Saturday, April 16, 2016

SWEET HOME ALASKA by Carole Estby Dagg

Earlier this year, several people wrote to ask me about Carole Estby Dagg's Sweet Home Alaska, a story set in Alaska, in 1934, about the Matanuska Colony (also called the Palmer Colony). The map to the right shows you where the colony was.

Published by Penguin Random House (one of the Big Five publishers in the U.S.), Dagg's book came out in February of 2016. It is pitched at middle grade children.

Here's the synopsis for Sweet Home Alaska:
This exciting pioneering story, based on actual events, introduces readers to a fascinating chapter in American history, when FDR set up a New Deal colony in Alaska to give loans and land to families struggling during the Great Depression.
Terpsichore can’t wait to follow in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s footsteps . . . now she just has to convince her mom. It’s 1934, and times are tough for their family. To make a fresh start, Terpsichore’s father signs up for President Roosevelt’s Palmer Colony project, uprooting them from Wisconsin to become pioneers in Alaska. Their new home is a bit of a shock—it’s a town still under construction in the middle of the wilderness, where the residents live in tents and share a community outhouse. But Terpsichore’s not about to let first impressions get in the way of this grand adventure. Tackling its many unique challenges with her can-do attitude, she starts making things happen to make Alaska seem more like home. Soon, she and her family are able to start settling in and enjoying their new surroundings—everyone except her mother, that is. So, in order to stay, Terpsichore hatches a plan to convince her that it’s a wonderful—and civilized—place to live . . . a plan that’s going to take all the love, energy, and Farmer Boy expertise Terpsichore can muster.
As the synopsis indicates, the story is based on fact. President Roosevelt did create the Palmer Colony project for people to make a fresh start. The synopsis tells us that Dagg's story an "exciting pioneering" one, but anytime I see "pioneering" in the context of stories like this, I wonder about the people whose lands were being made available to those "pioneers."

In her author's note, Dagg writes (p. 290):
A notable omission in accounts I read of the Palmer Colony was reference to the people who were in Alaska for thousands of years before the colonists: the various Eskimo, Aleut, Athabaskan, and other Indian tribes. Since I married into a part-Native family, I was concerned about this omission, but finally decided not to create contacts with Native peoples if the colonists themselves did not mention them. However, I hope as many readers as possible will visit the Anchorage Museum to learn more about the original colonists of Alaska.
I'm curious about the "part-Native family." Are the people she's referring to as "part-Native" citizens of their tribal nation? Generally used, "part Native" means that someone in your ancestry was, or is, a Native person from a specific tribal nation. Quite often, though, people who use "part-Native" aren't aware that stating a Native identity goes hand-in-hand with being a citizen of that nation. This citizenship is not about being "part" Native. If you're a tribal citizen, you're a tribal citizen, period.

I'm uneasy with the phrase "the original colonists of Alaska." Alaska Natives were not "original colonists." They are the first peoples of that land. Their homelands were colonized--in this case--by the families who were part of this federal project. I anticipate some people will think that I'm being hypercritical in pointing to "original colonists" as problematic, but it is important that we pay attention to words and what they convey. If we were to accept Dagg's description of Aleut, Athabaskan, and other Indian tribes as "original colonists" we start down a slope that says it wasn't their homeland from the start. That it belonged to... nobody, and therefore, any rights they have to that land can be dismissed.

And, Dagg's suggestion that readers visit the Anchorage Museum... It makes me wonder if she had Native readers in mind. She was probably thinking of white kids.

An appropriate aside: Not long ago I read a spot-on comic by Ricardo Caté of Kewa (Santo Domingo) Pueblo. He has been doing Without Reservations for several years. The one I'm thinking of is of a Native kid in a museum asking something like "what kind of a field trip is this?! We have all this stuff at home." Biting, and brilliant, too.

Back to Dagg's book...

