Selective Bibliography and Guide for “I” IS NOT FOR INDIAN: THE PORTRAYAL OF NATIVE AMERICANS IN BOOKS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
Program of the ALA/OLOS Subcommittee for Library Services to American Indian People
American Indian Library Association
Atlanta, June 29, 1991
Naomi Caldwell-Wood, President, AILA
Lisa A. Mitten, Secretary, AILA
Over the years, the most frequently asked questions by librarians concerning books on Native Americans have centered around the ideas of “How can I personally tell good books on Indians from bad?” and “Where can I find reliable reviews?”. Neither of these are as simplistic as they sound. Reviews abound in the usual sources for books dealing with Native peoples, but most are written from a literary angle, or from a children’s/YA literature perspective. There are plenty of “good” books – i.e. well-written, exciting, from respected authors, much-loved by their readers, with well-developed characters – that are terrible when examined with the criteria of whether the Native American(s) depicted in them are accurately or even humanly portrayed. For the most part, this criticism is directed at fictional works, where the greatest stereotypes and wildest imaginings about Indians still hold sway. Nonfiction has been improving greatly in recent years, but there is often still a tendency to oversimplify to the point of distortion, especially in titles for the youngest readers.
Perhaps even more difficult is the question of being able to judge as librarians whether a book is harmful or not. We are nearly all products of the public school systems in this country. As most Native Americans can remind you, Indians are not even mentioned in American history classes much after the middle grades. And when we are mentioned, it is always in terms of Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, and sometimes as adversaries to be overcome in the “settling” of the West. As far as most Americans learned in school, Indians pretty well ceased to exist after 1890. So there are very good reasons why librarians feel somewhat at a loss when it comes to recognizing accuracy in books about Indian peoples.
Add to this lack of education the very pervasive and subtle dehumanizing stereotypes that are ingrained as part of American popular culture, and you’ve got a lot to overcome before you can identify these things in children’s books. It should also be pointed out that these stereotypes and misperceptions are commonly held by all Americans of all races, often, tragically, by Indian children themselves.
Think of the following images that are prevalent in American culture today, and then transfer the image to any other ethnic group (or your own). How does it feel to you? Why do Native Americans alone receive these images? In other words, there are certain kinds of deeply rooted images that do not have equivalents among other minority groups. For example, there are derogatory terms for all ethnic and minority groups, but why are Indians the only ones with sports teams named after them? Why do we have the Washington Redskins, but not the Pittsburgh Darkies or the Dallas Rednecks or the San Francisco Coolies? Why do these hypothetical teams sound so offensive or shocking, but the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, complete with Chiefs Nok-A-Homa and Wahoo, do not?
Why are hideous caricatures of Native American men available as Halloween masks right up there with vampires, witches and other monsters? Even more to the point, why does the average American see nothing wrong with purchasing that mask and dressing up her child as “AN INDIAN” for Halloween, but would never think to masquerade as another ethnic group, although I have seen “Arab” costumes at times. What does this say about our perceptions of Native Americans as human beings?
These are just two examples of the cultural baggage that we as Americans carry around that make it difficult for us as librarians to know where to start in identifying bias-free books for our libraries. Recognizing that these images exist is a big step in the right direction. But subconscious images of what Indians are comprise a very deep part of the American psyche, and you may be surprised at how uncomfortable you feel when asked to give up these images, no matter how you feel about them intellectually.
For example, The Indian in the Cupboard and its sequels are much- loved books by librarians and their patrons. But for Indian people, these are some of the worst perpetrators of the most base stereotypes. The miniature toy Indian (Indians portrayed as objects or things) is described as an Iroquois warrior, but is dressed as a movie western version of a generic plains Indian “chief”, complete with eagle feather headdress. The warrior is described in the most stereotypical terms and speaks in subhuman grunts and partial sentences. He is manipulated by a more powerful white child, fostering the image of the simple and naive Indian whose contact with the white man can only benefit him and his people.
Despite the fine writing and exciting plots, these books foster continuations of classic blatant stereotypes. Yet it has been our experience that a disturbing number of librarians greatly resist criticism of these titles. It is our hope that the following bibliography and suggestions for evaluating books on Native Americans for young people will assist you in evaluating your collections and serving your patrons. There will be a great opportunity to educate young people over the next two years particularly, as interest in things “Indian” will increase with the coming of the five hundredth anniversary of the Columbus invasion of the Americas.
