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Students in today's classrooms represent a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Teachers and librarians are responding to this fact by actively seeking books and other resources that reflect multiple perspectives. Teachers and school administrators are revising existing curricula to correct longstanding misinterpretations of American history by incorporating materials that present the voices and experiences of women, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans, and Americans Indians and Alaskan Natives.

At the National Museum of Natural History, the Outreach Office of the Department of Anthropology receives thousands of requests each year from all over the world for information on American Indians--from educators, students, American Indians, and the public at large. The 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in America and interest in environmental issues and American Indian spirituality, as well as the general trend toward multiculturalism mentioned above have led to a proliferation of books, movies, and educational materials about American Indians. In light of these new resources and in response to requests for educational materials, the Outreach Office began compiling a comprehensive, annotated bibliography on American Indians for elementary and secondary students.

We began by making an informal inquiry of local schools and libraries to learn what materials were already available and which ones teachers were using in their classrooms. We discovered that teachers' knowledge of American Indian cultures varied greatly; their emphasis was often on Indians of the past rather than the present. The next step was to organize a Smithsonian symposium, "Teaching About American Indians," held in March 1991. Prominent Indian and non-Indian educators and scholars from around the country introduced local elementary school teachers to new curricula, taught them how to identify stereotypes, and suggested new approaches to teaching about Indians. Teachers had the opportunity to speak with Indian people about whom they were teaching but with whom they had little if any contact. Symposium participants agreed that there was a need for a critical bibliography that teachers could use not only as a resource but also as a tool for learning to evaluate reading material on American Indians.

Many consultants---Indian and non-Indian school and museum educators, tribal representatives, librarians, and scholars---played a part in the development of this project. Bibliographies by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale, Barbara Kuipers, Arlene Hirschfelder, Mary Gloyne Byler, Jon C. Stott, and Hap Gilliland, among others, also proved invaluable. Dedicated to guiding teachers in choosing books that reflect thoughts, beliefs, and experiences of American Indians past and present, these publications are listed below.

This bibliography focuses primarily on materials for elementary and secondary students, although it has grown to include publications of interest to the general public. We have indicated broad reading level categories: lower elementary, upper elementary, secondary, and adult (used when a book contains sexually explicit material or language). Sections are organized by culture area and tribe, and are further divided into non-fiction and fiction, biographies, and traditional stories. Readers will note that some sections are much longer; some cultures are more widely represented in the available literature. We have included several scholarly works that contain maps, timelines, or other information (usually cited in the annotation) useful for teaching . The bibliography concludes with an author and title index.

We have made an intensive effort to review books published by both large and small presses---especially those committed to American Indian authors. Many excellent publications by native writers, sometimes from little known publishers, provide new perspectives on the values, struggles, and aspirations of native people, or relate traditional stories that vividly describe the creation of the world or the attributes of living creatures.

Finally, the bibliography contains many books that we found to be questionable in content and quality---examples of the misinformation and stereotypes that are, regrettably, found in many books on American Indians for both children and adults. Balance is an important factor to consider in reviewing books. We found that some books that were strong in certain aspects were weak in others. For example, a well-written book might contain poor or inappropriate illustrations. Or some books that are considered classics reflect attitudes and language of their time, which may be considered inappropriate or offensive today. Including the disappointing with the excellent provides an opportunity for teachers and students to learn the difference between poorly researched and carelessly written books and those that provide accurate and culturally sensitive material.

The questions listed below provided the framework for our evaluations of books on American Indians. They were developed and adapted from our readings and from sources listed below. We encourage readers to consult these and other sources to develop their own methods of evaluation.

  1. Is the book's cultural information accurate?
  2. Is the historical information accurate?
  3. Does the book contain accurate or preferred word usage and spellings?
  4. Are loaded or offensive words used, e.g. "squaw," "brave," "primitive"?
  5. Does the book lump all American Indian people together rather than referring to individual groups or tribes? Are tribal differences recognized?
  6. Does the book promote or present a stereotypical "Hollywood" version of American Indians?
  7. Do the illustrations depict stereotypical images of American Indians?
  8. Does the book refer to American Indians as though they belong to the past? If so, is it made clear that this is intentional?
  9. Do American Indians initiate actions based on their own values and judgements rather than only reacting to outside factors?
  10. Are Indians presented as stoic, one-dimensional, unfeeling characters or as real human beings with strengths/weaknesses, joys, and sorrows?
  11. When the dominant group is non-Indian, is that group always shown in a more favorable light?
  12. Is equal respect shown to male and female roles?
  13. Are American Indian groups presented as heirs to rich historical traditions going back to pre-Contact days?
  14. Are American Indian groups/nations presented as dynamic, evolving communities that can adapt to new conditions and control their own destinies?
  15. Are American Indian contributions to Western civilization recognized?
  16. Are claims that a particular person occupies a position of leadership in political or ceremonial affairs validated by most members of the claimants' culture?
  17. Does the book cite sources for its facts?


