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I'm going to be doing a little flurry of lists as I post all the books that I never got around to doing full reviews of last year. (Usually not for lack of interest, but lack of time.)

Most of this list was assigned as part of a course on Indigenous Futurisms. The professor identified both Nalo Hopkinson and Andrea Hairston as Black Indians, but I do not have any information about their tribal affiliations. (ETA: see comments, neither Andrea Hairston nor Nalo Hopkinson self-identifies as indigenous.)

Andrea Hairston, Mindscape.
Flashy, wild, post-apocalyptic fiction wherein West Africa is the graceful society to aspire to, and the southwestern U.S. is a failed state run by studio ganglords. Ghost-dancers, “ethnic throwbacks”, science v. magical realism, heroes v. survivors, intrigue, double-crossing, and the kind of moral dilemmas where no one gets out clean. Heartily recommended, with two caveats: complex enough that by page 200 I was lost and had to start over again, and the final resolution about the Barrier didn’t live up to my expectations.

William Sanders (Cherokee), Are We Having Fun Yet?
With the exception of “The Undiscovered” (Shakespeare writes Hamlet among the Cherokee), I would only recommend this collection to someone who either 1) is nostalgic for Heinlein’s knows-better-than-you crankiness, or 2) is in specific need of some Cherokee-themed spec-fic. Some of the stories are Cherokee riffs on stories you already know (Devil Went Down to Georgia; The Lottery); others never found a market because of various flaws. I enjoyed the collection, but my enjoyment is definitely idiosyncratic. (NB: William Sanders. William Sanders.)

Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibwa), The Night Wanderer.
Story of a girl from a small Ontario reserve and the Ojibwa vampire who has come to rent a room in the family basement, on what is his first return to Ojibwa land since his siring in Europe, centuries before. In a twist on most vampire stories, this vampire is a walking time-capsule: he knows things about Ojibwa traditions and language that have been long since been lost. So this is not just a vampire story, but also a story about the fraught relationship of contemporary Indians to their cultural traditions and pre-colonization ancestors. Unfortunately, the author’s playwright roots show through, and I fear that he has left no room for sequels. Because I woulda liked some sequels.

Gerald Vizenor (Chippewa), Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles.
AIM-era classic of American Indian literature, but oh, I loathed this. Post-peak-oil apocalyptic roadtrip from upper Minnesota to New Mexico, with larger themes warning against confusing the trappings of Indian identity with Indian identity itself, or against getting too attached to any one story of self. As for my loathing: misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, and ablist, with victim-blaming for child abuse, rape, and murder. Still looking for the Vizenor book that I don’t hate.

Tomson Highway (Cree), Kiss of the Fur Queen.
A deeply painful read: residential schools, anti-Indian racism, and the AIDS epidemic. But a deeply beautiful read, too: some of the imagery from this book will stay with me forever. (Note: does not read as spec-fic for me.)

Nalo Hopkinson
Midnight Robber
Science fiction that addresses colonialism head-on! One of the two worlds is settled by Caribbean islanders who took to space to escape postcolonial dynamics on Earth; the second world is the first’s penal colony, which is engaging in settler colonialism against the indigenous population. There is much that I love about where Hopkinson went with this. (Bonus: non-heteronormative society! Also, written right up the middle of the SF genre, for those who like SF that's right up the middle of the genre.)

The New Moon’s Arms
Realist fantasy with merpeople, selkies and time-travel (kinda) intertwining with the lingering effects of slavery in the Caribbean. Main character’s homophobia (not endorsed in the text) was hard for me to take.

(ed.)So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction
I only wish that more of these authors had been new to me, or that there hadn’t been so many pieces that were early outtakes of novels that I had already read. While I very much enjoyed the anthology (yay!), I’m left with the lingering impression that circa 2004, postcolonial SF was a small, small field. (But it has been growing exponentially since! Yay!)

Additionally, but which I reviewed previously, Stephen Graham Jones, The Fast Red Road and The Bird is Gone.

...and I'm happy to discuss any of the above at more length.

(Tags: native-american, indigenous peoples, first-nations, science fiction, fantasy, short stories, cree, anishinaabe/ojibwe/chippewa, cherokee, black indian, canada, caribbean)
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[personal profile] pauraque
By page 3, I knew I was going to like this book.

The tradition of Western science is unidirectional from subject (Abenaki elder, archaeological site, industrial raw material) to the collector/researcher to the publisher. From there it goes to the teacher (college professor) or media person (Nova scriptwriter) and finally to the multiethnic American community, the ultimate consumer. As viewed by the consumer, this is a process of enrichment. But viewed from the perspective of the elder who has lost legal control of her life story, the backfilled hole that was once a site, or the plant crucified on acid-free paper in some paradichlorobenzined herbarium cabinet, this may seem exploitative to say the least.
What a breath of fresh air Wiseman is. With penetrating insight, he identifies and rejects those stale old views, and goes on to show us how it ought to be done. He guides us through his people's history from the depths of time to the present day in a voice that is urgent, sensitive, and quite likeable. He makes no false pose of neutrality -- he is pro-Abenaki and puts his own and his people's views first -- yet he explains competing viewpoints more generously than most writers who do claim to be neutral. It feels like seeing in color for the first time, when before all you knew was black and white.

"Tradition of Western science", you just got served.

What's in the book )

What's not in the book )

Why a book about history moved me deeply )
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[personal profile] sanguinity
31. Thomas King, The Truth About Stories.

The truth about stories is that's all we are.

I cannot sum up. I really can't. Many stories, and stories about stories, and stories about how stories make us. Stories that could be, stories that are. Stories which describe possibilities, stories that keep us from seeing possibilities. Indian stories, and stories about Indians, and stories about being Indian, and stories about how those things interact. Origin stories, history stories, popular stories, personal stories. Stories about good and evil, stories that create evil, stories that tell us how to respond to good and evil. Stories.

