Recommended! nibi is water; nibi aawon nbiish, by Joanne Robertson; translated by Shirley Williams and Isadore Toulouse
Nibi is water, nibi aawon nbiishWritten and illustrated by Joanne Robertson (Translated by Shirley Williams and Isadore ToulousePublished in 2020Publisher: Second Story PressReviewed by Debbie ReeseStatus: Highly RecommendedLast month I (Debbie) was in Toronto at the 2020 Ontario Library Association's Super Conference. There, I spoke (and ate, and laughed--a lot!) with Native women. At one of these moments, they were asking me if I'd seen Joanne Robertson's new board book yet. I had not, but as I listened to them talk about it... to the delight in their voices, I suspected it would be something I'd like, too. nibi is water, nibi aawan nbiish arrived at my house and sure enough, it lifted my day! The nuts and bolts, so to speak, are this: it is what some call a "concept" book. It tells us several characteristics of some thing... like an information book, but for very young readers. Robertson's book is about water and the many ways that a child experiences it. You can swim or bathe in it, you can drink it, you can use it to wash your clothes... But Robertson reminds us that we need to care for it, that we have to respect, love, and protect it because, as the final page tells us, water is life. If you got Robertson's The Water Walker you'll recognize the walkers from that book, in nibi is water, nibi aawan nbiish (note: keep your eyes open... they're in the book, more than once--this is the sort of detail that kids adore!).I'll state the obvious: this is a bilingual book. On every page, you'll find Ojibwe words and at the end of the book, a pronunciation guide. Get a copy and come back here. Submit a comment! What do you see? What speaks to you?
In today's mail is a question from a librarian. She's got a copy of Nancy Van Laan's Buffalo Dance: A Blackfoot Legend in her library and wonders if she should weed it.I'm sharing how I go about evaluating a book.First: is the author Native? In this case, no. Nancy Van Laan is not Native. When the book is one that looks like it might be a creation story, my impulse is to say that the book probably should be removed from the shelves, especially if it has "legend" in the title and if it is categorized as "folklore." Here's a screen cap of the entry in WorldCat (red circles are mine):For decades, non-Native people have "retold" Native stories and called them myths, or legends, or folktales. Those books are usually shelved or categorized as "folklore" alongside Little Red Riding Hood. That's an example of institutional racism. Bible stories from the Christian bible aren't called folklore, right? So--that's one problem. Another is the integrity of the story itself. When an actual creation story is told by an outsider, chances are pretty high that there are errors in the telling, especially if their sources are outsiders, too. That likelihood means I wouldn't want Van Laan's book to be categorized as if its contents had the same integrity as this story, told by a Blackfoot writer.Second: what is the publication year? In this case, 1993. That's old, especially when you think about how much the field has changed. In 2015, Corinne Duyvis's hashtag, #OwnVoices, took off. With respect to books by and about Native people, we've seen an increase over time, in books by Native writers. That's significant! There are many reasons #OwnVoices are important. With traditional stories that are creation stories, an insider knows the nuances of the story and how or when it can be told. If this book was by someone who is Blackfoot, I would call it #BlackfootVoice. But it isn't. It is by a white woman.Third: what are the sources for the retelling? When I open the Amazon page I can see Van Laan names four sources. One is Joseph Campbell's Primitive Mythology: The Masks of God. That book came out in 1959. I know Campbell has quite a lot of fans but I'm not among them. In his Hero with a Thousand Faces, chapter 1, he starts with "Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, [...] or catch suddenly the shining meaning of a bizarre Eskimo fairy tale..." Those clearly judgmental words didn't stop Campbell's book from being published in 1959, but it should stop you from thinking he's the bees knees, today. Van Laan's second source is The Blackfeet by John Ewers, published in 1958; and her third one is Blackfoot Lodge Tales by George Bird Grinnell published in 1962. I would look up those two sources to see how they are evaluated, today, by Native scholars. I wouldn't take them at face value because of the long history of outsiders going into Native spaces, and writing what they saw--from a white perspective that was supposedly objective. Her fourth source is The Buffalo by Francis Haines, published in 1970. A quick look at reviews of that book indicates it is the "tragic Indian" account that is captured by those dreadful "end of the trail" images.Fourth: what does the book say? I don't have a copy of it at hand. I could go to the library and see one there. What I do see, online, is the introduction. It starts with "Long ago, when the Blackfoot Indians roamed the hills of the Great Plains of Montana, they depended on the meat and fur of the buffalo to survive." Speaking quite frankly, I find past tense wording like that highly problematic because it dovetails with the idea that Native peoples no longer exist. It confines our existence to the past, when we are very much part of the present day. The first and second paragraphs of the intro continue with past tense verbs. The third paragraph does have "is" but I don't think that one use of "is" is enough to displace the existing knowledge children have about Native peoples, or the extensive use of past tense in the first two paragraphs. I also object to the use of the word "roamed." I see that a lot in books about Native peoples. I view it as a biased word. It suggests they didn't have a homeland--that they just went here and there. It isn't a small problem. It contributes to the idea that Native peoples were primitive and uncivilized.If I got a copy of the book, I would probably end up giving it a not-recommended label. If I do pick up a copy, I'll be back with more to say but based on what I see right now, I doubt that I would hand it to any child and if I was working in a library, I'd probably weed it.
Recommended: MARY AND THE TRAIL OF TEARS by Andrea L. Rogers
Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival StoryWritten by Andrea L. Rogers (Cherokee); illustrated by Matt ForsythPublished in 2020Publisher: Stone Arch Books (Capstone)Reviewed by Debbie ReeseStatus: Highly RecommendedAndrea L. Rogers is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Her book, Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story came out on February 1, 2020. I've read it and I've followed conversations about it amongst citizens of the Cherokee Nation and am hoping for a review from a professor, soon. In the meantime, I want to make sure people order it for their children, or their classroom, or their library.
An Illustrated Record of My Indigenous Spotlight Lecture at 2020 Ontario Library Association Super Conference
Devon Kerslake's Illustrated Record of My Indigenous Spotlight Lecture at 2020 Ontario Library Association Super Conference* by Debbie ReeseLast year, Nancy Cooper (Ojibwe from the Chippewas of Rama First Nation) and Deanna Nebenionquit (Atikmeksheng Anishnawbek) invited me to be a featured speaker at the Ontario Library Association's 2020 Super Conference. Nancy and Deanna are planners for the Indigenous Stream. They wanted me to give the Indigenous Spotlight session. I accepted their invitation and spoke on January 29, 2020.To prepare for it, I thought about concerns that Native peoples in my networks have been talking about in recent periods. Identity and fraudulent claims to Native identity are a primary concern. So, I settled on Politics, Ethics, and Native Identity as my topic. It was captured in real-time by Devon Kerslake, who sketched as I spoke. This is what it looks like (and isn't it the coolest?!):To prepare for talks I give at a conference, I look to previous conferences to see what sorts of talks people have given. I saw that Tanya Talaga (Ojibwe) gave the 2019 Indigenous Spotlight talk. And, I saw that her remarks had been captured by Devon Kerslake, a graphic illustrator at Think Link Graphics:I was psyched as I studied the visual artifact, or graphic recording of her talk (other phrases for this kind of work are story mapping and sketch notes). As I looked around the conference website, I saw that lectures given by other featured speakers had also been sketched out. In particular, I noted that there was one on intellectual freedom, given by James Turk. As I looked at it I saw the usual ideas that people put forth to discredit us when we object to something. I used content of Talaga's and Turk's lectures to frame my remarks. I don't know if I was successful or not. That was the first-time I've given a talk about that particular set of slides and that topic.I didn't know that a similar record would be made of my talk!As I set up my computer and tested the microphone, I saw a person come in and realized they were setting up to do one. I asked Nancy if she could take occasional photographs of it, as the illustrator worked.My goal was to provide some personal historical context about identity, how Native identity was denigrated by state actors (federal government and its employees) in my personal family history, how identity can be monetized for personal gain, and the ethics--or lack of them--when a writer selects content for their stories.What I'll do in the remainder of this post is tell you a bit more about the illustrations that the illustrator captured. When I have the illustrator's name, I'll be back to add it. I think it is Kerslake but will know for sure, later. [Update on Feb 3: I've heard from Devon Kerslake. It is, indeed, her work. I've added her name to the title of this post.]The first things I said were about my tribal nation, Nambé Owingeh. I talked about growing up there, what I learned, and I showed some photos from there, including one of three-year-old me on my trike. The "best wheels" remark was about the hard rubber tires on that trike. They never got flat like the bicycle wheels would, later! I talked about liking school and getting a certificate from my teacher at the end of the year. I had the best grades that year. The "Naming Matters" part is about my name. My teacher was sure my parents did wrong in naming me Debbie. She insisted that Debbie is a nickname and not a proper name. Can you imagine that? The audacity of that woman! At the end of the year, she wrote Deborah on my certificate. I also talked about my grandfathers. My mom's father was Hopi. When he went to boarding school his name was changed, forever. My dad's father was White. His name was the same at his birth and death. The federal government ran those boarding schools and changed Native student's names. It was a political effort to turn us into white people. Obviously, it didn't work. We're still here, fighting to protect who we are: sovereign nations.I showed the 2018 infographic that Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen imagined into being and that David Huyck drew and called attention to the data about Native people. It combines quantitative data from the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop's metaphor that books can function as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. I call attention to the shards of glass at the feet of the Native and Children of Color, because in that 1% of books, a lot of the content is stereotypical, biased, or wrong. Here's the slide I used:And here's how it was sketched:I also talked at length about claims to Native identity, the ways that people speak of their Native identity (and how its shifts over time strike me as indicative of little to no connection with the people they claim to be from) and the benefits some writers receive.For Bouchard, I talked about his 2016 video, "David Bouchard on Being Métis" and things he said. It begins with him saying "one of the nice things about being Métis is I have no plan." and that "When I was white I had a 10-year plan." I noted that his books are stereotypical and romantic or sentimental in tone, both of which I think obscure who we are as people. I referenced the letter he received in 2007 from the Metis Nation of British Columbia, stating they could not confirm his claim to being Métis.When I spoke about Melanie Florence, I talked about the ethics of writing a story about missing and murdered Indigenous women. Back in 2017 when I read Missing Nimama I felt it was exploiting pain. I found her writings about why she wrote that book (to give voice to these women and their families) and a children's writing contest prompt she wrote (comparing missing and murdered Indigenous women to having some thing stolen from contest participants) to be insensitive. I believe firmly that some stories are best told by people with the experience necessary to share them with care.From here on I'll use close ups of the post-talk image. The illustrator added color to what they had sketched during the talk. I continued with the "Is this your story to tell" question by referencing Rebecca Roanhorse and the stories she's chosen to tell in her adult books and her middle grade novel, Race to the Sun. These are stories taken from the Diné people. She is married into a Diné family. I recounted my initial support for her and Trail of Lightning and that I listened when Diné people objected to what she had done with their sacred stories and beings. I withdrew my support for that book because I agree with their objections. In several places, I have spoken or written about what we keep private. I've added "curtain" to Dr. Bishop's metaphor because Native peoples do, in fact, draw curtains on some of what we do (see, for example, page 390 of Critical Indigenous Literacies.)