Who were the "pioneers" involved with the Palmer Project? People who were living in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in 1934. The Palmer Museum has this info:
To be chosen from the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, only "honest-to-God" farmers, couples between the ages of 25 and 40 with Scandinavian backgrounds would be considered. In exchange for a $3,000, 30-year loan, each family would be given a 40-acre tract of land, a house, a barn, a well, and an out-building. Those families that chose tracts with poor soil conditions and hilly landscape were given 80 acres. In all 203 families were chosen for the colony.
Dagg's character, Trip (short for Terpsichore), and her family are one of those families. When Dagg and her sisters learn about the plan to move there, here's what they say (p. 5)
“I'm not living in an igloo!" That was Cally, shaking her head in horror, which made her ringlets bob. “I’m not eating whale blubber!” That was Polly. Her ringlets bobbed too.
They are, in short, putting forth information they hold about Alaska Native homes and foods, and, they're rejecting it. That passage tells us that, although Dagg chose not to create Native people for her characters to interact with, she didn't leave Native peoples out altogether. She introduced stereotypes, but left them intact. That was an opportunity for her to push back on them, but she didn't. Indeed, if she'd had Native peoples in mind as she developed this book, she could have created Native characters who could, in fact, push back on the information that Cally and Polly have in their heads. What she did do, is have Trip's dad say that they're not going to the Arctic Circle, and that the Matanuska Valley is much like northern Wisconsin. This, I assume, is sufficient to tell the girls that they won't be living in an igloo or eating whale blubber, but it leaves exotic ideas about Alaska Natives intact.

Actually getting to Alaska means getting there by ship. As they're boarding, someone sings a song Trip recognizes, but they change the lyrics (p. 44):
Terpsichore recognized the tune. It was Gene Autry’s version of “Springtime in the Rockies,” but they had changed the words. Terpsichore laughed along with the crowd at the new words: “When it’s springtime in Alaska and it’s ninety-nine below . . . Where the berries grow like pumpkins and a cabbage fills a truck . . . We want to make a new start somewhere without delay. So, here we are, Alaska, AND WE HAVE COME TO STAY!”
Curious about the song, I looked it up and so far didn't find those lyrics. The first line is easy to find but the rest, I think, is Dagg's own writing. Reading the words "we have come to stay" may seem jovial and innocuous to some, but to me, they're pretty aggressive. Music is a big part of Sweet Home Alaska. The family has a tough go of it once they're there, but at the end, they sing "Home Sweet Home." They're there to stay. Again, this may seem innocuous, but ending with that song tells readers that, indeed, they were there "TO STAY."

Though a lot of people are going to love Dagg's book and its echoes of Little House, I think it is worse than Little House because it was written in the last few years. Dagg's editor is Nancy Paulsen. The creation, publication, and marketing of Sweet Home Alaska tells us that writers like Dagg, and editors like Nancy Paulsen, have a long way to go.

I do not recommend Sweet Home Alaska. 

And, I do not recommend The Smell of Other People's Houses, either.

Note (April 18, 2016): Thank you, anon, for letting me know that, partway thru the review, I had spelled the author's name incorrectly (as Dabb instead of Dagg). I've corrected those errors.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

"Native Americans" category on Jeopardy

In 2011, one of the clues on Jeopardy was "The National Museum of the American Indian." None of the contestants selected a clue in that category until they had no choice:



NMAI (the National Museum of the American Indian) made a video of that episode. The image (above) is from their video.

On April 12, 2016, "Native Americans" was the category. Just like in 2011, contestants avoided it. Martie Simmons, snapped a photograph of it and put the photograph on Twitter and on Facebook. It is circulating widely in Native social media (a shout out to Martie for letting me use her photo):



One of the contestants responded to her:



What does this avoidance point to?  Fear of saying the wrong thing? Or, fear of their ignorance being on national TV? Or, fear of answering the question wrong and hurting their chance of winning?

The same thing happened in February of 2014, too. The category then was African American History:




This avoidance is, to say the least, disappointing. Frank Waln, a hip hop artist from the Rosebud Reservation responded to it, too, on Twitter. He said:
"This [is] what 100s [of] years of erasure and colonial propaganda masquerading as history does."
If you missed his interview on NPR's here & now on April 6, 2016, listen to it and his music, too.

Teachers and librarians: this points to a huge gap. Our job is clear. Start with getting books written by Native writers.