And yes, some of these stories changed the way I see myself in the world.

The story about Coyote and the Ducks, for instance. Take it. It's yours. Do with it what you will. Tell it to your children. Turn it into a play. Forget it. But don't say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story.

You've heard it now.

32. Thomas King, A Short History of Indians in Canada.

I'd been blowing past this one for a while now when it appeared in bibliographies of Thomas King's works, figuring that it was, well, a short history of Indians in Canada. *cough* And what with my not being in the mood for a history book. But then I ran across this post of (spoilerly) excerpts from Thomas King's "Where the Borg Are" (collected in Short History) and knew two things: 1) this is not a history book, and 2) I must get it and read it.

In which I excerpt far, far too many of my favorite passages )

And the title story...? Ohhh, the title story. The title story is like knives.

(Additional tags: Cherokee)
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[personal profile] sanguinity
28. Joseph Bruchac, Skeleton Man.

One day Molly's parents didn't come home. Nor the next day. Nor the day after that. Eventually one of Molly's teachers figured out that her parents were missing and called social services. And social services placed her in the home of a man she had never before met nor heard of, but who claimed to be her uncle.

On the one hand, very definitely a creepy story, and effective in its creepiness. Molly is brave and clever and resourceful, and absolutely a heroine to be proud of.

On the other hand, the major plot point of being placed into someone's legal guardianship, and thereafter not being taken seriously that you don't know this person, that this person scares you, that this person is mistreating you? And that the people who do believe you can't help you because the law says they're not allowed to? That is not just a creepy story; that's some people's lives. And consequently, some people, like myself, will find it very difficult to sit back and enjoy this as a pleasantly creepy story.

29. Joseph Bruchac, Return of Skeleton Man.

After the first, I didn't have much desire to read the second, but it was already in my hands and I had enjoyed aspects of Bearwalker (reviewed below, and yes, I'm reviewing them in the order that makes sense, not in the order I read them) so much that I decided to give Return a go.

And I am very glad I did.

This is very much not a retread of the first book. Spoilers for the original book )

As in Bearwalker, Bruchac does some cool deconstruction of standard horror tropes: in this case, the action takes place around Día de los Muertos, but instead of the holiday being billed as creepy-creepy-exotic-ooh-creepy, Bruchac frames it as an indigenous holy day, and one that ultimately helps Molly and her family in their resistance against Skeleton Man.

There are more things I like, too. I'd recommend this even as a stand-alone, especially since Bruchac seems to recap most of what you need from the first book.

30. Joseph Bruchac, Bearwalker.

I fell all over myself with joy for most of the book. However, I do think Bruchac made a serious misstep at the end, so warnings for ablism, specifically (skip spoiler)
the Axe-Crazy trope: the bad guy is not a supernatural monster (as had been foreshadowed), but a schizophrenic patient from the local mental hospital. :-(

On to the review...

"You know," Willy says, "Camp Chuckamuck was built on an old Indian graveyard."

Now I roll my eyes. It always comes back to that. Every spooky place in America, it seems, was built on an old Indian graveyard. I'm as sick of hearing that as I am of being told that the only real Indians live west of the Mississippi.

And that, right there, is a big part of why I was so excited about this book. There's a lot of social commentary going on throughout. Some is foregrounded (Indian graveyards, above), some is backgrounded (no Indians east of the Mississippi, above), and some is woven into the action (for example, the way zero-tolerance anti-violence policies tend to make things more violent for victims of aggression, rather than less). One of the social subtexts in this story that I particularly enjoyed is that the elderly characters, even while being physically frail, were people to be reckoned with. They had been invited to camp with the plan that they would become victims; in fact, their presence is a good part of the reason that the dastardly plan fails.

There are also a lot of rich details in the way Baron's Mohawk identity is portrayed. Skeleton Man and Return of were much briefer in their depictions -- Molly's Mohawk identity mostly came through in her knowledge of the traditional stories and the virtues and strategies they highlighted. Baron's world has many more NDN and specifically Mohawk markers in it: there are references to steelworkers, military service, basketball, clan membership, Mohawk language, and more. And there's cool stuff going on with overlapping and interlocking communities, too.

Basically, much coolness! I could list the coolnesses for quite a while. Which made the misstep at the end that I alluded to above that much more disappointing. Discussed behind the spoiler-cut (with black-outs, so people can comment without fear of spoiling themselves)...

Read more... )

So, yeah. I can't wholeheartedly recommend Bearwalker. Even despite all the awesome in the first parts of the book. I wish I could! I really, really wish I could. :-(

(additional tags: Mohawk characters, Abenaki author, scary stories, middle grades)
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[personal profile] sanguinity
(I'm at least six months behind in my count, and I've been nominally counting from IBARW to IBARW, which didn't happen this year. In short, my count is wholly borked. I'm just going to continue this count until the new year, and reset to zero then.)

27. Clara Sue Kidwell, Native American Studies.

Yes, it's a textbook. :-) I am told this is the Native Studies text used in the U.S.; the definitive Canadian text, I am likewise told, is Olive Patricia Dickason's Canada's First Nations.

A number of my classmates were apparently expecting a history-focused class, running from Columbus and/or Jamestown to Wounded Knee, and were discomfited to discover that the text and class were mostly about more contemporary matters. For the most part, the text tends to focus on the 1930s to the present, only going farther back when the topic requires it.

Chapters are devoted issues of land and identity, sovereignty, literature, art, native studies itself, and the like. Discussions of each are almost telegraphically brief, but capture the highlights for each topic, giving the broad outlines of the relevant history as well as the major themes and disputes. It's fairly readable, especially for a textbook, and serves as a decent (but whirlwind!) introduction to some of the major things that have been happening in Indian Country post-1890. I've quoted from the text in my journal a few times now (and have been tempted even more times!), mostly because it sums issues so succinctly.