(Note: A special thanks to Lisa Noble who was at the presentation, for suggesting I add these next two paragraphs and images.) A segment of my talk was about my personal family history and how that would shape my thinking if I was writing fiction. In my slides, I had this image. The top row is my grandparents, the second row is my parents, and the bottom is me. I said that I would feel comfortable writing about my life growing up at Nambé. I could write stories about riding my trike or bicycle, or playing in the river below our house (or any number of things we did!). Although I spent a lot of time at Ohkay Owingeh visiting my grandfather, uncles and aunts, and playing with cousins there (its about 25 minutes away from Nambé), I didn't grow up there and wouldn't feel ethical about writing a story from the point of view of a kid from Ohkay Owingeh. And though we went to Hopi a few times, I wouldn't create a character or story from a Hopi child's point of view. There's too much I don't know about the essence of what it means to grow up at Ohkay Owingeh or Hopi. My personal ethics mean that I wouldn't do it.That personal history portion of my talk was captured in this sketch ("consider the ethics of identity"). At Nambé Owingeh I was taught what I can and cannot share. I have strong family relationships and friendships at Ohkay Owingeh but my personal ethics about respecting a tribal nations sovereignty and protocols over what they do not want shared means I would definitely not write a story about their sacred songs, dances, or stories.I talked about An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People, which is the book that Jean Mendoza and I adapted from Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz's book. I noted the mirrors for Pueblo children that I added to it (Po'Pay and the seed pot made by Nambé tribal member, Pearl Talachy) and the mirrors that Jean added for Muscogee children. I noted that in chapter ten, we wrote about activism, and I talked about how we used the book's index to decenter Whiteness.This next illustration captures the Q&A. People wondered what to do about Bouchard's books. I asked them to think about why his books have such appeal. I used the phrase "tugging at your heart strings" to characterize the ways that we (readers) can be manipulated by text and image in ways that are not helpful to the sound education that teachers are expected to provide to children. Our responsibility as educators is to educate, not entertain. Entertainment is fine, of course, but not if the content of the entertainment is misleading or inappropriate. I suggested using such books with kids to teach them how to read critically. I issued a caution about DNA tests--well, it was more of a "don't do them!" statement, and I recommended Kim TallBear's book Native American DNA. The introduction to me and my talk was given by Feather Maracle. She referenced my work on Little House on the Prairie and the name change. In the Q&A someone asked me to talk about it, so I did. In answering that question I also talked about the backlash and security concerns when I speak at some places. In reply to a "what can we do" question, I asked people to speak up and do this work with me.I think that's about it! As always, if something I said in this post (or in the lecture, if you were there or read/talked about it with someone) is not clear, let me know in a comment and I'll respond.Additional thoughts about my trip to TorontoThe last event of my trip to Toronto was a visit to the First Nations House at the University of Toronto. There, we laughed, ate, and talked about An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People. Ishta Mercurio was at the First Nations House, too. She is one of the authors of a letter written to the Children's Book Guild in Washington DC over their treatment of Carole Lindstrom. Ishta, Julie Foster Hedlund, and Martha Brockenbrough's decision to write that letter embodies what I said in the Indigenous Spotlight Q&A (speak up).A highlight: I met Joanna Robertson, author and illustrator of The Water Walker. She told me about her and Josephine Mandamin reading my review of the book as they drove together one day. I'll remember what she said, forever. I also met Samantha Martin-Bird and Robyn Medicine, who did a session on white fragility at the conference that drew fire from a conservative Toronto newspaper. Talking with them was way cool! And, the time I spent with Nancy Cooper, Deanna Nebenionquit, Jenny Kay Dupuis, and Feather Maracle was filled with affirmation and that strong sense of Native women, doing important work together.---------Back to add the illustrated record of Dr. Sheila Cote-Meek's talk! I encourage you to head over to Twitter and see the tweets in the hashtag, #OLASC.___________*On February 3, I heard from Devon Kerslake. She is the artist who sketched my talk. I've added her name to the title of the blog post.
Highly Recommended: Gitige - She/he Gardens
Gitige - She/he Gardensby Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior ChippewaAnishinaabe consultants Tom Jack, Tara Dupuis, Marcus Ammesmaki, Jodie LockingPhotographs by Autumn Aubu'tPublished in 2019Published by Black Bears and Blueberries PublishingReviewed by Jean MendozaReview Status: Highly RecommendedThe first lines of Gitige - She/he Gardens are, "Here is a story about gardening and what happens with a little watering, sunshine, and children's special care." It's a story that unfolds in the photographs, as it follows young children in their garden through a growing season.Gitige is the latest of several delightful board books Fond du Lac Band has created that incorporate words in Anishinaabemowin (or Ojibwemowin). The others have all been reviewed or mentioned on AICL: Boozhoo/Come Play With Us, The Story of Manoomin, niimiwin/Everyone Dance, and Our Journey. Like several of them, Gitige is illustrated with photos of children from the Fond du Lac community. They show preschool-age children involved in the real work of gardening: digging, watering, working with adults, appreciating their plants, and sorting harvested food, as well as dressing up as flowers.The photos on each page are labeled in English and Anishinaabemowin. At the end of the book is a page showing all the translations. One strength of the book is that the two languages are side-by-side on each page. There are nouns, verbs, phrases, and whole sentences for children to hear, see, and say.Adults sharing the book can use the words in the captions to start conversations about the pictures, encouraging children's oral literacy in either language.An adult who wants to hear the pronunciations of many of these words can find audio by native speakers on The Ojibwe People's Dictionary web site.Anyone expecting to see a Three Sisters garden in the book may be disappointed. These kids are growing sunflowers, carrots, and a riotous assortment of flowers as well as corn and squash. I found only one problem with the book. On the first page, it looks like the English equivalent of zhoomiingweni has been left off inadvertently. I don't know if that's true for every copy or if mine is the only one. In any case, with adult help, children can do the detective work of figuring out via the glossary which English word belongs there.You can order Gitige - She/he Gardens and those other great board books from the Fond du Lac Head Start Web site. [Editing on 1/30/2020 to report that until Fond du Lac Head Start is able to update their books page, you can order the book by emailing email@example.com. Thanks, Sam Bloom for letting me know about that problem!]And ...Are you a Native writer or artist with an idea for a story? Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing would like to hear from you! Black Bears and Blueberries is a small Native-owned independent press dedicated to developing Native-themed books by Native authors and illustrators. They published and help to market Gitige. See their page of author info, or contact Betsy Albert-Peacock directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recommended: Cradle Songs of Southeast Alaska
Cradle Songs of Southeast AlaskaWritten by Kaal.atk' Charlie Joseph (Tlingit), Hlii'ilaang Kun 'Lan-gaayand HlGaa'xatgu 'Laanaas family members (Haida),the Haayk Foundation, and Nancy Barnes (Tsimshian)Illustrated by Crystal Kaakeeyaa Worl (Tlingit Athabascan)Xaad Kil translations by Skil Jaadei (Linda Schrack), Kwiigaay I'waans (Phyllis Almquist), and Ilskyalas (Delores Churchill)Sm'algyax translations by the Haayk FoundationPublished in 2019Publisher: Sealaska HeritageReviewed by Jean MendozaStatus: Highly recommendedCradle Songs of Southeast Alaska is part of Sealaska Heritage's Baby Raven Reads program. It's a multilingual board book -- three Tlingit songs, three Haida spoken-word poems, and three Tshimshian songs, each with English translation on the same page. Its companion CD features a bonus track: a Tlingit version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star sung by Keixwnei Nora Marks Dauenhauer.Crystal Kaakeeyaa Worl's (Tlingit Athabascan) illustrations are quite appealing. Worl places formline figures amid washes of color and stylized natural features (such as clouds, water, flowers), and includes images of "everyday" tools such as a halibut hook and a berry basket. Some images are contemplative, and others have a lot going on. There's plenty to talk about with little ones on each page."Cradle songs" are not necessarily lullabyes! Don't expect to rock the baby to sleep with the book's companion CD. Some of these songs have a lively beat and are about activities like fishing for halibut and picking berries. Some are about family time -- like the Haida spoken-word piece that describes something that often happens when there's a newish baby at a family gathering. The English translation is:Come, let us take the baby on our knees!Come, let us take the baby on our knees!Hand the baby to one another inside of her father's house, hand the baby to one another!The sweet memories that one brings to mind! Handing babies around!The book's back matter explains important facts about its content. "Most songs in Southeast Alaska Native culture are restricted from general public use because of clan or family ownership," the statement begins. Debbie Reese has pointed out many times that some aspects of Pueblo ceremonies and religious ways of being are not to be shared with outsiders. The metaphor she uses is that of a curtain drawn between those things and the parts of Pueblo life that can be shown to others.The publisher goes on to say, "The songs in this book include traditional songs in the public domain and original works reprinted here with permission." As an outsider, I could be missing something, but to me it looks like Sealaska Heritage has made sure all songs are carefully attributed. If there's a problem I haven't noticed, I hope someone will let us know!The CD liner notes contain additional details. Two of the Tlingit songs are attributed to Kaal.atk' Charlie Joseph, and one to Clara Peratrovich. The Haida songs are "adapted from songs owned by" two families. The Tsimshian songs are contemporary, composed in English and translated into Sm'algyax by the Haayk Foundation. So it does appear that Cradle Songs shares nothing that ought to stay behind that curtain Debbie talks about.Performers on the CD are Ed Littlefield (Tlingit), Skil Jaadei (Haida), David R. Boxley (Tsimshian), Nancy Barnes (Tsimshian), Nancy Evelyn Barnes, and Katie Price. They all enunciate the words in each of their languages so clearly that I can discern even the sounds that are unfamiliar to English speakers, such as differences in vowel length, and what language specialists call pharyngeal consonants. Most of the songs have repetitive wording, and all are short enough to be repeated in full in less than a minute. All that repetition is good for teaching beginners the sounds, syntax, and grammar of a language.If you're a parent or grandparent concerned about Tlingit, Haida, or Tsimshian language preservation, Cradle Songs of Southeast Alaska seems like a great addition to your family collection of books and CDs. Even if you don't plan to learn or teach any of those languages, Worl's illustrations can spark conversations, and the English versions of the songs tell brief but interesting stories. Besides, research suggests that hearing different languages is good for infants' brains.You can order Cradle Songs of Southeast Alaska directly from Sealaska Heritage, and take a look at more of their language preservation resources, too.Here's just one more of these cradle songs.The English version is:Whose little girl is thatPacking something up the hill?What is that chubby little girl up to?Is that my daughter?That's her! That's her!See what's in the arms of that "chubby little girl?" BOOKS! I love it! I hope Sealaska Heritage has more like this one in the works!
