LEARN with Marginal Syllabus (March)—Critical Indigenous Literacies: Selecting and Using Children’s Books About Indigenous Peoples

March 04, 2019
By Educator Innovator

Our March, 2019 reading for Literacy, Equity + Remarkable Notes = LEARN casts a light on the ways in which books about Native people often reinforce stereotypes and cause harm to Native students. In a piece written for the journal Language Arts, author Debbie Reese explains how teachers can choose texts that support accurate representations of Native communities, and how teachers can develop a critical lens to better select and use curriculum materials in their classrooms and schools.

This is the fifth month of LEARN, a Marginal Syllabus co-developed with the National Writing Project (NWP) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Each month during the 2018-19 academic year, we’ll collaboratively read and discuss an article, published by NCTE, that investigates the intersection of literacy and equity. Refer to the syllabus for information on all the annotatable readings, which will go “live” on the first Monday of each month, along with related events hosted by CLTV and others.

March Topic: Thinking critically about Indigenous Literacies and the texts we use to tell the stories of Native people.

A teacher in Georgia might say, “Today, the Muscogee Creek Nation is in Oklahoma. Before Europeans arrived on what became known as the North American continent, the Muscogee Creeks were in Georgia.” To go even further, use the provocative but accurate word “invaded” instead of “arrived.”

Critical Indigenous Literacies: Selecting and Using Children’s Books about Indigenous People,” by Debbie Reese

In March, we learn from Debbie Reese, an author and educator tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, who writes about the problematic ways Native people’s stories are represented in books, classrooms, and schools. Reese advocates for critical indigenous literacies and shares how Native people’s stories are often written and taught by non-Native people as being part of the past but rarely the present. For example, she details how Native religious stories are categorized as folklore while schools teach Christian stories as accepted ideology. Traditions held sacred by Native people are misrepresented, she argues, as publishers reiterate this injustice by continuing to circulate the stories schools expect, stories in which non-specific Native people act and dress in ways that align with stereotypes. Her criticism rings true and offers a cautionary tale to teachers who want to teach in ways that honor the both the history and the future of Native people.

The article provides advice to teachers along with specific book titles to help bring Native stories into the classroom responsibly and accurately. Reese also directs teachers to her blog, americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com, where she offers critical perspectives and analysis of texts and teaching about the lives of Native people. She urges educators to purchase books and share stories written by Native authors, and asks educators to follow the hashtag #ownvoices to learn more about the importance of “bring[ing] Native stories and books about Native peoples into classrooms.” Reese’s writing offers a critical and necessary assessment of the way schools depict Native people, while at the same time her article gives teachers the tools they need to share more accurate and empowering stories.

We invite you to engage in a conversation about critical Indigenous literacy and responsible storytelling by annotating in the margins of this distinctly informative article.

Join the Annotated Conversation

We invite you to read “Critical Indigenous Literacies: Selecting and Using Children’s Books about Indigenous Peoples” and annotate the text with your own thoughts and reactions. Annotations may be added using the web annotation tool Hypothesis. To add your own annotations, as well as to respond to others, sign up for your free account.

Share your annotations as you read or any time throughout the month. We also encourage you to use these readings and the opportunity to annotate however it best works for you—organize a study group, bring a class you are teaching, engage as an individual, or connect it to a meeting.