I wish to have Native American characters in my SylFaen Tree Saga, so I was delighted to find and read this book. How To Tell The Difference: A Checklist for Evaluating Children's Books for Anti-Indian Bias, by Beverly Slapin, Doris Seale and Rosemary Gonzalez. Slapin and company demonstrate misrepresentations of Native Americans in Children's Literature and compare them to appropriate representations.
It explains how many books use stereotypes and pejorative language when talking about Native Americans. I realized how much this book is needed when three seconds after describing the purpose of this book to my teenage son to recommend he read it, I came across a misrepresentation.
I was continuing to reading the bedtime story, The Once and Future King, by T.H. White, a children's book about King Arthur an ocean away and hundreds of years before Columbus, to my nine year old. White used a totally irrelevant reference to “base Indians” and starting fire with sticks. Clearly a book about anti-Indian bias is needed.
Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie, one of my favorite stories, also has to be looked at in the light of this checklist. Slapin's clear examples and thorough checklist are valuable for anyone who selects and teaches from children's books, be they classics or modern titles.
My concern now is how to write Native American characters that are respectful. Without a doubt, I respect Native American cultures. But as I try to write about the native spirit world of North America I find myself woefully ignorant. It is one of my many challenges to try to learn enough to not inadvertently misrepresent Native peoples and cultures.
Unfortunately for me, the particular part of North America I wish to work with is the northeast where European incursion caused the most damage to the transference of culture, traditions and beliefs. It is hard for me to find good source material about pre-European life and belief here in the northeast. Of particular interest to me is any discussion of beliefs about nature spirits, humanoid or not, and other worlds, underworlds and upper worlds, etc. I have read several books about the popular stories and legends told by Native Americans, that includes examples from the northeast, but the number of individual stories I have been able locate have been relatively few. Most of the books seem to use the same few stories. If anybody has any recommendations I would love to hear them.
How To Tell The Difference: A Checklist for Evaluating Children's Books for Anti-Indian Bias. By Slapin, Beverly; Seale, Doris; and Gonzalesz, Rosemary. New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, PA. 1988. ISBN USA 0-86571-214-x Paperback