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John Smelcer's Stealing Indians is due out in August of this year (2016) from Leapfrog Press. Having read it, I'll start by saying that I do not recommend it.
Scholars who study boarding schools for Native children report that there was a wide range of experiences at the schools. Those who write about it take care in what they say about the schools. Today, they touch our lives, through the stories we hear from our elders, or from our own experiences in them, or from what we lost because of them.
Here's the opening preface to Boarding School Blues: Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences, published in 2006, edited by Cliffford E. Trafzer, Jean A. Keller, and Lorene Sisquoc (Kindle Locations 30-36):
The American Indian boarding school experience left an indelible mark on the history of the United States and Canada, and only recently have we tried to understand the significance of the schools in the lives of students, teachers, administrators, and Indian communities. Perhaps we have waited so long for this scholarly examination because of the difficulties involved in addressing the dramatic impact of the boarding schools on the lives of so many people. For some American Indian students, the pain they suffered inhibits our intrusion into their lives. For other students, their boarding school days were filled with fond memories, sometimes mixed with melancholy, sometimes with humor. Understanding the many and varied levels of the boarding school experience is a complex business. No single interpretation of this experience exists today or ever will. Native American students and their parents viewed the schools in many different ways. Oral and written accounts by Indian students and non-Indians involved at the schools are extremely diverse. Historian Tsianina Lomawaima recently wrote to the editors that "part of that message, importantly, has been that the schools were not monolithically destructive or successful in their assimilative goals, but the harsh reality is-for some people, they were."
A key point in that excerpt is the diversity of experience. Given their long history and existence today, how could it be otherwise? Some were in Canada, some were in the U.S. There were/are "off reservation" boarding schools, and there were/are day schools on reservations, too. When they were in elementary school, my parents went to the day school on their respective reservations. Then they went to Santa Fe Indian School, where they met in the 1950s. Because of the stories they told me and the reading I've done, I know experiences varied widely by time and place.
Children in the US are not generally taught about the schools. Because some teachers use children's books to bring history into the classroom, it is crucial that the information conveyed in those books be accurate.
As noted above, I cannot recommend Smelcer's Stealing Indians
As my notes show, accuracy is an issue. Another is the lack of specificity of the character's respective nations. As regular readers of AICL know, I think it is important that writers be tribally specific (telling readers a character's tribal nation, within the story or in an Author's Note) because that specificity increases knowledge that can push back on the monolithic or stereotypical imagery that is far too prevalent in today's society.
Here's the synopsis for Stealing Indians
Four Indian teenagers are kidnapped from different regions, their lives immutably changed by an institution designed to eradicate their identity. And no matter what their home, their stories are representative of every story, every stolen life. So far from home, without family to protect them, only their friendship helps them endure. This is a work of fiction. Every word is true.
Smelcer's book is set in the 1950s and is located in the United States. Below are my notes and comments as I read his book:
is about the four teenagers and how they were taken from their homes.Lucy Secondchief
is 13 years old. She's thinking about her father, who's been dead for four years. Specifically, she's thinking about the day of his burial, when some people brought food to their house, but others came to collect old debts. The latter took two rifles, a stack of lumber, the entire sled dog team, and the sled, too. That night, the sky was filled with the northern lights, which Lucy has been taught to fear because they are "a bad omen" and "a malevolent force that comes down to carry people away" (p. 18). Rather than stay inside she walks into a field. The lights drop down and surround her. People in the village watch in disbelief. Dogs howl and cower. Lucy starts to laugh aloud.Debbie's comments: What is Lucy's tribal affiliation? We aren't told. Because of the northern lights and the sled dog/team, we can assume she's meant to be Alaskan Native, but which one? There are over 200. Amongst them, there are over 20 different languages. And of course, a diversity with regard to how they view the northern lights. Do some think they're a malevolent force? Maybe so, but it isn't likely they all feel that way. Lack of tribal specificity, then, has consequences for additional information we're given.
One day, a "tall-roofed black car" pulled into Lucy's driveway. Two men get out of it, approach Lucy's mother, and hand her a paper. Lucy's mother can't read, but (p. 22):
[S]he knew what the document said. Every Indian parent knew what it said. All across the country, Indian families were given the same piece of paper, which proclaimed the end to families. The paper was the law. It was the government's authority to steal Indian children from their families and send them far from their homes and villages. The law was for the sake of the children, a ticket to a better life free from the burdens of poverty and ignorance. The paper was the law that sent them to Kansas, Oregon, the Dakotas, California, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania--anywhere far enough away so that they would forget what it means to be Indian.
The men grab Lucy, drag her to the car, push her into the backseat and close the door. There are no door handles on the inside.My comments: I've found nothing about tall-roofed black cars that were used to pick up and remove Native children from their homes. As far as I am able to determine (via print/electronic sources or through emails with colleagues in Native studies/law), there was no law like that. The boarding schools were designed to wipe out Native identity in students but there was no law written down on a piece of paper that was handed to families in the 1950s. I have not found evidence of such papers prior to the 1950s either. I did find something specific to removing Native children from their homes without the consent of their parents, guardians or next of kin, dated June 21, 1906, but it is about reform school, not boarding school:
25 USC § 302. Indian Reform School; rules and regulations; consent of parents to placing youth in reform school
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, is authorized and directed to select and designate some one of the schools or other institution herein specifically provided for as an “Indian Reform School”, and to make all needful rules and regulations for its conduct, and the placing of Indian youth therein: Provided, That the appropriation for collection and transportation, and so forth, of pupils, and the specific appropriation for such school so selected shall be available for its support and maintenance: Provided further, That the consent of parents, guardians, or next of kin shall not be required to place Indian youth in said school.Many coercive measures were used to get parents to send their children to the schools. It is possible that two men in Alaska were using a paper like that, but it isn't plausible. It is more dramatic to present these removals with that piece of paper, but that isn't accurate, and is information that would have to be unlearned at some point. There's no reason, in my view, to add to the body of misinformation that already exists. Simon Lone Fight
is 14 years old. He lives in an "arid desert" (p. 22) of canyons, arroyos, buttes, and mesas. His parents were killed when he was 13. He is passed from "one cramped house of poverty to another" (p. 24). One of those homes is with his grandparents. One day, Simon sees a "black, high-roofed automobile" (p. 25) arriving at their house. Hiding behind the outhouse, Simon watches two white men get out of the car, briefcase in hand, and approach his grandfather. They argue, and then go into the house. Simon, a runner, takes off. That happens three more times that month. One day, his grandparents offer him ice cream if he'll go to town with them and help them sell hay. Instead of going into town, however, they pull off at the train station. Simon thinks they're going to load the hay onto a train. The train arrives, and Simon doesn't hear or see the black car. The two white men grab him. His grandfather watches and tells him "You must go to school. It's the law." He is put on the train.My comments: There's that "law" again. As noted above, I have found no evidence of a law or piece of paper presented to parents. Use of "one cramped house of poverty to another" sounds like an outsider's observations rather than those of Simon or his relatives, and the way Simon was taken doesn't ring true. Noah Boyscout
is also 14 years old. He's out hunting in a snowy landscape. Uneasy when he sees something in the distance, "the young Indian" (p. 28) checks to see how many bullets he has. As he heads home he thinks about how, as a "half-breed" he's an outcast and that he feels more at home in the forest with animals than he does with people. His mother isn't Native and doesn't like the stories he tells her of his interactions with animals: a fox lets him pet it, and a baby moose lays its head on his hip and naps, and he speaks raven and grouse. The thing he saw in the distance turns out to be one of several wolves who are pursuing him. He is afraid of them, ponders shooting them, but figures out that they're really after the dead rabbits he has in his pack. He throws the rabbits at them and makes his way on home to their cabin where there's a "tall black car" (p. 33) in the driveway. When he goes inside, a man in a black business suit and hat greets him. His mother starts crying and runs to the bedroom. There are photographs and papers on the table. The man tells Noah he has to go away, to a school for Indian boys and girls. The story jumps to the next character, Elijah.My comments: I think the snowy landscape and Noah's parka and snowshoes place him in Alaska, but as with Lucy, we aren't given a specific tribe. The use of "the young Indian" tells us he's Native but I find that phrase jarring. It objectifies him and sounds more like an outsider's description than an insider voice. There's that tall black car again and reference to papers, one of which I assume is that "law" that Lucy's and Simon's parents are talking about. The story immediately moves to the next character.Elijah High Horse
is with his cousin, Johnny Big Jim. They're in the woods, camping. With his hunting rifle Elijah shoots at a deer that Johnny can't see. Both are 14. "They were Indians" (p. 35). Time spent in the woods was sacred, "a time to be what their grandfathers had been long ago" (p. 35). The next day they visit their grandfather. Elijah tells him about the deer that Johnny couldn't see, and his grandfather, "an old chief" (p. 37), tells him that when he was a baby being baptized, his nose started bleeding when the holy water touched him. They knew, by that bleeding nose, that Elijah would be a shaman one day, if he was strong enough not to be used up by spirits he would eventually start to see. Later, "the two young Indians" (p. 39) sit by a fire, and Elijah tells Johnny he's also seen a white buffalo. A week later, Elijah's dad drives him to the train station, hands him a suitcase and a paper bag with fried chicken, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, and two apples (p. 39):
Johnny was there to say goodbye. He wasn't going. The government had already taken two of his older brothers and a sister. He was allowed to stay. Not all Indian children were taken from their homes. That would have been unnecessary and, practically speaking, impossible. Neither the available room nor the funding would allow it. The government's goal could be achieved by taking only some, similar to the way the government didn't draft every young man from large families into military service during the war against the Nazis and the Japanese, over for only a few years.
Johnny waves goodbye, his father shuffles off, and "The young Indian" (p. 40) got on the train.My comments: Again, we don't know what Elijah's tribal nation is, but the mention of the white buffalo suggests he's Lakota. That part about his nose bleeding sounds more like a horror movie than anything else. Elijah, in Christian stories, was a prophet. It strikes me as odd that this boy's family would name this infant--who they believe will be a "shaman"--by the name of a prophet whose holy water causes that nosebleed. And that part about Johnny being able to stay strikes me as an inconsistency. Remember--according to this "law," everyone has to go. Here, now, we have a different scenario. Does that "law" delineate exceptions for a 4th child in any given family?CHAPTER TWO
is about the four teens and their experiences on their way to Wellington (fictitious name of the boarding school).Lucy.
After many hours on a narrow, winding highway, the car Lucy is in arrives at a diner where she has french fries, and then a few hours later they arrive at a bus station where she is given a bus ticket. She rubs the red welts on her wrists, but we don't know why those welts are there. She's told that the bus driver will know where she has to get off. She has nothing other than the clothes she is wearing (no jacket). In the morning when she re-boards the bus after a stop, there's a new rider on the bus: Noah.My comments: In the "Questions for Discussion" at the end of the book, item #4 is about a pair of handcuffs at the museum at Haskell Indian Nations University. I assume the author meant to include a passage about Lucy being handcuffed, hence the red welts, but it isn't there.
. Noah invites Lucy to sit with him. He offers her an apple. The bus travels hundreds of miles, south. They tell each other about their families. Late that day the driver tells them they have to get on another bus. They can sit and wait for it, but "the Indians" (p. 46) are tired of sitting and walk around the town. A pack of mongrel dogs come out of an abandoned warehouse and run at them. Lucy is afraid but Noah kneels, holds out a hand, and speaks to them. They drop to their bellies and let Noah pet them. After awhile he stands, points to the warehouse, and tells them to go home. The dogs go off, behind the building. "The two young Indians" (p. 47) return to the station, board their next bus and ride all night and much of the next day.Simon.
On the train, Simon heads northeast, knowing it will take two days to get to the town named on his ticket. With no food, he's hungry but "The Indian" (p. 49) goes to the dining car and grabs leftover food from empty tables. The next morning he sees "an Indian boy" (p. 50) has gotten on the train, too. It is Elijah, who leans toward Simon and asks his name.Elijah.
Elijah and Simon start to talk and learn they're going to the same place. Neither remembers the name of the school but talk about the photographs they saw of the iron arched gateway. Simon learns that Elijah had been on the train for a day and a half longer than he had and he's hungry because he's eaten up all the food his dad had given him. Together they go to the dining car, grab some leftovers, eat and that night, play card games. The next morning the train stops in a large city where they learn they will change trains. They have time before the next train arrives so the two set off to look around. Elijah ("the amazed Indian" p. 53) imagines people who work in the offices. Looking at the people milling about reminds him of salmon.My comments:Noah's powers are handy but I view them as stereotypical in the one-with-nature-and-animals way that Native peoples are often depicted. But, my guess is that most of the American reading public will think "cool" when they read how he handles those dogs. As you see, I'm noting some of the places where "the Indian" or "the Indians" is used. I think it distances the reader from the characters. Imagine those passages if the author just replaced all of them with "the kid" or "the kids." Recall that Elijah saw a white buffalo, and so I thought he was, perhaps, Lakota. But now he's talking about salmon and being on the train longer than Simon, which suggests he's of one of the tribes on the northwest coast. Which is it? Is Elijah of a Plains tribe? Or a northwest coast tribe? Simon and Elijah.
