December 06, 2009

Great Plains in Years of Dust

Educator Debbie Reese looks at another children's book that misrepresents Indian culture and history.

Albert Marrin's Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust BowlThe cover of Marrin's book includes, across the top, "Recipient of the 2008 National Endowment for Humanities Medal." An impressive accomplishment for Marrin. His Sitting Bull and his World won the 2001 Carter G. Woodson Book Award and the 2000 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Non-Fiction. I wish the selection committees had been able to read Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin's review of the book....They probably wouldn't have chosen Sitting Bull and his World for either award!Reese goes on to detail some mistakes and stereotypes in Years of Dust, such as using Ted Perry's TV version of Chief Seattle's speech. Then there are Marrin's descriptions of the Great Plains:The lord of the Great Plains was the American bison, or buffalo. When the first Europeans reached the New World, some 40 to 60 million buffalo roamed the region in their endless search for pasture.

The Great Plains, then, was (and is) a harsh land. Despite the hardships, Americans still saw the plains as a place of opportunity. A place where, through hard work and good luck, they could build a better future. And so, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, settlers flocked to the rolling grasslands west of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, the arrival of settlers would change the delicate ecology of the plains.

Flat, treeless, and dry, the grasslands were fit only for wild beasts and nomadic Indians.

"Progress," as white people saw it, demanded that both the buffalo and the Indians should go.
(Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 12/6/09.)

Comment:  Wow. Nice job of minimizing the existence of hundreds of Indian tribes that lived successfully on the plains. And of equating "wild beasts" and "nomadic Indians" as if they were both kinds of wildlife to get out of the way.

Another term for "the Indians should go" is genocide. Does Marrin talk about the broken treaties, the Indian wars, and the theft of huge tracts of land? Apparently not.

This is the kind of pro-American, anti-Indian propaganda you heard 50 or 100 years ago. Is that when Marrin wrote and published this book? No, the publication date is August 20, 2009.

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

No comments: