Saturday, July 29, 2006

"Wild Indian" stereotype

Yesterday at the doctor's office, flipping thru magazines on the table, I was surprised to see a full page Tylenol ad on the back page of an AARP magazine. The text said something like "when you have the grandkids for the weekend." It showed an elderly person holding the hand of a kid. In the kids other hand was an ice cream cone, and on his head was an Indian headdress with multi-colored feathers. The kid was not Native.
Parents use the "stop acting like a wild Indian" phrase when their kids are out of control, but I haven't seen it in an advertisement before. I have occasionally come across it in children's books.

AARP is a huge and powerful organization. There's a lot of people out there who get their magazines. I haven't heard any protest to the ad. Have you? Why not?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Shirley Sterling's MY NAME IS SEEPEETZA

A reader told me about an article by Shirley Sterling, author of one of the boarding school books I wrote about yesterday. The article is a beautiful and moving piece of writing, and I want to share it with you:

"Seepeetza Revisited: An Introduction to Six Voices"

The article is from the on-line issue of Educational Insights, specifically from V. 3 No. 1, dated October 1995.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

American Indian Boarding Schools - continued

Native singer/songwriter Arigon Starr heard about the critique of Rinaldi's book and wrote a song about it. To listen to a clip, read the lyrics, and order the CD, go here:

American Indian Boarding Schools

I think that when most people hear "boarding school," they think of elite private schools, and perhaps they think of Hogwarts (Harry Potter's school).

Many assume, incorrectly, that the boarding schools the US Government set up for American Indians were much like the elite private schools, but that was not the case. The goal of American Indian boarding schools was to "kill the Indian" and "save the man." In Canada, the schools were called "residential schools."

These schools are the subject of many children's books. Unfortunately, they generally provide a white-washed view of the schools. The best example of this is Ann Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl. To see an extensive review of the book, go here:

If you're interested in children's books on this topic, there are a few that I recommend:

Home to Medicine Mountain, by Chiori Santiago (picture book)
As Long as the Rivers Flow, by Larry Loyie (middle grades)
My Name is Seepeetza, by Shirley Sterling (middle grades)
No Parole Today, by Laura Tohe (poetry for high school)

You may also be interested in non-fiction titles more appropriate for adult readers:
Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Experiences, 1879-2000, by Margaret Archuleta, Brenda Child, and K. Tsianina Lomawaima. Also see Child's book Boarding School Seasons, and Lomawaima's They Called it Prairie Light.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Writing BY American Indians that isn't ABOUT American Indians

In my work, I search for books and stories about American Indians that are written (or retold) by American Indians. I do this because it is critical that Americans know that we are part of today’s America; that is, American Indians aren't dead and gone.

I’d bet that most of you know the phrase “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Why are so many people familiar with that phrase? I googled it and got 18,400 results, and I know it appears in many children’s books. Maybe America’s children are first introduced to that phrase by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in Little House on the Prairie.

Those who believed and acted on that phrase didn’t succeed.

We did not vanish. A good many of us are writers, and we don’t always write about American Indians, nor should we be expected to confine our creativity and interest to American Indian topics.

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s upcoming book, Santa Knows, may be an example. From what I can see on her webpage, Alfie (the protagonist) is not American Indian, and the story isn’t about American Indians. Smith and her husband co-wrote Santa Knows

My father is another example. He is retired now, but spent most of his career at Los Alamos National Laboratory where he designed and built high-speed cameras and published a lot of articles in scientific journals.

This particular post to my blog may seem a bit odd, out of place, perhaps, but I do want readers to know that not all American Indians write about American Indians. To some of you, that simple statement may seem a no-brainer, but with American Indians, we have to state the obvious again and again. Such is the power of stereotypical imagery.

Update, Feb 19, 2015

I've long since read--and love--Santa Knows. I definitely recommend it!

My father passed away in June of 2013. In addition to the scientific work he did at Los Alamos, he worked very hard, advocating for Native people interested in higher education, and, advocating for the ways that Native people are treated in the workplace. The local paper in Santa Fe has a wonderful article about him

Sunday, July 23, 2006

More Board Books

There are four additional board books by Beverly Blacksheep! They are Baby Learns about Weather, Baby Learns about Time, Baby Learns about Senses, and Baby Learns about Seasons. Oyate carries all eight titles. To order, call 510-848-6700 or email:

You can see some of Beverly Blacksheep's art here: