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Water in Indigenous Children’s Literature

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

In Lakota language, water is called mni wiconi, literally “it gives me life.” Without water, there would be no life. Water is fundamental for every living being on this planet. Indeed, water, too, is living. Indigenous communities around the globe have always known that protecting and repairing water is essential for our survival. Stories of the the importance of water, its sacredness, and the fight of the water protectors are present in literature for children and young adults.

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Indigenous Crossover YA/Adult Fiction

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

When I taught high school English at a tribal school, the primary class novel I chose was The Round House by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe), winner of the National Book Award for fiction in 2012. Choosing a whole class novel is never an easy task. It should be appealing to everyone (impossible). It should be able to be read and understood by all reading levels in the class (unlikely). It should be important, worthy of lengthy discussion, and worth convincing students that if they just give it a chance, they may like it, and see its worth. Of course, there is also the idea that we shouldn’t read whole class novels at all, allowing students to choose all their own books themselves, thus avoiding the above difficulties. However, for me, there is something deeply pleasurable and vital in having a shared reading experience and community dialogue around this reading.

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Sweeping Indigenous Histories

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

In Redrawing the Historical Past: History, Memory, and Multiethnic Graphic Novels, editors Martha Cutter and Cathy Schlund-Vials remind readers of a speech that Toni Morrison gave at Portland State University in 1975 where she said, “No one can blame the conqueror for writing history the way he sees it, and certainly not for digesting human events and discovering their patterns according to his own point of view. But it must be admitted that conventional history supports and complements a very grave and almost pristine ignorance.” This year, after teaching a few sections of a course which, in part, is an overview of Indigenous histories of the Pacific Northwest, I have realized that this ‘pristine ignorance’ is sometimes because of a lack of information, and sometimes because of a strong and willful desire to maintain the settler colonial histories learned as children and throughout life. In my work as a teacher educator, I need to assist non–Indigenous adults in learning history through an Indigenous lens before they are able to bring these important histories to their own students. Children’s literature can be such a valuable resource for relearning histories, even for adults.

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Indigenous Authored Books

Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Indigenous authored books for youth being published in the U.S. and Canada have grown from only 6 in 2002 to 38 in 2018. Although having over ten times the number of Indigenous children’s books published is an exciting and promising amount of growth, this number only represents 1% of the total number of children’s books published. This unbalanced number does not reflect the 1.5% of the U.S. population and 4.9% of the Canadian population that have Inuit, Métis, First Nations, and Native American heritage, not to mention the low numbers of Central and South American Indigenous peoples in North America who choose to report as Hispanic without reporting Indigenous heritage.

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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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Uplifting Indigenous Literature

By Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

Daniel Heath Justice’s new book Why Indigenous Literatures Matter is a marvelous look at the the critical issues within and surrounding Indigenous Literature in Canada and the United States. Justice, Colorado born Cherokee citizen, now also a Canadian citizen, holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture at the University of British Columbia. The work is academic, but personal and poetic. It highlights contemporary Indigenous authors writing for adults and children and touches on fiction, poetry, personal essay, and memoir.

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Indigenous Comics and Graphic Narratives

By Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

Last week at AILDI, the American Indian Languages Development Institute at the University of Arizona, Jon Proudstar gave a talk about infusing Indigenous language and culture into his comic books. Although I was unable to attend, I am happy to see Indigenous comics and graphic narratives being a part of the conversation at AILDI.

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