Resources

Living Stories

Many non-Indian people—including authors and publishers—seem to have the notion that Indians are “history,” cut off somewhere in the early 1900s, or at best marginally existing on a few reservations. To hear these living voices is to recognize that Native people are still connected to history, to family, to land, culture and community. We are still alive. We are still here.

Most of these “living stories” appeared in A BROKEN FLUTE: THE NATIVE EXPERIENCE IN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN, and many are new. We invite and encourage Indian parents and grandparents, children and teachers to contribute to this living, growing section.

 

THE LIVING STORIES

Stories About Historical Inaccuracy and Racism

A PARENT’S STORY about The Courage of Sarah Noble and westward expansion: As part of my college coursework, I was in my daughter's classroom… Read more

APRIL’S STORY about a school play about the California Gold Rush: One of the parents told me that there was going to be a play at school and…Read more

JANE’S SON’S STORY about mainstream culture and the Oregon Trail: Anpao’s in the third grade. I pick him up from school one day and… Read more

LAVERNE’S DAUGHTER’S STORY about Columbus Day: My six-year-old daughter came home with her weekly homework…Read more

LIZ’S STORY about Caddie Woodlawn: This happened when I was in third grade. In my reading group…Read more

MAYANA’S STORY about dealing with Christopher Columbus: One day in third grade my teacher said that we were going to learn…Read more

NAOMI’S STORY about hanging scalps in school: One day, I walked into Will’s former elementary school and…Read more

QALA’S STORY about Indian coneheads: This happened a few months ago, around Thanksgiving…Read more

ROBETTE’S STORY about being an extinct Indian: I was speaking at a conference and this woman came up to me…Read more

ROBIN’S STORY about building a California mission: My son came home one day and told me that they were studying... Read more

 

Stories About Racism

         BARBARA’S STORY about great expectations: They wanted to meet with me to talk about the school and see if…Read more

CODY’S STORY about dreams and colors: I had a dream, and I told it in school. The Eagle came to tell me…Read more

DORIS’S STORY about being a children’s librarian and an Indian: I am a children’s librarian. I’ve been a children’s librarian for…Read more

JUDY’S STORY about Indian baskets and macramé: So I was sitting at this garage sale table and this woman comes over and says…Read more

LOIS’S STORY about being a scary Indian: This happened in a school I subbed in a lot…Read more

MARIA’S MOTHER’S STORY about why she wanted to be like Doris Day: We were working in the kitchen, putting away the corn from our garden… Read more

 

Stories About Popular Media and Racism

           CORA’S STORY about cartoon Indians: One time, I was watching TV. It was a cartoon show, “Yogi Bear,” and…Read more

ELIZABETH’S STORY about Tweedy Bird and Ten Little Indians: My name is Elizabeth and, um, I have a story to tell… Read more

MONICA’S STORY about Indian books in the school library: I really don’t like the fake cartoon and illustration in Indian books…Read more

RAVEN’S STORY about The Courage of Sarah Noble: My name is Raven. When I was in the third grade, our class read…Read more

Stories About Colonization

       DREW’S STORY about Pentecostals and lacrosse (a game invented by the Iroquois): I remember a summer a long time ago when a throng of… Read more

L. FRANK'S STORY about being brown in a white world: When I was about nine, my family moved to Palos Verdes. I remember… Read more

TASHA’S DAUGHTER’S STORY about Santa and the Christmas Wars: ‘Tis the Season and the Christmas Wars are here. Now, my family…Read more

 

Stories About Shame

CRYSTAL’S STORY about being invisible: I never felt like I was part of the class, I felt invisible. When the teacher…Read more

JANE’S STORY about Indian tears: It is the third grade, 1972. I am a strong willed and vivacious child…Read more

SHELLY'S GRANDSON’S STORY about not wanting to be Indian: When my grandson Keegan was three years old, he told me…Read more

 

Stories About Resilience

DEBBIE’S STORY about going home: Last year when we were home for feast, my daughter, Liz, and…Read more

JUDY’S DAUGHTER JESSICA’S STORY about fighting back: Last fall in my daughter’s anthropology class, the topic of… Read more

L. FRANK'S STORY about reclaiming her culture (one event out of millions): Down at Malki, the cultural center museum, they have a fiesta every…Read more

SETH’S STORY about teaching Native American culture: Some people ask me how I teach the Native American culture…Read more

 

LIVING STORIES – Full Text  

Stories About Historical Inaccuracy and Racism Back to Top

A PARENT’S STORY about The Courage of Sarah Noble and westward expansion

As part of my college coursework, I was in my daughter's classroom, correcting papers in the back of the room. The class was reading The Courage of Sarah Noble, and I saw my daughter squirming in her seat. So I picked up the book and saw why. As she was heading out for recess, she started to cry and told me that the kids were making fun of her and no one wanted to play with her because she was Indian. I remember she said, "Mom, the other kids won't play with me. They think what they read in the book is the way Indians are." She said they were making fun of her, saying, "Oh, she's an Indian, she's gonna scalp us and peel our skin off like the Indians in the book." All I could do was hold my daughter. I remembered reading books like this when I was her age, and I remembered my own pain.

The teacher's response was, "I can't believe you're taking this so seriously." She said, "Lighten up, it's only a book." She was acting like she was the professional and I was just a dumb parent. So I asked the principal to allow my daughter to leave the classroom while the class was reading that book. He started hollering at me, said I was implying that his staff was unprofessional, that the book would not be on the state's recommended reading list if it were not acceptable. This was the first time I had ever confronted anyone in school, and I was really intimidated. But I was doing this for my daughter. I went to the Indian parent group. We wrote a petition and gave it to the principal. We wrote a letter to the State Board of Education. But in the end, my daughter had to sit through the rest of the reading of that book in the classroom. They didn't allow her to leave. I didn't know what to do, I didn't have money to hire a lawyer. I just didn't know what else to do.

