Friday, October 16, 2020

Anti-Indigenous Content in S. E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS

On October 13, 2020, S. E. Hinton replied to a tweet asking her to consider writing a graphic novel version of The Outsiders (first published in 1967). In her reply she said no, and that: 
"The Outsiders is the first book many people read in their life & it shows them they CAN read a book. Not that they can turn the pages of a graphic novel." 
If you're on twitter, you saw (or can go see) responses to her reply. A day later, she sent out another tweet saying she is reconsidering her earlier remark and apologized to fans of graphic novels. Watching it unfold, I remembered that The Outsiders is one of the classics that has anti-Indigenous content. 

Do you remember these passages, in Hinton's The Outsiders

On page 106-107, Two-Bit says: 
"I thought all the wild Indians in Oklahoma had been tamed. What little squaw's got that tuff-looking mop of yours, Ponyboy?" 
Early in the book, Hinton describes Two-Bit as the oldest member of their gang and "the wisecracker of the bunch" (page 9). People think his remarks are funny. He reminds Ponyboy of Will Rogers (I wonder if Hinton knew that Rogers was Cherokee?). 

The state currently known as Oklahoma is where you'll find thirty-nine sovereign tribal nations. Hinton grew up in Tulsa. I don't know what the population of Native people was in the 1960s in Tulsa or Oklahoma, but my guess is that Hinton may have had classmates that were Native. As a kid (she wrote the book while she was a teenager), did she carry stereotypical ideas of what Native people would look like? 

We certainly see stereotypical ideas in Two-Bits words. First is "Wild Indians." Two-Bit also uses what growing numbers of people recognize as a slur: "squaw." And what does he imagine that a "squaw" does? Scalp others. Some would argue that Two-Bits identity as a joker makes a difference in how readers are meant to interpret that passage. You've heard all the "it's a joke!" disclaimers for insensitive jokes, right? Humor like that does not humor me. Jokes like that are made at someone's expense. Defense of them are also made at that someone's expense. 

This passage is on page 135-136 (point of view in the book is Ponyboy):
Screeching like an Indian, Steve went running across the lawn in flying leaps, stopped suddenly, and flipped backward. 
With a happy whoop I did a no-hands cartwheel off the porch steps, hit the ground, and rolled to my feet.
See the stereotyping there? Indians "screech." And Ponyboy "whoops" -- presumably, like an Indian would.... and you know that means the woo-woo sort of thing you see in movies and television shows. 

I looked around a bit to see if I could find any lesson plans where teachers are teaching kids about the stereotypical content of The Outsiders. I found some worksheets here and there but they're all about class differences. Do you know of any worksheets that address the anti-Indigenous passages? 

On Twitter I see objections from many people. I'm noting the problematic Native content. Some are noting that Gone With the Wind is referenced several times. The book's content was bad when it came out in 1967. Most people did not notice it then, and some do not notice it now. Some think it does not matter. I disagree. It matters. Though I didn't create this post with the intent of reviewing the book, I think I'll just say that whether it is characterized as anti-Indigenous or anti-Black or outdated--it need not be taught today. There are better options. 

In short, I do not recommend The Outsiders. If the book is put forth as a graphic novel, I wonder if Hinton would do that edition and if she'd leave out the references to Gone With the Wind and the stereotypical Native passages?  


For your reference, a screen cap of Hinton's tweets:


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Highly Recommended: The Cabin, by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson

The Cabin
Written by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson
Published in Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions about Small Town America
Edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter; Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2020
Review Status: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Debbie Reese

I grew up at Nambé Pueblo. Back in the 60s, our home was one of the handful that was along the washboarded dirt road that ended at our waterfalls. During those years the US government constructed a black top road so construction workers could build a dam to control the river that fed the valley. Many days I'd go to the river with my grandma to bring buckets of water to the house.  I spent many days and nights with my grandma. Her house and the one my parents built for their growing family were connected at one end (forming an L shape). Our front doors were not that far apart but I was a scaredy cat! After spending a day with Gram, I'd just sleep with her rather than dash across the yard from her door to ours. Too dark outside! Who knows what might get me?! Staying the night with her meant I'd stay in bed until she got the wood stove going. From under the quilts I could watch her adjust the damper till she had the fire just where she wanted it. Then, she'd call to me and I'd sit by the warm stove as she made some oatmeal and toast for me. 

All of that is in my mind this morning because last night, I read Hopson's "The Cabin." From the first word to the last ones, I was right there--in that cabin, with her teenaged protagonist. Of her story, Hopson writes:
My short story ‘The cabin’ is about a young Inupiaq teenager who encounters something strange while trapping.
As that teen wonders what she's hearing outside the cabin, she thinks it might be a bear. She's got a rifle. I'm reminded of the time when a bear was around the pueblo, getting into corn. Some of us kids were afraid to be outside, playing! Our parents were worried, too. Some got their rifles out, just in case they needed them. 

