Purposes, Philosophy, Guidelines


I hear them as they laugh and play
I see them run, jump, twist and turn.

It is not for yesterday I yearn.

It is for tomorrow when it's their turn that I wonder --
     will the birds still have a branch to grasp?
Will they have a past -- kids, birds and trees?

Will the songs still be sung as they are begun
    or will we have stilled --
     You and me,
     the kids, birds and trees?

--Part of a poem by Edward Benton Banai, Anishinaabeg educator and elder, at Red School House AIM Survival School, (St. Paul). He wrote it after the school's first graduation ceremony, June, 1977

By Paula Giese

This NATIVE BOOKS section has a broader purpose than most of the other parts of my entire website. Most of it is by and for Native people -- especially educators and students of any age. If others can learn from it, fine, but non-Indian studnt-tacher needs are not catered to. With Native Books it is different. There is a strong outreach aspect. It's hoped that the booklists, the reviews, the science-math, the AV resources will be of use to teachers of primarily Native kids, to Native college students, etc. But BOOKS is also -- and perhaps primarily -- an outreach service for non-Indian teachers at schools whose stuident populations are entirely or almost entirely non-Indian. Multicultural education (Indian-style) perhaps, but I just don't know what that is.

Just about any Indian person -- but especially writers and intellectuals -- would like to see the big market of schools and colleges opened to books by Native authors, not just books about Native people, however well-done. But all the major commercial and educational publishers -- who have the flocks of sales reps, the fancy catalogs, the mailing lists, the 800 phone order lines -- get all the reviews and attention in educational periodicals -- these publish very few Indian writers; they seem to prefer books about Indians by non-Indians. Of course, talented Native writers are writing and publishing, but the majority of their children's or young people's works appear from little presses, private, tribal, or band council, or alternative education miniorty-support groups. Works produced by such writers are at least the equal in skiill, craft, depth, and appeal to those by the hordes of non-Indian children's writers. But produced on a shoestring, they don't have the colorful art (4-color printing triples the cost of each page -- or page form), and they often lack othr features -- services of designers, photographers, people to prepare maps or indexes -- which make books moreappealing to young readers and often more educational too.

This has certain consequences. Our writers, unlike non-Indian ones, cannot hope to become self-supporting. They cannot live and work as full-time writers, they cannot develop their writerly craft. Ersatz or even racist material is presented to children and young people for their education supposedly about Indian people. The children cannot intellectually defend themselves from the ersatz or disguised racism; nor do the teachers know how.

Perhaps one of the best bits of evidence of this is the phenomenal sales of the first (and later) books by British author Lynne Banks. Indian in the Cupboard sold more than 3,000,000 copies in hardcover and almost 1.5 million in paper since its 1982 publication -- before Disney released the film last summer. No book by any Indian writer on any subject for any age group approaches these sales figures by at least an two orders of magnitude. Yet Banks's books (there are 2 sequels) have been heavily criticized by literarily competent Native teachers, parents, librarians -- all familiar with children's literature -- as presenting racism discretely, while teaching the young white boy (reader identification character) how to behave as a good paternalistic colonial ruler over "dolls" who, despite their limitations and savagery, are alive and have feelings. The EduBuyer/acadmics feel it's a great humanistic achievement that the little boy comes to consider his toy Indians (sort of) human in their limited little world.

Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, by Susan Jeffers is another instance. That one's sold almost 2 million copies (hardcover) and over 1 million (paper) according to recent Internet Publisher's Weekly sales figures (May 18, 1996) -- an even greater phenom than the Cupboard, because its first publication was in 1991. It doesn't have any rattling great action story, like the Cupboard books, no Disney version. It is beloved of environmentalists, that's the sales push.

This book purports to be an 1855 speech by Duwamish Chief Sealth, after whom the city of Seattle is named. Her text is fake, it's adapted from a fake -- a movie script written in the early 1970's sponsored by a Christian group. The whole story of the fake has been told in some detail on Internet, including the author of the original script-fake, who says he was trying to convey a mood his employers wanted, not what Sealth actually said. He didn't say those sentimental modern things about Ma Earth, Pa Sky.

