Monday, November 28, 2016

Teaching Indian Literature and/or Literature about Indians

Should we teach fictional books about Indians by non-Indian authors? 

I believe that non-Indians can successfully write and teach about Indian history and culture. For example, there are many non-Indian historians I admire who specialize in Indian history (Frederick Hoxie comes to mind.) I know less about literature, but I'm sure there are non-Indian fiction writers who do a good job portraying tribal life. But I do think (in every case, but especially when we're talking about fictional representations) that it is important to find out what the people being represented have to say about those representations.

I would never tell you what you should or shouldn't use in your classrooms, but I do encourage you to do your research. For example, if you are considering teaching Naya Nuki, or Knots on a Counting Rope (two popular titles), you may want to read the following critiques before you make your decision:
You might not agree with these critics. Even other Indian literary critics may not agree with them. (As we know from EU2, "There is no generic American Indian," and that means there will be diverse opinions about all sorts of things, including literature.)

Or you may agree with them and decide for valid reasons to teach the books anyway (but in that case, I hope you integrate critical understandings into your teaching).

Or you may decide that they offer good reasons to choose a different book. Regardless, your decision will be a considered one.

If you are looking for alternatives (as well as information on books that the website American Indians in Children's Literature thinks you should avoid), you may want to read the post "I Is Not for Indian." 

To find vetted titles, I'd also recommend looking at OPI's IEFA Language Arts and Literature Model Teaching Units. Many of the units are posted separately by grade level. Also available are two volumes of elementary model lessons. Elementary Level Volume One includes units for The Little Duck Sikihpsis, Good Luck Cat, Jingle Dancer, The Moccasins, and Red Parka Mary. Elementary Level Volume Two includes units for Where Did You Get Your Moccasins, The Gift of the Bitterroot, Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story, and The War Shirt. Other model lessons posted on the site include at the elementary and middle school level, ones for

and at the high school level
Do you have a favorite title from this list? I confess to having read very few of them. I've got a lot of catch-up reading to do!

P.S. For more advice on what to look for when choosing materials about Indians, OPI Indian Education specialist Mike Jetty recommends this OPI resource for evaluating curriculum materials: Evaluating American Indian Materials and Resources for the Classroom.


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