Life on a reservation, in a remote area, was wonderful. I have nothing to complain about. What I have is terrific memories, brought forth by reading My Cabin. It resonates with me on many levels. There's elders in it--like my Gram--so that's one key piece of it but there's so much more! 

You should definitely order a copy of Rural Voices! Hopson's story is excellent, and I look forward to reading the others in the book. I highly recommend My Cabin. And I wonder what else she's working on? If you're interested in knowing more about her, head over to her website. On her "about" page, you'll read that she's a tribally enrolled Inupiaq. 

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Highly Recommended: APPLE (SKIN TO THE CORE) by Eric Gansworth

Monday, October 12 is Indigenous Peoples' Day. There will be many virtual events taking place. Top of my list is the one from Arizona State University. Eric Gansworth will open their day of events. When you click on through to register for his lecture (at noon, Central Time) you will see that Gansworth was selected to deliver the 2020 lecture in the prestigious Simon Ortiz Red Ink Indigenous Speaker Series. People in Native studies or who study the writing and scholarship of Native people will recognize names of people who have given that lecture. In the field, being selected to give that lecture has tremendous significance. Videos for most of the talks are available at the site. If you are new to your work in learning about Native writing, make time to watch and study all of them! 

Gansworth will be talking about his new book, Apple (Skin to the Core). Across the hundreds of  Native Nations, our life experiences differ. Census information has shown that about half of us grow up in suburban or urban areas. I'm glad to see books set in those spaces. 

Some of us grew up on our homelands or on reservations. Native-authored books for children and young adults that reflect a reservation sense-of-place with the integrity that Gansworth brings to his writing, are rare. On Indigenous Peoples Day, I'll be giving a talk, too. My audience will be Pueblo peoples. I expect a large segment of the audience to be people who are living on their Pueblo homelands. And so, I'm emphasizing books like Apple (Skin to the Core) that will speak directly to a reservation-based experience. Of course, everyone should read it and Gansworth's other two books, If I Ever Get Out of Here and Give Me Some Truth. 

As I read through his memoir, I linger over some of what I read... I want to tell you about this poem, or what I see on that page, but that's not the thrust of this post. A review is forthcoming. Today, I celebrate the gifts that Eric Gansworth gives to us, in every word he writes, in each poem, story, and book. 

Bio from Gansworth's website:
Eric Gansworth (Sˑha-weñ na-saeˀ), a writer and visual artist, is an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation.  He was raised at the Tuscarora Nation, near Niagara Falls, New York.  Currently, he is a Professor of English and Lowery Writer-in-Residence at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.

And a video about the book and the word "apple":

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Tips for Teachers: Developing Instructional Materials about American Indians

 Editors Note: This post was created as a one-page document that would fit into a single page. It is also available as a pdf. If you have trouble opening or downloading the pdf, write to us directly (see the "Contact" tab for Debbie's email address). A one-pager was hard to do! We wanted to add resources for each of the ten points. Instead, we'll be adding resources in the comments section. We encourage you to share the link to this post and the pdf with others but do not insert Tips for Teachers in something you are selling! We created this as a free resource. If you see someone selling it, please let us know. 

Tips for Teachers: Developing Instructional Materials about American Indians

Prepared by Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza (White) 

American Indians in Children’s Literature 

As educators develop or adapt lesson plans to teach about Native peoples, we recommend attention to the following:

(1) “American Indian” and “Native American” are broad terms that describe the Native Nations of peoples who have lived on North America for thousands of years. Recently, “Indigenous” has come into use, too (note: always use a capital letter for Indigenous). Many people use the three terms interchangeably but educationally, best practice is to teach about and use the name of a specific Native Nation.

(2) There are over 500 sovereign Native Nations that have treaty or legal agreements with the United States. Like any sovereign nation in the world, they have systems of government with unique ways of selecting leaders, determining who their citizens are (also called tribal members), and exercising jurisdiction over their lands. That political status distinguishes Native peoples from other minority or underrepresented groups in the United States. Native peoples have cultures (this includes unique languages, stories, religions, etc.) specific to who they are, but their most important attribute is sovereignty. Best practice—educationally—is to begin with the sovereignty of Native Nations and then delve into unique cultural attributes (languages, religions, etc.)

(3) There is a tendency to talk, speak, and write about Native peoples in the past tense, as if they no longer exist. You can help change that misconception by using present tense verbs in your lesson plans, and in your verbal instruction when you are teaching about Native peoples. 

(4) Another tendency is to treat Native creation and traditional stories like folklore or as writing prompts, or to use elements within them as the basis for art activities. Those stories are of religious significance to Native peoples and should be respected in the same ways that people respect Bible stories. 

(5) In many school districts, instruction and stories about Native peoples are limited to Columbus Day or November (Native American month) or Thanksgiving. Native peoples are Native all year long and information about them should be included year-round. 

(6) Native peoples of the 500+ sovereign nations have unique languages. A common mistake is to think that “papoose” is the Native word for baby and that “squaw” is the word for woman. In fact, each nation has its own word for baby and woman, and some words—like squaw—are considered derogatory. We also have unique clothing. Some use feathered headdresses; some do not.  