...and because this is [ profile] 50books_poc, I thought y'all might appreciate a list of the works discussed in the chapter on American Indian literature.

Early American Indian literature:

Rollin Ridge (Cherokee), The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Clebrated California Bandit, 1854. (First American Indian novel.)

John Joseph Matthews (Osage), Sundown, 1934.

D'Arcy McNickle (Cree/Metis, enrolled Salish), The Surrounded, 1936.

Lynn Riggs (Cherokee), Green Grow the Lilacs, 1930. (Play on which the musical Oklahoma! was based.)

American Indian Renaissance:

N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn, 1968.
—, The Way to Rainy Mountain, 1968. (memoir)
—, The Ancient Child, 1989.

James Welch (Blackfeet), Winter in the Blood, 1974.

Leslie Silko (Laguna), Ceremony, 1977.

Gerald Vizenor (Chippewa), Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart, 1978.

Louise Erdrich (Chippewa), The Bingo Palace, 1993.

Louis Owens (Choctaw / Cherokee), Bone Game, 1994. (contains characters from the novels of Momaday, Welch, Silko, Vizenor, and Erdrich)

Lit Crit and other Meta (from Suggested Further Reading)

Paula Gunn Allen (Laguna Pueblo), Studies in American Indian Literature.

Craig Womack (Creek / Cherokee), Red on Red.

Greg Sarris (Pomo / Miwok), Keeping Slug Woman Alive.

Gerald Vizenor (Chippewa), Narrative Chance.
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[personal profile] sanguinity
Two signal boosts:

The editor of The Mammoth Book of Steampunk is looking for recs on what should be included in the collection. If you have a favorite POC-authored steampunk work, you might want to go rec it.

(List of POC-authored steampunk works that are available online; print-published works are also eligible, but I don't have a handy list for you.)

Joseph Bruchac is trying to bring Hidden Roots back into print via his own press, but Scholastic won't revert the rights back to him.

For those unfamiliar with the book, it's about an Abenaki family who has been hiding from the Vermont Eugenics Project. (Sorry for the cursory summary; I haven't yet read it.) Bruchac himself is Abenaki, and on this particular topic, I strongly desire to hear an Abenaki author. I am especially distressed to report that with Hidden Roots out of print, the only in-print MG/YA book about the Abenaki and the Vermont Eugenics Project is Darkness Under Water.

You can tell Scholastic your opinion of whether they should release the rights to Hidden Roots. Reblogging might also be helpful.
[identity profile]
”A Native vampire! That is so cool!”

An enjoyably quirky vampire novel by an Anishinabe (Ojibwa) writer. Anishinabe teenager Tiffany Hunter has normal teenage problems: her mother took off a year ago, her father hates the white boy she’s dating (and the white boy, unbeknownst to Tiffany, is a real jerk), and she’s flunking all her classes. And one not-so-normal problem: the bed-and-breakfast tenant in the basement is a vampire.

Despite the very YA premise, I’m not sure this is really a YA novel. A lot of the humor comes from the adult writer’s recollection of how absurd it is to be a teenager; it’s not mean humor, but it is based on distance. It’s also, interestingly, in omniscient point of view and even has a section from the perspective of an owl.

I enjoyed the offbeat voice and sense of humor of this novel, though there was some clunky prose and the occasional overheated metaphor that may not have been funny in the way the author intended it to be. Or maybe it was! The deadpan style made it hard to tell. The vampire is not sparkly or glamorous, but creepy and sad, bearing the weight of history. He has a weakness for truly terrible vampiric double entendres, which, again, may or may not have been intended to be hilariously over the top. (“I have a lot of different types of blood flowing through my veins.”) Thankfully, the possibility of romance between him and Tiffany is not even raised.

The ending, though a bit anvillicious at points, also had moments of true beauty and power.

Uneven but worth reading, particularly if you’re tired of white vampires.

The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel
[identity profile]
I haven't been doing as well about either reviewing or cross-posting as I'd like, but here are some books I've read in the last few months:

SF, fantasy, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction--mostly young adult--7 reviews )

(Additional Tags: Muscogee Creek Nation)
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I'm sorry I've been AWOL so long. I've been reading (reading lots!! indigenous spec-fic! whee!) just not writing up and posting. But now the term is over (almost), so I'll have a little time to pick the tag project back up and write up some of my backlog.

25. Stephen Graham Jones, The Fast Red Road

Thomas Pynchon meets Repo Man, with more than a touch of Ubik reality-slip and Lynchian horror. Sentient trans-ams, buried submarines, secret societies, Marty Robbins, heyoka rodeo clowns, Old Ones, coyotes, and wiindigos. And so much more that I cannot even tell you. There is stuff in here that I adore, and this being my first reading, I have only just scratched the surface of what is there.

The allusions come fast and thick in this; I haven't felt this unlettered since high school. (But it's okay; the internet can help you out with most of it.) And no, it is not going to make a lot of sense at first; just hang on and pay attention, the sense-making will start to come together. I promise.

...and as you might gather, there aren't that many people I'd recommend it to. It is a dense, dense read. But those I would recommend it to? I would recommend it enthusiastically.

26. Stephen Graham Jones, The Bird Is Gone.

Fourteen years ago, by an Act of Congress, the Dakotas were returned to Indian control. Okay, um, the Dakotas were made a giant preserve for indigenous flora and fauna. But since Indians (canis latrans) are still technically on the books as fauna (those old, never-deleted bounty laws, you know), "indigenous fauna" includes American Indians.

...yes, but this is a sly, sly book.

