Today's post is about a new book, Simon J. Ortiz: A Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance. I bought a copy last week...
Daughter Liz and I spent most of the last week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) annual meeting. Next year's meeting will be in Tucson, Arizona. Anyone that has anything to do with the creation, publication, or distribution of literature by/about American Indians should consider attending this meeting. The insights gained in a few short days will go a long way towards improving the quality of literature for children.
When I'm at Native meetings and conferences, I'm somewhat embarrassed at most of the children's books by/about American Indians that are published. In child lit land, people embrace bogus stuff that would never fly in a college Native lit course. In child lit land, crap (yes, I'm irate today) like Touching Spirit Bear flies off the shelves. Amongst those who study Native literature, it's equivalent for adult readers is the target of much laughter and derision. It is not taken seriously as "Native" literature and it isn't taught as Native literature.
But over in child lit land, there is a clamor for the sequel to Touching Spirit Bear. Like I said, it is embarrassing. And indefensible, too.
It has got to get better.
It can get better if people in child lit land take some time to read Native scholarship, and attend Native conferences and meetings.
At last year's NAISA meeting in Athens, Georgia, my dear friend Evelina Zuni Lucero (Isleta/Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo) introduced me to Simon Ortiz. Through our conversation, I volunteered to write a chapter for a book Evelina was co-editing. That book is Simon J. Ortiz: A Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance. Most of the contributors to the volume were at NAISA, giving papers. The contributors (tribal affiliations are in parens) are:
Elizabeth Archuleta (Yaqui)
Esther Belin (Dine)
Kimberly Blaeser (Chippewa)
Gregory Cajete (Tewa)
Gwen Westerman Griffin (Sisston Wahpeton Dakota Oyate)
Joy Harjo (Mvskoke)
Geary Hobson (Cherokee, Arkansas Quapaw)
David L. Moore
Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo)
Kimberly Roppolo (Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek)
Ralph Salisbury (Cherokee)
Kathryn W. Shanley (Assiniboine)
Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo)
Sean Kicummah Teuton (Cherokee)
Laura Tohe (Dine)
Robert Warrior (Osage)
Hopefully, you have Joy Harjo's The Good Luck Cat on your shelves, along with Leslie Marmon Silko's Storyteller or Ceremony. Do you have a copy of Like a Hurricane: The American Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee, co-written by Robert Warrior? Remember the poem about basal readers that I posted here some time back? That was Laura Tohe's poem. These four people are among the most read and most influential Native writers, and they are in the volume because Ortiz's work meant something to their own growth.
In his 1981 essay in MELUS, Ortiz says that we (Native people) creatively used foreign (European) ritual, ideas, material, and language (English) on our own terms. In Reinventing the Enemy's Language, Joy Harjo writes:
When our lands were colonized the language of the colonizer was forced on us. It was when we began to create with this new language that we named it ours, made it usefully tough and beautiful (p. 23-24).
That is what Simon J. Ortiz: A Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance is about. Using language for continuance. Get a copy, read it, think, read it again, and think about what you write (if you're a writer), what you publish (if you're a publisher), what you review (if you're a reviewer), and what you buy for your children, your library, your school.
Read Simon Ortiz's essays, stories, poetry, and children's books. Spend some time immersed in this reality, not the fantasy where Indians are romantic or tragic figures of the past. Do this, and books for children will get better.
[Update, 9:49 AM, May 27] : Next year's meeting of NAISA will be in Tucson, AZ, not Tempe. Thanks to commenter, Matthew, for catching the error. I also linked to the association's webpage.]