(7) To interrupt common misconceptions, develop instructional materials that focus on a specific nation—ideally—one in the area of the school where you teach. Look for that nation’s website and share it with your students. Teach them to view these websites as primary sources. Instead of starting instruction in the past, start with the present day concerns of that nation.

(8) To gain an understanding of issues that are of importance to Native peoples, read Native news media like Indian Country Today, Indianz, and listen to radio programs like “Native America Calling.”

(9) The National Congress of American Indians has free resources online that can help you become more knowledgeable. An especially helpful one is Tribal Nations and the United States: An Introduction, available here:

(10) Share what you learn with your fellow teachers! 


Prepared on October 1, 2020. May be shared with others.
© American Indians in Children's Literature. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Highly Recommended: "What's an Indian Woman to Do?" in WHEN THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD WAS SUBDUED, OUR SONGS CAME THROUGH

What's an Indian Woman to Do?
Written by Marcie Rendon
Published in
When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through
Edited by Joy Harjo; Published in 2020
Publisher: W. W. Norton and Company
Review Status: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Debbie Reese

The first three lines in Rendon's poem, "What's an Indian Woman to Do?" are these:
what's an indian woman to do
when the white girls act more indian
than the indian women do?
From there we read about the Indian woman's ex-husband and what he expected her to do. The poem doesn't tell us this explicitly, but to me, that expectation is based on stereotypes he had acquired. We read about the Indian woman's mother and her work and how their life meant they didn't have time to make the sorts of things that white girls make and sell at powwows--and how they use what they think is a Native-sounding name and start using a reservation accent... And that bit about them correcting the Indian woman's use of Native language... What they are doing is claiming a Native identity.  

In the introduction to When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, Joy Harjo writes (p. 15): 
"Poems like Marcie Rendon's playful "What's an Indian Woman to Do?" both worry the edges of mixed identity and strongly claim Indigenous belonging."

Rendon's poem is about white women claiming to be Native, how they treat Native women, how they are embraced by others, and what that all feels like to a Native woman. If you follow Native people on social media, you likely know that we talk about sketchy claims to Native identity. From time to time, the national news will cover someone that has made a false claim to an identity. Most recently there were many articles about Jessica Krug a white woman who claimed to be Black. 

A few weeks before that, there were articles about "Sciencing_Bi"--a Native person created by a white woman named Beth Ann McLaughlin. That case was unusual. More often, we see a white person claiming to be Native in the ways that Jessica Krug was doing with her claim to being Black.

In Native communities, the word "pretendian" circulates as a term to describe someone who is making a fraudulent claim to being Native. Harjo addresses this issue in the Introduction to When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through (page 3):
Because we respect indigenous nations' right to determine who is a tribal member, we have included only indigenous-nations voices that are enrolled tribal members or are known and work directly within their respective communities. We understand that this decision may not be a popular one. We editors do not want to arbitrate identity, though in such a project we are confronted with the task. We felt we should leave this question to indigenous communities. 
When I launched American Indians in Children's Literature in 2006, I had already been studying children's literature about Native peoples for over a decade. In that capacity I, too, was confronted with the task of determining whether someone was Native or not. Generally, I take writers at their word when they claim to be Native. If an individual says they're enrolled or a citizen of a specific nation, I relax. I assume they are telling the truth. If they're not enrolled or a citizen, I take a closer look at their claim. Are they, as Harjo said, known in or working with their community? As you might know, all of this can get messy real quick! 

When someone's claim to an identity is questioned, some people (usually the person and their friends) quickly move to charge the questioner as "identity police." That label shifts the focus from the person making the claim to the person who is asking the question. The latter is criticized. In some cases, that has been me--Debbie, a Native woman. What, then, am I to do? To borrow Rendon's words, What's an Indian Woman to do?

Marcie Rendon's poem is about being a Native woman and seeing people who are not Native be embraced by society as if they are, in fact, Native. Can you see why Marcie Rendon's poem, What's an Indian Woman to Do?" might resonate with me? People trust what I write here on AICL and in my book chapters and articles. When a new book comes out and the author asserts a Native identity on the book jacket and in promotional materials, it is clear that their editor and publisher believe their claim. Have they vetted that claim? The care I take in studying and recommending (or not recommending) a book is important to a lot of people. I do the best I can do, given what I know about pretendianism, and the complexities of Native identity. Harjo continues:
And yet, indigenous communities are human communities, and ethics of identity are often compromised by civic and blood politics. The question "Who is Native?" has become more and more complex as culture lines and bloodlines have thinned and mixed in recent years. We also have had to contend with an onslaught of what we call "Pretendians," that is, nonindigenous people assuming a Native identity. When individuals assert themselves as Native when they are not culturally indigenous, and if they do not understand their tribal nation's history or participate in their tribal nation's society, who benefits? Not the people or communities of the identity being claimed.
One of the strengths of Harjo's work on this anthology is that teachers and librarians can learn from the many things she says in the introduction but there are other things to learn. Learn the names of the poets she's included. Learn the names of their tribal nations. For each poet she includes, Harjo provides information you need. Here's the entry for Rendon:
MARCIE RENDON (1952–), Anishinaabe, an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, is a poet, playwright, and community activist. Rendon’s work includes two novels, most recently Girl Gone Missing (2019), as well as four children’s nonfiction books. She received the Loft Literary Center’s 2017 Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship. She is a producer and creative director at the Raving Native Theater in Minnesota.

