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/
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!