The next year, my daughter's fifth grade teacher was teaching "westward expansion." And when I went to see her, she said, "Well, I heard all about you. Why do you think you have the right to remove books from the recommended list?" And, for another year, my daughter's identity as an Indian person was attacked.

Our children don't heal from this. It hurts. It doesn't stop hurting. I noticed in her art, when she would draw pictures of herself, my daughter would draw someone with blue eyes instead of someone with brown eyes. She was trying to make herself less Indian and more white. This has scarred her. My daughter's in high school now, and she still feels insecure and "less than" because she's not white. This has hurt my children and it's hurt me. It's never-ending, it's ongoing, it's continual, it's generational. It's always. Back to Top

 

APRIL’S STORY about a school play about the California Gold Rush

One of the parents told me that there was going to be a play at school and I decided to go with her. The play was supposed to be about California history, the California Gold Rush. We had had problems with a teacher there who continued to present stereotypical plays about Indians. The whole school was there, including a lot of Indian kids. So we were watching the play, and they even said, "Eureka! I have found it!" Then they got to the part about Indians. The non-Indian kids each made a short little speech and named some of our traditional foods like deer meat and salmon. And then, at the end, everyone did a "friendship dance." Well, our kids, the Indian kids, were just sitting there—you could just see their little shoulders turn in and their heads just hung down. The mom, she had two little kids with her, and she was really upset. She looked like she was crying, and she left early.

I went and talked with some of our kids afterwards. They didn't want to talk about it; they didn't know how to express how they felt. They were shamed and embarrassed.

Later, I found the mom in the parking lot. She was still there with her kids, just standing there. We talked about what we could do to change this kind of thing. So we went to speak with the principal and this teacher. We made some really good suggestions. Talk about the sacrifices we made during the Gold Rush. How many families were here when the Gold Rush happened and how the Shasta Dam displaced a lot of families, dispersed our communities. How they flooded and destroyed our graves. The teacher just said she wasn't willing to change this play—"I'm not willing to do away with my play."

This teacher has been there a long time. She was my third-grade teacher. And she's still doing it.

—April Carmelo

April Carmelo (Wintu/Maidu/Juaneño) is the mother of three beautiful children and director of the Title VII Indian Education Program in Redding, California. She is famous for her ability to multitask. Back to Top

 

JANE’S SON’S STORY about mainstream culture and the Oregon Trail

Anpao’s in the third grade. I pick him up from school one day and in the usual “how’s-your-day” conversation he tells me he’s having a problem with one of his assignments. His teacher is making him write a diary like his family was on the Oregon Trail. He says, “I know we couldn’t have been, plus we weren’t allowed there anyway. The Oregon Constitution says only white people were allowed.” Anpao’s awareness and willingness to speak up makes me very proud.

When I go to speak with his teacher, she says she doesn’t see the problem. She says it had never been a problem in all the many years she had been using this curriculum. I point out that she had several (brown) children in the class who would not have been allowed on the Oregon Trail.

Her response is “not to worry,” that she does a unit in February on the Nez Percé “where the white people are the bad people.” I tell her she’s missing the point, that all children have a right to be taught honestly, that it is their world after all and they deserve to understand it. We go round and round for awhile, she maintaining her oblique defensiveness, I struggling to maintain calmness.

In the end, Anpao writes the diary; his teacher does not support him and he doesn’t want to feel, ironically, excluded. I choose to allow him his security; he knows his history. He learns a lot from the experience, particularly about “mainstream” culture and how it dysfunctions.

—Jane Waite

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LAVERNE’S DAUGHTER’S STORY about Columbus Day

My six-year-old daughter came home with her weekly homework packet and, like always, I looked it over. Every week they learn a poem and they recite it as a group on Fridays, and on the second or third page there was a poem about Christopher Columbus. When my husband came home, we decided to talk to our girls about Columbus. We told them that he came here for gold, that he was a slave trader, and that he killed a lot of Native Americans. We told our daughter that she didn’t have to recite that poem, that I would talk to her teacher if she wanted us to.

When she was in bed, probably about two hours later, she said, “Mommy, I don’t want to do the poem. Can you talk to my teacher?” I told her she didn’t have to and gave her a hug. I was proud of her.

This morning, I went to school early and talked to Sofia’s teacher. The teacher went on and on about Columbus, that he was an important person in history and Columbus Day was a national holiday. And I just told her that we don’t recognize Columbus Day and that we explain to our children that sometimes there will be assignments that are half-truths and we explain the other half.  She told Sofia that she didn’t have to recite the poem and asked me if there was a Native American poem that she could recite instead. I told her I didn’t want Sofia to be singled out, and the teacher said that was okay.

The teacher kind of knows that I keep an eye on things, and she said she didn’t want to be worried about what her assignments were going to be. Meaning she wanted to continue doing what she was doing without being challenged by a parent. She’s not very supportive of us parents’ being in the classroom. I volunteer so I can keep an eye on my kids and let everyone know that I care about them.