Issues of identity and authenticity and performance have not eased one jot in this future. It is now possible to be a "tomato" (red on the outside, red on the inside, and still white). The traditionalist elders are now those holding fast to their radios and refrigerators, while the younger generation has eschewed even horses as too new-fangled and colonial. Ultimately, this is a murder mystery: an Indian FBI agent, disguised as an Indian (because the one thing that the IHS has been effective at is vaccinating for the pinkeye that targets American Indians, the pinkeye that has become the social identifier of who is Indian and who is not -- yes, pinkeye is all the rage, and those Indians who grew up on reservations now have to fake a case of pinkeye to pass as Indian), has snuck back onto what used to be Pine Ridge to hunt down a serial killer. And oh, but there are some tangled personal histories she has to sort through, histories of double-identities and racial performance, the things one had to do to survive before the Conservation Act, and the things one has to do to survive after. And, of course, there is no place one can stand to be a mere observer -- well, unless you're standing at the border with the paparazzi-anthroplogists, with their telephoto lenses and directional mikes, but any Indian would rather kill zirself (and does) than stand there -- and the more she tries to untangle everyone else's stories, the more her own footing erodes from under her.

And here's a tip, from me to you: read the glossary. Read every entry. There is some amazing stuff that Jones has secreted away in there -- the history of this future, for example -- things that you cannot access unless you go looking for them and actively piece them together from the inadequately cross-referenced glimpses in this entry and that. (Gosh, what does that process remind me of? I CANNOT IMAGINE.)

Did I say that this book is sly and clever? It is sly and clever. And it made me howl with laughter every single time I caught on to yet another something that Jones was doing.

And to reassure those who were intimidated by my description of The Fast Red Road: this book is a LOT more accessible. Not fully linear, no, and not fully transparent, either. Definitely still more trans-real than a straightforward futuristic police-procedural. But while I might retain the adjective "Lynchian", I'd definitely jettison the adjective "Pynchon-esque."

(Additional tags: Blackfeet)
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[personal profile] sanguinity
Both these selections are collected in Reasoning Together, by The Native Critics Collective, editors Craig S. Womack, Daniel Heath Justice, and Christopher B. Teuton.

nb: I have a STEM background, not a lit-crit background, which means that there are significant parts of these essays that went whoosh, right past my head. Someone with a lit-crit background may pull very different things from these essays.

21. Tol Foster (Anglo-Creek), "Of One Blood: An Argument for Relations and Regionality in Native American Literary Studies."

After a brief history of the classic biases coming out of the academy about Native Americans (not the least of which is casting Native people as "the Other" with a legitimate identity and existence only to the extent that they are unlike the "Americans" that they allegedly exist in opposition to -- a conceptualization, btw, which tends to cast contemporary Indians as not being "real" Indians), he instead looks to Native cultures as their own sources of critical theory:
Instead of looking for some theory to import into indigenous communities, we yield a far more rigorous understanding by both valuing and critiquing the historical and cultural archive as a theoretically sophisticated site of its own. One's history and experience can provide a testable and portable framework for understanding relations between individuals, institutions, and historical forces. Given these claims, I argue here that tribal figures like the Cherokee writer Will Rogers are historically suited actors who utilize the counternarratives of their communities as a theoretical base from which to conduct anticolonialist and cosmopolitan critique.
One of the key points of this essay comes back to "regionality": Will Rogers is a Cherokee writer, and one can and should go to Cherokee history, culture, and literature for context and insights to his work. To that end, Foster gives a capsule political and social history of the Cherokee and Creeks in Indian Territory, from Removal through the Civil War and Reconstruction and on to Oklahoma statehood, with special attention to issues of political alliances, sovereignty, and differing responses of the two tribes to incursions by non-Native African Americans and whites. (That history alone is worth the price of admission.) Within that context, there's then a discussion of the racial politics in Will Rogers' writing -- a discussion that highlighted for me a number of issues I've been poking at for a while now.

There's more good stuff in there, too -- including a discussion of the potential pitfalls of regional literary criticism (f'rex, overlooking members of the community that are commonly labeled as being outside of the community -- Afro-Creek writer Melvin Tolson -- or giving too much weight to the most culturally conservative parts of the community) but I want to emphasize that even people who don't "do" lit-crit can still get good stuff out of this article.

22. Daniel Heath Justice (Cherokee), "'Go Away Water!' : Kinship Criticism and the Decolonization Imperative."

Tol Foster referred a few times to Daniel Heath Justice's essay, so I turned to that next. (And it's likely the only other essay I'll be reading from the volume for the forseeable future, because it was a weekend-loaner.)

Justice places discusses some of the problems of developing an ethical Native literary criticism, especially around peoplehood and decolonization. Again, there's the note that mainstream American definitions of Indians is centered around Indians being "the Other" -- a definition that disenfranchises Indians who are not Other enough -- while Native conceptions tend to center around peoplehood and community identity. Justice then illustrates these ideas with two intra-Native disputes about Native identity: Delphine Redshirt's (Oglala Sioux) charge that the Connecticut Pequot aren't "real" Indians, and the question of whether mixed-blood, urban Indians can be "real" Indians, especially if they're disconnected from land and community.

...and if you don't think that both of those discussions pushed my buttons hard, then you don't know me. However, Justice did a really nice job teasing out and clarifying a lot of my thoughts on both those issues, and both those critiques. And he did a nice job negotiating the ethical issues, in my opinion. There are big honkin' huge issues of context and regionality there -- it is not random that the first critique came from an Oglala full-blood -- and in my opinion, Justice did a nice job of honoring that while still centering the ethics of the situation. I said, I'm not sure I'm going to make it through the rest of the anthology. Lit-crit is a seriously uphill battle for me, and I have to give this anthology back in a few hours. But these two essays alone were more than worth my time, and did a lot to clarify my thinking about certain thorny intra-Indian and intra-POC issues. If you "do" lit-crit, and if you're looking for insights into approaching Native writings, I recommend the anthology.

(additional tags: Creek; Cherokee)
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[personal profile] sanguinity
22. Drew Hayden Taylor, In a World Created by a Drunken God.

Jason Pierce, a mixed-blood Ojibwe man, answers a knock on his door; the white stranger on the other side claims to be Jason's half-brother, and has come to ask for one of Jason's kidneys for their father.

