, THIS LAND IS MY LAND, George Littlechild; Children's Book Press, 1993. 46 First Street, Suite 101, San Francisco, CA, 94105, $16.95 (U.S.). Available from Oyate. 32 pages, oversize hardbound, large color illustrations. 0-89239-119-7
This art book, which will be enjoyed by young children, and is appealing to any age, is a must-have for all school libraries and anyone who likes art. Deservedly, it's won several medals, though not the more prestigious ones given annually for children's lit and illustrations.
George Littlechild is a Canadian Cree artist, whom the publishers mis-describe as "a member of the Plains Cree Nation." Actually, he was born at Hobbema Reserve (Alberta), and it's possible his mother lost her citizenship through George's father, considered a white man (despite some Mik'maq ancestry), under Canada's Indian Act. Prior to repeal of this portion in 1986, an Indian woman who married a white man lost citizenship and had to leave the Reserve, with all children (who also lost their citizenships), though Indian men who married white women did not.
Littlechild tells half of an ancestral story (his mother's side) with a frontispiece of small photo portraits of Cree ancestors, that go back to great-greats. The rest is told in exciting, expressive paintings and collages, with short narratives about their personal meanings to him on facing pages. A portrait of his green-eyed mixed-blood brother has a narrative entitled "Urban Pain Dance." He explains how "both of our parents died violent deaths on skid row," and a life "like being in prison" in the city is "why I put bars in the background of this picture."
Cities can be liberating, if you come to a new one as an artist and find friends, and inspiration. In "The Indian artist visits New York, New York" a tiny photo of Littlechild not dressed up Indian is backed by huge colorful skyscrapers painted with a child's innocent eye and brush-strokes. A knocked-for-a-loop pink horse, Littlechild's alter ego, (who shows up elsewhere in several paintings) stretches his neck along the street, looking up and exclaiming a thick-brushed "WOW" at the scene. "I loved the tall buildings, the crowds of people, the huge stores, the fancy restaurants. And the art! It was amazing." Littlechild discovered the freedom to paint expressively, not to follow rules, especially rules for what and how Indian painters should paint, the rules of a stereotyped "Indian art" which is entirely absent from every painting in this book.
He paints pain -- but also pride, joy, laughter. "Are buffalo fuschia-pink and gold? Of course not, but...it's good medicine to laugh," he says of one very striking image of a buffalo-masked dancer.
With his family, in its history and personally, Littlechild has danced the pain dance that was imposed on Indian people. But "In Indian Country we are closing the circle by healing ourselves. We ar very hopeful and the future looks promising."
Pictures and narrative are an antidote to stereotypes of "Indians" galloping the plains or sitting wisely around campfires, showing us with broad strokes and bright colors that there is Indian life in most every major city today. A pain dance still for all too many, but a spiritual circle too, broadening to encompass more in a dance of beauty.
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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996
Last Updated: Tuesday, October 29, 1996 - 12:53:47 AM