Saturday, February 18, 2017

Questions Agents and Editors Can Use to Evaluate American Indian Content

Are you seeing American Indian characters or content?
Questions Agents and Editors Can Use to Evaluate Native content

Developed by Kara Stewart (Sappony) with many thanks to Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo) for contributions.

Dear Agents and Editors,

Have you just been presented with a manuscript that has American Indian content? I know what you’re thinking. “Great googlie mooglies, how do I tell if the Native content in this doorstop is accurate or if it will cause a garbage fire for my agency/house?” 

Or you may be thinking, “Well, I really like the voice, the plot is killer, and the author says she did a lot of research.” 

Or you may not be overly familiar with problems in the ways that writers create American Indian content, and think “I’m sure it’s fine…”

Or….*eyeswipe over listed resources*  
“Okay! A resource list! Content should be good to go.” But that niggling doubt… are those resources reliable?

Or perhaps you’re thinking, “It’s just this one little paragraph that has American Indian content... and it sounds okay to me...we don’t need to check on just that!”

Stop right there!

I know neither you nor your authors want dumpster fires, so here is a handy (errr… I think it’s handy and hope you do, too!) set of questions (and answers!) you can use to evaluate that manuscript. And a bonus resource list! By using it, you can gain skills to inform yourself and help authors create great books that help, rather than harm.

Just pick from List A (for authors who claim to be American Indian) or List B (for those who do not) and have at it!

A couple of notes on the questions:
  • These are meant as guides. Any single question may not lead you to a definitive answer, but will inform you. Or you may come up with additional questions to ask or research on your own.
  • It is not racist or bad form to ask questions specific to American Indian citizenry. For American Indian populations, the question/answer is larger than underrepresented minorities or historical oppression, and involves tribal citizenship.  American Indian people are, first and foremost, sovereign nations­ with structures in place to govern ourselves. This includes citizenship. Asking “Are you enrolled?” or “Are you a citizen of your nation?” then, is a question that many welcome. The answer will tell you a lot. Most American Indian authors will understand why you are asking and openly share their citizenship with you.
  • One little paragraph, sentence, or phrase can make a difference in a book’s tone, believability, consequences, and how an American Indian reader may respond to it. Why include American Indians at all in that phrase, sentence, or paragraph? Choose from List A or List B.
  • For List A, Question 4 and for List B, you will need at least one, preferably two, vetted readers from the tribe whose content is included. The author’s American Indian contact and their auntie who works at the college does not count. An objective, tribally-vetted person from the tribe who is familiar with Native literature does.
  • Is pondering these questions slightly uncomfortable? It is for me too, but I believe it is crucial that agents and editors take an informed, pro-active stance in the stream of what gets published. Cliché, but we need all hands on deck. I’m not suggesting an interrogation, but a conversation that includes these questions will greatly improve depictions of American Indian people in children’s and young adult books.
  • As editors and editorial agents, you often ask writers to revise something that you think isn’t right. It might be a factual error, or asking for clarity. You can do that, too, with American Indian content.
  • Ultimately, what you’re asking is this: “What will children most likely walk away from this book/section believing about Native people?” Boil it down to what is/isn’t on the page. And don’t forget American Indian children! What will they walk away with, when they read this book or this section?

LIST A: For authors who claim to be American Indian
1. I see your bio says you are Native American. What tribe do you associate yourself with?
2. Is that a state, or federally recognized tribe?
3. How are you involved with your tribe?
4. Are you writing about your tribe or another tribe?

