The Twilight Series and Native Americans

Debbie Reese’s AICL posts on the Twilight Saga

In her blog AICL (American Indians in Children’s Literature) Native scholar and educator Dr. Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo) has written quite a bit about the portrayal of the Quileute Tribe in the Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga.  To the right you can find the current list of her posts.  Access this by scrolling down the right sidebar at any AICL page.  On Friday the 12th of November, after the debut of Breaking Dawn – Part 2, Debbie was interviewed by Native America Calling.  In the interview and in response to questions, she discusses the impact of the saga and the films on Native Americans.  The Twilight discussion begins after minute 6:15.

Needless to say, Debbie Reese is critical of both the novels and the movies. It is not enough to be critical, however.  It is important that criticism is supported with fact and analysis.  For this reason, her pieces and this extended interview/call-in program belong in the classroom.

Just because the Natives in Twilight are not from Maine does not mean that the misrepresentations and stereotypes in this popular series have not impacted – do not continue to impact – Maine’s students, both Native and non-Native.  Maine’s students, who like students all over the country have read the series and seen the movies, can stretch their own critical thinking and analysis skills by listening to the interview and reading Debbie’s posts (I recommend chronological order).  They can scroll through other topics that Debbie has addressed over the years, many of which have been discussed in this blog as well.

This the framework for a perfect middle or high school Common Core unit. Have students:

  • read and listen to Debbie and other sources (below) – perhaps read one of the Twilight books or view one of the movies as a class
  • follow through on some of the issues raised in the critical texts
  • formulate a critical response to one of the questions below – write or author a persuasive or analytical response – share it
  • debate
  • compare/contrast one of the Twilight books/movies with a book/movie portraying a different culture OR Natives in a different movie (re: Dances With Wolves or The Black Robe) OR in a native produced film (The Lesser Blessed is a good one) OR in a Native written novel (see my Top 10 (or Less or More) page for novel recommendations)

Students should ask:

  • Is Twilight racist?
  • What is the persistant popular appeal of the Native American cultural myth?
  • To what degree do film and fiction affect our beliefs and understandings about other cultures?  Specifically, how about beliefs about Maine’s Native tribes?
  • Are readers and film viewers able to separate fantasy from reality with regard to the portrayals of Native and other cultures?
  • What other examples of Native stereotyping can students identify in their immediate worlds?
  • Why do authors, publishers, editors, artists, manufacturers, etc. continue to ignore the Native criticism of their products?  How would they defend their representations of Native culture?
  • Is there a positive, as well as negative, impact on Native society?
  • Should something be done to support those, like Debbie Reese, who persist in trying to raise awareness and sensitivity? What can be done?
  • Should Twilight and other stereotypical novels be included in the school curriculum?
  • Where do Native-type stereotypes appear in other “survival” literature that you have read (eg.: HatchetThe Hunger GamesLord of the Flies)?  [An eBook example is Heinlein’s The Tunnel in the Sky].

Debbie Reese’s is not the only voice that raises in the Twilight issue.  Below are a few other resources that I find informative; there are many more to be found online.