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All the storytellers, my ancestors, carried the stories forward a generation until they got to me, and I have to carry them forward to the next generation.

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And I have to do it in a good way. Lois : In our traditional stories, everyone understands the characters. We talk about them every day, even outside of the context of the stories. Beverly : What you said, Lois, reminds me of Jakaltek Mayan author, Victor Montejo, who is an amazing poet, storyteller, human rights activist and anthropologist. Joe : I am glad you mentioned my friend Victor for a couple of reasons.

The first is that he is an actual Indigenous storyteller from south of our American borders.

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The second is that when I first met him several decades ago, he was a refugee who was fluent in Jakaltek and Spanish, but could speak no English. Not only did he master the English language, he went on to earn a PhD in this country, write a number of brilliant books in English, and become a respected professor. I challenge those non-Native people who are colonizing our stories to prove that they have the same level of intellectual ability and tenacity by gaining — if not deep fluency in the actual languages in which those stories were first told, as Victor did with English — at least enough knowledge of those languages to truly appreciate their worldview and complexity.

Gegoh nmaadabikehn dbiishko mokwaa! They all knew that I was referring to multiple nuances about the implications of laziness, of sleeping in or being like a bear. They lack any nuance that would tie them to their cultures.


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Rather, they have been reduced to the mere antics of their animal participants—a canned one-size-fits-all format in which the cultural context is removed and the bare bones of a lesson if any remain intact. These stories got no flesh! Beverly : Exactly, Lois. But Goldman is not doing anything new. Lois : Yes. By taking the bare bones information—how this or that physical characteristic came about, for instance—without fleshing out the characters takes the humanity away from the story. Even if the simplification had been done by a certain ethnographer rather than by Goldman, it probably would still have had the same effect—to make people look foolish.

We sat together and listened to one of the speakers, a famed storyteller and artist who, by audience reactions, was adored by elementary school teachers. I was shaking, and had to hold on to my seat to steady myself. Beverly : I remember this event well, Barbara. Joe : Many non-Native authors and publishers know that traditional Indigenous stories are relatively easy to harvest and translate into something for non-Indigenous children and their teachers to read.

The purpose of traditional Native stories is, for the most part, to portray the Original Instructions: to build relationships between all the beings of creation, to tell how things came to be the way they are, to teach right relationship between and among humans and the other animal people, and sometimes to model proper behavior by demonstrating improper behavior. Our traditional stories embody real teachings. I remember walking through the woods with my son he was a preschooler then and we saw a huge tree that had been struck by lightning and part of it was burned and broken off.

Barbara : Our stories have different levels and meanings: a superficial level—literal or metaphorical for young children , and a deeper meaning—philosophical or spiritual for older listeners. And, even if she had understood the deeper components, she would probably have considered them unimportant to her project. For instance, take another look at her text on the inside back cover:. In her index, for instance, she refers Indigenous names back to listings of their colonially imposed Spanish names e.

In her embellishment of this story, she writes,. Joe : Our Indigenous stories are often embedded in the natural world, so if you read a traditional story with natural references in it, it will probably be accurate—you recognize that certain things will happen in the natural cycle. But most of these people who are rewriting our stories know nothing about nature and as a result they can misinterpret or misrepresent the simple song of the cricket as an epic poem.

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Beverly : I did not know that about crickets, Joe. Story-mining in anthropological journals is not the same as interacting with Indigenous peoples. Lois : Yes, the sources she lists are many times removed from the cultures she purports to represent. All of these uncritically positive reviews focus on the product and not the process. In focusing only on the material elements, there is no critical thinking about a colonial process that still continues.

For one thing, portraying all of the Indigenous people modeling gorgeous, traditionally hand-woven clothing erases their contemporary, often difficult, lives.

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There are some other questionable images as well. One is of two young women sitting on the ground. The older woman appears to have her legs tucked under, and the younger one is sitting cross-legged. Beverly : Thank you, Joe. Lois : The issue here is not merely about each individual story. The issue is that Goldman is mining Indigenous stories, digging into and taking away the heart of a people—and being praised for it. Barbara : What a mess!

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We can do better for our children. We can neither take it lightly nor accept it because we, the native peoples, are the ones they disfigure. Just think:. What can we say to the ancients? Yet today we Maya remain hushed up and have even forgotten the message that might inspire us to break the silence. Victor Montejo.

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She grew up and raised her children between family farms in Northern Michigan and remote bush camps in Northern Ontario. She eats a lot of moose meat tamales and lake trout burritos. Joe Bruchac is a traditional storyteller, educator and author, and a citizen of the Nulhegan Band of the Abenaki Nation.

Even though the two of them regularly beat him up while they are training Brazilian jujitsu together. Anne Dunn is a grandmother, storyteller, poet and author, and a citizen of the Anishinaabe-Ojibwe Nation. She lives in the woods of the Leech Lake Reservation with her cat, Fred, who sleeps a lot in the winter and shares with her his myriads of great ideas in the summertime. She lives in southern Ontario where she is perfecting the art of productive procrastination by growing traditional foods, teaching, making maple sugar, and participating in book review conversations rather than finishing her dissertation.

We produced this collaborative review-essay through multiple telephone and email conversations. Thank you, all! He is trilingual and tricultural his first language being Jakaltek, one of 31 Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala, southern Mexico and Belize and studies in depth his own Jakaltek Mayan people. Curbstone Press, Slapin and D. Seale, eds. New Society Publishers, At the same time, I need a frequent fix of California friends and family.

Eileen: I review new books, many from self-pub, authors. He is now the mayor of Imperial Beach, CA my hometown and makes sense of the way to free the ocean of pollution along the Mexico-California border and the Tijuana River mouth where the waves are fierce, but the pollution is dangerous after rains. That way I can add to my own TBR! Toi: I love that feature idea. I really should find a way to organize my TBR list. I have started and stopped this book for three years, trying to get the voice right.


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  4. Now back to the book! My husband bought me an adult trike for Christmas that I love. We are also working like crazy on Dog Obedience for our third dog, a Labrador —Schnauzer mix. He was dropped at the shelter with his sisters in a box on a cold December night. They named him Christmas Future. We brought him home and named him Ziggy.

    Plus, you can head over to Word Joy right now to see an update from me. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you like it let me know and share it with others. See you next time, Toi Thomas. I like reading, writing, cooking, dancing, movies, and music. I'm a big kid and choose to see the world in my own special way.

    Yes, I'm educated, but I haven't let that stop me from being who I want to be. I'm a wife, animal-mom, behavior therapist, author, blogger, and more.