Saturday, July 11, 2009

Intersections: Alice Walker, playing Indian, and real Indians

Searching for information about Bill Wahpepah, a Kickapoo and Sauk and Fox man who worked at the Native American Survival School in the Bay Area in the 1970s, I found myself reading Alice Walker's blog post "The First Time I Saw Dennis Banks: Ojibwa Warrior Introduction." I learned that Alice Walker was involved with the American Indian Movement:

Many years later, after moving to the West Coast, I became involved in the American Indian Movement: Reading poetry with John Trudell, hosting fund raisers with Nilak Butler, Bill Wahpepah and his sculptor wife, Carol. Celebrating Un-Thanksgiving Day at Alcatraz Island, praying-in on top of Black Mesa in Arizona, and joining demonstrations and vigils for Native American rights whenever I could. However it wasn’t until a decade had passed that I once again saw Dennis. This time handcuffed, on trial for a list of crimes designated by the court, having voluntarily returned to face sentencing after leading the FBI on a chase that lasted eleven years.
Go to her blog and read the entire essay. There, she talks about her mother's grandmother, Tallulah, who was African and Cherokee. Clicking around her blog, I ended up at her website, Alice Walker's Garden, where I read her biography. This jumped out at me:

The most shaping experience of Walker’s childhood and adolescence occurred in 1952 when she was eight years old. Playing cowboys and Indians with her older brothers Curtis and Bobby, Curtis shot accidentally Walker in the eye with a BB gun. To avoid punishment, the brothers concocted a fiction and pressured their sister to accept it. The physical result was that Walker lost the sight in her right eye.


That incident played a major role in her writing. Not the playing Indian part, but the effect of agreeing to hide what happened. Read the entire biographical essay, too. She doesn't say more about Indians or playing Indian there. Maybe she does elsewhere. I'm not trying to interpret it in any way, good or bad, because I don't know her work. It just strikes me, on this July day, the ways that peoples lives intersect, how they touch each other.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Book signing: Simon Ortiz and Evelina Zuni Lucero



If you can, head for downtown Santa Fe next Tuesday. At 3:00, Simon Ortiz and Evelina Zuni Lucero will be at the Museum of Contemporary Arts for an event celebrating the publication of Simon J. Ortiz: A Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance. Evelina is one of the editors of the book.

For directions and details, check out the Facebook page about the event.



High school English teachers who teach any of his writings will find the book an excellent resource. And, if you're interested in his books for children, I have a chapter in the book you might find helpful.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

"Moccasins and Microphones" Poetry Performance, Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Team

Back in November, 2008, NewsHour on PBS featured a handful of high school poets from Santa Fe Indian School. They are in the Spoken Word Club and were getting ready for the 2009 Brave New Voices Poetry Slam. If you click here, you'll go to the page I posted in November. It's got links to audio and visual clips of them reading. Shown here is a photo taken of their performance at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.

On July 20th, from 6 to 7:30 PM, the Spoken Word Team will be performing at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Admission is free.

The members of the team are:

Nolan Eskeets (Navajo)
Davin Coriz (Santo Domingo/Ohkay Owingeh/Picuris)
Santana Shorty (Navajo)
Clara Natonabah (Navajo)
Stuart Chavez (Havasupai/Navajo/Zuni)
Ariel Antone (Tohono O'odham)

Their coaches are Tim McLaughlin and Amaryllis Moleski. The Spoken Word Team is nationally recognized for their poetry, which incorporates Native languages and philosophies.

If you're in the Chicago area on the 20th, add this to your day. Or, plan a trip there and cap it off with this event. Click here to see PBS video of their readings.

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UPDATE, 4:00 PM, July 9, 2009. The event is at the Newberry Library, and is hosted by the D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian History. Information about Moccasins and Microphones is here. Scroll down on that page to find the information about Moccasins and Microphones, but also scroll way down and click on the link to read the Meeting Ground Newsletter. Spend some time on the McNickle pages! The McNickle Center is a terrific resource for anyone interested in American Indians.

Last, driving directions to the Newberry are here.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Quileute Response to TWILIGHT

Pasting below an extended excerpt from a New York Post article. Called "Vampire Vacation: Twilight Fans Turn a Quiet Indian Reservation into an Unwitting Tourist Mecca," it is the first time I've seen a Quileute response to Twilight. The news article was posted online at 1:32 AM on July 5th, 2009.