NOT RECOMMENDED: Rebecca Roanhorse's RACE TO THE SUN. A review essay by Michael Thompson (Muscogee Creek)
With his permission, American Indians in Children's Literature is publishing Michael Thompson's essay about Rebecca Roanhorse's middle grade novel, Race to the Sun, published in 2020 by Disney Hyperion in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. Thompson is a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation and taught high school in Farmington, New Mexico. He does not recommend Roanhorse's book. **** NOT RECOMMENDED: Rebecca Roanhorse's Race to the SunWhat will Rebecca Roanhorse's Race to the Sun contribute to our understanding of the Native world it portrays?Review essay by Michael Thompson (Muscogee Creek)When Rebecca Roanhorse published her dystopian fantasy novel Trail of Lightning, I wrote at length about my grave concerns for her appropriation and distortions of Dine’ cultural narratives. I noted, as a Native educator and a Navajo in-law, that numerous Navajo writers were voicing similar objections, many of which are archived at Debbie Reese’s important website (AICL).Now that Roanhorse has published a YA novel, Race to the Sun, my concerns remain unchanged, and arguably the stakes are even higher, as this book is likely to reach a much larger audience of younger readers, who are both Native and non-Native.Although my primary conflict with RTTS is its failure to observe traditional boundaries that normally protect cultural narratives from appropriation, I will note briefly that there are some unusually problematic internal inconsistencies in the narrative and in some characterization.For example, are we really to think that a young Navajo woman who has undergone her kinaalda is clueless at solving the riddle of what “four mountains bind you to your home”? Or that her father, a man who’d married a woman whose secret identity was supposedly a monsterslayer, would be seeking to work for a major oil and gas company that is being protested by Native people for its pipeline?Moreover, there are some elements that are jarringly inconsistent with actual Navajo life and culture – the six stanza riddle that sets the quest seems straight out of European folklore, as does the plot structure that is clearly derived from classic stages of the hero’s journey, as well as the book and the sword that are among the monster slaying weapons provided by the Sun. And finally, I could barely believe that the climactic battle at Tse’Bit’Ai’ actually included Spider Woman dressed much like the Marvel superhero and casting a life-saving web. Clearly, the author feels free to mix and match whatever cultural/literary elements suit her fancy. This is opportunism on a grand scale.Yet the greatest problem here is a simple one. Roanhorse must know that some traditional Navajo people consider her use of sacred figures and practices profoundly inappropriate. Those objections are well-documented.She just doesn’t care.Years ago I wrote an article for Tribal College Journal about the importance of the oral tradition in tribal college classrooms. I spoke with several Native scholars and instructors in researching that piece. One of the most significant personal conclusions I came to was this: as place-based, earth-based, community based cultures, tribal people honor the story of the group, its history and values and beauty, above the imagination of the solitary artist.And I might add that the most important stories are often seen as belonging to the group, not to an individual to do with as he or she pleases. When I was first given a few traditional songs to learn to sing in ceremony, I was told this by my teachers: don’t add anything, don’t change anything, don’t take anything away.That’s how it is possible to keep cultural knowledge intact for thousands of years.For many traditional Native people, our origin stories, our ceremonial songs and teachings – passed down from our ancestors for centuries -- have a deeply sacred aspect, which in turn has made possible our cultural survival.I am well aware that many people, maybe even a majority of Native people, consider the objections I am making inconsequential. So be it.But there are at least some Native people I know who believe that we must always push back against anything that would diminish our origin stories, our worldviews. That means, among other things, protecting our stories as they were handed down to us.As an educator, one of the most important questions I would ever ask about any work categorized as Native literature is this: what will it contribute to our understanding of the Native world it portrays?When I consider Race to the Sun, I find almost nothing of real value to deepen one’s understanding of actual Navajo teachings but rather a mishmash of coming of age tropes from various non-Native cultures and from popular American culture, sprinkled with just enough familiar Navajo elements (hogans, Navajo tacos, geographic icons, and the like) to label it a Navajo story. No doubt there is a great deal of currency in mainstream readership for doing this. But there is little here to educate young Navajo or non-Navajo readers about the real meaning of the Dine’ narratives’ actual Holy People or the complex principles on which they are based.The literature that Roanhorse makes uses a kind of cultural costumery and caricature. She takes characters and iconic landmarks from a rich, interconnected set of sacred Navajo stories, which have profound significance within that context, and she uses them as plastic action figures and dramatic settings to spin out whatever pop culture genre she likes, without any real regard for the actual gravity that traditional Navajo people would attach to them.This is cultural reductionism, plain and simple.Spider Woman, for the Dine’, does not belong in the Marvel universe, however many books that may sell. She belongs exactly where she has always been -- in the Dine’ universe – with beauty all around her.
Changes ahead at American Indians in Children's Literature
Changes Ahead at American Indians in Children's LiteratureDebbie ReeseWhen I launched American Indians in Children's Literature in 2006, it was my effort to make my research and thinking available to people who don't have access to professional or academic journals. Among my first posts are two about Lois Duncan's Season of the Two Heart. As I look back at it, I see that I did not use "recommended" or "not recommended" in the title of the post. In recent years, we have been adding our recommendation as part of the title of a post. Sometimes, a friend or colleague wrote something for AICL. I'd publish their post and include their name in the title of the post.In 2016, Jean Mendoza became co-owner of AICL. Late last year, I realized that the only way that readers could tell who had posted an item was by looking at the tiny auto-generated note at the bottom of a post. Because those letters are so tiny, people were crediting me for work Jean did. That is not acceptable. So, as we move into 2020, we are making some changes!Signed HeadingsAs you can see at the top of this post, its title (Changes Ahead...) and its Author (Debbie Reese) are in bold and centered. We'll do that for posts that are not book reviews.Standardized Book Review FormatWe are going to begin each book review with an image of the book cover, the book title, author, publisher... and we're adding "Reviewed by: ___" so that it is clear who is doing the review. Here's how that looks:See the four asterisks at the bottom of that screen capture? Beneath the asterisks, we'll dive into our review. We've got different styles of writing. Some days our writing is formal. Sometimes it is more conversational. And sometimes I have a brief review that summarizes a series of tweets that I did as I read a book, followed by the tweets.Our "Best Books" ListsOver the years, we've had two kinds of year-end lists. I've done ones that are a compilation of Recommended and Not Recommended books in a given year. That allowed me to provide readers with a comprehensive list of every book I reviewed during that year. That included books published in that year, but it also included posts about older books.In recent years, I switched to doing "Best Of (year)" lists that only included books published in that year. That is in keeping with what book review journals do each year but I find it limiting because older books don't get visibility that I want them to have. Jean and I are going to try out a few options to revamp the annual Best Book lists.We look forward to figuring out a way to share a page of Best Books that includes books published in 2020, and ones we reviewed during 2020 that might have come out in 2015. And--we want to give visibility to problems in books we do not recommend, and in books we recommend with caution.One more thing! We do more than book reviews at AICL. Sometimes we do essays about a topic or event of interest to us, personally or professionally. We want to be able to include links to some that we think readers should see.We don't know what this will look like yet, but as the year progresses, we'll be working on it, behind the scenes. As always, we invite your feedback!
AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, FOR YOUNG PEOPLE on Year-End Lists!
Regular readers of AICL know that Jean Mendoza and I spent the last three years adapting Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States in an edition for young readers. It came out in June of 2019, as An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People. We are glad to see it on year-end "Best Of" lists. Some are:Booklist Editors' Choice Books for Youth 2019Kirkus Reviews Best YA Nonfiction of 2019School Library Journal Best Nonfiction of 2019New York Public Library Best Books for TeensChicago Public Library Best Informational Books for Kids in 4th-8th GradesGraduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania, Best Books for Young Readers of 2019If you're a teacher, parent, or librarian who plans to use the book, you'll definitely want to download the terrific Teacher's Guide to the book that Dr. Natalie Martinez wrote. She created several lesson plans, too! They are:History of Indigenous Peoples' DayOrigin Narrative: ThanksgivingIndigenous Perseverance: Wampanoag Survival 400 Years After the MayflowerThe Unitarian Universalist Association selected it for its 2019-2020 Common Read. Folks who are participating will definitely find the guide and lesson plans helpful.If you see other listings or uses that we could add, let us know!
Recommended: "Grace" and "Homecoming" by Darcie Little Badger in TAKE THE MIC
"Grace" and "Homecoming" Written by Dr. Darcie Little BadgerPublished in 2019 in Take the MicPublisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)Reviewed by Debbie ReeseStatus: Recommended****Dr. Darcie Little Badger has two stories in Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance. In the final pages of the book you can read a little about her. I follow her on Twitter (@ShiningComic) and it has been terrific reading her tweets as she's made her way to that PhD in Oceanography from Texas A&M. Edited by Bethany Morrow, Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance came out in 2019 from Scholastic. Here's the description:You might be the kind of person who stands up to online trolls.Or who marches to protest injustice. Perhaps you are #DisabledAndCute and dancing around your living room, alive and proud. Or perhaps you are the trans mentor that you wish you had when you were younger. Maybe you call out false allies, or stand up to loved ones. Maybe you speak your truth and drop the mic, or maybe you take it with you when you leave. This anthology features fictional stories--in poems, prose, and art--that reflect a slice of the varied and limitless ways that readers like you resist every day. Take the Mic's powerful collection of stories features work by literary luminaries and emerging talent alike, including Newbery-winner Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestseller Samira Ahmed, anthologist and contributor Bethany C. Morrow, Darcie Little Badger, Keah Brown, Laura Silverman, L.D. Lewis, Sofia Quintero, Ray Stoeve, Yamile Mendez, and Connie Sun, with cover and interior art by Richie Pope.The first and last story in the book are Darcie's. The first one is "Grace" and the last is "Homecoming." In her introduction, Bethany wrote that the resistance in "Grace" is an Indigenous girl who doesn't stand for unwanted physical advances. That does happen in the story and I love how it is done. As an Indigenous person, I see several other acts of resistance in Darcie's stories."I'm Lipan Apache" is one. With those three words in the story, Grace is pushing back on the notion that Native peoples are monolithic. Another misguided notion is that Native peoples live on reservations. In fact, some of us do and some of us don't. Some are on our reservations sometime, but not all the time. And some of our nations don't have reservations. Some of us have ancestral land that isn't reservation land, that we return to periodically. That theme in "Grace" is embodied by her account of where she's lived, where she's living when the story takes place, and where she's going to live.Turning now to "Homecoming," Grace, her mom, and her mama are home, on the ancestral lands of the Lipan Apache people. Summer is over; it is the first day of school. Grace is doing that thing that many teens do: going through her closet trying to decide what to wear. She settles on a T-shirt with Silver Synapse on it. He's an Apache superhero. Grace got the shirt at Indigenous Comic Con. At school, she's one of the few Native students.Her mom is driving her to school. When they get there, they see that a protest is taking place in front of the high school. People are carrying signs. On one, Grace sees that it says "BRING BACK OUR BRAVE." Painted on it is a cartoonish and stereotypical image.Inside the school, Grace heads to her first class and meets a girl named Naomi who, noticing Grace's shirt, thinks Grace is part of the protest. When Grace tells her who Silver Synapse is, Naomi asks if Grace is Native--and then--"how much are you?"Grace's reply to Naomi is another act of resistance:"Blood quantum isn't our thing," I said. "My mother is Lipan and I am too." Naomi is satisfied with that and doesn't probe further. The two go on to talk about the protesters who want the mascot reinstated. People who don't read Native news, or news stories about mascots, may not know that schools do the right thing and get rid of mascots, but then alums object and mascots get reinstated.The Jan 11, 2020 issue of The New York Times ran a story about this: Officials Called 'Redmen' a Racist Mascot. Then Voters Weighed In; and see the Timeline in "American Indian Mascots" by Paulette Fairbanks Molin in American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children edited by Arlene Hirschfelder, Paulette F. Molin, Yvonne Wakim, and Michael A. Dorris.As "Homecoming" draws to a close, Grace is at a protest. She's scheduled to speak but learns that the event is set up to give "both sides" equal time to respond to an issue. Grace is indignant at that idea--as anybody should be, about issues of social justice. She takes the mic and says:“Hóóyíí, Shizhách’i’íí ashíí Shitsiłki’ii!” I boomed. “My name is Grace. Like my mama, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers, I am Lipan Apache. To my Native siblings, mínì’ níáá dààgó̱ó̱t́í!” I paused to look every Bring-Back-the-Braves protester in the eye. “My humanity,” I continued, “is not up for debate. Xásteyo.”Those last words are so powerful (Xásteyo means thank you)!I've read several of Darcie Little Badger's stories and each time, I'm deeply moved by what she writes. I highly recommend "Grace" and "Homecoming."