...and if you don't think that becomes a mess of conflicting and highly emotional accounts of who owes what to whom and why, you don't know people.

I loved Jason Pierce as a character, and for all the same reasons that his half-brother, Harry Dieter, thinks that Jason is a cold and unlikable man. (And to be fair, Harry Dieter has a point: Jason isn't being exactly kind or gracious about any of this. But then, Harry's expectation that Jason should be gracious, or that Jason should give weight to Harry's account of what a good father Dieter Sr. is, or basically any other expectation Harry has? It must be nice to have a life where you can have those expectations of the world.)

(additional tags: anishinaabe, ojibwe, Canadian)
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[personal profile] sanguinity
18. Thomas King, "The One About Coyote Going West."
(Collected in An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English, 1998, among other places.)

Coyote dropping by the narrator's for tea on her way out west to visit Raven and fix up the world, but deciding to stay a little while to hear the story of how Coyote, that clever one, that tricky one, created the world.

What was the first thing Coyote created? Not the rainbow, not the moon, not the oceans (and in fact, these things were never created by Coyote at all, neither first nor later). No, the first thing Coyote created was a Mistake. The second thing she created? Farts. And while she was busy creating farts, things that Coyote was supposed to have created got tired of waiting around on her and went ahead and created themselves, her Mistake went off and started ordering a bunch of things from the Sears catalog, and Coyote.... Well, that was when Coyote decided that the world had gotten messed up and needed some fixing.

That Coyote, she's a tricky one. You've got to keep your eye on her.

And the narrator? She's a tricky one, too. ;-)

19. Dennis Martinez, with Enrique Salmón and Melissa K. Nelson, "Restoring Indigenous History and Culture to Nature."
20. Greg Cajete, John Mohawk, and Julio Valladolid Rivera, "Re-Indigenization Defined."
(Both collected in Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future, 2008.)

"There is no Indian word for wilderness because there was no wilderness." -- Dennis Martinez

The Martinez article blew me away. Martinez does a lot of work with introducing Traditional Ecological Knowledge to ecologists; this article is an easily-accessible, conversation-format introduction to those ideas. Forget the trope about Indians walking lightly on the land, leaving nothing but footprints: Indian cultures cultivated entire ecosystems, but did/do so with a very different worldview and process than Euro-Americans use to manage ecosystems. Martinez uses "kincentric" to describe the indigenous ecosystem worldview -- one cannot (and should not!) attempt to control or impose one's will on an ecosystem, but one approaches the ecosystem as an equal partner with the other entities in it. ("We are comanagers with animals and plants. We don't have the right to extend anything [such as ethics]. What we have the right to do is to make our case, as human beings, to the natural world.") In terms of restoration and conservation, the goal is not to return "wild" areas to a "natural" state, but to use pre-conquest ecosystems as reference models for workable local stable-enough ecosystems, while looking to indigenous cultures for the processes and models that encourage the development of moderately-paced, human-inclusive coevolutionary ecosystems. (That's a lot of academic buzzwords, but that's because I'm trying to summarize. The article is pretty much buzzword-free.)

And if that isn't enough awesome for you, there's a ton of examples here of indigenous comanagement practices from Northern California through Alaska; discussions of how ecosystems, cultures, and languages cannot be preserved separately from each other, nor through documentation, but must be conserved in situ (and that includes doing things like developing viable economies in rural communities so that young people have the option to learn from elders); and discussion of how to bring non-Native rural people into the ecological framework Martinez proposes, in order to help them maintain and develop their ties to the land.

The second article is a wide-ranging conversation between the authors about re-indigenization, which Mohawk defines as envisioning the world in a "postconquest, postmodernist, postprogressive era... the re-biodiversity, the recultural diversity, the rethinking of the earth as a living being." Quite a lot of the discussion centers around contrasting currently dominant institutions and practices with indigenous institutions and practices, with a special emphasis on the biases and faults of the dominant systems, and some discussion of how those systems might be leveraged, used, or revamped toward re-indiginezation. This article/interview didn't hit me with the awesome the way the previous one did, but I suspect that's more a function of me than a function of the article -- I'm already familiar with a lot of the critiques in here, and don't feel much hope that re-indigenization on a broad scale is possible. But then, part of my lack of faith is based in the fact that these critiques aren't widely understood, and the remedy to that is to talk about these things more, not less, eh?

All said, I want to get my hands on this anthology.

(additional author tags: Cherokee, Canadian. O'odham, Crow; Rarámuri; Anishinaabe, Métis. Pueblo; Iroquois; Andean.)
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Title: The Birchbark House
Author: Louise Erdrich
Number of Pages: 256 pages
My Rating: 4/5

This tells the story of a year in the life of Omakayas, an eight-year-old Anishinabe girl, and her family in the mid-1800s. It reminded me a lot of Little House on the Prairie and the other Laura Ingalls Wilder books in that it was basically just following Omakayas's life and spent a lot of time showing how they cooked, planted, harvested, made things, etc. All those little details of life back then. I do like that style of story, and this series is a nice antidote to the racist portrayal/erasure of Indians in the Little House books.

Title: The Game of Silence
Author: Louise Erdrich
Number of Pages: 288 pages
My Rating: 5/5

This sequel to The Birchbark House spans another year in the life of Omakayas, two years after the events of the first book. While the first book mainly focused on everyday life and events throughout the year, with little hints of coming changes due to the encroaching white population, The Game of Silence places that struggle front and center, as the Anishinabeg try to figure out why the white men have gone back on their word to let the Anishinabeg stay where they are. There is still plenty of daily life stuff going on, though, as life goes on for Omakayas despite the fear that she and her family might be forced to leave.

There were several new characters introduced, and more focus on some of the supporting characters (I love Two Strike Girl), but the focus remains on Omakayas. I think this book is actually a little longer than the first, but I found it a much faster read and enjoyed it a little more. Definitely no "middle book syndrome" here.

