Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

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Native Children's Books for Holiday Gifts

b2ap3_thumbnail_Antelope_Woman_4e5a883547e86.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_For_a_Girl_Becom_4e51938f757b6.jpgOnce December arrives, I am routinely asked to recommend books for young people for winter holiday gift-giving that present culturally authentic stories about Native Americans. What a happy task!

There are so many wonderful books for children of all ages (and for those adults who love to read "children's" books--yours truly included) to learn about culturally-accurate Indigenous culture.

Oyate, the premier organization for vetting, compiling, and educating about culturally accurate Native American books, writes about their organization: "[We are] a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed with honesty and integrity, and that all people know that our stories belong to us. For Indian children growing up in the 21st century, it is as important as ever for them to know who they are and learn about the histories that they come from. For all children, it is time to know and acknowledge the truths of history. Only then will they come to have the understanding and respect for each other that now, more than ever, will be necessary for life to continue." Oyate is a Dakota word that means "people." Their organization has reviewed thousands of Native American-themed books over the years.

Along with nationally-recognized books for children, Oyate provides time-tested materials for classroom b2ap3_thumbnail_A_Broken_Flute___4cd7829295c36.jpgeducators and librarians for students of all ages. Here is their website where you can read more about them and purchase books featured in this month's blog:

b2ap3_thumbnail_coyote_and_sky.jpgAs you can well-imagine, in past centuries tales of "Indian lore" were very popular and books about "Indians" were written almost exclusively by EuroAmericans. Most of these books were written from their imaginations, not from any real Native American cultural knowledge, and they only deepened stereotypes and terrible beliefs about Native people. Unfortunately, books such as these are still written today, and sometimes they even win Caldecott Medals, one of the highest literary honors for children's literature, despite the protests of Indigenous literary experts and Foundations who write letters to these publishers and say directly, "This is not our culture. Please do not say this is a 'Native American' book." Alas, the publishers most often do not listen, and this is how misinformation and stereotypes of Native cultures continues to poison rising generations of Americans. But YOU can help change that! For those of us committed to creating a more promising future for everyone, but especially for Native Americans, a book can go a long way at un-doing the negative messages from the past.b2ap3_thumbnail_ekwo_legend_of_caribou.jpg

A remedy to this problem is to proliferate our school's libraries and the bookshelves of people in our lives with authentic books about Native American cultures. Reading is not only a fundamental way to learn, but reading together is also a beautiful time to nurture relationships, teach the lessons of loving Mother Earth and her animals, and learn about having respect for all people. In today's very difficult world, these lessons are more needed than ever, as well as the deep comfort they provide for all of us, not just our children!b2ap3_thumbnail_Grandmother_Moon_4e5410cce49ce.jpg

 A particularly lovely book for children is Keepers of the Earth, which is filled with Native American stories and activities for children to do. There are other books in this series as well that include all sorts of kids' projects and encourage exploration of the child's outdoor environment. Fun!b2ap3_thumbnail_Keepers_of_the_E_4e4ee440ed3dd.jpg

 Whatever Winter Holidays you celebrate, I am certain that the young people in your life would enjoy learning about Native American cultures from a source they can absolutely trust is for-real. As a college-level educator for almost twenty years now, I can tell you from experience that the very fine young people who eagerly enroll in my Native American Studies courses, who come to me from public schools and also from prestigious private high schools, have rarely ever read a single book about a Native American! Year after year they come to me knowing nothing about Native history--and they very much desire to know.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Brave_Wolf_and_t_4e94d1d63ca1f.jpgAfter just a few weeks in my class, my students are quite dismayed that they have been taught very little, if anything, about Native history or cultures and most of what they learned came from stereotypes in mainstream media. But I remind them that, in order for their teachers to teach them, Native books have to be in the curriculum of their schools. American teachers still do not receive much, if any, education about Native history and culture when they are receiving their education degrees--and they sincerely want to know more but do not know where to find accurate information. It's a real problem. Lucky for us, Oyate has a lot of answers. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Legend_from_Craz_4e77b7161d0a2.jpgThis is why I am taking the opportunity of the winter holidays to focus on Native American books and encourage readers to share them. Though you will have the pleasure of giving a loving gift to brighten a young person's life, you will also be providing cultural knowledge that will help dissolve the stereotypes that cause real harm in Native communities. Teaching our kids that Native Americans still exist and that they come from complex cultures matters.

And for those adults who love to read gorgeously drawn picture books with ancient cultural messages--you'll have to get these books wrapped and out the door as quickly as possible or they may very well end up on your own bookshelf instead!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Ch___askin__A_Le_4e5a9c88e430a.jpgWhatever holidays you celebrate, may this last month of the year and all it holds bring you comfort and the courage to be hopeful about a positive future for everyone. With all minds, hearts, and hands together, we can turn this moment in human history into growth, transformation, and healing so that our new way of living on Mother Earth is full of respect. The Native American nations lived by communal ethics for thousands of years. We would be wise to turn to those human systems again and learn from our Elders. May the ancient voices of wisdom in these beautiful books guide us all.

Thank you all for reading my blog throughout the year! Blessings! --Dr. Mays

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Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.


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