National Geographic's Encyclopedia of American Indian History and Culture, Not Recommended, Part 2
Encyclopedia of American Indian History & Culture: Stories, Time Lines, Maps, and MoreWritten by Cynthia O'BrienPublished in 2019Publisher: National GeographicReviewed by Jean MendozaStatus: Not Recommended Debbie's review (1/4/2020) of Encyclopedia of American Indian History & Culture: Stories, Time Lines, Maps, and More focused mainly on visual images used in the book. There are enough problems with a number of the photographs and other images used to warrant not recommending the book. I reached a similar conclusion after looking at selections of the Encyclopedia's written content, and here I'll talk about that process.My focus was on terminology and concepts relevant to Indigenous/US political history. I wanted to know what the book had to say about the Doctrine of Discovery, settler-colonialism, Manifest Destiny, Native sovereignty, the taking of Indigenous homelands, and Indigenous resistance. What words writers choose, and what they leave unsaid, reveals much about their understanding of a topic and about what they want readers to understand.Let's start with sovereignty. The term is in the glossary, but the definition says nothing about its connection to Indigenous reality. It's not in the index, but as Debbie mentioned, the publisher's noteon p. 8 devotes about 300 words to tribal sovereignty (see image below), including a bit about the concept of "domestic dependent nations" and allusion to particular legal rights of Native nations. But readers must wade through frustrating mischaracterization of Indigenous history. "As Europeans took over more territory" leaves out the fact that the US, from the moment it was established by former Europeans, also "took over" Indigenous homelands. More about that later. And in paragraph 2, the phrase "lost their sovereignty" makes it sound like the Nations, oops, dropped it somewhere, when in fact the colonizing US government refused or failed to consistently recognize or honor Indigenous sovereignty.The Encyclopedia misses other key opportunities to deepen readers' understanding of Indigenous history. It has no glossary/index entries for "Doctrine of Discovery" or "Manifest Destiny." Here I'll talk about those and some related terms that should be dealt with more effectively in the book. (Debbie and I learned some things about the challenges and benefits of glossaries and indexes when we adapted An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, and we have an appreciation for how they can promote or hinder readers' understanding of a book's content.)First, the Doctrine of Discovery. This product of collaboration between European rulers and the Roman Catholic Church laid the groundwork for European invasion and colonization of Indigenous homelands in what are currently called the Americas. The Doctrine of Discovery has ongoing influence on policies and attitudes here. (For example, in Brazil, the current elected leader denies Indigenous peoples' right to exist on their homelands, and the current resident of the White House greatly admires Andrew Jackson, proponent of "Indian Removal.") Knowing about the Doctrine of Discovery is essential to understanding the history and present circumstances of every Indigenous nation. But it's not in the glossary or index, and if it's mentioned in the text, I didn't find it.BTW, the Encyclopedia's glossary definition of Catholicism leaves out that Church's key role in the Doctrine of Discovery. Also, "the mission years" highlighted in the book's California section means the years of Catholic missions, but that's not made clear. The textbox titled Mission Indians (see below) explicitly mentions Spanish brutality toward the Indigenous people, then says that the Spanish "also baptized as many as possible into the Catholic Church." Readers deserve to be shown more clearly how Spanish soldiers and priests together actively sought to destroy multiple Nations in what is currently called California, and how baptism was part of that. And again, here's the notion that Indigenous traditional ways were "lost." Not so. Colonizers intentionally destroyed them.Manifest Destiny. Awareness of Manifest Destiny is basic to understanding the impact of "Western expansion" on Indigenous nations. But there's no glossary definition for it, nothing in the index, and it isn't mentioned in the definition of Western expansion, below.Notice how the glossary definition above uses passive voice ("the name given to")? That glosses over the fact that colonizers have named it that -- not the Indigenous people on whom Western expansion was inflicted. Also, "acquired" doesn't begin to describe the bloodshed and treachery that enabled the US government to take Indigenous lands. "Settled" conjures up images of individuals and families quietly and legally building little homes and communities for themselves (Little House Anywhere Charles Ingalls Wants to Build One) -- and leaves out the central, often coordinated, roles of governments, land speculators, militias/military, missionaries, business owners, and squatters in the takeover. "Violently and intentionally took and colonized Indigenous homelands" would be more accurate.Some terms the Encyclopedia does include are handled in ways that leave much to be desired. The glossary definition of colonization ("settling and taking control of a place and its indigenous people") is far too mild. And colonization period -- defined here as "the time between 1607 and 1783, during which the Europeans settled in what is now the United States" has two problems. First, the US itself continued to colonize the continent, taking Indigenous homelands, long after its independence from Britain. (That's what "Western expansion" was.) Second, the US is a colonizing nation in present time (e.g., Puerto Rico, Guam). A third problem is that there's no index entry for either of those glossary terms, so you can't easily look up what else the book says about them, if anything.As Debbie noted in her review, National Geographic has said it wants to stop its long-time racist misrepresentations of Indigenous people. Debbie mentions that several Native scholars are credited as consultants on the Encyclopedia. That's a wise move on National Geographic's part, though we know there's no guarantee that Native people's contributions were actually used. Some content and wording depart from what's typical in colonizer-centered informational/reference books about Indigenous history, which suggests some use of Indigenous input. For example, the introduction, by former US Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne), uses the term "European invaders". (But if "invaders" appears elsewhere in the book, I didn't find it.) The Encyclopedia does refer frequently to Native nationhood, Native rights, acts and campaigns of resistance, and present-day existence. It defines words like encroachment, tribal status, federal recognition, and reparation, which Native consultants would likely push to have included. Unfortunately, that's not enough, because those positives share space with problematic text like this photo caption:It's better to refrain from commenting if one isn't sure why a Native person dressesa certain way. Also, "more attractive" than what, and to whom, and why? Treating such cultural information as some kind of mystery is a form of Othering.and this "In the Know" box:The circled statement places traditional Salish beliefs in the past, when there may well be contemporary Salish people who share them. The wording also makes Salish beliefs sound "different", though in fact, a number of contemporary religions believe in guidance by spiritual guardians. For example, some Christians profess belief in guardian angels.It would be wonderful to have a visually appealing reference book that provides young people with a cohesive, well-grounded, well-sourced, thoroughly Indigenous perspective on Indigenous nations and cultures, and their history with what is currently called the United States. National Geographic's Encyclopedia of American Indian History and Culture is not that book.Edited on 1/12/2020: It's important to also mention that, although the Encyclopedia refers to Catholicism in the glossary and briefly in some of the text, it makes another glaring omission: there is no glossary entry or indexing for Protestantism and/or Calvinism, both of which played a considerable role in Indigenous-white relations outside of what is currently known as California. The first European colonizers in places like Plymouth and Jamestown were Protestant, as were many of those who came after. They tended to have little regard for Indigenous people's religions, and often considered them to be consorts of the devil. Much more could be said of that, and more should have been said in the NatGeo Encyclopedia.
Debbie--have you seen JUMPING MOUSE: A NATIVE AMERICAN LEGEND OF FRIENDSHIP AND SACRIFICE by Misty Schroe?
This is a long overdue "Debbie--have you seen" post! Last year I was asked about Jumping Mouse: A Native American Legend of Friendship and Sacrifice by Misty Schroe. My apologies for this delay!Back in 1985, John Steptoe's The Story of Jumping Mouse: A Native American Legend came out. The Caldecott Committee selected it as an honor book. In my copy, I see this:The Story of Jumping Mouse, a story from Seven Arrows copyright 1972 by Hymeyohsts Storm. Retold and illustrated for children copyright 1984 by John Steptoe.People in Native networks know that Storm is a fraud. Indeed, Native media and scholars have written about Storm's fraudulent claims to Native identity (see 5 Fake Indians: Checking a Box Doesn't Make You Native by Dr. Dean Chavers in Indian Country Today and "The Ruins of Representation: Shadow Survivance and the Literature of Dominance" by Gerald Vizenor in American Indian Quarterly, volume 17, #1, Winter 1983).What we have in Steptoe's book is his retelling of a retelling from an unreliable source. What is in this new telling of that story?Well, there's an introduction available online. There, the author says that she heard this story from her mother, "Laughing Bird." So--where did Laughing Bird hear it?At her author's page, Schroe says she's "almost a fourth Crow from the Sioux nation." Hmm. That doesn't make sense to me but I'll look for more info.The Publisher's Weekly review notes that there is no source for the story, and that there is no specific tribal nation mentioned anywhere in the story. That same problem is pointed out by the review at School Library Journal. And, Kirkus notes it, too! That is terrific!I've got a copy on order and will be back when I get it, but for now, I have doubts that it will be on AICL's recommended lists.