"The Indians" (p. 53) walk for blocks. "The amazed Indian" (Elijah) imagines all the people in the glassy office buildings they pass by. As they go, people hand them change (money), which they accept, thinking the city people are the friendliest ones in the world. They buy hot dogs and then go down some stairs to an underground train where they encounter four older boys who start to bully them. The oldest asks them if they're Mexicans and if they have any pesos. Elijah says "We're Indian!" One of the boys tries to grab Elijah's backpack. Elijah sees a vague image beside one of the boys. It is a man, holding an empty bottle in one hand and a belt in the other. Elijah tells that boy that he's going to end up like his dad, who drank too much and beat him. The boy is shaken by what Elijah says. Elijah and Simon fight the four boys. Afterwords, Elijah and Simon head back to the station and the chapter ends.My comments: I can imagine these two boys being struck by what they see in a city, but the way their unfamiliarity is described seems a kind of mockery of their lack of familiarity with a city. And--again, the objectification of them is jarring.
I provided a close read of chapters one and two, where we meet the characters. There are flaws in the ways these characters are depicted which has bearing on the story. Once they arrive at the school, the four will meet other students. One talks about his journey. It struck me as odd (p. 62): "I was in the bottom of a ship for two days. It was dark and they didn't let us out, neither. It was like we was cows or something. They just herded us in and closed the door." Where, I wonder, did that ship originate?!
On page 69 Elijah sees "English Only" posters on the wall. To my knowledge, there weren't posters like that in the schools in the 1950s. Indeed, significant changes took place from the 1930s through mid 1950s. Under the direction of John Collier (appointed as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1933 by President Roosevelt), there was a shift to make the curriculum reflect Native life and instill pride in a Native identity.
In My Mother's House by Ann Nolan Clark, illustrated by Velino Herrera, is one of the outcomes of that shift. With various Native illustrators, Clark wrote several books like In My Mother's House between 1940 and 1951. Some of them were published in a Native language. Here's the cover of
Little Man's Family, published in 1953. See the words beneath the English title? That is Dine (Navajo). It appears on every page. It seems unlikely then, that there would be "English Only" posters on the walls of the school.
On page 112, Simon and another boy speak Navajo to each other. Their conversation is overheard and Simon ends up being locked in an old maintenance building. It is a dramatic scene. Simon is led to the back of the poorly lit room where he's handcuffed to a pipe and left to sit on the concrete floor for several days. That scene sounds a lot like what happened in the schools in earlier times. In particular, it reminds me of a scene from a documentary about Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Again, though, it doesn't ring true for the 1950s. There are other plot points that I also find problematic.
I think I'll stop here, saying again, I do not recommend
Stealing Indians. It has problems of stereotyping, lack of tribal specificity, and problems with accuracy with respect to boarding schools of the time period in which the story is set.
Given the depth and breadth of inaccurate depictions of Native people--past and present--in textbooks, movies, TV shows, and children's books, I firmly believe that the experiences Native people lived through must be presented with integrity and accuracy. Over-dramatizing what happened is a disservice to their experiences.
For further reading:Previous posts on John SmelcerJohn Smelcer, Indian by Proxy
A reader writes to ask if I've seen Bella Bella by Jonathan London, illustrations by Sean London (don't know if there is a relationship between the author and illustrator). Bella Bella came out in February of 2016. Published by West Winds, here's the synopsis:
From best-selling author Jonathan London comes BELLA BELLA, the heart-pounding sequel to DESOLATION CANYON. In this story for young readers, the same cast of characters―thirteen-year-olds Aaron and Lisa and their fathers, and seventeen-year-old Cassidy and his dad―embark on a sea kayaking trip through the Inside Passage that brings them unexpected and even terrifying adventures. Young readers will eagerly follow Aaron’s adventures in this suspenseful page turner, as he learns to navigate a kayak, discovers another side to a bully, shares a first kiss, encounters the desperate world of human trafficking, and challenges an evil smuggler who threatens the entire group.
Nothing in the synopsis to tell you there's Native content, but the art on the top half of the cover tells us there is (see image to the right). I don't know what to call that image. Is it meant to be a totem pole? What do you think it is?
The review at Kirkus
tells us that the characters begin their trip at a First Nations village (Bella Bella) and that they hope to learn about First Nations tribes. The Kirkus review included a link to their review of Desolation Canyon
, so I took a look at that review. It apparently has Native content, too.
If I get a copy, I'll be back with a review. If you've got a copy, please comment on what you see in it.
This morning as I started to read the Summer 2016 issue of Children & Libraries
a book cover caught my eye (that's it, to the right). Inside the front cover is a page of new books for children and young adults. Little Whale
Here's the synopsis:
Keet, a ten-year-old Tlingit Indian boy, stows away for a voyage on his father’s canoe . . . and soon finds himself caught in the middle of a wild seastorm. The story carries him far from his home village, and when he makes land, he winds up right in the middle of a dangerous dispute between two Indian clans. The story of how he copes with these surprises and extricates himself from danger is dramatic and unforgettable.
And it’s mostly true. Roy Peratrovich here builds a wonderful children’s tale on the bones of a story his own grandfather passed down. His accompanying illustrations bring the people and landscapes of Alaska—to say nothing of the adventures!—to stunning life, drawing young readers into a long-gone time when the whims of nature and man could suddenly test a boy’s courage.
I'm definitely interested in this one! The author is a member of the Raven Clan of the Tlingit Tribe of Southeast Alaska. Check out his bio
. I'll get a copy and be back with a review.
A reader who was following the conversations about Lane Smith's There Is A Tribe of Kids wrote to ask me if I'd read his Return to Augie Hobble. Here's the synopsis:
Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale―or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he's failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won't acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won't leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he's turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in―until the unthinkable happens and Augie's life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.
The synopsis doesn't say, but as I started reading about the book, I learned that it is set in New Mexico, which could (for me) be a plus. It could be a plus for kids in New Mexico, too, including Native kids.
But, the person who wrote to me told me that Return to Augie Hobble
has some Native content in it, so I started reading the book itself, wondering what I'd find.
Scattered throughout are illustrations of one kind of another, all done by Smith. In chapter four, the main character, Augie, is out after dark in the woods nearby and has a fight with a wolf-like creature. The next morning Augie feels like his face has tiny splinters on it. He uses his moms razor to shave them off. As the illustration on the next page tells us, he's got bits of toilet paper on his chin and neck because he's nicked himself with that razor.
Augie gets to work early, so is sitting in the break area reading a comic, waiting for his shift to start. Moze, another employee arrives. Augie gets up, but (p. 68-69):
He [Moze] pushes me back down. He calls me an Indian. I ask why and he says cause my face is under "Heap big TP." I say that doesn't even make sense so he hits me in the arm and says, "Teeeee Peeeeeee. Toilet paper, twerp." He goes, "Woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk. I say that's not very PC. He says "PC, Mac, who cares?" and hits me again.
Interesting, isn't it? Let's look at that passage, in light of the discussions of his There Is a Tribe of Kids
. The discussions are about some of the illustrations in the final pages of the book. Here's three:
Some wonder if Smith meant to depict kids playing Indian. Some say these kids aren't playing Indian. Smith hasn't responded (as far as I know) to any of the discussions. Some wonder if--as he drew the illustrations--he was aware that they could be interpreted as kids playing Indian. That wondering presumes that he is aware of the decades long critical writings of stereotyping, and in this case, stereotyping of Native peoples.
With Return to Augie Hobble
, we know--without a doubt--that he does, in fact, know about issues of stereotyping.
How should we interpret that passage in Return to Augie Hobble
Amongst the recent threads in writers' networks, is that if a writer is going to create a character who stereotypes someone, there ought to be some way (preferably immediately) for a reader to discern that it is a stereotype. One method is to have a bad-guy-character make the stereotypical remarks, because with them being delivered by a bad-guy, readers know they're not-good-remarks.
Does Smith do that successfully? I'll copy that passage here, for convenience (so you don't have to scroll back up):
He pushes me back down. He calls me an Indian. I ask why and he says cause my face is under "Heap big TP." I say that doesn't even make sense so he hits me in the arm and says, "Teeeee Peeeeeee. Toilet paper, twerp." He goes, "Woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk. I say that's not very PC. He says "PC, Mac, who cares?" and hits me again.
In the passage above, it is Moze (a bad guy character) who is speaking. From "hits me again" the narrative leaves this whole Indian thing behind as they talk about other things.
I find the passage confusing. It feels like there's something missing between "Toilet paper, twerp." and "He goes, "woo, woo, woo," and does a lame version of an Indian dance with an imaginary tomahawk." What do you think? Is something missing there?
Confusion aside, I think the passage doesn't do what, I assume, Smith meant it to do. Moze is delivering remarks in that humorous style Smith is praised for using. Will kids pick up on his message (assuming he meant to use Moze to teach kids that dancing around that way is not ok)? Or, does his "PC, Mac" get in the way of that understanding? With "PC, Mac" the focus is on computers, not stereotypes. That kind of word play is a big reason people like Smith's writing.
Back when I taught children's literature at the University of Illinois, I selected Smith's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
as a required reading. It is a terrific way to teach kids about differing points of view. When I think about that book, I know that Smith understands different points of view and how they matter.
I think it fair to say Lane Smith is a master at conveying the importance of that all important point of view. As his Augie Hobble
tells us, he's aware of problems with the ways that Native peoples are depicted. That is part of why I find his There Is a Tribe of Kids
What are you thoughts? Knowing he is aware of issues of stereotyping, what do you make of what he did in There Is a Tribe of Kids
? And, does what he did in Augie Hobble
From time to time I curate a set of links about a particular book or discussion. I'm doing that below, for There Is a Tribe of Kids
. The links are arranged chronologically by date on which they were posted/published. If you know of ones I ought to add, please let me know. I will insert it below (as you'll see, I'm noting the date on which I add it to the list in parenthesis).
Sam Bloom's Reviewing While White: There Is a Tribe of Kids
posted on July 8, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Debbie Reese's Reading While White reviews Lane Smith's THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS
posted on July 9, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Debbie Reese's Lane Smith's new picture book: THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry)
posted on July 14, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Roxanne Feldman's A Tribe of Kindred Souls: A Closer Look at a Double Spread in Lane Smith's THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS
posted on July 17, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Roger Sutton's Tribal Trials
posted on July 18, 2016
(added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Elizabeth Bird's There Is a Tribe of Kids: The Current Debate
posted on July 19, 2016 (added to this list on July 21, 2016).
Amongst Tim Tingle's many books is Walking the Choctaw Road.
Parts of it are heartrending.
First published in 2003 by Cinco Puntos Press, it consists of twelve stories, some of which evolved into his picture books.
I just came across something I didn't know about. In 2005, the State of Oklahoma's 50th Legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 1025, commending Tim. I didn't know Tim, back then, but he was already doing important work that was being recognized--in this case, by the State of Oklahoma. A belated congratulations, Tim!
For AICL's readers, I'm reproducing the text, here, from the pdf
STATE OF OKLAHOMA
1st Session of the 50th Legislature (2005)
HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 1025
By: Carey of the House
Gumm of the Senate
A Concurrent Resolution commending Tim Tingle for his
dedication to Native American cultures and to
preserving the stories of the Choctaw Nation; and
WHEREAS, Tim Tingle has dedicated his life to collecting and preserving the stories of the Choctaw Nation and other Native American cultures; and WHEREAS, Tim Tingle, as a renowned folklorist and storyteller, honors the voices of many Choctaws by presenting stories that represent their history, spirit, and beliefs; and
WHEREAS, Tim Tingle, through his inspiring book Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory
, has translated twelve of these stories into written versions that captivate readers and transport them to a magical place where truthfulness, generosity, bravery, patience, dignity, courage, tolerance, faith and working toward the good resonate; and
WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory
has garnered numerous regional, national and international awards; and
WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory
was selected by popular vote to be the “one book” all Oklahomans read and discuss during 2005 as part of the Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma Centennial Project, a concept endorsed by the Library of Congress; and
WHEREAS, Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory
holds the national record of being the only book selected by two statewide reading projects (Oklahoma and Alaska) as the “one book” to read and discuss throughout 2005; and
WHEREAS, Tim Tingle encourages people to make connections through literature and reading by participating in more than 70 appearances at libraries, museums, community centers, and schools throughout the State of Oklahoma from June through November 2005.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE 1ST SESSION OF THE 50TH OKLAHOMA LEGISLATURE, THE SENATE CONCURRING THEREIN:
THAT the Oklahoma Legislature commends Tim Tingle for the honor he brings to the Choctaw Nation and the State of Oklahoma by preserving and writing about Native American cultures.
THAT the Oklahoma Legislature commends Tim Tingle for his dedication to literature and recognizes his many contributions to building bridges between cultures and commends his courage, integrity, and commitment to high standards.
THAT the Oklahoma Legislature urges all Oklahomans to read Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory
and discuss its historic perspective and cultural themes from which we may all gain strength and understanding.
THAT a copy of this resolution be distributed to Tim Tingle.
