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North American Indigenous Children’s Literature

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache

In North American Indigenous children’s literature, storytelling is characterized by focusing on origin, cultural identity and traditional knowledge systems. Origin is often explained with the aide of animal characters, but these are not the only types of stories to use animals. Animals are also used to explain dilemmas when it comes to ethical and moral decisions. As originally told by the elders, these stories are embraced by members of the community as our way of knowing and being. Narratives are transmitted orally and by physical expression (body language, facial expressions, gestures, ect.) through songs, chants, ceremony, dance and ritualized storytelling.

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Using Indigenous Literature to Heal from Historical Trauma

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache

Dr. Gregory Cajete, the editor of A People’s Ecology: Explorations in Sustainable Living, puts together many voices to focus on health and healing in Indigenous cultures. This book provides a substantial contribution to our knowledge of many subjects, including foods, food traditions and farming among Indigenous peoples; health problems resulting from the adoption of a “modern” diet by Native communities; efforts to restore the self-reproducing food plants that are the foundation of sustainable agriculture; permaculture and environmental restoration; the folk healing system known as curanderismo; the renaissance of ancient building practices; and organic foods retailers as activists.

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Code Talker Stories

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache

Code Talker stories are important because of the significant impact Code Talkers had on World War II. Additionally, the portrayals of the Code Talkers in story empower the reality of our Navajo Heroes. This section, I would like to honor them. During the course of World War II, Diné (Navajo) code talkers were a crucial part of the U.S. strength in the South Pacific, sending and receiving messages in an unbreakable code based on the Diné language. As Marines, they took part in every assault, from Guadalcanal in 1942 to Okinawa in 1945, experiencing some of the bloodiest fighting in the war. For the Diné code talkers, the military experience of serving in World War II–mythologized as “the good fight”–was a chance for the young men to demonstrate their courage in the most exciting adventure of their lives. Descriptions of the following books are copied from the publishers’ websites unless otherwise noted.

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Stories of the American Indian Experience

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache

The stories of Indigenous people reflect both the material and deeper aspects of our culture. These deeper aspects include traditions such as oral storytelling, considered a spiritual practice. Oral tradition is used to tell certain stories the way they should be told, with an impassioned audience and storyteller. These stories are defined as a body of literary works with standard procedures that have been preserved for many generations through performance. This structure helps listeners create awareness of their own cultural perspective. It’s important to understand the place of oral literature in Indigenous culture and to translate those stories into print so they can be shared. The weaving together of oral literacy with writing reveals unique features and values within many different cultures. This significance of the vocal and textual language is shown in several of this week’s suggested books that have been adapted from oral to print. Other books selected demonstrate culture, tradition, genocide, abuse and heroism, and help to honor the American Indian Experience.

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Native American Veterans in Children’s Literature

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache Tribe

Worlds of Words’s current exhibit, “Code Making and Perspective Taking,” features stories of Native American code talkers, with art reflections from Tucson High Magnet School art students and fifth graders at Van Buskirk Elementary School. This week, with Veteran’s Day on Friday, November 11, I present a list of children’s and Native American literature that focuses on Native American veterans and their contribution to war efforts.

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Native American Children’s Books Featuring Elders

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache Tribe

The cultural roles of an elder for American Indians include passing down knowledge through intergenerational teaching and learning. Elders, through their empowered words of wisdom and existence, transfer their insight from one generation to the next. In the Apache culture, “elder” endures as a highly-regarded status. Native American elders possess experiential understanding and knowledge, the stories of the world, and especially compassion for their grandchildren. Elders, also known to others as oral historians, teach respect and demonstrate how to respect one another. Joseph Bruchac says that elders and children are meant to be close. By no accident, in every part of the world children and grandparents often share a special understanding and bond. Native American elders connect with their traditional heritage and culture, more so than many other cultures.

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Native American Children’s Books Featuring Coyote

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache

Designed for Indigenous people, Coyote represents many different characters or things; not one of them is cute. Coyote is a trickster and all trickster figures are more or less human in Native American literature. Besides being such a fool, Coyote is a supernatural being. While the supernatural powers do not necessarily appear in every story, that background knowledge affirms the Coyote stories. We tend to laugh at many of the messes he gets himself into but we also know what he is capable of. In different ways, his characteristics frequently portray some of our worst human aspects. For him “good” and “evil” are not opposites, but represent a continuum.

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Native American Children’s Books Featuring Animals

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache

One of the themes from my studies, animals, derives from Native American children’s books featuring animals and the encountered stories about ethical or moral behaviors contained within them. Many Indigenous American cultures honor and revere animals. The people know that animals came into existence before man and animals have long been prevalent on Mother Earth. When men came, Animals communicated with humans and they still do. Therefore, they are respected; animals are considered Spirit helpers. Each animal has qualities that are special and powerful and shared with human beings if the animal is respected.

Antelope Woman cover, Native American children's books featuring animals
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Native American Children’s Books and Foundations of Self-Knowledge

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache

One way children can make a connection between history and their own lives is through storytelling that emphasizes self-image and the foundations of self-knowledge of one’s own people. The stories of indigenous people, past and present, are important because one must understand the larger context of life to gain perspective on personal experiences.

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Native American Children’s Books on Indian Residential Schools

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache

Children today, all children, need to be given the opportunity to understand history, even the parts that illustrate one people’s inhumanity to another people. For this understanding to occur, children need to be able to make a connection between the history being taught and their own lives. Dehumanizing Indian peoples in text and picture, justifying the atrocities committed in the name of “civilization,” presenting Carlisle founder Richard Henry Pratt’s disingenuous propaganda as fact, further adds to the vast body of disinformation being taught about Indian people.

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