American Indian Book Search

A crucial part of engaging in authentic intellectual work is through being able to analyze and evaluate sources critically to establish their worth. The main question to be answered is whether the source is harmful or helpful in telling the intended story. Especially with a topic as misrepresented as American Indians in American history, there is a tendency to enforce stereotypes and misperceptions of American Indian cultures. To encourage “high-level of student thinking,” students can play an important direct role in the evaluating of these sources. This is undoubtedly a challenging task for students, but can be executed powerfully in the classroom to enrich their ability to evaluate reliable sources.

Students can be involved in the process of curating sources intended for them and children even younger than them. They can do this by themselves curating children’s books and learning activities intended for their age and those for children younger than them. This direct attempt to analyze a source for its relevance and educational value builds on their ability to decide if sources are credible or not. They will especially benefit from being able to understand the disturbing aspects of sources written that continue the blatant stereotyping of American Indians. This daunting task can be presented in a less intimidating format for students. Accumulating both powerful and harmful sources for this activity is essential.

A resource for helping teachers select sources is the American Indian Library Association. This is a helpful tool for identifying sources published throughout the times that include examples of sources that are harmful as well as those that are helpful in telling an authentic story of American Indians. These exemplify both fiction and non-fiction sources that are separated for intended age groups, time periods presented within the book, and purposes as informative, imaginative, and or educational. The cite provides a wide variety of sources that extend from children’s picture books to poems and retellings of oral traditions. They provide very educational and relevant sources to be used as well as sources that should be analyzed for stereotyping and biases by educators and students alike.

Now that sources are established, students can then be presented with either a source that exhibits a high value of authenticity or a source that does not depict American Indian culture in a positive non-stereotypical light. The source individually given to them must then be evaluated. They will do so with the help of the thought questions provided to them taken from The American Indian Library Association.

Questions to encourage thought (American Indian Library Association):

Is the vocabulary demeaning? Are terms like “squaw”, “papoose”, “chief”, “redskin”, “savage”, “warrior” used?

Are Indians portrayed as an extinct species, with no existence as human beings in contemporary America?

Is Indian humanness recognized? Are characters dressing in traditional costume as a way of “playing Indian”?

Do Native American characters have ridiculous imitation “Indian” names, such as “Indian Two Feet” OR “Little Chief”?

Is the artwork predominated by generic “Indian” designs? or has the illustrator taken care to reflect the traditions and symbols of the particular people in the book?

Is the history distorted, giving the impression that the white settlers brought civilization to native peoples and improved their way of life? Are terms like massacre, conquest, civilization, customs, superstitions, ignorant, simple, advanced, dialects (instead of languages) used in such a way as to demean native cultures and achievements to indicate the superiority of European ways?

Are Indian characters successful only if they realize the fultility of traditional ways and decide to “make it” in white society?

Are the perceptions of women as subservient drudges present? Or are women shown to be the integral and powerful part of native societies that they are?

Students must then partake in the completion of a source evaluation presentation. They will be presented with a card exhibiting the guidelines and questions they should be answering to evaluate their source. They will write a concise evaluation of their source that will allow them to clearly portray their findings to their classmates. These can be evaluated based on how they were able to use evidence from their text based on the thought questions above and their ability to answer the following question as to whether or not the source would make a Native American child proud to read or hurt by reading this story. This way of evaluating a source will open their eyes to the real issues surrounding the existence of sources that depict American Indians in a hurtful, stereotypical light.

Source:

Caldwell, Naomi, and Lisa A Mitten. “‘I’ IS NOT FOR INDIAN.” American Indian Library Association, ailanet.org/about/publications/i-is-not-for-indian/.