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Critical discussion of American Indians in children's books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society-at-large.
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July 15, 2013
Dear Jon Scieszka,
I've got a bone to pick with you. Are you following the recent news story about the names of the pilots of the Asiana flight that crashed in San Francisco? Someone made up some names for those pilots. The newscaster read those made-up names on the news cast. Did you read about it? Here's those made-up names:
Sum Ting Wong
Wi Tu Lo
Ho Lee Fuk
Bang Ding Ow
The person who created those names, no doubt, had a good time doing it and probably laughed pretty hard at the people at the TV station who put those names into the script for the newscaster. That person probably laughed pretty hard at the newscaster, too, as she read the names and didn't realize they were made-up names that mock Asian people.
Lot of people read your books, Mr. Scieszka, and a lot of people laugh when they read the ways you use humor. You don't mean to be offensive or insensitive, right? Just in case you don't realize that some of your humor is precisely that---offensive and insensitive---let's revisit what you did with humor and names in Me Oh Maya.
In Me Oh Maya the boys in the Time Warp Trio find themselves in a Mayan ball court. A "short brown-skinned guy in a wild feathered headdress stood on top of the wall looking down" at the boys. This guy turns out to be an "evil high priest" who is named Kakapupahed. The boys hear the high priests name and think "Cacapoopoohead." They struggle to contain their laughter.
For those who don't know, the Time Warp Trio series is pitched to kids who are "reluctant readers." This sort of book provides readers with clever writing that functions as a hook to draw in a kid who might otherwise not read. In the Time War Trio series, the hook is puns, lots of action, and, as the reviewer at School Library Journal notes, "a little bathroom humor." Reviews of the book say that kids can learn a lot about Mayan culture by reading this book, but if that learning starts with the reluctant reader laughing at Mayan names, I have to wonder about your treatment, Mr. Scieszka, of the culture, too.
Do you see the connection, Mr. Scieszka, between what you did with names in Me Oh Maya and what happened at the news station and the mockery of the names of the pilots?
This sort of thing has been going on for a long time. On the child_lit listserv, we discussed problems with names in Arlene Mosel's Tikki Tikki Tembo some years ago. I don't lay the blame for what happened with the Asian pilot names at your feet, Mr. Scieszka, but since your humor encourages mockery of other, I think you're part of what makes that kind of incident possible.
Given your status within children's literature and education, I think this is a moment for you to issue a statement about humor that relies on ignorance of other. It would be a bold step, but you could even disavow what you did with names in Me Oh Maya!
I'm sure that many of your fans will come to your defense, chastising me for this letter, telling me to "get a life" and that "it's only a book!" and similar statements, but you and I know how much children's books matter to the children who read them. They can do good, but they can do bad, too, and that's not good for any of us.
American Indians in Children's Literature
________________________________________________________________In a personal note to readers of AICL, I've been away from AICL for a month. During that month, my father became ill and passed away. During this month, your personal notes of condolence have meant a lot to me. Thank you for sending them. One of you said that when someone close to us passes, the ground shifts, but that we learn how to travel on that shifted ground, carrying the spirit of that loved one with us as we go forth. I'm slowly trying to regain my footing and the balance I need to tell you a bit about my dad. He was a remarkable and special man. I miss him terribly.
In the Author's Note of Susan Cooper's Ghost Hawk
, she says "The only major liberty I've taken is in copying for John Wakeley the whipping inflicted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the Baptist Obadiah Homes in 1651" (p. 327).
I beg to differ.
From my point of view, Cooper took many liberties in the ways that she portrays Native peoples in Ghost Hawk.
There are so many, that it will take a great while for me to address the questions I've raised in part one
, and typing up/uploading/addressing the questions I've got about part two, three, and four.
In part one, we met John Wakeley (he was five years old) when he and his father were visiting an Indian village to learn how to fish. John met Little Hawk (who was several years older than John) at that village. About five years later, John and his dad are chopping down a tree. It falls on John's dad. Little Hawk is nearby and tries to chop a branch to free John's dad, but is shot by a Pilgrim man who thinks Little Hawk was going to kill John.
In part two, the story is told by Little Hawk, but since he was killed at the end of part one, he tells the story as "a spirit" who can see past and present and understand any language, which is why he can tell us what happens to John in the rest of the book. Another important piece of information: As a spirit, he can choose to be seen and speak. In part one, he revealed himself to John and taught John how to speak the Wampanoag language (below, Cooper says "Pokanoket" but the Mashee Wampanoag use "Wampanoag" at their website
This scene is in chapter 11 of part two.
John is an adult and visiting Plymouth. Little Hawk (the ghost) tells us that there are lot of people in Plymouth, including several Indians. As John walks, he sees a large group of Pokanokets. A wagon comes down the street, and from the group, John sees a small boy run into the wagon's path, chasing a ball.
"Instinctively he dived forward to grab the child, and caught him just in time" (p. 248).
The child is whimpering, and John speaks to him softly in Pokanoket, "it's all right, don't be afraid, everything's all right." (p. 248).
I've got a lot of questions about that passage, but am focusing on one for this post. The child, according to Cooper, is called Trouble. A few pages later, John visits Yellow Feather/Massasoit's village and home. We learn that Trouble is Massasoit's youngest son, Metacom, or King Phillip.
In Cooper's story, a white person (John) has saved the life of a Native person (Metacom) who will become an important leader (King Philip).
That is a major liberty Cooper has taken in telling this story. She's made John Wakeley into a savior. Where would the Wampanoag's in her story be without him?!
Lest you think that Cooper is relating something factually accurate in that passage, I should also tell you that in her author's note, she says John Wakeley is a fictional character. Did a white person actually save Metacom's life? I'll be looking for that info. If you find it, submit it in a comment or send it to me by email.
In Cooper's story, John is so important that the Wampanoag people gather round to see him. Here's that passage:
Gradually the house filled with people eager for a sight of the white man who had saved Yellow Feather's son" (p. 261).
And later on when John leaves the village, people gather round again. One man holds his son up high overhead so he can see the Speaker. The images those two scenes bring to my mind are gross.
I know a lot of people (looking at you, Richie) love this book, but stop and think about WHY you love this story. Why is it tugging at your heart strings?
If you're a writer, don't create a character who rescues a Native person. No doubt that happened, but the larger picture is not one of benevolence.
If you're a reviewer and you read a book where that happens, point it out.
If you're a librarian or a teacher, don't buy books like this. If it is too late and you've already bought it, discuss what Cooper does. Or, see if you can get your money back. Write a letter to the publisher objecting to the story. If they hear from enough of us, hopefully they won't publish a book like this again.
Creating a character that saves Indian lives obscures the reality of what happened. Let's not hide reality. And let's not whitewash it, either.
Editor's note: Late last week, Curtis Acosta wrote to me, asking if I'd share his open letter regarding his work. I'm glad to do it. If you are completely new to what happened in Tucson last year, one place to start is with the chronological set of posts I wrote during that time. See the menu bar across the top of the blog? See the "Mexican American Studies" tab? Click on it. Read through the history and then come back to read Curtis's letter. In his email, he titled the letter "Next Steps."
May 30, 2013
Dear supporters, colleagues, and friends,
Last Thursday my career at Tucson High Magnet School came to an end. It was never supposed to be this way. I always believed that I would leave with a fully gray head of hair and thicker lens than those currently in my black frames. I imagined that there would be a legacy of former students who would take my place and would take our levels of success even further. Instead, I took down each poster and photo from my room with a deep sense of loss and the words of Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” in my mind. It was as if I was participating in self-ethnic cleansing. (A wonderful side note to this story is that Bob Diaz, a librarian at the University of Arizona has decided to create an archive of our classroom so that it can live on forever. Have I mentioned lately how much I love librarians?) However, the reality is that the room and the power of the space were lost far before the pictures came off the walls. This moment was fated as soon as Tucson Unified School District eliminated our highly successful Mexican American Studies program, banning my colleagues and I from our own curriculum and pedagogy, as well as boxing up books. Yet, I would like to thank my students, compañer@s, parents, and the local and national voices that supported us through these difficult years in building up my resiliency and resolve to stand up and never to submit to acts of education malpractice. Thus, I am happy to inform you all that a brighter day lies ahead. Yesterday, I held a local press conference announcing that through a partnership with Prescott College, Mexican American Studies lives on through Chican@ Literature, Art & Social Studies (CLASS) where high school youth will be receive free college credit. This is a class that was born from the injustices performed upon our students in Tucson and my indignation toward political opportunists using our students, literature, and history to create a wedge issue founded in hate for their own selfish means.
CLASS had a successful first year as a collection of 10 amazing youth sacrificed their Sunday afternoons throughout the entire year to rigorously study, analyze, and read the world together. It was a thirst of justice and knowledge that fueled them and they will soon be sharing their voice with the world at Free Minds, Free People in Chicago – a national education conference centered upon education for liberation and youth empowerment. However, our youth need financial help to attend, and although I am using the stipend from Prescott College to pay for part of the trip, it is still not enough. We would be humbled by any and all support and you can follow us now on Facebook
and donate through the following link: Xican@ Institute for Teaching and Organizing.
Along with CLASS expanding and continuing next fall, I am happy to announce that I have founded the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, an educational consulting firm that will continue the work that we started in Tucson throughout the nation. It is my vision to help teachers, schools, and educational organizations empower youth to find their own voice and academic identity through culturally responsive and engaging academic experiences. You can find more information on the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership through my website (http://latinolearning.com
) Facebook page.
I look forward to this next chapter of my career as I continue to be an advocate for public schools. After all, we know public education works. We’ve seen it successful time and again, and as teachers we are honored to be the guides and mentors of beautiful young people who will forge a better nation and world. By following the inspirational leadership of the powerful teachers, students, and parents in Seattle and Chicago, this devious trajectory to destroy public education will end. One day soon we will stop the obsession of measuring our children and teachers with corporate driven instruments aimed at eliminating all of the creative joy from public education. And this is why our work here in Tucson must continue, we must never comply to unjust laws and policies that dehumanize and degrade our children in any way. Let all the reformers be warned that we are aware of why you want to discredit our profession and the heights that we reach with our students every year. We are more than budding market place or real estate to redevelop, and we will not rest until our children are treated with more love and respect than the banks and corporations of this country. Trust teachers to work with their students, parents, and communities as true partners, support us with resources that our children deserve, and then watch the magic of learning take root and grow. I want to thank you all for your support through the years and truly believe that great victories lie ahead for communities of color, our students and public school throughout our nation. In Lak Ech (Tú eres mi otro yo / You are my other me), Chican@ Literature Teacher
On Monday, June 3rd, I received (from a colleague) an advanced reader copy of Susan Cooper's Ghost Hawk
. My thoughts, as I read, are in italics
Primarily a writer of fantasy, Cooper has a great deal of stature in children's literature. One of her books won the Newberry Award, and her series is much acclaimed. As such, she's got some built-in credibility for her writing and people will be eager to read Ghost Hawk. The question is, though, does she have the depth of knowledge, or did she do the research necessary, to give readers a book that doesn't lapse into stereotypes?
We'll see. Below, I am sharing my chapter-by-chapter notes for part one of the book. In some cases, I paused and did some research that I share right away. In some places, you'll see I'm still digging.
Ghost Hawk opens with two epigraphs. The first is from Roger Williams and is dated 1643. Williams tells not to be proudful because "thy brother Indian" was made by the same God that made the English. That Indian, the epigraph says, is just as wise, fair, and strong as the English man.
The second epigraph is a verse from Woodie Guthrie's song, This Land is Your Land.
Why, I wonder, did Cooper choose those two? It was, by the way, rather patronizing of Williams to assume that his God made Indians. How does he know it didn't happen the other way around, with the Indians god making the Englishmen?! And what is the rationale for choosing Guthrie? Was Cooper giving readers a heads-up with the Guthrie song, perhaps, that someone (Cooper?) thinks the land doesn't really belong to the Indians? Is she defending her right to own land? In the Author's Note, she writes that "Seven years ago I built a house on Little Hawk's island" where she "listened to the land, and to its past" and decided to write the book. What is the name of the island? Is it one that the Wampanoag people lost to land-hungry Europeans? Is its ownership contested today?