—LaVerne Villalobos (Omonhon/Ponca)

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LIZ’S STORY about Caddie Woodlawn

This happened when I was in third grade. In my reading group there was this Newbery book called Caddie Woodlawn. I don’t think the teacher had read this book, but she picked it because we were studying pioneers and someone told her it was about pioneers. And my friend at the time, pretty much my best friend Emma, was in the reading group with me. She had read Caddie Woodlawn when she was like six and she didn’t know that it was offensive to Native Americans. And so we were reading it and when we got to the second chapter, it said, I’m not sure exactly what it said, that the Native Americans were sneaking around like dogs, and they picked up Caddie Woodlawn by her hair, and they were acting like dogs sniffing a bone. In another part it said that the Native Americans were massacring, murdering and scalping the pioneers and made belts out of their hair and skin. They made the pioneers seem like angels and the Native Americans seem like inhuman monsters. I felt hurt inside, my eyes were watering and I felt like I wanted to cry. But then I thought, there’s something I can do about this.

This was the first time I ever thought about doing something about this, besides my mom’s coming to school and talking about us being Native American. Usually it was like a tradition, my mom would come in every year. But nothing really happened until third grade.

When I got to this part in Caddie Woodlawn, I was home and I showed it to my mom and we both got uncomfortable, upset, angry. So the next day I went to school and I told my teacher, I told her I found something that’s really offensive to Native Americans in this book and I would really like for us to stop reading it. So she said we would have a meeting about it that day.

I said I would prefer we stopped reading this book and pretty much everybody agreed we should stop reading it. So we stopped reading the book and my friend Emma said that she didn’t want anything offensive to white people either. So me and my mom agreed to find another book and that was Birchbark House. So we read that book and we liked it so much that I did a play about it. The people in my reading group and another of my friends helped me with this play by being my actors. So that’s basically what happened with me and Caddie Woodlawn when I was in the third grade.

—Liz Reese

Liz Reese (Nambe Pueblo) studied Political Science at Yale University. Deeply committed to Native people, she plans to go to law school and study tribal law. Liz wrote "Liz's Story" when she was in the fourth grade. Back to Top

 

MAYANA’S STORY about dealing with Christopher Columbus

One day in third grade my teacher said that we were going to learn about Christopher Columbus. She said that Christopher Columbus was great, and that he had discovered America. She said all this great stuff about Columbus, but I told her that it was not right because Columbus cut off legs and enslaved the Indians whose land he was on.

The teacher said that I was not back there 500 years ago. I said, “I know, but I have proof because my step-mom has read the diary of a man who was traveling with Columbus. So she has proof and I have proof.”

“Well,” the teacher said, “I’m sorry, you were not there 500 years ago.”

I said, “Well, neither were you !”

So after that the teacher said, “Write something about Columbus that you have learned.” So I went to my desk and wrote all the bad stuff Columbus had done to Indians.

When I was done I went to my teacher to show her what I had written. She said, “I’m sorry, you’re going to have to rewrite this because you have to write something nice about Columbus.”

So I went to my desk, and wrote that Christopher Columbus had three ships: the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María.

— Mayana Lea

Mayana Lea (Cherokee) is a community activist. Throughout high school, Mayana conducted student-led workshops for teachers about student-teacher relationships, and remains committed to participating in the struggle for social justice. She wrote “Mayana’s Story” when she was in the fifth grade. Back to Top

 

NAOMI’S STORY

One day, I walked into Will’s former elementary school and just as you go in, right next to the showcase, on the wall I saw a brown leather belt with two curly black wigs and some feathers hanging from it. A kid had done a book report and this was his visual aide.

So I walked over and read the material and they were supposed to be scalps. My heart dropped, I couldn’t believe it. It made me sick, it made me want to throw up. So I said to the reading teacher, Are these supposed to be scalps? And she said, It’s just a book report. Meaning that it was OK, it wasn’t important enough to talk about. She didn’t seem to see a thing wrong with it. I was at a loss for words because in the past I’ve gone in, I’ve talked with the kids, they know I’m Indian, they know Will’s Indian. It shocked me that the teachers apparently couldn’t find any better literature than The Sign of the Beaver. And that it was OK to illustrate it this way.

It made me sad for the children who are mostly white. And I thought, you know, these kids need good books because they don’t have the privilege and opportunity to interact on a personal level with Indian kids or Latino kids who have Indian blood. So they’re getting their worldview from trash.

—Naomi Caldwell

Naomi Caldwell (Ramapough) is a librarian, educator and activist, and holds a doctorate in library science. A member and former president of the American Indian Library Association and a former board member of Oyate, Naomi works to ensure that Native people have access to accurate information and are honestly portrayed in children’s literature. Naomi lectures at the university level and conducts workshops for teachers and students. She lives with her son, Willy, in Barrington, Rhode Island. Back to Top

 

QALA’S STORY

This happened a few months ago, around Thanksgiving. My art teacher, Diane, she made everybody make Indian heads. They were little Indian head cone-things, cylinders made out of yellow paper, they had big three-point noses. She made one cone and then all the rest of us had to make them. The worst part of all is they had war paint—it was little lightning bolts in red, orange and yellow. The kids drew and cut out the lightning bolts and pasted the lightning bolts on the faces. She was doing this for Thanksgiving, she said. She was all excited about Indians and Pilgrims and day of friendship and blah, blah, blah. Ready, willing, time to go, rapido, rapido. Nobody else had a problem with this.

Well, I felt very not good ‘cause it was very dyscultural. It was an insult to the culture. It was a stereotype. It made me feel insulted. And I wish that I had never told her I was Indian. I mean, I’m proud of my culture and everything. The whole school knew I was an Indian when I came into the school. I feel fine with my teachers and everything but I didn’t feel comfortable with this.

I started crying, just because I wanted to get her to stop.

She said right after I had stopped and calmed down, she said to the class, “if any of you have questions, just ask Qala.” She meant I was her little project. She was just using me as her little teaching tool. She thought that everything she was doing, she knew all about Indians, everything she was doing was right.

