Anthropology Outreach Office Smithsonian Institution


Dedicated to the memories of
Jim Breiler and William Oandasan
for their encouragement and support.
Acknowledgements INTRODUCTION
(please read this first)

This bibliography was compiled by P. Ann Kaupp, Head of the Department of Anthropology's Outreach Office at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Fiona Burnett, while an intern in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University, Maureen Malloy, now Coordinator of Public Programs at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, and Cheryl Wilson, presently editor in the Publications Office of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).


This bibliography was made possible by the generous support of the Smithsonian Institution Women's Council and the Department of Anthropology and Office of the Director, National Museum of Natural History. We are especially grateful to the Smithsonian Libraries, in particular Irene Anthony and Carolyn Hahn, for handling hundreds of interlibrary loan requests with aplomb. Our significant thanks also to Joallyn Archambault, Yvonne Beamer, Jay Fikes, William Fitzhugh, Arlene Hirschfelder, Stephen Loring, Cesare Marino, Lisa Mitten, and William Sturtevant, for their helpful comments and suggestions. We extend our gratitude to Ann Bay, Joe Bruchac, Thomas Davidson, Hap Gilliland, Marty Kreipe de Montaņo, Marie Malaro, Linda Skinner, and precollege educators Mary Lou Berres, Gretchen Spencer, and Dawn Thomas, for their encouragement and support, and to Nancy Pinkert, who contributed her research and editorial skills.


To a Future Free of Bias

Do you remember reading or hearing phrases such as: "Sit cross-legged like Indians," "single file, Indian style," "playing cowboys and Indians," "like a bunch of wild Indians," and "don't be an Indian giver" when you were a child? How about learning to count by enumerating "Ten Little Indians" and learning to read by reciting "I is for Indian" or "E is for Eskimo?" These examples, personally observed by this Choctaw mother, teacher, and student, as well as by most of America's schoolchildren, are still used in schools today. They set the stage for a lifetime of misinformation and cultural bias about American Indians, objectifying them in a way that undoubtedly would not be tolerated or accepted by any other ethnic group.

Today, over 500 years since the arrival of Columbus to the shores of the Americas, schoolchildren, teachers, and society are continually inculcated with myths and misinformation about American Indians and Alaska Natives. Ethnocentric histories, written and edited by the "discoverers," reflect stereotypes and cultural bias in classrooms, textbooks, media, and curriculum, changing or excluding critical information to justify a nation's stance in history.

For example, John Smith and Miles Standish are often portrayed as heroes or role models (as Smith is in Disney's popular movie, Pocahontas). These men were far from heroic. History records they were actually "browbeating native leaders, robbing Indian food caches, and obtaining food for their bickering comrades by trade or extortion."1 Similarly, Christopher Columbus's "discovery" of America is still studied, celebrated, and dramatized in schools. Children do not learn of Columbus's mistreatment, exploitation, and betrayal of the native people he and his men encountered.

Children's history books use terms such as "westward expansion" and "Manifest Destiny" to describe what would be more accurately called ethnic genocide. These books alternately portray Indians as "noble savages," "faithful Indian guides," or "sneaky savages" who lead "ambushes" and "massacres," while in contrast, cavalrymen fight "brave battles." These books propagandize the "glory and honor" of taking land and oppressing native people for European purposes that are portrayed as holy and valid.

History books are not the only sources of misinformation and stereotypes. Arts and crafts books often include projects such as making Indian masks or headdresses. However, headdresses represent position and valor in many native cultures, and the masks of some cultures are considered sacred. Making construction paper and crayon replicas trivializes the important cultural meanings that these objects hold. More appropriately, teachers can educate students about native cultures by studying cultural artifacts and materials (in an art class, for example), as well as biographies and histories, for a more well-rounded study.

The history of Thanksgiving, too, is often misrepresented in books for children: The Pilgrims were unhappy, because the English king refused to let people go to the church of their choice. To gain religious freedom, the Pilgrims loaded up all their belongings and sailed for America. They met a friendly Indian named "Squanto" who helped them plant crops. After the first harvest, Governor Bradford invited the Indians to a huge feast. Chief Massasoit and ninety braves came and for three days ate their fill of turkey, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. After the first Thanksgiving they lived happily ever after.

This familiar version of Thanksgiving obviously omits many important facts. Teachers and parents must search carefully for books that relate this event more accurately. As we know, the Western Hemisphere was not a "New World," but rather the homeland of ancient civilizations and many diverse cultures. Regarding the events of the original thanksgiving, the Indians had held ceremonies of thanks for harvest and other gifts of the Creator for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans. At the feast, in fact, the Indians brought most of the food, as they had traditionally done in their own giveaway ceremonies. And far from the idyllic scene of two cultures in harmony with which we are often presented, contact with Europeans and the diseases they introduced decimated entire native populations.