Update

Thanks to Todd, a librarian on YALSA, for pointing me to an archive of the clues for the Jeopardy episodes. Here's screen caps from yesterday's show:



If you roll over the dollar figure, the answer appears:
$200 - Cherokee
$400 - steamboat
$600 - lacrosse
$800 - Little Big Horn
$1000 - Navajo

Though some of the comments below are defensive or critical of my post, what I've seen on YALSA's listserv has been positive and helpful (like the link for the archive). It'd be interesting, next, to analyze the clues, but I'll leave that be, maybe, for another day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

UNSTOPPABLE by Tim Green

In the last couple of months, I've been reading a lot about the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Prior to this study, I knew about it because ICWA is something most Native people know about. 

Right now, though, I'm doing a scholarly study of it because ICWA is in Emily Henry's The Love that Split the World. Her depiction of ICWA is troubling. 

Of late, I've asked friends and colleagues to send me titles of works in which a character is adopted or fostered out of their Native community. I'm compiling a list and have read several of the items. The majority are by Native writers, some of whom are writing of their own experience as children. The majority of items on my list are meant for adult readers.

Amongst the suggestions are a few books that aren't by Native writers. Tim Green's Unstoppable is one. Green is a former NFL defensive end. I read his book over the weekend and, for several reasons, I am marking it as not recommended. For one, the main character is Native, but we aren't told anything about his tribal nation or heritage. As the synopsis below indicates, he is adopted (twice, actually) but ICWA is not mentioned in the reviews or in Green's novel. I'll say more about that later. My guess is that Green and his editor and the people who reviewed Unstoppable had no idea there is a federal law about adoption of Native children. 

Published by Harper as a middle grade novel, Unstoppable came out in 2012. Here's the synopsis:


If anyone understands the phrase "tough luck," it's Harrison. As a foster kid in a cruel home, he knows his dream of one day playing in the NFL is a longshot. Then Harrison is brought into a new home with kind, loving parents—his new dad is even a football coach. Harrison's big build and his incredible determination quickly make him a star running back on the junior high school team. On the field, he's practically unstoppable. But Harrison's good luck can't last forever. When a routine sports injury leads to a devastating diagnosis, it will take every ounce of Harrison's determination not to give up for good. 
When Unstoppable opens, thirteen-year-old Harrison is living with Mr. and Mrs. Constable, as a foster child. Mr. Constable is a farmer who uses foster kids as laborers. He often whips them with his belt. 

I begin with summary...