A reader who saw my review of Lane Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids wrote to ask if I've read his Return to Augie Hobble. It got starred reviews from Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus... Published in 2015 by Roaring Book Press, here's the synopsis:
Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale―or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he's failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won't acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won't leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he's turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in―until the unthinkable happens and Augie's life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.
I was at the local library this afternoon and got a copy. As soon as I can, I'll be back with a review. It is getting bumped up on my list because it is set in New Mexico...
Read the rest of this post
A reader writes to ask if I've seen Joan Crate's Black Apple. Published in March of 2016 by Simon and Schuster, here's the synopsis:
A dramatic and lyrical coming-of-age novel about a young Blackfoot girl who grows up in the residential school system on the Canadian prairies.
Torn from her home and delivered to St. Mark’s Residential School for Girls by government decree, young Rose Marie finds herself in an alien universe where nothing of her previous life is tolerated, not even her Blackfoot name. For she has entered into the world of the Sisters of Brotherly Love, an order of nuns dedicated to saving the Indigenous children from damnation. Life under the sharp eye of Mother Grace, the Mother General, becomes an endless series of torments, from daily recitations and obligations to chronic sickness and inedible food. And then there are the beatings. All the feisty Rose Marie wants to do is escape from St. Mark’s. How her imagination soars as she dreams about her lost family on the Reserve, finding in her visions a healing spirit that touches her heart. But all too soon she starts to see other shapes in her dreams as well, shapes that warn her of unspoken dangers and mysteries that threaten to engulf her. And she has seen the rows of plain wooden crosses behind the school, reminding her that many students have never left here alive.
Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her.
With a poet’s eye, Joan Crate creates brilliantly the many shadings of this heartbreaking novel, rendering perfectly the inner voices of Rose Marie and Mother Grace, and exploring the larger themes of belief and belonging, of faith and forgiveness.
I'll see if I can get a copy. If I do, I'll be back with a review.
I love word play. Lane Smith's book is getting a lot of love for its word play, but I'm tagging his book as Not Recommended.
Here's the cover of his new book, There Is a Tribe of Kids. The blue creature to the left is meant to be a young mountain goat, or, a kid (that is the term for a baby goat). We follow the child on the right as we read There Is a TRIBE of KIDS. That child is a kid, too, of course, which tells us that Smith is doing some word play in the book. See the two sticks coming out of the child's head? See the stance the child is in? That child is playing at being a goat kid.
Note that two words in the book title are in capital letters. They go together. That's a pattern that Smith uses throughout the book, and as a former elementary school teacher, it is kind of detail that I'd love to point out to kids.
Smith's error is using the word TRIBE on the final pages of the book, to refer to children who are playing, adorned in various ways with leaves. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Let's go back to the opening pages.
On the title page the child is with three kids (goats) as an adult goat looks down on them from atop a rock. On the next page, the three kids climb the rock, leaving the child alone. The child stands upright and walks away from the rock, discarding the horns.
Beneath that illustration are the words "There WAS a TRIBE of KIDS." The three kids the child was with are part of a tribe (tribe is another word for herd), but since they've left him behind, Smith uses the past tense (was).
Beneath that sentence is an illustration of the child looking across the page at a penguin. The child is shown in the same pose the penguin is in. On the next page the child is shown in the same pose as four penguins (see the illustration to the right). As we saw with the goats, the penguins leave (they go into the water and the child follows), and the text is "There was a COLONY of PENGUINS."
In the water, the child is in the midst of jellyfish. In a series of illustrations, we see the child's leaf shirt float up and then into a balloon shape, which are the shapes of jellyfish as they swim.
That's the pattern of the book. The child is with a group of some kind, and while with that group, the child's leaf clothing or body positioning emulates that group.
On some pages, the child is just shown with the group. On one page, the child sits atop a whale. A raven picks the child up off the whale's back and flies with other ravens; the raven opens its beak and for an instant the child is flying but then drops to the ground and lands on a pile of boulders. The child plays on the boulders (holding his body like one), falls headfirst into some flowering plants, and when the child is upright again, the child has leaf arms and leaf ears and a flower atop its head. The child finds elephants and then, those leaf ears are like elephant ears.
As we get to the end of the story, the child is near the ocean, which has a bed of clams. The child uses one as a bed. In the morning the child wakes, alone, abandons the leaf shirt and follows a trail of shells and finds "a TRIBE of KIDS" playing beneath and on the branches of a massive tree. There are 28 children. What are they playing? They've all got leaves on, in some way.
Here are the ones with a leaf/leaves on their heads. Coupled with the word TRIBE on that page, it looks to me like they're dressed up to play Indian. They aren't doing anything active.
But, writer Rosanne Parry disagrees with Sam, and with me, too, but she didn't reference me at her post, A Tribe of Book Reviewers.
My guess is that she thinks her blog post title is clever. It isn't. She thinks that Sam Bloom (see his review at Reading While White) should have
"been willing to look a little deeper, beyond just the immediate Oh no! we are insulting Native Americans again, as we have done so often in the past."
When I read that line in italics, I was incensed. She's being quite dismissive of criticism of stereotyping, bias, appropriation---all those things that white writers, including her, have done. A few years ago, I reviewed Parry's Written In Stone
. There's a lot wrong with that book. She wrote to me privately to talk about my review, but I preferred the conversation to be public so that others could follow and learn from it. Many did. Parry did not. Indeed, Parry's resistance was remarkable. She was so sure that she was right to make up traditional Native stories, and right to make up petroglyphs and assign them meaning, and right to write that story because the Native kids she taught--she told us--wanted her to write a story about them. Sheesh! White savior to the rescue!
Parry had a lot more to say about Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids...
She acknowledged that tribe is a loaded word, but says that she:
"didn't immediately make the leap to Native American tribes because there are no tribes in North America who dress in garments made of leaves. Plant fibers woven into cloth, yes. Dance costumes made of pale yellow grasses, yes. But broad-leafed green plans arranged around the body as a short cloak? No."
Are you rolling your eyes? Are you flipping out at her use of "costumes"? You should be. She likes to talk about the Native kids she taught in Washington. Does she think they wore costumes?! There's more. She read through the book and
"didn't see a single reference, even an oblique one, to a Native American tribe or any tribal activity of North America. No hunting, no fishing, no fires, no tomahawks, no archery, no totem poles, no teepees, no drums, no horses, no canoes."
Again: are you rolling your eyes? Or, maybe, grinding your teeth? Or laughing at how stupid this all sounds? Or---are you reading it and thinking she's making good points? All those reactions are possible, given the widespread ignorance out there about Native people! Some get it, while others are oblivious. Parry goes on, telling us the way the kids are playing is more like the Green Man,
"an ancient mythological figure associated with the Celtic tribes."
Oh! The kids are playing Green Man. Not Indian! (I'm being sarcastic). Parry isn't done yet, though... She tells us that the children playing on those final pages are of different colored skin tones, making the book:
"one of the most racially inclusive books on our bookstore shelves this year. Not only that, it's a racially inclusive book that isn't about slavery or civil rights or westward expansion, which often cast Black and Native American characters as victims."
Oh, yay (again, I'm being sarcastic). Then she tells us that the kids are:
"arranging shells, playing ball, swinging, sliding, climbing, dancing, running, hiding, napping"
and that none of those actions are
"a mockery of Native Americans. If they were wearing fringed buckskins or button blankets or powwow dance costumes or had painted faces or were brandishing bows and arrows, that would be an entirely different story."
Oh. I see. (More sarcasm from me; I can't not be sarcastic about her words, and this is the fourth or fifth time I'm reading them!) There's that use of costume again. From a white woman who professes love for the Native kids she taught. She tells us that what she sees in Smith's illustrations are depictions of how kids play, and asks
"Who are we to shame them by saying this is playing Indian?"
Shame. That word is getting used a lot in children's literature discussions last year and this one, too. Us Native and people of color are being mean, shaming writers and now--Parry tells us--the way that kids play.
Sigh. Yes, some of the kids are sliding. And some are playing ball, etc. But look at the illustrations I shared above. What are we to make of them? They're not active in any way. They're just there, wearing their leaf feathers, holding staffs, standing, sitting, jewelry dangling from neck/wrist/ears... What about them?
Parry offers workshops on how to get things right. If you're a writer, avoid her. I wish I could say she's clueless, but I think she is being deliberately obtuse. She'll lead you to think your problematic story of appropriation is ok. It won't be.
I acknowledge that I'm clearly incensed with her and I anticipate lot of people coming to her defense. Parry and others (as Sam Bloom noted, There Is a Tribe of Kids
is getting starred reviews) don't see--and refuse to see--the problems in the book. That's where we are in 2016.
Several months ago I saw the cover of Lane Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids and wondered about his use of the word tribe. Most people see the word "tribe" and think of a group of people who they view as primitive, or exotic, or primal, or... you get the picture, right? If not, open another browser window and do an image search of the word tribe. Did you do it? If yes, you saw a lot of photographs of people of color and of Native peoples, too.
In the last few weeks, I got an email from someone asking me if I'd written about that word. The person writing didn't mention Smith's There Is a Tribe of Kids but may have been asking themselves the same question Sam Bloom did when he read the book. I haven't yet had a chance to look for Smith's book.
Yesterday, Sam's review of There Is a Tribe of Kids went up at Reading While White. I highly recommend you head over there and see what he has to say. On one page of the book, the kids are shown playing in a forest... and they've got leaves stuck into their hair in ways that suggest they're playing Indian. Here's that page:
Sam isn't the only one to notice that problem. He pointed to the review in the New York Times Book Review
, where the reviewer wrote that this kind of play signifies wildness.
And, Sam notes that the book has gotten several starred reviews from the major children's literature review journals--journals that librarians use to purchase books. Those starred reviews will mean it is likely to be in your local library. That image, however, means There Is a Tribe of Kids
is going into AICL's Foul Among the Good gallery.
Do read Sam's review, and the comment thread, too. I am especially taken with Pat's comment. She used a phrase (I'll put it in bold font) that appeals to me: "An informed reading means giving up the position of innocence
that White readers enjoy when other cultures' are represented in service of an engaging story."
Sam's post and the comment thread give us a peek at what goes on behind the scenes in book reviewing. In his review, Sam wondered if the book is getting starred reviews because people like Lane Smith's work overall. Roger Sutton replied that Horn Book didn't give it a starred review, but that their discussion of the book itself included the playing Indian part that Sam's review is about, but that "the reviewer and the editors differed" with Sam's assessment, so, Horn Book recommended the book.
Roger and I have disagreed on playing Indian over and over again. Horn Book gives that activity a pass because Horn Book views it as an "extra literary" concern. Intrigued? You can read one of the more recent discussions we had: Are we doing it white?
Pat's comment is perfect. Far too many people don't want to give up their position of innocence. Playing Indian is just too much fun (they say) and it isn't racist (they insist), or inappropriate (they argue)... Indeed, some say that sort of thing honors Native peoples.
It doesn't honor anyone. It is inappropriate.
My guess is that Lane Smith didn't know it is a problem. His editor, Simon Boughton, apparently didn't know, either. If you know Smith or Boughton, I hope you ask them to think critically about playing Indian. There Is a Tribe of Kids
, published by Macmillan,
came out in May of 2016.
American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to bring you Tim Tingle's acceptance speech. He won the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award, young adult category, for The House of Purple Cedar. As is traditional within Native communities, he was given a blanket. Tim provided me with the photo (to the right), explaining that it was taken while he was at the Congressional National Cemetery in Washington DC, three days before the awards banquet.
The photo was taken by Lisa Reed, editor of The Biskinik (the Choctaw nation's newspaper). Tim was reading a book he was given by the office manager of the cemetery. He was sitting beside the grave of Pushmataha, who is in Tim's next book.
That day, the Chief of the Choctaw Nation and many others were at the Congressional National Cemetery to honor Pushmataha. The clouded expression on Tim's face is because of what a Choctaw woman gave to him that morning when he arrived at the gravesite.
His expression, and what she gave him, is explained in his speech:
On behalf of my family and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma I want to let you know what an honor it is to be here and to accept this award. We are so grateful for the work you do, to bring recognition to our work as writers. Yakoke, thank you.
House of Purple Cedar took fifteen years to complete, as my editor, Lee Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press, can confirm. It describes the struggle of Choctaws to survive and keep their homelands, in the late 1890's in what is now Oklahoma. Those of you who know my writing know that I write with hope, of "working to the good," of the power of forgiveness.
I brought something to show you today, from Congressional National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., where three days ago I attended a graveside ceremony honoring the most famous Choctaw leader of all time, Chief Pushmataha. He was also a general in the United States Army and fought alongside Gen. Jackson in the War of 1812.
Before the ceremony I met a Choctaw elder at the gravesite, a sweet woman who speaks fluent Choctaw and is kind and patient to we learners. She arrived before anyone else. She stood holding her purse with tears in her eyes. When I asked her if she was hoke, she replied, "I am so glad I arrived before the chief. Look what I found lying against Pushmataha's tombstone." She retrieved an empty plastic whiskey bottle from her purse. "Somebody left this terrible insult to our chief."
I hugged her and we both quietly cried. "I was meant to be here first," she said. "This would have ruined our graveside ceremony." We stared into each other's eyes and smiled.