The following bibliography is broken down into four sections: recommended titles, titles not recommended, sources of reviews and information on recognizing stereotypes, and sources for obtaining books. The first two sections of book titles are necessarily selective and somewhat random. The aim was not for comprehensiveness at this time, but rather to present a sample evaluation of what’s out there. Also, we were not concerned with developing a list of good books, but rather with commenting on titles being published. The authors of this bibliography looked at titles from two different perspectives. Naomi Caldwell-Wood surveyed titles in her local school and public libraries, resulting in reviews of older titles and of those, perhaps, in your own libraries. Lisa Mitten looked at mostly new titles that she reviews and recommends for Carnegie Public Library of Pittsburgh, and for which you have probably read recent reviews for in the review journals. Annotations are provided for most of the titles.
1. Recommended titles:
American Indian Stories / Herman Viola (general editor). Milwaukee : Raintree Publishers, 1990. (Grades 3-5). I saw seven titles in this series, which, despite the title, are biographies (not stories) of well-known and less well-known leaders in the Indian world. The people written about so far are Sarah Winnemucca, Jim Thorpe, Carlos Montezuma, John Ross, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, and Hole-in-the-day. They are well-done, with excellent illustrations.
American Indian Tribes / Marion E. Gridley. New York : Dodd, Mead & Co., 1974. (Grades 5-9) Given the enormity of covering all of the American Indian tribes, Gridley has written one of the better books on this subject. She divided the tribes into twelve categories and has only listed tribes considered to be distinct. Each tribe is discussed in terms of its past and current condition. Numerous photographs can be found. Biographical information about notable individuals in each tribe has been included Religion was not adressed in any detail.
Atariba & Niguayona / Consuelo Mendez. San Francisco : Children’s Book Press, 1988. (Grades 1-3). One of this publisher’s bilingual Fifth World Tales, this is a retelling of a Taino Indian tale from Puerto Rico. All titles in this series are highly recommended.
Dancing Teepees : Poems of American Indian Youth / selected by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. New York : Holiday House, 1989. (All ages) A thoughtful and sensitive collection of poems from the oral traditions of Native Americans and contemporary tribal poets compiled by a Lakota woman who grew up on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. The illustrations accurately reflect traditional Native American art forms and serve the text well. A welcome addition to any poetry collection.
The First Americans : Tribes of North America / Jane Werner Watson. New York : Pantheon, 1980. (Grades K-3) A very easy-to- read and understandable book which introduces the major Native American regional groups: plains, woodlands, Inuit, northwest and southwest. The short glimpses into each of the groups is handled by providing factual information about dwellings, duties of adults and children, and respect for religious rites and ceremonies. Illustrated with pen and ink sketches.
Happily May I Walk : American Indians and Alaska Natives Today / Arlene B. Hirschfelder. New York : Scribner’s, 1986. (Grades 5+) Excellent summary of Native American life and activities today. Very up-to-date, going far towards lifting Indian people out of the nineteenth century where they’ve been stranded in many books. Very useful for adults, too, and as a reference tool.
Houses of Bark / Bonnie Shemie. Montreal : Tundra Books, 1990. (Grades 3-5) Well- illustrated survey of traditional house types of the northeast. However, the final illustration unaccountably shows a Plains girl working on a piece of bark, for some reason.
Iktomi and the Ducks / Paul Goble. New York : Orchard Books, 1990. (Picture book; all ages) All of Paul Goble’s books are highly recommended, especially the Iktomi stories, which perfectly convey the lessons and spirit of trickster stories. Goble flawlessly captures the flavor of Indian humor and the easy blend of cultures so common in contemporary Indian America, and so lacking in the works of other authors.
Indian Chiefs / Russell Freedman. New York : Holiday House, 1987. (Grades 5+) Freedman has accomplished a well-balanced collective biography of six western Indian chiefs: Red Cloud (Oglala Sioux), Satanta (Kiowa), Quannah Parker (Comanche), Washakie (Shoshone), Joseph (Nez Perce), and Sitting Bull (Hunkpapa Sioux). The short biographies of twenty pages each contain actual quotes by the various chiefs within an accurate historical setting. Freedman was careful in his use of terminology. He prefaces the book by providing information on how the term “chief” was determined and used by the white settlers and government and how various tribes distinguished the many levels of leadership. This indexed book is illustrated with numerous sketches and photographs and is made complete with a bibliography of sources for further study.
