CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 2004
Nations of the Northwest Coast, Life of the Navajo, and Famous Native North Americans are three titles in Bobbie Kalman's “Native Nations of North America” series. Kalman, author and publisher of Crabtree books, has more than 220 titles to her writing team's credit, and these fit into her well-established format of curriculum centered content, two page chapters, illustrations in a variety of styles, and colourful covers. While these books fill a need for informational books geared to readers in grades 3-7, they also highlight the immediate need for authors to acknowledge, and teachers to discuss, how history is constructed and the significance of point of view.
Famous Native North Americans illustrates the series' limited view by identifying Natives as famous by virtue of their relationships with the Europeans that arrived in North America. This definition neglects 40,000 years of historical contributions since the first waves of people arriving via the land bridge that spanned the Bering Strait during the ice ages. Profiled instead are leaders in peace and war, spiritual leaders, intellectuals and entertainers, including Hiawatha, Pocahontas, Sacagawea, Tecumseh, and Chief Joseph. Anglicized names are used, with Native names sometimes added in parentheses. Profiles of Natives living in Canada include Louis Riel, Chief Crowfoot, Emily Pauline Johnson, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Robbie Robertson, and comprise less than three of the 27 pages of profiles. While two consultants from Communication and Native American Studies, University of Nebraska at Omaha, are identified, no members of a First Nations community are identified as being involved in this book, or the others.
Life of the Navajo provides more focused presentation of the Navajo social organization, family life, dwellings, food, arts, and near genocide. The authors state that the book describes the Navajo as they lived from 1700 until about 1850, but they do not provide any other historical context that would make these dates significant for young readers. More problematic is the use of artwork by Mexican born artist Alfredo Rodriguez throughout, beautiful in detail and colour, but historically inappropriate for this time period during which print dresses, denim, and rubber soled shoes of his subjects were not worn. Rodriguez's work is highly appealing, but its heavy concentration renders the other less detailed works of others throughout the book amateurish in comparison.
Nations of the Northwest Coast provides more information about Native peoples in what would become Canada, including the geographic conditions that determined so much of the various cultures, background on social organization, role of salmon and cedar, homes, totems, transportation, trade, potlatch ceremonies, and events associated with the arrival of European and Russian traders and explorers. This book, to a much greater degree, provides insight into the lives and culture of its subjects by providing more sidebar paragraphs on specific topics and a greater variety of illustrations.
These books provide information on Native history and social culture that may well satisfy curriculum requirements, or even the interests of the nonfiction fan. But they point to the need for history books that acknowledge how they have been constructed, and from what cultural point of view. Where do anglicized names like Crazy Horse come from? What do the historical accounts and artwork of European traders and explorers tell us about how they viewed their “subjects?” Have the oral histories of First Nation's peoples been passed on and what has been lost? A much more engaging, comprehensive, and culturally sensitive book for readers in this age group is I am Sto:lo! Katherine Explores her Heritage by Keith Thor Carlson with Albert ‘Sonny' McHalsie (Sto:lo Heritage Trust, 1998). This book provides First Nations history and contemporary culture through an engaging narrative, as well as superior maps, glossary, and index. Young readers should have more access to books like this that acknowledge oral histories, the role of the “story-teller” on our understanding of how earlier people lived, and how First Nations people live today. Bobbie Kalman's books pale in comparison.
Nations of the Northwest Coast - Recommended.
Life of the Navajo and Famous Native North Americans - Recommended with Reservations.
Lori Walker, who is writing middle school nonfiction based on her doctoral work at Simon Fraser University, is completing a Master's degree in Children's Literature at UBC.
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