PART ONE: FREEZING MOON
Spring or summertime. A man approaches a small bitternut hickory tree and gives it "a respectful greeting and explained what he was about to do" (p. 6). Then, he puts a stone blade in the 'v' of two branches of a young hickory tree and tightly binds the two branches above the blade. Over time, the branches will fuse, enclosing the stone. This is the way that a man makes a tomahawk for his son. This particular blade is precious to the man because it was part of the tomahawk used by his grandfather and father until the handle broke. As he returns to his canoe, he uses his bow and kills three ducks for the feast celebrating the birth of his son. the closing words of the chapter are:
"I was that son. Because Flying Hawk was my father, the name they were giving me was Little Hawk" (p. 6).
My thoughts: I spent a few hours trying to find information about that technique of putting a stone blade in a tree, and so far... nothing about that, specifically. I did find an old text that describes how the branch of a young tree could be bent around a stone blade and then then the branch tied to itself beneath the blade. And, I learned that hickory is a very hard wood and because of that, it is a great for tool handles.
Regarding the names Cooper gave to her characters... How names are given is important, but rarely portrayed correctly. I don't know who the tribe is yet, so can't say much other than that Cooper's choice of Little Hawk fits within a mainstream expectation of how Native people give names.
Speaking to the tree also fits a mainstream expectation in which Native peoples live within an ethical framework in which they see themselves as part of a web of life rather than having dominion over the earth. While that ethic is valid, there's a tendency for writers to overdo it when they imagine living a life with that ethic as part of ones daily life. It is helpful to think of a character who is a devout Christian. That information could be established up front, and need not be reiterated on page after page.
Little Hawk is now eleven years old and his dad takes him out to the site of the hickory tree where he had bound that stone blade on the day of Little Hawk's birth. In the eleven years that passed, the two branches fused and became one, above the blade. Flying Hawk cuts the tree down. Before he does, though, he gives a pinch of tobacco to the tree's spirit, and Little Hawk says "Thank you, my brother" (p. 9).
My thoughts: This giving of tobacco... Some tribes use tobacco to make offerings, but would it be done before cutting down a tree? I don't know, but Cooper's use of tobacco and thanking the spirit of the tree definitely fits within a mainstream expectation of what Native people do/did. I initiated some discussion on child_lit about Ghost Hawk. Emails I got from Charlotte, in particular, are helpful in thinking about this aspect of Native spirituality. As I noted above, Native peoples see themselves as part of the world rather than dominant over it. That sensibility pervades life. Cooper, however (and many writers who over-do this spirituality) do it only in response to an act of taking. When they have a character taking something, they pack that taking with this "thank you, my brother" kind of activity and dialog. As Charlotte said, when that happens again and again, it takes on a caricature rather than a view of the world.
The tomahawk will be made by wintertime, when it will be time for Little Hawk to "be taken deep into the woods, blindfolded, for the three-month test of solitude that would turn me into a man" (p. 9).
My thoughts: Three months? Dead of winter? Eleven years old? I did several searches on various combinations of Wampanoag, manitou, boy, and vision. When I used "Wampanoag vision quest" I found a book by David J. Silverman called Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity, and Community Among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha's Vineyard, published in 2005. It has information that supports some of what Cooper says. Specifically, boys did vision quests at adolescence, but, I've traced Silverman's sources and am not finding a specific age or duration of this test. I'm also not finding any reference to a blindfold. I've sent emails asking for help on this three-month-test-of-solitude.
In their longhouse, Little Hawk's mom and sister are getting him ready to head out for that three-month test of solitude, which is also called his "proving time" (p. 10). His sister, Quickbird, is a tomboy. We learn that there are three other boys in the village who will also be sent out on this test. The other three are named Leaping Turtle, White Oak, and Spring Frog.
My thoughts: Names, again... I wonder (here I am being snarky) why these three boys don't have "little" in their names like Little Hawk does? Does the naming convention Cooper used for Flying/Little Hawk not apply to everyone?
Little Hawk's mom and sister plan to give him several items to take with him, but Flying Hawk glares at them. He is only supposed to take a boy, an axe, and a knife. With these things, he will "come back a man" (p. 14).
Little Hawk and his dad go to a sweat lodge where they "sit naked in the hot steam" (p. 15). Sometimes whole families go there to sweat out "the dirt on our bodies" but this time, it is just the men, and they're going to sweat out "the fears in our minds" (p. 15).
My thoughts: Sweat lodge as family bathing? I don't think I've seen THAT before! But---I'm checking on it.
The day after the sweat, Flying Hawk gives Little Hawk a knife with a metal blade. Such knives are rare. It was made by the white men. The three-month test of solitude starts out with Flying Hawk putting a blindfold on Little Hawk, and then handing him one end of a long deerskin strap. With the leash, Flying Hawk leads him into the forest for a long time (no mention of hours/distance) and then removes the blindfold, hugs him, and takes off. Because some snow has fallen already (it is early winter), they wear snowshoes.
My thoughts: The blindfold part of this whole thing adds to my skepticism of it being something anyone would actually do, especially to an eleven year old boy. Course, I need to do some research to see if I can find anything that supports what Cooper describes.
Alone in the forest, Little Hawk is not afraid. He likes to be alone. He remembers a story about him as a two-year old. He'd wandered off and people had looked for him all day. They found him beneath a maple tree they'd set up to tap its sap. He'd eaten the sap in the birch bark bucket and was waiting, mouth open beneath the tap, for more of the sap. "For some time after that I was called Little Maple, because--they said, making my poor mother cross--I had chosen to be suckled by a tree instead of a woman" (p. 21).
My thoughts: Changing his name, even in jest, as Cooper does here fits within the mainstream notion that Indian names are given based on something near in the proximity of the child. There's lot of crude and insensitive jokes about naming out there. Cooper isn't being insensitive but it is ignorant.
Little Hawk sets out walking. He promptly falls into a tangle of greenbrier vines and hurts his ankle. He makes a shelter beneath the vines and builds a fire. He is hungry, and remembers his grandmother, Suncatcher, teaching him how to dig roots. He thinks he'll dig greenbrier roots but then remembers he's supposed to be fasting. He decides to dig the roots up anyway and save them for later, when he can eat.
Little Hawk wakes, thinking of his grandmother. She is a member of the tribal council. She had not been home the day Little Hawk left because she was with his older sister, Southern, at the "women's house" (p. 27) where women go when they're menstruating (on page 12, Cooper called this "moontime bleeding.")
My thoughts: Some tribes use "moon" but "moontime bleeding" is not something I remember reading or hearing about. In my research so far, "moontime bleeding" pulls up New Age items.
Several days pass. Little Hawk gets hungrier and more tired, but he's got to fast until the Great Spirit sends his Manitou to him. One night he wakes in his shelter and finds that it is covered with deep snow. He is cold and scared and starts to cry, but since "a man does not show weakness, ever" (p. 32), he forces himself to howl instead, like a coyote. He falls into a "trance of despair" and in that state, his Manitou comes to him. It is an osprey, or, a fish hawk. It tells him to "stop this" (presumably the despair), and that it will show him his strength. Little Hawk flies into the sky with the osprey. As they fly, the osprey tells him many things "that I may not tell to you."
My thoughts: I so badly want to quit reading this book. Ah well. This is stoic-Indian for sure. Or, stoic-male!
Little Hawk wakes up, pushes the snow away, and sees a red-tailed hawk and knows that his Manitou sent that hawk and that he must follow it. It leads him to a pond, and, a deer trail.
Little Hawk waits for the deer to come by on the trail. He breaks his fast by chewing on pine bark. He cuts branches to make a bed in a little cave nearby the pond. In the cave he finds a cache of acorns and uses them to sets snares to catch squirrels. He cooks the greenbrier roots and eats them slowly. When he wakes up the next morning, there's a squirrel in his trap. He kills and eats it, working its hide for later use.
My thoughts: He doesn't do any kind of prayer for the squirrel. In fact, what he does think kind of flies in the face of a reverence for the earth and its creatures: "Perhaps I had caught him with one of his own acorns, but he would save me from starving" (p. 38).
He sees a lone wolf but manages to scare it away. Little Hawk is getting weaker without foot and then, he sees two deer. He wounds one and spends several hours tracking it. When he finds it, he sees that the lone wolf got to it first and is eating it. He yells at it, it turns on him, and he shoots it. It is wounded and takes off. Little Hawk gives thanks to the Great Spirit, his Manitou, and the spirit of the deer. He breaks the skull open with a rock so he can get the brain, which he'll use to tan the deerskin. He skins the deer, cuts off one of its legs, hauls the brain/skin/leg back to his cave and goes back for more meat.
That night at his cave, he is "very tired and very dirty" and thinks about the sweat lodge. He cleans up with snow, makes a fire, cooks some meat, and goes to sleep. Over the next few days, he understands that the squirrel and the deer and he himself have a "part in a long harmony of things, a balance" and that is why his people send the boys out on this "solitary voyage of learning" (p. 46).
One day when he's out, the wolf goes into the cave and eats Little Hawk's deer meat. He and the wolf fight. He kills the wolf but gets a deep gash on his face during the fight. He has to honor the wolf by burying it, which he does. He remembers one of his grandmother's bark remedies for cuts, finds some of it, and uses the squirrel skin and some sinew to make a bandage. He must find more food, too, so makes a hole in the frozen pond below his cave. His first catch is an eel. In pulling it out of the hole, his knife falls into the hole, gone forever.
A few days later he sees the stars dancing in the sky (something his father showed him) and interprets that as a sign that he should make ready to return home. He imagines his return, and then after awhile, heads home.
He runs into the center of the village but there is nobody around. He stumbles over a body (covered in snow) and then runs home. Inside, he finds his grandmother. She's weak, and tells him that the white man's sickness has killed everyone. Little Hawk figures out that the sickness was brought into the village by his father, who had traded with a white man for the knife he had given to Little Hawk. His grandmother grows stronger. One day, the flap door opens wide, and Leaping Turtle is there, wondering what has happened.
Little Hawk, Suncatcher, and Leaping Turtle live together. One day the boys see smoke to the west of them. There's a break in the smoke, followed by a puff of smoke, and then two more breaks/puffs. The people in the village to the west of them are using smoke signals to talk to them. "Three smokes--remember? It's the greeting for anyone who sees it. Three just means 'I am here'" (p. 83). They decide to respond. One puff means danger, two puffs means come, four means I am coming. They choose to send three smokes but get no response. Darkness falls and they return to the house.
My thoughts: Aha! Smoke signals! And these ones even have the code!!!!! You could interpret my use of many exclamation points as me alternately rolling my eyes and laughing aloud at how ridiculous this is. I'll look, though, to see if I can find some old sources that give that code... It will be useful to see what Cooper's source for this is. In the meantime, the National Museum of the American Indian has a book called
Do All Indians Live In Tipis. In it, there's a section on smoke signals.
Suncatcher thinks the two boys should go to that village without her. She can't make a journey because the cold had "done something bad to her feet" (p. 84). Little Hawk saw that the skin was very dark and tight.
My thoughts: Apparently, Suncatcher got frostbite before Little Hawk returned to the village. But, several days have passed by this point in the story. Wouldn't they be needing medical care? And, she's the one who knows how to do things... why is she not taking care of her feet?!
Little Hawk and Leaping Turtle decide to make a litter so they can carry her. They also decide to bury the body Little Hawk tripped over, which is that of Suncatchers brother, Morning Star, who was a medicine man. Before they start out for that village, however, three men from there arrive: Hunting Dog, Wolfchaser, and One Who Waits. One Who Waits is the sachem. They've built a new village and someone from Little Hawk's village is at the village, but they won't say who it is. When they all get there, Little Hawk sees that it is his little sister, Quickbird.
Quickbird recounts the last days in their village. Morning Star told her to go to the other village because "The gods are angry with our people here." Listening to her, Wolfchaser agrees about the gods being angry and thinks they should pray that the anger of the gods is satisfied.
My thoughts: Sounds like Christian theology... a god who punishes his people...
Suncatcher disagrees with the idea that angry gods would do this. She says the plague is from the white men and that it kills Indians, not white men. Wolfchaser thinks that perhaps the gods aren't angry with the white man. One Who Waits tells them that the white men came on a ship. Little Hawk remembers that he heard the story of this ship.
"South of here, not far from the Pokanoket village of Sowams, where our great sachem Yellow Feather lived, a trader from across the sea had invited a number of our people aboard his ship and suddenly, for no reason, had killed them all." (p. 94)
My thoughts: Finally! Cooper gives us the name of a tribe! Yellow Feather is Massasoit, but I'll need to do some research to see who that trader was. All this angry-gods stuff also fits within the mainstream expectations of a primitive people. These Indians think they've brought these troubles onto themselves. They're to blame.