Indian Summer / Barbara Girion. New York : Scholastic, 1990. (Grades 5-8) An excellent novel of the cultural adjustments Joni must make when she finds herself living on a modern “Woodlands” (i.e. Iroquois) reservation with her family in upstate New York one summer. Also manages to touch on a number of issues important to contemporary Iroquois, without being preachy. Girion does a fine job.
Keepers of the Earth : Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children / Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac. Golden : CO : Fulcrum, 1988. (All ages) Superbly written and illustrated presentation of Native American philosophies about the environment. Joseph Bruchac has compiled a number of collections of myths and legends of the Abenaki and Iroquois peoples, all of them excellent. He is also a well-known storyteller; a librarian can feel secure about purchasing anything he has written or is associated with.
The Last Buffalo : Cultural Views of the Plains Indians : The Sioux or Dakota Nation / W.E. Rosenfelt. Minneapolis : T.S. Denison & Co., 1973. (Grades 4-6) Rosenfelt collaborated with Ed McGaa, Oglala Sioux, and as a result we have a straightforward and sensitive text which strives for honesty. Unfortunately, illustrations are very mediocre pen and ink drawings; the text would have been much better served by photographs. Although the title implies an end to the Lakota Nation, Rosenfelt points out that the culture is very much alive. The section on religion is especially well-done. Highly recommended.
North American Indian Medicine People
North American Indian Survival Skills
North American Indian Sign Language / all by Karen Liptak. New York : Franklin Watts, 1990. (Grades 4-7). Watts has been putting out several fine nonfiction titles in series on American Indians, including a series on different tribes for younger readers. These surveys of cultural traits are representative, providing a balanced look at these areas of Native American knowldege.
The People Shall Continue / Simon Ortiz. San Francisco : Children’s Book Press, 1988. (Grades 3-6) Ortiz, a Pueblo poet, has written the best treatment available for young children in this succinct recounting of the interactions between the Native and non- native peoples of North America from Columbus to the present day. Illustrations are vibrant and bold, and the text is honest and clear. An important acquisition for the upcoming Columbus Quincentennary!
Pueblo Storyteller / Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith. New York : Holiday House, 1991. (Grades 3-6) Ten-year old April of Cochiti Pueblo takes the reader on a photographic visit through the pueblo, introducing him to her family, traditional methods of bread-baking, pottery-making and drum-making. She participates in a Buffalo Dance and tells the reader her favorite creation story. An excellent title to introduce children to the world of the contemporary reservation child. A superb complementary title, from a boy’s perspective, is Pueblo Boy : Growing Up in Two Worlds / Marcia Keegan. New York : Dutton, 1991.
The Rain Dance People : The Pueblo Indians, Their Past and Present / Richard Erdoes. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. (Grades 6+) This book is an excellent example of detailed research of both documented print sources and personal interviews, photographs and sketches. Erdoes traces the history of the Pueblo Indians from prehistoric times to the mid-1970’s and provides information abouth their unique lifestyle and how they have struggled to maintain it. His straightforward retelling of how the west was “won” serves to dispell the myth of the winning of the wild west as a glamorous event. Careful and detailed coverage is given to the invasion of missionaries who traveled to Pueblo land to stamp out the ancient native religion. Readers are informed of the boarding schools that young Pueblo children were required to attend where they were forbidden to speak “Indian”. The strengths of the Pueblo communal and governmental structures are examined in great detail. Throughout the book Erdoes weaves an explanation of the the signifigance of art in Pueblo culture. An extraordinary work. Highly recommended.
The Shadow Brothers / A.E. Cannon. New York : Delacorte Press, 1990. (Grades 6-10) A well-done novel of a Navajo teen as told by his adoptive (non-Indian) brother. Henry Yazzie has been sent to live with his father’s white friend’s family so that he can attend good schools. An excellent student and athlete, the arrival of a second Native boy to the school has Henry questioning his identity as a Navajo. Deals with issues many Indian kids face as novelties in their schools.
Sweetgrass / Jan Hudson. New York : Philomel, 1989. (Grades 5- 8). A superb first book about a Blackfoot girl in the days just before heavy interaction with settlers by a Canadian author who has recently died. Dawn Rider, 1990, was a disappointing second work.