As I read that entry and think about what it says, I think I know what Marcie Rendon's answer to "What's an Indian Woman to Do?" has been. She counters the claims to Native identity by being an activist, a writer, producer, and creative director whose works and words can help you see who we are--for real. 

Get a copy of When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through and make room in your budget to get books by Native writers in Harjo's book.   

Highly Recommended! THE SEA IN WINTER by Christine Day

Jean and I both read Christine Day's The Sea in Winter and are thrilled by what Day has written! A review is forthcoming, but I wanted to give you all a heads-up. Day's book comes out on January 5, 2021. Pre-order it! And check out her website. She's an enrolled citizen of the Upper Skagit tribe. 

Here's the book description, from Day's website:

It’s been a hard year for Maisie Cannon, ever since she hurt her leg and could not keep up with her ballet training and auditions.

Her blended family is loving and supportive, but Maisie knows that they just can’t understand how hopeless she feels. With everything she’s dealing with, Maisie is not excited for their family midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up.

But soon, Maisie’s anxieties and dark moods start to hurt as much as the pain in her knee. How can she keep pretending to be strong when on the inside she feels as roiling and cold as the ocean?

I read an advanced reader's copy in August and tweeted my excitement about it. The Sea In Winter is the first book I saw with the Heartdrum logo on the spine. In that tweet, I said:

Honestly, I'm trembling a bit as I hold an ARC of Christine Day's THE SEA IN WINTER in my hands, and gaze at the Heartdrum logo on the spine, created by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson. Congratulations, and thank you, @CynLeitichSmith and all those who brought this imprint into being.

And I shared a close up photo of the logo:  

I passed my copy of the book over to Jean. She's spent a lot of time in that area and will be doing the review essay. Do order a copy, though, right now! 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Not Recommended: Conrad Richter's THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST

The Light in the Forest
Written by Conrad Richter
Published in 1953
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Not Recommended


More than once over the years, someone has written to ask me about Conrad Richter's The Light in the Forest. Given its age (published in 1953), I suspected it would have problematic content and I suppose I didn't have the energy at the moment to do anything with it. Last week, I decided to give it a try. As you see by red X on the three book covers above, my initial suspicions were correct. The Light in the Forest is not recommended. The cover on the right is the spin off version that came out when Disney turned Richter's book into a movie in 1958. A fraud--Iron Eyes Cody--was the "technical advisor" for that film. 

I read the acknowledgements and chapter one of Richter's book and did a series of tweets as I read. I'm copying them here:

In the acknowledgements, Richter says he was struck by stories of white captives who had been returned to their white families, but who wanted to run away to rejoin the Indian home where they'd lived.
As a small boy, Richter wanted to run away to live "among the savages."

The acknowledgement is romantic (and stereotypical) in tone. It says Indians were repelled by American ideals and restrained manner. I don't know what ideals Richter had in mind but "restrained" on the heels of "savages" might be a hint of what is to come as I read the book.

The main character is 15. He's white and has been living with Indians as an adopted son since he was 4. The village has received word that they must give up their white prisoners.
He is shocked that it includes him.

Cuyloga (the Indian man who adopted him) had "said words that took out his white blood and put Indian blood in its place." He was thereafter called True Son.
I'm always curious as to how a writer comes up with a Native name for a character. I looked up Cuyloga...

... and got hits to Sparknotes and Cliffsnotes and gradesaver and enotes and quizlet and coursehero.... all of which tell me the book is used a lot in schools.

I think we're meant to think that "Cuyloga" is a Lenape word. The people in this village would probably speak Lenape. But Cuyloga gave this white child he adopted an English name: "True Son." I wonder if Richter will use "True Son" throughout, or if he'll use a Lenape name?

In the first para of ch 1, we learn that Cuyloga taught True Son to "endure pain." True Son holds a hot stone from the fire "on his flesh to see how long he could stand it." In winter, Cuyloga sat smoking on the bank while True Son sat in the icy river till Cuyloga said ok.

True Son doesn't want to be returned to the whites, so he blackens his face (why?!) and hides in a hollow tree. But, Cuyloga finds him. True Son is "tied up in his father's cabin like some prisoner to be burned at the stake."
Burned at the stake?! Again,
Woman facepalming

Cuyloga takes True Son to the soldiers nearby. True Son resists, which embarrasses Cuyloga. He leaves and True Son imagines their village and its "warriors and hunters, squaws, and the boys, dogs and girls he had played with."

