Totem, Tipi, and Tumpline

Totem Tipi and Tumpline coverTotem, Tipi and Tumpline: Stories of Canadian Indians
Fisher and Tyner
1955, paperback edition 1975

Submitter: I am a teacher in Ontario, Canada and came across this book in the teacher resource library at our school. There is currently a national discussion in Canada about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, including health care, access to services and clean water, and reparations for the Indian Residential School system (widely recognized as cultural genocide). Thus, education about Indigenous cultures and communities is an important issue in Canadian schools.

When selecting resources, best practices shared in our teacher professional development circles recommend choosing books that are written by Indigenous authors, that include permission for cultural knowledge and stories to be shared by the individuals/elders/groups/tribes from whom they were collected, and that portray not just historical cultural practices, but also show a contemporary view of Indigenous peoples and their lifestyles.

This book does none of those things.  Low-lights include:
– while this edition (1975) does feature a cover illustration from an Indigenous artist, the rest of the text is unchanged from the first 1955 printing.  All other illustrations are by a non-Indigenous artist
– the authors’ voice is that “Indian” culture existed only in the past. They only credit previous copyrighted work and museums for the stories (no mention of the original knowledge keepers)
– describing “Indians” as one homogeneous group (there are over 630 different First Nations in Canada, as well as Métis and Inuit, speaking more than 50 diverse languages)
– giving an in-depth description of the Sun Dance, which is an extremely sacred  ceremony that many First Nations prefer not to be filmed or portrayed (interesting to find it described here as the Sun Dance was suppressed and illegal under Canadian Law from 1885-1951)
– teaching a song from the Sun Dance (it is unclear where this song is from, whether the lyrics are authentic, and if anyone would have permission to use this song outside of the Sun Dance)

– a play for children to perform featuring regalia and face paint as part of the costumes (this is pure cultural appropriation – a preschool in Quebec recently made national front page news when teachers wore imitation headdresses at an event)

WorldCat only shows this book in university/archival library holdings (where it belongs!), but I wonder how many copies are still around on school bookshelves? While the book does include some cultural information that is valid, the way it was collected and is presented is from a colonial (racist) view.  We can do better!

Holly: I am glad to hear that there are archival holdings, and I’d be interested to know if it is also in tribal libraries, where the context can be best understood as historical. School libraries in Canada can do better for their students. Thank you, Submitter!

Totem, Tipi back cover

Totem, Tipi acknowledgement

Totem, Tipi preface

Four Chiefs, the Costumes

Sun Dance Song



  1. When I was in high school (in Oregon) the only student in my class who was allowed to wear a headdress during culture week was a full Native. My schools were always careful to teach us about Native Americans in a respectful manner and we even learned about the Trail of Tears and Schools. This book would not have been part of our curriculum.

  2. This is really embarrassing, but… when I was a kid in the early 80’s one summer my mom threw a “pow-wow party”. She said t was to honor the memory of my great-grandmother who was an Indian. Of course, we kids all had fun, living in our blissful ignorance. Then sometime in the late 90’s in the summer my mom threw a second party for my two cousins who were kids at the time who had moved into my parents’ house with my aunt. I told her it was racist but she said it was all just for fun, and then I reluctantly joined them. *cringe* The Disney Pocahontas movie had come out around that time, and about the only thing my cousins knew about native North American people was from that movie, and we all know how accurate *that* was.

  3. From what I know about the Sun Dance (I have got friends that told me.), I’m not sure I’d be comfortable telling elemetary school kids almost anything about it. It’s on the border of self-sacrifice and if kids don’t have the culteral background—It’d just be stuff of nightmares.

    1. I read a book about it when I was in the third grade — I think it was written by a participant. It was pretty intense. I suppose now that it should not have been on the library shelves that ran down the hall off which were the classrooms for grades 1 through 6. Back then I read anything I got my hands on. I noticed at home later on that some books, such as “Native Son” by Richard Wright, were no longer on the shelves — I assumed that my parents removed them so I could not read them too early. But I already had.

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