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"Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer chose Forks after Googling for the rainiest place in America and was pleased to find the Quileute nearby.
Locals marvel at how much she got right, but the economically depressed reservation is ambivalent about "Twilight" and how its 350 residents should capitalize on it. Compared to Forks, where visitors can pose with Bella's truck and participate in a "Twilight" look-alike contest, the reservation is cloaked in centuries-old anonymity.
"There are mixed feelings," says tribal council member Anna Rose Counsell. Over the last three months, the tribe has struggled over what to do. "This is a phenomenon that is happening whether we like it or not."
Tribal leaders hired a p.r. pro, Jackie Jacobs, in February after being inundated with "Twilight" inquiries. The tribe opened its Wednesday night drum circle to all visitors, which recently included two families of "Twilight" fans.
At the tribe-owned Oceanside Resort, director Renee Rux says business is up 30 percent, thanks to "Twilight." "It's been huge for us," Rux says. The resort recently partnered with a charter boat company to offer "Twilight" tour packages for $250.
At the moment, the shop stocks few "Twilight" souvenirs, including hand-knit hats emblazoned with "Bella," "Jacob" and "Edward." Another holds $8 bottles of sand, labeled "Jacob's Treasure."
Rux, a non-native, retrained the staff to reach out to visitors. "That's the paradigm shift," she says. "People [now] want that experience of being with the Quileute."
A hospitality industry veteran, Rux promised to add $1 million to the resort's $2 million in revenue when she was hired last September. It's just not clear how much the Quileute people want to share their culture for profit.
Hospitality is an ingrained part of their culture, but elders are worried about building a tourist economy. They fret about how their creation story is portrayed in the book. The tribe says they were changed from wolves to humans by a traveler. Meyer took literary liberty, enabling them to change back at will in an eternal battle against vampires.
"This is our opportunity to educate people on Quileute history," Counsell says.
At the Wednesday drum circle, artist and grandmother Ann Penn-Charles works up a sweat in the kitchen while a group of men sing traditional songs. More than 75 people have come on this night for the tribe's free dinner and music.
Quileute artists take pride in harvesting their own materials, whether it's raw animal sinew for a drum or cedar bark for baskets. Penn-Charles says she's felt judged by some tribal members because she knits the names of "Twilight" characters into traditional cowichin hats. They sell for $50 at the resort store, or $25 directly from her.
"They're resentful. They think we're selling out," Penn-Charles says. "It's not. It makes your car payment, or those braces your kids need."
The tribe has hired a business developer, Justin Finkbonner, who also spearheads a crusade to market Quileute and other native artists.
"We have so many talented artists here, so many untapped," Counsell says. "They don't know how to market."
In Forks, Chinook Pharmacy owner Chuck Carlson, agrees. He's seen a 20 percent jump in business thanks to "Twilight" merchandise, but the store only carries one Quileute craft -- tiny hand-woven cedar baskets that sit behind a glass case and sell for $49.
"They need to take more advantage of what's going on," Carlson says. "I don't think they understand how to do that."
In particular, he feels the tribe should profit from the tour buses that rumble through the reservation. "I would be saying, 'Hey, you're coming down here, you're making a lot of money off us. You need to share some of that profit.' "
The tribe is now talking about working with tour operator Dazzled by Twilight. Its evolution as a business likely will only grow as the rest of the books are made into movies. In later books, the Quileutes' role becomes nearly as prominent as the Cullens'.
Fans of La Push hope visitors who come for "Twilight" will learn to appreciate the area's natural allure. That could help connect the Quileutes to more sustainable tourism, such as fishing trips with a Native American guide, kayak rentals and eateries focused on fresh seafood that will attract culinary tourists.
Tribal publicist Jacobs practically scoffs at questions about what the Quileutes will do once "Twilight" fades.
"The Quileute have traced their ancestry to the Ice Age," she says. "One day, 'Twilight' will go away and they will continue being the hospitable, welcoming people they've always been, practicing the culture they have been practicing for tens of thousands of years.

Some time back, I saw something that said cast members would be at Quileute Days July 17-19th, but there is nothing about it on the tribe's website and no mention of it in the news story above.

Update, October 23, 2009

Want to see more that I've written about Twilight? Try...
"Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT" (May 19, 2008)
"Meyer's TWILIGHT, Second Post" (May 25, 2008)
Terrific essays about Meyer's character "Jacob" (June 30, 2008)
"Has Stephenie Meyer read this?" (Oct 23, 2009)

"Do you know what a bow and arrow is?"

I read a newspaper article this morning about a tutoring program in San Jose that helps refugees assimilate. A family from Myanmar is the focus of the story. They are taught English, but also taught about America and American culture.

Here's the excerpt that caught my attention:

"I'm helping him gain the confidence to put his own sentences together. It helps him formulate sentences and teaches me about who he is," says Finigan, 20, who worked with refugees in Thailand in 2008 with missionaries along the border and wanted to continue his work when he came back to the states.

The two worked on a lesson plan on the Native Americans, and Thar Hto Lay's eyes grew big as he looked at the pictures of tepees and bow and arrows.

"Do you know what a bow and arrow is?" asks Finigan.

The teenager just looks up at him and shakes his head.

"They are used to hunt. Do you hunt back in Burma? Or do they use guns?" he ask.

"They use guns," Thar Hto Lay says quietly.

Finigan has been working with Thar Hto Lay since January, coming to his home once a week for two hours at a time. The two talk about favorite movies and food to break the ice and move on to the lesson plan of the day.

I'm going to write to the program for more information. It sounds like the lesson plan on Native Americans rests heavily on stereotypes. The article is "Volunteers help refugees assimilate in the South Bay." It is viewable today (July 7, 2009) in the San Jose Mercury News.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Gloria Whelan's AFTER THE TRAIN

Directing you, today, to Rebecca Rabinowitz's "Source fiction is no excuse for racism."

Her essay is about Gloria Whelan's book, After the Train. In it, Rebecca hones in on the play-Indian theme in the book.

Barbara Bietz, in her review in the Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter didn't note the play-Indian theme at all. Hazel Rochman's review in Booklist doesn't mention it. Neither does independent reviewer Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger, or the unsigned Kirkus reviewer, or Hope Morrison of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

On page 108, Whelan writes:

We pool our money and buy a copy of a Western by Karl May, Winnetou, the Apache Knight. Karl May has written all these great books about the American West, and the amazing thing is he's never been there! You have to wonder how he can make it all seem real.

I wonder why all those other reviewers did not mention the Karl May book? Did they not see it? Did it not matter?

Thanks, Rebecca, for your essay and the link.