List A Cheat Sheet Potential Answers:
1.       The author should be able to definitively name a specific tribe. If not, they may have Native ancestry at some point in their family lineage, but they are most likely not part of a tribe or familiar enough with it for them to be able to write in the #OwnVoice framework.  If an author seems to change their mind, giving  different tribe names at different times, that indicates they’re in an exploratory phase of finding out their American Indian ancestry. Note: if an author tells you they are Native via a DNA test, hit the pause button! Read (re-read) Kim Tallbear’s article, There Is No DNA Test To Prove You’re Native American. DNA means nothing. What matters is lineage and kinship, not DNA.
On the plus side, an author may say, “I am a citizen of the Choctaw Nation and of Navajo descent” or "I am Sappony". Or, “I am Lumbee and Sappony, enrolled with the Lumbee” or "I am an enrolled member of the Sappony", if the author understands that there are members, and there are enrolled members, and it sometimes makes a difference.  Note: if a writer gives you enrollment information for two distinct tribes, that’s a sure sign that the writer is not versed in citizenship. While we may have parents or ancestry from more than one tribe, we are enrolled in one. That’s a protocol widely known amongst those who are raised with knowledge of their native communities. You can also ask the author for their tribe's website and contact information. Many tribes verify membership through tribal ID cards. You can ask to see the tribal ID card. “And do you have a tribal ID card?” is acceptable. If the person does not have a card, but is a member/citizen, they’ll likely know that they (and you) can verify enrollment or citizenship through letter/email. We are asked for our tribal ID cards fairly often – at university offices, to register to dance at powwows, or as acceptable forms of identification to vote in some states, for example.
2.      Question 2 is, in essence, a check on Question 1. It is easy for someone to fudge their way through Question 1, especially if you, agent/editor, don’t feel confident in your ability to sniff out American Indian authenticity. If they don't know if their tribe is state or federally recognized, that is a red flag that points to shallow understanding and knowledge.  It lessens the chance they are really part of any tribe. Neither state nor federally recognized is 'better than' or more authentic than the other. If their tribe is neither state nor federally recognized, that could be a warning signal to find out more, since there are many groups that claim to be American Indian tribes.
3.      Asking how one is involved in the tribe they claim is another check on Question 1. Being a member of a tribe is more than an enrollment number or membership verification. It a way of life. It is giving back to your tribe, your family. It is being involved. Some nations require tribal members to live nearby, or require participation in tribal activities. Possible follow up questions: Did you grow up in the community you are writing about? Do you live there now? Are you able to get back to see your family much? If a person says they serve on the tribal council, or sit on a committee for their tribe or state or federal Indian organizations, volunteer at tribal events and can name them, or can tell you other ways they give back to their own Indian community, their state-level Indian community or the federal-level Indian community, then they have a higher chance of creating content that is accurate.
Caveat: volunteer work at various Indian functions or organizations is not really an indicator on its own since many non-Natives volunteer and may therefore think they have enough Native experience and friends to write about us. See List B.
4.      If the author is American Indian but writing about another tribe, see List B. American Indian tribes are so varied that a Lakota writing about the Mohawk, a Pueblo writing about the Sappony, a Tohono O’Odham writing about the Ojibwe, means that the author is writing about a culture not their own, a culture outside of their own experience. They may have a fundamental understanding of the overarching issues, stereotypes and values in ‘Indian Country’ in the generic sense, but would be an outsider to another tribal culture. We think that you will still need a vetted reader, or two, from the tribe whose content is in the book. See List B.

LIST B: For authors who are not American Indian but claim to have done research and/or have enough American Indian experience to result in authentic, accurate, non-stereotypical text:
1.       Why did you want to write a book about American Indians/include this part with American Indian content in your book?
2.      What tribe are you writing about/what tribe’s content is included in this part of your book?
3.      Why did you select this particular tribal nation for your story?
4.      Who have you interviewed/spoken with in the tribe, and can you give me the names and a statement from the tribe that acknowledges that these people are vetted by the tribe to speak for them?
5.      What is your personal experience with this tribe?
6.      What resources have you used to inform your work?

List B Cheat Sheet Potential Answers:
List B questions are more recursive than List A questions.
·         If the author talks about having worked with American Indian kids/community and says that they asked the author to write a story for them, and this is that story, we have an example of saviorism. It’s not just authors of European ancestry who can get it wrong. Writing from ANY ‘outsider’ culture – White, African American, Asian, Hispanic – should have equally rigorous scrutiny when including American Indian content. If the author is being a savior, they may have saviors in the story, too. Also, very commonly, authors will express having an affinity for American Indian culture, being fascinated with Indians, or growing up near a reservation – Danger, Will Robinson! Proceed with caution! This can be code for “many stereotypes ahead”.  See Answer 6 for great resources to combat that.
·         If there are a couple of American Indian references in the book, “some Indian tribes say…” or “..look like an Indian..” or “Hopi legend says…” or “Indian burial ground” or “wise, old Indian man said …”, ask the author why they chose American Indian culture for that reference. We’ve seen many books in which it seems the author did not imagine American Indian children as amongst the audience for the book. With that in mind, ask why the author needs to include American Indians at all in that phrase, sentence, or paragraph. Can the scene stand without it? Why is it there? Can another group reference be substituted there? If the answer doesn’t support accurate, non-stereotypical text, you probably want to lose it.
2.  If there is no specific tribe mentioned . . .  
Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