In the weeks and months that follow their move to the new village, they hear a lot about the white men. The people in the village, including Spring Frog (he ended his test at their village rather than his own) work hard to build houses and get winter stores of food ready. Wolfchaser seems to be sweet on Quickbird. As time passes, they get ready for a deer drive. A deer drive is a technique in which deer are herded into an enclosure where they are more easily shot.
My thoughts: I never heard of a deer drive and will need to look it up.
As they wait for the drive to start, Little Hawk and Leaping Turtle talk with Wolfchaser. He tells them that his father (One Who Waits) has gone to Sowams because Yellow Feather has called all the sachems together. "Many white men have come in a big boat--not just traders, but whole families. Yellow Feather is not happy; he would like them to go away" (p. 99-101).
My thoughts: I've pulled up the transcript for "After the Mayflower" from the PBS We Shall Remain series. Its consultants are amongst the top Native and non-Native scholars in the country. Reading the transcript, I learned that there was a plague from 1617 to 1619 but that nobody knows what exactly it was. Historian Neal Salisbury says that sickness was usually interpreted as the invasion of hostile spiritual powers. Not---as Cooper tells us---as gods that are angry.
Wampanoags were especially devastated by this plague, and the Narragansetts, who did not get that plague, set upon them while they were vulnerable. In 1620, an English ship lands. On it is Miles Standish and many families. They enter Patuxet, an abandoned village that was hit hard by the plague. Colin Calloway says that the English think that God killed its inhabitants to make way for them (the English). Jill LePore says that Wampanoag's view this ship of people different than others because they've brought families, which means they're not there to make war. Through the winter, Massasoit watches the small group in the village they've called New Plymouth. He thinks they could be allies for them in their struggles against the Narragansetts.
The group stops talking about the white families when the deer come towards them. They kill 23 deer. The share for their village is 14. Swift Deer, who is in charge of the drive, cuts off the tongue and left hind foot of each deer as an offering. He calls out a prayer of thanks to Mother Earth and the deer spirit.
My thoughts: So.... what will they do with the other nine deer? And what is this business of cutting off the tongue and the left foot? Why the left foot???!!! Remember what I said earlier about exclamation points...
When they get back to the village, there's a traditional celebration of the hunt. They sing, dance, and eat. One Who Waits is back from meeting with Yellow Feather, and he seems uneasy. A few days later, One Who Waits is visiting Suncatcher. He tells Suncatcher and Little Hawk that Yellow Feather has decided to offer help and friendship to the white men, "now that our pleas to the spirits have not sent them away." One Who Waits also says that Yellow Feather does not enjoy war, and that the Wampanoag, weakened by the plague, are paying tribute to the Narragansetts. Little Hawk asks what the white man wants, and One Who Waits replies "I think our father Yellow Feather fears that they want the land" (p. 103).
My thoughts. So, their spirits are again leaving them hanging. Prayers unanswered, the only recourse is to make friends. Again---this praying stuff makes me very skeptical. But the history itself is correct. Massasoit did make that treaty, and the white man did want the land.
Springtime brings the fish run when herring, shad, and bass rush from the sea into the rivers to spawn. The villagers head to the streams. They catch so many fish that Quickbird complains that they all smell like fish and she can't wait to get back to the village and the sweat lodge to clean up.
My thoughts: Again---sweat as a way to get cleaned up? Gotta check on this. I was talking with Jean Mendoza about this, and she asked an obvious question. They were at the river! Why couldn't they get cleaned up there, in all that fresh running water?!
As they fish, the villagers see One Who Waits and Swift Deer walking from the camp towards the river with a group: "there were some strangers with them: an important-looking warrior wearing an ornate beaded headband with an eagle feather, and three others" (p. 106). Two are white men and one is a five year old boy. They gather round. "Swift Deer and Wolfchaser came forward to join us; Swift Deer was very wet, and shook himself like a dog" (p. 107).
My thoughts: Oops. That's a bit confusing. Swift Deer was in the river? Or in the camp? I'm thinking he was in the river and that's why he was wet. But... shaking like a dog to rid himself of the water?! COME ON, SUSAN COOPER!!!
One Who Waits calls out to the villagers "My sons! You remember the one they called Squanto?" (p. 108). Swift Deer and Wolfchaser greet offer greetings but Little Hawk detects uncertainty in their voices. Squanto is the important man wearing the beaded headband with a feather. One Who Waits goes on to tell them that Yellow Feather wants them to be helpful to the white men because "they are friends of our people. They are in care of Squanto, because he speaks their language" (p. 108). Little Hawk thinks Squanto "clearly knew he was somebody special" (p. 108). Squanto tells them the names of the Englishmen and that he has taught them how to catch eels and how to plant, but wants them to learn how to fish the fish run, so has brought them to watch and learn how to do it. Suncatcher steps forward with bowls of soup for Squanto and the Englishmen, but they decline her offer. Squanto tells them that "The white man is not good at eating our food" (p. 109).
My thoughts: Was Squanto dressed that way?! And, I wonder if Cooper is going to tell her readers why Squanto knows English? As the historical record shows, he was kidnapped and taken to Europe where he learned to speak English. He eventually made his way back, but his village (Patuxet) was gone. And, he was a troublemaker.
Wolfchaser demonstrates how they use woven mats to catch the fish. Squanto translates for the Englishmen. The little boy wanders off to Quickbird and two children that are with her. One of them shows him a toy and they start playing. Quickbird watches them and says "Look how different they are!" and "The same, but so different!" (p. 110).
My thoughts: Nice touch, to demonstrate the humanity in children, regardless of who they are.
Quickbird decides to teach the white boy their names. She takes his hand, points to herself, and says "Quick bird." Turtledove (one of the children) does the same thing, and "with some difficulty" the boy says "Turtle dove" and then "Bird."
My thoughts: I guess we ought to be, in our minds, thinking that the Wampanoags are speaking in their own language, and as such, it would be hard for the little white boy to enunciate turtledove or quickbird in the Wampanoag language. Without the actual use of those names in the story, that learning-of-names seems a bit odd to me.
The boy then taps his own chest and says "John." John then looks around and sees Little Hawk and the scar on his face (from the wolf attack). John reaches up to gently touch the scar. He wants to know Little Hawk's name. He listens to it, and then and says "Hawk."
Again---the use of English translations for their names rather than their names makes this learning of names awkward.
Quickbird has given Turtledove and Little Fox some pellets made from the boiled-down maple sap. Little Hawk gives some to John. John's father comes over, and Little Hawk detects a sour, unwashed smell about him. John points to Little Hawk and says "Hawk," and then Squanto comes over and leads them on their way. The villagers insist on giving them two baskets of fish.
In the sweat lodge where they've gone to get rid of the fish smell, One Who Waits tells Little Hawk, Wolfchaser, and Swift Dear that Squanto knows English "by living in their country. He and some others were carried there in a boat to become slaves, and he was there for some years before a white man from a different tribe brought him back again" (p. 112). When he got back, he found the plague had taken most of his village. He is "useful to Yellow Feather, because without him we could not talk to the white men" (p. 113).
My thoughts: Good to see that Cooper does tell her readers why Squanto knows English, but I don't know what to make of the white man from "a different tribe."
The fish they took is to be used as fertilizer for their corn. Swift Deer says that the corn they're going to plant was stolen from the Nausets. Wolfchaser says he'd heard the corn they took was from a village where the Nausets had all died of the plague. One Who Waits tells them its time to leave the sweat lodge so others can use it and get clean, too.
The new village grows as more families move to it. Little Hawk is glad of that because it means more children to scare crows, raccoons, woodchucks, and jays away from the fields. The children are taught that they must never kill Brother Crow "because it was his ancestor who brought mankind the corn and bean seeds in the first place, one seed in each of his ears" (p. 116).
My thoughts: Crows have ears? I really don't know much about birds. I need to see what I can find out about Wampanoag traditional stories about crows.
Little Hawk and Leaping Turtle return to the old village twice. Once to get a birchbark canoe they had made there the year before, and a second time to do Suncatcher's bidding, which was to dig "a memory hole" (p. 117) in honor of the people who died in the village. A memory hole "was a round hole about a foot deep, lined with stones, and now that it was there it would be kept open by generations of people to come. These memory holes were all over our land, on our trails; they were the record of the people who lived before us, and of what happened in their time" (p. 117).
My thoughts: Memory holes? I gotta look that up!
Bearclaw, a friend of Swift Deer's, has been keeping watch on a white settlement nearby the Massachusetts tribe. He's on his way to give Yellow Feather a report. The people in the settlement are not doing well and the Massachusetts are using some of them as laborers in exchange for food. One Who Waits asks Bearclaw to give his greetings to Yellow Feather and hopes that he is well, but Bearclaw says that Yellow Feather is not well.
All year long, the people have been talking about the treaty Yellow Feather made with the English. There is a lot of unrest. Disagreements abound, including ones Squanto incites between Yellow Feather and the English.
My thoughts: I recall that Squanto does this sort of thing... He's definitely an opportunist.
Leaping Turtle doesn't trust the white people, but Little Hawk has faith in Yellow Feather's wisdom. Winter comes and rumors prompt One Who Waits to call a council meeting. He tells them Yellow Feather had been sick, but was healed by a white man named Winslow. He also tells them about a white man named Standish who invited two Massachusetts warriors named Wituwamet and Pecksuot to eat with him, but that was a ruse. He killed them and three other men. One Who Waits reminds the people that they are aligned with the English, and that the Massachusetts and the Narragansetts have acted aggressively towards the Wampanoag. The English, he reminds them, are their friends, and he also says that the English know that the Wampanoag's are not the same as the Massachusetts and the Narragansetts. Swift Deer asks to speak. Reluctantly, One Who Waits lets him talk, and he tells the people that Standish beheaded Wituwamet and put his head on a pole at Patuxet. The people are upset but One Who Waits tells them that they should not seek war. In the silence, Suncatcher sings a song in which the lines tell Little Hawk to fly in peace. The meeting ends and they all leave.
Leaping Turtle and Little Hawk are chosen to be runners who will carry messages for Yellow Feather. They are now about 17 years old. On the way, they hear the sound of a tree falling, followed by screams. They race to the sounds and find that a white man had cut the tree and it fell on him.
Another white man is pinned. Little Hawk wants to help get the man out, especially when he realizes that the boy is John, now 10 years old. He raises his tomahawk to cut away at the tree to free the man. At that moment he is shot and killed.
My thoughts: That is how Little Hawk becomes Ghost Hawk!!! Naming! Again!
----end of part one---
On to part two, but, based on what I've read so far, I can't recommend Ghost Hawk.
"Ataatasiaq? Are you home?" Jake called as he walked into his grandfather's kitchen.
Jake is a young Inuit boy visiting his grandfather. He's not alone on this visit... He's brought his new puppy with him. As Jake turned around to bring the pup inside his grandpa's house, it ran back down the stairs. Jake called to it, but instead of running to Jake, the exuberant puppy ran under the porch. Jake gathered him in his arms and carried him inside. Exasperated, Jake says:
"He never listens, no matter how loud I yell. I called him Kamik because his fur looks like he's wearing a boot. I should have called him Bad Dog."
All three--Kamik, Jake, and his grandfather--are on the cover of Donald Uluadluak's delightful picture book, Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story:
Those of you who've had a new puppy will love reading more of Jake's frustrations, and, you'll definitely appreciate what his grandfather shares about dogs. We all know those commands, right, that we try/tried to teach our pups? Jake's grandfather does, too, but there's more to it:
"In order to train a good dog, you have to build trust with the dog, living with it every day and teaching it through how you behave and how you treat it. I spent a lot of time with my dogs. It was more like building a good friendship than raising an animal. Eventually they start to understand you and you start to understand them."
You can probably find words similar to that in most dog-training books but Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story
delivers its instructions in a specific context. That context is an Inuit way of life. As Jake's grandfather talks about dogs, he shares a lot about his own life and why his dogs were important to him. As we (readers) turn each page, we learn about Inuit culture, and we learn some Inuit words, too. Uluadluak gives us those words and their meanings with such ease that we may not even realize we're learning. Take, for example, the first sentence in the book. It's the one I opened with, above. As you read it, you learned that 'aatasuaq' means grandfather.
Let me list what I love about the story, and why I think you ought to get it for your library:
It is about a kid with a new pet. How many of your patrons are kids with a new pet who could use some training advice in the form of a picture book?
