Flood is doing that, too.
Soon after the Iraq War began in 2003, Lori Piestewa was killed in Iraq. Her death was felt by people across Native Nations, who started a movement to rename "Squaw Peak" in her honor. Janet Napolitano (she was the governor of the state of Arizona at that time; the Hopi Nation is in Arizona) supported the move. Though it was a difficult change to make (due to governmental regulations), it did take place. What was once "Squaw" Peak (squaw is a derogatory term) is now Piestewa Peak. Each year, there are gatherings there to remember Lori Piestewa. Her family is at those gatherings, as are many Native people.
Tess--the main character in Flood's Soldier Sister, Fly Home--is Navajo. The story opens on the morning of a "ceremony" for Lori. Tess and her parents will go to it, but her older sister, Gaby won't be there because she is in the service. Tess is angry that her sister enlisted in the first place, but also angry that Gaby can't be at the service. The reason? Gaby and Lori were friends (p. 14):
Lori was the first of my sister's friends to join, the first to finish boot camp, the first deployed to Iraq. "Nothing fancy, nothing dangerous," Lori had emailed. "I'll help with supplies, help the soldiers who do the fighting. They're the real warriors. Before you know it, I'll be back."It is implied that Lori wrote to Gaby. That passage feels wrong to me, too. Several news articles report that Lori sent an email to her mother. In it, she said "We're going in," and "Take care of the babies. I'll see you when I get back." Whether she used Lori's actual words or ones she made up and attributed to Lori doesn't matter. What matters is that she did it in the first place.
The "ceremony" for Lori that Tess and her parents go to bothers me, too. It is going to be held in a gymnasium in Tuba City. When they get there, Tess sees that there are "three large wide drums clustered together." Three different times during this "ceremony," the drumbeat is described as "boom-BOOM."
In newspaper accounts, I find that there was a memorial service held for her in a gymnasium in Tuba City on April 12, 2003, but I don't find any descriptions of it. What is important, is that it was a memorial. Not a "ceremony." At these kinds of Native gatherings (many are held in gyms, so that is not a problem with Flood's story), there is a drum and honor guard, but no "ceremony" of the kind that is implied. And characterizing the sound of the drum as "boom-BOOM" is, quite frankly, laughable.
On page 14 of Soldier Sister, we read that Tess's mother is going to give Lori's family a Pendleton blanket. Tess remembers her sister in that gym, standing at center circle ready to play basketball (p. 15):
Today Lori's mother stood in that circle, wrapped in a dark-purple blanket. Purple, the color of honor. Fallen Warrior. On each side of her stood two little children, Lori's children. Did they hope Lori would come home and surprise them?Surprise them?! That part of that passage strikes me as utterly callous and lacking in sensitivity for Lori's children and family.
It is possible that, at the actual service that happened that day (news accounts indicate her family was given Pendleton blankets are other memorials since then), someone gave Lori's family a Pendleton blanket. It may have been one of the Chief Joseph blankets. They're available in purple. Pendleton blankets figure prominently throughout Native nations. I've been given them, and I've given them to others, too.
I doubt, however, that a purple one was chosen because purple signifies honor to Hopi or Navajo people. Purple carries that meaning for others, though. In the US armed services, for example, there's the Purple Heart.
In the back of the book, Flood writes at length about getting Navajo consultants to read the story to check the accuracy of the Navajo parts of the story and her use of Navajo words, too. There is no mention of having spoken to anyone at Hopi, or anyone in Lori Piestewa's family, about this story.
In her "Acknowledgements and Author's Note," Flood writes that (p. 153):
A percentage of the royalties from the sale of this book will be contributed to the American Indian College Fund to support the education of Lori's two children.That, too, is unsettling. Using her children to promote this book is utterly lacking in grace. It may sound generous and kind, but the reality is that most authors have day jobs. They can't support themselves otherwise. Various websites indicate that an author may receive 10% (or up to 15%) of the sale of each book. Amazon indicates the hardcover price for this book will be $16.95 (it is due out in August of 2016). If we round that to $17.00 and use the 10% figure, Flood could get $1.70 per book. How much of that $1.70 does she plan to send to the American Indian College Fund? Did she talk with Lori's parents (Lori's children live with them) about this donation?
Update, August 24, 2016: An anonymous commenter wrote to say that in the final copy of the book, Flood revised the Author's Note. It now reads as follows:
The Piestewa family is pleased that a percentage of the book's royalties will support the education of Lori's two children. An additional donation will be made to the American Indian College Fund.
Given that Flood specifically names many Navajo people who helped her with this book, the lack of naming of Hopi people makes me very uneasy. Without their names, it feels very much like Flood is exploiting a family and a people. For that reason alone, I can not recommend this book.
I could continue this review, pointing to problems in the ways Flood depicts Tess as a young woman conflicted over her biracial identity. Doing that would help other writers who are developing biracial characters, but I think I'll save that for a stand-alone post.
Soldier Sister, Fly Home by Nancy Bo Flood, published by Charlesbridge in 2016, is not recommended.
Update: January 26, 2016
There aren't nearly enough Native people in children's and young adult literature. It is a small community, and a good many of us write to each other, sharing news, concerns, etc. As I read Flood's book, I was talking with Joe Bruchac about author notes. What he says below is similar to what I said in my post about beta readers. I'm glad to share his remarks (with his permission) here:
I also am feeling increasingly leery about books which mention the names of people from whatever native nation the non-native person has written a book about as those who provided guidance in some unspecified manner.
For one, not every native person from a particular nation is an expert on that nation's culture, language, and history. I suggest doing what I have tried to do as much as possible, which is to work directly with tribal historians, linguists, and others from that particular nation who are regarded as expert, as elders, and spokespeople and so on-- recognized as such by their own tribal nation. (Such as Wayland Large, the tribal historian of the Shoshone Nation who reviewed my manuscript Sacajawea before it was published.)
I know of a few books in the past that mentioned supposedly American Indian people who were advisors, but were in fact not even Indian. One example is the infamous book brother eagle sister sky.
For another, when there is merely a list of names without any indication of what those people said or did to assist I wonder if there really was any actual significant input from those folks, or just a random conversation now and then.
I may have used this term before when discussing things with you but I find that a great number of books about American Indians by non- Indians tend to engage in what I call "cultural ventriloquism." They create a supposedly native character who is nothing more than a dummy through which the non-native authors voice is spoken. As a result, the worldview and the viewpoint is distinctly not Native American, but a mere pretense.
Update, September 1, 2016
I finished my second post on the book.