He said you white men have killed off most of us, and the rest of us will die pretty soon.Your god hates us; our gods have forgotten us. We're too few to fight you any more for our beloved land. But because we love this land, which is enriched with the dust and spirits of our ancestral dead, our spirits will haunt your cities. Treat our remnant justly, for the dead are not altogether powerless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it shall surely come. Nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature.

You'll go down too, like you did to us isn't exactly the "order of nature" sentimental environmentalists like to talk about. You just aren't gonna get a whole lot of sentimentality out of the real thing --dignified, bitter, melancholy, Sealth speaks a funeral dirge. As to the Ma Earth, Pa Sky, we are children, we are brothers of those parents, that ain't there at all. Sealth says maybe the whites will be brothers to Indians after someone more powerful comes along and pushes them into oblivion, brothers in death, in extermination by some new wave.

Just about everything in the book is fake, with particular notice to its illustrations (Plains tribespeople, Cheyenne Two Moons is used for a portrait of Sealth, who was a little old pudgey guy from his one old photo). The actual original speech is not obscure, it became hard to find only when the world was flooded with publication of the scriptwriter's fakes in 1976. Several AIM leaders suggsted quoting from it in an AIM brochure for the first AIM Survival Schools, which I wrote a couple of years before the fake was crafted. I had no trouble finding it in 1973. I got it right out of a document collection compiled by the Council on Interracial Books for Children, whose 1971 cheap ($1.25) paperback we at AIM made a lot of use of back then.

I recently saw both of these best-selling bad books (and a couple of others that have come under heavy, well-deserved Native criticisms) very highly recommended on a web page put out by a "multi-cultural education consulting company". So there's a couple of wildly popular children's books about Indians which prove my point. Commercial publlishers and book buyers for kids -- libraries, teachers, parents -- who made these astonishing sales figures cannot tell real from fake, or else they prefer the fake, especially granished with discrete racist subtexts of white superiority, Indian inferiority.

Books are only part of it. Every aspect of the dominant settler-society (U.S. and Canada both) from education to commonplaces in all the media purveys in glimpses and stereotypes -- much less the news, when occasionally Indian people or groups make the news -- a history and portrait of Native peoples that is false in significant and harmful ways. A few good or accurate books will not correct this overwhelming ideological force, which after all mirrors and supports the society itself. So it's more than just "accuracy" I hope to help along. What I hope for has been well-expressed by Portland, Oregon social tudies teacher Bill Bigelow:

"Above all, young readers must be invited to think and critique, not simply required to passivwely absorb others' historical interpretations. Until we create humane and truthful materials, teachers may decide to boycott the entire Columbus canon [pg note: or other bad stuff]. The problem with this approach is that distortions and inadequacies characterizing this literature are also found in other children's books. [pg note: all throughout the dominant society, not just in books.]

"A better solution is to equip students to read critically these and other stories -- inviting the children to become detctives, investigating their biographies, novels, and textbooks for bias....Why do the books tell the stories as they do? Who in our society benefits and who is hurt from these presentations? [PG note: Not just Native people, nor even just people of color; those who are not at the top of the heap are hurt.]

"To invite students to question the injustices embedded in text material is implicitly to invite them to question the injustices embedded in the society itself. " --Bill Bigelow, Once Upon a Genocide..., 1992

In another article, Bigelow explains that as a teacher he is not satisfied to have his students merely become literary detectives, ferreting out injustice in books. The end-goal of his teaching is to motivate those students to change what they learn is unjust, not in print or other media but in the reality which the media reflect and support. That's what I want, too. Not some new generation of white wannabes, disgusted with their society but basically satisfied with the benefits they get from it, so instead of acting as effective change-agents, they trip around babbling about their spirituality and paying $1500 to attend hype artist sweat lodges and fake spiritual ceremonies. Even as they embrace the fake, they corrupt the real. They say they reject their white identity, and that they are reincarnations of Crazy Horse or some other Indian they happen to have heard of. That's a hell of a lot easier than making committments -- which may eventually include some kind of risks as the overly-comfortable see it -- to actually fight injustice and to seek ways of doing so cleverly and effectively.