You're interested in diversifying your collection, right? Kamik
is a huge plus in that effort, because its tribally specific (names the tribe rather than the generic/problematic 'American Indian'), and because its set in the present day (if you read my site, you know I push for your assistance in helping children know that---contrary to popular misconceptions---Indigenous people didn't vanish; we're part of the 21st century, too!).
Staying within the 'diversifying your collection' mode, its by a Native author. Books by Native authors let you (in your book talk) provide your patrons with an additional bit of info by pointing out where that tribe is, and where it was (if it was moved from its homelands). In this case, the author an Inuit elder from Arviat, Nunavut.
And last---its just plain fun! Read it aloud. You'll like reading it aloud, and your patrons will like it, too. You'll also like Qin Leng's illustrations. They're full of life. Here's the top of the back cover. See what I mean?Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story
was published in 2012 by Inhabit Media
. Order it from your favorite independent bookseller.
|Design by John LeMasney via lemasney.com|
Launched by Liz Burns (she blogs at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
at School Library Journal
), Kelly Jensen (she blogs at Stacked
), and Sophie Brookover (she's over at Sophibiblio
), Show Me The Awesome
is a month-long series in May of 2013 in which people in library land write a post that promotes something about their work that they're especially proud of.
I began my post on Thursday (May 30), but storms that made their way across the nation interrupted me by messing with my electricity and the trees in my back yard, too. So, I'm loading my contribution to Show Me The Awesome
today (June 1, 2013)
The storms, in their own way, mark what I try to do with American Indians in Children's Literature, and with my lectures and publications. Storms uproot trees. They change the landscape.
In significant ways, the landscape of children's literature changes organically, as society changes. There are exceptions, of course, and that's what is at the heart of my work.
I've been working in children's literature since the early 1990s. I started publishing American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) in 2006. It has steadily garnered a reputation as the place that teachers and librarians can go for help in learning how to discern the good from the bad in the ways that American Indians are portrayed in children's books. People who sit on award committees and major authors, too, write to me. So do editors at the children's literature review journals, and, editors at major publishing houses.
Right now, I'm very proud to have played a role in getting a certain book published. That book is Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here
. Its publisher is Scholastic, and its editor is Cheryl Klein. It is due out in a few weeks. In it, you'll read this in the acknowledgements:
Nyah-wheh to Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo) and her essential work at American Indians in Children's Literature for her courage, kindness, activism, and generosity, and for introducing me to my editor at Arthur A. Levine. Thank you to Cheryl Klein, that very editor, for actively seeking out indigenous writers, and investing in my work over the long haul.
The introduction took place over email a few years ago. Once it was made, I was out of the picture. I wondered, though, if the introduction would bear fruit. And when I learned a book was in the works, I wondered what it was about. Would I like it? Would I be able to recommend it? Now, I know. With Eric's book in my hands, I can Show YOU The Awesome.
THIS IS THE AWESOME:
My essay about why it is awesome is here: What I Like about Eric Gansworth's IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE.
Years ago, illustrator James Ransome was asked (at a conference at the Cooperative Center for Children's Books at the University of Wisconsin) why he hadn't illustrated any books about American Indians. He replied that he 'hadn't held their babies." I've written about his remark several times because it beautifully captures so much.
Lot of people write about (or illustrate) American Indians without having held our babies. They end up giving us the superficial or the artificial. They mean well, but, we don't need superficial or artificial, either. We need the awesomes. Yeah--I know--'awesomes' isn't a legitimate word, but I'm using it anyway. We have some
awesomes. I've written about them on AICL, but we need more
awesomes. Lots more, so that we can change the landscape.
Won't you join me in promoting
Awesome Books about American Indians?
Order Eric's book, and those I mark as 'Recommended' on AICL. You could also check out the short lists (by grade level) at the top of the right-hand column of AICL. Join me. Let's change the landscape together.
You know how kids can be cruel? Cruel kids are the opening for this novel. A group of cruel boys is throwing rocks at a dog that belongs to the headmaster of their ritzy private school in Massachusetts. Barney Pennimen, the novel's protagonist, isn't quit the bully the others are and yells at them to stop. They don't, of course. Their cruelty ends when a guy named Snowy charges through the bushes and helps the dog. The gang hopes Snowy, who has lost his glasses at that point, can't tell who they are. Course, the gang of boys is caught.
As you may have noted, the title of this post is "Not-Recommended" (and as you can see, I've put a 'not recommended' banner over the cover). As you read about the cruel boys, you might think that is why I've given it a not-recommended tag, but that's not why I'm giving it a thumbs down...Through the Hidden Door
was first published in 1987. It was a nominee for a prestigious award. I've read reviews online in several places, but haven't seen a single reference to the fact that Wells incorporates quite a bit of information about American Indians in the first chapters, let alone reference to the errors and biased information about American Indians in those chapters.
Through the Hidden Door
is now available in e-book format, which is why I'm writing about it today, and because it is an e-book, I can't give definitive page numbers for the quotes I use below. I'm reading a copy of the e-book that I got from NetGalley
Like I said, the boys get caught because Snowy heard Barney yelling. Barney is called to the headmaster's office. His name is Finney. While there, Barney sees an "Indian mask with a horsehair mustache" and wonders if it is real. As the son of an antique dealer, Barney knows a lot about old things.
Part of Barney's punishment is to write long research reports in the library (kind of twisted, eh?). Snowy is there every day, doing research, too, but not due to punishment... He's doing research on a bone that is "no bigger than a joint on one of his fingers." Snowy is trying to figure out what kind of bone it is.
Snowy shows the bone to Finney, who sends it off to the University of Massachusetts for testing. Turns out, it is over 50,000 years old! Who or what it came from is unknown. Finney thinks Indians carved it for some kind of ritual.
Snowy finds out where the bone came from - a cave. By the time he takes Barney to the cave, he's moved in with Finney, but he hasn't told Finney much.
Once they descend into that cave, they find a tiny set of marble stairs, "each no more than half an inch high and two inches wide." Barney says:
"It must have been an Indian toy, a game, maybe an Indian ritual of some kind... Just like Mr. Finney and the guy at U. Mass. said. Maybe it's what kept the squaws busy when the braves were away hunting. Maybe they made sort of architectural models of things before they built them full scale."
Squaws? Braves?! Both those terms are problematic because far too many people use them instead of women or men. Read that sentence again, substituting women for squaws and men for braves. It might seem inconsequential, but it goes a long way to humanizing American Indians. Words like squaw and brave only summon stereotypical images that frame Indian people as not-like-us-white-people. While there are differences, one fundamental similarity is that we are all human beings. It seems silly, doesn't it, to have to assert that fact, but for me---that is a starting point. So many children's books describe Native people in derogatory and animalistic ways. Too many have illustrations that show Native people in animalistic poses.
"Except Mr. Finney told me about the Indians who lived here before the white man came. They were Mohicans. They built wigwams. Nothing like this."
The boys decide they have to dig to find out more. After many days of digging they find two stone figures that are almost two feet tall, tiles that form a miniature road, and carved markers along that road. Barney makes a rubbing of the carving on one of the markers.
By the time we get to chapter ten, Barney decides he's got to ask Finney about Indians who "were here long ago." Finney says there were:
Wampanoags, some Mohicans from the north. None of the more famous tribes like the Apaches or the Mohawks. These were peaceful people. They were hunters. They grew some corn, and they were set upon and lost everything to our white ancestors. That was a great shame because they were far ahead of our ancestors in some ways. They were not greedy, and they did not make war. It was the end of them. Our ancestors were greedy, and did make war, and that will be the end of us."
Did you notice all the past tense verbs in what Finney said? I sure did, and I'm guessing that any Wampanoags who read the book will notice them, too! We can also read what Finney says as anti-capitalism, which is fine by me, but "the end of them" is definitely incorrect. There are two federally recognized Wampanoag nations: the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe
, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
Barney asks Finney if the Indians wrote, and Finney unloads more misinformation:
"No. They did some painting. Animals on hides. But no native North Americans had written language whatsoever. They didn't need it. [Finney puffs on his pipe and then continues.] They didn't trade."
Finney is wrong about trade amongst American Indians and he's wrong about written forms of communication, too. He goes on to talk a bit about clay tablets, and that people learned to keep accounts, write history, etc. because of business. He says:
"The original occupants of this continent did not trade in volume, in other words run businesses like the Egyptians or the Greeks. They never started any written languages whatsoever, although some Missouri Mound Builders came very close."
Barney asks whether or not they did any stone carvings, and Finney says that other civilizations did that, but not Indians. Is Finney (Rosemary Wells?) really that ignorant?! Barney asks about roads, and Finney says:
"Roads! No! What on earth would they need roads for? They didn't have wheeled vehicles. No regular going from town to town. No towns."
Sheesh! The more Finney says, the more his ignorance shows! Or, should we say arrogance! When Barney shows him the rubbing, Finney says
"This has nothing to do with Native American history, early, late, or in between. They did not make this. They did not know about roads. And this is a primitive language, hieroglyphics..."
The reference to hieroglyphics is the turning point for what Snowy and Barney have been exploring in that cave. Can't be made by primitive Indians, Wells tells us. She's wrong about all of that. The depth of her stereotyping is seen in the next part.
Finney points to the curly hair of the figure in the rubbing and says:
"This man or god has a curly beard. Every American Indian ever born had hair as straight as a die."
Imagine me sighing. Deeply sighing. As the synopsis for the book says, the boys find artifacts buried for centuries. And because of the character of the artifacts, Finney can't imagine them being created by American Indians. So---at this point---the story veers sharply away from anything at all to do with American Indians.
Readers are left with incorrect and stereotypical information. With this book, Wells has merely affirmed misinformation. Through the Hidden Door
was first published in 1988. It came to my attention because it is now available as an e-book. Given the factually incorrect information, I do not recommend it. Spend your library resources on something else.
America--or any nation--celebrates moments and events in its history that show that nation in a good light. Noting those moments is important, but so is noting that there is not a single story within any nation. Not everyone celebrates those same moments. Some people have a different view of those moments.
Take, for example, the celebration of United States Bicentennial. In the opening pages of his If I Ever Get Out of Here, Eric Gansworth's protagonist looks down the street at his elementary school. He imagines teachers getting ready to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial, and notes that the teachers would be puzzled that the celebrations would not be a priority on the reservation.
Knowing that Gansworth pokes at that celebration might turn you off. You might think that his book is an anti-American screed.
It also isn't one of those 'eat your veggies' kind of books...
It is, however, a rare but honest look at culture and how people with vastly different upbringings and identities can clash. And dance. And laugh. Gansworth informs readers about cultural difference, but he doesn't beat anyone up as he does it.
Gansworth's novel is told in three parts. Here's my thoughts on Part 1, Chapter 1. I've got lots of notes on the rest of the book and will share them later.
Part 1 – If I Ever Get Out of Here
Do you remember the photo on the album sleeve for Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run? A group of people, clad in black, is standing and crouched in front of a brick wall. Caught in a spotlight, they are ‘on the run.’
That album cover is the inspiration for Gansworth’s graphic introduction to part one of his novel, but Gansworth’s group is facing the wall. What, I wondered, does that suggest to us about his novel?
Of course, each reader will answer that question in a different way, based on what he or she brings to the reading itself. Our baggage, so to speak, impacts how we read.
The image is provocative. So are the people we meet when we start reading part one. In the first chapter, Gansworth introduces us to key people in the story, telling us just enough about them to know how they'll figure in this story about a Native kid named Lewis and his friendship with George. He's the son of a guy in the Air Force. George is not Native. In fact, George's mother is German, which adds a lot to the story.
Meet Lewis Blake. He’s a smart kid. He lives on the Tuscarora Reservation. He’s just about to start seventh grade in one of the “brainiacs” sections set aside for the above-average kids.
As the only Native kid in the brainiac classes the year before, Lewis had been lonely.
The teasing ways he made friends at the reservation school didn’t work when he tried them out with the white kids in his class at the middle school. He thinks he might have a better year if he cuts the braid he has worn since second grade and tries harder to fit in. He enlists the help of Carson, a Native kid he’s known all his life, but Carson’s cousin, Tami—who doesn’t know tribal ways—takes the scissors and makes the cut before Lewis and Carson have tied off both ends in the way such cuts are customarily done.
Dejected, Lewis leaves Carson’s house and walks home.
