May 10, 2007

Books misrepresent Indians

Course focuses on portrayal of Native Americans“There’s a whole cottage industry of books that misrepresent Indians and every locality has them,” said Beardslee, a member of the Chapleau Band of Ojibwa and Cree headquartered in Chapleau, Ontario.

She reviews books for Oyate, “a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed honestly,” as the group’s Web site states. She is also a painter and book illustrator who said she has turned down illustrating work for books that perpetuate cliches.

Some of the books that pass on stereotypes would surprise people, she said. Some are highly regarded or have won prestigious literary awards, yet they’re often “non-Indian interpretations of what they think native history should be.”

Not all the books she objects to were written by non-Indians and not all those with merit were written by Native Americans, she said.

Some of what she objects to are portrayals of Native Americans as a sterile culture or as mythical people who only exist in the past, and works that present fabricated “legends,” she said.

“People want warm and fuzzy how come Indian stories, like ‘how the bear got its tail,’” Beardslee said. Writers often portray “red people” as a curiosity and land that was “free for the taking.”

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