"Good wins again," I said. "It is a good day to be Choctaw." We decided to keep our secret, to allow the full blessing from Chief Batton to take place. But as we approached the shuttle bus, I asked for the bottle. Not to throw away, but to keep—as a reminder that we still have much work to do. We, the writers, the librarians, the educators, we are today's warriors. We must never forget that the battle continues, the battle for respect for Native peoples.
Yakoke, thank you.
A librarian wrote to ask me about Jean Craighead George's The Talking Earth. Published in 1983 by HarperCollins, it is available in Spanish and Catalan. It is available as an audiobook, too. Most people who work in children's literature know that George's Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in 1972. Those of you who pay attention to depictions of Native people know that there is a lot wrong with Julie of the Wolves.
I'll get a copy of The Talking Earth at the library. From what I see online, I anticipate there will be many problems with it, too. Elders who cross their arms when they speak to kids? Elders who sit cross legged on the ground? Not ok.
In the opening pages, the main character sees her grandfather's medicine bundle. I doubt that a Seminole writer would have that whole section in there. There are some things that are not shared with the public...
And the names! The main character is Billy Wind. Her sister is Mary Wind. Her father is Iron Wind. Her mother is Whispering Wind. Her grandfather is Charlie Wind.
There's some parts that display an outsider's writing, like when Billy and Mary walk to the dugout (p. 10):
It was tied beside the airboat, a flat boat with a motorized fan that "blew" passengers across the saw grass in the watery prairie the Indians called the pa-hay-okee.
Those are supposed to be Billy's thoughts but that sounds more like George herself, an outsider. Honestly, I don't want to read this book.
American Indians in Children's Literature
is pleased to bring you Joseph Marshall III's acceptance speech. He won the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award,
in the middle school category for In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
It is an outstanding book (see AICL's review
) and I'm thrilled to learn, by email with Marshall, that he is working on a second book featuring Jimmy and his grandfather. Kids learn a lot of history by reading Marshall's In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
. I wonder what history we'll learn in the new book?
Here is Marshall's speech:
Good afternoon. I can’t think of a better reason for my first ever trip to Orlando, than to accept this award from the American Indian Library Association. Thank you to AILA President Aguilar, and of course to the members of the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award jury. I am honored to receive this very special recognition, one that I will always treasure because it comes from my peers, and, of course, native librarians.
Those of us who are native writers know that our purpose is to inform the non-native community about native history and culture, as well as our place in the world today. But just as importantly, if not more, we need to reconnect native young people with their own cultures. This award helps to further that effort.
Thank you, of course, to my friends at Abrams and Amulet Books for publishing my book, to all of you who worked on it. I sincerely appreciate your contributions and your talents which definitely added to what this book is.
The people who were the greatest influence on me, and taught me the art of storytelling, were primarily my maternal grandparents. So the front story in In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
is a glimpse into my childhood on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, and of my wonderful relationship with my grandparents, but especially to my grandfather.
Three special “thank yous,” the first to my editor Howard Reeves—my new best friend—for liking the concept for my book, but especially for your patience Howard. In the middle of working on the manuscript I had to ask for a delay when my wife became seriously ill. Howard was kind enough to grant a deadline extension.
Another “thank you” to the phenomenally talented artist for his work on the book’s cover and inside illustrations—my good friend and fellow Lakota, Mr. Jim Yellowhawk.
Finally, to the love of my life, my wife Connie, who was also my literary agent. It was she who insisted on the format for the book. Connie left us for the Spirit World on Valentine’s Day, three years ago, after putting up a valiant fight against colon cancer. Please know that, with this award, you are honoring her as well.
So, as we say in my part of the world: Lila pilamayayapelo.
Thank you, very much.
Hi! This is my first blog post as an editor of AICL. I'm happy to be here. -- Jean
Debbie and I are working on a book chapter, and my focus has been picture books on the Indian boarding schools. That’s taken me back to the first such book I encountered – Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit
by Limana Kachel. I came across it in the Native American Educational Services (NAES) College bookstore in Chicago in the late 1980s, and was immediately charmed.
The production values were not high, which was part of its appeal, for me. It was published by the Montana Council for Indian Education in 1983 (according to WorldCat; there is apparently no date on the book itself). It may not have been meant for distribution beyond the Montana state border. Its highly “individual” black line illustrations are by Northern Cheyenne children from the Lame Deer School and Labre Indian School! The writing is straightforward and engaging – comfortable to read aloud, and with an occasional dash of humor. And it shows a lot of insight into the minds of young children. It felt genuine. It still does.
The book tells the story of 6-year-old Homer, a Cheyenne boy who must leave his beloved grandfather and, for reasons he doesn’t understand, go live at a school far away. On his first night there he cries inconsolably and a kind teacher named Miss Ring allows him to choose a stuffed animal as a comfort object. He picks a large pink rabbit, which he calls Rabbit. Soon Homer learns to use the playground slide and makes friends with Joe, another Cheyenne-speaking boy. When Homer takes Rabbit home for the summer, he is soon immersed in the things he loves to do there and forgets to keep track of his “friend,” who ends up in pieces under the porch. Homer feels terrible, but Grandfather saves the day. He uses the remnants of Rabbit as a pattern, cuts and stitches pieces of buckskin together, and adds a face. Rabbit is ready in time to go back to school with Homer, better than ever. At school he becomes famous and is known as The Cheyenne Rabbit.
If other picture books about the boarding schools existed when my children were young (1970’s-1980s), we weren’t aware of them. My husband’s mother had been sent to a boarding school in Oklahoma at age 7. The experience was not positive. It was important to our family to find a book that could reflect at least part of that family story.
Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit
contains none of the harsh punishment, abuse, food deprivation, and other horrors that so many boarding school survivors have recounted. In fact, Homer has an adult ally (Miss Ring) and is permitted to have a stuffed animal. He also has time to play, and enjoys friendships with other Cheyenne children. When he and Joe speak Cheyenne, they are not punished.
Even so, the story has the capacity to shock young listeners –at least, the ones I knew back then. When I read it aloud with my preschool-age sons and with a class of 5-year-olds, the children were aghast that a child could be forced to leave home and actually live at a school far away where he knew no one. These were white and interracial children with some degree of class privilege, who were already having anxiety about starting kindergarten and could not imagine having to go to school “away.” They understood Homer’s sorrow and fear, his glee when going down the slide, his joy when he reunited with his grandfather for the summer. They laughed when Rabbit got flatter and flatter each time he was laundered. They marveled at how Grandfather created a new and improved Rabbit. But it was hard for them to get their heads around the idea of being forced to go live at school.
My sons understood it a little, partly because boarding school experience was part of their family story. They were also somewhat prepared for the next step in understanding, which was that often those schools were not good places for little kids.
I like getting reacquainted with Homer. The book is psychologically on target with regard to childhood resilience. What helps Homer to ultimately thrive at school, while continuing to love and respect his grandfather and enjoy his home? Miss Ring, who understands the power of a transitional object (Rabbit); his Grandfather, who loves him unconditionally and who functions as touchstone; a friend (Joe) who literally speaks his language and shows him some of “the ropes”. Being able to maintain his Cheyenne identity at school without having to fight for it or go underground is also an important factor.
I’m also looking at 3 other books, two of which are by Native writers. And I’ve thought a lot about what a boarding school picture book “should be”. How much should it tell/show young children? What will be believable to your young audience (and who is in that audience?), and what will be overwhelming or over their heads? Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit
is a story of childhood resilience, but not resistance. Homer’s school is a relatively benign place. He is overwhelmed at first, but not humiliated, starved, abused, or exploited while there. Resilience is important. Essential. But for many boarding school residents, so was resistance. Those 3 other books I mentioned are "about" resistance as a factor in resilience that subverts oppression.
Do you, AICL readers, have some knowledge of Homer Little Bird’s Rabbit
, or of its author Limana Kachel, or of the Council on Indian Education? Do you have a copy of the book? Mine has vanished – let’s hope it turns up now that I’m retired and can devote time to cleaning out my home office. Fortunately, Debbie was able to locate a colleague who scanned the book for us! Thanks!! If you’ve shared the book with kids, what was the response? What are your thoughts about it?
A reader wrote to ask me if I've seen John Flanagan's The Ghostfaces. I haven't, so am adding it to the "Debbie--have you seen" series.
Here's the synopsis:
From John Flanagan, author of the worldwide bestselling Ranger's Apprentice, comes a brand-new chapter in the adventures of young Skandians who form a different kind of family--a brotherband.
When the Brotherband crew are caught in a massive storm at sea, they’re blown far off course and wash up on the shores of a land so far west that Hal can’t recognize it from any of his maps. Eerily, the locals are nowhere in sight, yet the Herons have a creeping feeling they are being watched.
Suddenly the silence is broken when a massive, marauding bear appears, advancing on two children. The crew springs into action and rescues the children from the bear’s clutches, which earns them the gratitude and friendship of the local Mawagansett tribe, who finally reveal themselves. But the peace is short-lived. The Ghostfaces, a ruthless, warlike tribe who shave their heads and paint their faces white, are on the warpath once more. It’s been ten years since they raided the Mawagansett village, but they’re coming back to pillage and reap destruction. As the enemy approaches, the Herons gear up to help their new friends repel an invasion.
"Ruthless, warlike tribe"?!
"On the warpath"?!
My head hurts just reading the synopsis. One red flag after another! It came out on June 14, 2016 from Penguin.
According to Amazon, it is already #1 in its Kindle Store and in the Children's Books category, too, in the "Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths/Norse."
If I can get Flanagan's The Ghostfaces
, I'll be back with a review.
A new trailer for Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released on June 23rd. Rowling narrates it, saying:
My heroes are always people who feel themselves to be set apart, stigmatized, or othered. That's at the heart of most of what I write. It's certainly at the heart of this movie.
Her use of "set apart, stigmatized, or othered" is the first irony in the trailer. All three are very much the experience of Native peoples in the US.
Rowling also says:
"Newt walks into a society he doesn't really understand."
That is precisely what she's doing in the ways that she's appropriating from Native peoples for this story, set in a place she calls Ilvermorny, where she's borrowing, people say, from "Native American lore."
With the appropriation of Native stories,
Rowling has walked into societies
that she doesn't understand.
Back in May of 2016 the Daily Mail
" and found an Ilvermorny Sorting Ceremony quiz that asked, "Where do you belong? Horned Serpent, Wampus, Thunderbird or Pukwudgie." Fans write that "Wampus" is Cherokee and "Pukwudgie" is Wampanoag. What, I wonder, are their sources for those declarations? What, I wonder, are Rowling's sources?!
Back in March when Rowling released her first story in Magic in North America, Native peoples responded to that first video, and the stories, too. I compiled them here: Native People Respond to Rowling
. I wonder what we'll see in the movie?
Several weeks ago, I was tagged in a Twitter conversation about William Grill's The Wolves of Currumpaw. The title rang a bell but I've not been able to recall why. Since then, I've had a chance to spend time with Grill's book.
Here's the synopsis:
The Wolves of Currumpaw is a beautifully illustrated modern re-telling of Ernest Thompson Seton's epic wilderness drama Lobo, the King of Currumpaw, originally published in 1898. Set in the dying days of the old west, Seton's drama unfolds in the vast planes of New Mexico, at a time when man's relationship with nature was often marked by exploitations and misunderstanding. This is the first graphic adaptation of a massively influential piece of writing by one of the men who went on to form the Boy Scouts of America.
The picture book is due out in the U.S. on July 12, 2016 from Flying Eye Books in London. It came out there in May. As the synopsis indicates, it is about Ernest Thompson Seton (founder of the Boy Scouts of America) and a wolf.
However, when I started to read the book, I was taken aback at two things: the illustrations of Native peoples, and, the absence of them from the text itself.
The first words of the book set its time and place: "The Old West, New Mexico, 1862."
The illustration shows an empty expanse of trees and in the distance, some mountains. New Mexico became a territory of the United States in 1848. By 1851, there were over 1000 US soldiers in the territory.
Later in The Wolves of Currumpaw
, we learn that the story itself is set in Clayton, New Mexico, which is located in the northeast corner of the state. That means it was in the area of the country that was the homelands for Plains tribes like the Comanches, Cheyennes, or Kiowas.
The first full sentence in The Wolves of Currumpaw
is on page 5:
Half a million wolves once roamed freely across North America, but with the arrival of European settlers the habitats of the animals began to change.
On the facing page, the text is:
These were the dying days of the old west and the fate of wolves was sealed in it.
See? No mention of Native peoples for whom that area was their homelands. How convenient. Most people, by default, use "settlers" to describe those people. That word is seen, by some, as neutral. Others use "invaders" or "occupiers" or "squatters" to call our attention to the political and imperialism that was going on.
Reading the illustrations on page 5, however, the story is a troubling mix of inaccuracy, stereotyping, and a deeply disturbing image of what is meant to be an Native man on his knees, arms raised as if praying or pleading, in front of three soldiers who have their guns aimed at him. Here's the full page:
Numbering the images left to right, row by row, here's the story I discern and my thoughts on that story, too:
1. The US flag is shown as moving from the East Coast across to the West Coast. That's a graphic depiction of Manifest Destiny. I think white people were using the Santa Fe Trail to move to New Mexico. One problem with that depiction of the movement of white people is that it obscures history and the actual movements of Europeans into the southwest. The Spanish invaders were in the southwest long before the 1800s.