Not Recommended: National Geographic's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN INDIAN HISTORY AND CULTURE: STORIES, TIME LINES, MAPS, AND MORE
Encyclopedia of American Indian History & Culture: Stories, Time Lines, Maps, and MoreWritten by Cynthia O'BrienPublished in 2019Publisher: National GeographicReviewed by Debbie ReeseStatus: Not RecommendedIn late December, I did a series of tweets as I read through National Geographic's Encyclopedia of American Indian History & Culture: Stories, Time Lines, Maps, and More. Those tweets (with minor edits for clarity) are pasted below. I can't use italics on Twitter, so, I use upper case letters for book titles. Generally speaking, caps are used to denote shouting. I've passed the book on to Jean Mendoza. She'll be doing a follow up post. When it is ready I'll come back here and add a link to it. Here's her review: National Geographic's Encyclopedia of American Indian History and Culture, Not Recommended, Part 2****Questions about National Geographic's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN INDIAN HISTORY AND CULTURE: STORIES, TIME LINES, MAPS, AND MORE are picking up. This is a thread for notes as I look through it.A couple of days ago, friend and colleague @readitrealgood tweeted about the use of "history of settlement" in the publisher's note. She thinks--and I agree--that "history of colonization" would be more accurate and honest:Alia Jones@readitrealgood · Dec 17, 2019Alia Jones@readitrealgoodFrom the publisher’s note: “We also hope it (the encyclopedia) helps readers to realize the impact that the history of settlement still has on Native peoples today.” I think “history of colonization” is more accurate & honest445:00 PM - Dec 17, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacySee Alia Jones's other TweetsShe noted a problem in captions that do not name the Indigenous person in the photograph:Alia Jones@readitrealgoodOh NO! My initial impression is that things feel surface level. For example some of the photos credit people & others don’t. Like this photo shows the most famous traditional lacrosse stick maker Alfred Jacques but it just says “Onondaga tribal member” in the caption 207:14 PM - Dec 17, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacySee Alia Jones's other TweetsWhen I got the review copy some weeks ago, I noted a deeply problematic glossary definition of boarding school as "a private school where students live." That isn't an inaccurate definition but it completely inappropriate to have it in a book about Native peoples!I have concerns about the photos and art used throughout. Here's some artwork that appears on the timeline about the southwest. See the boxes with specific years? None of them tell us what that art is supposed to represent: I'm still mulling over what sort of analysis I will do on this book.What do we expect from an encyclopedia? Some of us know that National Geographic has a problematic history of misrepresentations, biased information, exotic treatments of people... They knew they had problems, and asked a historian to do an analysis of their covers. (nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/…)The book I'm discussing in this thread is an encyclopedia. It 304 pages long. It is meant for kids between 8-12 years old, or 2nd-7th grade. That's a huge span in reading ability. I'm critical of rigid adherence to who can read what, when, etc. but this bk is a bit of a stretch. One thing I've talk abt w/ colleagues in publishing/review circles is the use of sepia-toned photos, esp. those by Edward S. Curtis. I am pretty sure you've seen his work. It gets used, uncritically, a lot. Ppl assume photos from that period are authentic, but, they aren't. Here's an excerpt from a good article about Curtis's body of work: (artsy.net/article/artsy-…)The Publisher's Note for this encyclopedia takes abt 1/3rd of this page:As I share photos I take as I look through the bk, I'm sure you'll notice things I did not see. I welcome replies or retweets with comments. Here's a closer look at the Publisher's Note. I put a pencil there for scale so you can see the print size on that page.That note [bottom of first column] says that "The following terms and notes help provide critical context for readers of this encyclopedia." One of those notes [third column] is about Curtis photos. In essence it is a caution abt the controversial nature of his work.But, the caution itself is useless because as you page through the book, which of the photos are by Curtis? We have NO WAY TO KNOW. Captions don't tell us. See? This photo is on page 20 on the Ahtna page:A teacher or librarian wanting to know if it is a controversial photo would look it up in the Photo Credit pages, but... no mention of the photographer there, either. Look in the ARCTIC section to find info on page 20.Earlier I asked ppl to share their observations of photos I'm pasting in this thread. Here's one from @desmondcwong, about the Publisher's Note on the Métis:Desmond@desmondcwongThe description of the Métis as people with both Indigenous and European ancestry instead of a distinct sovereign Nation and polity is already inaccurate and harmful. https://twitter.com/debreese/status/1208041890857308160 …Twitter Ads info and privacySee Desmond's other TweetsCircling back to the "Two Ahtna girls" photo, I found it online, here:In the original photo, you can see the name "Miles Brothers" on the lower left but that info was cropped out of the photo in the encyclopedia. (en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Two-…)Do readers assume that all the photos in this book are by Curtis? They aren't, as my search for "Two Ahtna girls" shows. I know that Curtis is not the only photographer who staged photos. Did Miles Brothers do that, too? That last is a question for myself, really, for further research on my own.The larger point is about how an encyclopedia presents information about photographs, and who took them. Ok... shall I page through and see if I can find a Curtis photo? (Nods to self.)Finally found a Curtis photo, on page 125. Caption says "Lone Wolf, also known as Guipago, was chief of the Kiowa tribe in the 1860s and 1870s. He led the tribe's warriors in raids against other tribes. He is pictured seated with his wife, Etla."Here's info about it being a Curtis photo from the Getty file: but the Library of Congress doesn't name the photographer: (I'll keep looking...) (gettyimages.com/detail/news-ph…) (loc.gov/item/201789671…)In the meantime, I'm paging on thru the book. I've found several black and white or sepia-toned portraits or photos and looked them up. So far, none of them are by Curtis. Ok, here's a photo on page 187. The caption (as is the case throughout the book) does not tell us who the photographer is. I found the photo at the Library of Congress. There, it says Curtis is the photographer. (loc.gov/item/97505232/)To remind you why I'm doing this close look at the photos in this National Geographic encyclopedia: it has a note up front that is a caution about Curtis photos. But none of the photos throughout the 300+ pages are captioned with photographers names. As we look at that "Cayuse woman" photo, did Curtis do something to romanticize the woman and her baby? We don't know--and that's a problem for an encyclopedia -- especially one that tells readers to be careful of photos! So far in this thread I've focused on photographs because this encyclopedia is full of images. Some are paintings, some are photographs of artifacts, and some are black/white or sepia, or full color photos of Native ppl. Kids will hone in on the images on these pages. Those images will carry a lot of weight! This is an encyclopedia. The information provided in captions must be accurate! Especially because we all know that most kids who pick it up will already have a lot of biased info about Native peoples, that they were "taught" by someone. On page 193 of the encyclopedia is a photo w/caption "Klamath people built round, pole-framed houses in summer, and covered them with mats (pictured). Winter homes were built partly underground." LOC says it is a Curtis photo.Feedback I've gotten in the thread that I want to add to the thread itself so others can see include:Randell Baze, a Native librarian (see his Twitter profile @RandellBaze) noted the frequent use of Fancy Dancers on book covers:Dr. Debbie Reese (tribally enrolled, Nambé Pueblo) · Dec 20, 2019Questions about National Geographic's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN INDIAN HISTORY AND CULTURE: STORIES, TIME LINES, MAPS, AND MORE are picking up. This is a thread for notes as I look through it.Randell Baze@RandellBazeWhy is there always a Fancy Dancer on books like these?We don't all dance powwow.1111:03 AM - Dec 20, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacySee Randell Baze's other TweetsWell, that's about all I want to do right now on old photographs. Maybe I'll take a look at images per page, do some counts and see how that looks. I will say this: the book is heavy. My wrists get tired holding it up.Elsewhere I noted that the white font on yellow background is a design flaw. It is hard to read and I think it would fail a contrast test. In my quick count of images in the first section, Arctic and Subarctic, most of the images are photos of an article of clothing. There's 8 photos of items. Next highest count is 7 of what I called unnamed person. They're things like:"Alutiq girl" in a traditional headdressA woman w a handdrum; caption says "An Idle No More protest in Toronto...""A Gwich'in man" in a wolf mask at Denver March Powwow."Yup'ik elder with her grandchildren...""An Inuvialuit girl wears a modern-day parka...""An elderly James Bay Cree woman prepares a fire..."In the back, the book includes a list of 10 consultants. I recognize a couple. They do terrific work. I doubt that they saw the glossary definition for boarding school. And I doubt any of those consultants would have said ok to "Spirit Dolls."The author [of this encyclopedia] is Cynthia O'Brien. When I look up her name in WorldCat, I see she's listed as author on Scholastic's BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS, and BEST & BUZZWORTHY 2017, and bks in Crabtree's "Travel with the great explorer's" series. So... no subject experience of her own. My guess is that National Geographic wanted to do this book, and so, they hired her to do it.She isn't Native. Given her lack of subject knowledge, it is no surprise that we get a book that reflects common errors in thought about who we are. Those common errors?That we are people of the past (so, "history" is in the title).And, the predominant use of "culture" and "tribe" and little to no use of "nation" or "sovereign nation" to describe us (so, "culture" is in the title). And, that we dance.The large photo on the cover? A person, dancing.The double-paged spread for the title page? A person, dancing:Page 8, with the Publisher's Note? A person, dancing. I shared that page before (to talk about the Curtis photos) but am sharing it again, to look at the "Tribal Sovereignty" information provided.Sovereignty is at the core of who we are... but that information is sorely lacking in this book. Here, I'm zooming in on the first two columns in that publisher's note:There's 304 pages in this book. Sovereignty has less than 300 words, and those words are in tiny print in a publisher's note. That's so wrong, @natgeo!Teachers and librarians who get this book: the emphasis on visual elements of Native existence is a huge problem. Who is in charge of the books division at National Geographic? Did they not read the critical analysis of covers of the magazine?! (nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/…) National Geographic's encyclopedia doesn't use the word "savage" but many images in the book go that route. Consider these two photos of Manuelito, a leader of the Diné (Navajo) ppl. On the left is the one in the book, on the right is the one used by Diné scholar, Dr. Jennifer Denetdale.The "information" (quotation marks denote my sarcasm) in the encyclopedia about the Navajo Nation doesn't use the word nation, at all. It uses tribe and another phrase that gets used to describe Native peoples: "nomadic." In her bk, Denetdale pushes back on use of that word. I've spent most of this day reading and studying this book's text and images. I've seen enough to determine that it will get a Not Recommended label from me.Children deserve far better than this, National Geographic! If you have already bought a copy, see if the store will give you a refund. This truly is a waste of money.
The Whiteness of Romance Writers of America, and a tweet-review of Kathryn Lynn Davis's SING TO ME OF DREAMS