Tom Maulson, a Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe who is one of the main leaders of a Wa-Saw-Gon the Native Wisconsin group whose treaty rights fight has centered on spearfisWa-Swa-Gon hing, asked a training session of what was later to become the non-Indian Witness supporters:

"The safety of my family and friends is at stake out there and so are my rights. I know why I'm involved. Why do you people want to get involved?" Prospective non-Indians, who later became the organized Witness group went around their workshop circle, with many answers. Here's one (that came later) from non-Indian elder Sarah Backus:

"We are struggling for our [non-Indian] people to be something honorable, something to be proud of. That's very important for my great-grandchildren in my European family." -- from Walleye Warriors

Comprehending history is a way to learn to think, if young people are not trained to become passive consumers of official versions, official lies. Culture is a way to understand and to formulate a different kind of value set than those that dominate the structure of western civilization. If a child learns that much of his surrounding society is built on lies, and that neither the past nor the present are the admirable, unchallengable foundation that the society tells of itself, then to live comfortably with closed eyes may still be possible (since most people in fact do that), but not honorably. One's values are not words read or mouthed, nor "ceremonies and rituals" for culture-vulteres and spiritual Nuage trippers, they are what we live by or they are nothing, garbage babble.

Perhaps some of those children will seek practical and effective ways to live their lives with honor. Honor is a value that is essentially unknown in modern WestCiv, where everything is for sale, and all values ultimately reduce to money or power to command backed by force. Honor cannot arise in denial of longstanding and injustice, but is found in becoming a modern warrior against it. Modern warriors need cleverness, imagination, empathy, compassion, patience, persistence, knowledge, skill, luck, and ability to join with other people who are modern warriors too.

What makes us feel injustice if it is not immediatly perceived as against ourselves or those close to us? Fellow-feeling, empathy, walking a mile in the moccassins of othrs, courtesy of some author's artistic ability to build a real-seeming world and real-seeming characters whose mocassins fit the young reader's feet. Children's stories -- of the Young Adult novel type, whether contemporary or in historical settings -- are vicarious experiences.

Stories -- realistic ones -- of Native people shuld foster empathetic understanding. you walk a felt mile (the book, the story) in the imagined moccassins of the characters of a well-written book, if the author's creative imagination has created the characters and the world of the story well enough to draw you in. Through this vicarious life, understanding, empathy or fellow-feeling, and sympathy for people of similar lives, values, problems are fostered. In that aspect, considerable accuracy to appropriate levels of historical and cultural fact and feeling is a necessary criterion of good children's litrature about Native peoples, from a Native perspective. Of what good is empathy or sympathy with non-existent fantasy-invention peoples who do not now and never have really existed, involvement with supposed problems of a story's characters which are wholly unreal, a brief vicarious literary experience that connects poorly or not at all to any kind of real Native life? The vicarious experience should leave a door open to possible future knowledge that comes from reality, the world. It should foster enduring curiosity to learn more of that part of the world, the lives of those people, if the opportunity to do so arises. And teachers should strivbe to provide such opportunities through contacts with Indian people of the area, and through introduction to good non-fiction books, with historical and cultural material that extends the world of the captivating story until it is seen to be our world, part of the one we live in.

Myths and legends present a different world to young readers in a different manner than a novel-style story, whether the setting is contemporary or historical. They are fragments carrying the values of a society who lived by those values in a different world world, one that has been smashed, nearly destroyed. The fragments that survive in these stories are seeds for survival and regrowth of that world in new forms, by generations removed, sometimes by centuries, from the time those fragments were woven as integral parts of an entire socio-cultural fabric. Accuracy to the traditional stories, to cultural fact and feel (which often needs backgrounding), is therefore of even greater importance. Destroy that accuracy -- to make it sell better in today's market -- and the possibility to reunite the fragments, to recreate a culturally-satisfying wholeness in which native people can survive in today's world without losing their Native identities is destroyed. Also destroyed is the possibility to create among non-Indian people ways of life structured by less destructive values than seem to be governing much of the world today.

Whether any of this might happen, or how, no one can say, certainly not I. It seems a rather heavy burden to lay on a little school reading, when the rest of the world dnies and competes. I'm not a fool to think that some sort of ideal school course would of itself change the world. But it can help to form the people who might.