2. A white man in a red coat, and his child, are scoping out the land, deciding where to put their house. We don't know where that house is located, specifically. Somewhere near Clayton, New Mexico, but where? And what is the history of that particular land and who it belonged to at that moment in time? Since this book is, ultimately, about wolves, I guess we're not expected to ask those questions. That is not what the book is about, I imagine people saying. Those who put forth that response think I, and others who raise such questions, have "an agenda" as if they, themselves, don't! They do. Their push back is evidence of their agenda.
3. The white man's home is finished.
4. A white man in a black coat, shaking hands with an Indian man. Why? Did they, just at that moment in the story, meet?! Are they saying hello to each other? We don't know. Because we don't have enough information, I'm using "Indian" to describe the man. If Grill was being tribally specific, he might have told us the man's tribal nation. But again--this book is not about Indians, so, to Grill and those who read it as such, I'm probably asking an annoying question.
5. An Indian man on horse, hunting buffalo.
6. White men with rifles, killing many buffalo.
7. White men proud of how many buffalo they have killed.
The illustration of the man standing on a huge pile of buffalo skulls is based on a famous photograph dated 1892. Here they are, side by side. On the left is the original photograph
, housed in the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library. A handwritten note on back says "C.D. 1892 Glueworks, office foot of 1st St., works at Rougeville, Mich."
The handwritten note on back is 1892; Grill's book is set 30 years earlier in a different state. Does it matter? Yes! The wholesale slaughter of buffalo is one of the darkest moments in US history. Consider, for example, what General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote in 1868 to General Sheridan:
"[A]s long as Buffalo are up on the Republican the Indians will go there. I think it would be wise to invite all the sportsmen of England and America there this fall for a Grand Buffalo hunt, and make one grand sweep of them all. Until the Buffalo and consequent[ly] Indians are out [from between] the Roads we will have collisions and trouble" (Smits, 1994).
Grill's use of the photograph is apparently a set-up for the next image...
8. An Indian man points to buffalo skulls on the ground. We can interpret that to mean he's giving the white man heck for his role in the slaughters. Without a doubt, Native peoples objected to what white people did, but Grill's telling of history is a wreck. What happens in the next few illustrations is deeply disturbing.
9. White men build fence right through Indian tipis. The Indian man appears to be saying "stop" to the white man.
10. The white man and the Indian man fight.
11. The Indian man, on his knees, appears to either pray or plead with three U.S. soldiers as they level their rifles at him.
12. Indians being led away.
It is hard for me to come up with words to describe #11. I wonder how Grill came up with that particular illustration? What did he read? Why did he think an illustration like that ought to be part of the story he tells? Did his editor ask him about it? What did he say? It is, of course, a brutally violent image. And while that sort of thing did happen, historically, it does strike me as the sort of thing that most people would deem as being inappropriate for seven year old readers (the book is marked as being for children aged 7 - 14 years). But it isn't noted in the review from Publisher's Weekly
or from Kirkus
either. Did they notice it?
And that last image, of the Indians, being taken away by armed men on horses. That marks the end of Native peoples in Grill's book. The sentence at top of the next (facing) page is:
These were the dying days of the old west and the fate of wolves was sealed in it.
No mention of Native peoples in that sentence, and no reference to Native peoples in the set of illustrations below that sentence either. From there, the story moves to how the white people's livestock is being killed by wolves, and so, the wolves are killed.
In the next dated section (1893) the story shifts to a legendary wolf. There's a reference in the text there:
Old Lobo, or the King, as the natives called him, was the great leader of a notorious pack of grey wolves.
On the next page, Grill gives us names for the wolves (Lobo, Grey Wolf, and Blanca) and white people (Seton, LaLoche, Tannery, and Calone). But, no tribal or personal names.
Overall, we're meant to admire how smart Lobo is, and we're meant to be troubled by what Seton does in his effort to kill Lobo. It is gruesome in parts, and, his use of Lobo's mate (Blanca) as a lure is unsettling. In the end, Lobo dies in captivity. Again, I wonder about the book and its use with young children. The final chapter is about Seton's turning about. Full of regret he becomes a key figure in protecting wolves and other wildlife. In 1902, he founded the Woodcraft Indians.
I truly do not understand the thinking behind this story. It is gratuitous in its violence. If the point is to understand a man's turning point, do we really need page after page about the things he did to try to kill this wolf? Some of it is meant to tell us the wolf was cunning, but the bulk of The Wolves of Currumpaw
is about trying to capture that wolf.
That image of the three soldiers with rifles pointed at the Indian man... that, too, is gratuitous. The history is wrong, the story us needlessly violent, and as such, I can't recommend The Wolves of Currumpaw.
And I do not understand why Publisher's Weekly
gave it a starred review. This review feels ragged as I read and re-read it. I may be back to polish it, but my inability to get to a place where I feel it is ready to share is an indicator of how messed up it is.Works Cited:
Smits, David D. The Frontier Army and the Destruction of the Buffalo: 1865-1883.
In The Western Historical Quarterly
, Vol 25 #3, Autumn, 1994, pp. 312-338.
Cammie McGovern's Just My Luck is new this year (2016) from HarperCollins. A reader wrote to ask me about it, because Indian in the Cupboard is part of the story.
I started reading it two days ago and kept setting it aside. The main character is a 4th grader named Benny. His brother, George, is in 6th grade, and is "medium-functioning autistic" (p. 16). I hope Disability in Kidlit finds someone to review it. Some time back, I read their review of Anne Ursu's The Real Boy. I love that book. One thing that stood out in the review was that the story is told from the perspective of the autistic child, rather than from outsider's who gawk at him. There are pages in Just My Luck where it feels like someone is gawking at George.
I got to page 49 and paused. At that point in the story, Benny is with his older brother, Martin, who is on his first date with Lisa. They go into a Barnes & Noble, where Lisa asks Benny what he's reading (p. 49):
She said she knew it sounded childish but her favorite books were still the Little House on the Prairie series that she read when she was in Mr. Norris's class. "I just love them," she said."
Benny has a crush on Lisa, and so, he says he loves them, too. He's never read them, but their mother used to make them watch the TV show. Two weeks later when she's visiting their house, Benny pretends to be reading Little House in the Big Woods.
Lisa exclaims that it is her favorite book.
I wonder if McGovern read that book recently? In Little House in the Big Woods
, Pa tells the girls how he, as a young boy, would play that he was a mighty hunter stalking wild animals and Indians. Stalking Indians. Do you remember that part of that book? Do you know any other book for kids that has someone hunting another person or people?
I wanted to throw Just My Luck
across the room when I got to that part and I want to ask McGovern if she remembers that passage.
On page 64, Lisa tells Benny that Mr. Norris read Indian in the Cupboard
aloud to them when she was in his class and that he dressed up as characters, too. That was five years back. Benny is in Mr. Norris's class now and he's not done anything like that. Benny tells his mom that Mr. Norris wasn't reading Indian in the Cupboard
to them, so, his mom gets the book from the library and starts reading it aloud, doing the voices as she does (p. 72):
It turns out he's [Little Bear] not only alive, but he's a real person from history, an Iroquois who's fighting battles with the French and English. So Mom has to talk like him, which George loves because he doesn't talk very well. George keeps laughing until Mom tells him it isn't really funny. "In fact," she says, "it perpetuates a lot of negative stereotypes about Native Americans, which is probably why Mr. Norris isn't reading this book out loud to his class anymore."
Then she keeps on reading. She's decided, apparently, that she's going to perpetuate those stereotypes herself. That doesn't add up, does it? And it doesn't seem very caring of her to lay into George like she did, either. She's deliberately being an animated reader, which prompts a response from her autistic son, and she scolds him?! And keeps reading?!
Throughout the next chapters, Benny thinks about toys coming to life. He wants a cupboard so he can bring his Legos to life. Several times, he thinks about Indian in the Cupboard
as he develops the idea for how he'll use his Legos to make a movie. Later, they find out why Mr. Norris isn't doing the things he used to do. It isn't because he's recognized the problems in Indian in the Cupboard.
It is because he's got to take care of his own autistic son, and he's exhausted. He has no time or energy to do the things he used to do.
I don't like Just My Luck.
If Disability in Kidlit reviews it, I'll be back to point to their review. For now, the Native content alone is enough for me to say that I do not recommend Just My Luck.
This particular "Debbie--have you seen" is here, not because someone asked me about it, but because it was recommended on child_lit a few days ago because it has an Ojibwe character.
The character in The Case of the Portrait Vandal is "Raining Sam" as shown in the synopsis:
There's a vandal in the Capitol City Museum of American History, and he or she is intent on defacing priceless artifacts. Raining Sam, the son of the Head of Educational Programs and local Ojibwe tribe member, is determined to get to the bottom of things before anything else can be destroyed. But when Raining himself is considered a suspect, he and his friends must race against the clock to unmask the real culprit and solve the museum mystery before it's too late.
The name, "Raining Sam" and then "Raining" as his first name throughout is a bit of a stumbling block for me. But I do like this part about Wilson (Raining's friend):
Wilson knew about Raining's interest in American history, especially the history of his own people, the Ojibwe. The tribe had been on the continent known as North America a lot longer than some other people.
I also like the part where Wilson can tell that their two friends are approaching because Wilson knows what their footsteps sound like (p. 15):
"Amazing," said Raining, standing up from his spot at the table. "And people think we're supposed to be the trackers." It bugged Raining that people he met still assumed certain things about North America's indigenous people."
The book is part of a mystery series starring four kids whose parents work in museums. Here's a screen capture of them. On the far left is Wilson. Next to him is Amal. By her is Clementine, and, that's Raining on the far right.
Published in 2015 by Capstone, there's a copy of The Case of the Portrait Vandal
on the new books shelf in my local library. I'll be back when I get a chance to read it. It
On Friday, June 4th, Zetta Elliott and I were in San Francisco for the 2016 Association of Children's Librarians of northern California's annual institute. If you're on twitter you can find some of the gems from the daylong conference using the hashtag #ACLInst2016. Our remarks were taped. Here they are:
Here's Zetta's opening remarks:
And then, Zetta and I sat down for a brief conversation:
And last, I was part of a panel, moderated by Nina Lindsay. Here it is:
Thank you, Meredith Steiner, for inviting me to spend the day with you! At various times during the day, people I was talking with said that the information and conversations were better than what they've had opportunities to partake of, before. I heard "depth of thinking and interaction" that I think marks the entire day. We weren't celebrating kids books or writers. We weren't shying away from hard questions, either. If anyone who was there (or who watches the videos) wants to talk more about anything, please let me know!
A reader wrote to me about Tara Lazar and S. britt's picture book, Normal Norman. Published in March of 2016 by Sterling Children's Books, here's the synopsis:
What is "normal?" That's the question an eager young scientist, narrating her very first book, hopes to answer. Unfortunately, her exceedingly"normal" subject—an orangutan named Norman—turns out to be exceptionally strange. He speaks English, sleeps in a bed, loves his stuffed toy, goes bananas over pizza, and even deep-sea dives! Oh, no: what's a "normal" scientist to do? A humorous look at the wackiness that makes us all special— and a gentle reminder that "normal" can't ever be defined!
The reader noted a page in the book where a bear is playing with puppets... one of whom is an Indian. Here's that image:
Why is that puppet there? When I get to a bookstore or library, I'll see if I can figure it out.
A reader wrote to ask me about The Hill by Karen Bass, due out in August from Pajama Press. Here's the synopsis:
Jared’s plane has crashed in the Alberta wilderness, and Kyle is first on the scene. When Jared insists on hiking up the highest hill in search of cell phone reception, Kyle hesitates; his Cree grandmother has always forbidden him to go near it. There’s no stopping Jared, though, so Kyle reluctantly follows. After a night spent on the hilltop―with no cell service―the teens discover something odd: the plane has disappeared. Nothing in the forest surrounding them seems right. In fact, things seem very wrong. And worst of all, something is hunting them. Karen Bass, the multi-award-winning author of Graffiti Knight and Uncertain Soldier, brings her signature action packed style to a chilling new subject: the Cree Wîhtiko legend. Inspired by the real story of a remote plane crash and by the legends of her Cree friends and neighbours, Karen brings eerie life―or perhaps something other than life―to the northern Alberta landscape in The Hill.
In its review, Kirkus says there's also a Wesakechak, and that Bass provided an author's note about her research. I will definitely get The Hill
and be back with a review.
Back in 2008, I started reading John Smelcer's The Trap. I read only a few pages, and stopped reading, because those opening pages reminded me of my childhood, living with my grandmother. I shared those memories and immediately heard from people in Alaska, that Smelcer is not Native.
At a Native Studies conference a few months later, I learned a lot more about Smelcer's claims to Native identity. As I came to know, the mere mention of his name raises the ire of Native and non-Native scholars who work in Native literatures. People have concerns about his claims to Native identity, and concerns about his writing, too.
Here's one example specific to his writing.