This foster home is the 4th one Harrison has been in. In his previous placements, he got in a lot of fights and was characterized as "an untamed and untamable beast" (p. 7). The fights he got into, though, were ones where he was defending himself or other vulnerable kids from bullies. That didn't matter, however, and he ended up with Mr. Constable, a man who was known as able to "cure even the hardest of bargains" (p. 7). When the story opens, Harrison has made Mr. Constable angry but he doesn't beat him as badly this time, because the next day, they are going to see the judge (p. 8):
“Just got a call from the lawyer. Seems your momma’s got some funny notions again. Raised a ruckus at the county offices on Friday."
Constable's employee, Cyrus, tells Harrison (p. 9):
"Your momma’s a tramp and a druggie. She cast you off like garbage, and once a woman does that there ain’t a judge in creation hands her back her kids, so don’t you get so smart.”
Harrison realizes that he's stronger than Cyrus now, and that he would win if he fought Cyrus next time he tried to beat him. While bathing that evening, he takes care to scrub his nails, behind his ears, and between his toes because he didn't want to look like, or smell like a farm boy when he sees the judge, and (p. 10):
He might even see his own mother. Cyrus’s cruel words about her came back to him and his ears burned with shame and hate. Maybe that was why he had been ready to fight.
He goes to bed, feeling hopeful about the upcoming meeting with the judge. In the pages that follow, we are given a description of the town and the courthouse. This is farm country but we don't know what state. When they get to the courtroom, Harrison looks around for his mother. His case is called and we learn his last name is Johnson and that his mom's name is Melinda Johnson. She's not there, though. Mr. Constable mutters (p. 15):
“All this fuss and she’s too drunk to show up.”
Realizing she's not there, Harrison's heart sinks. The judge asks Mr. Constable's lawyer for the adoption papers, reads them, and then says (p. 16):
“Then,” the judge said, examining the papers, “given the trouble Ms. Johnson has caused in all this and her apparent lack of responsibility— as well as respect for this court, I might add— all leads me to believe that the best course of action for this young . . . boy is to make him the legal and permanent son of Mr. and Mrs. Brad Constable.”
Looking at Mr. Constable and his lawyer, Harrison has a sense of foreboding. The papers are signed, and then, there's a ruckus as someone forces open the courtroom doors. It is Harrison's mother. He feels his insides (p. 19-20):
melt like butter in a hot pan.
His mother’s dark frizzy hair shot out from her head in all directions. She wore a long raincoat and Harrison didn’t know what else besides a dirty pair of fluffy pink slippers. He could see the red in her eyes from across the room and the heavy bags of exhaustion they carried beneath them.
Liquid pain pumped through his heart.
“That’s my baby!” Harrison’s mother screeched as the bailiff and a guard held her arms. “You can’t do that to my baby!”
“Order in this court!” The judge pounded and glared, but it had no effect. “Order, I said, or you’ll be in contempt!”
“Nooo!”
Tears welled up in Harrison’s eyes. He felt like a split stick of firewood, half shamed, half aching to hold her. He started toward his mother, but Mr. Constable’s big hand clamped down on the back of his neck so that the nerves tingled in his head.
The judge orders the bailiff to take her into custody for contempt. Mr. Constable and Harrison leave the courtroom. Outside, Harrison asks where his mother is, but Mr. Constable tells him that Mrs. Constable is his new mother. They return to the farm. Harrison thinks about all the other kids there, who have also been adopted by Mr. Constable (p. 22):
While they didn’t seem to mind, Harrison had never—and would never—stop thinking of Melinda Johnson as his one and only true mother. 
Later that day, Mr. Constable and Harrison get in an argument and then a fight. The outcome of the fight: Mr. Constable falls into a stall where a cow giving birth kicks, and kills him. Harrison runs away and is found by a kind woman named Mrs. Godfrey. She knows all about the brutal Constables. She takes him to a doctor, and then to a juvenile center. A few weeks pass. One day, Mrs. Godfrey tells him that his mother is gone. He thinks she's moved away, but Mrs. Godfrey tells him she passed (p. 28-29):
Harrison didn’t cry. He just blinked at her and watched a tear roll down her nose and drop off the end of it, spattering onto the table where they sat.
“Was she sick?” he whispered, his eyes on the spattered drop.
“I think she was very sick, and very tired, and I think she’s in a place now where she’s at peace and watching you and loving you just like she always did.”
Harrison stared at the broken tear for a long time before he spoke. “Mr. Constable said she didn’t.”
“Harrison, most people in this world are good, but some are bad. Mr. Constable was a very bad man, and he was a liar. That’s all I can say about it.”
Then she tells him she has some good news. She has found him a new foster home, with her daughter Jennifer (who is a lawyer) and Coach (Jennifer's husband, who is an English teacher and a football coach). Harrison will call him Coach, like everyone else does (later, both ask him to call them dad and mom). 

When Jennifer shows Harrison his bedroom, he sees a bookcase full of books. She pulls one out, by Louis L'Amour, and hands it to him (p. 33-34):
“I think you’ll like this.” She handed him the book. “My brothers loved The Sacketts. It’s a family that comes to America when it was a new land.”
Coach is excited about Harrison's size and interest in playing football. His first day at his new school is difficult. Football practice is mixed, too, but Harrison is excited, nonetheless. The second day starts off badly, too. When a teacher threatens him with a ruler, he takes it from her and breaks it in half. She calls security and he ends up in the principals office. When the principal suggests that they should find a different school for Harrison, his foster mom says the teacher's threat may be a hate crime (p. 121):
“Hate crime?” Mr. Fisk’s rosy cheeks turned pale green. “This boy isn’t a minority.”
Jennifer raised a single eyebrow. “Obviously you haven’t looked closely at his records. His maternal grandmother was a full-blooded Native American.
I finished the book but am not going further with summary. Harrison's identity as a Native person is not the emphasis of Green's book. Harrison is going to be diagnosed with cancer. That, essentially, is what Unstoppable is about. The diagnosis occurs on page 199 of the novel, which is 342 pages long.