My interest in proposing good Native historical and cultural materials for non-Native students (and critical understanding of the bad ones: why they are in fact bad) arises from that wish, not from any desire to see these non-Indian students become a new group of befuddled cultural entertainment consumers -- of neat stories, nifty myths, trendy fake mysticisms, playing phoney Indian. If there are going to be effective alliances among people of varying ethnicities, cultures, classes it won't happen that way.

Native youth do not inherit either cultural or historical knowledge genetically. There is no "Indian blood" all blood is red. They may -- in their communities and through their relatives -- have accesses to this knowledge other than literary, but not necessarily so. Furthermore, there is almost as much for native youth to learn via books or other formalized teaching. History, for example. The lives and times of other tribes, other Native cultures. It's important for Native young people to learn "internationally" about other Native Nations, since intertribal cooperation on many substantial political issues is a necessity of survival. Beyond North America, indigenous peoples of the world, with tribal cultures surviving though distorted or shattered by colonialism, are playing increasingly important political roles. So this philosophy -- in wishes or hopes -- goes further than some routine "because it's there, why not have the kids study a bit of it" multicultural education idea. In fact, the more I see of academic discussions of multicultural education, and the more I see of official, commrcial educational materials prepared for it as a market, the less I can understrand what those people are trying to do, or why.

In partial support of the above lofty aims, I've added to BOOKMENU a page UNBIASSING SOCIAL STUDIES which lists reviews (often longer essay-type) of materials for a different and more critical reading of history, with sidebar authentic evocations of cultural values of indigenous peoples. At present, these materials mainly focus on 2 holidays that form a starting point of U.S. social studies for elementary children -- Columbus Day (and all the associated myths) and Thanksgiving. However, I know too little about the standard content of elementary and secondary education in Canada (other than that Thanksgiving isn't a holiday there or likely mentioned at all), and will hope for guidance from Canadian K-12 Native and non-Native teachers. The reasons for this focus are stated in a much shorter philosophy on that page.

These purposes should not be taken to mean I'm going to be ignoring good stories that are captivating to young readers, art, works that are interesting with no particular social ax to grind, works that I consider beautiful. Cramming dull, propagandistic, or wooden, lifeless stuff on young readers just discourages them from reading, and our society is already doing too much of that discouragement. Beauty and intellectual worth -- materials that are good , a value judgement I always make about everything I read and much else that I see, hear, taste, or experience -- are certainly among the values that traditional Native culture encourages in its youth. Art, craft and design books, books that focus on environments and environmental problms specific to certain cultures and reservations are also sought and reviewed. Audio-visual materials (videotapes, sound tapes, films, computer software) about Native people, arts, issues are relatively rare, but are sought for listing -- except for computer software, at present these usually receive only short catalog-type descriptions, i.e. are not reviewed.

For teacher background and source readings, a great variety of adult-reading level materials are reviewed here. Many of these are suitable for high-school level readers (or Native American studies college classes) and all of them provide teacher background on native history or culture or current issues with special emphasis on the historical viewpoints of Native people. Very few materials sets are available which are specifically prepared for teacher use by elementary or middle school teachers. From commercial publishers, both good ones and (explaining why) the rather larger number of bad ones are being reviewed.

Materials kits with background, student worksheets and lesson plans have most often been prepared by and for tribal or band schools and generally focus almost entirely on the tribe that prepared them. Recently books that are specifically designed to introduce Native American wholistic concepts of thought and traditional values into school science programs have begun to appear. The "Keepers" series -- collaborative books by noted Abenaki stoyteller Joseph Bruchac and environmental educator Michael Caduto -- are good examples of one type.

Tribal schools, tribes, and band councils have -- sometimes for mor than 30 years -- been developing cultural curriculum materials for their own students, with the Rough Rock Navajo Tribal Demonstration school the earliest in these efforts. The materials developed there may be of some use to non-Indian schools, specially those in nearby citis, or urban relocation centers, where there is a substantial student population from that particular tribe. Almost all these materials, however, are of greatest interest to other Native educators who are working on curriculum development in their own areas, and would like to learn from what others have done or are doing. A few tribes with Internet access and web pages are posting some of these matyerials -- generally not the whole things (this would be a huge job), but outlines, objectives, mission statements, planning documents. These ar linked-to where found. Written materials, where available, are also reviewed and listed.