In March of 2016, colleagues in Native literature began posting on social media about two poems by Smelcer, published online at The Kenyon Review. Some wrote to the editor, David Lynn. The two poems were subsequently removed. They were replaced with a statement said that they were being removed because they had already been published elsewhere, which is against the Review's policy. A few days later, that statement was gone. David Lynn had a new one up:
In the Spring issue of KROnline, we published two poems by John Smelcer, “Smoke Signal” and “Indian Blues.” I appreciate the many readers who have contacted us to point out that these poems contained damaging stereotypes of Native people. I deeply regret the manifest distress this has caused and take full responsibility. We will continue to welcome—and to seek actively—Native voices, and those of other underrepresented communities, to all Kenyon Review publications.Digging in a bit, I learned that those two poems are in Smelcer's Indian Giver. When I looked up that book, I saw that it--like all of Smelcer's other books--had glowing praise from very prominent people. This was something I'd noticed back in 2008. Among the people Smelcer lists as having praised or collaborated with him are John Updike, Carl Sagan, Noam Chomsky, Allen Ginsberg, Chinua Achebe, Ursula K. LeGuin, J.D. Salinger, Lucille Clifton, the Dalai Lama, and Jack Zipes.
In the case of children's literature scholar Jack Zipes, I looked up the item Smelcer says he co-wrote with Zipes. I wrote to Zipes, too, to ask about the co-written item, and it turns out, Zipes answered a series of questions Smelcer sent to him by email. In his presentation of that interview, however, Smelcer puts it forth as a piece of co-writing. On his website, he wrote:
With Jack Zipes, John co-authored "The Story Telling Instinct: Why Fairy Tales StickI've interviewed people before for articles but would not characterize the product as a "co-authored" item. Have you seen that done before?
Recently, John Smelcer wrote about me at his website, saying several things that are not true. The document at his site is 23 pages in length. The first 21 pages are his account, going back to 1994, when his identity was first questioned at the University of Alaska. As you'll see, Smelcer offers a great many letters and documents that suggest he is Native by birth. Some of this is new. In the past he has said he is adopted, as Diane Chen of School Library Journal found in 2009. In her review of The Great Death, she wrote:
When I read the author’s website, I learned he listened to the stories of this time and place as told by his adopted grandmother and her sister. When I first encountered John Smelcer's work in 2008, the man who adopted him (Charlie Smelcer) told me that Smelcer is not Native by birth. All in all, it is very confusing. Here's the link to the page where he writes about his identity: John Smelcer's Ethnicity & the University of Alaska Anchorage. (Note: I have saved a pdf of the page I saw on June 9th, 2016.)
Here are screen shots of the last two pages of the 23 page document, followed by direct quotes from the screen shots, and my response to them.
(1)Smelcer wrote: "You’d think the attacks would end now, but a woman named Debbie Reese continues to criticize me on the Internet, saying that I have no business writing books about Alaska Natives or Native Americans, not even about my own grandmother, who implored me for years to write my novel, The Great Death, about a pandemic that devastated Native communities all across Alaska nearly a century ago, including my own tribe."
My response to: I have never said that John Smelcer has no business writing books about Alaska Natives or Native Americans, or his grandmother. With this blog post, I ask Smelcer to provide evidence for that statement.
(2)Smelcer wrote: "In her blog, this dishonest woman accused me of “culturally appropriating” the Native words and phrases I used in the novel [The Great Death], purposefully concealing from readers the fact that I speak Ahtna fluently, am the only tribal member who can write in it, and that I published a dictionary of the language in 1998 (foreword by Noam Chomsky), a fact easily checked on my website, which was listed on the back of the book as well as on the audiobook."
My response: I have not reviewed The Great Death at my blog or elsewhere. I did not say Smelcer was "culturally appropriating" the Native words and phrases he used in the novel. I did not purposefully conceal from readers that Smelcer speaks Ahtna fluently, or that he is the only tribal member who can write it, or that he published a dictionary of the language. With this blog post, I ask Smelcer to provide evidence for that statement.
(3)Smelcer wrote: "In April 2016, she posted a review of my poetry book Indian Giver on amazon.com in which she admitted that she hadn’t seen or read the book yet, but she gave it a one-star rating nonetheless (all other reviews by people who actually read the book gave it five stars). She included in her byline that she’s a member of the American Library Association. I’m certain the ALA doesn’t condone censuring books before they’ve even been read."
My response: In April of 2016, I posted a comment at Amazon, on the page for Smelcer's Indian Giver. The page had incorrect information in the "About the Author" section, that said (note, specifically the text I put in bold):
The Great Death was short-listed for the 2011 William Allen White Award, and nominated for the National Book Award, the BookTrust Prize (England), and the American Library Association’s Award for American Indian YA Literature.
To submit a comment, Amazon's interface requires that you give the item for which you are commenting a star (or 5 stars). I gave it one star so that I could say:
Please note an error in the "About the Author" section and the "Awards" section of this page.
The American Library Association does not have an award for American Indian Young Adult Literature.
When I receive a copy of Smelcer's book, I will update this note with a review of the book itself.
Debbie Reese, Member, America Library Association
Below is a screen capture of my comment. As I believe my comment shows, Smelcer is misrepresenting my words.
(4)Smelcer wrote: She even emailed the 22-year-old newspaper story to folks who wrote blurbs for the book encouraging them to retract their praise and to shun me. One of the other deceits she and her friends use often is to say that my writing “perpetuates stereotypes about American Indians” to discourage librarians from ordering my books. Again, she conceals the fact that the books include endorsements by Native American writers, historians, and scholars who praise the contents.
My response: On the Amazon page for Indian Giver, I saw that Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz was being quoted as having said Smelcer is "One of our most brilliant poets." I correspond with her frequently, particularly of late because Jean Mendoza and I will be adapting her Indigenous People's History of the United States for young adult readers. Given my correspondence with her, I could verify that blurb. I asked her about him and I did send the newspaper articles to her. Smelcer says I sent these articles to others who wrote blurbs. With this blog post, I ask Smelcer to provide evidence for what he is saying.
I wrote to Dr. Dunbar-Ortiz to ask her about it. She told me she had been introduced to him and that he told her he is Native. Later he sent her the draft of Indian Giver. In good faith, she provided him with a blurb that is being used to market that book, but her words are also on the cover of Stealing Indians. She didn't read Stealing Indians. It strikes me as disingenuous for Smelcer to use her words for one book to praise a different one, and his doing that makes me wonder about all the blurbs on all the other books. Are they legitimate? Or is Smelcer dropping the names and words of all those people here and there to give him credibility? For most of them, we can't find out because they're deceased. Dr. Dunbar-Ortiz has written to Smelcer, asking that he not use her words to promote his work. He is ignoring her. She has also written to his publisher, to no avail. I did not encourage Dr. Dunbar-Ortiz to retract her praise or to shun him.
I have not said Smelcer stereotypes American Indians. In fact, because I found the controversy over his identity so unsettling in 2009, I did not finish The Trap and did not read subsequent books. I am currently reading his latest young adult book, Stealing Indians, and will post a review when I finish writing it.
(5)Smelcer wrote: "In early 2008, I had a candid telephone conversation with Debbie Reese, offering to provide her many of the documents presented in this article. She told me flatly that “she didn’t care what I sent her, that nothing would change her opinion, and that she planned to destroy me and make sure that no one would ever publish my writing again.”
My response: I have never spoken with John Smelcer, in person or on the telephone. I never said, to anyone, that I was going to destroy John Smelcer and make sure that no one would ever publish his writing again.
Smelcer wrote: "Friends who have contacted her on my behalf have reported similar responses."
My response: I received a letter from Larry Vienneau much like the one in Smelcer's document, but I did not respond to it.
I don’t understand her obsession with me. She heartlessly obstructs my sole means of providing for my family and for my daughter’s future. How many emerging Native voices has she silenced over the years? How many deserving books have been disregarded by the industry because of her? There are over 500 tribes in America. In no way does she represent or speak for all Native Americans. She is not even a spokesperson for her own tribe. If you are in the publishing industry—a librarian or magazine or journal editor or a literary prize committee member—please stop empowering this bully.
My response: I am not obsessed with Smelcer. I am a scholar in children's literature. As such, I study children's books about Native peoples. People in the children's literature community know my work, and that I advocate for Native writers. As a critic, I review children's books, drawing from print resources, and from colleagues in Native Studies, too. I do not purport to speak for all Native Americans. I am not a spokesperson for my tribe and never said that I was. Again, I am a scholar in children's literature. I stand by my work, and when my review of Smelcer's Stealing Indians is ready, I will stand by it, too.
A librarian in Nebraska wrote to ask me if I've seen Cammie McGovern's Just My Luck. Released on February 23, 2016 from HarperCollins, here's the synopsis:
Critically acclaimed author Cammie McGovern's middle grade debut is a powerful and heartwarming story that will appeal to readers who loved R. J. Palacio's Wonder, Ann M. Martin's Rain Reign, and Holly Sloan's Counting by 7s.
Fourth grade is not going at all how Benny Barrows hoped. He hasn't found a new best friend. He's still not a great bike rider—even though his brother George, who's autistic, can do tricks. And worst of all, he worries his dad's recent accident might be all his fault. Benny tries to take his mom's advice and focus on helping others, and to take things one step at a time. But when his dad ends up in the hospital again, Benny doesn't know how he and his family will overcome all the bad luck that life seems to have thrown their way.
Just My Luck is a deeply moving and rewarding novel about a down-on-his-luck boy whose caring heart ultimately helps him find the strength to cope with tragedy and realize how much he truly has to offer his friends and family.Just My Luck
, the librarian wrote, references Indian in the Cupboard.
There's a copy in my local library. I'll pick it up, read it, and be back with a review.
Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins is set on San Nicolas Island, a small island off the coast of Santa Barbara California. In the Author’s Note at the back of the book, O’Dell writes that “[t]he girl Robinson Crusoe whose story I have attempted to re-create actually lived alone upon this island from 1835 to 1853, and is known to history as The Lost Woman of San Nicolas” (p. 187). Because nobody could understand her language, her given name is not known. Named Juana Maria by the Mission priest who took her in at Santa Barbara Mission, she died six weeks after her rescue. To anthropologists, the people of the island are known as Nicoleños.
In his story, O’Dell changes Juana Maria’s status to a twelve-year old girl named Karana. As the story opens, Karana and her little brother Romo are digging roots when a ship arrives. On board is a Russian captain named Orlov who has come with forty of his (Aleut) men to hunt sea otter. Based on past experiences, Chief Chowig (Karana’s father) and Orlov have a tense discussion about what the Ghalas-at will receive in return for the otters that will be taken from the waters that abut the island. Months later when Orlov readies to leave without holding up his end of the bargain, a fight breaks out. Most of the men of Ghalas-at, including Chowig, are killed. Two years later, the survivors are rescued. After the rescue ship leaves the cove, Karana realizes Romo is not on board. She jumps ship to stay with him and wait for another rescue ship. Soon after, wild dogs kill Romo, and Karana is alone until her rescue.
Her years on the island make survival a central theme of the story. During that time, she builds several shelters, makes weapons that only men are supposed to make (according to tribal traditions), finds food, fights wild dogs, befriends a large dog that she thinks came to the island with the Russian ship and then when he dies, tames a wild dog that she thinks was fathered by the large dog. She survives an earthquake, a tsunami, and several harsh winter storms.
At the close of the story, she is leaving the island. Based on the text, she has been there at least four years. On page 162, the text reads that two years have passed since the Aleuts had been on the island. At that point, Karana stopped counting the passage of time. One spring, there is an earthquake. As she makes a new shelter, she sees a ship and at first, she hides from the two men who come ashore. She decides she wants to be with people again, and rushes down to the cove but the canoe is gone. Two years pass and a ship returns. This time, she doesn’t hide. When the ship leaves, she is on board with her dog and two caged birds.
A few words about Scott O’Dell
Born in Los Angeles, California in 1898, O’Dell died in 1989. He spent the first thirty years of his adult life working in Hollywood as a cameraman and writer. In 1920, a California newspaper misprinted Odell Gabriel Scott’s name as Scott O’Dell. Liking the misprint, Scott legally changed his name and from then on, was known as Scott O’Dell. In 1947, he became the book editor for the Los Angeles Daily News (Payment, 2006).
In addition to his writing, O’Dell spent time with his father on his orange grove ranch, where he visited ranches of Spanish families of the Pomona Valley and listened to their stories of the past. This led him to write three novels for adults, and a history of California.
In 1957, O’Dell published Country of the Sun: Southern California, An Informal History and Guide. Therein, he references Helen Hunt Jackson’s articles, published in 1882 in Century Magazine, about the mistreatment of the Cupeno Indians of California. He also references her novel, Ramona, published in 1884, saying her novel “had about the same impact as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Overnight, the country was aroused to the plight of the Southern California Indian” (p. 52). Country of the Sun includes two pages about “The Lost Woman of San Nicolas Island”.
O’Dell developed the story into a book-length manuscript and showed it to Maud Lovelace (author of the Betsy-Tacy books). She persuaded him “that it was a book for children, and a very good one” (Scott O’Dell, n.d.). Lovelace penned the biography for O’Dell when he won the Newbery Medal for Island of the Blue Dolphins. She concludes the biography with “Scott O’Dell’s life brought him naturally a knowledge of Indians, dogs, and the ocean; and he was born with an inability to keep from writing. So he gave us the moving legend of Karana” (p. 108).