And now, some interpretation...

Other than reading that he is big (strong), we don't get a physical description of Harrison. Because Mr. Fisk says "this boy isn't a minority" we can assume that he looks white. 

But he's not white, as Jennifer said. When his mom comes into the courtroom, he describes her "dark frizzy hair." When Jennifer says his maternal grandmother is "full blooded Native American," he isn't surprised. That tells me he knows he is Native...

But what nation? Does Jennifer not know? She knows enough about racial justice to characterize the situation as a hate crime, but she--and her mother (Mrs. Godfrey, the social worker)--apparently don't know about ICWA, which, in real life, has bearing on placements of Native children. 

In real life, someone like Mrs. Godfrey is required, by ICWA, to notify his nation. I'm assuming that the author (Tim Green) knew nothing about ICWA. I'm assuming most of you also know nothing about it. It doesn't matter one bit that his grandmother was "full blooded." His identity, described in fractions, is irrelevant. Each nation determines its citizenship. And when someone is a citizen of a nation, they're a citizen, period. If a woman is a US citizen, has a relationship with a citizen of France that results in pregnancy, and the baby is born in the US, that child is a citizen of the US. The woman might be White, or she might be African American, or Asian American... you get the picture. Skin color, or race, or ethnicity, or religion... none of that matters. She is a citizen of the United States, and her baby, born in the US is also a citizen of the US.

The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978. The Native American Rights Fund has a very useful document on its website, intended for educational and informational purposes. There, they write that ICWA:
established minimum federal jurisdictional, procedural, and substantive standards aimed to achieve the dual purpose of protecting the right of an Indian child to live with an Indian family and to stabilize and foster continued tribal existence.  
In Federal Indian Law, Matthew Fletcher (he's a Professor of Law at Michigan State University, and director of its Indigenous Law and Policy Center) provides a history of ICWA. In 1978, Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act. 

In the years prior to that, testimony from Native people was gathered. The conclusion based on that testimony: between 25 and 35 percent of all Native children, nationwide, had been removed from their families, and 90 percent of them had been placed in non-Native homes. It was characterized as a systematic, automatic, and across-the-board removal of Indian children from Indian families. 

In the hearings, Fletcher writes (Kindle location 18416-18418):
[W]itness after witness would testify to the automatic removal of Indian children, often without due process. Byler [Executive Director of the Association on American Indian Affairs] testified that at the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, state social workers believed that the reservation was, by definition, an unacceptable environment for children and would remove Indian children without providing services or even the barest investigation whatsoever.
Others testified that rather than step in and offer assistance to families that were struggling, state agencies would wait for the families to reach a crisis point and then step in, only to take the children from their homes. 

That's exactly what I see happening in Unstoppable. Clearly, Harrison's mom was struggling. Was she receiving assistance she should have received? Given the characterization of Cyrus and Mr. Constable, we know they're racist and what they say about his mother is racist, but nowhere is any of that racist depiction of her challenged. With nobody countering it, are stereotypical ideas of Native people as dysfunctional affirmed? I think so, and, that is unacceptable.

If this was a real-life case, would her case be an example of a state agency stepping in and taking her child without due process? Certainly, Harrison did not receive due process in the courtroom when the evil Mr. Constable adopted him, but he didn't receive it when the kindly Coach and Jennifer adopted him, either. Again--I assume that Tim Green didn't know about ICWA when he wrote the book, and neither did his editor.

Is ignorance an excuse?

Some will say yes. Others will say it doesn't matter, because, after all, "its fiction." 

I disagree. Ignorance is not an excuse, because ignorance about Native people is the norm. That norm is not acceptable. Writers, editors, reviewers... most are ignorant about who we are. Fiction has tremendous power to shape what we think and know. It need not feed ignorance. Indeed, when the audience is children or teens, it ought to be called out when it feeds ignorance. 

Green's Unstoppable feeds ignorance. As such, I do not recommend it.  