I've read enough of Richter's THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST to know I will be asking people not to use it. It is old, stereotypical, and there are better choices. If the goal is to study conflicts between Native and White people, Erdrich's BIRCHBARK HOUSE is much better!

Today I'll expand a bit on some of what I noted in those tweets. 

Richter's idea that Native people teach their kids how to "endure pain" is something I see a lot. I've not traced that down to see where it came from and I'm not doing it now. Certainly, Native and non-Native parents in the past and in the present, teach their kids things they need to know to live. But come on: pulling a stone from a fire and putting it on your flesh... that would cause injury! It doesn't make sense to me. 

That "burned at the stake" bit is also a common occurrence and it, too, makes me wonder where it came from. If you've watched old westerns--or even new things like the television series of Little House on the Prairie--you've seen Indians tying someone at a stake and then lighting a fire to burn them alive. You probably remember that Europeans did that to people they thought were heretics or witches. (There's another popular trope that isn't in Richter's book but that you should be wary of: that a captive would be cooked alive in a pot and then eaten.) From what I can tell there's one incident of a white person being "tied to a stake" and tortured. That's William Crawford and I'll be doing research on that to see what I find. I welcome your research into all this, and if you find things of note, let us know in a comment.

I noted that "True Son" uses the word "squaw." A search of the text indicates it appears 20 times. Reading those passages, it is clear that "True Son" has a derogatory view of women, Native or otherwise. Richter's story depicts them as a beast of labor whose work is beneath that of a man. 

The word "Injun" eleven times, and scalp (or variations of it) appear 43 times. The emails I get from teachers who want to use the book... now, they make me cringe. Obviously the book is a lot like Little House on the Prairie: holding quite a solid space in peoples' reading memory, coupled with the idea that this is a good book. It is not. I do not recommend it. 

Wednesday, September 09, 2020


Recently, a reader of AICL wrote to me (Debbie) to say they'd been looking through editions of Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses in their library. They had seen my 2017 post about depictions of Native peoples in various editions. 

They sent me photos of the poem, "Travel." Here's the edition illustrated by Tasha Tudor:

In Tudor's edition I circled a line. Here's the full verse:  

Where are forests, hot as fire,

Wide as England, tall as a spire,

Full of apes and cocoa-nuts

And the negro hunters' huts;


Here's the edition illustrated by Brian Wildsmith (I think it came out in 1966):

Instead of "and the Negro hunter's huts", the line is "And the brave hunters' huts". When the Wildsmith edition was being done, who made the decision to change that word? 

The "Travel" poem itself is a lot like "Foreign Children." Both poems center whiteness. Those who are not white are depicted in racist and exotic ways. 

Here's "Foreign Children" in the Tudor edition:

As people in the U.S. and elsewhere tend to racism and bias in statues, I wonder what we'll see in books like A Child's Garden of Verses? It gets published over and over with different illustrators. Will that taper off? Will changes to what gets included in it change? Do you work in a library? What versions are on your shelves? What do you see in them when you read them, or when you compare them with other editions? A growing awareness of racism and bias is a plus for everyone. 


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Some Things We're Learning: More about IPH4YP

Once An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People was out in the world, we heard from reviewers and other readers about topics they would have liked to see covered in the adaptation. Their suggestions included attention to Two Spirit people in Indigenous history, and to relations between Native peoples and Black people in what's currently called North America, from colonization to the present. 

We hope to one day be able to have a second edition of IPH4YP, where we can make those kinds of additions. But it's uncertain whether that will happen. Meanwhile, we're reading and doing research so we can write meaningfully about those subjects.

For about a year, we've maintained a companion website for the book, at We hoped people would go there to let us know what else they think should be part of IPH4YP, but the Comments section hasn't had a lot of action. 

We've decided to be more proactive. We're planning a series of posts on IPH4YP, to share what we learn about some of the topics suggested by readers. 

The first very large topic we're looking at is Native-Black relations, starting from questions and thoughts that come up as we do a close reading of Tiya Miles' Ties That Bind: The Story of An Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and in Freedom (Second edition).  If a second edition happens, we will draw on those to create new text. If there's no second edition, the posts can still be resources for educators, parents, and other readers who want to go beyond what's in IPH4YP. These posts will be pretty informal and will include information from our readings on the topics, plus questions we're asking ourselves for further study, and lists of resources people can use to follow up on their own. We'll direct them to some of our favorite research rabbit-holes.  

We invite you to take a look at our first entry in this project, which went up on 8/18/2020. "Slavery and Early Treaties" takes off from Dr. Miles' text, with a look at how some early treaties between the US and Native Nations talked about and positioned Black people. Future posts will look at things we find out about other treaties, British colonizer use of propaganda to influence Indigenous peoples against people of African descent, enslavement of people of African descent by Native people, and the experiences of "Black Indians". 

We hope you'll go there, and read and comment. What you have to say is likely to help us think more clearly about the topics at hand, and how we might eventually incorporate them into a second edition.

By the way, Ties That Bind is giving us lots to think, talk, and write about, and we think many of you might have the same reaction, so do see about getting a copy if you haven't read it. It's not a book for children, but Miles' scholarship, her ways with words, and the importance of the topic make it essential reading.  