In his acceptance speech, O’Dell referenced animal cruelty and forgiveness as themes that are present in his book. He also spoke at length of Antonio Garra, a Cupeno Indian man who, just before he was executed under bogus charges, said “I ask your pardon for all my offenses, and I pardon you in return” (O’Dell, p. 103). O’Dell went on to say that this man, of a peaceful tribe, is unknown to the world because he was peaceful rather than “like Geronimo” (p. 103). Karana, he said, belonged to a tribe like Garra’s. He concluded his speech saying that Karana, before her people were killed, lived in a world where “everything lived only to be exploited” but that she “made the change from that world” to “a new and more meaningful world” because she learned that “we each must be an island secure unto ourselves” where we “transgress our limits” in a “reverence for all life” (p. 104).
Acclaim and Critiques of Island of the Blue Dolphins
Island of the Blue Dolphins received glowing reviews and went on to win the Newbery Award. It was made into a movie in 1964 and has since been made into audio recordings several times. The National Council of Teachers of English listed it on its “Books for You” in 1972, 1976, and 1988. In 1976, the Children’s Literature Association named it one of the ten best American children’s books of the past 200 years (O’Dell, 1990). It is the subject of numerous amateur videos on YouTube and there are volumes of lesson plans written for teachers. Over the years, the cover has changed several times. As of this writing, it has 734 customer reviews on Amazon.com. Thirty-three readers gave it one star, while over 600 gave it four or five stars.
In 1990, Island of the Blue Dolphins was republished, with illustrations rendered by Ted Lewin, and an introduction by Zena Sutherland. A fiftieth anniversary edition was published in 2010, with a new introduction by Lois Lowry. She showers O’Dell’s novel with praise, noting that he “masterfully” brings the reader onto the island (O’Dell, 2010). In 2010, School Library Journal blogger Elizabeth Bird listed it as one of the Top 100 Children’s Novels (Reese, 2010). In 2010, the book was listed in second place on Amazon’s list of “Bestsellers in Children’s Native American Books” (Reese, 2010).
In the academic literature, Maher (1992) writes that Island of the Blue Dolphins is a “counterwestern” that gives “voice to the oppressed, to those who lost their lands and their cultures” (p. 216). Tarr (1997) disagrees with that assessment, asserting that the reader’s uncritical familiarity with stereotypical depictions of American Indians is the reason it has fared so well. Moreover, Tarr (2002) writes that the stoic characterization of Karana and her manner of speaking without contractions are stereotypical Hollywood Indian depictions rather than one that might be called authentic. Placing the novel in a social and historical context gives depth to Tarr’s statement and also explains why it is so popular.
Island of the Blue Dolphins in a Social and Historical Context
In the years preceding the publication of Island of the Blue Dolphins, America was enjoying the heyday of Hollywood Westerns that depicted savage Indians who terrorized settlers and captured their women, and heroic White men who courted Indian maidens and bemoaned the way Indians were treated by Whites. John Ford’s Stagecoach(1939) follows a stagecoach of travelers who must be mindful of Indian attacks. Broken Arrow (1950) featured Jimmy Stewart as a man in love with an Apache girl and who, out of love and sympathy, tries to help make peace between the Apaches and the U.S. troops. In The Searchers (1956), John Wayne plays the role of a man on the search for a White girl who had been abducted by Indians.
Some of the research that went into Country of the Sun reappears in Island.Presumably, O’Dell conducted his research during the 1950s. That decade was a devastating time for several American Indian nations, a time during which their identity as sovereign nations was again under government attack. It is useful to review how they came to be known as sovereign nations.
From the moments of their arrival on the continent now called North America, Europeans encountered well-ordered nations or tribes of Indigenous peoples, each with its own territories and forms of governance. Recognition of that nationhood is evident in the treaties European heads of state made with their counterparts amongst the 500+ sovereign Indigenous nations (Deloria and DeMallie, 1999). In the treaties, lands were ceded to the United States in return for federally provided health care, housing, and education. As time passed, various entities wanted to nullify the treaties, thereby discontinuing federal funding to tribes and making available lands held by tribes. Desire for land, coupled with the rampant corruption within the Bureau of Indian Affairs that had federal oversight for the tribes, led Congress to terminate its nation-to-nation relationship with the tribes through a policy outlined in House Concurrent Resolution 108 (Wilkinson and Biggs, 1977) that led to several public laws enacted by Congress, including the California Rancheria Termination Act (Public Law 85-671). Through the Termination period (1953-1962), over one hundred bands, communities, and rancherias (California Mission Indians) in California were terminated (Nies, 1996). Given his care to include mistreatment of California Indians in the 1800s, it is curious that O’Dell does not reference any of the Terminations in Country of the Sun.
Emma Hardacre’s Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island
As noted, Island of the Blue Dolphins is based on the life of Juana Maria. At the time of his research, the resources he had available to him about Juana Maria were newspaper accounts and articles about her. Emma Hardacre’s “The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island” was first published in Scribner’s Monthly in 1880, and then again in 1950 and 1973. Hardacre begins by noting that Robinson Crusoe is a work of fiction, whereas the story of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island was true. In Santa Barbara, people spoke less and less about the “widow, between twenty and thirty years of age” who leapt from the ship to be with her child who had accidentally been left behind (p. 75).
Years later, a Mission priest named Father Gonzales commissioned Thomas Jeffries to go to San Nicolas to see if she was still alive. Jeffries (p. 277):
found the remains of a curious hut, made of whales’ ribs planted in a circle, and so adjusted as to form the proper curve of a wigwam-shaped shelter. This he judged to have been formerly either the residence of the chief or a place of worship where sacrifices were offered. He had picked up several ollas, or vessels of stone, and one particularly handsome cup of clouded green serpentine.
More interesting to Jeffries was the abundance of sea otter. Soon after his return to the mainland, he returned to the island with George Nidiver and a crew of Indians on an otter hunt. For six weeks, they hunted seal and otter. Leaving the island, a sailor said he thought he saw a human figure calling to them, but the figure vanished.
On their third trip to hunt at the island, Nidiver saw a footprint and exclaimed that the woman was alive. The next day, Nidiver found a basket that contained “bone needles, thread made of sinews, shell fishhooks, ornaments, and a partially completed robe of birds’ plumage, made of small squares neatly matched and sewed together” (p. 279). In their search of the inland, they found “several circular, roofless inclosures [sic], made of woven brush. Near these shelters were poles, with dried meat hanging from elevated crosspieces” (p. 279). Not finding the woman, they determined the footprint was older than they thought, and some thought that she was probably dead. Fishing continued for several weeks. Nidiver believed she might be alive and hiding and decided to look until he found her or her remains.
A search was organized. They found the whale bone house, where “rushes were skillfully interlaced in the rib framework; an olla and old basket were near the door.” (p. 279). Climbing over slippery rocks, they found fresh footprints and followed them up a cliff. Brown, a fisherman, saw the woman in an enclosure and approached her. A pack of dogs growled at him but ran away when she uttered a cry that silenced them. She did not see Brown approaching. Hardacre reports that “the complexion of the woman was much fairer than the ordinary Indian, her personal appearance pleasing, features regular, her hair, thick and brown, falling about her shoulders in a tangled mat” (p. 280). She was anxiously watching the men below her dwelling. Brown signaled to the men that he had found her and that they should approach. When he spoke to her, she ran a few steps, then (p. 280):
instantly controlling herself, stood still, and addressed him in an unknown tongue. She seemed to be between forty and fifty years of age, in fine physical condition, erect, with a well-shaped neck and arms and unwrinkled face. She was dressed in a tunic-shaped garment made of birds’ plumage, low in the neck, sleeveless, and reaching to the ankle.
She greeted the other men and then set about preparing a meal for them that consisted of roasted roots. Through gestures, they communicated that she was to go with them. She understood immediately and put her things in pack baskets.
On board their ship, Brown wanted to preserve her feather dress, and so made her a petticoat of ticking. He gave her a man’s cotton shirt and a neckerchief. She watched Brown closely as he sewed, and showed him how she used her bone needle to puncture the cloth and then put thread through the perforations. Through gestures, she told Brown of her years on the island, how she made fire “by rapidly rubbing a pointed stick along the groove of a flat stick until a spark was struck” and that she was careful not to let it go out, covering her home fire with ashes to preserve it. She ate fish, seals’ blubber, roots, and shellfish, and she used bird skins for clothing. Her main dwelling was a large cave on the north end of the island.
On arrival in Santa Barbara, people flocked to Nidiver’s home to see her. Through gestures, she told Nidiver’s wife that dogs had eaten her baby and how she grieved its loss. She also communicated her dread of being alone, her years of hope for rescue, and at last, resignation at being alone. Nidiver was unable to find anyone amongst the Indians in the Missions who could understand her language. They learned some of her words: “A hide she called to-co (to-kay); a man, nache (nah-chey); the sky, te-gua (tay-gwah); the body, pinche (pin-oo-chey)” (p. 283). She was so gentle and modest that some believed she was not an Indian, but “a person of distinction cast away by shipwreck” (p. 283). She got weaker and weaker and when she was near death, Nidiver’s wife asked Father Sanchez to baptize her. He did so, giving her the name Juana Maria. She was buried in a walled cemetery and the mission fathers “sent her feather robes to Rome. They were made of the satiny plumage of the green cormorant, the feathers pointing downward, and so skillfully matched as to seem one continuous sheen of changeful luster” (p. 284).
The academic resources on the people of San Nicolas Island were scant at that time that O’Dell wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins. Archeological studies post-1960 have generated a richer body of materials. Pre-1960, O’Dell likely drew from resources he used when writing his history of California. These included Kroeber’s handbook. He reports that her speech (language) was “thoroughly unintelligible” to Chumash Indians in the area and to Indians from Santa Catalina Island as well (p. 634). Most dwellings, Kroeber wrote, “were reared on a frame of whale ribs and jaws, either covered with sea-lion hides or wattled with brush or rushes” (p. 634). Dugout canoes “may have been burned from drift logs” (p. 634). Seals, water birds, fish, and mollusks were the primary source of food, supplemented by roots. He concludes with “whether the toloache cult or the image form of mourning anniversary had reached the island must remain in abeyance; and as to society, there is total ignorance. Ghalas-at has been given as the name of the island. This is perhaps the native or the Chumash pronunciation of Gabrielino Haras-nga” (p. 635.)
O’Dell may have read a study published in an archeological journal in 1953. Meighan and Eberhart’s study stated that “ethnographically, almost nothing is known of the tribe” and that there was a “virtual absence of trade goods, in particular glass beads” (p. 109). They reference the possessions of the woman as follows: “a well made sinew rope 25 feet long and one-half inch in diameter, thought to have been used in snaring sleeping seals” and, “sinew fishing line; bone and abalone shell fishhooks; bone needles; bone knives, and a knife made of a piece of iron hoop stuck in a rough wooden handle” (p. 112). Items found on the island include mats and skirt fragments made of eel grass, grass skirts, woven bags, woven baskets, stone knives with wooden handles, a stone drill with a wooden handle, wooden knife handles, a wooden ladle, an arrow shaft, a wooden dark foreshaft with bone bars, a drill with wooden shaft and stone point, harpoon points, a great many mortars and pestles, steatite dishes and bowls, stone beads and pendants, bird and sea-lion claws used as pendants, stone ground spoons and ladles . Meighan and Eberhart report four Nicoleno words: “tokay (hide), nahchey (man), taygway (sky), and pinoochey (body). Bird bones were used to make beads, whistles, awls, and fishhooks. Fish and shellfish were the primary source of food, including abalone, rock scallops, mussels, limpets, and sea urchins.
Clearly, these two key sources say little was known about the people of Ghalas-at and the woman at the heart of O’Dell’s novel. And yet, he was able to write a novel of 186 pages. With this survey of the source material of that time, I turn to a close read of specific passages from the story.
A Close Read of Island of the Blue Dolphins
In the following table, the left column contains a selection of material from the story. In the right column are notes specific to the information in the left column. Some of the passages are not addressed in the Discussion following the table; they are retained in the table for further research.
| || |
“I remember the day the Aleut ship came to our island” (p. 9)
“I” is Karana. On page 12, O’Dell tells us the name of the island: Ghalas-at. The Aleut’s are an Indigenous people from what came to be known as Alaska. During the time of the novel (1835), the Aleuts were enslaved by Russians and forced to hunt sea otters (Pullar, 1996).
Karana describes Romo, her 6-year old brother: “He was small for one who had lived so many suns and moons” (p. 9)
Writers often use the cliché “many moons ago” when writing from an Indian point of view. Though it is obvious that people who do not speak English would have words in their language for sun or moon or the passage of time, the “many moons ago” idiom, inserted into the mind/mouth of any Native character obscures the diversity of language.
When Romo sees the Aleut ship, he describes it as “a small cloud” (p. 10).
In Country of the Sun
, O’Dell recounts a Cahuilla legend, “The Lost Spanish Galleon” (p. 147) that begins with Cahuilla men seeing a Spanish galleon and thinking it was a cloud.
