Saturday, October 27, 2012

"This is Not Who I Am, And this is Not OK"

Last year, students in Ohio University's S*T*A*R*S (Students Teaching About Racism in Society) student group launched a campaign to push back on Halloween costumes of cultural groups. They created a series of posters, including this one, in which the people (in the photo) are wearing feathered headbands, in what they believe to be Indian costumes.

The campaign got some national media attention from CNN. Dressing up as an "Indian" is not ok. Though it is often well-intentioned, its outcome is generally one that puts ones ignorance on display. Will you say anything to students you see dressed like Indians this Halloween? I hope so.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Coming up: Native American Month 2012

We're about a week away from the month that the President of the United States designates as Native American Month. Below are suggestions on how you might get your library ready for parents, teachers and students who come into your library looking for materials on American Indians.

In this post, you'll find links to ALA's READ posters that feature Sherman Alexie, author of THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN. You'll also find links to the Indigenous Languages Development Institute, where you can buy a wall clock with numerals in a Native language, and READ posters in Indigenous languages, available from the Tulsa American Indian Resources Center:

Creating a Library Atmosphere that Welcomes American Indians:

In these posts, you'll find recommended books about American Indians, by age group:

Top Board Books
Top Ten Books for Elementary School
Top Ten Books for Middle School
Top Ten Books for High School

If you want some guidance on how to help students do research on American Indians, using encyclopedias and websites, see
Resources for Projects on American Indians

If you're looking for books and materials about boarding schools for American Indians, here's some:
Boarding Schools for American Indians

If you want guidelines on how to evaluate the content of a Native site, here's an excellent page about that:
Guidelines for Evaluating American Indian Web Sites

And, if you want to develop your understandings of the ways that American Indians are not "multicultural" or "people of color", see:
We Are Not "People of Color"

If you're looking for a Question/Answer book about American Indians, this one by the National Museum of the American Indian is outstanding:
Do All Indians Live In Tipis?

Did you know that "papoose" is not the American Indian word for baby?

Did you order Louise Erdrich's newest book in the Birchbark House series? If not, do it today! Chickadee is terrific!
Louise Erdrich's Chickadee

I'll close with this:

Too many people think that American Indians died off, due to warfare and disease. When the emphasis in library displays is American Indians of the past, you inadvertently contribute to that idea. Librarians are a powerful group of people. You can help Americans be less-ignorant about American Indians.  

Research studies show that American Indian students drop out at exceedingly high rates. Scholars attribute this, in part, to their experience with curricular materials in school. Materials set in the past, materials that stereotype American Indians, and materials that are factually incorrect or highly biased against American Indians, cause Native students to disengage from school. Libraries can interrupt that disengagement, or, they can contribute to it...

As human beings, we love to see reflections of ourselves and our hometowns. They can a source of pride or a boost to the self-esteem. But---that is only true if they are accurate. Native people want that, too, but American society has a long way to go to get there. 

Libraries can get us there, but we'll need your help year-round, not just in November. I hope the resources I shared in this post will be ones that you spread out, all year long.

See also Creating a Library Atmosphere that welcomes American Indians

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

DVD: Racing the Rez

In the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Pueblo Indians fought and drove the Spanish out of our homelands. The revolt was carefully planned by tribal leaders, and then it was set in motion by runners who carried instructions to all the Pueblo villages. Today, we mark the revolt with commemorations and runs, too, to remember our ancestors and their fight for our right to exist as Pueblo Indian people.

At a lot of schools in the southwest with Native students, cross country running is the sport-of-choice. Many runners talk of how important running was to our ancestors, and many talk of how running helps them in other ways, too.  

Libraries that want to increase their DVD collection in ways that reflect the diversity of the US, and especially libraries with Native students, will do well by adding Racing the Rez to their shelves. Here's the trailer:

Earlier today I watched the entire film, studying the faces of the students, thinking about their lives and how hard they work on running, and how hard they work to overcome personal struggles, too. In watching Racing the Rez, your emotions won't be manipulated by a narrative of heroic underdogs. Instead, you'll see real kids living their lives. Trying--and sometimes not trying--to do their best. 