A few years ago, I was one of several instructors who taught a Smithsonian Institution workshop for local elementary school teachers on teaching about American Indians. Some questions asked repeatedly were: "What books should I use for teaching children?" "Which books are accurate, which are not, and if not, why not?" These sincere questions and twenty-five years of experience as an educator developing and analyzing curricula support my firm belief that teachers do not deliberately use poor teaching materials. In the area of American Indian studies, however, misinformation is so pervasive that finding appropriate material can be difficult even for the specialized teacher.

This bibliography, compiled by the Anthropology Outreach Office of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, is a response to these and other teachers' concerns about choosing culturally sensitive and historically accurate books for children about American Indians and Alaska Natives. Parents and the general public may also find it to be a valuable resource for making informed choices about books. The antibias guidelines and critiques found here can help readers develop an ability to critically evaluate books and teaching curricula and provide a foundation by which to assess the value of materials about any culture or ethnic group.

As teachers and as parents, we are responsible for what and how we teach our students and children. This publication can help guide educators in becoming personally responsible for their own ethics of education. Creating caring classroom communities that nurture the human spirit regardless of ethnicity or other perceived differences is the beginning step in building an educational environment that is culturally sensitive to all students. Embrace our diversity, for it truly is our greatest strength.

Linda Skinner
Edmond, Oklahoma
September 1996


1T. J. Brasser, "Early Indian-European Contacts," in Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15, Northeast. Bruce G. Trigger, ed. (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution): 82, 83, 89, 95.


Images of Native Americans are all around us. They appear in movies, television, books, and sports; are used as symbols and logos for tires, butter, the environment, carpeting, and automobiles; and show up at different times of year as Halloween costumes, in Boy Scout and Campfire Girl rituals, and as guests at Thanksgiving feasts. Few of these images have any basis in reality, drawn as they are from one of the most closely held beliefs of American mythology. Indeed, even Indians themselves sometimes have a difficult time separating the reality of their lives as human beings from the fantasy expected of them by the rest of America.

The only arena where some progress has been made in combating this onslaught has been in children's literature. The past ten years or so have seen an increase in both the volume and quality of books about American Indians for children. Several excellent nonfiction series have appeared (most notably, Chelsea House's "Indians of North America" and Lerner Publications' "We Are Still Here" series; titles from both are reviewed in this bibliography), and Native authors and artists are finally seeing print with major publishers. Fiction has not fared so well, as authors' "creative license" is often used as an excuse for stereotypical flights of fancy masquerading as multicultural literature.

Nevertheless, it is in books where the greatest potential exists for bringing Americans in touch with the American Indian of reality, not fantasy. With the emphasis on multicultural literature from children's book publishers these days, how does one sort out which titles have been rushed into print or repackaged to meet the demand for books on "diversity" from sensitive and accurate works that avoid stereotypes?

Several bibliographies and guides have been published in recent years, some of them mere booklists of "Indian" books without any analysis (often appearing as chapters in guides to "multicultural literature"). Some are annotated bibliographies that simply describe the storyline and content. The most useful guides, however, are those that critically evaluate the images, descriptions, and portrayals of Native people, such as this bibliography. The accuracy of the portrayal of the Indian character(s) is the focal point of these annotations. This is important. Books are usually reviewed by the major review journals for their literary accomplishment, reading level, appeal to young readers, and attractiveness of illustrations. Almost never do these mainstream reviews consider the accuracy of the portrayals of Native cultures, or, for that matter, of any other cultures. A book may have a riveting and exciting storyline, but appalling depictions of Indian characters.

The annotations in this bibliography address all of these concerns. Like the best of its peers, it contains critical annotations and evaluations---not just plot summaries---of Indian books. Both positive and negative depictions are described, and the editors are not hesitant to point out controversial titles and disagreements about specific books. There is good balance and fair treatment in these reviews.

So how does a well-meaning parent or teacher or librarian decide which of the many books on the market to spend her money on? Using this bibliography and others like it is an excellent starting point. When choosing books, look at the authors---are they Native people or do they have experience with American Indian culture and history? How are Indians portrayed in the book? This bibliography covers these topics, as well as providing a list of sources for additional evaluations. It may be helpful to look in more than one source for reviews of books on Native Americans. Ask your local Indian center for help in evaluating and recommending which books to buy. Almost every city and many towns have such a center. And of course, those living in states with reservations have excellent resources there, too. Finally, the more you read books about Indians, paying attention to all of these issues, the more familiar you will become with the subtleties and complexities of accurate portrayals of Indians. It takes time and awareness. Be patient; after all, you have a lifetime of learning to undo!

Lisa A. Mitten (Mohawk)
President, American Indian Library Association


updated August 30, 2001.