I guess I would want her to apologize to me personally. In front of my mom, but not the principal. I’d want her to promise she’d never do it again. I’d want her to say, “Qala, I’m really sorry I did this project in the first place, and that I made you a serious part of it, and that I made you mad. I’ll never, ever, ever, ever—12 ‘evers’—do it again.” I’d say to her, “thanks,” and it would be over. I don’t know if she’d ever do that again, but I’d check in on her occasionally, around Thanksgiving.

—Cinqala Huch

In 2006, when Cinqala was nine years old and in the third grade at Oak Hills School in Eugene, Oregon, she told her story to Beverly Slapin. When Beverly read her story back to her, Qala said, “I’m really happy that my voice can be heard even though I’m young.” Subsequently, “Qala’s story” was published in Lois Beardslee’s novel, The Women’s Warrior Society (University of Arizona Press, 2008).

 

ROBETTE’S STORY

I was speaking at a conference and this woman came up to me and said, “Are you sure you’re a California Indian? I heard they were all extinct.” I said to her, “I heard that, too.”

—Robette Dias

Robette Dias (Karuk) is president of the board of directors of Oyate. Back to Top

 

ROBIN’S STORY

My son came home one day and told me that they were studying California Indians and they were gonna be building models of missions. I asked him if he really had to do this and he said yes. So I said I would talk to the teacher because I didn’t want the children to build the replicas because many, many Indian people had died building missions.

I went to school the next morning and privately asked Nick’s teacher to let him pass on the actual building of the mission, that I thought it was immoral, considering how many Native people died building the original ones. I thought Nick’s teacher would honor what I was saying, that it would sink in how insensitive an activity like that would be. But she just told me that Nick had to build a mission or fail that part of the fourth grade.

So Nick built his mission and brought it home. And we built a fire and we talked about it again, how Indian people were enslaved and died building missions and living in missions. Then we put it in the fire and burned it and I promised Nick that I would always stick up for him and challenge anyone who would keep opening up these scars.

—Robin Carneen

Robin Carneen (Swinomish), whose biggest passion is her work as a national freelance radio journalist for Independent Native News, is living on ancestral grounds in Skagit County, Washington. She also works in tribal communities helping with repatriation of museum objects, teaching beadwork to Native college students and old people, and participating in the month-long annual journey in cedar canoes in the open water. Back to Top

 

 

 

Stories About Racism Back to Top

BARBARA’S STORY about great expectations

They wanted to meet with me to talk about the school and see if I’d be interested in being the director. I really didn’t want to go, but I fit it in between two soccer games. I walked in a little late, dressed in my coaching outfit. We introduced ourselves and Linda said, “So, Barbara, you are Native American? You don’t look like what I expected. I expected the Indian princess look.” I said, “No, that would be Pocahontas.”

—Barbara Wall

Barbara Wall (Potawatomi) is a parent, storyteller and teacher. Formerly on the teaching staff and board of directors of the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, Barbara was a founding member of the San Joaquin River Intertribal Heritage Educational Corporation in Auberry, California. Barbara, who works with Oyate and teaches math and science at a private school in Oakland, lives with her children, Ryan and Rachel—with whom she frequently consults in the writing of book reviews—in Oakland, California. Back to Top

 

CODY’S STORY about dreams and colors

I had a dream, and I told it in school. The Eagle came to tell me something, and I couldn't understand what he was saying, so the Eagle told the Wolf and the Wolf told Ruffie, so that Ruffie could tell me what the Eagle said. My teacher said my story was too long, and she didn't want to hear it any more.

My teacher told me to tell her the colors. So I pointed to the color and said, this is the color of the grass. And the teacher said, no this is green. And then I said, this is the color of the sky. And the teacher said, no this is blue. And then I said, this is the color of the sun. And the teacher said, no this is yellow. And then I said, this is the color of the trees and the earth. And the teacher said, no this is brown. My teacher told me that I don't know my colors. But I do, mom, don't I?

—Dakota Jones (Hunkpapa Lakota)

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DORIS’S STORY about being a children’s librarian and an Indian

I am a children’s librarian. I’ve been a children’s librarian for a very long time now. So one night I’m working the night shift and these people come in—upper middle class couple with cute little girl, around four, maybe a little younger—and they’re looking for books on Indians. So I take them down to the section, show them this and that, tell them why one thing is good and another is not so good, and finally they ask me how come I knew so much about it. And I’m like, well, see, I’m this Indian. And they get all excited:  “Oh, Susie, come here and meet this lady—she’s a real American Indian!”

Of course, I don’t remember what the little girl’s name was after all this time but I’ll never forget what happened next. Susie comes, dragging down the floor, looking more and more unhappy, and when she gets down to the desk, she looks at me and bursts into tears. I had been sitting there, fat, dumb and happy, doing my job, and here’s this little thing scared to death of me. The parents look at her—“What’s the matter?”—and of course, she couldn’t say. Then they turn to me and say, “Well, I guess we’ll have to work on this” and I can’t think of a single blessed thing to say.

Now you’ve gotta wonder where she got this. I don’t think it was from the parents, they seemed like nice folk. So then you have to look around and see what pictures of us the world carries for little white kids. And think all the crazy stuff that white people do and say about Indians doesn’t matter? Oh yes, it matters, and I will never forget.