Indeed, Unstoppable does precisely what ICWA was meant to stop from happening. Harrison was adopted by a kind white family. But what book was he given to read, right away, in that white home? Louis L'Amour's Sackett's Land: A Novel. I excerpted that passage above. Remember what Jennifer said about the Sackett family as she handed it to him? "It’s a family that comes to America when it was a new land." Quite honestly, I find that passage grotesque. Books like that dismiss and undermine who we are as Native peoples. This wasn't "new land" to us. It was, and is, our homeland. Jennifer is, in my view, doing a version of "kill the Indian and save the man" and so is Tim Green.

Unstoppable and what happens in it are why ICWA matters.  Why, I wonder, did Green make his main character Native? I'll be thinking about this book for awhile as I continue to develop my review of Emily Henry's book. Are there others out there, for children or young adults, that I should add to my list?  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Beverly Slapin's review of FIRE IN THE VILLAGE, by Anne M. Dunn

Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin submitted this review essay of Anne M. Dunn's Fire in the Village. It may not be used elsewhere without her written permission. All rights reserved. Copyright 2016. Slapin is currently the publisher/editor of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children.


Dunn, Anne M. (Anishinabe-Ojibwe), Fire in the Village: New and Selected Stories. Holy Cow! Press, 2016.

Everyone knows a circle has no beginning and no end. In Fire in the Village, Anishinabe elder and wisdom-sharer Anne M. Dunn shows us a world in which everything in Creation has life, in which everything has volition, in which everything needs to be thanked and respected. It’s a world inhabited by mischievous Little People and wise elders; by four-leggeds, two-leggeds, flying nations, swimmers and those who creep; by hovering spirits and the children who can see them, and by haunting flashbacks that just won’t go away. Like points in a circle, each story has a place that informs the whole.

Here are 75 stories of how things came to be and how the humans (some of them, anyway) came to understand their responsibilities to all Creation. Stories of how the Little People can make huge things happen and how elders and children may be the only ones who understand and respect them. Stories about why butterflies are beautiful but can’t sing, why Tamarack drops its needles in winter, and why, every season, Anishinabeg give great thanks to the sap-giving maple trees. And gut-wrenching stories of the horrors inflicted on innocent little children in the Indian residential schools and stories of internalized racism and stories of good, loving parents who have alcoholism.

One of my favorite of Anne’s not-so-subtle stories (that reminds me of the US and Canadian governments’ failed attempts at cultural erasure of Indian peoples) involves an elder woman’s dreams to create a monument to fry bread, and the Department of Fry Bread Affairs—“suspicious that the women were engaged in resistance and eager to crush any possibility of dissent”—finds a way to destroy their Great Fry Bread Mountain and outlaw the women’s Fry Bread dances. But, if you know any history, you know that the struggle continues.

Without didacticism, without polemic, Anne gives each story the attention it needs so it can speak its own truth. How a little boy finds the perfect gift for his grandma. How a bear reciprocates for an elder woman’s generosity. How the Little People encourage an old man on his final journey. How a drum dreamed by a woman long ago can bring healing to the community.

Ojibwe artist Annie Humphrey’s beautifully detailed black-and-white pen-and-ink interior illustrations, together with the cover’s bright eye-catching colors in Prismacolor colored pencil, complement Anne’s tellings and will draw readers into the stories.

Children can enjoy acting out many of Anne’s stories about how things came to be, and some of the others as well. But, please—pitch the fake “Indians” with costumes, headdresses, wigs and face paint; also, the “woo-woos,” “hows,” “ughs,” and “hop-hop” dances. The most effective “costumes” I’ve seen were plain t-shirts and jeans for the two-legged characters, and minimal decorations to denote the four-leggeds, flying ones, swimming nations and those who creep.

In her Foreword, Anne writes:

The storyteller is usually a recognized member of the community, one who carries the stories that must be told. Perhaps young tellers will arrive to carry them forward. So our stories will continue to be passed from generation to generation.