On the way home, he passes the reservation’s elementary school, where the teachers are getting ready to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial. Lewis thinks about how the families on the reservation aren’t impressed by the 200th birthday of the United States, with good reason! “[W]e’d been here for a lot longer than two hundred years" (p. 5). He thinks back to third grade, when his teacher asked him to demonstrate his fluency with the Tuscarora language at Indian Culture Night. The memory is packed with conflicting emotions. Lewis was happy at the recognition, but history made his mom cynical. She is dismissive of the event and the motivations for it, too.
I understand her cynicism.
Lot of people think educational programming at schools can help tribes recover what was lost in the boarding school period, when the educational policy was to ‘kill the Indian,’ to ‘save the man.’ Erase their culture, that is, and replace it with ‘the man’ who happens to be the white
mom is right to be cynical. Teachers in reservation schools and elsewhere have good intentions, but for those of us who have lost language and culture, it is going to take a lot more than Indian Nights at school to recover language and traditions. Too much of what is done to address treatment of American Indians in law, policy, and education--is a band-aid that just won't work. Lewis is fortunate that he knows more than most, but his mom asks, with whom is he going to speak Tuscarora? Other kids on the reservation don’t know it… Deftly and succinctly, Gansworth is hinting that we've got a long way to go in the U.S., with regard to the well-being of American Indians.
While giving us a lot of information about American Indians, Gansworth also taps into our love of music.
While he was at Carson’s house, Lewis spied a guitar. He longed to pick it up, but Carson won’t let him.
That guitar echoes what the book title, and the chapter titles tell us, too: music is a significant part of Lewis’s life. When he gets home, we have another reference to music when his older brother takes one look at his shorn hair and says that Lewis looks like David Bowie on a bad night. Reading that made me laugh out loud. I love Bowie's music. The persona and images he puts forth are always mesmerizing. I'm sure you've got your favorite Bowie pic and song!
The title for each chapter in the book is the title of a song. At the end of the book, Gansworth provides a discography, which is way cool, but even better than that is knowing he's going to have that discography online!
Facts of life: being in the armed service, being poor
On seeing Lewis's bad haircut, his mom gives him a buzz cut, which introduces us to another significant thread: military service. Lewis’s uncle, Albert, was in Viet Nam. He remembers getting a buzz cut, too. Albert lives with them, sharing a room with Lewis. They have a strong relationship that figures prominently several times in the novel. And remember, too, that the relationship at the heart of this novel is between a Native kid and a kid whose father is in the Air Force.
Last thing to note about the first chapter is that after Lewis’s mom gives him the buzz cut, she says he looks like a Welfare Indian. He replies that they are, in fact, Welfare Indians. As you read, you’ll learn about how poor they are in material things, and how that poverty plays into Lewis’s thinking and experiences as he develops a friendship with the son of a serviceman from the local air force base. And, you'll learn that things like poverty itself is a relative term. People can look like they live in poverty, but there's more to life than things.
Oh. One more thing before I hit 'upload' on this post: Lewis loves comic books.
So, what do I like about the novel?
Within children's literature, there's a metaphor about how literature can be a mirror or a window. For some readers, the novel is a mirror of the reader's own life. For another reader, the novel is a window by which the first reader can peer in and see what someone else's life is like. Gansworth's debut novel is more than a mirror or a window.
Reading If I Ever Get Out of Here, I sometimes felt it was a mirror. As a Native kid meeting non-Native kids from really different communities than my own, I identified with the things Lewis went through.
But as a Pueblo Indian woman who grew up on a reservation in northern New Mexico, the novel was more than a window onto the life of a Native family on a reservation hundreds of miles from my own. With his writing, Gansworth brought me inside Lewis's home and heart. Does that mean it was a door that I entered? I don't know.
Certainly, the music played a part in how he managed to bring me inside. As I read his book, the songs in it played in my head, and when I hear those songs now, on the radio, I'm back in Gansworth's novel. As research studies show, music is a powerful thing. It taps into a part of us, makes us feel things, and know things...
That's what Gansworth's novel does. I feel and know things I didn't feel or know before. That's what I like about If I Ever Get Out of Here. Thanks, Eric. Thanks, Cheryl, Thanks, Arthur. And thanks, Scholastic, for getting this book in our hands.
Update: 12:20 PM, Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Praise for Gansworth's novel:
On the cover of the ARC (advanced reader copy), Francisco X. Stork
says: "The beauty of this novel lies in the powerful friendship between two young men who are so externally different and so internally similar. Wonderful, inspiring, and real."
Online, Cynthia Leitich Smith
writes that it is a "heart-healing, moccasins-on-the-ground story of music, family and friendship."
I was in Washington D.C. last week. When I'm there, I try to get over to Busboys and Poets and check out the books they have in the bookstore. Deborah Menkart of Teaching for Change was with me and snapped this photo of me holding up Richard Van Camp's Little You. His words, partnered with Julie Flett's art, make for a spectacular board book.
As I browsed the Children's book section, I saw several books I adore on their shelves. I took photos of them.
Tim Tingle's Crossing Bok Chitto
are in the picture books section. So is Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer
but my photo of it was far too blurry to use here. On the shelves with books for older children, I spotted Louise Erdrich's The Game of Silence
, and Smith's Indian Shoes.
And on the shelf where the board books are, is Richard Van Camp's Little You.
Here's my cropped snapshots of them:
I gotta say---I was tickled as can be to see all these books! In one place! And there were others, too. Many others. They were featuring Diverse Energies,
which includes a story by Cherokee author, Daniel H. Wilson:
If you're in Washington D.C., put a trip to Busboys and Poets on your list of places to go. While there, buy some books and have something to eat. If you can't get there, visit the website
and... buy some books that way.
Very soon, they'll have Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here
Course, I focused on books by Native authors, but they've got a wide range of books by a wide range of authors whose books fit the theme of social justice. Stop by! Check out their website! Support independent bookstores! And always--support social justice.
While I'm working on my review essay about Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here
, here's what Cynthia Leitich Smith had to say about it:"[If I Ever Get Out of Here is] A heart-healing, mocs-on-the-ground story of music, family and friendship." -- Cynthia Leitich Smith
I put her comment in large print because Gansworth's novel is exceptional. I highly recommend it. And, Cynthia--who is Muscogee Creek* and an award-winning and acclaimed author herself--writes Cynsations,
one of the top blogs in children's literature. Her thumbs up is significant. Pre-order your copy of If I Ever Get Out of Here today
If you're looking for accurate, authentic, kick-ass literature by a Native author, Gansworth is Onondaga
.* He is new to YA literature. If you read Native literature, you may recognize his name because he's written several terrific books and stories... His Extra Indians
got a starred review from Publisher's Weekly.
*Smith, Gansworth, and myself (Debbie Reese) are all tribally enrolled with our respective tribal nations.
An individual responsible for curriculum in a Wisconsin school district wrote to ask me about The Broken Blade, by William Durbin.
Durbin's book is about a 13-year-old boy named Pierre. He lives in Montreal in 1800. His dad gets hurt and Pierre decides to join the North West fur trading company, which means he'll paddle 2400 miles to Grand Portage. The book is about his experiences going to and from Grand Portage.
There's only a few passages about American Indians in Durbin's book.
In some places, Indians are made out to be savages, but the narrative does not provide us with any context. Why, for example, would the Indians be fighting white settlers? Just because Indians are savages and that is what they do?! Or, is it because they were defending their families and land from encroachment? Without that context, and without foreknowledge about that period of time or a Native view of that time period, the reader is left with blood thirsty, less-than-human, men who murder white men. We know--right?!--that the reality was far more complex than that..
A couple of other things to note:
On page 124-125, Pierre is surprised at the attire of an Ojibwe chief (as described by Durbin, which may or may not be accurate). Pierre expected a chief to wear a headdress and buffalo robes. This chief is (for the most part) wearing Western clothing. One thing that gives me pause is that the story is set in the 1800s. Would a kid at that time period even have that stereotypical image of chiefs in his head? Maybe, but to me it sounds a bit more like something a kid of the present day would say.
More troubling, though, is the part of the story (page 130-131) where an Ojibwa family member has been killed. His family is gathered round, "drinking and crying." One woman is pouring rum into the dead man's mouth. When Pierre asks why, he is told that "Maybe they think the dead are just as fond or rum as the living." The entire scene strikes me as stereotypical drunk-Indian stuff... "firewater" and all that...
These concerns are enough for me to suggest that it not be used in a school curriculum anywhere.
Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat is a much acclaimed book. When published in 1989, it was hailed as groundbreaking, primarily for its inclusion of a gay teen relationship. I had not read it until a few days ago. While I agree that its LGBTQ content was something to celebrate, that content is overshadowed by Block's depiction of Weetzie as someone who is "into Indians." To demonstrate being "into Indians," Weetzie makes and wears headdresses for herself and later, for her baby.
Pink Smog, published in 2012, is set in the years prior to Weetzie Bat. Over a decade had elapsed since Weetzie Bat was published. I'd hoped that Pink Smog might give us the back story for why Weetzie was "into Indians" but what I got instead was more problematic content. In Pink Smog, Block called Cher (the singer) an "Indian American." That is problematic because, to my knowledge, Cher herself never said she was "Indian American." Perhaps Block meant "American Indian" but I don't know that Cher ever said she was Native, either. Surely Block knows there is a difference between "Indian American" and "American Indian."
Two days ago, I read Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys. I've got post-it notes sticking out all over because its got a lot more Native content than Weetzie Bat or Pink Smog.
Characters in the book are:
- Cherokee Bat, daughter of Weetzie Bat and My Secret Agent Lover Man, Dirk, and Duck (yeah, it is never clear who the father is... Weetzie slept with all three)
- Raphael, son of Weetzie's friends. Raphael's dad is a Rastafarian named Valentine Jah-Love and Raphael's mom is a Chinese woman named Ping Chong
- Witch Baby, daughter of My Secret Agent Lover Man is half-sister to Cherokee.
- Angel Juan (more about him later)
In Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys
, high-schoolers Cherokee and her peers are living alone while their parents are out of the country, making a movie.
has five chapters: Wings, Haunches, Horns, Hooves, and Home. Each chapter is prefaced with a poem (I use that word with some trepidation because Native expressions such as these are not necessarily poems) and a personal letter by, or to, Cherokee. Each poem is credited to Native people. On the page opposite the dedication (front of the book), Block tells us that one of the poems came from Ruth Underhill's Singing for Power: The Song Magic of the Papago Indians of Southern Arizona
and the others came from John Bierhorst's In the Trail of the Wind.
(Note: I haven't studied Underhill or Bierhorsts books and can't say that I'd recommend them.)
The Wings chapter begins with "Wind Song" credited as "Pima Indian."
The Haunches chapter begins with "Song of Encouragement" credited as "Papago Indian."
The Horns chapter begins with "Song of the Fallen Deer" credited as "Pima Indian."
The Hooves chapter begins with "Omen" credited as "Aztec Indian."
The Home chapter begins with "Dream Song" credited as "Wintu Indian."
I provide those details because Block provided them.
It seems to me that Block knew it is important to be specific.... to be tribally
specific in how she presented the poems.
Seeing her attention to that detail makes me wonder where that attention went when she developed the character of Coyote, an "Indian" man who figures prominently in Cherokee Bat.
A friend of Cherokee's parents, he is, more-or-less, supposed to keep an eye on Cherokee while her parents are gone. On the hill where his house is located, Coyote chants, dances, and does ceremonies. And, he's got powers.
But what tribe does Coyote belong to?!
Block doesn't tell us. Coyote does all sorts of "Indian" things---or at least the sort of "Indian" things that new-age folks do. New age practices are highly suspect and pretty soundly denounced by Native people who view new age practices as misguided appropriation of Native spiritualities.
Let's take a closer look at Coyote.
On page 16, Cherokee goes to him for help. Witch Baby (her half-sister) is burying herself in mud. It isn't clear to me why she is doing that, but clearly, she is not well. Coyote and Cherokee stand together chanting:
"Wind, bring us the feathers that birds no longer need," Coyote chanted. "Hawk and dove. Tarred feathers of the gull. Shimmer peacock plumes. Jewel green of parrots and other kept birds. Witch Baby needs help leaving the mud."
The wind picks up, full of feathers. Cherokee gathers them and Coyote tells her to make wings for Witch Baby. She makes the wings and plans to give them to Witch Baby at her birthday party. They make salsa and hang pinatas all over but Witch Baby won't come out of the shack she's hiding in, covered with mud. Suddenly, "Angel Juan" enters the party:
He was carrying a bass guitar and was dressed in baggy black pants, a white shirt buttoned to the collar and thick black shoes.
