Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Beverly Slapin's Review of Bruchac's THE HUNTER'S PROMISE: AN ABENAKI TALE

Editor's Note: Beverly Slapin submitted this review essay of Joseph Bruchac's The Hunter's Promise. 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.


Bruchac, Joseph (Abenaki), The Hunter’s Promise: An Abenaki Tale, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. Wisdom Tales (2015), kindergarten-up

Without didacticism or stated “morals,” Indigenous traditional stories often portray some of the Original Instructions given by the Creator, and children (and other listeners as well), depending on their own levels of understanding, may slowly come to know the stories and their embedded lessons.

Bruchac’s own retelling of the “Moose Wife” story, traditionally told by the Wabanaki and Haudenosaunee peoples of what is now known as the Northeastern US and Canada, is a deep story that maintains its important teaching elements in this accessible children’s picture book. 

Here, a young hunter travels alone to winter camp to bring back moose meat and skins.  Lonely and wishing for companionship, he finds the presence of someone who, unseen, has provided for his needs: in the lodge a fire is burning, food has been cooked, meat has been hung on drying racks and hide has been prepared for drying. On the seventh day, a mysterious woman appears, but is silent. The two stay together all winter and, when spring arrives and the hunter leaves for his village, the woman says only, “promise to remember me.”

As the story continues, young readers will intuit some things that may not make “sense.” Why does the hunter travel alone to and from winter camp? Why doesn’t the woman return with the hunter to the village? Why do their children grow up so quickly? Why does she ask only that the hunter promise to remember her? Who is she really? The story’s end is deeply satisfying and will evoke questions and answers, as well as ideas about how this old story may have connections to contemporary issues involving respect for all life.

Farnsworth’s heavily saturated oil paintings, with fall settings on a palette of mostly oranges and browns; and winter settings in mostly blues and whites, evoke the seasons in the forested mountains and closely follow Bruchac’s narrative. Cultural details of housing, weapons, transportation and clothing are also well done. The canoes, for instance, are accurately built (with the outside of the birch bark on the inside); and the women’s clothing display designs of quillwork and shell rather than beadwork (which would have been the mark of a later time).

That having been said, it would have been helpful to see representations of individual characteristics and emotion in facial expressions here. While Farnsworth’s illustrations aptly convey the “long ago” in Bruchac’s tale, this lack of delineation evokes an eerie, ghost-like presence that may create an unnecessary distance between young readers and the Indian characters.

Bruchac’s narrative is circular, a technique that might be unfamiliar with some young listeners and readers who will initially interpret the story literally as something “only” about loyalty and trust in human familial relationships; how these ethics encompass the kinship of humans to all things in the natural world might come at another time. I would encourage classroom teachers, librarians and other adults who work with young people to allow them to sit with this story. They’ll probably “get” it—if not at the first reading, then later on.

And I would save Bruchac’s helpful Author’s Note for after the story, maybe even days or weeks later:

It’s long been understood among the Wabanaki…that a bond exists between the hunter and those animals whose lives he must take for his people to survive. It is more than just the relationship between predator and prey. When the animal people give themselves to us, we must take only what we need and return thanks to their spirits. Otherwise, the balance will be broken. Everything suffers when human beings fail to show respect for the great family of life.

—Beverly Slapin

Debbie Reese to Host IndigenousXca from March 17 through March 24

Sharing some great news! Chelsea Vowell of apihtawikosisan asked me to host IndigenousXca from March 17 through March 24. If you're not tapped into Native networks on Twitter, you're probably wondering what IndigenousXca is...

Back in 2012, Luke Pearson started IndigenousX in Australia as a way to provide Indigenous people a way to reach a broader audience than those who follow the individual's Twitter account. Inspired by it, Chelsea launched IndigenousXca on October 30, 2014. Hosts are primarily First Nations, but the reality? The line between the US and Canada is a blurry one when you center Indigenous Peoples as the peoples of North America.

Each week, an Indigenous person is invited to tweet using the IndigenousXca account. The subject of the tweets is up to the host.

IndigenousXca's first host was Paul Seesequasis. Since then, there have been over 60 hosts. Right now (March 10-17), Dale Turner (he's a professor at Dartmouth) is the host.

People who follow my Twitter account (@debreese) know that I generally tweet about representations of Native peoples in children's and young adult books, but that I also tweet items I've read and want to promote. Some of those are specific to Native people, but some aren't.

During my week as a host of IndigenousXca, I'll stick to tweets about my area of research and expertise (representations of Native peoples in children's and young adult books). That includes sharing books I've reviewed here on AICL as well as items other Native people are writing about--including their responses to J.K. Rowling's Magic in North America series. Those tweets will be sent out using the @IndigenousXca account. If you're on Twitter, I hope you'll check out, and then follow that account. There's some excellent content shared via that account.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Did JK Rowling Change the Images on her Magic In North America Series at the Pottermore Site?

If you're following the response of Native people to JK Rowling for her "History of Magic in North America" stories that are short backgrounds for the next movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I think you'll be interested in this bit of info.

The info? 
Evidence (maybe) that someone (Rowling, maybe?!) 
is, in fact, doing some tinkering with the 
problematic content on the 
Pottermore website.

Last Thursday (March 10, 2016) I began compiling a list of blog posts and threaded tweets by Native people who were responding to JK Rowling's "History of Magic in North America" series. I included a screen cap from the Pottermore site that had a flying eagle as the image for the story. Seeing that eagle struck me as odd, because the day of my first tweet (March 8, 2016) I had seen a different image on the Pottermore site--the one of an Indian standing on a cliff.

This morning (Tuesday, March 2016) I read an article at Hypable that describes a person's search to figure out who the founding group of Ilvermorny would be (in the movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) that is due out later this year. (There's a lot to say about the Hypable article but that's for another post.) The article is by Andrew Sims. I looked him up on Twitter, found him, and found an interesting tweet from him, dated March 10 at 8:34 AM. Here's a screen cap:

Using the Internet WayBack Machine, I figured out that the image changed sometime between March 9 at 8:10:58 PM and March 10 at 5:17:17 AM.

Here's the image time stamped March 9 at 8:10:58 PM:

And here's the image time stamped March 10 at 5:17:17 AM:

As far as I know, JK Rowling has not responded to any of the criticisms Native people began putting forth on March 8th. Someone did make a change to the site. I suspect it was Rowling.

Will we hear more from her? Because she has tweeted in support of various marginalized groups before, her lack of response to us is troubling. As they say on TV "stay tuned" to AICL for updates.