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Monster That Eats Villages: White Anti-Indigenous Raceshifting in Canada

by Jean Mendoza

Pre-COVID, when Durango and I took road trips with our grandkids, they often asked to hear our storytelling CDs by Dovie Thomason (Lakota/Kiowa Apache). One of her creepiest stories, from Wopila: A Giveaway, is a tale that begins when some men, on the way home from hunting, hear a baby's cry. One man follows the sound, and returns to the group carrying an infant. The others are wary about this, but he insists that they take the baby to their village. 

There, the child is welcomed and given to a young woman to raise. But that night, she notices something strange about the sleeping child: echoes of human cries and screams seem to emanate from him. Soon, it's (quietly) determined that the "baby" is actually Iya, a shape-shifting monster that gains access to villages by trickery, then swallows them whole. 

I won't spoil Dovie's gift by giving away the ending. But I do want to talk about how that story intersects with some scholarly reading I've been doing.

Darryl Leroux's Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity (University of Manitoba Press, 2019) takes a close look at a particular set of non-Native people who claim Native identity. 

As you may already know, that phenomenon has been around a long time on what's currently called North America. The perpetrators tend to be white, and have a variety of motivations for their claims. Some "admire" Native people and view Nativeness as a space where they can somehow belong just because they want to. For some, it's a career boost. It helps them to stand out from other white people in otherwise crowded fields. Maybe it helps them get a job in academia or with a Native nation, or garners them extra attention as an artist, novelist, or speaker. Sometimes the motives (and the individual's confidence that they won't eventually get called out) are hard to figure out, as with white writers like Joseph Boyden, "Jamake Highwater," and John Smelcer who have falsely claimed to be Indigenous. Recently, Native and mainstream media covered a case of faux-Indigenous identity with an especially sick twist: a white person essentially created the persona of a Native scholar, and posted on social media under that identity for several years. This masquerade became public knowledge (though some, especially Native scholars, had long suspected it) when the perpetrator decided to kill off the alter-ego via COVID, and the "death" couldn't be confirmed.

Then there are the faux-"tribal" organizations that a white person in what's currently the United States can join, often for some amount of money. Many of these provide cover for non-Natives seeking personal gain, such as through lucrative government contracts that give priority to businesses owned by BIPOC.

Those fakeries are not a part of Leroux's research. Though they are examples of what he calls "raceshifting," what Leroux has studied takes the identity fraud to a whole different level. Leroux is not Native, by the way. He's looking at what amounts to a movement, in which large numbers of French-descendant white Canadians have begun "self-Indigenizing" with very particular anti-Indigenous goals. This practice, Leroux says, has been growing by leaps and bounds for the past 20 years. Though it's not confined to white-presenting people of French descent or to Canadians, his primary focus is on people who claim to be "Eastern Métis" (or sometimes "Quebec métis), a category that Leroux notes has no real historical basis.

To be clear: there are peoples with legitimate Métis identity. If what I say here is incorrect in any way, I hope Métis readers will jump in and correct me. Their homelands mainly are considered to be in what are currently known as Canada's Western provinces, and parts of the northern US. Their culture and language are based on kinship relations between early French-speaking settlers and the Plains Cree, Salteaux, Assiniboine, and Dene peoples. Métis in French is equivalent to the English word "mixed." According to what I've read about the language (Michif), it combines elements of French, Cree, and some Ojibwe, and has a complex grammar and syntax. It is considered an endangered language. 

The true Métis identity comes with a history of struggle, bloodshed, and heroism. You can find some of this history woven into the graphic novel series A Girl Called Echo by Katharena Vermette. We've recommended Echo books on AICL. 

But the self-Indigenizing "Eastern Métis" have no interest in that history. They do not claim to be descendants of people stolen from their Indigenous families by boarding schools, "adopting out", or other government policies and practices. They're not trying to find a way home. If they were, Leroux points out, First Nations have mechanisms for dealing with their circumstances.

Instead, these raceshifters tend to be openly contemptuous of Indigenous peoples. They hold (one might say they cherish) negative stereotypes and blatantly white supremacist beliefs about First Nations. They have no interest in traditions (unlike white New-Agers in the US), or in revitalizing endangered Native languages. French is the only language they express concern about preserving.

Their sole interest lies in Native rights -- specifically, in getting those rights for themselves. Hunting and fishing rights are particularly important to a number of the raceshifters. In fact, Leroux found, hunting and fishing organizations are where a great many of them got to know each other.  Some have met through white-rights groups. Leroux found them openly, actively committed to opposing Indigenous land and territorial negotiations. They make no secret of these goals -- not in online forums, in court, nor in their conversations with Leroux. You might say they are deeply and proudly committed to making sure the part of the world they're in stays as colonized as possible.

