Adult Reading Level

THANKSGIVING: A NATIVE PERSPECTIVE, Doris Seale; Oyate, 2702 Mathews St; Berkeley, CA 94702; 510-848-6700. 1996, about 100 pages (unpaginated), maps Black and white drawings. $8. No ISBN

This book is a must have for every elementary teacher (espcially those at non-Indian schools) and most Middle school teachers as well. In almost all schools, elementary classes make a big thing of holidays -- with artwork and writing by the children posted all over, and various lessons and readings about the history of the holiday. Thanksgiving is generally related to American history, in a sacharine and superficial way. This book collects a number of authentic Native ceremonies, stories, and poems of thanks, presenting them in their own cultural contexts.

Also included are historical documents -- and this history isn't only of the 17th century. In 1970, 350 years after the Pilgrim landing, there was a celebration held at Plymouth by white people "still clinging to the myth of friendly relations between their forefathers and the Wampanoag". Frank James, a Wampanoag, was asked to speak at this celebration. The planners asked to see his speech in advance, and rejected it, because his speech was based on actual facts of history, not the myth of warm-hearted mutual friendship the sponsors wished to present -- the same myth that gets trotted out in most schools every year. James was told he could not deliver his own speech, and refused to give one written for him by a white PR man. The surpressed speech is here, 26 years late.

Why the friendly Pilgrims buddying it up with friendly Indians is a myth is explained in detail in many documents, including a group of materials prepared by Nanepashemet, historian of the Wampanoag Indian Program of Plimoth Plantation. A number of short historical documents recording indigenous perspectives on the settlers' invasions are included. So is the infamousEnglish report on the situation in the Virginia colony (1622) where it's said right up front: the settlers want the "savages'" land, not forest land they were given, because those so-called savages had already cleared and farmed it, saving a lot of work. So they plan to (and of course did) carry out various massacres, which settler men were legally required to participate in -- this report contains that plan.

Several articles prepared (usually with some kind of Native paritcipation) appeared in various periodicals in the late 1970's, sparked by bicentennial fervor and surviving interest in Indians awakened by the 1973 AIM occupation of Wounded Knee (In 1970, AIM leader Russell Means had led -- as a consciousness-raising confrontational exercise -- an Indian takeover of a replica of the Mayflower landing at Plymouth.)

These articles include "Why I'm not Thanksful for Thanksgiving," (Michael Dorris, Modoc, 1978); "Thre are Many Thanksgiving Stories to Tell," (Chuck Larsen et al, Washington State Department of Education, 1986); "Beyond Ten Little Indians and Turkeys: Alternative Approaches to Thanksgiving," (Patricia Ramsey, 1979). All of these articles appeared in obscure sources and are hard to find today.

"Thanksgiving: A New Perspective (and its implications for the Classroom)," (Dorothy Davids et al, Stockbridge-Munsee, Madison Metropolitan School District, 1977) is followed by a number of student research and activity projects, some suitable for K-5, saome for older students (or adults). The book ends with an Oyate-prepared series of pictorially-based exercises on denigratory stereotypes from ads, children's books, and other sources.

I'm sorry to have to say something bad about such a good and necessary book, but I have to say that its physical production is atrocious. In these days when Pagemaker is so easy to use, and even Claris Works has a fairly nice little desktop pubolishing page layout, this kind of layout that might have been done in 1960 is just not acceptable. DTP software will create page numbers (on alternative pages) and generat a table of contents and an index -- which can also be done with most WP software. Table of contents, index, and a bibliography -- and maybe the inclusion of some of those biting Oyate reviews of typical "thanksgiving" children's books would have greatly improved the utility of this.

The awful plastic binding will soon break and pages will come out, as always happens with this worst of all possible methods of binding. My suggestion to teachers is that you pull out all the pages, punch them for a 3-ring binder, and use page dividers (and perhaps with your own page numbers, an index or contents guide). Then you can add your own materials, as you gather them, too.

What this actually means is that Oyate, a group of Native writers, artists, librarians, teachers -- and parents -- has carried out an incredible amount of good work since the mid '80's on th proverbial shoestring. For more than a decade, they've evaluated children's books about Indian people, and for several years, conducted teacher workshops and they also have a lending and evaluation library that can be visited by educators in Berkeley. Oyate now offers (send $3 please) a catalog of hundreds of really good books, many by Indian authors and quite hard to find. They give away books, too, to Indian schools -- almost $30,000 worth over their existence. Their master-work THROUGH INDIAN EYES: THE NATIVE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN should really be updated with some kind of subscription service every year or two, so that many mor reviews, good and bad, than the ones included (in the current -- 1992 -- edition) can be brought to teacher-school attention. They've now started publishing a few works -- an award-winning book of stories, and a single story -- collected from California elders, as well as school and teacher training reference materials.

Oyate does its work with a couple of antique Macs (SE II's) with small amounts of memory and hard drives so tiny that they do not even have past materials saved on hard drive -- no room -- and cannot run modern DTP or graphics software. Do they have a scanner, a Qwik-Take camera? Don't be silly, they have to scuffle for office rent, phone (notice how they have no 800 number), printing and mailing costs. So hey, Apple Compute, hey. How about giving them a couple of power Macs, a laser printer, a scanner and a computer-camera in your community support program? This group has a 10-year history of fine and necessary work, they deserve some support from megabuck corporations. Reviewed by Paula Giese


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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Saturday, May 18, 1996 - 7:49:12 AM