Happily, today most people know better than to publish books alphabet books that turn Indians into objects like apples and dolls. Even so, there are many books, new – hot off the press, that miss the mark. We are looking for books portraying Native Americans/American Indians with historical accuracy, cultural appropriateness and without anti-Indian bias and stereotypes.
So why does it matter? Like all minority populations, Indian people, and especially Indian children, need books that reflect who they are in positive ways. Books reflecting African and African American culture and Hispanic culture are readily available in most libraries but books for and about Native American children, while easily obtainable, are rarely added to libraries. My local public library is part of a consortium of over 80 libraries. Recently, I checked about a dozen of my favorite titles by and about Native Americans, (both child and adult literature) and only two of them showed up in the collections of any of those libraries, and those two were only in one of the cooperative’s libraries. How sad for Native Americans, but how sad for everyone else as well, to be deprived of these fine books!
Unfortunately, there are books with Native American themes that I wish were not in our libraries. This blog will not get into the business of trashing particular books, but just a quick browse through any library’s romance section will give you a good look at some of them. You know what they look like, the bodice-ripper covers with a white woman, with her cleavage spilling out of a dangerously low-cut dress, and a bare-chested Native or alternatively, a bare-chested white man with a scantily clad Native woman, usually showing lots of leg in a fringed, leather garment. These books promote the stereotypes of the savage Indian or the noble Indian, but never get to the truth of what it is to really be Indian. (And I can recommend a really good book on that topic!)
Just to be clear, I am not a Native American (though my mother says one of our ancestors was an Indian, I think it is typical Indian-wanna-be fantasy, and my genealogy research has found no traces), but I passionately believe it is time for librarians, and others, to talk about these books and the reasons they don’t find space in our libraries or on our bookshelves at home. I look forward to hearing from all sorts of people with whom this topic resonates.
Over the next month, look for more on this topic, how and where to find good books by and about Native Americans, how to weed out the inappropriate ones, interspersed with reviews of some of my current favorites.
I’m looking forward to talking with you!