—Doris Seale

Doris Seale (Santee/Cree/Abenaki) is an educator and activist, retired children’s librarian, and co-founder and former president of the board of Oyate. The recipient of the American Library Association’s 2001 Equality Award for her life’s work, Doris has contributed to several anthologies of writings by Native women, and The Multicolored Mirror: Cultural Substance in Literature for Children and Young Adults. She is co-editor of Through Indian Eyes and A Broken Flute, and author of two books of poetry. Doris lives in Burlington, Vermont. Back to Top

 

JUDY’S STORY about Indian baskets and macramé

So I was sitting at this garage sale table and this woman comes over and says, oh, what are you doing? And I say, I’m making a basket and she says, it looks like an Indian basket and I say, yeah and she goes, oh, are you Indian? And I say, yeah and she goes, oh, my goodness, and she runs out to the car and gets her kids and brings the kids over and says, this is a real Indian and this is a real Indian basket, and I wanted to find a rock to crawl under.

So later in the afternoon this man comes over and he’s like, what are you doing? And I’m like, macramé.

—Judy Dow

Judy Dow (Abenaki) is a basketmaker and educator who teaches ethnobotany at the grade school and college level, serves on the board of directors of Oyate and the American Indian Scouting Association, and is a commissioner on the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. Judy is the recipient of the 2004 Governor’s Award for Outstanding Vermont Educator, and lives with her family in Essex Junction, Vermont. Back to Top

 

LOIS’ STORY about being a scary Indian

This happened in a school I subbed in a lot. It was a school close to the reservation district, a transition school with a very high population of Indian students. All the teachers knew me, and it was very common for them to ask me to do storytelling. I was subbing for an art teacher who had a prep period and the new principal came in. She grabbed me by the back of my collar and physically dragged me out of the room in front of the class. It soon became evident that she had mistaken me for another Native person, someone with whom she had had a confrontation. I said to her,  “I’m a sub and I’m being paid to be here and I don’t know who you think I am.” She didn’t back down. She said, “You can’t just go wherever you want. If you leave the room even to go to the bathroom, I expect you to notify my secretary in writing and I want you to tell her what hall you’re walking down.” Then she said, “We have Indians in this school. You scare people.”

—Lois Beardslee

Lois Beardslee (Ojibwe/Lacandon) is the author of Lies to Live By, Not Far Away: The Real-Life Adventures of Ima Pipiig, Rachel’s Children and The Women’s Warrior Society, and has been a teacher and writer for more than twenty-five years. An artist whose paintings are in public and private collections worldwide, Lois also practices many traditional art forms, including birchbark biting, quillwork, and sweetgrass basketry. Back to Top

 

MARIA’S MOTHER’S STORY about why she wanted to be like Doris Day

We were working in the kitchen, putting away the corn from our garden. My job was to bag it up after it had been cut off the cobs. We were listening to the radio, my mom and me, as we often did on these early fall weekends, when “Que Será, Será” came through our radio.

“Oh! Doris Day! I loooove DorisDay! When I was little I used to want to be just like her!” my mother said, dancing past me to the sink.

“Doris Day!?” I peered over from my task to watch her. She was filling the sink with cold water to cool the next batch of ears. She had her long brown hair fastened tightly to her head with a blue and yellow beaded barrette, one of her favorites. When she looked up at me, a strand fell on her face. She pursed her lips and blew it out of her way.

“Well, yeah. She was America’s sweetheart. Everybody loved her.” Another strand of hair fell near her eyes and she blinked. She retreated to the bathroom and came out with another barrette, blue and yellow like the first. She fastened it tightly to the side, making a tighter bun.

“She’s not Native, you know…” I teased her. My mother is very proud of who she is, of her culture. The idea that she ever wanted to be someone else fascinated me.

“I grew up before the 70s. It wasn’t cool to be an Indian yet, she said as she took the hot corn out of the boiling water and put it into the cold water waiting in the sink. “It was hard.”

“Oh…how was it hard?”

“Well, lots of things. Little things…” She sighed, and stared out our window. “Once my family had planned a vacation. We were going to travel across the country and stay at campsites as we went. But my dad had very dark skin. Too dark for some. Some of the campgrounds wouldn’t let us in because he was ‘colored.’ We had to sleep by the railroad tracks.” She smiled and shrugged.

“Really, that actually happened to you?”

“Things were different then. When I was little, I didn’t really realize that we weren’t like everybody else. It didn’t matter. But when I started to figure it out, of course I wanted to be someone else. Everybody does at some time in their life. Eventually they learn to accept who they are. I have.”

So there you have it. My mom—artist, storyteller, wife, mother—my mom used to be a Doris Day wannabe. I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Is there any more corn left to bag up?” I asked.

—Maria Beardslee

Maria Beardslee (Ojibwe/Lacandon) is a Thompson Fellow in civil engineering at Michigan Technological University. She wrote “Maria’s Mother’s Story” after being assigned in freshman English to write about “a conflict that one would confront in everyday life.” Although Maria argued that being Indian is conflict, the teacher rejected it because it didn’t “show enough conflict.” Maria received a “97” after this story was accepted for publication. Back to Top

 

Stories About Popular Media and Racism

CORA'S STORY about cartoon Indians

One time, I was watching TV. It was a cartoon show, “Yogi Bear,” and they had these little dogs and they were wearing feathers and different colors and going woo-woo-woo. It made me feel real bad. It made me feel bad because it wasn't true and it wasn't right. They had feathers in their hair that looked like they were dyed. And they were supposed to be like Indians. They were walking on two legs. And then there was another dog and he was supposed to be a white-man dog. And then a girl-dog took him into a teepee-thing and the teepee didn't look like it was made by Indians. Everybody had braids and they looked like they had wigs on. I felt bad because they were making fun of me and everything was just stereotypes. I've seen that in other cartoons. It makes me feel bad because a lot of times there are cartoons that I like and I want to watch but I don't want to watch all this stereotype-stuff.