One area of reviews is specifically intended for Native schools. Rservations and reservces are usually isolated, far from cities. The schools are usually small -- just a few hundred students in an entire K - 12 school, even fewer with smaller tribes. Development of good science and math programs in these circumstances (where there is often very heavy turnover of non-tribal teaching staff) is difficult. A science-math section of NATIVE BOOKS is intnded specifically for Native schools, since the dominant society's schools have access to a huge variety of resources for those programs. At present, I've been actively seeking "native-centered science materials" and have found a few. I will also be reviewing certain standard science and math course curricula, trhese being sequential of grade-by-grade series programs. That's not quite such an impossibl job as it sounds, since 3 years ago I did a fairly broad-ranging evaluation of such curricula specifically for Heart of the Earth, a city AIM survival school, which, while it's not physically isolated (so I could visit excellent local school labs, draw on library and expert resources, meet with sales reps, etc.) is not part of the public school system, is isolated in relation to such aspects as "very little money, continuation funding for anything, including the school is always uncertain, etc." and has many of the same kinds of social-educational student problems as reservation schools face -- attendance, student preparation, alcohol abuse, disrupted families. In the BOOKS section the main initial focus will be on supplementary books in natural science -- environmntal, biological, health -- that introduce or supplement in interesting and colorful ways scientific learning relevant to real problems many reservations must deal with today as best they can, and educate populations of citizens to cope with in times to come. In the TOOLS section -- slated for a complete revamp this coming summer -- computer education, educational software reviews, hands-on science lab, and InterNet science-math teaching resources will be expanded and reorganized.

I have received a number of requests from Native educators and tribal people for recommendations of educational materials they can use for tribal business development, enterprise management, resource planning professional education -- courses, workshops, training programs or reference works -- that is specifically oriented to the situations and needs of reservations and reserves. Small business development and management as suitable for family or other small enterprises in a tribal environment have also been requested. As and when found these materials will be reviewed; at present the SUBJECT category for them in the subject index is Education; if enough are found, a BUSINESS category will be set up. If you have developed such materials for post-secondary training in your tribe or band, I'd definitely like to see them.

Language instruction: No one is really competent to evaluate such materials who is not a proficient Native speaker. A few tapes and other materials are listed in the Audio-Visual section here. In general, it seems to me that actual learning of any Native language can only be done within a community of the people who do speak it, or who strongly want to revive it. I'm interested in -- and will list-- innovative language instruction materials, which may be useful to others of the same languag group (one big Ojibwe set developed in Minnesota is listed) and especially those which can serve as references for other tribal educators to help them in developing language instruction materials for members of the tribe. Generally, that means worksheets and other written materials that accompany the language tapes, and often children's storybooks (I haven't seen any for adults or young adults except Maude Kegg's memoirs) that have English and the native language on facing pages. I'm interested also in updatd dictionaries, grammars, and accounts of revivifications of dead or nearly-dead languages.

It's appropriate to end an essay like this with a people note: The people thse reviews are intended for are cxurrently seen primarily as educators and librarians in K -12 schools, and for college Native Studies. But of course reviews are useful to students, too, as a guide to research. Next fall, I hope to start a section of reviews of Indian books by Native young people, with the cooperation of teachers from Native schools who have InterNet access. What's useful to teachers and librarians can also be helpful to parents looking for good books about Native people or storybooks for their kids. "Useful" means among other things, findable, so complete info is givn asbout where these books can be purchased. Most are not going to be found in the average book store, especially the big chains that are driving out most of the small specialty stores, nor will they be in college bookstores until some kind of dent is made in what those bookstores order (largely as specified by professors). Many of the best books -- by Nativ authors and little presses -- ar hard to find. There are 3 non-profit Native groups that offer catalog assortments of these, and use the revenues to advance Native educational efforts, through scholarships and various other educational and publication activities. Although each review header provides contact info for publisher order services, it's recommended that if those Native groups carry the book you want, you get it from them. Books available from those sources are marked with icons, representing AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society), Oyate, and Native American Author Distribution Project.

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Webmistress --Paula Giese.Text and graphics copyright 1996

CREDITS: The eagle started life as a real golden eagle photographed as he was being released from the Minnesota Raptor Center, much worked over with graphics utilities for the iridescent abalone-shell wing effect.

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 30, 1996 - 7:11:48 AM