It is important to seek out books that are historically and culturally accurate. This can be a complex issue. Cultures are constantly changing and no one person or source can speak for an entire group. History is interpretive and sometimes subjective depending on the perspective and methods of those recording it. Cultural perspectives vary widely on subjects such as religion and cosmology, origin and creation, and warfare and other aspects of history. For example, scientists support the evidence has

shown that the ancestors of American Indians arrived in what is now Alaska from Asia thousands of years ago, yet Indian cultures often have very different beliefs about their origins---many believe that they originated on this continent. Many books reflect a single perspective on complex ideas or events, or contain at least some historical or cultural inaccuracies, either in text or illustrations. In some cases, a book containing errors can still be a useful teaching resource if parents, teachers, and librarians are aware of its errors and are careful to avoid perpetuating misinformation.


Stereotypical representations of American Indians are ubiquitous---in the media, in toys, and in books, many of which are found in school libraries and classrooms. Common examples of stereotypes we encountered are described below.

***Indians share a common culture, language, and/or physical type.

On the contrary, there is wide diversity among American Indian peoples. Tribes have distinct histories, cultures, beliefs, languages, and physical characteristics. However, some books oversimplify, combine disparate traits, or fail to identify the cultural affiliation of their characters. For example, American Indian characters are often shown wearing feathered headdresses, hunting buffalo, living in tipis, and riding horses---that is with characteristics of Plains Indians that many people associate with all Indians. This image has been perpetuated for decades by the press, advertising, and Hollywood. The typical "Hollywood Indian" might also be a one-dimensional (either good or bad) character who uses broken English, wears a buckskin breechcloth and a feather in his hair, and expresses little if any emotion. He is more an "Indian" than he is a Sioux, a Comanche, or a Cheyenne.

This tendency to combine characteristics or discount differences is also prevalent in descriptions and illustrations of American Indian material culture. Some authors fail to research their subjects, preferring, for example, to show their characters traveling in birchbark canoes while living in tipis, or painting Southwestern-style pots while sitting beside totem poles.

***Indian cultures are dead or dying.

Often the most subtle stereotypes are the most insidious. Many books, both fiction and non-fiction, are written in the past tense, perpetuating the idea that all Indian cultures are of the past, have died out, or are almost extinct. One variation of this stereotype is writing that concentrates on pre-reservation Indian life, with no recognition of the vital, flourishing, and constantly changing cultures that exist today. Ironically, many times, even in otherwise well-written books, cultures are described as being "destroyed," or having their "spirits crushed."

Fortunately, in recent years, many books have focussed on contemporary Indian cultures---expressing their vitality, resilience, and independence. These books describe the gains made by native people in revitalizing their own traditions and demonstrate the challenges of living in a country where European values predominate.

***Indians are primitive and incapable of initiating action or controlling their own fate.

In many books with both Indian and non-Indian characters, it is often the non-Indians who rescue the Indians, teach the Indians "superior" technology, or "save the day." Indian cultures were thriving for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of Europeans, but this is rarely acknowledged, especially in books for children.

***Indians possess spiritual powers and a magical connection to the natural world.

It is ironic given high rates of mortality, disease, and poverty, and the lack of educational opportunity experienced by a large number of native people that Indian culture is often romanticized by non-Indians. New-agers and spiritual hucksters, with limited understanding and no authority have tried to co-opt and exploit aspects of native spirituality for their own gains. Some of the books we have reviewed, products of misplaced ignorance and idealism, insult and demean native ceremonial spiritual values.


Many books contain loaded words that reflect bias or prejudice. "Squaw," "primitive," "buck," "brave," and "papoose" are examples of words that American Indians consider degrading, insulting, patronizing, or generalizing. Books often describe "battles" won by U.S. soldiers but "massacres" carried out by Indians. In addition, Indian warriors are often "fierce," "cruel," or "bloodthirsty," while U.S. Army soldiers or cavalry are "courageous," "daring," or "heroic." These stereotypes are often reinforced in illustrations showing, for example, Indians sneaking up to a homesteader's cabin or an Indian grasping a pioneer woman's neck and wielding a tomahawk.

A Note About This Bibliography

Many, many books on American Indians are being published today, and it is impossible to review them all. By the time this bibliography is printed, hundreds of other books will be on bookstore and library shelves, and some we have reviewed may be out-of-print. Our hope is that this bibliography will assist teachers and parents in making more informed choices for their students and children, whether they choose titles from our list or do their own evaluations of books we haven't seen.

In the annotations, we have indicated "no tribe identified," when the cultural affiliation of a story is not stated. We have given the author's cultural affiliation when it is noted in the book, however, publications often do not include this information. The terms "Native American," "Indian," and "American Indian" are individual preferences and all acceptable. For this and other cultural word usages and spellings, however, we have followed the Smithsonian's Handbook of North American Indians, which uses the term "American Indian."