Angel Juan is an old friend they lost track of years before. Raphael asks where he's been:
"Mexico," said Angel Juan. "I've been playing music there since my family and I were sent back."
While I'm glad that Block acknowledges the experience of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, I think her writing is very superficial. Mexicans/Mexican Americans and American Indians are superficially and stereotypically present in her books. I think I could say the same about Rastafarians and Chinese.
Using that content in that way is precisely what makes it possible for some people to think they're knowledgeable about 'other,' when they aren't. It is what makes it possible for people to embrace and honor American Indians with stereotypical mascots. It is what makes it possible for people to think it is cool to have Tacos and Tequila parties where they don sombreros, eat tortilla chips, and drink margaritas.
Block has a legion of fans, many of whom came to her through the Weetzie Bat books. They're vehement in their defense of her work. Maybe they're guilty of the same sort of ignorance about other that she displays in her work. Maybe her depictions mirror theirs, and my criticism of her depictions is taken (as it should be) as a criticism of their ignorance.
As I said before, I understand that Weetzie Bat
was important because of its inclusion of a gay relationship, but I can't see myself recommending the books to anyone. They are an affront to people whose culture is stereotyped. Left unchecked, they reify and affirm those stereotypes as valid depictions of the people who they misrepresent.
Here's some other gems (not) from the book:
At Christmas, Witch Baby and Cherokee decorated a tree:
with feathers, beads, and miniature globes; Kachina, Barbie, and Japanese baby dolls; and Mexican skeletons.
Their gifts from Coyote?
"Indian birth charts for everyone--Cherokee the deer, Witch Baby the raven, Raphael and Angel Juan the elks.
WTF is an Indian birth chart?!
"Coyote told me about Indian women who fell in love with men because of their flute playing and got nosebleeds when they heard the music because they were so excited," Cherokee said.
Cherokee goes running with Coyote:
She glanced over at his profile--the proud nose, the flat dreamy eyelids, the trail of blue-black hair.
Here's more info about Coyote:
Coyote was tall. He never smiled. He had chosen to live alone, to work and mourn and see visions, in a nest above the smog. The animals came to him when he spoke their names. He was full of grace, wisdom and mystery. He had seen his people die, wasted on their lost lands.
Wait wait wait... is he one of those last surviving Indians? The last of his tribe? (I'm being snarky.) And what the f*** is that last bit about?
"My people are great runners, Cherokee. They go on ritual runs. Before these they abstain from eating fatty meat and from sexual relations. These things can drain us."
Another WTF moment. WHO ARE HIS PEOPLE? Without the info, there's little to do with regard to verifying the prep for "ritual runs."
And towards the end, things have gotten so bad with Cherokee and the Goat Guys that Coyote has to help them out with a "healing circle" where they say their names out loud "so that our ancestor spirits will come and join us" (p. 108). They do this by candlelight. Then, they do "sacred dances" in which Coyote jumps into the air and plays his drum. They join him, jumping and leaping as high as they can. And then! Then Coyote tells them they have to "dance our animal spirit" (p. 109). Coyote crouched, hunched his shoulders... his eyes flash and his face becomes lean and secretive. The others change, too. Ravens fly, deer prance, and "obsidian elks" dream.
NO COMMENT. I'M DONE WITH THIS BOOK.
A few days ago, I wrote about Francesca Lia Block's now-classic Weetzie Bat. Although I appreciate that the gay relationship in it was groundbreaking in 1989 when it was published, I can't--and won't--move past Block's portrayal of American Indians. Or, I should say, her MISportrayal of Native culture.
I started reading Pink Smog this evening. Ping Smog is new. Published in 2012, it is billed as a prequel to Weetzie Bat. It is about Weetzie in junior high school in L.A. It is easier to read than Weetzie Bat, which is filled with oddly named characters right away. I stumbled each time I had to read and write out the name of Weetzie's boyfriend, My Secret Agent Lover Man.
Imagine me on my couch, reading Pink Smog.
Now, imagine me reading at the top of page 27, where Weetzie is talking about Cher:
Sometimes she'd be an Indian American with feathers, straddling a horse, and sometimes she'd be a showgirl with feathers.
Now imagine me rolling my eyes.
Indian American? Really?! Surely Block knows that "Indian American" is commonly used to refer to Indians from India who live in the United States and identify as Indian and American!
Ok, well, maybe she does NOT know that... Maybe it isn't that widely known. But what about her editor? Doesn't her editor know the difference?
Based on the excerpts of Editorial Reviews on the Amazon page, people think Pink Smog
is "intoxicating" and "sparkles." Obviously it does for some people, but for me--a Native reader--the "Indian American" shatters anything I might call sparkly about the story. And I'm guessing that Indian American readers might have that same feeling of being yanked out of the story by the author's ignorance.
Just for kicks, here's Cher in the feathers, on the horse:
Do I want to look up Cher's identity? Is she Native? I don't think so, but I'm calling it a night. Not looking up Cher.
I read Pink Smog
thinking that it might shed some light on why Weetzie is "into Indians" (in Weetzie Bat)
, but other than the reference to Cher, the "Indian American," there's nothing about Native people or culture.
Next up? I've got copies of Baby BeBop
and Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys...
What will I find in them?
Years ago I started reading Weetzie Bat but put it down, in part, because of these passages in the first few pages of the first chapter (note: To write this post, I read an e-book that doesn't provide page numbers):
Sometimes she wore Levi's with white-suede fringe sewn down the legs and a feathered Indian headdress...
'She' is Weetzie Bat. Her friend, Dirk, who has "chiseled" features compliments her outfit:
Weetzie was wearing her feathered headdress and her moccasins and a pink fringed mini dress.
"Thanks. I made it," she said, snapping her strawberry bubble gum. "I'm into Indians," she said. "They were here first and we treated them like shit."
"Yeah," Dirk said, touching his Mohawk.
was published in 1989 and won several awards. Reading it today, what comes to mind is the hipster culture of the last few years and its appropriation of Native culture. While writing up this review, I did an image search of "Weetzie Bat." In the grid of images I got (using Google image search), the first image in the second row I got is this one:
The source for the photo is a Weetzie Bat blog post
at an art blog, A Beautiful Party
. Dated September 16, 2010, the post is about a screenplay of Weetzie Bat
and the photo is of someone playing the part of Weetzie Bat. If I didn't know it was from Weetzie Bat, I would have thought "dang hipsters!" because I've seen a lot of photos of hipsters in headdresses, in feathered earrings, fringed clothing, or moccasins. Reading Weetzie Bat
now, I wonder if it might have played a role in the 1990s emergence of hipsters and their appropriation of Native culture.
What, I wonder, was Block thinking about when she brought Native culture into her book? What did it mean to her or Weetzie Bat to say "I'm into Indians"?!
In my read of Weetzie Bat
there is nothing to suggest that Block knew she was, in effect, having her characters embrace stereotypical "knowledge" about American Indians (what she does with Jamaican's gives me pause, too, but I'll stay on topic).
In the chapter titled "Jah-Love," Weetzie meets the guy who will be her boyfriend. His name is My Secret Agent Lover Man (quirky names are everywhere in the book). He makes films of her doing things, like "having a pow-wow." We aren't told what she was doing, so we don't know "having a pow-wow" means. That chapter closes with this:
And so Weetzie and My Secret Agent Lover Man and Dirk and Duck and Slinkster Dog and Fifi's canaries lived happily ever after in their silly-sand-topped house in the land of skating hamburgers and flying toupees and Jah-Love blonde Indians.
Duck is Dirk's boyfriend. Slinkster Dog is Weetzie's dog. "Jah-Love" is, I think, short for Jamaica love but I don't know what to make of it beyond that. There are, of course, blonde Indians, but the ones in Weetzie Bat
are playing Indian--and doing it in stereotypical ways.
Early in the chapter "Weetzie Wants a Baby," Weetzie, My Secret Agent Lover Man, Dirk, and Duck, have finished their third film. It is called Coyote.
In it, Weetzie is
a rancher's daughter who falls in love with a young Indian named Coyote and ends up helping him defend his land against her father and the rest of the town. They had filmed Coyote on an Indian reservation in New Mexico. Weetzie grew her hair out, and she wore Levi's and snaky cowboy boots and turquoise. Dirt and Duck played her angry brothers...
It is no surprise that the film makes some money for them. In the story--as in real life--white people defending and rescuing Indians from whites is a sure-fire hit.
Weetzie, as the chapter title tells us, wants a baby. My Secret Agent Lover Man isn't at all interested in having a baby. He thinks the world is too messed up to bring a child into. While he's away for a few weeks, Weetzie, Dirk, and Duck decide they want a baby together. They climb into bed together and Weetzie ends up pregnant. My Secret Agent Lover Man returns, isn't happy with her decision to get pregnant, and leaves. When the baby is born, Weetzie, Dirt, and Duck decide to name the baby "Cherokee." There's no explanation for why they choose Cherokee. All we know is that they considered these names: Sweet, Fifi, Duckling, Hamachi, Teddi, and, Lambie.
At the end of the chapter, My Secret Agent Lover Man comes back. He gazes at Cherokee and asks who her father is. Weetzie says that she's got high cheekbones like Dirk, and blonde hair like Duck, but that her eyes and lips are like his.
Ah, yes. high cheekbones like Dirk. Remember---he's the guy with the Mohawk.
The last line in the chapter is:
Cherokee looked like a three-dad baby, like a peach, like a tiny moccasin, like a girl love-warrior who would grow up to wear feathers and run swift and silent through the L.A. canyons.
What does a tiny moccasin look like when you're talking about a baby?! I know the book was/is much loved but--the stereotypical othering aside--the style doesn't work for me.
In the chapter, "Chapter: Shangri-L.A.," My Secret Agent Lover Man is making another movie. This one is called Shangri-L.A. Weetzie stars in it. She wears strapless dresses and rhinestones. And,
She made fringed baby clothes and feathered headdresses for Cherokee...
Sheesh! Now there's headdresses for this baby girl?!
They can't figure out an ending for the movie, so My Secret Agent Lover Man suggests Weetzie visit her dad in New York to see if he has any ideas. While there, he takes them shopping and buys Cherokee a Pink Panther doll at F.A.O. Schwarz.
If you're buying a doll at F.A.O. Schwarz---well, if you're even INSIDE that store, you're of a certain income level. Even though Weetzie's source of money is never mentioned, the things they do suggests there's plenty of it.
While in NY, Weetzie thinks her dad isn't well. Soon after Weetzie goes back to L.A., he dies, and Weetzie struggles with her grief:
Grief is not something you know if you grow up wearing feathers with a Charlie Chaplin boyfriend, a love-child papoose, a witch baby, a Dirk and a Duck, a Slinkster Dog, and a movie to dance in.
Wearing feathers. That's what Weetzie does. Nowhere do we get any sense that she (or Block) know much about the many distinctions amongst Native peoples. With the use of "papoose" we see more of that ignorance. Papoose is the word for baby in ONE language. It is not THE Indian word for papoose. With over 500 federally recognized Native Nations, there are hundreds of languages, too. The Cherokee word for baby, by the way, is not papoose.
Cat Yampbell, in "Judging a Book by Its Cover: Publishing Trends in Young Adult Literature"
(The Lion and the Unicorn,
The text of Weetzie Bat celebrates those who are torn from society, individuals who find each other and find happiness outside of the box that society defines as the norm.
Michael Cart, in "What a Wonderful World: Notes on the Evolution of GLBTQ Literature for Young Adults
" (The ALAN Review,
31(2)), calls it a classic of gay fiction, and says:
its largehearted embrace of every aspect of the workings of the human heart, it demonstrates, with art and innovation, that love is love, regardless of what society chooses to label it.
Though I've not done an exhaustive look, I'm unable (thus far) to find any critical essays in which the stereotyping of American Indians is discussed. The book is much celebrated for its affirmation of people who are "outside the box" and/or gay, but I wouldn't hand it to a Native child who was outside the norm or gay. I can't elevate one part of who they are and slam another part of their identity at the same time.
Granted, some Native readers would breeze past it and shrug it off, but not all would do that, and I wonder, too, about the readers (like Yampbell? Cart?) who didn't comment on the stereotyping. Did they not see it because it reflects their "knowledge" of American Indians? Or, did they deem that content insignificant? And what does it mean to decide that one culture is insignificant?