Title: The Porcupine Year
Author: Louise Erdrich
Number of Pages: 208 pages
My Rating: 5/5

Two years after Omakayas and her family were forced to leave their island, they still haven't found a new permanent home. The Porcupine Year follows them through another year as they make their way north.

These books just keep getting better and better. I definitely liked this one best of all. It was a lot more of an adventure story than the first two.

Apparently there will be more books in the series, but considering the author's note says the next one will be about Omakayas's children, these three do make their own trilogy.

One thing I didn't like about these books is the way the author translates some names and not others. The protagonist is Omakayas, but her brother is Pinch. Her father is Mikwam, but her mother is Yellow Kettle. Sometimes the name is given alongside a translation, but often the translations are all we get. And then there's things like how one character was called Little Bee for the first two books, but then suddenly in The Porcupine Year, is called by her untranslated name, Amoosens. I don't like when books translate names, but I like the lack of consistency even more.

The other thing I didn't like was that what I originally thought was a casual positive portrayal of a gender-noncomforming, ended up being "oh, she acts like a boy because she doesn't have a father who loves her". Ugh...
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15. Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, When Thunders Spoke.

It's tricksy to summarize some of Sneve's books: by the time you've laid out enough of the different threads to be able to give a sense of what's happening and why it matters, what you've written isn't really a "summary" anymore. However...

Norman is fifteen, poor, and Sioux. In one thread of the story, Norman struggles with the white owner of his reservation's trading post, Mr. Brannon, who has been systematically cheating Norman over the agates that Norman collects on Thunder Butte. In another thread of the story, Norman's grandfather has had a holy dream that Norman should climb the traditional vision quest route on Thunder Butte -- a request Norman is happy enough to fulfill (in part because that side of the butte has been heretofore forbidden to him, and forbidden things have allure, but also because doing the climb is a simple way to please his grandfather).

...and it's hard to take the story any further than that without flattening it.

I liked When Thunders Spoke very much in its own right, but I also like it as a contrast to Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian -- which was a very good book, indeed, but one which appears to be running the danger of becoming the single story about teenagers and reservation poverty.

16. Tom Charging Eagle and Ron Zeilinger, Black Hills: Sacred Hills.

(Both of these authors are obscure. I'm somewhat confident that Tom Charging Eagle is Native; I have no idea about Ron Zellinger. If someone has better info, please let me know so I can correct this entry.)

Child-compatible* picture book about the Lakota relationship to the Black Hills. Written in free verse, plural first person (such that "we" refers to the Lakota), with full-page black and white photographs of the Hills. Production values are low -- some of these photos are grainy at this size -- but I don't really care that much, because its mere existence kinda blows all other considerations away for me. Sure, low production values, yes, it's a cottage press, but who else would care enough to publish this? (The publishing house, Tipi Press, closed a few years ago, but apparently was part of St. Joseph's Indian School.)

Interestingly to me, the book repeatedly builds parallels between aspects of Christian faith and Lakota reverence for the Hills, using Christianity both as an analogy ("It is like the holy places of the Jews and Christians...") but also as validation for Lakota beliefs: "Our people today know / that it was the rock with held the body of Jesus / for three days after he died, / and it was the rock which Moses struck / to bring forth water to keep his people alive. / For all of us, / regardless of race and creed, / the rocks have a spiritual meaning." Christianity and Lakota spirituality are not in opposition here; in many ways, this book strives to ease any conflicts that Christian Lakota might feel between the two spiritual traditions.

Black Hills: Sacred Hills was published in 1987, not too long after the final ruling in United States v. Sioux Nation, in which the U.S. offered cash compensation to the Sioux for the Black Hills. The book's introduction walks through a timeline of the dispute, from the Fort Laramie treaty through the lawsuit and Bradley's act. The book ends with an allusion to the lawsuit, and the Sioux resolve with respect to it:
Our proud
and spiritual people
have been deprived of this sacred heritage,
yet they continue to cling to the belief
that this is a nation of law and order.

They believe
that in this land guided by the Constitution,
that all men are created equal
and blessed by their Creator with rights and liberties.
they seek to regain what is rightfully theirs
according to solemn treaties.
The book then closes with a quote from Frank Fools Crow's speech, "We Shall Never Sell Our Sacred Black Hills."

* I'm loathe to say it is a children's book, mostly because of the way that traditional Native stories are systematically and inappropriately repackaged as children's stories by non-Native authors, editors, and publishers. This isn't a traditional story, per se, but the "could be for kids, thus is for kids" error could as easily apply to this volume as a traditional story, I think, and thus my hesitation.

(additional tags: Lakota)
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12. Cynthia Leitich Smith, Rain Is Not My Indian Name.

This one threw me for a loop: Rain is the first Native character I have ever pinged recognition on. (Did I mention ever? Ever.) Sometimes mixed characters ping for me, and sometimes lighty characters ping, but those characters have never been Native before. And yes, that matters.

For the record, Rain is nothing like me in important ways: she's enrolled in her mother's tribe, and culturally connected to her mother's tribe, too. However, like me, she is Native-white mixed blood, white-looking (in fact, her physical description almost precisely matches mine), and culturally disconnected from her father's tribe (as is her father and his mother before him). Which means that any number of times during this book something would happen and I'd freeze in recognition: "Yes, it's like that. It's exactly like that." And then I'd have to shut the book for a minute while I let the emotional whipsnap settle. But only a minute, because there was more book to read.

("Emotional whipsnap" is a highly sanitized term. But I'm not going there in this post.)

The elements that I pinged on are significant parts of Rain's characterization, but fairly minor parts of the story -- by no means is this a problem novel about being a lighty -- but my reactions to those absolutely dominated all my other reactions. Even if this book was utter crap in all other ways, it'd still be getting a special place on my shelf. Like I said, these things matter.

