Saturday, August 04, 2007



Thomas King's A Short History of Indians in Canada

In a bookstore here* yesterday, I got a copy of a Thomas King book I hadn't seen before. Called A Short History of Indians in Canada, it is a book of short stories. One is "Where the Borg Are." If you're a sci-fi fan, or a fan of Star Trek, you know who the Borg are... Here's the first two paragraphs of "Where the Borg Are."

By the time Milton Friendlybear finished reading Olive Patricia Dickenson's Canada's First Nations for a tenth grade history assignment, he knew, without a doubt, where the Borg had gone after they had been defeated by Jean-Luc Picard and the forces of the Federation. And he included his discovery in an essay on great historical moments in Canadian history.

Milton's teacher, Virginia Merry, was not as impressed with Milton's idea as he had hoped. "Milton," she said, in that tone of voice that many lapsed Ontario Catholics reserved for correcting faulty logic, bad grammar, and inappropriate behavior, "I'm not sure that the Indian Act of 1875 is generally considered an important moment in Canadian history."

Intrigued? I am!


[Note: This post originally appeared yesterday, underneath my post about Graham Greene. I'm reposting it as a stand-alone for searching purposes.]

*I'm in Stratford, Ontario, on vacation. Last night we saw Pentecost at the Studio Theater. During the scene where the art historians are taken hostage, one of the refugees (or terrorists, depending on your perspective) points out the door where the authorities are surrounding the church they're in. He says "Cowboys." He gestures to those inside the church, and says "Red Indians." Later in the play, there's a reference to a brutal murder from the past in which someone's face was, presumably, mutilated. The character made a clawing gesture and said "Red Indians." The murderer wasn't a "Red Indian," but that imagery was used to mean savage/barbaric. I gather "Red Indian" is the phrase Brits used to refer to American Indians.

.

Friday, August 03, 2007










Graham Greene as Shylock


I'm in Stratford, Ontario, where we spend a few days each year at the Shakespeare Festival. This year, for the first time ever, there is a Native actor on stage here. It's Graham Greene, and he's doing Shylock in Merchant of Venice, and Lennie in Of Mice and Men. We have tickets to both.

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Greene:

“Shylock’s forced conversion to Christianity is not unlike the First Nations people being forced into Christianity,” notes Greene, an Oneida who was born on Ontario’s Six Nations Reserve.

And the fundamental misunderstanding between Shylock and his Christian clients brings to mind such ongoing disputes as the continuing Caledonia land claim dispute in southern Ontario. “There are a lot of parallels there,” says Greene."


You can read the full article here.


--------------------------------------
And a few words about Thomas King...

In a bookstore here yesterday, I got a copy of a Thomas King book I hadn't seen before. Called A Short History of Indians in Canada, it is a book of short stories. One is called "Where the Borg Are." If you're a sci-fi fan, or a fan of Star Trek, you know who the Borg are... Here's the first two paragraphs of "Where the Borg Are."

By the time Milton Friendlybear finished reading Olive Patricia Dickenson's Canada's First Nations for a tenth grade history assignment, he knew, without a doubt, where the Borg had gone after they had been defeated by Jean-Luc Picard and the forces of the Federation. And he included his discovery in an essay on great historical moments in Canadian history.

Milton's teacher, Virginia Merry, was not as impressed with Milton's idea as he had hoped. "Milton," she said, in that tone of voice that many lapsed Ontario Catholics reserved for correcting faulty logic, bad grammar, and inappropriate behavior, "I'm not sure that the Indian Act of 1875 is generally considered an important moment in Canadian history."
Intrigued? I am!
.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Shonto Begay's NAVAJO: VISIONS AND VOICES ACROSS THE MESA

[Note: This review used by permission of its author, Doris Seale, and may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.]

------------------

Begay, Shonto (Diné), Navajo: Visions and Voices Across the Mesa, illustrated by the author. New York: Scholastic (1995). 48 pages, color illustrations; grades 5-up; Diné (Navajo)

In his first non-fiction book for younger readers, Begay explores “facets of Navajo life that are rarely touched upon in Western literature.” This is not a coffee-table book. It is not “American Indian wisdom,” it is not “Mother Earth spirituality,” it is not designed by those who are fascinated by Indians. The words tell the story of a life lived at such far remove from the clamor of urban society as to be nearly incomprehensible to those who inhabit that environment—although even here, what is called “civilization” impinges on the lives of the people.

A grandmother called Small Woman, so strong and gentle that she lived 113 years; the blessing of rain and how sweet the earth smells after a summer thunderstorm. An eclipse and a father who sang prayers for the sun’s return. Tribal fair with its throngs of people—every size, every shape, every color. Ceremony that brings balance back to the world. And the things that come in the night, mysteries, to test that balance: “Sounds pounding from within/Threaten my spirit/More than the sounds on the roof.”