—Cora García

Cora Garcia (Lumbee) is a former board member of Oyate. She wrote "Cora's Story" when she was in the fifth grade. Back to Top

 

ELIZABETH’S STORY about Tweedy Bird and Ten Little Indians

My name is Elizabeth and, um, I have a story to tell. It's about when I was at school, and I was four and a half.

(Once when I was four) I was watching TV and Tweedy Bird was hitting Sylvester, he was hitting him on the head because Sylvester had a feather on his head because, um, he was pretending he was an Indian and, um, he was hitting him a lot of times singing “ten little, nine little Indians” and, um, every time he said a different number he would hit him.

(In school, when I was four and a half) we were sitting all around in a circle and singing “one little two little Indians” and then I came home and I wouldn't tell my mommy, because, um, I couldn't tell her, and it didn't make me feel good because, um, I was keeping it inside me, and it was really hard to keep it inside me.

And then they were singing “one little Indian, two little Indians, three lit­tle, four little, five, six, seven” again, and, um, I just said, “Stop it!  Stop it right now!  Stop singing that song! That's a bad song! That song is about killing Indians!  I don't like it, I don't want you to sing it anymore!” I said that loud. And then the teacher stopped that song. I was scared but I just did it.

I finally said, I finally talked to my mommy about it. My mommy was proud of me, I think. And Mommy said to them, “Don't sing that song 'cause it's a bad song!” And that was when I was four and a half.

—Elizabeth Villiana Jeffredo Warden

Elizabeth Villiana Jeffredo Warden (Payomkawish [Luiseño]/Southern Channel Islander/Creek) is an enrolled citizen of the Temecula (Pechanga) Band of Luiseños. The incident she related occurred at a preschool she attended. Throughout elementary school, Elizabeth continued to confront ill-mannered and inaccurate information about Native Americans. She committed this story to tape when she was in the second grade. Back to Top

 

MONICA’S STORY

I really don’t like the fake cartoon and illustration in Indian books that are here in the school library. My name is Monica Spencer and my tribe is Navajo, Laguna, Kiaoni and Pueblo, all full blooded. It makes me mad when children make fun of my culture. It makes the kids think we do that when we don’t. When the children grow up I don’t want them to think that Indians put feathers in their hair and dance around the fire. We don’t do that. And I don’t think that it is right for the kids to look at the silly things they put in those silly books. One day I saw a kid running around with a feather in their hair and putting their hand to their mouths and making weird noises and I cried when that happened. So what I want you to do is put those books away and learn about our real history.

—Monica Spencer (Laguna/Diné/Hawai’ian)

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RAVEN’S STORY

My name is Raven. When I was in the third grade, our class read The Courage of Sarah Noble. In this book they said Indian people were savages and murderers, they chop your head off and eat you alive and that we were not really people. When the class put on the play for the whole school, the kids started taunting me, calling me “stinky” and asking me how many people I’ve eaten. Nobody would play with me or even sit next to me in class… I felt so ashamed. Finally, I told my mother I didn’t want to go back to school.

—Raven Hoaglen

Raven Hoaglen (Maidu/Konkow/Wailaki/Mono/Nomlaki) is a student at Consumnes River Community 
College and a cook for Meals on Wheels, and works as a tax preparer for H&R Block during tax season. She spends a lot of time with her nieces and nephews and likes to play pool. She wrote “Raven’s Story” when she was in the seventh grade. Raven lives with her family in Elk Grove, California. Back to Top

 

Stories About Colonization

DREW’S STORY about Pentecostals and lacrosse

I remember a summer a long time ago when a throng of Pentecostals came to our reserve. They were there to teach the poor Indians how to play lacrosse (and some religious stuff). After two weeks in which we had mastered the lacrosse stick and ball, they packed up and left. Taking the sticks and balls with them. Leaving behind a group of Native kids who could now play lacrosse but had nothing to play with except a bible they left behind. Maybe that best explains my view of the Church.

—Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibwe)

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L. FRANK'S STORY about colonization

When I was about nine, my family moved to Palos Verdes. I remember it was a beautiful place, open spaces, canyons full of poison oak and wild animals. Truly overnight I was relocated from a brown world to a rich white world. Everywhere I went, people looked at me and thought I was the “gardener’s daughter” or the “maid’s daughter.”

I remember I was in the fourth grade then, and we were studying the missions, early California history. It was decided we were to do a play. The only other brown kid in school was John Rodriguez; he and I were to be the “don” and “doña.” I rushed home and told my mother and grandmother; they acted like I had just been elected president.

My grandmother was a seamstress in the sweatshops of Los Angeles; she whipped me up a many-tiered, Spanish dancer dress. This was awful for me as I despise dresses. My mother once forced me to wear a pink and green dress and it made me throw up. So a many-tiered dress did not make me happy or comfortable. They dressed me up as fine Spanish lady. They were so proud; I remember they kept complimenting my “fine, pale feet.”

The day of the play arrived and all I remember is I ruined it for everyone else—all the other actors and all the parents and families who came to watch a play about civilization being brought to the wilderness. The entire class had created a huge papier-mâché hacienda front porch. My part was to sit there and fan myself, and John's part was to sit there and act important. (We had been instructed in haughtiness and arrogance.)

So as I’m sitting there, arrogantly fanning myself, I look out at all the people. I wave my fan. I look down because some people come up to the “hacienda,” my classmates. All of the white faces with shocking blue eyes, and these horrible fake black wigs and white “peon” clothes. They have gifts in their hands, baskets of food and other important items. I stop fanning. I’m frozen: the universe is telling me something.

(My family has always held anything “Indian” in disdain; Spain is the motherland for them. They kept me apart because I never felt my Spanish blood as they did.)