They have no real understanding of the background of the legal relations between Canada and First Nations and Métis, nor do they care about it. What they know is that the First Nations people seem to have some things they feel should be theirs (e.g., the right to hunt or fish freely in certain places over which Indigenous people -- with good reason -- have jurisdiction). They saw that the quickest way to get those things would be to claim Indigenous ancestry.

So how do these proudly white-presenting raceshifters go about making themselves Indigenous? 

They can't simply claim that Great-Grandma was an Ojibwe princess; that doesn't work any more. Instead, Leroux found, they use circuitous genealogical and legal-system maneuvers. They comb through genealogies -- readily available partly because of the long-standing French Canadian interest in European heritage. They manage to trace their lineages to a few specific 17th-century women. Those women's birth records, marriage records, etc. indicate that they were French immigrants to what is now called Canada. But (sometimes with the help of genealogists of questionable repute) the raceshifters concoct Indigenous identities for the women, "discovering" that this or that ancestor from the 1600s was Ojibwe, Wendat, or some other Native identity --even when records clearly show that the supposed forebear was born in France, to French parents. Often with encouragement from others on online forums, aspiring "Eastern Métis" sidestep or ignore or flat-out lie about evidence that in fact their ancestry is purely European. Some have gone so far as to claim that there were obviously TWO persons named X in a given area in the 1600s, and THEIR ancestor of that name was Indigenous. 

All of this might be comical if the raceshifters didn't pose a threat to the political well-being of First Nations/Métis peoples. The (white) "Eastern Métis" number in the thousands. One of their manufactured "tribal" identities has some 20,000 members. There may be enough of them to turn the heads of elected officials who need Métis votes. Leroux recounts a situation in which they worked hard to mobilize local residents against the Innu and Mi'kmaq First Nations. Raceshifters may even get elected to office themselves, with direct power over the interpretation of First Nations' rights. 

Leroux's Raceshifting Web site includes a map showing the locations of faux-Metis organizations, and lists the court cases they've been involved in. In none of those cases were the fakers seeking greater rights for actual Indigenous people. Invariably, they saw those rights as illegitimate, and sought to erode them.   

At first, I was reading Distorted Descent in the end-of-the-day calm when I could take in Leroux's careful scholarship and the complexities of his research (not having encountered words like "haploid" for many years). But after a certain point in the book, I was so angry and horrified it was hard to fall asleep. My dreams were populated by monsters and I was unable to shout to spread an alarm. 

It seemed to me that in those dreams, the faux-Métis were the monsters -- like the evil Iya in Dovie's story, they disguise themselves in order to destroy and devour. Their unapologetic contempt for actual First Nations and Métis peoples, their self-justification, their racism, their trickery, and their ultimate goals, are infuriating and terrifying. Now I read Leroux's book in the full light of day, in small doses. Horror has never been a good genre for me, and Distorted Descent is, to me, a real-life, research-based horror story.

So why talk about this academic work on AICL? Because I have no doubt that before long, someone who claims to be "Eastern Métis" will write a children's book in what purports to be an authentic Métis voice. Readers, educators, librarians: be wary. Be informed. 

By all means, read Vermette's A Girl Called Echo series! And buy Dovie Thomason's CDs, and go see her in person when the COVID monster is vanquished.  

I'm not done reading Distorted Descent yet. Not wanting to make any unwarranted negative judgments in this post, I skimmed the conclusion to see if at least some of Leroux's subjects found a conscience and moved toward more ethical behavior.  I am sorry to say that -- as is the case with the monster Iya -- the antagonists in this story have no redemption arc.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Historical Fiction by Native Writers

On August 3, 2020, Debbie received an email from a teacher looking for historical fiction. She wrote that teachers in her school use Island of the Blue Dolphins and she doesn't want to use it (or others like it) because she's learning about flaws in popular and classic and award-winning books. What, she wonders, would we recommend? 

She's been looking at AICL and wonders if we have a list of historical fiction by Native writers (affiliations listed for each writer are from bios in their book or on their professional website; if we've listed yours incorrectly, please let us know and we will change it). 

This post today is meant to work towards providing teachers with a list of historical fiction that we recommend. We'll add to it over time. We are organizing it in a way that we hope is helpful: chronologically. As you'll see when you read on, we're listing books by decade but also have a final category for books that are volumes that span a wide range of years. 

But what would our end-year be?! 

We enjoyed talking about it because the definitions vary. A book set in the 1970s doesn't feel like historical fiction to Debbie (those were her teen years). But how does that book feel to a teen reader, today? Read Write Think (a project from the National Council of Teachers of English, and the International Reading Association) defines historical fiction as 30 years in the past. In the third edition of Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide, Sylvia M. Vardell writes that historical fiction "is set at least one generation in the past." But, she also says, "that bar is movable as time keeps moving on" (page 191). With that in mind, we're including books set in the 1970s and we welcome your thoughts! And book suggestions, too.  


How I Became A Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story by Tim Tingle (Oklahoma Choctaw). Published in 2013 by Roadrunner Press. 

Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story by Andrea L. Rogers (Citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Published in 2020 by Capstone Press.