Thinking about those questions is ironic, given what Weetzie said at the top of the story. "I'm into Indians. They were here first and we treated them like shit." Does Block realize that she's doing the same thing?
Honoring or being "into" anyone in a superficial way is, in my view, treating them like shit because it is lazy. It allows a feel-good moment to stand in for real learning, real understanding, and meaningful action that would make the world we all live in, a better world.
In doing the research for this post, I read that Block has a new book out--a prequel to Weetzie Bat. I'll pick it up next time I'm at the library.Update, Monday May 6, 2013, 8:06 PM
See my take on Pink Smog,
the prequel to Weetzie Bat
, published in 2012.Update, Friday May 10, 10:00 AM
See my essay on Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys,
published in 1993.
De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children
is a new blog, just launched a few days ago. De Colores
is moderated by Beverly Slapin. Several of her reviews have been published here, on AICL. I've just begun looking it over, but already see that teachers and librarians will find it useful.
Cinco de Mayo is coming up. Many schools will have some sort of event, but, what do we really know about Cinco de Mayo? I suggest you read Sudie Hofmann's essay, "Rethinking El Cinco de Mayo
" and incorporate what she says into your planning for next year.
Are you looking for books about Sonia Sotomayor? At De Colores
, there's a tab for books about her
. There are additional tabs for El Dia de los Muertos, La Llorona, Cesar Chavez, and Cinderella.
Among the contributors to De Colores
is Lyn-Miller Lachmann. Check out her review of Under the Mesquite.
I'll be following De Colores
because it and AICL overlap in terms of Indigenous peoples of the southwest.
And welcome, contributors and collaborators at De Colores
to the blogosphere! We need critical voices and reviews like yours.Update, 9:43 AM, May 3rd 2013
I tweeted De Colores
and want to share a twitter endorsement from Curtis Acosta. He was featured in several stories here on AICL in 2012 as AICL reported on the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies
program in Tucson Unified School District.
I'll also take a moment to suggest you take a look at the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership
. There are times when I feel pessimistic about the attacks on public education and social justice. Knowing there are people like Curtis Acosta out there lifts my pessimism.
Does your library have Luci Tapahonso's Blue Horses Rush In on your YA or adult fiction or poetry shelves?
Is her Songs of Shiprock Fair
on your picture book shelves?
If they're not, order them next time you're buying books. By coincidence or design, the rich covers of Blue Horses Rush In
and Songs of Shiprock Fair
convey the depth and brilliance of Tapahonso's writing. She writes from experience. Tapahonso is Dine (Navajo). She grew up in Shiprock, New Mexico. You can bet that the poems you read in Songs of Shiprock Fair
are rooted in her actually being there--not once, or twice, but many times. She went to school at the University of New Mexico. One of my favorite stories in Blue Horses Rush In
is about being a student at UNM. I went to UNM, too. I completely 'get' that story.
Tapahonso's writing has received many awards, but recognition from ones immediate community is, perhaps, the most meaningful. Tapahonso has been named as the Navajo Nation's first Poet Laureate. With affirmation from her tribal nation, you know your purchase of her books is a good choice.
Spring mornings! Many of us get out of bed and feel a surge of joy at hearing birds sing and seeing the sun rise on budding trees.
With the spring sunshine streaming across the yard outside my window, Paul Windsor's Good Morning World
is the perfect board book to read this morning. Windsor is Haisla
(First Nations, Canada). On the back cover, he tells us:
When I was younger, I would wake up and hollar "Good Morning World!" It helped to awaken my spirit and release good energy and humour. This was the spirit behind this book: a sense of humour with a free style. The painting in this book reflect my memory and experiences of time spent on our land, and a deep connection to our traditions. Each piece offers respect and love for the animals, plants and insects, with the sun as the main character. Each sun represents the ancestors of the characters depicted on the page.
Here's the page where his main character is the sun:
I can imagine reading the book aloud to a group of children and inviting them to read it aloud, too, with me. On the next page, we greet bears, who are fishing in the river. On the next, eagles, soaring high in the sky. And then salmon, swimming up the stream. There are whales playing and singing in a pod, too, and a beaver building its dam.
Each page has a bit of info about the animal and what it does, lyrically told and beautifully illustrated. Teachers and librarians will get a lot of mileage out of this book! It calls attention to the world around us, and it provides an opportunity to tell children a little bit about Windsor's art, and the Haisla and Heiltsuk people.
Published in 2012 by Native Northwest
, I recommend you order it for your classroom, if you teach young children. If you're a librarian, I recommend ordering several copies. Seems to me that early childhood teachers might all be wanting it in the springtime.
Dear Teachers and Homeschooling Parents,
Many art project books for use in classrooms include a section on making Native masks. One example is Laurie Carlson's More Than Moccasins: A Kid's Activity Guide to Traditional North American Indian Life. It has instructions for making "Hopi masks." A search of the Internet will show you a great many kid art projects in which they make what they call Native masks.
However well-intentioned mask making activities may be, we all need to understand that it is inappropriate to make them.
Masks made by Native peoples are not art. They have a purpose within a religious context. They are used in religious contexts. Creating them and viewing them as art miseducates everyone and leads to cases like the following.
As I write (April 12, 2013),
masks "katsina friends" (see note at end) originating with the Hopi Tribe are being auctioned in Paris as works of art. The tribe asked that the auction be delayed or stopped completely but the request was denied by a judge there.
The person who "owns" the
masks katsina friends collected them here, in the United States. Who he acquired them from is unknown, but we--teachers and librarians--can provide students with information that can interrupt the cycle of misinformation that frames sacred Native artifacts as art rather than the religious items that they are. Native peoples, our religions, our artifacts and our traditional stories should receive the same respect that Christianity or other world religions do.
Instead of making "Hopi masks," educate students about them and their significance within Native cultures. And, encourage students to put their knowledge to use. They could, for example, write to Ms. Carlson or her publisher!
If you're wondering about art projects you can do, take a look at Arlene Hirschfelder and Yvonne Wakim Dennis's A Kid's Guide to Native American History: More than 50 Activities. The activities in it are ones that aren't religious or spiritual in nature.
Please share this letter with fellow teachers and parents, and let me know if you have any questions.
Note (added at 2:21 PM on April 12, 2013): My use of the word "masks" to describe what is being auctioned in France is incorrect. "Masks" is the default word for them, but as described here, the correct English phrase for them is katsina friends. It means they are not items, but beings. Remarks by the auctioneer and New York collector during the auction are infuriating. See the news report: As protestors jeer, Hopi masks sell in Paris.
Update, Friday, April 12, 3:30 PM
Statement from Chairman Shingoitewa of the Hopi Tribe:
“We are deeply saddened and disheartened by this ruling in the French courts that allowed the auction to be held on Friday. It is sad to think that the French will allow the Hopi Tribe to suffer through the same cultural and religious thefts, denigrations and exploitations they experienced in the 1940s. Would there be outrage if Holocaust artifacts, Papal heirlooms or Quranic manuscripts were going up for sale on Friday to the highest bidder? I think so. Given the importance of these ceremonial objects to Hopi religion, you can understand why Hopis regard this – or any sale -- as sacrilege, and why we regard an auction not as homage but as a desecration to our religion. Our Tribal Council will now convene to determine the Hopi Tribe’s next steps in this shameful saga."
Editor's Note: A few weeks ago, I gave an online lecture (via Skype) to the Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums (TLAM) class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, School of Library and Information Science. Here's a description of TLAM from their website:
In its fifth year at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS), TLAM is an experimental project to bring indigenous information topics to LIS education through service-learning, networking, and resource sharing with Wisconsin’s tribal cultural institutions. The TLAM Project currently encompasses a graduate topics course; the Convening Culture Keepers mini-conference series for Wisconsin tribal librarians, archivists, and museum curators; numerous community engagement projects with our partners; and a brand new TLAM Student Group.Today's post on AICL is by Katelyn Martens, a student in the TLAM class. Published on the TLAM blog, I'm pleased to be able to share it here, too. Thanks, Katelyn! And check out her post about Sherman Alexie, too.
“Indigenous Knowledge & Children’s Literature”*
Think about the types of children’s books you grew up reading. Were American Indians present? What did you learn about them? Was it factual or a misrepresentation? How did you know?
On Thursday, TLAM had the pleasure of chatting with Debbie Reese, a respected educator who is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Debbie is an advocate for authentic American Indian children’s literature, which led her to launch the American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) blog in 2006. Through AICL, she challenges the all-too-common misrepresentation of American Indians in children’s literature and helps educators, librarians, and the general public find good materials.
|Debbie highly recommends JINGLE DANCER|
While Debbie shared her thoughts on sovereignty, sacred spaces, and politics, it was the issue of authenticity that I connected with the most. As a future school librarian, my goal is to have a well-balanced collection with titles that give students accurate, authentic representations of American Indian communities. To do that, though, especially with limited budgets, it’s essential that we all seek out reviews from respected, knowledgeable sources. AICL is a great place to start!
It’s especially important because, as Debbie noted, many books harbor “micro aggressions,” stereotypes that the majority culture may not even acknowledge but harm others. Clifford’s Halloween
by Norman Bridwell (1986) is an example. Not only does Clifford wear a large headdress of feathers, he appears to be smoking a “peace pipe” and wears a serious expression. This image conveys many stereotypes to children, including that “Indians” are something to dress up as rather than people living in contemporary societies, working at contemporary professions, and living amongst the general American public.
It’s through librarian and educators in alliance with American Indian communities that we can present contemporary images, truthful histories, and well-researched stories to our young people. I’ll make a concerted effort to align my book choices with her suggestions.
Thank you, Debbie, for taking the time to share your knowledge with us!
Debbie’s recommendations on what to look for in children’s literature:
- Books giving information in contemporary society
- Tribally specific texts
- Books affirming American Indian cultures – these must be well researched
She suggests that librarians and educators should:
- Know at least one nation in-depth through reading and research
- Visit tribal websites with children in order to learn about their everyday lives
- Speak up for great children’s books so they stay in print
- Speak out on problematic texts in order to promote better alternatives
*Disclaimer: All personal opinions are my own and do not represent all members of the TLAM class, TLAM student group, Debbie Reese, or other affiliated parties.
It is no surprise to anyone that a majority of UIUC students voted yes last week "in support of Chief Illiniwek as the official symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign."
The outcome of the vote reflects the lack of leadership at the university. When the mascot ("symbol" if you prefer) was retired in 2007, the university failed to fully address the ignorance that kept it in place for so long.
Instead of calling it a race-based or racist or stereotypical mascot, they blamed the NCAA for its end, saying they were ending it due to the NCAA policy about these mascots.
Instead of instituting broad campus-based educational efforts to help students and alums learn what is wrong with such mascots, they did nothing.
Instead of making a clean break with it, they let it live on in the hearts and minds of students and alums by way of the "Three In One..."
Pre 2007, when the mascot danced, it did so to a piece of music called the "Three In One." It has Hollywood "Indian" music that people mistakenly associate with American Indians. Post-retirement, that music was/is still played at halftime of basketball and football games. Fans solemnly rise when that music starts, and they cross their arms in front of them like the mascot did,
and they imagine the mascot doing its dance on the court/field. As with the mascot, they speak of how this behavior "honors" American Indians. Someday, some of them will look back on all of this, and feel a bit embarrassed.
Students and alum ought to feel indignant that an institution of higher learning allowed/allows ignorance to go unchecked. I believe the people who created that mascot meant well. I believe they and most of those who embrace that mascot today really mean to honor American Indians, but the way they're doing it is wrong. So wrong, in fact, that the two tribal nations the pro-chief group tried to get support from, issued statements condemning it. So have local and national Native associations and organizations. The American Indian Studies program at Illinois has several pages
of information about it.
Rather than revere a stereotyped romantic image, students and grads can do something meaningful, like learning about why the Violence Against Women Act
is important to us, or why Native people don't want the Keystone Pipeline
on our lands.
Fans could spend time studying misrepresentations of American Indians that they've seen since early childhood, too. It starts with dressing up as Indians for birthday parties and Halloween:
and continues through the play-Indian activities done at summer camps and by young men in the Order of the Arrow.
Seeing all of it from a critical vantage point can help fans understand why they embrace the mascot. Reading research studies on stereotypes, racism and bias can help fans develop their understanding of the origins and impacts of stereotypes.