I did not know at that time that I was California Indian but I knew that this moment was for me. I knew that I was them, those children groveling at my feet. In that moment, I knew so much. It was all wrong, all of it. Of the play itself, I only remember being led away, with people disappointed in me. They probably would have been more disappointed if they had known I had just realized who and what I was: I was an Indian. The teachers tried to show me it was my place to grovel, and I disappointed them by not believing them anymore. What I learned then is that blood is stronger then the lies they teach you in school.

—L. Frank (Tongva/Ajachmem)

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TASHA’S DAUGHTER’S STORY

‘Tis the Season and the Christmas Wars are here. Now, my family and I are not Christian. So we’re frustrated with Christmas being all over the place, even (especially) in school. My daughter, a first-grader, came home not long ago sighing and saying, "I don't want to sing about Jesus, and that Santa is creepy. Why is he always watching and seeing if I'm awake or sleeping?"

So I went to the school and told them that my daughter did not want to participate in the school’s Christmas caroling program. They agreed that she didn't have to and I was pleased but not for long. My daughter came home and told me she was tired of sitting in the hall. I asked her why she was sitting in the hall and she said she was sent there while the other kids sang Christmas songs.

So again, I went to the school and told them that they were not to punish my daughter by sitting her in the hallway because she’s not Christian and doesn’t want to sing Christmas songs. So again, they came up with a solution: they decided that, when my daughter’s class was singing Christmas songs, she would be sent to the gym. Silly me, I thought this would mean my child would get to play.

Guess I need to learn to be more precise because when I asked my daughter if she was going to gym, I failed to ask her if she was playing in gym.

It wasn’t until parent-teacher conferences that I realized what was happening. My daughter was indeed sent to gym class instead of to “music.” But there, she was not to play with the other kids in gym. No, she was sat down in a corner, expected to do “worksheets.” Becoming bored with the “worksheets” while the other children were playing, my chatterbox of a daughter caught the teacher’s ire by talking to the kids in gym class. She was being “disruptive,” I was told.

So, to reiterate: My six-year-old daughter, because she doesn’t want to sing Christmas songs and is weirded out by this guy called “Santa,” goes from being exiled to the hallway to being exiled to a gym floor where she can only watch the fun.

I wish I could say this was something that “only” happens in concert with Christmas but it's not. Earlier this month, a young family that goes to my daughter's school met with a terrible car accident. Two boys (a first-grader and a sixth-grader) were killed, the girl (a third-grader) was hospitalized and the mom was hanging on by a thread in a coma. So the entire school was plunged into grief. The school even brought in some counselors to speak to the kids. Every time kids burst into tears they were asked if they wanted to speak with a counselor and packed off to the library where they could have a private discussion with one of the counselors. I came one day to pick up my daughter and found her in tears. We talked for a long time, and I asked her if she had spoken with one of the counselors. She shrugged and answered, “No. All they know about is Christmas and Jesus. They don't know Indian ways.”

What a perfect way of putting it. It always surprises me that adults can't see what even our youngest know: Christianity is the default program of America. Now, there is nothing wrong with Christian ways. It's a great life for some people but it’s not the only life. Why can't the default knowledge be that we all have stories and we all have songs? No child should be punished for not wanting to sing the songs of other people's belief systems.

—Tasha Haese (Seneca) lives in Toledo, Ohio.

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Stories About Shame

CRYSTAL’S STORY about being invisible

I never felt like I was part of the class, I felt invisible. When the teacher asked me what I was, I told her and she said, you can’t be all that, you can only be one. I remember always feeling either kind of angry or uninterested; I was just a quiet little person in the back of the room. When the teacher talked about my culture, my voice didn’t count. I was unimportant. When I was little I would say to my teacher, my grandpa said this and my grandpa said that and she would say, well that’s just a story. Then my mom would get a call from the school and I’d have to hear my teacher tell my mom that I’d had another outburst and my mom would have to come to the school to hear about my behavior. And it was all because I didn’t want to be there.

As I got older, I started reading books that were written by Native authors because I felt that they would have a better idea of what was going on. In high school I started speaking out and then I would be sent home and there were more parent-teacher conferences. I was never suspended or anything like that—it was always an issue of my not listening to the teacher or my having outbursts. They said I was a very smart child but I didn’t know how to direct my intelligence or control my anger. What they were really saying was that I was challenging them and they didn’t appreciate it. Especially in history or English—I always felt that I wasn’t allowed to speak.

That’s how I feel about Eurocentric education. It sets our children up for failure and they feel like I felt sitting in the back of the classroom. If you invest in pain and shame, that’s what you get.

—Crystal Salas-Patten

Crystal Salas-Patten (Mescalero Apache/Lakota, Puerto Rican, Hawai’ian and Mexican) is a mom and a grandma who keeps herself young by chasing around the kids she works with as the traditional arts program coordinator at the Youth Services Department of the Native American Health Center in Oakland, California. She was born and raised in Oakland, and resides there with her husband and children. Back to Top

 

JANE’S STORY about Indian tears

It is the third grade, 1972. I am a strong willed and vivacious child, popular and respected by my peers but aware that there is something about me that excludes me in some way. I am raised by white people who go to great lengths to raise me “normally.” In other words it’s a huge secret, my Indian self, but only from me. So I’m shamed when my teacher calls me “the smart little Indian.” I cannot now recall the context, only the emotion. It was so powerful it made me cry, each and every time. This only encouraged her meanness, for as my tears began to fall she would say, “Uh-oh, class, the little Indian is going to flood the room again—better get out our canoes!” My confusion was so huge, yet at some level I totally understood I was something bad; so bad in fact that my family tried to protect me from it.