The Tlingit / Alice Osinski. Chicago : Children’s Press, 1990. (Grades 1-3). An entry in the New True series on American Indian tribes. Like the other titles in this series, these are superb introductions to the histories and cultures of the different peoples they treat. Of particular value is the care taken in each book to positively show each tribe and its people and culture as survivors in the late 20th century. These books are well illustrated with photographs whenever available, avoiding the often culturally loaded images present in reproductions of paintings and drawings.
The Story of Squanto, First Friend to the Pilgrims / Cathy East Dubowski. New York ; Dell Yearling, 1990. (Grades 4-8) Of the many books for children on Squanto and the Pilgrims, we finally get a historically accurate biography of the Wampanoag survivor of the village of Patuxet who was so critical in the survival of this early group of colonials. New research being done in the Massachusetts coastal area lends detail and authenticity to the Indians/Pilgrims/ Thanksgiving story that is typically couched in mythology and legend, especially in accounts for children. Nanepashemet, a Wampanoag Research Associate at Plimouth Plantation, also lent his expertise. A very well- balanced, realistic and entertaining biography.
Who Was Who in Native American History / Carl Waldman. New York : Facts on File, 1990. (Grades 6-adult). This is a reference work that is more properly a who’s who of Indian-white history – i.e. it doesn’t include pre-Columbian people, giving the tired impression that Indian history doesn’t begin until 1492, and it only includes people who were significant because of their interactions with white people, not those who are important to their own people. Also, the listings stop with 1900, relegating Indians to the remote past once again. Nevertheless, useful for what it does include, and cross references are very good.
A Woman of Her Tribe / Margaret A. Robinson. New York : Scribner’s, 1990. (Grades 5-8) Low-key story of Annette, whose white mother moves the two of them from Annette’s deceased father’s Nootka village to attend a private school in Vancouver where she’s received a scholarship. Annette’s transition to the city and the school is handled with sensitivity and understanding. The last third of the novel deals with Annette’s return to her village over the Christmas break, where she realistically confronts her confusion over being both Nootka and white, and makes decisions about where she belongs.
2. Titles to avoid:
A,B,C’s : The American Indian Way / by Richard Red Hawk. Sacramento : Sierra Oaks. 1988. (Grades K-3) An unfortunate attempt to “Indianize” the usual ABC book. This version comes out over- simplified often to the point of confusion.
Black Elk : A Man with a Vision / Carol Greene. Chicago : Children’s Press, 1990. (Grades 3-5) Although consistant with the material in Black Elk Speaks, this retelling of Black Elk’s vision is so oversimplified that it sounds ridiculous and muddled. The illustrations, mostly period artwork, are poorly chosen and often have nothing to do with the text.
Drift / William Mayne. New York : Dell Yearling, 1985. (Grades 4- 7) A stranded-in-the-wilderness tale about white teen Rafe and Indian teen Tawena. Indian characters are grunting savages, even though Mayne has attempted to present a “sympathetic” treatment of the Indians and their concept of nature. Time period, place and Indians involved are unknown, and the storyline is rather murky. Mr. Mayne and the author of Indian in the Cupboard are from England. In general, books featuring Native peoples written by British authors tend to be full of quaint stereotypes and misperceptions.
False Face / Welwyn Wilton Katz. New York : M.K. McElderry Books, 1988. (Grades 6-9) An exciting and well-told story of a white female teen (Lonny) and a mixed-blood male teen (Tom) who accidentally unearth an old Iroquois false face mask. However, the portrayal of the Iroquois and nonsense presented about the mask are way off base and very insulting. The author is obviously familiar with the locale of the story, and places on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario are accurately described. However, this is a clear example of the phrase “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. Katz conjures up a ridiculously evil power that is supposed to inhabit the false face mask and alter the personalities of characters who attempt to possess the mask. This personalities of characters who attempt to possess the mask. This goes beyond the wild fantasies of a creative author. False face masks are an integral part of traditional Iroquois religion practised today on the very reserve that Katz describes so well. Her description of the mask as an absolute evil amounts to religious intolerance and goes far in fostering the conception of native, non-Christian religions as savage pagan rituals. A very harmful book.
Full Moon : Indian Legends of the Seasons / Lillian Budd. Chicago : Rand McNally, 1971. Grades 4-6) Budd has written these legends apparently without consulting any Native Americans. The stories are contrived and do not distinguish themselves as being from any particular culture let alone of general Native American origin.