On December 24, I learned that a writer I (Debbie) respect tremendously had been suspended by the Romance Writers of America (RWA). Her name is Courtney Milan. I follow her on Twitter because she's a terrific advocate for accuracy in representation, and for #OwnVoices writers. RWA's action against her included saying she could never hold an office in RWA. It was Whiteness in action.It has been a week now (today is December 31) and a lot has happened related to RWA's decision to suspend her. For comprehensive coverage of what has unfolded since December 24, I encourage you to read WTAF, RWA: Courtney Milan Suspended From RWA at Smart Bitches.That action was taken because Courtney had critiqued the representations of Chinese people in Too Deep for Tears, a novel by Kathryn Lynn Davis. Davis didn't like what Courtney said. She believes Courtney's words led a publisher to drop a 3-book deal with her. So, she filed a complaint against Courtney. So did one of her friends, Suzan Tisdale (if you click on the WTAF link above, you can find links to the complaints). Their complaints led RWA to take action against Courtney. Enough people objected to their actions that the decision was reversed. But--a lot of damage was done and is, apparently, on-going.When I learned that Courtney had been suspended for her critique of To Deep for Tears, I wondered if Davis had written any books with Native content. I looked her up and found out that she's got a two-book series where the main character is Salish. Strike that! The character is Davis's imagining of what a Salish woman in the 1870s would be like... And Davis is so wrong. What she created is stereotypes. I read the first book (initially published in 1990) and tweeted about it as I read.You'll see some summary (what is happening in the story) and some critique, too. I may come back at some point to say more about Sing to Me of Dreams. For now, here's brief notes, followed by the tweet threads I did as I read the book. They're lightly edited.The Salish people and their lives, in this book, are more like cave people. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Clan of the Cave Bear. I'll note, however, that I read that book 40 years ago, so my recollection might be off. The point is, the Salish people that Davis created are primitive. One example: they don't wear shoes. They go barefoot. That primitive characterization means that once the main character starts living with White people, she has a lot of admiration for their things (knives, stoves, etc.) A lot of what I read in Sing to Me of Dreams makes me ask Davis about her source. A lot of white anthropologists wrote some highly biased books about Native peoples. In short, I'm giving her room to tell us why she wrote what she did. If we know her sources, we can shed light on their biases and errors. Davis has given her characters personal names and she's inserted what she says are Salish words throughout the book. If there is no source for any of this, then the entirety of the flaws rest on Davis. Tanu/Saylah (the main character) is gratingly invested in helping and comforting the White men at the Ivy household. That is possible, but not plausible. All their talk of gold and land and riches is never countered by a single thought from a Native person (Tanu/Saylah) whose people were fighting to protect their lands from the likes of the Ivy men by that time. There's a lot that Davis intends for us to read as Salish ceremonies and world view, but it sounds more like New Age appropriations. And some of it is ridiculous. An example of that is when Tanu and another girl are bathing (they're 15, I think) and one remembers that their ancestors tell them to beat their chests with flat rocks to keep their breasts from growing. Sing to Me of Dreams, from my point of view, is a mess. In defense of the book that Courtney criticized, Davis and others said she wrote it decades ago. In other words, before anybody knew anything about stereotypes. That is nonsense. What they mean is before they knew anything about stereotypes. Native and People of Color have known about these problems for a very long time. The thing is--the book that Courtney started reading--and the one I critiqued were republished in the 2010s as e-books. Presumably, Davis could have made edits to the books before the e-copies were released. Maybe she did! One would have to get a copy of the originals to do a comparison. If these 2010s editions are revised, I'd really hate to see what she had in the older versions. I didn't write much about the time during which Tanu/Saylah was at a mission school. I might come back to do that. It won't go well for Davis if/when I do. I bring it up now because when she first wrote this book, she had some knowledge about the boarding schools. She had enough to use one as a decorative plot device in her book. She's tokenized them and what they did--in reality--to Native peoples. Turning now to larger contexts, I see parallels between what is happening in RWA and what is happening in other associations. In particular, I am thinking about how a small and dedicated group of people have pushed very hard to make the Children's Literature Association (and children's literature) more diverse. We're met with derision by White people. Others want to help, or profess that they want to help, but they stumble over Whiteness. Rules about politeness and professionalism and civility are examples of that Whiteness.Here's the threads I did. As noted above, I may return to this book with more to say, later.Thread #1, started at 7:53 AM on December 24th, 2019:#IStandWithCourtney because she pushes against misrepresentation in romance novels. This morning as I read about this action RWA took against her, I'm reminded of some of the misrepresentations of Native ppls in bks in the genre. [Background: On Dec 23, 2019, the Ethics Committee of Romance Writers of America recommended that Courtney Milan be censured, suspended, and banned from holding any position of leadership on the RWA National Board or on any of the RWA Chapter Boards based on complaints filed by Suzan Tisdale and Kathryn Lynn Davis. The latter's complaint included objections to Courtney Milan's critique of the Chinese content of Davis's book, Somewhere Lies the Moon.]My research and writing is on misrepresentations in children's and young adult lit. I sometimes read bks in other genres because someone writes to ask me about a particular bk, and because readers of those genres are also reviewers/buyers/librarians whose work shapes kid/YA lit. In reading the materials/threads abt RWA/Courtney, for example, someone said they had been a buyer for children's bks before moving on to work in romance. In kid/YA lit we see popular/award-winning writers whose works are racist.I wondered if Tisdale or Davis wrote bks w Native content. So, I looked. Davis has a series called Dream Suite.The first one is SING TO ME OF DREAMS. It came out in the 1990s and again, in 2015. The main character is named "Saylah." Her mother is Salish. Her father is white. It opens in the Pacific NW in 1861. Davis is not Salish. This is not an #OwnVoices book.In SING TO ME OF DREAMS we have a white woman imagining Native women in the 1860s. Davis is crossing tremendous distances to create these characters.The prologue shows me how dreadfully Davis has failed. In that prologue, "Koleili" is giving birth. "The People crouched outside the hut of woven mats, silent, expectant, for they felt the chill of magic in the air."My guess is that most ppl won't see "hut" or "crouched" or "magic" as problems. There's several midwives tending the birth, including "Kwiaha, who had the gift of siwan--the little magic."The word "siwan" is in italics. I guess we're supposed to think it is a Salish word. Is it? And if it is, does it mean magic?! I doubt it. The baby is born. The midwives usually splash a newborn with "sacred water to wake her sleeping, unborn soul."Hmm.... is that how Salish people think of infants in utero? Before they used that sacred water, however, this newborn opens her mouth and smokes come from it. The hut is filled with soft blue light. This newborn then turns on her stomach, lifts her head and looks at them with "eyes the color of an Island lake - clear, ageless, and wise."Outside that hut, "the sacred wolves" that are spirits of revered ancestors, make a circle and howl, thereby claiming "the girl child". Owls hoot. The newborn's mother hears the hoot and says her child will be a dreamer. Raven circles, and "Hawilquolas" (the man who would be father to the child) says "The child will be a Dancer.""Thunderbird moved through the heavens..." and Kwaiha (the siwan) says "The child will be a healer."The baby opens her mouth again but instead of a cry, her voice "flows like water, like the silvery music of the birds."She's "the Prophet" who would bring her people to thrive. The prologue ends with "So it was promised, so it had come to be."I'm sighing and full of questions as I read this prologue. The book I'm tweeting about (SING TO ME OF DREAMS), by the way, is by Kathryn Lynn Davis, a writer who filed a complaint about Courtney Milan. Davis's complaint, and another one from Suzan Tisdale led the RWA's Ethics Committee to take action against Courtney. Over at @SmartBitches, there are links to the docs. There's people in RWA characterizing Courtney and others who publicly critique books as a "mob." That kind of characterization is said about me and others in kid/YA lit who do public critiques of books. RWA received enough pushback to their decision on Courtney, that they've rescinded it, "pending a legal opinion." I'm taking a look at Davis's book because she and her bks mattered, somehow, to RWA. I've now opened (in Amazon's 'look inside') Davis's second book in the Dream Suite. In the Acknowledgements she thanks Suzan Tisdale. She did that in the acknowledgement for the first book, too. I know not to read too much into Acknowledgements but... hmmm. In bk 2, WEAVE FOR ME A DREAM, the year is 1894. Place is Vancouver Island, British Columbia. No prologue in this one. Instead, there's "The Storyteller." She is "Old Grandmother" weaving at her ancient loom. Weaving stories.What I'm seeing in Davis's writing is stereotyping. I think it is accurate to say that she really likes Indians.That's why she wrote these two books in the 90s and reissued them in the 2010s as ebooks.But the "Indians" she likes/creates do not exist in real life. This is all romantic nonsense that is harmful to everyone. There is a defense of Davis over the bk Courtney critiqued, w/ people saying Davis wrote that bk in the 90s. Implied in that defense is that she wouldn't write it today. Implied is that she knows more today than she did then.Ppl are also saying "nobody said anything" (then). Those defensive arguments are put forth all the time, but they are not valid.Davis first published these Dream bks in the 90s and reissued them now, in the 2010s. I can't compare the two, but the ones available now are dreadful. And the "nobody said anything" defense is so weak!Maybe people didn't want to make Davis uncomfortable, so they didn't say, HEY THIS IS A MESS.They let her be.If they are friends of hers, they aren't very good friends. They've let her republish this deeply flawed series! If they are friends who did not see the problems, and are reading/learning in this thread, they better talk to her right away. AND they better speak up whenever they see an outsider trying to create characters like this. Just pause a minute and think about what writers who create historical fiction/romance are trying to do when they're not of the culture or nation that their story is about. They're leaping backwards in time but they're making other kinds of leaps, too. Language is one. As I read thru Davis's book, I see another italicized word. "Siem." Supposedly, it means "Head Man." What is Davis's source?I also see that she has created several characters whose names start with a K.Why? Another leap: from whatever Davis believes (spiritually or religiously), to what she thinks Salish ways are... And I wonder if Davis would call, for example, Christianity "magic" (in the bk, some of the characters have "magic"). Circling back to the prologue. The baby born in the prologue is called Tanu. The Salish man named Hawilquolas... he's a man of status. He's that "Siem" I mentioned a couple of tweets back. His protection keeps Tanu and her mother from being despised because "... Tanu had been illegitimate, the seed of a stranger. The People would have cast out Koleili and her baby."Is that accurate? Would Salish ppl of the 1860s do that? As before: what is the source for this information?I'm remembering Cassie Edwards defending her storiesSo anyway, Tanu and her friend Kitkuni are bathing...‘Our ancestors pounded their chests with flat stones to keep themselves from growing here.’ Kitkuni pointed at her swelling breasts. ‘Perhaps they were wiser than we.’What is the source for THAT?! I'm not far into the book and it is more and more of this same kind of thing. I'm not tweeting every thing that makes me cringe.Some may think it is cruel to do that to Davis. The sympathy is for her rather than for readers who are misinformed by what she's written. Oh... now there's a "Trickster, and, a few pages later, a "shaman."Over and over there's evidence that this is a not-Salish person creating the words, thoughts, actions of what they think a Salish person would say/do ... and over and over, it is a mess.Now, Davis's character is calling the shaman's clothing a "sacred ceremonial costume."Tanu is also called "She Who Is Blessed." And... the people view her as their Queen. Much is made of her green eyes. Now, Tanu meets her real father. Nicolas. Things about her that are revered, she realizes, come not from her Salish mother, but from her French father.I am gonna step away from this book. I may pick it up again later but what good would come of doing that? My larger point is that @romancewriters has at least one writer who is creating harmful content about Native peoples. I'm calling it out. When Courtney Milan called out that author for harmful content, complaints were filed. RWA's ethics cmte decided to censure Courtney Milan. RWA has some work to do. I'm not a member. If I was, I'd cancel my membership but I'd keep putting public pressure on them, calling for change. Substantial change. In her complaint, Kathryn Lynn Davis said that she lost the promise of a 3-book contract because of Courtney Milan's "cyber-bullying."If the 3-bks are like SING TO ME OF DREAMS, then I hope the contract was cancelled because whoever that contract was with said "never mind."In defense of Courtney's tweets about TOO DEEP FOR TEARS she said that if Courtney had read the whole book, she would see that her objections are wrong.I'm still rdg SING TO ME OF DREAMS to see if there's anything in here that tells me I'm wrong to object to that passage the Salish girl says about how their ancestors pounded their chests with stones to keep their breasts from growing:What I usually do in my critiques is to note a passage (like that one) and see if I can figure out what the author's source might be.It is important to know what sources are--and to say "don't use this" because of unreliable content in some sources. Esp ones about Native ppl. It is, in short, a service I provide to writers when I do critiques. I do that even when the content in a passage (like that one) is ridiculous because obviously, Davis thought it was legit, and all the ppl who read the bk and didn't say 'wait" to it think it is legit, too. All of this matters so much! Davis is serving as an editor. If your book has Native content--I hope this thread is telling you that she might not be equipped to help you.Actually, because she's an editor, I think I'm gonna ask her a question in my next tweet in this thread. Hey, @kathrynlyndavis: I'm trying to verify information in your bk, SING TO ME OF DREAMS. Can you tell me the source you used for that passage abt Salish ppl using stones to pound their chests? And, @kathrynlyndavis, can you tell me the source you used for the words you present as being Salish words? A note for ppl who missed this info in the thread: SING