—Jane Waite

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SHELLY'S GRANDSON’S STORY

When my grandson Keegan was three years old, he told me he wanted to be a cowboy, not an Indian. I told him that he’s Anishinabe, not a cowboy, but he insisted on being a cowboy and not an Indian. I said, “I am Anishinabe and I listen to my heart because my heart tells me who I am,” but he still insisted on being a cowboy.

A couple of years later, he moved into a new house with his mother and his mother’s husband and there were lots of little boys in the neighborhood. So one day, the little boys were playing Star Wars and someone smacked Keegan in the nose with a two-by-four and he had to go to the Emergency Room. When I finally got over to see him, I asked him what happened.

He said, “I know I’m Anishinabe and I listened to my heart but my heart didn’t tell me what to do.” So I told him, “Keep listening to your heart, but next time, just duck and run as fast as you can.”

—Shelly Kequam

Shelly and Keegan Kequam (Ottawa) are citizens of the Little River Band Ottawa Indians. Shelly works for Family Services and has lived in Michigan all her life. Back to Top

 

Stories About Resilience

DEBBIE’S STORY about going home

Last year when we were home for feast, my daughter, Liz, and seven of her cousins were dancing. We were doing the Comanche. The structure, steps and movements we do for the Comanche are similar to our other Pueblo dances, like the Yellow Corn, but the clothing we wear is bright and colorful, like the clothing worn by some of the Plains tribes. Our dances are tightly structured. We gather nightly in the kiva for several days prior to the feast day. This gives us time to relearn the dance and songs. It gives the children time to learn new dances and songs. Dancers are placed in a line by the war captain, from the oldest to the youngest. I was near the front of the line. Liz was near the back. From my place in line, I couldn’t see her. During practice, my mom, who wasn’t dancing, said Liz was doing fine, learning the movements and moving according to the song.

On the day of the feast, we dance outside—twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. We end the day with one dance inside the kiva. It always feels good to be home for feast. To dance. To see the kids learning the steps and songs. Making clothes for them to wear. Being with uncles and aunts. My uncle always calls Liz by her Pueblo name. He says “How's Yun Povi?”

My favorite moment is that last dance, the one inside. That’s when parents can bring their children to dance beside them. The child takes a new place in line for that one dance. So Liz danced in front of me. Being near her, watching her take part… The images are vivid in my heart, in my mind. There are no words that capture that. Just feelings. Good, strong feelings.

—Debbie Reese

Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo) is an Assistant Professor in American Indian Studies whose research centers on the ways that Native Americans are presented in children’s books. Read her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature: Critical Perspectives of Indigenous Peoples in Children’s Books, the School Curriculum, Popular Culture, and Society-at-Large

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JUDY’S DAUGHTER JESSICA’S STORY about fighting back

Last fall in my daughter’s anthropology class, the topic of the Abenaki people came up. In a lecture, the professor said that all Native Americans are drunks and alcoholics. He said that there are no Abenaki in Vermont, and the ones who say they are, are “wannabes” and the only history and culture they know are what the anthropologists have taught them. Jessica called me when she got home, and said she wanted to drop the class because the professor was “attacking a different culture in every class,” and that this was the last straw. I told her she couldn’t let it drop, that what he was doing was wrong and that she knew it was wrong. She tried to talk with the professor. She told him that the comments he was making were offensive to her and that he could learn Abenaki history from Abenaki people. The professor swore at my daughter, packed up his papers and left. In the next class, the professor said he didn’t understand what “the big deal” was about digging up Indian remains at the burial sites and refused to listen to what Jessica was saying about the laws that protect Indian remains.

Jessica filed a complaint, and this led to the filing of a discrimination claim, the professor’s retaliation against Jessica, and her filing of a retaliation claim. Steve and I encouraged and supported Jessica all the way, but we knew that this was her battle to wage. After about a year and a half, Jessica finally won, and the university sanctioned the professor for intimidation, harassment and threats. I’m so proud of the way my daughter found the inner strength to stand up for what’s right. She’s a very strong young woman. But Jessica is so burnt out by this whole thing, she doesn’t have the same love for education that she had. And that makes me so sad.

—Judy Dow

Judy Dow (Abenaki) is a basketmaker and educator who teaches ethnobotany at the grade school and college level, serves on the board of directors of Oyate and the American Indian Scouting Association, and is a commissioner on the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. Judy is the recipient of the 2004 Governor’s Award for Outstanding Vermont Educator, and lives with her family in Essex Junction, Vermont. Back to Top

 

L. FRANK'S STORY about reclaiming her culture (one event out of millions)

Down at Malki, the cultural center museum, they have a fiesta every year, Malki Fiesta Days or something like that. So about eight years ago, I went down there for fiesta, and they were making walking sticks out of pieces of palm, making traditional items everywhere. One of the people at the event was this white guy; he was making really fantastic throwing sticks, we call them rabbit sticks, it’s a non-returnable boomerang. So he had a contest going: he gave you a few warm-up throws and then you had three tries to kill a stuffed rabbit from about fifty feet away. I think Lori Sisquoc won the whole contest, but I managed to rip the head off a stuffed rabbit at fifty feet. Extinct Indians killing stuffed rabbits. This is all the history I need to know—I’ve reclaimed my culture.

—L. Frank (Tongva/Ajachmem)

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SETH’S STORY

Some people ask me how I teach the Native American culture in my classroom. I tell them that I teach the Native American culture by being Native.

—S. Sethlyn Honeycutt

S. Sethlyn Honeycutt (Cherokee/Choctaw/Blackfoot) is a preschool teacher, traditional dancer and storyteller, and is working towards her Masters Degree in counseling. Seth is lead singer on Yona Sdigida, the family drum, and sits on Feather River, an all-woman drum. Back to Top

 


 

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