Indian Campfire Tales : Legends About the Ways of Animals and Men / W.S. Phillips. New York : Platt & Munk, 1963. (Grades 3-5) This is an example of the legion of collections of generic “Indian legends” that have been published over the years. What Phillips has compiled is a mishmash of tales of unknown origin. No effort was made to identify the source of the stories or the people who created them. The reader is led to believe that one “Indian” legend is about the same as any other. This is why children come in to libraries looking for information on “Indians” instead of on the Lakota or the Oneida or the Choctaw. The illustrations are based largely on pictographs and rock paintings that have no relation to the stories being told. The introduction claims that “the stories are histories of the tribes”, which makes no sense in the context of this book.
Indian in the Cupboard / Lynn Reid Banks. Garden City, NY : Doubleday, 1980. Also the sequels Return of the Indian and The Secret of the Indian. To repeat the criticisms of the introduction, these are classic examples of highly acclaimed books riddled with horrendous stereotypes of Native Americans. Banks has created her “Indian” character from the mixed bag of harmful cliches so common among British authors. These books are perfect examples of what to avoid.
The Legend of Jimmy Spoon / Kristiana Gregory. San Diego : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990. (Grades 4-8) Based on a true incident, this novel of a twelve year old Mormon boy taken to be the adopted brother of historical Chief Washakie is a mixture of historical accuracy and silly stereotype and ignorance. Use of the word “papoose” is constant, and Jimmy is continually harrassed by the Shoshone about being white, even after two years of living with these people. This flies in the face of accounts of actual treatment of white adoptees. Several incidents of violence towards women and children have no basis in tribal cultures, and ring very false, as does much of the dialogue, which careens between “noble savage” stereotypes and modern English. Guess who speaks which?
The Night the White Deer Died / Gary Paulsen. New York : Delacorte Press, 1990. (Grades 6-10) A rather murky, New Age type of story about Janet, a loner who dreams of a highly romanticized encounter with a handsome young Indian hunter (the “Noble Savage” stereotype) shooting a white deer. She comes to realize that the old drunken Indian she has seen in the marketplace is the man in the dream. Although beautifully written, especially the imagery and descriptions of the town and the surrounding geography, the Indian man and a Chicano schoolmate are very shallowly drawn.
Ten Little Rabbits / Virginia Grossman. San Francisco : Chronicle Books, 1991. (Picture book) A twist on the counting book theme featuring rabbits dressed as “Indians” and involved in “Indian” activities. Although the illustrations are beautiful, the messages conveyed are confusing. Each page shows the rabbits/Indians dressed in the manner of a different tribe, but this isn’t explained until the end of the book, in an afterward. The impression given is one of generic “Indianness”, and once again animals “become” Indians simply by putting on certain articles of clothing, relegating an entire race to the status of a role or profession.
Wigwam and Warpath : Minute Stories of the American Indian / Isabel Jurgens. New York : Grosset & Dunlap, 1936. (Grades 5-8) Although this book provides biographical sketches of lesser known Native Americans, it is laden with condescending overtones and innaccurate information. Clearly not written by someone close to the subject.
3. Guides to selecting books and sources of current reviews
The following list of titles contains excellent sources for understanding Indian stereotypes and the forms they take in children’s literature as well as in American culture.
Books Without Bias : Through Indian Eyes / Edited by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale. Rev. ed. 1988; a third edition has just been published. Order from: Oyate, 2702 Mathews Street, Berkeley, CA 94702, about $30. This hefty guide should be your bible; we cannot recommend it highly enough. Five hundred pages long in a large spiral- bound format, there are sixteen chapters devoted to articles by Indian authors and teachers, as well as an extensive book review section and list of Native American publishers. Also included are a list of American Indian authors and their works for young people, a selected bibliography of recommended titles, and, perhaps of most importance, a checklist complete with examples from children’s books on “how to tell the difference” between distorted depictions of Native peoples and those treating people as human beings.
American Indian Stereotypes in the World of Children : A Reader and Bibliography / by Arlene B. Hirschfelder. Metuchen, NJ : Scarecrow Press, 1982. Another good source for understanding what the problems are in portrayals of Indians directed at children. Goes beyond books, discussing such traditions as the YMCA/YWCA Indian Guides programs, toys with Indian imagery and sports mascots.