As Orlov comes ashore, “Half the men from our village stood at the water’s edge. The rest were concealed among the rocks at the foot of the trail, ready to attack the intruders should they prove unfriendly” (p. 12).
In Country of the Sun
, when the Spanish galleon is sighted, O’Dell writes “The Cahuillas hid themselves behind rocks along the shore” and their chief “cautioned his people to remain hidden” (p. 148).
When Captain Orlov comes ashore and begins negotiations with Karana’s father who is chief of the people at Ghalas-at, Karana is surprised that her father gives Orlov his seldom used and secret “real” name (Chowig) because “if people use your secret name it becomes worn out and loses its magic” (p. 13).
Look for: Names and their power.
“Karana” is the protagonists’ secret name. Her common name is “Won-a-pa-lei” which means “The Girl with the Long Black Hair” (p. 13).
The translation does not make sense, given the likelihood that all the girls would have long black hair.
The Aleuts come ashore, and Karana sees “a tall man with a yellow beard” (p. 12).
In Country of the Sun
, Yuma Indians and a “bearded” Spanish captain come ashore (p. 148).
The night Orlov arrives, her father “warned everyone in the village of Ghalas-at against visiting the camp. “The Aleuts come from a country far to the north,” he said. “Their ways are not ours nor is their language” (p. 17).
From O’Dell’s Country of the Sun:
The night the Spanish came ashore, “Darkness fell and the Cahuillas went silently back to their village and held council far into the night. The older men, who had heard tales of Spanish greed and ferocity, were in favor of abandoning the village and taking the women and children into the mountains. But the younger men, proud of their heritage as warriors and jealous of it, prevailed” (p. 148). They lay plans for an attack.
Each night, people in the tribe “counted the dead otter and thought of the beads and other things that each pelt meant” (p. 23).
Karana does not like the slaughter of the otters she regards as friends she would have fun watching as they played. “It was more fun than the thought of beads to wear around my neck” (p. 23).
This is O’Dell’s first mention of beads. Presumably, the negotiations that took place when Orlov landed included beads but this was not specified.
In Country of the Sun:
The next morning, the Spanish gave each of the Indians “a handful of beaded trinkets” (p. 149).
The beads story works because it plays on the idea that Indians are not smart enough to know that their land and resources aren’t worth more than beads. Williams’ analysis of Dutch, Manhattan, beads is excellent.
Karana’s father sends young men “to the beach to build a canoe from a log which had drifted in from the sea” (p. 24).
Kroeber: Canoes “may have been burned from drift logs” (p. 634).
Orlov and his men prepare to leave without paying for the otter pelts. Chowig speaks to Orlov, who signals his men to bring a black chest to the island: “Captain Orlov raised the lid and pulled out several necklaces. There was little light in the sky, yet the beads sparkled as he turned them this way and that” (p. 27)
The archeological record (Kroeber/Meighan & Eberhart) does not list sparkly beads recovered on San Nicolas Island.
Items Karana has in a basket she carries onto the rescue ship: “three fine needles of whalebone, an awl for making holes, a good stone knife for scarping hides, two cooking pots, and a small box made from a shell with many earrings in it” (p. 42).
References to these items are in the historical record.
Karana’s sister, Ulape, “had two boxes of earrings, for she was vainer than I, and when she put them into her basket, she drew a thin mark with blue clay across her nose and cheekbones. The mark meant that she was unmarried” (p. 42).
An assumption that Karana and her people had the same ideas of beauty (vanity) that O’Dell did.
After she leaps off the boat and is back on shore, “The only thing that made me angry was that my beautiful skirt of yucca fibers, which I had worked on so long and carefully, was ruined” (p. 47).
An assumption that Karana and her people held the same ideas of beauty that O’Dell did.
Romo declares that, as son of Chowig, he is now Chief of Ghalas-at. Karana replies that before he can be the chief, he must become a man: “As is the custom, therefore, I will have to whip you with a switch of nettles and then tie you to a red ant hill” (p. 51).
O’Dell’s likely source for this is Kroeber’s Handbook of the Indians of California, Volume 2.
On page 672, he describes “The Ant Ordeal” that may have been part of the “Toloache Initiation” of Luiseno boys: “The boys were laid on ant hills, or put into a hole containing ants. More of the insects were shaken over them from baskets in which they had been gathered. The sting or bite of the large ant smarts intensely, and the ordeal was a severe one, and rather doubtfully ameliorated when at the conclusion the ants were whipped from the body by nettles.”
Romo has “a strong of sea-elephant teeth which someone had left behind” (p. 50).
Meighan references sea-lion claws used as pendants.
Karana needs weapons: “The laws of Ghalas-at forbade the making of weapons by women of the tribe, so I went out to search for any that might have been left behind” (p. 58.)
Thinking the chest Orlov left may have an iron spearhead, Karana digs up the chest and finds it “filled with beads and bracelets and earrings of many colors” (p. 59). There are no spearheads in the chest.
Reference to beads draws on “primitive” (stupid) Indians who sold Manhattan for beads.
Karana “wondered what would happen to me if I went against the law of our tribe which forbade the making of weapons by women—if I did not think of it at all and made those things which I must have to protect myself” (p. 61).
Future research on weaponry.
“There was a legend among our people that the island had once been covered with tall trees. This was a long time ago, at the beginning of the world when Tumaiyowit and Mukat ruled. The two gods quarreled about many things. Tumaiyowit wished people to die. Mukat did not. Tumaiyowit angrily went down, down to another world under this world, taking his belongs with him, so people die because of him” (p. 82).
This story, from the Cupeno Indians, appears in Country of the Sun
in “Revolt in the Mountains” as follows: “One of the most dramatic and current [myths of creation], as recounted by Salvador Cuevas, a Luiseno, has the world and everything in it created by the gods Tumaiyowit and Mukat. The gods quarreled and argued about their respective ages. They disagreed about many things. Tumaiyowit wished people to die. Mukat did not. Tumaiyowit went down, down to another world under this world, takig his belongings with him, so people die because he did” (p. 47). It is also in Kroeber’s Handbook, on page 692.
Karana uses several words that she says are in her language:
“Won-a-pa-lei” means “the girl with the long black hair” (p. 13)
“sai-sai” is a kind of fish (p. 85)
“rontu” means fox eyes (p. 105)
“zalwit” means pelican (p. 107)
“naip” means fish (p. 107)
“gnapan” is a thick leaved plant (p. 115)
“Mon-a-nee” means “Girl with the Large Eyes” (p. 160)
“Rontu-Aru” means “son of Rontu” (p. 169)
None of these words are in Kroeber or Hardacre.
O’Dell had little to go on in creating the worldview of Karana and her people. To flesh out the story, he inserted his prior research on other California tribes, inserting their ways into the Nicoleno tribe, as though one peoples’ way of being was interchangeable with another. O’Dell wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins prior to the development of multicultural literature and the attention to specificity, so it may be appropriate not to judge him too harshly for doing it. He also drew from popular stereotypes and clichés of American Indians, including the stories in which American Indians traded their land for a string of beads. An American embrace of stereotypes and clichés led to—and guaranteed—the success of the novel.
Island of the Blue Dolphins is a lot like most books and media about American Indians that give the audience the kind of Indians that America loves to love (Shanley, 1997). O’Dell gave us both: the savage ones (the Aleuts), and the gentle ones (Karana’s people). In a spirit of generosity, it is possible to justify why his story met with such success but how do we justify an embrace of it in the present time, when we know so much more about accuracy and authenticity of representation? And why do even our leading scholars fail to step away from the book? For example, in her introduction to the illustrated version, Zena Sutherland conflated the story of Juana Maria with the fictional story of Karana. She incorrectly refers to the Lost Woman as Karana, instead of Juana Maria. She says that she was twelve years old (Juana Maria was a mother, not a child), and that Karana’s brother died on the island (Juana Maria’s child died). The real person is lost in the embrace of the fiction character, Karana. Is sentiment in the way?
There is a fascination, a nostalgia, and a yearning for the romantic Indian and all that “Indian” means to people who think the best life anyone could have is one of the Indian of yesteryear, living in the pristine wilderness, where the weight of the world is not on your shoulders, where you can breath clean air, and drink clean water.
This nostalgia also captures the imaginings of the perfect childhood, but neither one is—or was—real. As such, Island of the Blue Dolphins is a perfect example of a book at the center of the canon of sentiment (Stevenson, 1997). Indeed, the canon of sentiment “exists to preserve—to preserve the childhood of those adults who create that canon and to preserve the affection those adults feel for the books within it” (p. 113). A good many adults imagine the childhood O'Dell described and the survival that Karana experienced. We like to think we could survive, too, and a story like this one lets us see how that could happen.
Nonetheless, the story is lacking in its accuracy and suitability for informing children about American Indians. Will there come a time when there is a critical mass of gatekeepers rejecting works like this? I hope so. Sentiment is no excuse for ignorance.
Deloria, V. and DeMallie, R. J. Documents of American Indian Diplomacy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Hardacre, Emma. (1971). The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. The California Indians: Source Book, edited by R. F. Heizer and M. A. Whipple. Berkeley: University of California Press, 272-281.
Kroeber, A.L. (1925). Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Lovelace, M. H. (1961). Scott O’Dell: Biographical note. The Horn Book Magazine, 37,
Maher, S. N. (1992). Encountering others: The meeting of cultures in Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins and Sing Down the Moon. Children’s Literature in Education, 23(4), 215-227.
Meighan, C.W. and Eberhart, H. (1953). Archaeological resources of San Nicolas Island, California. American Antiquity, 19(2), 109-125.
Nies, J. (1996). Native American History.
New York: Ballantine Books.
O’Dell, S. (1957). Country of the Sun: Southern California, An Informal History and Guide. New York: Thomas E. Crowell Company.
O’Dell, S. (1961). Acceptance paper. The Horn Book Magazine, 37, 99-104.
O’Dell, S. (1978). Island of the Blue Dolphins. Trumpet Club Edition. New York: Dell Publishing Co.
O’Dell, S. (1990). Island of the Blue Dolphins. With illustrations by Ted Lewin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Payment, S. (2006). Scott O’Dell.
New York: Rosen Pub. Group.
Pullar, G. L. (1996). Alutiiq. Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. Edited by Mary B. Davis.
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Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer's I Am Not A Number
, illustrated by Gillian Newland and due out from Second Story Press on October 4th of this year (2016), is one of the books I will recommend to teachers and librarians.
Dupuis is a member of the Nipissing First Nation
In 1928, Dupuis's grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis, was taken to a residential school in Canada. "Residential" is the term used in Canada for the schools created by the Canadian government. They are similar to the government boarding schools in the U.S. These were schools designed to "christianize" and "civilize" Native children. Some of them were mission schools where efforts were made to convert the children to whatever denomination ran the school.I Am Not A Number
opens with a frightening moment. An Indian agent is at their door, to take Irene and her brothers to residential school. When Irene's mother tries to keep Irene, the agent says "Give me all three or you'll be fined or sent to jail." Irene's parents, like many Native parents, were coerced into giving up their children.
When Irene arrives at the school and tells the nun (it is a mission school run by the Catholic Church) her name, she's told "We don't use names here. All students are known by numbers. You are 759." Irene thinks to herself that she is not a number, hence, the title for the book.
Her hair, as the cover shows, was cut. That happened to children when they arrived at the schools. It was one in a long string of traumatic moments that Native children experienced at residential or boarding schools.
Another was being punished for using their own language. At one point, Irene gives another girl a piece of bread. The girls speak briefly to each other in their language, Ojibwe. One of the nuns hits Irene with a wooden spoon, telling her "That's the devil's language." The nun drags Irene away for "a lesson." The lesson? Using a bedpan filled with hot coals to burn Irene's hands and arms. It was one kind of abuse that children received, routinely.
Irene's story ends on a different note than many of the residential and boarding school stories. She and her brothers go home for the summer. What she tells her parents about her time at the school moves them to make plans so that Irene and her brothers don't go back. When the agent shows up in the fall, the children hide in their dad's workshop. The agent looks for them, but Irene's dad challenges the agent, saying "Call the police. Have me arrested." In a low, even voice, he tells the agent that he (the agent) will never take his children away again. In the Afterword, Dupuis writes that her grandmother was only at the school for that one year. Her father's resistance worked. She was able to stay home, with her family.
Residential and boarding school stories are hard to read, but they're vitally important. In the back matter, Dupuis and Kacer provide historical information about the residential school system. They reference the report the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
(the TRC) released in 2015, too. The work of the TRC is being shared in Canada, and books like I Am Not A Number
should be taught in schools in Canada, and the U.S., too. In my experience, schools don't hesitate to share stories of "savage Indians" who "massacre" those "innocent settlers." In fact, the Native peoples who fought those settlers were fighting to protect their own families and homelands. Depicting them as aggressors is a misrepresentation of history. The history of the US and Canada is far more complex than is taught. It is way past time that we did a better job of teaching children the facts.
I'll end with this: I'm thrilled whenever I see books in which the author/publisher have opted not to use italics for the words that aren't English ones. There's no italics when we read miigwetch (thank you) and other Ojibwe words in I Am Not A Number.
Kudos to Second Story Press for not using italics.