The film focuses on the cross country teams at two schools: Tuba City High School, and, Chinle High School. Both are located in Arizona. You'll meet runners on the team who are Navajo or Hopi, but there's also a runner who is White and Puerto Rican. You'll meet their parents, too, and of course, their coaches. And you'll meet the stunning and stark beauty of the landscape of the Navajo reservation. 

Watching the film, I remember going to cross country track meets when I taught at Santa Fe Indian School... Looking out into that beautiful land, seeing runners drop in and out of sight as they ran up hillsides, down into arroyos, and behind pinon trees. 

Racing the Rez was the 2012 Action/Sport selection at the Flagstaff Film Festival. It is an official selection for Best Documentary at the 2012 American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, and if you're out there, you can see it on Tuesday, November 6.  It will be airing on public television stations, too. Contact your station for information.

The DVD is available for purchase from Native American Public Telecommunications. They've got a lot of extraordinary films. Take a few minutes and look through their catalog

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

About Russell Means...

Early yesterday (October 22, 2012), I learned that Russell Means had passed away.

As I thought about Russell Means, I remembered when I first learned about him. I was an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico. It was the late 1970s, and I found a book in the library about the Trail of Broken Treaties. My memory is that the book was, in large part, comprised of newspaper stories about the Trail of Broken Treaties. With that info, I did a quick search and think I found it. I think it was Trail of Broken Treaties: B.I.A., I'm Not Your Indian Anymore.  I've ordered a copy and will write about it when I receive it.

Today, I've spent several hours poking around databases searching for children or young adult biographies about Russell Means, or, books about the American Indian Movement that might have information about him. 

I didn't find any biographies of Means. There is, of course, his autobiography, Where White Men Fear To Tread, but I didn't find any biographies for children or young adults. He is one of six Native people in Ruth Hull Chatlien's Modern American Indian Leaders, published in 2009 by Mason Crest, but I can't find a copy in the local libraries. 

I did find that Chelsea House published Red Power: The Native American Civil Rights Movement in 2007. The man in the foreground is Russell Means. 

Having found a copy at the local library, I read it quickly, and think it has much to offer to readers in middle school and on up. Troy Johnson has done several books on American Indian activism. My quibble is with the title.  I think our activism is more about treaty rights than civil rights. 

There are several pages in it about Means, but I do think we need a full-length biography of him.

Native Media on Russell Means
Russell Means: A Look at His Journey Through Life, at Indian Country Today (Oct 22, 2012)
American Indians to Honor Russell Means' Life Tomorrow, at Native News Network (Oct 22, 2012)
Indian Country Reacts to Russell Means Passing, at Indian Country Today (Oct 24, 2012)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kateri Tekakwitha a "squaw"?! Her father "pagan"? Nun in toy headdress?!

I spent some of the last 24 hours following news coverage of the canonizaton of Kateri Tekakwitha.

As I noted yesterday, for Native people that are Catholic, Tekakwitha's canonization is a complex and important moment. Thousands of Native people were in Rome for her canonization. Among the thousands is Wab Kinew, Director of Indigenous Inclusion at the University of Winnipeg. His article, titled 'It's the same great spirit', published in the Winnipeg Free Press captures the complexity of Tekakwitha's canonization.

Kinew wrote:

During his remarks, the Pope noted that although Saint Kateri "worked, faithful to the traditions of her people," she "renounc[ed] their religious convictions." 


Talking to many of the indigenous people at the canonization ceremony, many of them residential school survivors, I don't think this is what they have in mind. They speak of embracing Catholicism, but also of practising their traditional spirituality. It is precisely this pluralistic approach that made the inclusion of smudging and indigenous language so important to them. It is that same reason that motivated so many of them to wear their traditional clothing to Vatican City. 