Shadows of the Indian : Stereotypes in American Culture / by Raymond WIlliam Stedman. Norman, OK : University of Oklahoma Press, 1982. A somewhat more scholarly rather than how-to treatment of the image of Native Americans in American culture, focusing on the movie industry, pulp westerns and television as well as literature. The author pulls no punches.
Unlearning “Indian” Stereotypes : A Teaching Unit for Elementary Teachers and Children’s Librarians / Council on Interracial Books for Children. New York : The Council, 1977. An excellent book of sample lesson plans and background materials developed specifically for teachers and librarians. The librarian described on p. 483 of the June 1991 “American Libraries” would have done well to read this first before leading her young patrons in holding their insulting “rain dance”. An accompanying filmstrip featuring comments on books by Indian schoolchildren is also available.
All of the previous books contain bibliographies of recommended titles. Several other bibliographies and sources of current reviews are given below. Keep in mind, however, that the best source of information is from Indian people themselves. Most large cities around the country have an Indian center or at least an Indian community that would be happy to be asked to give their opinions on books. Librarians working near reservations have an obvious source of expertise in the people there.
Akwesasne Notes. – Newspaper; often carries book reviews. (See full cite in next section.)
American Indian and Eskimo Authors : A Comprehensive Bibliography / compiled by Arlene Hirschfelder. New York : Association of American Indian Affairs, 1973. An earlier incarnation of the Hirschfelder book just mentioned, this title lists works by Indian and Inuit (preferred over the term “Eskimo”) authors, without annotations, from colonial times to the present. Much is therefore out of print or for an adult audience.
American Indian Libraries Newsletter Charles Townley (AILA Treasurer), Dean of the Library, New Mexico State University, Box 30006, Las Cruces, NM 88003-0006 (quarterly) – Contains news on Indian libraries and library services to Indian peoples, with occasional reviews.
American Indian Reference Books for Children and Young Adults / Barbara J. Kuipers. Englewood, CO : Libraries Unlimited, 1991. Hot off the presses, a quick look at this title reveals excellent introductory chapters by a school library media specialist working in a school in Utah with a large Native student population. However, the scope of the books reviewed goes way beyond the title of this book. Only a rather small percentage of the books discussed are actually reference works, and the focus is on adult and young adult titles. Annotations are largely descriptive as to content, rather than evaluative. Also contains indexes and a list of publisher’s addresses.
The Eagle, Eagle Wing Press, Inc., P.O. Box 579 MO, Naugatuck, CT 06770 – This newspaper of current events in Indian America occasionally carries book reviews.
Indian Children’s Books / by Hap Gilliland. Billings, MT : Montana Council for Indian Education (517 Rimrock Road, Billings 59102), 1980. Good bibliography of books on Indians, evaluated by Indian people from a wide vareity of tribes. Of particular value is a comprehensive list of publishers and their addresses (as of 1980), preceded by a lengthy subject index.
Interracial Books for Children Bulletin New York : Council on Interracial Books for Children (1841 Broadway, NYC 10023 – 8 issues/year). An excellent source for reviews for new materials for teachers and librarians on all ethnic groups. They also have published some booklets, handbooks and audiovisual materials.
Literature by and About the American Indian : An Annotated Bibliography / Edited by Anna Lee Stensland. Second edition. Urbana, IL : National Council of Teachers of English, 1979. An okay annotated bibliography that includes recommendations from other works that include Native reviewers. Focus is on fiction for children and young adults.
Wicazo Sa Review Indian Studies MS 188, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA 99004 (biannual) – A journal from the academic field of Native American Studies, this often contains book reviews by and about Native people.
4. Where to find books on Indians
This is really a two-part issue, dealing with Indian publishers and authors, and with distributors who carry a large inventory of “Indian” titles. The latter can often carry the bad as well as the good, but their catalogs are useful for selection and acquisition. Also, unless specifically indicated, books are generally for an adult audience, but often have a section of children’s books. Again, this is only a sampling. See the appropriate section in Books Without Bias for a more complete listing.
Akwesasne Notes, Mohawk Nation, via Rosseveltown, NY 13683. This is the longest running Indian newspaper around today, covering indigenous issues of the Americas and the world. They have published several books, and carry a small number of titles from other publishers. Occasional book reviews. The newspaper itself is worth a subscription.
