January 19, 2010

Native kids reject Naya Nuki

We get e-mail:Rob,

I've been following Newspaper Rock for some time now and have been very impressed by your thoughts and ideas. You have been very articulate and intelligent in your explaining why certain articles/authors/movies/television shows/politicians/etc. are stereotypical or racist and I appreciate your take on the variety of contemporary as well as historical issues. Because I have loads of e-mails and am very busy I don’t have a chance to read every entry so when I get a chance I look through some of the older posts and I came across the one that was posted on January 23rd of this year about Ken Thomasma, the author who wrote Naya Nuki.

I work at Wyoming Indian Schools, the only pre-K through 12th grade public school in the state of Wyoming that is 100% Native American. Our students are primarily Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone (yes, the very same tribe that Naya Nuki supposedly hails from), but we also have students that are Lakota, Cheyenne, Navajo, Pueblo, Haida, Crow, & Blackfoot. Mr. Thomasma visited our school one time since I have worked here at the behest of several non-Native teachers who thought his books were wonderful. He brought his skins and his ‘primitive’ weapons. He also brought prints of several scenes from his books to give as prizes.

Needless to say our students and our Native staff were not impressed. We have always been told that our students are a ‘tough crowd’. They are not disrespectful, they are only cynical, especially when it comes to non-Natives telling ‘our’ stories, or what they think are our stories. When Earl Bullhead came that same year and sang songs that he had researched at the Library of Congress our students gave him a Pendleton blanket (with no urging from adults) and stood in line to shake his hand and thank him for sharing his voice with them. With Mr. Thomasma, they left him standing alone in the gym surrounded by the adoring non-Native staff. Mr. Thomasma’s prints were left on the gym floor, left by the students who had won them, who did not think much of them or Mr. Thomasma.

I work in the library, I am an assistant and have helped our library develop a large collection of Native American books that are culturally appropriate. Mr. Thomasma’s books never get checked out and they sit dusty on the shelves.

I hope I haven’t bored you to tears. Thanks for listening to my opinion.
About the Naya Nuki movie, the writer adds:Apparently the funding for the movie fell through and as the movie stands right now, it’s a long way from being made.Comment:  Thanks for writing. Don't worry...your story was anything but boring. I'm always glad to hear how Natives react in the real world to the issues I address in the abstract.

Interesting to hear how Thomasma wrote a stereotypical book and brought stereotypical objects to show-and-tell. It's an example of how people don't compartmentalize their biased views. If they tell a "harmless" racist joke at work, you can bet they'll do something similar at home. People don't--indeed, can't--turn off their views like a light switch.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.

P.S. I shortened this missive and added paragraph breaks to make it more readable.

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