As Chief Littlechild says: "We can have both spiritual beliefs, although it's the same great spirit and the same Creator."

This morning, Kinew posted this Instagram on Twitter:

His photo of the Italian newspaper and the ones I'm sharing below point to another dimension of the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha: stereotypes.

The photo of this nun, in a toy headdress that she apparently (hopefully) didn't recognize as a stereotypical toy, was on major newspapers and online news sources. This one is from NBC Australia:


That photo was also used at "Global Post: America's World News site." A photo of her and another nun is also being used. I saw it early yesterday on the website of The Daily Gazette, a Syracuse newspaper, but as the day went on, it appeared in a lot of stories. Here it is at the New York Times:

The photo was used in by the The Chronicle Herald in Canada, The Star Phoenix in Arizona,

Huffington Post/Italy carried the photo, too, and has "Squaw Santa" as one of its tags (categories) for the article (small print at bottom)

The Daily Mail in the UK ran this photo, with a Getty Images watermark on the lower left corner:

See the man to the left of the nun, also holding an image of Tekakwitha? He seems to be looking at the nun. Maybe he is wondering why the photographer wants to take a photo of a nun in a toy headdress rather than an actual Indigenous person.

This photo, also at the Daily Mail, blows me away. Is that guy dressed like a conquistador?! Update, 9:15 AM, October 22, 2012: He is a member of the Vatican's Swiss Guard. They dress like that everyday. Thanks to TVA for providing that information. For more info, see the Vatican's The Roman Curia: Swiss Guard

Check out "pagan" in the caption for this photo, also from the Daily Mail story:

If I learn of any comments from the media, in which they critique their use of the nun-in-toy-headdress photo, or a critique of their use of "pagan" or "squaw", or, explanations of what photos they chose and why, I'll provide an update. If you read anything related to that, please let me know so I can share that information here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stereotypes and the Canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha

Catholics and a great many Native people know that Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized a few hours ago in Rome. She is now a saint. Some news stories acknowledge the complex history and emotions around the idea of Native people embracing a faith that saw their own as pagan and therefore its practitioners as less-than-human. For those who are able to set aside the human impulse to see others as less-than and instead focus on a creator, the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha is an important moment.

I know a great many people---many whom I care about---that are in Rome for the canonization. As I search the news media for stories about it, I'm disappointed in the ways in which stereotypes of American Indians are part of this moment. There's this photo:

Compare it to this photo, from the same news gallery.

The difference is notable, and it makes me wonder who the nun is, where she got that headdress, and why she wanted to wear it. (The source for both photos is The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, NY:

NBC's coverage includes this line:

And yet, at the age of 20, Kateri swapped the Totem for the Crucifix.
I wonder what that reporter means by "Totem"? Sadly, Tekakwitha's canonization is being used as another opportunity to dress up like Indians:

The date of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization is going to be October 21, 2012! (Yay!) The cool thing about soon-to-be-Saint Kateri is that she was Native American. This opens up all kinds of crafting possibilities! ;-) Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha’s feast day is July 14. We made some fun, Native American dress up crafts to celebrate St. Kateri’s canonization with my kids!

Here's the photo directly beneath that paragraph:

There's no excuse for the NBC reporter's comment. I do not know what to think about the nun in the headdress. The Catholics-playing-Indian activities are well-intentioned, but ignorant and ought to be set aside. As a society, we need not do these sorts of activities. We see it a lot in the context of "Indian" mascots for sports teams. There's a lot more awareness of stereotyping in that context, and a lot of schools have abandoned those stereotypical mascots. That same awareness--apparently--needs to be developed amongst Catholics who dress their kids up in stereotypical attire to be "Saint Kateri."

Update, Sunday Oct 21, 2012
Native news media coverage of the canonization:
Turtle Island Indigenous Flock to Vatican to Witness CanonizationIndian Country Today 
Chicago Delegation Joins Thousands of American Indians for Canonization, Native News Network