Fortunately, this book is not utter crap. In fact, I suspect that it's probably a pretty good book, even for people who aren't me. Much of the plotline is about recovering from grief, and Smith nails that: how bored you get of the pain, long before the pain is done with you; how it offsets your life several months from those who weren't experiencing that grief; how it calcifies around you and exhausts you, creating a barrier between you and others that has to be surmounted again and again, if you choose to surmount it at all.

Oh, and the thing with Rain's ruptured friendship with Queenie? Again, Smith nails that you can't really decide to ignore each other: you both know too much, you're both too dangerous to the other. Ex-friends are for life.

Also, it's a messy book, which is something I heartily approve of. F'rinstance: (skip spoiler)
as precious as Galen was to Rain, he still betrayed Queenie twice (once by dumping her for being black, and a second time by blaming Queenie for the break-up) and then co-opted Rain into both betrayals (switching his affections to Rain, who is conveniently, and non-coincidentally, almost white; allowing Rain to break off her friendship with Queenie on the basis of the lie he had trumped up to save his own face). What can Rain do with those betrayals, especially given that Galen is dead?
(And while we're on the topic, Smith's willingness to embrace messiness is also part of why the book "pings" so hard for me on mixed, lighty, and disconnect stuff: those are messy experiences. If Smith had neatened them, there would be no ping.)

One last thing: it's a well-crafted book. I've been re-reading bits and pieces here and there while writing this review, and there are lots of little details that didn't have meaning on the first read-through, but are little bombs of significance on re-read.

Most books come into my hands, I read them, and I let them go again; this one is definitely getting a place on my shelf.

(Additional tags: Muscogee - author; Muscogee - character; Ojibwe - character)
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(Oh, but I'm behind with posting!)

5. Joseph Bruchac, Children of the Longhouse.

Set in a Mohawk town in 1491, Children of the Longhouse alternates between Ohkwa'ri and Otsi:stia, twin brother and sister, as they work together to outwit the town bully.

Even though the POV alternates between the pair, this is very much the brother's story. It is Ohkwa'ri who is threatened by the bully (even if Otsi:stia does much of the strategic thinking), and it is Ohkwa'ri who gets to do the exciting things, such as build a personal lodge in the forest or take an honorary role on the adults' team in the big lacrosse game. (I just went through the book again to see if I had overlooked cool stuff Otsi:stia did, but not so much: her chapters tend to relate what happened to her brother at the council meetings.)

By the way, the cover teaser -- "It's a man's game— but he's still a boy" -- is a stupid misrepresentation of both the tekwaarathon game depicted on the cover and the book itself. This isn't a book about a boy who has to, somehow, against all odds, live up to a man's role. Quite the opposite, in fact: the book is downright critical of what happens when boys have to find their own way into manhood (as has happened to the bully), and Bruchac places quite a lot of attention on how the adults care for and guide Ohkwa'ri and Otsi:stia. Bah, Puffin Books! Bah!

6. Joseph Bruchac, The Arrow Over the Door.

Bruchac's version of a story traditional among Friends (pdf) about an encounter between American Indians and Quakers during the American Revolution.

In Bruchac's version, French-speaking Abenaki travel south to investigate for themselves the war between the Songlismoniak (English) and the Bostoniak, in order to decide if it is in their best interest to join the war or not. There is a lot of excellent Native-centric historical framework set out here, and that alone is worth the price of the book, in my opinion. Bruchac makes it clear that there has already been a century of heavy interaction between Indians and Europeans, and that history has shaped both Indians and colonists. F'rinstance, the Abenakis and French cannot be distinguished from each other by clothing, and it is made clear that this not a case of Abenakis "modernizing" and adopting "European" clothing, but local clothing being a synthesis of both French and Indian cultures. Bruchac gives a quick review of the political situation from an Abenaki perspective, with the American Revolution being yet another intercolonial war, hot on the heels of the previous one, and the Abenaki characters are well aware that they are being recruited by King George in order to replace Indian allies that had left the war in disgust at imperial racism.

In addition to the Native-centric history, there's other subtle stuff going on in here that I like lots. One of the common tropes in white-authored children's lit about American Indians is the Indian kid who is embarrassed by his family and is considering turning his back on their way of life; in this book, that kid is the Quaker kid. (I laughed and laughed, when I realized.) Stands Straight, the kid on the Abenaki side of the story, feels no such conflict about his family -- and why should he? Unlike Friends in New York society, Stands Straight's family is not othered in his greater community, and Stands Straight is in no way convinced of European supremacy.

Bruchac's historical notes, in which he describes his research and explains the changes he made to the Quaker source material, are nearly as interesting as the book. The "original" source material was written much later than the events, and drips with racism and cultural improbabilities -- see the pdf linked above for details. No one seems to deny that the Quaker story is based on an actual event; however, it's not clear what the event actually was, other than that there were unspecified French-speaking Indians, a Quaker meeting for worship, and no bloodshed. While there is much fabrication in Bruchac's version, there was no less fabrication in the Quaker version -- both versions of the story are told with a particular goal in mind, and I like that Bruchac lays out his goals and reasoning for us.

