Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November: Revisiting Native American Heritage Month!

By Loriene Roy
(Enrolled: White Earth Reservation; Member: Minnesota Chippewa Tribe), Professor, School of Information, The University of Texas at Austin


Fall arrives with children and adults returning to schools. Those living on Turtle Island (North America) move into the season of changing weather, tree color, and harvest. As the month of November looms, families plan their homecoming, often associated with a celebration they call Thanksgiving. In the midst of menu planning and the football season, it is easy to forget that November is officially Native American Heritage Month. A year ago, I shared some ideas on how to commemorate this month by learning more about Native cultures. This year, I am revisiting this topic, adding a few more resources and ideas and providing an update on topics introduced a year ago. Remember that your first stop for assistance in locating these resources—and pursing any topic more in depth—is your local public library!


My colleagues working at the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian library next to the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC, tell me that they often over hear adult visitors to the museum telling younger visitors that “American Indians do not exist anymore.” Perhaps this speaks to the fact that most people only think of Native peoples in the context of a museum collection of artifacts. It behooves all of us to remember that there are over 500 tribal nations within the geographic borders of the United States. And, members of tribal nations live in every state; two-thirds live away from tribal homelands.


Your local community might sponsor events this fall that focus on introducing or celebrating Native cultures. In my current home town of Austin, Texas, we celebrate our powwow with dances, educational programs, and food and vendor stalls. In November, the Windsor Park Branch of the Austin Public Library is hosting a documentary film series and panel discussion featuring “We Still Live Here,” a film about language recovery among the Wampanoag Nation of Massachusetts. Check your local programming for similar events—or consider planning your own!


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Last year I shared my “Ten To Watch” list of Native authors. Today I am adding an update with some news on these authors’ more recent activities. In addition, I am highlighting recent read including those by a well-known American Indian author, and a Maori librarian’s acclaimed first picture book.


• Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d'Alene) is now on Twitter where you can read such heart-stopping comments as, “In the library of my heart, the books are all large-print.” Sherman announces his latest publications, including the often difficult to locate poetry, on his website.

• In 2008, Louise Erdrich and her sister, Heid Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Anishinabe), founded Wiigwaas Press, a nonprofit organization that publishes books and develops programs to promote Native language revitalization. In 2010, Wiigwaas Press published Awesiinyensag, a collection of stories written in the Anishinaabemowin language for children. This fall, Awesiinyensag was selected by the Center of the Book at the Library of Congress as Minnesota’s Best Read for 2011.

• Wesleyan University Press has just published a book of interviews of Joy Harjo (Muskogee Creek). SoulTalk, Song Language is available in hardcover and as an e-book. Find out more about Harjo’s activities, including her nominations for music and book awards, at www.joyharjo.com.

• Anita Heiss’s (Wiradjuri Nation, Australia) latest chick-lit novel is Paris Dreaming, published by Random House Books Australia in January 2011. Heiss received the outstanding achievement in literature award at the 2011 Deadly Awards in September 2011. The Deadly Awards recognizes achievements by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Heiss’s blog is a hot item. Huge interest was registered with her April 23, 2011 posting, “Anita’s Black Book Challenge (BBC),” on which she posted “Anita’s 100 (less one) Black Book Choice List” of her top titles by Aboriginal writers.

• Leslie Marmon Silko’s (Pueblo of Laguna/Cherokee) latest book is her memoir, The Turquoise Ledge (New York: Penguin, 2010). You can read—or listen—to a review of this book by Alan Cheuse at NPR

• Cynthia Leitich Smith's (Muskogee Creek) young adult novel, Tantalize, was reissued as a graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (New York: Candlewick Press, 2011). Smith, who hosts a popular blog on children’s and young adult (YA) literature recently signed a three-book contract, including a novel, Smolder.

• Larry Loyie (Creek; Canada) is in the midst of writing his next YA novel, building on his autobiography, Goodbye Buffalo Bay (Oroville, Washington: Theytus Books, 2008). Loyie and his partner, Constance Brissenden, have completed over 1,200 school visits, talking with students, educators, and librarians about writing and First Nations history and issues.

• Navajo poet, Luci Tapahonso, is featured on a University of Arizona YouTube video. Her collections of poetry include Blue Horses Rush In (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997).

• Tim Tingle’s (Choctaw) latest picture book, Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey From Darkness Into Light (El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press) was selected as a 2011 Notable Book by the American Library Association. Tingle’s writing is included in the following well received anthology: Dembicki, Matt, ed. Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Books, 2010.


Finally, here are some notes about authors or writing initiatives that were not covered last year.

• Well-known Abenaki writer, Joseph Bruchac has a new YA novel: Wolf Mark. New York: Lee & Low, 2011.

• James Bartleman (Chippewa, Rama First Nation), the first First Nations Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, published his first novel, As Long as the Rivers Flow (Toronto: Random House, 2011), a story of the impact of the residential school system on one First Nations family.

• Chris Szekely (Maori librarian) has published his first work of fiction, a picture book titled, Rāhui (Wellington, New Zealand: Huia Publishers, 2011). A trailer of Rāhui is available on YouTube.

• For those seeking board books, books for the youngest readers and their caretakers, check out the series published by Native Northwest. The books feature artwork by a number of First Nations artists and includes Learn the Alphabet with Northwest Coast Native Art and Sharing Our World: Animals of the Native Northwest Coast.

• For readers interested in more academic writing, check out the First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies initiative. For those wanting to keep with politics and timely content impacting Native peoples. Check out Paul DeMain’s Native News Updates webcasts aired as “IndianCountryTV." DeMain sends alerts on Facebook when he posts new episodes.

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