TO ME OF DREAMS was published in the 1990s and again in the 2010s. Here's the two covers:The first part of Davis's bk is set in a Salish village where Tanu is revered.There's a gathering (of whites, called "Strangers" in the bk, and Native ppl). The men of the village walk with Tanu in a protective way as the white men gape at her. But then, intrigued by things, they [the men of the village] "moved barefoot" away from her.Why are they barefoot? Why point out that they are barefoot? Then, Tanu sees her mother looking at someone (a white man). She goes to him. They kiss. He is Tanu's biological father.Later a white man tells the Salish about a missionary school where they will be taught to talk, dress, and act right, "give you all a better life."He's drunk; the Salish people look at him in "stony or amused silence."That night as she walks, Tanu hears a song she's heard forever, in her head. This time it is real, and is being sung by her biological father (Nicolas). She's distraught to know that it is "in her blood."Her voice (remember the prologue?) was what it is, because of her white blood. Her voice, as part of her sacred power, comes from "a Stranger" (white man).The shaman tells her that she has to find peace with her mixed blood. They're leaving their summer village for their Longhouse. As she helps she noticed Yeyi (a little girl), trembling.Later Tanu goes into the forest to find peace with her mixed blood identity. The next day, someone from the village finds her. They need her because Yeyi is sick.When Tanu sees Yeyi she recognizes what's wrong because the shaman ("Tseikami") had shown her scarlet fever "Red Sweating Sickness" before in a nearby village. Yeyi's family tells Tanu that Yeyi is "ghost-struck" and they want her to send the ghost away. Tanu asks where Tseikami is, and Yeyi's mother tells her that he "packed his rattles, his clothes, and left us."Tanu thinks he's left because he knows they're all in danger. Yeyi's mother says that Yeyi will be ok because Tanu "makes miracles" and that nobody "has more spirits than she. Our Queen will do what Tseikami feared to do."I didn't note it earlier, but "queen" is a European convention. To have these Salish ppl use it is wrong. There's other examples of what goes wrong when an outsider to a ppl tries to write as if they are an insider. Like, "hut." That's one of my pet peeves. Writers: do some homework! Find out what a ppl called their homes. Don't default to "hut."I don't think I said anything about how "queen" came about... When Tanu was six years old, the ppl were starving. She had a dream. She and three hunters went out with her on a canoe. She saw a buck, drew her bow, and killed it. But it wasn't a buck! The people are "struck dumb at the sight of a doe with antlers, which denied her sex and made her more than it was possible to be -- a miracle!" Because that six year old had dreamt of it and then killed it, she was their savior and a queen.I don't get it. Anyway, those antlers had been kept by that shaman who took off. They're brought out and placed by the fire. People touch them as Tanu tries to heal Yeyi.Yeyi's family also gets sick. Just before she dies Yeyi tells Tanu that the ppl blame Tanu for not freeing them from "the evil spirits" making them sick."It is easier to say you are weak than to believe the Changer is so cruel that he would let this happen. If I believe in you, I must doubt him."The Changer? Who is that?! (Yes, I'm being a bit snarky...)Just before Hawilquolas dies, he tells Tanu that the people have lost faith in her, and so, she is free, and he wants her to seek peace.Just before Koleili (Tanu's mother) dies, she tells Tanu it was not an honor for the ppl to view Tanu as a queen. The ppl, Koleili says, did not view her as a person who deserves a husband and children. Kaleili tells Tanu she has to leave.Tanu is overcome with grief and is weak after tending to so many. She drifts in and out of consciousness, and sees "the Stranger's school."Tanu leaves. She goes to the mission school where they give her a new name, "Sally Fisher."She [pretends] can't say "Sally." She can say "Saylah" and so, that becomes her name. I'm not commenting on all the details I'm including in this thread about SING TO ME OF DREAMS.At this point in the story (about 1/5th of the way into it), the location changes from a Salish one to a White one. For 3 years, "Saylah" is at the mission school. Then, she leave the school and goes to live as a caregiver for a white family.That's where she meets a white man who, according to what I'm seeing, she will marry.Thread #2, started at 3:25 on December 28, 2019.Starting a new thread as I read Kathryn Lynn Davis's SING TO ME OF DREAMS.One thing a lot of writers do that I find annoying: describing eyes of a Native person as "black eyes." That's in here 10 times. She doesn't mean from being hit or injured. She means the iris is black. And eyes shaped like almonds. That's in here, too. Four times. Remember in that earlier thread, I noted that Salish men are barefoot? That's so annoying--the idea that Native ppl went without shoes on their feet.According to what Davis is telling her readers, that's the way the Salish ppl lived.Here's Saylah (previously, Tanu), talking to the white woman (Flora) who runs the white household Saylah now lives in as a caregiver:‘I am Salish,’ she explained. ‘I wore no shoes until I joined the missionary school,"White ppl think Native ppl didn't wear shoes. You can see that in the U of Illinois mascot, "Chief Illiniwek"... see the bare feet? But they needed to protect their hands. See? Look at those gloves.Nonsense! Whiteness and its nonsense!Julian is the guy who Saylah is gonna marry. But right now, she's living in the house owned by Julian's father, Jamie. Jamie is bedridden. But, he wants to see Saylah. Julian takes her into his room. She remembers when a girl at the school got the "Red Sweating Sickness."Remember? That is what (according to Davis), the Salish ppl called scarlet fever.But, "Red Sweating Sickness" looks to be something Davis made up. The searches I do on that phrase lead to her bk or bks about her bk. Again, I turn to Davis to ask, @kathrynlyndavis what is your source for that? And--I'll note again that I'm asking this because you are an editor, with the responsibility of helping writers. What sources are you using, and are you recommending them to your writers? Ah--maybe I'm wrong about your role at @GlenfinnanPubl1. It looks like you're an acquisitions editor: (glenfinnanpublishing.com/our-editors)Back to my reading of SING TO ME OF DREAMS. I'm rdg about other white families/characters now, that Julian's family interacts with. There's Edward and his wife, Sophia.Sophia's dad is in Boston and didn't approve of Edward. He writes letters to Sophia. In one, he writes that he worries she is in danger, "from the savages who people those islands."As I read on, will Sophia tell her dad they're not savages--that "savage" is a stereotype and embodies bias? That letter is in chapter 22. In chapter 25, we see Sophia writing back to her father. Her reply is full of deceptions. She's poking him and his sensibilities, on purpose, but I don't know if it works or not. Here's what she said:Oh! I meant to insert a link to the previous thread right away, and forgot. So... here is the start of that thread.Dr. Debbie Reese (tribally enrolled, Nambé Pueblo)@debreese#IStandWithCourtney because she pushes against misrepresentation in romance novels. This morning as I read about this action RWA took against her, I'm reminded of some of the misrepresentations of Native ppls in bks in the genre.1,0477:53 AM - Dec 24, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy291 people are talking about thisIn that earlier thread, I noted that when she was 6, the little Salish girl killed what everyone thought was a buck but that turned out to be a doe. That was a miracle, they felt, and so they viewed her as their queen (yeah, that is a problem). I bring that up now because that deer makes another appearance when Saylah left the mission school to work for the Ivy family. When she arrives at their property, she sees a tree that has been carved into a buck with antlers. She views it as a sign that tells her she is where she needs to be. In the Ivy household Saylah coaxes Jamie Ivy out of his bed where he's been sick for some time. Julian is his adult son. One evening he tells them all the story of that carved deer. It is symbolic for him, about where he's meant to be. Where he's meant to be... land that belonged to what tribal nation? Saylah seems unaware of any tribal nation's fight to protect their lands from White people.Remember--the story Davis tells starts in 1861. By then, the Salish had already met Lewis and Clark and tribal nations in that area had been negotiating with the US for several years.As depicted in this bk, there's very little contact with Whites until 1876.Course, the main character of this bk has an absent white father, so.... there's that. I'm not sharing much, now, as I read through Kathryn Lynn Davis's SING TO ME OF DREAMS.To refresh: the main char is meant to be a Salish woman abt 19 years old. When she was w/ her ppl (birth to 15), her name was Tanu. W/ whites, it is "Saylah" ("Sally Fisher"). The yr: 1876. From 15-18 years old, Saylah was in a mission school (her choice to go there when she feels rejected by her people). At 18 she goes to live with the Ivy's a white family who need help. There's a fella, Julian. His father is bedridden. Why, is a mystery. That father's name is Jamie. His wife is Flora. They have a son, Theron (he's half bro to Julian).One day Saylah takes Theron out, to teach him how to shoot a bow and arrow. They take two bows that were hanging on the walls in the Ivy home. They don't have arrows for the bows. So, they're "collecting cedar sticks" to make the arrows.Hmm... I'm quite skeptical of that!But anyway, Saylah carves them, adds feathers, and she shoots one, hitting the target. Theron wants her to shoot a squirrel next. But she tells Theron that it is wrong to do that for fun. The spirits will be angry. She tells him:"If you are genuinely hungry or the animal threatens your life, then is it allowed. The animals are glad to give up their lives to feed us, the Changer teaches.’"There's "Changer" again. What is Davis's source for that?Theron wants to know who Changer is; Saylah tells him Changer is another name for God. She goes into details on animals giving their lives, how it is a gift, but that:‘perhaps the animals enjoy the chase as much. Just because they must give up their lives does not mean they must do it easily.’"Sigh. Then, Saylah and Julian talk about hunting with a bow and arrow versus a gun. She wants to show him that a bow and arrow is a better weapon. So they set off into the woods.But... she decides he needs a beaver skin to hold the arrows in... So off they go to find a beaver. They find one; she kills it with the bow and arrow. He admires her kill (thru the neck, saving the pelt). But a cougar appears and he raises the bow and arrow, intending to kill it. She stops him because "the cougar was sacred among the Salish."Julian tells her cougars are dangerous to his people; Saylah realizes she's not with her own people anymore and sort of panics. She comes to, in Julian's arms.Note: obviously this "Salish" story is far from that [a Salish story] ... it is a white woman's imaginings. Hmm... Julian and Saylah return to the house. No further mention of the beaver, of using its skin. What happened to it?That proposed use of a fresh beaver skin reminds me of the fresh skunk skins two Indian men wear in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Meanwhile, Theron (Julian's little half-bro) and Paul (neighbor's boy) are off in the woods. Paul is mad, having seen his dad, Edward, having sex with someone who isn't his mother (her wife).THEY SEE THE COUGAR! It sees them! They hide in a log.Their parents are worried. It is now nighttime. Saylah sees the parents talking and says she'll go find the boys. Edward asks how she'll do that, in the dark.She says "I am of Salish blood." (Me, rolling my eyes at this speech.)Another by-the-way note: whenever this Salish woman speaks, she doesn't use contractions. LOT of white writers create Native speech that way... they think it sounds more authentic. It doesn't. Saylah and Julian set off into the forest to search for the boys.They find footprints. When she sees the cougar prints chasing the boys, she panics, remembering she had stopped it being killed. As they search there's references to "the spirits" who do this or that thing.Back at the house, Jamie (Julian's sickly father) comes out of his room and waits with the others. He tells them Saylah will find the boys. Saylah and Julian did find them and have brought them into the house. Saylah will use her herbs to help them. Paul is in shock; Theron has a fever from the cougar mauling his arm.In case I didn't mention it earlier, Jamie and Edward were friends at one time. As I've read Davis's book, I've noted her use of Native ppl sitting "cross-legged." It appears six times. Here's one (she's reminiscing):"Of sitting cross-legged near glowing coals, knee to knee with the other women, the salt air all around us."It grates, frankly. I've seen that in other bks, too.Clearly, Davis knows not to use "Indian style." But why does she (or any writer) feel the need to describe how a Native person sits?! If she removed "cross legged" from the sentence, is anything lost? What does having it add? 60% of the way through SING TO ME OF DREAMS. Slow going and not enjoying the reading itself but hope that ppl who write or review bks (no matter what genre) that have Native content are reading, sharing, talking about the errors in the book. When chapter 48 opens, Paul and Theron (who were attacked by a cougar) are in the stable, afraid to go back into the woods. Paul is envious of Theron's wound.Theron remembers Saylah saying that her people (Salish) call it "Mark of the Cougar."Here's a screencap of that part. I've done a search of Salish + "Mark of the Cougar" and found nothing. Seems something that Davis made up, but if you're reading this thread and I'm wrong, Ms. Davis, please tell me! What is your source!And a very strong caution to writers: DO NOT MAKE UP STUFF YOU THINK NATIVE PEOPLE SAY, DO, OR THINK! You're likely relying on stereotypical ideas you've absorbed. We are real people, of many distinct Native Nations. STOP MAKING