—Luther Standing Bear, 1928
Generations later, Kenneth Thomasma’s books embody the very problems Standing Bear wrote about. Using historical events as a background, teacher-turned-author Thomasma has produced a formulaic series called “Amazing Indian Children.” He also conducts writing workshops, storytelling assemblies and school programs, according to his press packet, “dressed in an Indian elk hide suit, complete with obsidian knife.” Choosing to represent Indian children, families, cultures and histories, he says his program “makes those Indian children proud of their heritage and restores self-respect to them that should never have been taken away.”
As a teacher, Thomasma could easily have accessed books by Luther Standing Bear/Ota K’te, Charles Eastman/Ohiyesa, Gertrude Bonnin/Zitkala Sa and others who wrote of their own lives as Indian children in the 19th Century. Instead, he visited historical sites, read accounts by non-Native scholars, spoke with Native elders “to get the details right,” and added his own “speculations and educated guesses.” Does all of this qualify Thomasma to produce a series of children’s books about Indian children? Does it qualify him to interpret another people’s stories? Does it make his books a way of teaching “all kids what it was like to be an Indian child” or make “Indian children proud of their heritage” and restore “self-respect to them”? Can an outsider enter a community, speak with a few people and then understand enough to be the legitimate voice of its children?