 “Some stories are told more often, she also writes, “because those are the stories that want to be told. They are the ones that teach the vital lessons of our culture and traditions.” Depending on what lessons are being imparted, some stories may be for everyone, some for children, some for initiates, and some for adults. I would encourage parents, classroom teachers and librarians to use the same caution with this written collection.

As in the old times, when the people were taught by example and by stories, Anne sits in a circle with her audience and relates teachings and events from the long ago, from the distant past, from almost yesterday, and from now and beyond tomorrow—because every day, you know, brings a new story. If you listen for it. As Anne ends some of her stories, “That’s the way it was. That’s the way it is.”

‘Chi miigwech, Anne. I’m honored to call you friend.










Sunday, April 10, 2016

ANPAO by Jamake Highwater

Friday (April 8, 2016), I used Skype to give a long-distance talk for the Spotlight on Books conference in Minnesota. In the Q&A, I was asked about Jamake Highwater's Anpao. I've mentioned that book in many talks but have not yet done a stand-alone post here. Yesterday's question prompts me to finally do it.

Anpao came out in 1977. It won a Newbery Honor in 1978. The book was published in one of the many eras in which US society realizes its body of literature is too white.

Anpao was put forth as the work of a Native man, but "Jamake Highwater" was a pen name for a man named Jack Marks. He was not Native but for many years, he was receiving large grants intended for projects developed by Native people, including some by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

In 1983 Akwesasne Notes published an article by Highwater, in which he talked about being treated as a "second class Indian" because he had mixed heritage. Seeing that article, Hank Adams began meticulous research on him. Adams, Vine Deloria Jr., and Suzan Harjo worked together to get an expose published the following year, in Akwesasne Notes. 

Does it matter that Highwater was not Native (he is deceased)? I think it does. In school, teachers often assign Author Studies--in which students are asked to read other items the author has done, study the works individually and as a whole, and see what sort of observations they may make in changes in an author's work over time. In most of the items I see about "Jamake Highwater," I don't see anything (in materials for children/teens) that includes the fact that he was not Native. They take his writing, then, as the writing of a Native person.

That leads me to Anpao as a work of literature. Can it be used to teach children or young adults about Native people?

My answer: no.

In the author's note, Marks/Highwater tells us that the character, Anpao, is a "central Indian hero" created by him from stories from Plains and Southwest peoples. I'm from one of those nations of the southwest. In one way after another, we're different from the Plains peoples. Just what did Marks/Highwater do to create this character? What did he take from the Plains, versus the Southwest peoples to make this "central Indian hero"?

As he travels, Anpao tells stories. But as he tells them, they are presented as if they belong to Anpao, this "central Indian hero." Everything, if we go along with the story, belongs to, and/or comes from, Anpao, the "central Indian hero." That, ironically, is precisely what the author did in creating this "Jamake Highwater" identity. He took from others, and called what he took, his own. That appropriation is a pattern in his work.

In Native American Representations, First Encounters, Distorted Images, and Literary Appropriations (Bataille, 2001), Kathryn Shanley (a professor in Native American Studies at the University of Montana) analyzed one of his other books (The Primal Mind), and writes that Highwater (p. 38):
"felt he could take license with archived materials and claim the experiences contained in them as if they originate from his own personal knowledge and insight."
Shanley goes on to discuss that so many were duped by Highwater because he spoke in ways that met their expectations of what and how a Native person would be. In that expectation--driven by stereotypical and romantic ideas of who we are--Native people who do not speak in that way are seen as "not Indian." Anpao was published in 1977, but now--39 years later--Native writers are still faced with that sort of rejection of their work.

That is the status quo! Books with mystical Indians--like the grandmother in Emily Henry's The Love That Split the World--are scooped up by major publishers.

That has to change. Everyone in children's literature has a responsibility to work towards that change. In the Summer 2015 issue of Children and Librarians, Kathleen T. Horning included Highwater's fraud in her article, "Milestones for Diversity in Literature and Library Services." I hope you do your part.  

For further reading:
Fool's Gold: The Story of Jamake Highwater, the Fake Indian Who Won't Die by Alex Jacobs, in Indian Country Today Media Network
Around the Campfire: Fake Indians by Dean Chavers, in Native Times. 
An Open Letter to the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post by Hank Adams