Our reviews note books' strengths and weaknesses. Books that we found exceptional were given a star, indicating that they are highly recommended; those we found questionable were given a question mark, indicating that they are not recommended. Books we found to be acceptable but not exceptional---for instance, books with accurate information but a cumbersome writing style or format, or books with beautiful and sensitive illustrations but a lack of substantial information---were given no marks. We realize, of course, that all reviews, including those in this bibliography, are subjective.

Recommended Reference Series:

Handbook of North American Indians. Sturtevant, William C. general editor. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

An encyclopedia summarizing knowledge about all Native peoples north of Mesoamerica, including cultures, languages, history, prehistory, and human biology. A standard reference work for anthropologist, historians, students, and the general public. The following volumes are now available: Volume 8: California, 1978; Volume 15: Northeast, 1979; Volume 9: Southwest (Prehistory and Pueblos), 1980; Volume 10: Southwest (non-Puebloan Peoples); Volume 6: Subarctic, 1981; Volume 5: Arctic, 1984; Volume 11: Great Basin, 1986; Vol. 4: History of Indian-White Relations, 1988; Volume 7: Northwest Coast, 1990; others to follow until 20 volumes are completed. Handbook of North American Indians. Sturtevant, William C. general editor. Volume 8: California, 1978; Volume 15: Northeast, 1979; Volume 9: Southwest (Prehistory and Pueblos), 1980; Volume 10: Southwest (non-Puebloan Peoples); Volume 6: Subarctic, 1981; Volume 5: Arctic, 1984; Volume 11: Great Basin, 1986; Vol. 4: History of Indian-White Relations, 1988; Volume 7: Northwest Coast, 1990; Volume 17: Languages; others to follow until 20 volumes are completed.

Some of the books in the following series were reviewed in this bibliography:

Indians of North America, General Editor Frank W. Porter III. Chelsea House Publishers, Broomall, PA.

Over 50 titles available on American Indian tribes as well as on specific topics such as The Archaeology of North America and Literatures of the American Indian, written by scholars. For a catalog, write: Chelsea House Publishers, Dept. CB2, P.O. Box 914, 1974 Sproul Rd., Suite 400, Broomall, PA 19008-0914. Also Chelsea House Publishers' Junior Library of American Indians.

Alvin Josephy's Biographical Series on American Indians. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: SilverBurdett Press.

Alvin Josephy, a noted historian, introduces each biography by explaining the purpose of the series, which is to help the reader understand how the Indians looked at the world.

Further Resources:

The Anthropology Outreach Office distributes numerous bibliographies of scholarly publications on Amercan Indian history, culture, and the arts as well as a precollege Teacher's Packet on American Indians. To order the free teacher's packet or a listing of available educational and informational materials, write to: Anthropology Outreach Office, NHB MRC 112, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560.

American Indian Libraries Newsletter. Quarterly publication that contains reviews of books for children and adults. Subscription rates: $25 (libraries, institutions), $10 (individuals), $5 (students). Write: Joan Howland, Law Library, University of Minnesota, 229 19th Ave., South, Minneapolis, MN 55455.

Byler, Mary Gloyne. American Indian Authors for Young Readers, A Selected Bibliography. New York: Association on American Indian Affairs, 1973. (out of print)

"Checklist," Meeting Ground, Biannual Newsletter of the D'Arcy McNickle Center, Issue 23, Summer 1990. Chicago, IL: The Newberry Library. ("Checklist" was based on criteria provided by Center advisor, Cheryl Metoyer-Duran, UCLA School of Library and Information Sciences.)

Gilliland, Hap. Indian Children's Books. Billings, MT: Council for Indian Education, 1980. (out of print)

"'I' Is Not for Indian: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Books for Young People," compiled by Naomi Caldwell-Wood and Lisa A. Mitten. Bibliography and guide available by writing to Lisa Mitten, University of Pittsburgh, 27 Hillman Library, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.

Heinrich, June Sark. "Native Americans: What Not to Teach," Unlearning "Indian" Stereotypes, A Teaching Unit for Elementary Teachers and Children's Librarians. New York, NY: The Racism and Sexism Resource Center for Educators, a Division of The Council on Interracial Books for Children, 1977.

Hirschfelder, Arlene B. American Indian and Eskimo Authors. New York: Association on American Indian Affairs, 1973. (out of print). Also "Unlearning Indian Stereotypes," Halcyon/1990: A Journal of the Humanities, vol. 12. Nevada Humanities Committee and the University of Nevada Press.

Kuipers, Barbara J. American Indian Reference Books for Children and Young Adults. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 1991.

Slapin, Beverly, and Seale, Doris. Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publisher, 1992.

Stott, Jon C. Native Americans in Children's Literature. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1995.

Native American Web Site. Information on homes pages of individual Native Americans, Nations, and other sites about American Indians.

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