Oyate 2702 Mathews Street Berkeley, CA 94702 Phone: (510)848-6700 FAX: (510)848-4815
OYATE is a group of Indian parents, librarians, teachers, writers, artists who formed in the mid-1980's to try to do something about the bad Indian books for kids found in libraries, and widely used in schools. As Beverly Slapin, full-time worker at Oyate's Berkeley, CA teaching library explains:
"An Ojibwe friend and I had an impassioned argument with a school librarian. We wanted to clear the shelves of books that demean and stereotype Native peoples, and to replace them with accurate, exciting books written by the people they portray. The librarian brushed us off, and that argument was followed by letters, meetings with the principal, meetings with the administration, fiery speeches at school board meetings, and finally locking the offending books in a closet. The shelves were temporarily cleared and we had a short-lived victory." (From Slapin's Introduction to the 3rd edition of Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children)
1. Mainstream presses, especially those marketing to the lucrative school/library market, publish very few native writers; their Indian books are usually illustrated by non-Indian artists.
2. An upsurge in the use of multicultural lit has led to a vast outpouring of Indian books -- many of them awful versions of "myths and legends". Now, as in 1991 when lists were analyzed, the overwhelming majority of Indian children's book authors are white. Many publishers are also re-releasing books they published in the 1970's, during a brief flare of interest in Indians caused by news-making activists. The majority of these old re-issues are bad.
3. A considerable number of really good books -- most (though not necessarily all) by Indian authors has begun to appear. The overwhelming majority come from small or lesser-known presses, and some are developed by tribal cultural heritage preservation projects.
4. Oyate began receiving many calls from librarians, teachers and parents -- as early editions of their book began to become known -- saying they could not find out where and how to order the recommended good books. These little presses do not have the fancy catalogs, and the flocks of sales reps, distributors, bookstore distribution, that major publishers have. Few have 800 numbers, active web catalogs, and other mechanisms of taking orders.
So Oyate began several activities that grew out of the evaluation process and the needs which that process exposed. The most important (and costly) of these was a catalog order service. Oyate publishes a catalog -- the 1996 edition is $3 -- with brief descriptions, and cross-indexing -- of almost 200 books, categorized by reading level, with a few videos and audiotapes. Everything they carry has been evaluated by Native readers and is considered good. The majority of these books are hard to find. None receive the elaborate educational marketing of major publishers, though not all are from little presses. Every school and every library, and parents who are interested in accurate, quality Indian books for their kids should have this catalog!
Oyate also maintains a teaching library at its Berkeley office for teachers within driving distance. Both good and bad children's books are there, and a staffer will take teachers on a good/bad book tour, pointing out why comparable books have those qualities. Oyate staff, board members, and reviewers are also available to give presentations to Continuing Education, University classes, and librarians' associations (if travel is paid). Oyate staff often maintain a booth with a few recommended books and their own TIE and other publications.
And they've given away more than $25,000 worth of children's books (all good ones!) to Indian schools and organizations.
Oyate planned to bring out a new "TIE" to cover all the bnooks that have come out since the 1992 edition, and some that had been missed then in its large section of reviews. They thought to keep the 1992 edition in print. Its essays by Native writers and intellectuals remain useful guidance, and most of the books -- both good and bad -- reviewed there are not only still in print, some have become prizewinners, classics, Disney films. But this is going to be quite difficult to do.
Oyate recently learned from the publisher of TIE that New Society (which recently moved from Philadelphia to British Columbia) is almost out of its most recent printing of the 3rd (1992) edition of TIE. The publisher will not reprint it unless and until Oyate pays them for 1,000 copies which (at their discount) would be about $15,000. There is no way they can do this and also bring out a new book, which they plan to self-publish, i.e. pay print and binding costs for. The new book is not really a new edition, it has a different theme: an emphasis on the idea that "Our stories are ours.", different 3essays, different books reviewed, so there is purpose to retaining the 1992 edition in print.
If all copies of TIE are gone, you may make do with Slapin and Seale's How to Tell the Difference: A Checklist for Evaluating Children's Books for Anti-Indian Bias.($8). Oyate self-published this (it is the last section of TIE) in 1988. However this doesn't contain the large section of many reviews, nor the essays by Indian intellectuals that help to make TIE so useful.Oyate hopes to find funding -- or a publishers -- to keep the 3rd edition in print also. Meanwhile, they are pretty broke. Why is that? Well, being a book distributor -- which in effect is what they have been doing for good, hard-to-find Indian books for kids -- turns out to be rather expensive. They try to maintain a small inventory of everything carried in their catalog (to which there have been a number of additions since the catalog was done and printed). But since most of their publishers are shoestring operations, that means pay in advance for 2-10 copies and recoup only when you sell them. Shipping costs, office space rental, 2 phone lines and a minimal survival salary for one full-time worker (author Slapin) all add up to quite a lot. So it was kind of a shock to discover that the steady sales of TIE which brought in a small, but dependable, operating (Oyate has sold most of them itself; New Society Publishing has done little more than list the book in its catalog) must stop soon, for there are no more available.
It is to be hoped that Oyate will find funding to be able to continue its teaching library, educational outreach, and catalog children's book service. It fills a need met by no other entity. Though the "new book" will undoubtedly be of great value to teachers, librarians, parents and others for years to come, the third edition should remain available too, since there is no overlap or duplication, but that requires a substantial printing cost; essentially one way or another, Oyate must pay the cost of at least 1,000 copies (breakeven print cost, any fewer and it still costs basically the same).
There are also costs associated with getting together a book whose major content consists of many reviews by a large number of geographically-dispersed Native people. There are the phone costs of begging copies from publishers -- many of whom won't send them, so Oyate must buy certain (bad) books it wants to review. Oyate must also buy certain good books by shoestring presses, who have no margin to send review copies. There are phone calls to reviewers and prospective reviewers, and shipping charges to send them their review copies.
Accordingly, if anyone reading this has any sort of "in" with any kind of corporate, foundation, university or other institutional potential donor, please tell Oyate about it. They have received some local funding over their years of existence. They have 501c(3) status, and a track record of more than 10 years of meeting a need no one else has tackled at all.
Here are links-to my reviews of TIE and other Oyate publications:
Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children and How to Tell the Difference: Checklist for Evaluating Children's Books for Anti-Indian Bias
When the World Ended and other Rumisen Ohlone Stories, artist and writer, Linda Yamane (Ruisen Ohlone), published by Oyate. Yamane reconstructed this story from a number of fragments recorded (in Spanish) from several Ohlone people, mostly before World War II.
Thanksgiving: A Native Perspective By Doris Seale (Oyate Staff); intended for teachers
Caucasian Americans: Basic Skills Workbook and 10 Little Whitepeople, both by Beverly Slapin. These were prepared for teacher children's lit education workshops and wittily satirize certain minority multicultural workshops and publications.
Oyate also has a few copies of some publications that are special-interest, hence not in their catalog. If you are part of a committee evaluating social studies texts, you will find the evaluation prepared by a multicultural group in California (Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Indian members) a useful guide, and of course you'll be down on that particular best-selling series for your school.
Call for thei catalog, and with orders or knowledgeable answers to questions about good Indian books for young people.
Oyate 2702 Mathews Street Berkeley, CA 94702 Phone: (510)848-6700 FAX: (510)848-4815
Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996
Last Updated: Friday, March 15, 1996 - 5:22:42 AM