Learning to think critically can help fans become informed allies of American Indians as we are
, not as fans imagine us to be. I believe people must own their own ignorance, but I'm also aware that learning can't happen in a vacuum. The university has done nothing about that vacuum. It is a shame, and it reflects poorly on an institution of higher learning.
The current chancellor, Phyllis Wise, issued a statement
letting students know that their referendum will not bring the mascot back, but she must do much more to help students and grads move past their current state of ignorance.
Native Writers: Voices of Power by Kim Sagafus and Lyle Ernest is part of the Native Trailblazers Series published by 7th Generation Native Voices. Here's the cover:
And here's an excerpt from the Introduction that I do not remember seeing before in a book meant for young readers:
There have been entirely too many falsehoods and myths written about the Native people of the United States and Canada. The depiction of Native people depends entirely on the writer's perspective. For example, a 1704 French and Indian raid on colonial settlers in the village of Deerfield, Massachusetts, was described as a massacre, whereas the annihilation of a village of sleeping Cheyenne Indians in 1864 was celebrated as a victory over "hostiles." Both are examples of the European American historical perspective, which has also been prevalent in movies, making Hollywood one of the biggest sources of distorted facts and stereotypes about Indians.
Teachers and librarians who use this book to do author studies... make sure you spend time with that intro! If you're into contests, challenges, or research investigations, you might ask students to look for examples of biased language.
Those of you familiar with Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie will recognize their photos on the cover. There is a chapter for both of them. I'm sure you've got their books, but you ought to have books by the other others, too. They are:
Joseph Boyden, Ojibwe
N. Scott Momaday, Kiowa and Cherokee
Marilyn Dumont, Cree and Metis
Tomson Highway, Cree
Joseph Bruchac, Abenaki
Maria Campbell, Metis
Nicola Campbell, Interior Salish of Nle7Kepmx and Msilx/Metis
Tim Tingle, Choctaw
For each author, there's several pages of biographical information, followed by a list of "Selected Works" and Awards. The works range from children's books to those for adult readers, but the audience isn't included, so you'll want to make sure you do a bit of research before ordering to make sure the book will work for your classroom or library. Though Native Writers
is what is called "a slim volume" (just over 90 pages), it is packed with info. I highly recommend it, but don't assume it is complete... To the authors it includes, I'd add Cynthia Leitich Smith and Richard Van Camp. Both are at the very top of my lists.Order it directly from 7th Generation
Editor's Update, 6:30 PM on April 10, 2013: Mary sent me text and scans of three pages of Roger Mouse's Wish. I've inserted that material. Thanks, Mary!
Earlier today (April 10, 2013), reader Mary C. wrote to tell me about Roger Mouse's Wish
. It is a Tiny Golden Book. I'm going to add these tiny books to my "find out more..." list! I'm pretty sure that I've seen them. Tiny is right... they measure 3 inches by 2 inches.
According to James Fox at the Simmons blog
, all the books were written by Dorothy Kunhardt and illustrated by Garth Williams, and published around 1948. Here's the back and front cover for Roger Mouse's Wish:
Due to limits on how much of a text someone can use without getting permission of the publisher, I'm telling you what the book is about (based on what Mary sent me) and including a few excerpts. There are three characters: Roger Mouse, Mr. Mouse (his father) and Mrs. Mouse (his mother).
One day, Roger Mouse asks his mother for a blanket. He spreads it on a card table in their living room. He crawls under the card table and then hears his mother tell his father that she remembers how much fun she had playing house. Roger replies:
I'm not playing house," said Roger's voice. "I'm an Indian. This is my tepee."
The next day is Roger's birthday. There's a birthday cake for him. Mr. Mouse tells him to make a wish, and Mrs. Mouse tells him not to tell anyone what he wished for because it might not come true. Roger makes his wish and blows out the candles, and Mr. Mouse tells him there's a present for him "in front of his tepee." Here's that page:
The present, he exclaims is an "Indian suit!" He's quite happy and tries it on:
Wearing his Indian suit, he asks his father if he can tell his wish. His dad thinks it won't hurt, so he does:
As you can see, his wish was for an Indian suit.
That was a popular wish around that time...
Leo Politi, author of the flawed, award winning Song of the Swallows
also wanted an Indian suit. He got one, too, as described in his 1951 book, Little Leo:
Lot of playing Indian going around then... and years before then... and sadly, in the years since then, too!
Kunhardt is the author of Pat the Bunny
and a gross book called Brave Mr. Buckingham,
in which a guy dresses up like an Indian, and page by page, loses body parts until all that's left is his head. In a headdress. Williams did the illustrations for a whole slew of books including the Indians in Little House on the Prairie.
I've looked and looked but can't find any illustrations of the inside of Roger Mouse's Wish. If you have a copy, please let me know! I'd like to know more about the story and see more of the illustrations. Thanks!
A great big thanks, Mary, for letting me know about the book, and then for taking time to type out the text and scan those pages! By the way, Mary wrote to me in response to an update to my post about the stereotypes in Little Golden Books. If you want to see them, here's the link: Stereotypes in Little Golden Books
Several weeks ago, Jo, (she's married to my cousin, Steve) wrote on my Facebook wall (in a comment to my post there about Peggy Parrish's Let's Be Indians) to tell me about Joan Walsh Anglund's The Brave Cowboy.
I found a few of these older books at the thrift store one day; they were about a little boy who likes to dress up like a cowboy. I thumbed through Cowboy and his Friend, all about the little boy and his friend Bear and the adventures they have together. Very cute and harmless so I thought what the heck and got them. I read it to the boys and it was great so we started to read the next one, The Brave Cowboy. I don't know why I didn't flip through it first. The second page of the book shows him ready to shoot the scary half naked Indian. I quickly closed it and told the boys we couldn't read it and put it away. A little further in the book it shows him ready to shoot a large number "wild Indians in his territory." We still have it. Steve said we should keep it and send it to you.
A few days later, Jo wrote again to tell me:
My six year old picked up the book the other day and read it. When she was finished she was shaking her head and I asked her what she thought about it. She told me she didn't really like it. I asked her why and she said she was confused about the little cowboy shooting the Indians. It was an interesting moment for me to try to find the right words to talk to her about the pictures in the book.
Reading what Jo said, I got a copy of the book from the University of Illinois library, but it didn't have the pages Jo described. The copy I got has a publication year of 2000. The one she had, which she sent to me, is 1959. The publisher is Harcourt, Brace and Company.
Here's the first page with Indians:
In the 2000 copy I had, the third line of text is different. Instead of "not afraid of Indians," the boy is "not afraid of mountain lions." The Indian is gone from the illustration (replaced by another ornery rustler) and a mountain lion has been added:
And here's the next page on which Indians appear. The text is "Or, maybe he would hunt wild Indians that might be in the territory...":
In the 2000 version, the brave cowboy hunts bank robbers instead of "wild Indians."
The day draws to a close and the brave cowboy "settled down to dream the dreams of all good cowboys" which includes dreaming about Indians:
As I wrote this post, my thoughts turned again and again to the current national discussion on gun control. I doubt that The Brave Cowboy would get republished again, and in my opinion, I think that's a good thing. Kids playing with guns? Even in a story, it's frightening.
Returning to the stereotyping in the 1959 copy of The Brave Cowboy, Jo, Steve, and their kids. First, the children in their home are lucky to have Jo and Steve. They're readers who read critically. They're teaching their children to do that, too. Second, Anglund's book is clearly one that has been updated to remove stereotyping. Third, I wish a note about that sort of updating was noted somewhere in the book. Fourth, I hope the book goes out of print and stays out of print.
Thanks, Jo, for letting me know about this book.
For those of you looking for Oyate's review of Neil Philip's The Great Circle: A History of the First Nations
, it is available at the Internet Archive
, also known as the Wayback Machine. To use it, you simply enter the URL for the site you're looking for in the search box and press "Take Me Back." You'll be provided with a calendar that shows what dates/years the site (in this case, Oyate) was archived. Click on an older date and you'll find older versions of the site.
I entered "Oyate.org" in the search box and then clicked on a 2007 date. I was then able to go into the site and find the "Books to Avoid" page and then the review of The Great Circle.
Here's the link:The Great Circle: A History of the First NationsThe Great Circle
was published in 2006 by Clarion Books.
A few years ago, Oyate
decided the "Books to Avoid
" section of their website was not helpful. They wrote:
As longtime visitors to our site have noticed, we discontinued our popular “Books to Avoid” section. Our Mission is to educate, and for that reason we have decided not to merely post a list of “books to avoid,” but rather to expose our readers to the criteria we use to differentiate between books, so that you too can learn how to identify books to avoid.
We know it might seem more efficient for the reader to have us “tell you the answer,” but that does not feel like a liberating approach to education. Supporting others to develop the critical thinking skills needed to discern what about a book is appropriate and inappropriate better serves our mission and our supporters.
Those of you who used that page know that the "Books to Avoid" page was not just a list of books. Clicking on each title took you to an in-depth critique of the book. In my view, the reviews provided readers with examples of what the application of critical thinking skills looks like.
Deciding to--or not to--use or buy any book is always left up to the individual making the decision. The reviews in the "Books to Avoid" section enhanced critical thinking skills. Perhaps it was the title of the section that they deemed problematic. If you look at reviews at Goodreads or Amazon, those that get one star are similar to "Books to Avoid," but I can imagine that some read "Books to Avoid" as an attempt to censor.
From time to time I'll provide additional inks to the reviews at the Internet Archive. This one is here because a reader wrote to ask me for help in finding that review.
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Many times on AICL and in lectures, I've said that I wish I'd had Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer back in the early 90s when my daughter danced for the first time. In Smith's book, we see a little girl getting ready to do the Jingle Dance for the first time. I have that same wish about Gerald Dawavendewa's The Butterfly Dance.
My grandfather, Rex Calvert, was Hopi. He met my grandmother, Emilia Martinez of Ohkay Owingeh (formerly known as San Juan Pueblo), when they were students at Santa Fe Indian School. They were married in 1922. Their marriage aside, the Hopi people of Arizona and the Pueblo people of New Mexico are similar in significant spiritual and cultural ways. For both those reasons, when I look at the cover of Dawavendewa's book, several things catch my eye. I see myself and family in the characters Dawavendewa depicts, in their clothing and their actions.
On the first page of The Butterfly Dance
, we read:
Today is a special day. I wake up extra early because this is the day of the Butterfly Dance.
My name is Sihumana, which means Flower Maiden. My aunt gave me that name in a special naming ceremony when I was just a baby. Now I am twelve years old, and today I will be part of the Butterfly Dance, helping to celebrate our family and bring gentle rains for the flowers and plants that will make everyone happy.
The illustration for that page shows a sleepy Sihumana. It reminds me of my daughter, Liz, waking up early on feast day, and of Hayle, my niece, too. Like Sihumana, they yawn (and yawned--Liz is no longer a child) as they'd come awake to get ready for the day of dance.
In a straightforward way, Dawavendewa tells his readers about the practical side of being Hopi. On dance day, you have to get up early. In the days prior to it, you have to go to the kiva for several nights and learn, relearn, or remember the dance and its song.
He also gives us a look at the oral tradition in action. By that, I mean the pages on which Sihumana's Kwa'a (grandfather) teaches her about the dance and its significance. He talks a bit about clans, too. And, the notes at the end of the book tell us that the Butterfly Dance is primarily a social dance. As such, it can be filmed or photographed. Here's a video of the dance:
Dawavendewa's notes provide readers with additional information about the Hopi people, and for that reason, teachers will find The Butterfly Dance
especially useful in this era of the Common Core, in their efforts to add nonfiction titles to their teaching collections.
An additional bit of info that makes his work intriguing is the note that one of his artworks, "Earthbundle" that was aboard the Endeavor
in 1994. The gallery, South West South
, has a print of it, and explanation:
This print is from an original Dawavendewa painting created on white buckskin that went aboard the Space Shuttle 'Endeavour' in 1994. In the center is the Sun - Taawa. Above the sun are the symbols of the Earth, the Fourth world to the Hopi, and below the moon. Radiating from the sun are markings representing the Milky Way. Within the stars are corn plants, a symbol of the four directions. All are encompassed by a rainbow- a symbol of life. Placed with the Earth Bundle was a Paaho, a prayer feather for the blessings and prayers for the Astronauts journey.
Dawavendewa is enrolled at Hopi. Visit his website
to learn more about him and his work, and get a copy
of the book from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.