3.      This answer circles back to Question 1 but will give you more specific information. Pay particular attention if the author says something like, “I had a neat idea for a historical fiction book based on a real tribe/person/event.” See Answer 6.
4.      Via a social event or mutual acquaintance, a non-Native author may feel they have someone they can turn to who can help them with their American Indian content.  But that doesn’t mean that the Native person your author spoke with speaks for the tribe, has a larger view of the cultural questions, or knows anything about American Indian representation in literature. The author may pose questions and receive vague or simple affirmation for that content. The assumption is that feedback from any American Indian person is fine, or that positive feedback from an American Indian person is validation of authenticity, accuracy and acceptance. That is a false assumption.  You and your author—and your author’s readers—deserve more than that. Writers worked, in some cases, years on the manuscript. It is important to find someone who can give the content the serious attention it, the writer, and readers, deserve.  This is why it is important to have not only appropriate, but objective, American Indian information contacts as well as vetted (someone the tribe agrees can speak for them) readers.  
5.      This answer circles back to Questions 1 and 2, but will give you more specific information. Again, if the author talks about working or living with/near American Indian kids/community and the story written was well received by them . . . time to ferret out more information. What experience? For how long? Time frame? What did the work/interactions consist of? What about this experience enables you to write from the point of view of an American Indian person?
6.      The Devil is in the details . . . and the overall tone. Authors can have all their facts historically correct according to accepted sources available. But it is the interpretation of the facts into a story that makes the book harmful or helpful. I’ve seen a number of books that get most of the ‘facts’ correct, but the overall tone is that of stereotypes (which may be difficult for non-Indian writers, agents and editors to see when that has been the prevailing mode of American Indian representation). I’d highly recommend that agents and editors read the Revised Criteria from How to Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children's Books for Anti­-Indian Bias. Reading a manuscript through that lens and thinking deeply about Eurocentrism and colonialism will make all the difference. You can find guidelines, suggestions, statistics and a number of resources here at Writing About Native Americans. It is a long post (as was this). 

       But if it is truly important to you and your author to stop perpetuating stereotypes, you will have made it to the end of this post. And that one.

Is My Novel Offensive? by Katy Waldman for Slate
Writing, Tonto and the Wise-Cracking Minority Sidekick Who Is Always the First to Die

Sunday, July 3, 2016


It's taken me a little over two weeks after moving to feel settled enough to get back into my routine. Writing, eating, taking a shower and even walking the dog have all been upended and out of whack for these two weeks. But I am counting my blessings and can't even begin to imagine how those in turbulent life circumstances, like homelessness, are able to cope.

I still don't have a workable desk (but then, I didn't in my last home, either), don't have a workable file cabinet, one bed still needs to be put together, lots of work in the woods and lawn needs to be done, and other odds and ends, but I've done an incredible amount of work over the last two weeks and am plenty lucky.
Last week, from my yard
Today I plan to hit a ton of backlogged non-house work, including querying one of my picture book manuscripts (yet again), and working on NC State Advisory Council on Indian Education things so I can hit the week writing the first draft of my middle grade novel on Tuesday (yep, I'll take that holiday Monday!).

Pics of visitors from the past two weeks (excluding the rabbits and moles):

What I discovered one morning in the kitchen trash can I washed out and left on the driveway to dry the night before. Point of note for fellow mouse lovers: that trash can was clean when I went to bed. One mouse did all those yuckies. No idea how it got in there since I left the trash can standing straight up.

I went outside to take a pic of the frog on the deck roof overhang thingy this morning. The hummers were more comfortable with me this week and finally came to the feeder while I was out there. Look way up at the top to see the frog. Hummingbird flying in from the right.

Frog and two hummers this morning. One hummer is on the feeder at the right, the other flying at the left.

And then these were taken the first week I moved in, through the (dirty) kitchen window and screen since the hummers weren't yet comfortable with me. There has been a lot of activity and hummingbird drama at the feeder. Pretty sure there's a hummingbird nest wedged in the elbow of one of my gutter downspouts.
Flying Hummy

Shark Attack ala Jaws (look below)

Drama at the Feeder
Thank you, thank you, friends and family who have helped (and will be helping) in this move! I have the bestest peeps ever. And it's nice to be back in my family's home county (well, one of them) - family to help in so many ways, one of them being keeping an eye out for me and mine (as in, my daughter was foiled from buying beer at the Sheetz because a cousin was there. She then went to the grocery story but I was there. She's of age and can make her own choices, but it's kind of nice to know that I'll hear about things....). 

