February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Native North Americans Shatter Stereotypes in an Evocative Anthology | Up Close

Mary Beth Leatherdale

Mary Beth Leatherdale

There’s a significant dearth of materials addressing the modern Native American experience for young people. With Dreaming in Indian (Annick, 2014), one of SLJ‘s Best Books of 2014, editors Mary Beth Leatherdale (MBL) and Lisa Charleyboy (LC) are remedying that lack. Gorgeously designed and featuring poems, artwork, narrative accounts, and other pieces by Native people from all walks of life—chefs, comic book artists, photographers, fashionistas, makeup artists, and more—this visually stunning compendium will not only resonate with readers; it will also challenge their perceptions and destroy stereotypes about Native American culture.

What’s the story behind this book?
MBL: I was working on a project, acquiring contemporary writing and artwork for a digital collection for high school English students. Part of my mandate was to look for material by Native American artists. I was blown away by the incredible work I was finding. These young artists defied the stereotypes of Native peoples that still dominate mainstream media as “leathered and feathered” and stuck in the past. It got me thinking about how frustrating it must be for Native youth to continue to face misconceptions about their lives and aspirations. An anthology seemed like a great way for them to share their stories and to shine a light on their diverse experiences. I knew Lisa from her blog “Urban Native Girl,” so I contacted her to see if she would be interested in working on the project together.

How did you find these artists and writers?
MBL: Lisa and I were really inspired by Tavi Gevison’s Rookie Yearbook One (Razorbill, 2014). In Rookie, young women speak with authority about their experiences, concerns, and interests. But the editors also invite select adults to share advice and inspiration. So, as well as doing call-outs on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr and through Lisa’s Urban Native Magazine, we asked established writers and artists to contribute writings, artwork, and photos. Their honesty, generosity, and sense of humor with which they shared their stories come through in their strong voices.

Lisa Charleyboy

Lisa Charleyboy

The contributors here really shatter stereotypes.
LC: Dispelling stereotypes about Native peoples was at the forefront of our mind. Mainstream media and Hollywood films consistently misrepresent Indigenous peoples and perpetuate stereotypes that are embedded in Western culture. These are not reflective of the reality that I have found among the many talented and amazing Native people living on Turtle Island (North America), who defy these stereotypes and live life to the fullest, in whatever capacity they have chosen. We are not stuck in the past; we are still here, and we are a diverse population.

This is such a rich text that often goes from the heartbreaking to the laugh-out-loud funny.
LC: While there is both tragedy and triumph within the Indigenous culture, I have found that too often the focus shifts to the darker social issues. Ojibwe author David Treuer has often spoken about how prevalent “poverty porn” is when showing Native stories, and I believe that needs to be countered with positive stories. Out of darkness, light emerges, and this is exemplified by the beautiful stories that are featured in this anthology while still being able to reflect on the fragmented past.

MBL: So many books, no matter how well intentioned, limit the focus on Native Americans to discussion of dire challenges or traditional culture. We wanted to show that like all other youth across North America, Native Americans experience the joys and frustrations of adolescence, family, and community and are heavily influenced by pop culture.

What’s next for you both?
LC: We’re working on our second book with Annick Press, which will explore the intersection of Native youth and urban identity.

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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  1. Todd Fabela says:

    Think natives need to quit putting themselves in the box.