink drawing with added personal photograph on the promotion proof sheet for the first edition of "Where The Wild Things Are", signed and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
Original colored photograph was taken during The Childrens Book Confrence, University of Utah, Park City, Utah-1960 of Sendak with Morton Schindel (of Western Woods) and possibly Tomi Ungerer.
Original ink sketch and inscription by Sendak of Indian boy with feather inscribed and signed twice by Maurice Sendak.
*Photograph reveals a feather on each of the artist's heads.
The photograph of a young Morton Schindel (Weston Woods). Maurice Sendak and (believed to be) Tomi Ungerer.
Why each figure has a feather standing in their hair is unknown, but mimicked in Sendak's ink drawing of an Indian also with a single feather.
This proof sheet for WILD THINGS comes from the original first printing of the book (1963) as Sendak would have wanted to show off his latest project to Morton Schindel (Weston Woods).
Note the slight off registry along the bottom edge of the Wild Things image which was one of the initial problems Harper & Row had in printing the earliest known copies.

Here's an enlarged look at that end of the framed item:

And here's a blow up of the photo:

Fascinating, isn't it? If a scholar of Sendak's work finds additional information about this, I'd love to see it! What was Sendak thinking? What do you think about it? 

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


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..."
"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