Thank you Henry and Nancy, Otis, LaBron, Teryn, Randi, Tanya, Dave, and Jamie!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Pardon the Interruption

Please pardon the interruption in blog posts. Okay, and honestly, it's not like I do one a week anyway. Or one a month. Although that is the goal in my head. In my head I do one a month and am working toward one a week. In my head.

In reality, my full time paid gig is not as a writer (ah, to dream!). And although my heart aches daily at leaving my newly started MG hanging, I have a family and life and all the stuff that goes with it, as do most of us. I switched schools mid-year and there has been an adjustment period, my family has needed me more (which is fine), and now I am buying a home and moving as well as wrapping up the school year. If you are teacher, you know what that last thingy means.

Yes, they are all excuses. But still, please pardon the interruption in blog posts.

Because now all I can think about is moving into my cute new house! A little less than 3 weeks to go. I have discovered the addiction of pinning ALL THE THINGS to a new Pinterest board.

And the crazy-making of tying up all the loose ends of utilities, movers, loan & legal stuff.

I can't wait to get in there and get settled.

And after that? Look out. Because I'm pounding in the hours all summer working on that MG! 

I will ignore the laundry and the dust bunnies, eat frozen pizzas and peanut m & ms all summer if I have to (oh darn) and even not let myself be sidetracked by my usual activism. I'm going to get that first draft D.O.N.E. And maybe even a revision round. And people, the premise is GOOD. Really, really GOOD. I'll leave you hanging. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Poetry Break, Fantasy vs Reality

I'm a few days late for National Poetry Month. But poetry endures.

It doesn’t matter now.
It never really mattered anyway.

It was a fantasy.
A ten year fantasy
in which I struggled to be
and you steadfastly held us to
always separating your worlds
so they wouldn’t
always carefully replacing me in my own
little velvet box
and gently closing the deep, quiet lid
when you left
so that you didn’t hear me and
I didn’t intrude in your
daily life,
bleed into your friends,
spill into your family,
erupt unbidden into your thoughts
at work.

And I breathed life incessantly into
my fantasy
that your heart held me as
mine held you,
and convinced myself that I was okay with
fantasy instead of reality,
that because I enjoyed you,
I enjoyed the fantasy.
My reality was fearful
and you were safe. 

CPR for an imaginary world.

would have our lives
making me
integral to your daily life
and you to mine –
not limited to flurried intersections
of escape from
wiping faces, folding laundry, and
trips to the grocery store when the milk
runs out,
but fastened to them.

Somehow the fantasy has gasped its last
and now
it is nakedly clear
that it never really mattered.


that what mattered in the end
I learned the difference between
fantasy and reality,
that you can’t force yourself
into another’s reality.
I learned to trust myself,
learned that fantasy
- no matter how seductively wonderful -
in the end
is no more than
smoke and mirrors
that disappear
when the lights come on.

- Kara Stewart, 2008

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Heart of It: Creating Children's Books That Matter

The Heart of It: Creating Children's Books That Matter

I am excited to be participating in this course by the fabulous award-winning artist and author, Maya Gonzalez and School of the Free Mindwhose motto is "Children's Books, Peace, and Radical Self-Love. How can you go wrong with that?

Every year, the class has a different focus; this year's focus is Native American children's literature. In that capacity, I'll also be contributing to the course by Skyping in as a special guest along with Debbie Reese, Carole Lindstrom, and Cynthia Leitich Smith. For more information on the amazing company I'll be in, go to the course listing, scroll down and click on Special Guests.  

*still pinching myself*

The course runs April 18 - May 29. 

It will be a wonderful experience. Please join us!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Awesome Day With a FanGirl Moment

Today was a big day.

Son (minus wisdom teeth) headed back to college (go Appalachian State!).

I found out my picture book manuscript, Lois Dreamed, based on my great aunt who was a ground breaker for women for her time and for our Sappony people, won 1st place in the Genre Short Story category at the North Carolina United Tribes Unity Conference Writing Competition. What a great feeling and thank you so much, writing competition judges and coordinators!

Aaaaaand, I got to hear fabulous author Matt de la Peña, most recently of Last Stop on Market Street fame (which now has a Caldecott and a Newbury)!