The Birchbark House (and subsequent books in the series) by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe). Published in 1999 by Hyperion Books for Children.


Danny Blackgoat, Navajo Prisoner by Tim Tingle (Choctaw). Published in 2013 by 7th Generation. 



I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis (Anishinaabe, Nipissing First Nation) and Kathy Kacer. Published in 2016 by Second Story Press.


At the Mountain's Base by Traci Sorell (enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Illustrations by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva, Cahuilla, Chumash, Spanish & Scottish). Published in 2019 by Kokila Press.


Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis (Umpqua, enrolled in Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde) with Traci Sorell (enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation). Published in 2019 by Lee & Low Books/Tu Books. 

My Name Is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling (Salish). Published in 1997 by Douglas McIntyre. 


House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle (Choctaw). Published in 2014 by Cinco Puntos Press.


If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, Sˑha-weñ na-saeˀ, (enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, Eel Clan). Published in 2013 by Arthur A. Levine.

Books that Span a Wide Range of Years

Saltypie by Tim Tingle (Choctaw). Published in 2010 by Cinco Puntos Press.

Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva, Cahuilla, Chumash, Spanish & Scottish), Kristina Bad Hand (Sicangu Lakota & Cherokee), Roy Boney (Cherokee), Johnnie Diacon (enrolled member Mvskoke Nation), Lee Francis IV (Laguna Pueblo), Geary Hobson (Cherokee-Quapaw/Chickasaw), Jonathan Nelson (Diné), Renee Nejo (Mesa Grand Band of Mission Indians), Michael Sheyahshe (Caddo), Arigon Starr (Kickapoo), Theo Tso (Las Vegas Paiute).  Published in 2016 by Native Realities.

This Place: 150 Years Retold by Kateri Akiwenzi-Damm (Chippewas of Nawash First Nation at Neyaashiinigmiing), Sonny Assu (not specified), Tara Audibert (Maliseet), Kyle Charles (member of Whitefish Lake First Nation), GMB Chomichuk (not specified), Natasha Donovan (member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia), Scott A. Ford (not specified), Alicia Elliott (Tuscarora, Six Nations of the Grand River), Scott B. Henderson (not specified), Ryan Howe (not specified), Andrew Lodwick (not specified),  Brandon Mitchell (Mi'kmaq), Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley (Inuit-Cree), Sean Qitualik-Tinsley (not specified), David A. Robertson (member of Norway House Cree Nation), Niigaawewidam James Sinclair (Anishinaabe, St. Peter's/Little Peguis), Jen Storm (Ojibway, Couchiching First Nation), Richard Van Camp (member of Tlicho Nation), Katherena Vermette (Métis), Chelsea Vowel (Métis), Donovan Yaciuk (not specified). Published in 2019 by Highwater Press. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Note from Debbie on December 3, 2020: When we hit 'publish' on this post, all the images were viewable. They are not visible now. I don't know why that happened here, and on other posts, too, but will try to figure it out. Our apologies! In the meantime, you can see the original post at the Wayback Machine

On social media and in some newspapers, people are talking about a documentary about Laura Ingalls Wilder that is in development.

I've done a lot of writing about the books and Wilder. I am not a fan. I think they've got many problems that are not seen as such by most readers.

I've pulled a lot of my materials on Wilder out, and thought some AICL readers might be interested in seeing the original illustrations done by Helen Sewell, compared to what Garth Williams did. I'm using a hardcover copy of the Sewell book. I don't have the book jacket, but for your reference, it looked like this:

Little House on the Prairie: Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Illustrated by Helen Sewell.

Most of the books that have illustrations by Williams have the cover shown below (a notable exception was one that showed a photo of a little girl meant to be Laura).

So--here you go! I'll number the side-by-side photos as I place them here. If you want to, submit comments below and refer to the photo number when you refer to a specific one. Apologies for the rough quality of the photos! I don't have lighting or equipment to do a professional-looking presentation of the books. Today you'll see photos of the cover thru end of the first chapter. I'll add others as time permits.

As you'll see when you scroll down, I'm trying to match text on page whenever either book has an illustration. Why did Sewell make decisions she did? Or Williams? How much autonomy did they have? How much was determined by Wilder? Or by the book editor? Or by the art department?

I welcome your thoughts and if you can point to writings about any of this, please do! And if you use these for your own writing, please cite me (Debbie Reese) and AICL.


COVER (on left is Sewell; on right is Williams).

No description available.


No description available.

No description available.


No description available.


No description available.


No description available.

No description available.

No description available.

No description available.

My only observations at the moment for chapter one are that the Williams edition has more illustrations than the Sewell one. Four illustrations of the wagon versus one illustration of the girls clinging to their rag dolls. Quite different in tone, isn't it?

Update: July 29, 2020--Back to add photos of illustrations in chapter two, "Crossing the Creek"

No description available.

No description available.

No description available.

Observations: The Sewell edition has no illustrations in chapter 2. The Williams one has illustrations on four pages. Three of the four have the wagon, and Williams is bringing a visual emotional tone of danger and loss to the story.