My sole reservation about the book: Bruchac is quite a bit more laudatory about Quaker/Indian interactions than sets easy with me. While Quakers have a long and well-earned reputation for staunchly opposing virulent racism, the Equality Testimony did not prevent them from buying into white supremacy, which is unremarked upon here. Bruchac points out several things that do credit to Quakers, such as Ely S. Parker selecting Quakers to be Indian agents as part of his reforms of the BIA, but Bruchac declines to note areas where Quakers contributed to harm, such as supporting the Carlisle Indian Industrial School or running "civilizing" Indian schools of their own. I know that it's not Bruchac's job to push Quakers to be honest with themselves about their own history, but since Quaker tradition often runs toward self-congratulation with regards to racism, I would rather that Bruchac's praise had been a little more restrained, yanno?
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7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I read this back in August but have been postponing this post because I was not wild about this book, even though I know lots of people loved it. Maybe I was expecting too much after reading the rave reviews of others. But this book seemed a little preachy to me -- like Junior is less a character than an object example of discrimination. It is a fact that Indian reservations in the US are the most impoverished places in the country, but I felt that the details of this misery, while not exaggerated, overwhelmed the supposedly comic voice of the narrator, and made for a pretty depressing read. I love Alexie's other books, and I get how it's only funny because it hurts, but the balance was off for me in this one. In a way, Junior is too heroic for any irony to work, and he ends up just sounding bleak. I think part of the problem is the first-person point of view. There was one section where angry reference is made to the murders of women of color along the Mexican border. It yanked me out of the story because while the border situation is horrifying, it also didn't seem like something a teenage boy in Washington State would be pondering in the midst of all his other troubles. It felt like another depressing fact piled on top of all the others. Maybe this is a genre thing and I just don't read enough YA books?

About 3/4 of the way through the book I was fed up and hating it, and then Alexie pulled it together for a sad but transcendent ending, because he is a great writing talent, so after all I am glad that I read this. I have read elsewhere that it is very autobiographical, with many of Junior's challenges and personal details drawn from Alexie's own life. I would much rather read an actual memoir by Alexie than any more about Junior.
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#25. This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Cherríe Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa
1981/'83, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press

This is another book that is so full of... ideas and thinking and newness, and that has so many visions and so much emotion in it, and that contains both so much I can identify with and so much that seems deeply foreign -- I don't mean only the experiences and attitudes of the women who wrote it, but also, which is harder for me to assimilate, the lens through which they view the world: the moment of history, cultural and political, in which thy formulated these ideas and these manifestoes -- that I feel overwhelmed when I try to think about posting a review of it.

But I also feel kind of like a coward for backing out of reviewing it. What to do? I think I will let it simmer for a while. I may also read the much more recent companion book to it (this bridge we call home, used, I see, as an icon for this group ;), and see if that helps me understand, and bridge the thirty years of historical difference between these women and me.

[tags I would add if I could: assimilation, sociology, spirituality [or: religion/spirituality], puerto rican, a: morales rosario, a: rushin donna kate, a: wong nellie, a: lee mary hope, a: littlebear naomi, a: lim genny, a: yamada mitsuye, a: valerio anita, a: cameron barbara, a: levins morales anita, a: carillo jo, a: daniels gabrielle, a: moschkovich judit, a: davenport doris, a: gossett hattie, a: smith barbara, a: smith beverly, a: clarke cheryl, a: noda barbara, a: woo merle, a: quintanales mirtha, a: anzaldua gloria, a: alarcon norma, a: combahee river collective, a: canaan andrea, a: parker pat] 

(Also, apropos of nothing: Whoo! Halfway through! This book feels like an appropriate one for that milestone.)

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3. Cynthia Leitich Smith, Tantalize.
4. Cynthia Leitich Smith, Eternal.

Both novels are set in the same world, but Eternal is a prequel to Tantalize. Even though the two books don't share any cast members in common, the sequence would have been nice to know going in: what happens to the Eternal cast sets up the possibilities established for the Tantalize storyline, and there are aspects of the two stories that seem not to mesh properly unless you realize that Eternal happens first. It's hard to say anything more concrete about the interrelationship of the two without spoiling the conclusions of both books, so let's just leave it there: Eternal happened first. Okay?

(Book three, by the way, is supposed to integrate both casts: yay! I want book three!)

Tantalize was a nice enough -- light, fast, funny -- for about the first half. The premise seemed a bit ridiculous and lightweight to hang an entire book on -- an Italian-American high-schooler, with the help of her uncle, is trying to retool the family Italian restaurant around a vampire theme -- but around the halfway mark the plot became OMG OMG OMG I CAN'T TALK TO YOU I'M READING OMG OMG. I wish the ending wasn't so young-adult-page-limit-reached, because I wanted a lot more book. It's sequel-ready, of course, but who wants to wait for the sequel? My favorite part in most novels is the middle third, where everything is deliciously messed up (similarly, my favorite part of any trilogy is always the second book) and Tantalize left off precisely at the point where it was ready to start hitting all my personal narrative buttons. (insert growl of pain here) MUST HAVE SEQUEL.

Eternal, to my disappointment, was not the sequel that Tantalize was setting up. Also, it's about a guardian angel, which is totally the sort of narrative device that makes me roll my eyes hard. But then Eternal caught me, too -- not as hard as Tantalize, but still, it caught me good and solid. And it resolved all its black-and-white good-and-evil stuff to my satisfaction (that is, good-and-evil does not, and cannot, crisply divide into black hats and white hats). And its conclusion makes me want the sequel -- which will be a crossover sequel for both books, apparently -- even more.

Some random things:
  • In Tantalize, Quincie's boyfriend Kiernan is both Latino and half-werewolf. (Ethnicity =/= species! Yay!) He needs to join a wolfpack, for both his safety and emotional wholeness, but he can't just trot off and join: he as much doesn't fit among the Wolves as he does among non-Wolves. Even though biology is a major part of what makes one a Wolf, there is no biological essentialism to being a Wolf: if he is to join a pack, he has to study and learn and catch up on the things that he did not learn when he was growing up outside of a pack. He has to earn his way in.

  • In Eternal, the heir to Dracula's throne is half-Taiwanese (I think -- I can't find the reference) and half-white. Dracula is a hereditary title, based on the Latin word for dragon, and it is thus customary to refer to the bearer as the Dragon, or to his heir as the Dragon Princess. Even so, Dracula executed the henchman who referred to her as the Dragon Lady.

  • Dorky whitebread vampires in polo shirts and khakis.

  • Weredeer! Werebears! Wereopossoms! Werearmadillos!


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