Despite clearly being an overachiever, Matt was funny and real. Just real. He spoke about being mixed race (Mexican and white) and how that has played into his writing and his life and relationships. He spoke about race and the complexity of family and the larger impact that has on youth and adults. I had a #fangirl moment and had my picture taken after he signed my book. And yes, that's an awfully big purse I have. I probably could have fit all the reception snacks into it. Not like I did or anything. *walks away nonchalantly

Awesome day.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Writing About Native Americans

Today's post is lengthy. I created it first not as a blog post, but as an addition to the online MG writing course I am currently taking through the Children's Book Academy. I noticed that a number of writers in the course with me had some form of American Indian content in their books or planned books. To address that, I wrote the following guest post, which I hope will be sent out with the other course materials. I'd love it if Mira Reisberg would use it as a part of all of her courses going forward. She has a wonderful opportunity to educate writers on diversity as part of their craft education. I would also love it if agents and editors would seriously consider these points when evaluating manuscripts.

(And in other Indian news this weekend, the Carolina Indian Circle Powwow).

Writing About Native Americans
by Kara Stewart

By way of introduction, I am Kara Stewart. I am an enrolled member of the Sappony tribe, one of the eight state-recognized American Indian tribes in North Carolina. Tribes can be federally recognized or state-recognized. There are 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, located in North Carolina, being one of them and included in the count of North Carolina’s eight tribes.

I have been a Reading Specialist and Literacy Coach in the public schools (elementary level) for 18 years. I am currently serving my 4th term on the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education. Although I am not currently serving on the Sappony Tribal Council, I have served 3 terms previously and plan to again. I am involved in our tribal activities and events, as well as Native efforts at the state level.

I’d like to give you some thoughts and suggestions for writing to and about American Indians. Tara Houska, Couchiching First Nation, attorney and Indian Country Today Media Network columnist, who has been in recent news, says that 87% of American Indian content in schools today is pre-1900s. She doesn’t just mean textbooks.

Here are some images you may have seen of American Indians. They have become so ingrained in American culture, that most non-Natives don't give them a second thought.


 Some more statistics:
     At 16.93%, the suicide rate for American Indians/Alaska Natives of all ages was much higher than the overall U.S. rate of 12.08. Suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for American Indians/Alaska Natives of all ages and the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10–24 (2013 CDC statistics for period 1999-2011).  **I have actually seen higher numbers in more recent years, particularly among youth.
     The reported rate of binge alcohol use over the past month was higher among AI/AN adults than the national average (30.6 percent vs. 24.5 percent) (Aspen Institute, Center for Native American Youth).
     Federal government studies have consistently shown that American Indian women experience much higher levels of sexual violence than other women in the U.S. Data gathered by the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that Native American and Alaskan Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the USA in general (5 vs. 2 per 1,000).  (Steven W Perry, American Indians and Crime- A BJS Statistical Profile 1992-2002, Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, December 2004.)   

Here are just a few of hundreds of images from books:

 And lest you think this is all in the past*:


*For more about cultural appropriation and Natives, please familiarize yourself with the fabulous Dr. Adrienne Keene’s blog, Native Appropriations

I am not saying by any means that books are to blame for the crazy high Native suicide rates, crazy high assault rates on Native women or addiction problems. Generational trauma, genocide, poverty, institutionalized racism - these all contribute. But a thread that holds all these together with literature is identity. Identity (along with institutionalized racism) is at the heart of these issues. Books contribute to identity. Books are these images in words. Let me say that again. Books are these images in words.

Children’s literature is one area where we, as writers, parents and educators, CAN make a difference to Indian children (and ALL children). Books are a HUGE part of school from whole class instruction and read alouds to guided reading book sets and media center choices. We can learn to write, purchase and read books that are accurate and authentic about Indian people instead of those that promote the stereotypes we just saw.

The images I just showed you are blatant stereotypes. I know you would recognize that you do a disservice to Indian children (and all children) by textualizing these blatant inaccuracies. But if you are a non-Native writer, would you recognize inaccuracies if you think you have done your due diligence, have researched your Native subject for years and spoken to some members of the tribe you write about? Or even know them in real life?

Consider Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose. It has been highly acclaimed. But what happens when we actually look at it from a Native perspective? Debbie Reese, of American Indians in Children’s Literature, has reviewed it.

If you are non-Native, I’d like to give you some resources and suggestions for writing about American Indians. First, it is not enough to research the tribe and the history you intend to write about. Certainly, you need to ground your writing in a particular tribe and a particular time period - and when you consider Tara Houska’s statistic on how little contemporary Native cultures are portrayed, I’m assuming you will decide you should probably write about a tribe set in the contemporary world since there is already an overabundance of historical (and inaccurate historical) writing about Indians and you would be contributing to the identity issues in living, breathing Indian children by writing yet another historical book about Indians (an exception might be something along the lines of if you are a Native writer and know details about an event in your tribe’s history that need to be told and your tribe wants them told).