Canyon Records, 4143 North 16th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85016. – Although there are a number of sources for Indian music, Canyon Records is by far the largest, with a huge inventory. They also have a pretty large list of books for distribution.
Children’s Book Press, 1461 Ninth Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122. – Harriet Rohmer publishes a book series called Fifth World Tales, featuring strikingly illustrated bilingual stories for children from the different ethnic groups in this country. Several Latin American Native peoples are represented, such as the Miskito of Nicaragua, but the book to get is Simon Ortiz’ The People Shall Continue, already discussed above.
Indian Historian Press, 1493 Masonic Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94117. – Formerly publishers of the only magazine for children by Native Americans, “The Weewish Tree”, the newspaper “Wassaja” and the scholarly journal “The Indian Historian” (all defunct), this Indian-run educational publishing house features materials for children.
Iroqrafts, RR#2, Ohsweken, Ontario, Canada N0A 1M0. This is an Iroquois-run craft mail order house that carries a very large inventory of titles on Native peoples, with an emphasis on the Iroquois and other eastern Canadian groups. They even do their own reprinting of important works.
Native American Authors Distribution Project, The Greenfield Review Press, 2 Middle Grove Road, P.O. Box 308, Greenfield Center, NY 12833. – This project, run by Joseph Bruchac, combines both parts of this issue: all of the books are by Native authors, and the Project is a distributor for many small presses.
Oyate, 2702 Mathews Street, Berkeley, CA 94702. – These folks are the publishers of Books Without Bias, and sell many of the books recommended in that bibliography. Write for their price list of available titles.
Theytus Books, Ltd., Box 218 Penticton, British Columbia V2A 6K3 Canada – A Canadian Native-run publishing house, featuring children’s and young adult novels.
Western Trading Post, P.O. Box 9070, 32 Broadway, Denver, CO 80209. – A very large craft house of materials used by Indian people, run by non-Indians. They have quite a large section of books and music in their catalog.
Revised October 1991
Please send questions, comments and suggestions to:
Lisa A. Mitten Naomi Caldwell-Wood
207 Hillman Library (until 8/1/94)
University of Pittsburgh P.O. Box 21
Pittsburgh, PA 15260 Clarion, PA 16214
Internet: LMITTEN@VMS.CIS.PITT.EDU Internet: NRCST1@LIS.PITT.EDU
What To Look For
- Is the vocabulary demeaning?
Are terms like “squaw”, “papoose”, “chief”, “redskin”, “savage”, “warrior” used?
- Do the Indians talk like Tonto or in the noble savage tradition?
See Indian in the Cupboard and The Legend of Jimmy Spoon for examples.
- Are the Indians all dressed in the standard buckskin, beads and feathers?
Again, see Indian in the Cupboard, and any book in which any character “dresses like an Indian”.
- Are Indians portrayed as an extinct species, with no existance as human beings in contemporary america?
This is the whole “vanishing Indian” concept.
- Is Indian humanness recognized?
Do animals “become” Indians simply by putting on “Indian” clothes and carrying a bow and arrow? Do children “dress up like Indians” or “play Indian” as if “Indian” was a role that one could assume as one can dress up like doctors or cowboys or baseball players? For comparison, do animals or children also dress up as African- Americans or play Italian?
- Do Native Americans appear in alphabet and counting books as objects that are counted?
- Do Native American characters have ridiculous imitation “indian” names, such as “Indian Two Feet” OR “Little Chief”?
- Is the artwork predominated by generic “Indian” designs? or has the illustrator taken care to reflect the traditions and symbols of the particular people in the book?
- Is the history distorted, giving the impression that the white settlers brought civilization to native peoples and improved their way of life? Are terms like massacre, conquest, civilization, customs, superstitions, ignorant, simple, advanced, dialects (instead of languages) used in such a way as to demean native cultures and achievements to indicate the superiority of European ways?
- Are Indian characters successful only if they realize the fultility of traditional ways and decide to “make it” in white society?
- Are white authority figures – teachers, social workers – able to solve the problems of native children that native authority figures have failed to solve? (Are there any native authority figures?)
- Are the perceptions of women as subservient drudges present? Or are women shown to be the integral and powerful part of native societies that they are?
- Finally and most importantly, is there anything in the book that would make a native american child feel embarrassed or hurt to be what he is? Can the child look at the book and recognize and feel good about what he sees?
List adapted from Stedman, 1982 and Slapin, 1988.