STUFF UP! You're misleading readers. Oh... there's a big party at the Ivy house. Julian is teaching Saylah how to dance (no specific kind of dance is mentioned) and now she's telling him to meet her by the carved deer later so she can "teach you to dance as my People do."Saylah goes off to dance with Theron. While that happens, Lizzie (a white woman that Julian has had sex with) stands by him and watches him watching Saylah. She says that "Indian women are very mysterious" and that it makes them fascinating. Men can't resist what they don't understand, she says. She moves off and Edward stands with Julian. He's heard what Lizzie said and smiles conspiratorially at Julian, saying that Lizzie s right:"If we could just find out their secrets, understand them, if you know what I mean, we could resist them." Earlier in the story, there was a scene where Edward is having sex with a Salish woman. Still at the party, Edward starts telling the guests about how he and Julian first came to the area... looking for gold. They didn't find much but Julian had guessed it wasn't gold or coal that would make them rich, but the land. Guests cheer as this story is told. Saylah says and thinks nothing about any of that. Some ppl are probably wondering if I have any suggestions for what Saylah might be saying or thinking, but I don't. Some edits would be easily done (deleting all the sitting cross-legged parts) but the premise is way too flawed. Way back in the thread I noted that there's tension between Jamie and Edward, and we're learning why now. Back when Jamie was married to Simone (Julian's mom), Edward stole land from Jamie and also had an affair with Simone. As she hears this, Saylah is feeling tremendous empathy for Jamie and what he's lost.She doesn't have a thought, at all, for the land, or her own people and what they've lost.I know--that's not the story Davis wanted to tell. What DID Davis want to tell readers? The party is over and Julian heads to the deer so Saylah can teach him to dance. She leads him deeper into the woods. He's worried about wild animals but she tells him the drums will keep them away.Drums? Oh...She's led him to place where she uncovers something. He says it is their old well. But she says:‘Tonight it is a drum. Usually, you see, there are the drummers and the dancers. I had to think of a way to do both alone. I was lucky to find the well.’Sounds to me like she's gonna dance on that old well and that her footsteps will make it be a drum, too.You know what comes to my mind?! This:She tells him that he said he wanted to know about her people. "This is the most sacred thing I can teach you." He's surprised that dance is that sacred. She tells him it is much more than that:She says"Not merely to move to the beat of drums, to the cadence of rattles and the sounds of the night, to change with the firelight, altered every moment by the breeze. To dance, yes, but also to celebrate. That is what I wish to teach you.’She's made a fire. Now she takes off her coat. He sees she's barefoot, is wearing a necklace of bear and cougar teeth, a top of pounded bark, a cedarbark skirt, and anklets of shell and deer hooves.She's also brought a bottle of whiskey for him to relax. Now, he takes a drink. She's dancing, stamping on the well/drum, tapping another drum at her waist. She invites him to join her and feel what she feels, that nothing else in all the world is like it, but that he won't feel it if he's afraid. (This is so weird.)He's drunk and desires her. She's also singing. He thinks he'll look like a fool if he joins her. Nobody will see, she says. They're alone "with the magic of a Salish campfire and the beat of Salish drums." Watch, she tells him, and his body will know when it is time to join her. [Note: I asked colleagues in Native lit if they know of/rec bks in this genre. Malea Powell pointed to an episode of Native America Calling on this topic. ] (nativeamericacalling.com/thursday-octob…)Saylah sings a song (in English). Julian asks about it. She tells him it was Tanu's song, that she was queen of her people but had died long ago. She keeps on dancing (and for me, that image of Tiger Lily is definitely what I see as I read these words of how she's dancing). Finally, Julian gets on the well/drum with her. He thinks he'll finally have sex with her but, no. He realizes that's not what she's offering. She wants him to join her in "this ritual" which is a glimpse of her true spirit. So, he starts to do what she's doing. He starts to sweat, so takes off his shirt. She puts her bear and cougar tooth necklace on him.Until now, that cougar that she had stopped him from killing (that later attacked the two boys) had been between them.But now, it "binds us in his beauty and his rage."They dance, finally collapse, and sleep (no sex). Back at the house, it is clear that Jamie is gonna die of a broken spirit, even though everybody (including Saylah) is pleading with him not to give in to that pain.Later, Saylah tells Julian about Salish ways of understanding death. Again, Ms. Davis: what is your source?Julian notices that she said "they" and not "we." He understands she's been in pain all this time, too. They kiss but she resists the emotions she feels. Julian tells her she's like Jamie (broken). In the next chapter, it is nighttime and Edward is having a nightmare. He wakes. Sophia reaches for him but he takes off, down the stairs, out the door, and sure enough, the Indian girl is there, waiting for him. This girl is Salish, too, but to him she has no name. Saylah knows her, and that her name is Alida (this was earlier in the book). She's described throughout as "girl" but I don't think she's a girl. She's a woman. So, why "Indian girl" over and over?Anyway, after they have sex she says she's leaving and that she wants him to know her name. She used to feel pleasure when she was with him but lately, she feels more pity than pleasure. She's determined to leave. He tells her that he'll tell her what he did to Jamie if she'll stay. She isn't going to stay but thinks it will help him with the guilt he carries. So (sigh), she sits crossed legged beside him.Back at the Ivy house, a priest is there now to give Jamie last rites. Saylah's not cool with it. The priest tells them that Jamie has sins that have to be cleansed so he has a chance to enter heaven.Saylah tells the priest his religion is strange. Then she tells him about "the world of the Salish." She challenges him over and over on Catholicism and the family asks him to leave.I bet ignorant readers think that's a great scene but they likely don't recognize the noble savage stereotyping throughout, and here, too. Whiteness tends to think of Native ppl as blood-thirsty savages (negative stereotype) or tragic, wise ones (positive stereotype). The latter is the "noble savage" that you see in some mascots, and in "big Indian" statues or "end of the trail" images. (roadsideamerica.com/story/11874) Ppl tend to think that romantic stereotypes are good--but they aren't. That is something that people need reject. Negative or positive stereotypes are STILL stereotypes that obscure who we are, as people. Ah, now, this next scene is interesting. Julian is worried because the priest cursed his dad (Jamie). But, Jamie tells him that's an overzealous priest and that others are ok. He talks about the ones that gave comfort to Julian's mom (Simone). Later when Julian and Saylah talk, Julian tells her he hates priests because one took his mother away (literally). Whenever they were around, he says, his mother's joy was gone.Jamie is dying and tells Saylah he no longer believes in his own faith. Now, he believes in her. Alida and Saylah--both created as Salish women (by Davis)--to give comfort to white folks. Jamie dies. At his burial, Saylah sings a song. Is it supposed to be a Salish song, translated into English? Or is it something Davis made up?Native songs are sung in Native languages. Many (most?) songs are composed, in large measure, of vocables rather than a words. A few days later, she tells Flora and Theron she wants to burn cedar to cleanse the house of ghosts. They don't want to do that but she persuades them it is a good thing to do. Then she sings and waves singed cedar boughs around.Sigh (again). Almost done! At the 90% mark of this book.Saylah and Julian are in the forest. He tells her he loves her; wants her to say it back but she doesn't want to because it'll make her feel vulnerable and open to hurt again like when her ppl turned away from her. She gives details:He realizes she's Tanu. "You were their queen."He tells her they needed her to be that for them, and that he needed her to be"a gift from God" for him. But now, he sees her as a woman who is dear to him, not for her magic or wisdom but for her heart. All through this scene she can hear drums pounding (in her head) and an ancient song. They are loud "endless, throbbing drums." But then, the song ends and the drums fade.She goes to him and says "I am Saylah. And I love you."They return to the house. The next morning she wakes and looks at Julian, thinking that if she chooses him, she has to chose his world, too. "the white world, the world of the Strangers."In the final chapter Saylah goes back to her ppl. She doesn’t see them for real. She falls asleep and the Salish guy who had wanted to marry her finds her. She doesn’t wake but there’s communication going on. He releases her and she goes back to Julian. End of story. I guess they will marry in the sequel. I will pull all these tweets into a blog post as a record of what I said and try to make some overall observations that I hope will be helpful to writers, editors, reviewers... no matter the genre.
Recommended: Standing Strong by Gary Robinson
Standing StrongWritten by Gary Robinson (Choctaw/Cherokee)Published in 2019Publisher: 7th GenerationReviewed by Jean MendozaStatus: RecommendedFor many months when we were adapting Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People, Debbie and I followed what was happening with #NoDAPL activism on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, in spite of the generally poor media coverage. Eventually, we had the opportunity to add a chapter about Standing Rock/NoDAPL to the book, showing how themes of sovereignty and resistance that ran through the rest of the book were expressed in that 21st century situation. We hoped it would not be long before we could recommend books for young people about that Indigenous fight for environmental justice.Debbie has already urged readers to pre-order Carole Lindstrom's gorgeous We Are Water Protectors (illus. by Michaela Goade, out in March 2020). Now, I'm pleased to recommend Gary Robinson's 2019 short novel Standing Strong, a work of Standing Rock-related fiction for teens. Robinson's main character is Rhonda Runningcrane, a Blackfeet high school senior. Rhonda struggles with grief and outrage over how things are in her family and her community; when we meet her, she's recovering from her own suicide attempt and the loss of her best friend to suicide. She's not isolated. She has friends and two strong allies (her hard-working handyman uncle and her therapist) but it's hard for her to envision a realistic way to make a better life for herself.When she hears that clothing and supplies are being collected for a pipeline protest at "Standing Stone" reservation, something sparks her interest. She talks her friends and her uncle into helping gather donations, and the girls soon fill a pickup truck and take off for the newly forming camps a 12-hour drive away. Once Rhonda gets there, she begins to feel a sense of purpose. Much of the rest of the book is about her involvement in the life of the camp, how it affects her, and how her know-how with tools and with social media contribute to the well-being of that activist community.This is fiction, not a Standing Rock memoir, and it should be appreciated as such. The events described -- daily standoffs, racism of pipeline workers, attacks on water protectors by trained dogs, the overly-enthusiastic destruction of the camps by law enforcement, and so on -- don't necessarily follow the exact chronology of the actual Standing Rock water protection effort. Young Native people have been centrally involved in many such actions, and will continue to be.Robinson pushes back on some stereotypes. Far from being a wise and thoughtful elder, Rhonda's grandmother is just generally a rotten human being. The wise and thoughtful elder Rhonda does meet later in the book is no quiet old dear sitting by the fire making pithy statements -- she kicks butt, tooling around the camps at high speed, providing encouragement to the community (especially the youth), and taking a central role in the camp's direction and energy. Robinson also avoids the trap of focusing only on the valor of headline-makers. As more than one of his characters suggests, the work of putting bodies on the line in physical protest is important, but so is the the behind-the-scenes work of keeping a camp running and getting the word out to the wider world. There are many ways to be a water protector, and Rhonda finds hers. She will fight for environmental justice -- maybe not as someone who makes headlines, but as one who brings all her courage, commitment, and knowledge to that fight.I hope many young people find this book. Among its strengths is its portrayal of resistance not as some exceptional life choice, but as a "normal," rational (even necessary) response to injustice and oppression. Robinson dedicates the book to the Standing Rock water protectors, and to Native teen suicide survivors. He weaves some mental health messages into the story (such as if your medications are helping you, keep taking them and making a positive contribution to something larger than yourself can be a healing act). He also includes a page with links to the Indigenous Environmental Network and related Web sites, as well as suicide prevention resources.Note: Robinson is of Choctaw/Cherokee descent, and his main characters in Standing Strong are Blackfeet. I'm not able to say for sure whether his description of life on the Blackfeet Reservation are what citizens of that nation would describe, though nothing leapt out at me as problematic.Non-Blackfeet readers of Standing Strong might want to find out more by going to the Blackfeet Nation Web site. From there, they can find out about Badger Two Medicine and how the Blackfeet Nation is handling its water resources.