Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Kathleen and Michael Lacapa's Less Than Half, More Than Whole

In the first year of my graduate studies, I came across a book that deeply touched me. The illustrations are terrific, but it was the content of the illustrations that meant so much to me. Page after page had something that spoke directly to me, a Pueblo Indian, living in today's society. To some, it may sound odd to say "living in today's society" but that phrase is important. Necessary. Vital. So many books about Pueblo Indians cast us in the past, in romantic contexts, or somber ones, or ignorant and racist ways, or just plain wrong (see my entry on Ten Little Rabbits, which is in my post: Indian Bunny. No! Now it is Brave Bunny).

This book was different. Its pages showed Native teens in t-shirts. One holds a basketball. In another, a man leans against a fence, with a red ball cap on his head. Another depicts the inside of their home; Native art and basketry is shown. As I read the story itself, I came to a page that has this word "Saiya" and another with "TaTda" (I'm unable to place diacritic marks). I KNEW how to say those words. I knew what they meant. One is grandma and the other is grandfather.

My daughter's recent experiences at school made me think of that book. She didn't need it herself. Her identity as a young Pueblo Indian woman is strong. It speaks to us, though, because of what it can offer to others who know so little about American Indians of today. People see skin color and make a lot of assumptions. Being Native, being Pueblo... it is more than how you look. Less Than Half, More Than Whole is a gentle book that helps its readers think about the complexities of culture, of skin color, of identity. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


The University of Arizona, Tucson is home to Sun Tracks, one of the first publishing programs that focused exclusively on creative works by American Indians. Authors in the program include Joy Harjo, N. Scott Momaday, Simon J. Ortiz, Carter C. Revard, and Luci Tapahonso.

One of my favorites from Sun Tracks is Mud Woman: Poems from the Clay, by Nora Naranjo-Morse. It came out in 1997 and is two things: a collection of her poems, and a series of photographs of her clay creations. You can read one of her poems here: Mud Woman's First Encounter with the World of Money and Business.

Those of you looking for Native poets for high school students should add MUD WOMAN to your collection. The preface provides background and context for the art this wonderful volume contains.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Jim Fortier's Alcatraz Is Not an Island

Blogging today---not about books---but about a documentary that ought to be in middle school and high school libraries. It is called Alcatraz Is Not an Island. Directed by Jim Fortier (Metis and Ojibwe), the film is about American Indian activism in the late 60s. Fortier focuses on the November 1969 occupation of Alcatraz by a group of American Indians.

I show the film each semester to students in my section of Intro to American Indian Studies. Prior to this, they had never heard of this incident. How many of you, readers of this blog, know about that takeover? It lasted 19 months and included negotiations with the Nixon administration. Films like this will go a long way to dispel stereotypical ideas about who Native peoples are.

PBS broadcast the film a few years ago and still has their website up: Alcatraz Is Not an Island. You can get a copy from Berkeley Media.

In addition to the film, get Troy Johnson's books about the takeover. They are filled with photographs taken during the occupation. Some of the photos are at Johnson's website. You can get one of his books, You Are On Indian Land! Alcatraz Island, from Oyate.

Fortier was on our campus (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) last week. He put together a montage of several of his films. Green Green Water, in particular, caught my eye. It is about hydroelectric power and its effects on First Nations people in Canada.

I'm also looking forward to the completion of his current project, Playing Pasttime, which is about All-Indian Fast-Pitch Softball. My colleague and friend, LeAnne Howe, is working with Jim on this documentary.

There's information about him on the NMAI website but spend time on his own webpages, learning about all his projects: Turtle Island Productions. Fortier's work is important, and I highly recommend it.