The amount of bad literature about Native peoples is disgusting. If this is surprising, read a few entries from the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog at https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/. This is because the literature is dominated by non-Natives who do not present accurate or appropriate information. These authors and publishers seem to have the notion that Indians are “history,” and limited to exiting on a few reservations. The publisher, Oyate, responds: “We are still alive. We are still here. … Our stories belong to us.” To combat the common perceptions, Oyate has had to be so much more than just a publisher.
The Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe tribe from the Lake Traverse Reservation was federally recognized in 1867. During their 2002 tribal general elections, they approved a measure changing the name to Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. Oyate means “The People.” Oyate’s mission is to review literature and advocate for Native Americans to be portrayed with historical accuracy, cultural appropriateness, and without anti-Indian bias and stereotypes. They also support the struggles for sovereignty and self-determination of First Nations in Canada, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Indigenous peoples throughout Latin America. Oyate has read and reviewed thousands of books, videos, maps, music, and other literature for and about American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, First Nations and Indigenous peoples. They also emphasize children’s literature in order to inform Native American children of their identities so they feel good about who they are and feel safe to celebrate who they are and teach the next generation through story sharing.
In addition to reviewing literature, Oyate conducts workshops on “Teaching Respect for Native Peoples.” This teaches children, youth, and educators how to evaluate children’s material for honest portrayals of Indian peoples and how to select and where to find authentic and respectful materials. Oyate also runs a small resource center and reference library for this purpose.
Oyate’s bookstore sells art, audio books, and literature about community wisdom keepers, contemporary issues, education, food and cooking, health and healing, history, women, land and environment, and law and politics and more. Over 90% of their funding comes directly from the purchase of books from the store. Literature is written and illustrated by Native people across North America in hopes of encouraging many more Native writers and artists.
One text of particular note is How to Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Anti-Indian Bias by Doris Seale, Beverly Slapin and Rosemary Gonzales, published in 2000. Since then, Oyate has continued to compile and clarify criteria to help us discern honest portrayals of Native peoples in children’s books containing retellings of traditional Indian stories, as well as contemporary stories and representations of Native peoples.
Oyate’s mission is so transparent, however, that many resources they offer are freely available on their website. There are sections on books to avoid, living stories, and additional criteria.
By Treasa Bane