Today’s post from Debbie Reese at AICL continues the conversation about stereotypes. Debbie wisely reminds us that by choosing to read narrowly in the growing library of literature by Natives accessible to – and for – children, we can fall dangerously close to reinforcing stereotypes. Specifically, she talks about the 4D’s (drumming, dancing, drinking, death), topics most often thematic in books about Native life at the YA and adult levels. She adds “being saved by a White protagonist” to this list. It is important to avoid books that limit portrayal of Native culture and community to these narrowly defining features.
Of course, the 4D’s (as well as the occasional saving by a White) are found in the literature we use to integrate Native studies into our middle and high school curricula. But, as Debbie so aptly states, so is Rock & Roll. So is coming of age. So is storytelling. So is spirituality. So is divorce. So are the 4F’s: friendship, flight, fear, forbidden love.
In short, the best Native literature is very much in the mainstream of contemporary YA literature. And, as Debbie points out in this and other posts, there is quite a bit of it.
Teachers & librarians: Don’t stop with Part Time Indian - good as that book is, there are others as good and better. (See recommendations at my Top 10 page).
I find it advantageous to read Native literature in today’s classroom. Unlike many other fiction texts, these reads beg accompanying readings in the realm of “informational text.” Tribal affiliation of the author/subject. Historical fact-checking. Cultural study. Analysis of other cultural literature (in translation). And increasingly, contemporary issues.
What better way to fight stereotypes than with a heavy dose of relevance and reflection? We do not yet have a Great Wabanaki Novel, but we DO have persistent coverage in the news media of Wabanaki issues and news. So in addition to reading more widely from the growing body of Native literature, I suggest that teachers connect students to some of the Wabanaki issues in Maine today. I would probably start with one of these:
- wind and other energy expansion on Native land
- elver licensing and fishing regulation
- tribal proposals (today and in recent years) to expand gambling
- Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission (history, role, findings, actions)
I cover all of these and more in my Scoop.It Wabanaki News and Issues for ME Classrooms, but a Google search (tribe-specific is best) will be successful. High School students can expand research to include similar issues among other Native tribes, including in Canada (hot issues now relating to child adoption and environmentalism), South America and Australia.
So Debbie Reese is right. The Native “story” is much deeper and wider than can be told in one novel. Reach out for more.