And then there is that other world, the one that surrounds us, that requires us to make some sort of accommodation with its presence; the one, in fact, in which many of us live. The European hitchhiker of “Coyote Crossing,” in the bed of the truck, “quietly sitting there, nibbling on his organic snack, oblivious to what just happened.” The coal mines on the mesa with machines as big as buildings, the trucks, the trains, the jets, that disturb Grandfather’s morning prayers. But “still we sprinkle pollen for another day/Still we have faith.” Ancient truth still exists, “Like pictographs, like broken pottery shards/We have yet to see the picture whole.” Still the spring comes, “For this generation, and many more to come,/This land is beautiful and filled with mysteries./They reveal themselves and their stories—/If you look carefully and listen....”

The pictures are magnificent, and there is much to see in them that might not at first be noticed. Look carefully at the pattern of earth and snow on page 12, for instance, and you will see a running horse, a man with what may be a dog—or something, a deer, a jackrabbit, Cousin Toad—the life of the land.

This is a strong and beautiful book. There is healing in it. Accept the gift as it is given.

—Doris Seale

.


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

An oft-posed question: "Who can tell your stories?"

Over on Saints and Spinners, a fellow blogger is discussing the question of telling stories (see her post on July 29th.) Stories, that is, from another cultural group. That blogger is a storyteller, and she's left Native stories alone, because she's not sure if it's appropriate, what permissions are involved, etc.

Course, we all know storytellers (and writers) that do this without thinking it through. Some are unaware of the issues involved, and others choose to ignore the issues, claiming that storytellers throughout history change details whenever a story is told again...

Which is true enough, but, when those details are so major that the story no longer reflects the values of the culture from which it originated, then it is no longer that culture's story, and should not be labeled as such. That erroneous labeling happens all the time. It is a major problem. When questioned, defenders of these books put forth 'creative license' and 'freedom of speech' arguments.

To return to the question posed at Saints and Spinners.

There is no easy answer.

Some years ago (note I didn't say "many moons ago") I was at a children's literature conference. Illustrator James Ransome was a guest speaker. He was asked why he had not illustrated any books about American Indians. His reply was something like "I haven't held their babies."

Consider that simple statement and what it embodies.

If I trust you, I will let you hold my baby. Foremost in my mind is that she is vulnerable. I don't want her hurt in any way. I don't let just anyone hold her. I have to trust that you will not hurt her.

If you are a storyteller, what is your relationship with, for example, the Pueblo people. Are you retelling Pueblo stories? Do you know any Pueblo people? Have you held their babies?

.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

NPR story: "Is Ancient People's End a Warning for the Future?"

Today (July 29, 2007), NPR is broadcasting a segment called "Is Ancient People's End a Warning for the Future?"

There are some glaring problems with the segment. Assuming you listened carefully and thought you were learning something about Pueblo people, I (regular readers of this blog know I am from Nambe Pueblo) offer the following.

We Are Still Here. In the broadcast, and on the webpage, there are explicit and implicit suggestions that we no longer exist.

On the webpage is a photo of the archaeologist interviewed for the segment. Here's the caption:

Archaeologist Kristen Kuckelman kneels in one of the ancient houses, or kivas, at Goodman Point Pueblo. Her research points to climate change as contributing to the disappearance of the Anasazi, or Pueblo People of the Southwest.


Two glaring errors in that caption are:

1) Equating house and kiva. They are not the same thing. One is a place you live. The other is a place for learning and ceremony. This error is also in the broadcast. It surprised me that an archaeologist would make that mistake.

2) "...disappearance of the Anasazi, or Pueblo People of the Southwest."

We didn't disappear. We moved.

That simple fact, however, is left out of the story. As such, it allows listeners to more firmly pack their mistaken notion that we no longer exist.

Later in the broadcast, a water manager says:

"They obviously didn't have our technology. They didn't have Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam. And when there was a change in the climate, they could not adapt to it," he says.

Couldn't adapt, so we disappeared. That word... adapt. A troublesome word---who or what adapts or is adapted? And what does it mean, to adapt?

He's talking, obviously, about that long-held notion that American Indians weren't using the land properly, and that Europeans, whose technology was superior, were justified in their actions to claim the land. Course, he's talking about water here, and says that dwindling water will mean that cities will buy water rights from farmers...

From farmers? Actually, one of the major water rights cases in northern New Mexico is between farmers and PUEBLO INDIANS.

The NPR story is rife with bias and error. There are some interesting aspects to it, and some things worth knowing, but I urge you to listen and read critically, always. It will take the concerted effort of all of us to change the ways that American society thinks/speaks about, and treats, American Indians.

And that includes writers, teachers, parents, librarians, and professors who write, edit, publish, review, and purchase children's books.

.