When you work with children every day, there are singular phrases that belong to your repertoire, such as: “put a bubble in your mouth,” or “give me five.” “Sit Indian style” is another such phrase used so frequently and sounds so familiar, the idea of it being offensive can be shocking. According to Catherine Baty, an Indigenous Librarian, it is offensive. Catherine wrote her dissertation on the limited quantity and quality of indigenous literature within libraries. She is also a member of the Big Sandy Rancheria, Western Mono Nation, where she grew up in California. “I didn’t see myself represented in literature until I was 19 years old, and when I did, it felt amazing,” Catherine said. “Children having access to picture books produced and published by natives, can not only allow underrepresented children feel represented, it can develop realistic views of natives to non-natives.”
The stereotypical misrepresentations of indigenous people can still be seen today in a variety of ways: The mystical and magical Pocahontas-type who talk to the animals and trees; The blood-thirsty savages seen in John Wayne movies; or, the more complex “people of the past” view where indigenous peoples are relegated to the history books.
Indigenous people today are pushing “Own Voices,” where literature about marginalized groups are written by these groups. This movement coincides with the idea that native peoples are “still here” and not a figment of the past. Books written and published by native groups can provide accurate representations to the public, especially children.
“I hope that public libraries and schools develop better tagging systems so people can easily find indigenous authors,” Catherine said. “Today, if a parent came in looking for native authors, we would have to search Google. I want it to be easy for patrons and librarians to have access to this information through the catalog.”
Phrases such as “sit Indian style” and “low on the totem pole” are misrepresentations of a culture’s characteristics, providing children with an unclear and at times prejudiced depiction of the culture. To make sure libraries are providing the best resources for children, librarians and parents can be aware of such stereotypes as well as be informed on the best literature for children to learn and understand Native American culture, tradition, and heritage.
Here are more indigenous voices to follow:
- Debbie Reese: https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/
- Kim Tallbear: http://kimtallbear.com
- Adreen Keene: https://www.adriennekeene.com/
- Daniel Heath Justice: http://danielheathjustice.com/
- IndigenousXca: http://apihtawikosisan.com/indigenousxca
- American Indian Library Association: http://ailanet.org/activities/american-indian-youth-literature-award/
Listed below is a list of native publishers for indigenous literature:
- Anansi Press: http://houseofanansi.com/
- Alternate History Comics: http://ahcomics.com/wordpress/
- Annick Press: http://annickpress.com/
- Cormorant Books: http://www.cormorantbooks.com/
- HeyDay Books: http://heydaybooks.com/
- Highwater Press: http://highwaterpress.com/
- Native Realities: http://www.nativerealities.com/