So researching is certainly part of it. But it is not enough. If you are not Native, you may not be familiar with the thriving world of Indian Country today. Make yourself familiar with it. If you are not a member of the tribe you intend to write about, you need to find a way to immerse yourself in their culture. This could be tricky if you don’t know them. But it needs to be done. You need to tell them who you are, why and what you intend to write about them. Do not expect them to welcome you with open arms. You need to learn all you can from them. And you need to respect what they say. Even if you have one Native character in your book, that character needs to be presented accurately.

I have written two picture books, one of which won the 2014 Lee & Low New Voices Honor Award, both about various aspects of my tribe. Even as an enrolled tribal member, I never would have dreamed of writing them or seeking publication if I had not gotten approval by the tribal council, and equally as important, approval of the people or representations of the people in the stories. As a writer, I owe it to the people I represent to show them my final (not first draft) intention with my story and ask them if this body of work represents them in the way they want to be shown. Not one person. Not two people. Not just an Indian friend, who may or may not be clued in to the larger issues in Native America today. Ask the people themselves, “Are you comfortable being represented this way?”

And if they have suggestions or objections - I listen. I change my story. I owe this to the people I will be making money off by the sale of my work, little as the money may be. I do not deny or claim that my research showed me otherwise. I change my work. You do know that much of ‘history’ that you research is not accurate, right? You do know who writes history, right? The victors. So the Native voice of what we know happened in history has not, in most cases, been recorded. When you Google or go to the library or any of the standard research tools we use today, you must be aware that these are the Eurocentric versions of history.

One way to combat that is to go to the tribe’s official website. But even here, be careful. Indian politics is very tricky to navigate. There are official websites of official tribes, and then there are ‘wannabee’ tribes (not state or federally recognized) that pop up and have websites and misleading information.

Let me give you a list of resources to start with:

Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature is amazing. If you want to see what kinds of things are offensive from a Native perspective in children’s writing, you can read any of her reviews. She also has fabulous articles listed down the right sidebar. I wrote an article for her years ago that is still linked there, Children’s Books About Thanksgiving. A very valuable resource to writers, agents and editors is her article, Dear Writers and Editors: Some Cautions About Selecting Beta Readers. That article is PACKED with resources for how to double check your manuscript for accuracy. Debbie, a renowned expert in the field, is also available to give feedback and critique on your manuscript. Her fee will be well worth it, I assure you. She is honest, knowledgeable and thoughtful in what she says. She tells it like it is.

As part of the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education, and Chair of the Culturally Responsive Instruction Committee, we have come up with these Culturally Responsive Instructional Resources, which are helpful to writers as well as educators. If you look down the orange left side-bar, you will see Text Resources. You may want to read the books on the Recommended list as well as the Non-Recommended list to get a feel for why they are on the list they are on. Another helpful resource under Text Resources is the Criteria From How To Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Anti-Indian Bias (adapted from Although intended for analysis of published text for bias, it would be an excellent tool for writers to learn to use to analyze their own writing for bias.

A third resource I recommend, Indian 101 for Writers, is something I wrote a few years ago explicitly for writers in collaboration with my author pal, Alison DeLuca. We wrote this because there seemed to be no other resource like this to address writers who are thinking of writing about Native Americans. It is a 5-part traveling blog series (between my blog at the time and her blog), in interview format. There are many, many links and resources in it. If you take the time to read through them, it should give you a better idea of what is involved in presenting Native people accurately. The first post opens with many links to articles about white privilege and institutionalized racism. The following posts deal more specifically with Native content.

Another great resource is author Cynthia Leitich Smith's (Muscogee) blog post, Writing, Tonto and The Wise-Cracking Minority Sidekick Who Is Always the First to Die. She has listed out specifics for authors who wish to write cross-culturally about Native people.

And lastly, but perhaps most importantly for non-Native writers, ask yourself, “Why do I want to write about Native people?”  What is it about us that you think is important enough to step outside of your culture to write about - especially knowing the loaded history and contemporary issues with our people? Is there a story you could tell about your own culture that would be equally compelling? Are you perhaps looking for a hook for your audience? Do you just feel an affinity for Indian people or have always found us fascinating? If so, is there a way to better serve, such as volunteering or working with Native authors? 

I know why I write about my people. I have Navajo and Dine friends, Lumbee, Cherokee and Choctaw friends and more. And we hang. And I love them. But would I feel comfortable writing about their culture? No. I would not. I would be very out of my element. And their culture is not mine for the taking. Food for thought.